Politics, Philosophy, and Empire in the Fourth Century: Select Orations of Themistius

By Themistius; Peter Heather et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
ORATOR, EMPEROR, AND SENATE

PHILOSOPHY AND ORATORY

Themistius was born c.317, probably in Paphlagonia, but seems to have spent his childhood in Constantinople, a city with whose fortunes his career was to be inextricably linked.1 After a standard grounding in Greek literature, he graduated to philosophical studies under his father, Eugenius, himself a teacher in Constantinople. Until the age of thirty, Themistius' career followed well-established patterns. He taught for a period in the city of Nicomedia, and possibly too in other cities of Asia Minor, attempting to establish his reputation as a major philosopher.2 Hellenic intellectuals, especially in their early years, often functioned as peripatetic, self-employed teachers, until their fame was sufficient for a city to appoint them to a salaried position.

As this curriculum vitae indicates, Themistius was in origin an authentic exponent of Greek philosophy. From his philosophical writings, there survive five paraphrases of works of Aristotle. These were not designed as major contributions to advanced scholarship. Because of existing commentaries on Aristotle (especially, it seems, those of Alexander of Aphrodisias, although he does not explicitly mention them), Themistius considered that further interpretative work on such a large scale was unnecessary. It was his more modest intention, he declared, to produce works designed to clarify Aristotle's meaning and aid memorisation: a series of teaching aids.3 From these texts, his intellectual

1 Paphlagonian: Or. 2.28d. Born c.317: Or. 1.18a (roughly a contemporary of Constan-
tius II). Constantinopohtan childhood: Orr. 17.214c, 34.xii, xvi. Commentators have taken
different views over whether he was born in Constantinople or Paphlagonia, and whether
part of his education took place outside the capital; see further, Vanderspoel, 1995, 31–42;
Penella, 2000,1–2.

2 Or. 24 inaugurated a series of lectures at Nicomedia sometime before 344. He may also
have been teaching at Ancyra before the delivery of Or. 1 (so Vanderspoel, 1995, 42–9), but
see further the introduction to this speech in Chapter 2.

3 Themistius expounds the rationale behind his paraphrases at On the Posterior Analy-
tics
1.2–12; cf Or. 23.294d-295a: Blumenthal, 1979,176–7. Cf. Todd, 1996,2–6. Some of his

-1-

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