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the Complete Review
the complete review - philosophy / biography

Lives of Philosophers and Sophists


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To purchase Lives of Philosophers and Sophists

Title: Lives of Philosophers and Sophists
Author: Eunapius
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: ca. 400 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 250 pages
Original in: ancient Greek
Availability: in Lives of Philosophers and Sophists - US
in Lives of Philosophers and Sophists - UK
in Lives of Philosophers and Sophists - Canada
Vies de philosophes et de sophistes - France
Eunapios aus Sardes - Deutschland
Vite di filosofi e sofisti - Italia
Vidas de filósofos y sofistas - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Harvard University Press
  • Greek title: Βίοι Φιλοσόφων καὶ Σοφιστῶν
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Han Baltussen
  • Previously translated in The Lives of the Sophists by Wilmer C. Wright (1921)
  • The Loeb Classical Library volume also includes Graeme Miles' translation of Philostratus' Lives of the Sophists
  • This is a bilingual edition that includes the original Greek text

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Our Assessment:

B : solid, often entertaining survey of characters and times

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Classical Review* . (38:3/4) 5-6/1924 J.S.Phillimore
Sunday Times* . 18/6/1922 Edmund Gosse

(* review of an earlier translation)

  From the Reviews:
  • "Eunapius has less to lose than Philostratus. (...) Eunapius tries to write like Philostratus, and Professor Wright's English is still circuitous and pointless." - J.S.Phillimore, The Classical Review

  • "Personally, I would willingly leave Eunapius in his interlunar cave." - Edmund Gosse, Sunday Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Eunapius' Lives of Philosophers and Sophists is here, in this Loeb edition (and just like in the previous 1921 one), published together with Philostratus' Lives of the Sophists and can be seen as a sort of continuation of it, covering, as translator Baltussen notes in his Introduction, "the period from Plotinus (ca. AD 250) up to Chrysanthius (ca. 380)".
       Eunapius' work seems generally to get short shrift compared to Philostratus', but is of interest for a number of reasons, including its immediacy -- Eunapius is closer, in time and often personally, to many of his subjects -- as well as the time covered, in which sophism and philosophizing seem no longer quite as prominent, and when Christianity was already a growing threat to the intellectual sphere (when, for example: "Constantine was emperor and was pulling down the most celebrated temples and constructing buildings for the Christians"). There's also a general eagerness to his accounts, as he is more uniformly enthusiastic about his subjects and their accomplishments than the sometimes sharply critical and dismissive Philostratus, with Eunapius emphasizing at the outset that he: "does not aim to record the lesser activities of distinguished men, but only their significant action". Eunapius gives a nod to Philostratus' "offhand and agreeable style", but his own also holds considerable appeal. Baltussen also suggests that: "Eunapius is so eager to ascribe supernatural qualities to several of the individuals, that one suspects a special agenda", which, while hardly making his accounts more convincing as history, do make for some fantastical appeal.
       Lives of Philosophers and Sophists treats twenty-nine figures -- and is notable not least because one of them is a woman, Sosipatra. (From a modern vantage point it's nothing less than shocking that out of the nearly hundred figures discussed by Philostratus and Eunapius in these two collections a mere one is a woman.) Her story is one of the more remarkable ones, too -- and one of those with something of the supernatural bent Baltussen spoke of, as, at age five she is entrusted for five years to two old men -- "whether they were heroes or demigods of some species still more divine" is at first unclear --, after which she returns "filled with divine inspiration in an unassuming way".
       A sense of Eunapius' approach is found in descriptions such as:

     Anatolius was a sophist in the fashion appropriate to feasts and drinking parties; and his drinking party was neither lacking speeches nor devoid of learning. But all this happened many years ago, and therefore the author has been very careful in his report of what he learned from spoken reports.
       Among other figures Eunapius writes of is Porphyry, noting that:
     While philosophers shield their secret teachings by obscuring it, in the way that poets conceal theirs in myths, Porphyry praised the salutary effect of clarity
       There's also some fine description of the hold of the old ways -- including a hierophant, whom Eunapius, following "sacred custom" can not reveal the name of -- and the threat of the new, not least due to the: "impiety of the men dressed in black habits, who entered Greece unhindered", i.e. Christian monks.
       This is a fine gallery of varied and quite interesting figures -- presented perhaps somewhat uncritically, but of no less interest for that. It also covers an interesting time, and if the thought and writings of those discussed here are not quite as well-known as those covered by Philostratus much here is still of considerable interest.
       Philostratus' may be the more significant work, but Eunapius holds his own too, and Lives of Philosophers and Sophists is well worthwhile, on its own or in conjunction with Lives of the Sophists.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 August 2023

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Lives of Philosophers and Sophists: Reviews (* review of a different translation): Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Sophist and historian Eunapius (Εὐνάπιος) lived ca. 345 to 415.

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© 2023 the complete review

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