4. Itinerant Sophoi

One of the most distinctive features of the sophists is their itinerant status, and it will be the focus of this chapter. [1] We shall start by reviewing the evidence of the sophists’ travel to understand better its scope and character. We shall then explore the theme of travel in our sources on other practitioners of wisdom, prior to or contemporary with the sophists, to see to what degree they shared this traveling disposition. Next we shall attempt to outline the institutional framework within which these travels took place. The underlying assumption is that travel was difficult in the ancient world, and that there needs to have existed rudimentary institutions that provided an infrastructure that made travel both feasible and safe. I will suggest that the association between travel and wisdom was strong from the archaic period and onward, and that many sophoi traveled extensively precisely in their capacity as practitioners of wisdom. If anything, the sophists’ itinerant disposition is a sign of how integrated their practices were into Greek intellectual life. This investigation into the significance of travel will yield at best a sketchy picture, given the patchy and unreliable nature of our evidence. But we shall try to develop it in greater depth in the next chapter when we consider the Panhellenic sanctuaries as destinations for philosophical travel.

Sophistic Travel

Plato is probably the best source to convey just how essential travel was for the sophists. In the Apology, Socrates says about Gorgias, Prodicus, and Hippias that:
In the case of Gorgias of Leontini, Philostratus provides us with a vivid account of his public appearances throughout Greece:
Conspicuous also at the festivals of the Greeks he delivered his Pythian Speech from the altar in the temple of the Pythian god, on which a golden statue of him was also erected. His Olympic Speech had a most serious content. For seeing that Greece was distracted by factions he became a counselor of concord to them, turning them against the barbarians and convincing them to make as prizes of their weapons not each others’ cities, but the land of the barbarians. The Funeral Oration, which he delivered at Athens, was spoken over those who had fallen in the wars, whom the Athenians buried at public expense with eulogies, and it is written with exceeding skill. [8]
It is also reported that he was sent as an ambassador by his own city to Athens in 427 BCE to ask for their assistance, since the people of Leontini were involved in a war with the Syracusans. [9] This was supposedly his first trip to Athens, and he is said to have been already sixty years old. [10] He gave a public performance in the theater of the Athenians apart from the funeral oration mentioned above, and there is also a story about him performing together with Hippias in purple clothes. [11] He taught in Argos, where he was so hated that his students had to pay fines, and he was active as a teacher in Boeotia and in Thessaly. [12] Isocrates, finally, mentions that he failed to inhabit any one city steadily. [13]
Prodicus came from Ceos and went on numerous embassies as a representative of his city. [14] Plato mentions him in the passage from the Apology quoted above (19e) as one who could go into each of the cities and persuade young men to consort with him. Philostratus says that Xenophon, when a prisoner in Boeotia, was released on bail to go to hear lectures delivered by Prodicus. [15] Plato tells us that he managed to combine his public duties with his activities as a teacher. [16]
Hippias of Elis traveled widely throughout Greece on diplomatic missions, and he earned a reputation for his service, as witness the account given by Philostratus:
Although he went on the most embassies (πρεσβεύσας) on behalf of Elis, nowhere did he destroy his reputation when speaking in public and discoursing, but he amassed great wealth and was enrolled in the tribes of cities both great and small. [17]
Philostratus also mentions Hippias’ travels to Sparta, to a small city in Sicily called Inycus, and to Olympia. In the Hippias Major, Socrates greets Hippias by saying, “Hippias, the handsome and wise, how long it has been since you put in to us in Athens.” In response to which Hippias answers:
I have not had time, Socrates. For when Elis needs to transact any business with one of the cities, she always approaches me first among her citizens, and chooses me to represent her, since she regards me as the ablest judge and interpreter of the pronouncements of each city. So I have often represented her in other cities, but most often, and on the most numerous and important matters, in Lacedaemon. So much for your question why I do not come often to these parts. [18]
In the Hippias Minor, Hippias says that:
When the time of the celebration of the Olympic Games comes around I always go to Olympia to the festival of the Greeks from my home in Elis. I offer myself to speak at the temple on whatever topic anyone may want to hear of those I have prepared for display (ἐπίδειξιν), and to answer any question anyone may want to ask. [19]
Plato mentions that Hippias visited Olympia wearing clothes all of which he had made for himself: ring, skin-scraper, oil-flask, sandals, cloak, tunic, and girdle, and that, besides this, he had with him poems, epics, tragedies, dithyrambs, and many prose writings. [20] He is also said to have published a List of Olympic Victors. [21] When asked by Socrates what he was teaching in Sparta, he answers that they very much enjoy hearing:
about the families of heroes and men and the founding of cities (περὶ τῶν γενῶν … τῶν τε ἡρώων καὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, καὶ τῶν κατοικίσεων), how the cities were first established. In short, they take delight in listening to the whole study of ancient legends and history (καὶ συλλήβδην πάσης τῆς ἀρχαιολογίας ἥδιστα ἀκροῶνται). So because of them I have been forced to learn and memorize all such things. [22]
Finally, Xenophon mentions a discussion between Socrates and Hippias, who he says had arrived in Athens after a long absence. [23]
Hippias, then, traveled widely in Greece. The information we have from Plato and Xenophon implies that he only made sporadic visits to Athens. We are also informed about what kind of activities he was engaged in at Sparta and at the Olympic Games.
From this survey it is clear that for many of the sophists Athens was not their permanent residence, nor did they spend most of their time there. Further, their activities do not seem to be exclusively targeted towards Athens (or any other democratic city, for that matter). Hippias had developed a particular repertoire for Sparta, and it seems reasonable to assume that other sophists had a similar curricular variety. But if the sophists spent much of their time in other cities than Athens, how are we to account for their ability to travel from city to city and be hospitably received? There existed a great, though intermittent, hostility between many of the city-states, and it cannot have been easy or straightforward to walk into any city in the manner described in our sources. To give just one example of the precariousness of traveling to, not to mention crossing over, the territory of neighboring states, Thucydides mentions the situation of Brasidas and his Spartan troops in 424 when marching through Thessaly to Thrace in support of Perdiccas. He explains why the Spartans took precautions to secure escort for their journey:
For it was normally not easy to cross through Thessaly without escort, and especially so when carrying arms; and it was suspicious to all Greeks alike to cross through the territory of one’s neighbor without permission (καὶ τοῖς πᾶσί γε ὁμοίως Ἕλλησιν ὕποπτον καθειστήκει τὴν τῶν πέλας μὴ πείσαντας διιέναι). [24]
In order to appreciate better how the sophists could travel the Greek world and why they were held in such high regard as teachers, we shall survey our primary material for historical predecessors. We shall be on the lookout for itinerant sophoi who exhibited similar educational expertise as the sophists.

Presocratic Travel

Many of the Presocratic philosophers conducted travels far and wide, but few paid visits to Athens. We can document their itineraries in some detail.
Thales is reported to have visited and even spent a long time in Egypt in the pursuit of wisdom. [25] Plutarch mentions that he traveled to Periander in Corinth to be part of a meeting of the Seven Sages. [26]
Anaximander is mentioned in two sources as having connections with Sparta: Diogenes Laertius attributes to him the discovery of the gnomon and reports that he set one up on the sundials in Sparta to mark solstices and equinoxes. [27] Cicero mentions that he warned the Spartans about an earthquake and thus saved many lives. [28] Finally, we are told by Aelian that he led a Milesian colonizing expedition to Apollonia on the Black Sea. [29]
Xenophanes describes himself as having “tossed [his] cares up and down the land of Greece” for sixty-seven years, [30] and we know that he left his native city of Colophon at the coming of the Medes and spent the remainder of his life traveling in Southern Italy and Sicily. He is also reported to have written epics on the foundation of Colophon and Elea. [31]
Pythagoras left Samos and the rule of the tyrant Polycrates and went to the leading Achaean colony in Southern Italy, Croton. We hear about many travels. Diogenes Laertius tells us that:
When young and eager for learning he traveled from his country and was initiated into all Greek and foreign mysteries. He was in Egypt when Polycrates recommended him to Amasis [the pharaoh] by way of letter … and he spent time among the Chaldaeans and Magi. [32]
Diogenes also tells us in the same place that he went to Crete before going back to Samos only to leave again for Croton. Isocrates (Busiris 28), too, attests to Pythagoras’ pursuit of wisdom through his travels. He writes that Pythagoras went to Egypt and became a disciple of the Egyptians (μαθητής). Herodotus (2.81) also links Pythagoras with Egyptian religious practices and seems to have him in mind in a similar reference in 2.123. [33]
Plato writes in Parmenides (127a-c) that Zeno and Parmenides once came to Athens for the Great Panathenaea and that they stayed in Pythodorus’ house.
Empedocles originated from the Sicilian city of Acragas and is reported to have visited Thurii, the Athenian colony, shortly after its foundation in 444/443, and the Peloponnesus and Olympia, where he hired a rhapsode to recite his poems. There is also a story in Diogenes Laertius according to which Empedocles went to attend a festival in Messene. [34]
Anaxagoras came from Clazomenae near Smyrna in Ionia, but he left this place for Athens, where he is said to have spent 30 years. There is a story told by Diogenes Laertius that he visited Olympia. In old age he was allegedly expelled from Athens and went to Lampsacus. [35]
Democritus (like Protagoras) was a native of Abdera and traveled far and wide in the known world. In fragment 299, he says that:
I wandered over the most land of the men of my day, inquiring into the greatest things and I saw the most airs and lands and I listened to the most erudite men, and no one ever exceeded me in composition of treatises with proofs, not even those Egyptians called Arpedonaptae. [36]
Democritus mentions a visit to Athens in fragment 116 and talks about living abroad in fragment 246. Diogenes Laertius narrates that his father entertained king Xerxes, and that he in return left Magi and Chaldaeans behind to instruct the young Democritus. [37] We also hear that he went to Egypt and was instructed by priests, that he visited the Chaldaeans in Persia, and that he made it to the Red Sea. Some also add that he went to India as well as to Ethiopia. [38]
When looking at the travels reported in these sources, one can draw a distinction between sophoi who seem to have traveled more extensively and whose fame partially rested on their travels, such as Thales, Xenophanes, Pythagoras, and Democritus, and those who are said to have made a few but significant travels, such as Anaximander, Anaxagoras, and Empedocles. Despite the different degrees of intensity of their travels, I still think that we can legitimately compare them in so far as they all had similar expertise and undertook their travels as practitioners of this expertise. We will explore the Panhellenic centers as destinations for such travels in the next chapter, but for now we can draw some preliminary conclusions from the material we have reviewed.
There existed a long-standing tradition of contacts between the cities in the Greek-speaking world, and these contacts extended as far as Egypt and Persia. Given these established channels, it seems reasonable to assume that the sophists did not have to create new networks when traveling, but employed already existing ones. But these insights only take us so far. We have only pushed the question of authority from the sophists to an earlier generation of sophoi. To pursue this question further, we shall consult Herodotus’ account of the encounter between Solon and Croesus in Book 1.29–30. There Herodotus gives an extensive description of how Solon came to Sardis and Croesus:
When all these nations had been added to the Lydian empire, and Sardis was at the height of her wealth and prosperity, all the Greek wise men (σοφισταί) of that epoch, one after another, paid visits to the capital. Much the most distinguished of them was Solon the Athenian, the man who at the request of his country had made a code of laws for Athens. He was on his travels at the time, intending to be away for ten years, in order to avoid the necessity of repealing any of the laws he had made. That, at any rate, was the real reason of his absence, though he gave it out that what he wanted was just to see the world. The Athenians could not alter any of Solon’s laws without him, because they had solemnly sworn to give them a ten years’ trial. For this reason, then—and also no doubt for the pleasure of foreign travel—Solon left home and, after a visit to the court of Amasis in Egypt, went to Sardis to see Croesus. Croesus received him as a guest-friend (ἐξεινίζετο) in the palace, and three or four days after his arrival instructed some servants to take him to a tour of the royal treasuries and point out the richness and magnificence of everything. When Solon had made as thorough an inspection as opportunity allowed, Croesus said: “Well, my Athenian guest-friend (Ξεῖνε Ἀθηναῖε), I have heard a great deal about your wisdom, and how widely you have traveled in the pursuit of knowledge. I cannot resist my desire to ask you a question: who is the happiest man you have ever seen?”
Trans. Selincourt, modified [39]
This encounter has been questioned on chronological grounds. [40] What interests me, however, is less the historicity of the meeting than Herodotus’ conceptualization of the encounter. Solon travels from Athens to Sardis and is received by Croesus because of his reputation for wisdom—he is one of the Seven Sages—to validate Croesus’ claims to happiness (εὐδαιμονία). Croesus’ reception of Solon invokes the framework of guest-friendship (ξενία): it is as his guest-friend that Croesus receives and entertains Solon at his court in Sardis and it is in this capacity that he asks him to assess his fortunes. In the Herodotean narrative, then, Solon’s travel to and reception by Croesus are predicated on and mediated through the cultural networks provided by ξενία. Is the prominence of ξενία limited to this encounter in Herodotus, or can we find this association between ξενία and σοφία even in the material on the Presocratics and sophists? We shall attempt to address these questions next.

Ξενία and Σοφία

As Gabriel Herman has well documented in Ritualised Friendship and the Greek City, there existed in ancient Greece a developed network of interactions among what we might call an international elite (ξενία). Herman defines ξενία “as a bond of solidarity manifesting itself in an exchange of goods and services between individuals originating from separate social units.” [41] Within this network, the elite of Greece established relations that often were of crucial importance to their ability to maintain their positions both abroad and within their own poleis. [42] One of the fundamental principles for the workings of xenia was the institution of gift-exchange and reciprocity—a closed market of exchanges within which transactions of material and symbolic capital took place. [43] One of the commodities circulating in such a system, I would argue, was wisdom. [44]
Xenia flourished in the Homeric world but came under intense scrutiny after the emergence of the city-states, when it was seen as a threat to their autonomy. [45] Despite being questioned, however, xenia was still a strong operating force in Greek social life long after the rise of the city-states. [46] In the classical period there existed a tension between an older, mainly elite, code of behavior promoted by xenia and a more modern one (often explicitly democratic) in line with the demands of the polis. [47] But the polis could never entirely stamp out the xenia framework: “Both inside the city and even more outside it, older social groupings and archaic ideals maintained themselves alongside the new ones with remarkable tenacity.” [48] On a more practical level, xenia was not only a network that tied together members of separate communities. It also facilitated visits between these members, and the channels between guest-friends allowed them to extend their influence and power base well beyond their own communities. Since guest-friends were always from separate social units, the ability to sustain these relationships was predicated on the ability of guest-friends to travel to their hosts and receive their guest-friends in turn. [49]
Xenia was successively appropriated by the polis for purposes of inter-polis diplomacy, so that the personal relationships engaged in by two aristocrats from separate social units were later modified by the polis. The larger community appropriated the position of one member and collectively engaged in an agreement with an individual outsider. [50] Herman discusses the propensity of such relationships of proxeny to be built upon already existing ties of xenia, and this observation further emphasizes the development of the former from the latter. [51]
Within the xenia network, the elite traveled to, entertained, and sustained one another with remarkable efficiency—so much so that one can legitimately talk about an exchange system of goods and services circulating among guest-friends. [52] Herman classifies these exchanges under the headings of material goods and non-material services, and he divides the latter group into three subcategories: “ritual services, private services and services carried out within the context of political institutions.” [53] As an example of the non-material services, he refers to Herodotus (3.125), where the affiliates of Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos, are described. We hear of a number of people connected to the tyrant. Of most interest for our purposes are Democedes of Crotona, the best physician of his day, and an unspecified number of soothsayers. To explain the relationship between Polycrates and his associates, Herman suggests a model of social organization that contained elite coalitions headed by a leader who was in turn surrounded by a variety of local supporters as well as guest-friends in other communities. [54] Loosely attached to these leaders and their entourage were a number of specialists, such as physicians, soothsayers, artists, and poets. Among these affiliates, I suggest, we should also include wise men, sophoi, who served in a variety of roles, such as political and legal advisors as well as educators. [55] They would be invited by the local leader, travel, and be entertained within the framework of xenia. It would also be within this context that they could interact with other practitioners of wisdom and participate in more or less structured exchanges of wisdom.
Xenia, then, was an ancient institution that operated primarily, if not exclusively, on what we may call an international level. It was conducive to the establishment of connections between various social units, and it facilitated safe travel among the members of these units. As Herman maintains:
Ritualised friendship thus became a formula for bringing together a wide variety of people of different social origin, and provided links in elaborate chains of horizontal and vertical integration. [56]
I suggest that early sophoi conducted much of their travel within the network of xenia, and that the sophists were simply continuing a longstanding practice that had considerable historical resonance. [57]
Scholars have long commented on the propensity of wise men for travel, but not much work has been done to explain how such travel was socially feasible beyond an assessment of a general desire on the part of philosophers to tour and explore the world. [58] Humphreys has addressed the question of Greek intellectuals and observed that poets, as part of that group, “may travel from one part of the Greek world to another and find a welcome everywhere because of their skills.” When describing the poet’s social role, she writes that he is “a hanger-on of the noble oikos.” [59] This observation, although vague as to the precise nature of the relationship between poets and nobles and the practicalities of travel, emphasizes the role of the noble oikoi as destinations for poetic travel and as parts in an international network that tied together geographically disparate patrons. Humphreys also stresses how crucial travel was to the emerging field of “Greek intellectuals” in the fifth century:
In the fifth century, philosophers, like other intellectuals, traveled from city to city, expounding their views in the houses of leading citizens or in the public gymnasium. They were the traveling gurus of ancient Greece, each with his own theory to expound and his own reputation to build. The type of the philosopher was not yet fixed, the audience’s expectations were plastic; the only necessity was, as Louis Gernet has said, that the philosophers should not look like everybody else—and, one might add, should not think like anybody else. [60]
Rosalind Thomas has also considered the role of traveling sophoi. She outlines the intellectual milieu in which Herodotus participated and against which she believes his work should be understood; and she paints a picture of extensive intellectual travel in the fifth century:
This suggests that the period was one in which intellectuals, and not only the sophists gathering their crop of pupils, visited many cities in the Greek world—of which Athens was only the most powerful. Other cities benefited—or suffered—from the visits of philosophers … Herodotus was presumably another of such travelling intellectuals. [61]
It seems safe to conclude that travel was extremely important for practitioners of wisdom in the fifth century. But what do we know about the situation in the archaic period? Montiglio has conducted a broader exploration of the link between travel and philosophy, and she emphasizes the importance of travel for wise men from Odysseus onward. Montiglio highlights what an undesirable and anomalous activity travel was in the Greek world: it is often connected with suffering, supplication, and exile in epic and tragedy, and when associated with trade it is often represented as a great evil. [62] Within such cultural attitudes, Montiglio distinguishes between two types of travel, one positive and one negative. The positive one is linked with knowledge, embraced by the example of Odysseus, who “learns from his toilsome wanderings.” [63] Later Solon came to personify this link between travel and learning, so much so that he “inaugurates a tradition which eventually spreads so widely that Diogenes Laertius regards the philosopher who loathes travelling as an exception.” This “love of knowledge” that Solon’s travels represent, in the words of Montiglio, “is the motive that drove several other Presocratics to travel extensively.” She continues:
Although these sages were also called upon to share their wisdom, as Solon’s example alone shows, they primarily went about to learn for themselves rather than to teach others. Their wanderings are a ‘Bildungsreise. [64]
The other form of travel is motivated by the need to work and earn money, and here we find the sophists. [65] This type of travel is modeled on the merchant, where need or greed motivates travel, and, in the case of the sophists, teaching and money-making—not desire to see the world and learn, as with the Presocratics—are given as the determining factors for them going from city to city. But in establishing these models and in seeking to reconstruct the cultural attitudes associated with them, Montiglio relies heavily on the judgment of Plato. She thus concludes—just as Plato did—that the sophists had no philosophical ambitions, that they only traveled to make money, and that they were generally despised in the Greek world. [66]
Despite her heavy Platonic bias in assessing the sophists, there are two important points in Montiglio’s argument that I would like to build on. First, she establishes the ancient connection between travel and wisdom, dating back at least to the archaic period—though I would be reluctant to support her distinction between the two contrasting models of travel. Second, she stresses the negative connotations that existed in relation to travel, and how anyone undertaking travel exposed himself to potential danger. These observations underscore the importance of understanding the social mechanism that made travel possible.
Another, and entirely different, approach to travel comes from the field of archeology. Colin Renfrew and John Cherry outline in Peer Polity Interaction a theory of understanding the development of complex societies. This they do in an attempt to avoid the constraints entailed by the two predominant models in archaeology that emphasize either “diffusion of cultures” or “autonomy and local innovation.” Instead of this “either-or thinking” they believe that the key to understanding the developments of certain societies lies elsewhere, namely in the communications, processes, and interactions that take place between neighboring, autonomous communities. Though these communities are independent and self-regulating they share “structural homologies” with their neighboring communities, that is:
similar political institutions, a common system of weights and measures, the same system of writing (if any), essentially the same structure of religious beliefs (albeit with local variations, such as a special patron deity), the same spoken language, and indeed generally what the archaeologist would call the same “culture”, in whatever sense he might choose to use that term. [67]
The origin of these structural homologies can be found neither by looking exclusively at outside influences nor at endogenous developments, but by analyzing “the interaction between the polities—the peer polity interactions.” The corollary of this statement is that no single place can be pinpointed as the origin of a particular cultural form. Rather, “the different communities developed simultaneously and their structural homologies developed with them.”
The relational mode of thinking introduced in this approach is particularly well-suited to our material. It stresses the analysis of the relationships among the various autonomous polities and how these interactions come to shape the development of the polities and their belief systems. [68] What is more, the relations between the social units are not to be confined to transactions of material commodities, but emphasis should rather be placed on “the flow of information of various kinds between the polities.” [69]
But what were the types of interaction that took place in the Greek context and what sorts of communication can we identify? In the words of Renfrew and Cherry:
If we are studying peer polity interaction, it is thus of particular importance to consider the circumstances in which individual members of different polities are likely to have met, circumstances where competition and emulation could operate, and where symbolic utterances or displays could have their effect. Obviously this could happen on neutral ground, and one may suggest that the whole phenomenon of pan-polity gatherings is one of special interest. The pan-Hellenic games and festivals at centres such as Olympia, Isthmia, Nemea, Delphi and Delos are an excellent example, and no doubt many other early state societies had some kind of framework where members of different polities came into contact. [70]
On the regional level, the Panhellenic sites played an important part in furthering contacts between polities, and we will explore this in the next chapter. But the most pervasive and multidimensional network to promote communication and interaction is the xenia network outlined above. [71] Through this network, we see precisely the preoccupation with competition, emulation, and exchanges that pertain to a cultural framework shared by a larger group of autonomous poleis. But who where the dominant players participating in these exchanges? When addressing this issue, Renfrew and Cherry downplay the importance of traders, saying instead that the “travels of the decision-makers may have been more important, some undertaken, no doubt, in the course of arranging marriage alliances, or simply in gift-exchange.” [72] The locus of interest is thus on interactions between the decision-makers in the various social units. But this raises the question of how, where, and under what circumstances they met. It becomes especially important if we are to attribute to this type of interaction the shaping and influencing of the social structures of the participating communities. Renfrew and Cherry do not explore these aspects of their theory. Instead they point out that this kind of research is in need of further pursuit, the lack of which they deplore:
In any case, the question of travel, in non-hierarchical as well as hierarchical societies, is an important one which seems to have been considered relatively little. Yet when we are talking about the way symbolic structures in one polity had an influence upon those of another, the existence of interaction and its mechanism is of crucial importance. [73]
Let us pause for a moment to recapitulate the main points of the argument thus far. We have assessed the importance of travel for the sophists and linked it to the general theme of travel by other sophoi. Rather than assuming the Platonic bias and distinguishing between the Presocratics who traveled for knowledge and the sophists who traveled for pay, it seems reasonable to assume that the same motivations that induced early sophoi to travel were still at play in the time of the sophists. We have further suggested that it was within the framework of xenia that much of the philosophical travel occurred. By drawing on the peer polity interaction model, we have called attention to the importance of the inter-polis interaction engaged in by decision-makers and the flow of information resulting from their interactions. Here xenia becomes crucial in understanding how interactions between the elites in the various communities took place. In the remainder of this chapter, I will try to map out how all of this played out in the time of the sophists. We shall explore what role the xenia system had in their travels, and we will also try to push the question of historical predecessors in the direction of the Seven Sages.

Ξενία in the Time of the Sophists

We find many of the sophoi engaged in xenia-relationships or see their travels described in words that conjure up these elite connections. Isocrates, for example, offers a clear articulation of the connection between his sophia and xenia. As Too has demonstrated, he repeatedly characterizes his relationship with students “as an extension of a friendship (philia) or a guest-host relationship (xenia).” [74] In Epistle 6, he reassures his addressees (Thebe and Tisiphonus) of his support as a result of his xenia-relationship with their deceased father (Jason, the tyrant of Pherae), and he goes on to pledge that his present advice is motivated by his xenia-relationship toward them. [75] In Epistle 7, he offers advice to Timotheus, whose father, Clearchus, had been one of his students. He begins the letter by invoking his intimate relationship with Clearchus, and concludes by instructing Timotheus to dispatch a letter to him renewing their former friendship and xenia-relationship (τὴν φιλίαν καὶ ξενίαν τὴν πρότερον ὑπάρχουσαν). [76] He furthermore conjures up the framework of xenia in his repeated categorizations of his own advice as a gift (δῶρον/δωρεά) that he presents to his students. [77] In these instances, then, Isocrates chooses to situate his pedagogical role as an expert counselor in the context of xenia; it is the basis for his relationship with his advisees and the sole motivation for his counsel.
The link between ξενία and σοφία is also strong in connection with Protagoras. According to Philostratus, the father of Protagoras established ties to Xerxes as a guest-friend and acquired by means of gifts the opportunity for Protagoras to learn from the Magi. [78] Herodotus (8.120) corroborates the connection between Xerxes and Abdera:
It is plain that Xerxes came to Abdera on his return back and made a pact of friendship with them (ξεινίην τέ σφι συνθέμενος) and gave them as gifts (δωρησάμενος) a golden sword and gold-sprinkled tiara.
In this passage, we find the same language as in Herodotus’ narrative on Croesus and Solon, that is, the language of xenia and gift-exchange. It places Protagoras in a similar relationship to Xerxes as Solon to Croesus. Note Philostratus’ emphasis on the wealth of Protagoras’ father (πλούτῳ κατεσκευασμένος), a prerequisite for acts of xenia. In the Protagoras (316c7) we hear that the sophist’s audience are the best young men (οἱ βέλτιστοι τῶν νέων), and here βέλτιστοι is a class marker to indicate the young men’s social standing as aristocrats. [79]
In general when we hear of a sophist’s visit to Athens, he is staying in the household of an aristocrat—an arrangement difficult to understand outside the framework of xenia. In Plato’s Protagoras, for example, we are told that the sophists are staying in the house of Callias, a known Athenian aristocrat. The audience at Callias’ house is, in the words of Martin Ostwald:
a ‘Who’s Who’ of the upper class: Pericles’ sons Paralus and Xanthippus, Alcibiades, Critias, Charmides, Phaedrus, Eryximachus, Pausanias, Agathon, Adeimantus son of Cepis, and his namesake, son of Leucolophides. [80]
Plutarch (Pericles 36.2–3) also gives evidence for Pericles’ association with sophists in general and Protagoras in particular. In Plato’s Gorgias (447b), Callicles houses the great sophist, and although Callicles’ historicity is disputed, it is safe to say that he is meant to belong to the upper stratum in Athenian life. [81]
As we have already observed, we hear of a strong involvement in diplomatic activities on the part of many of the sophists, [82] and this sphere of activities also had strong ties to xenia. According to Herman, xenia was successively appropriated by the poleis for purposes of inter-polis diplomacy, [83] and ambassadors were regularly chosen based on their personal hereditary ties of xenia. [84] Although we know very little about the specifics surrounding the ambassadorial undertakings of the sophists, it seems likely that their appointments in some measure depended on their ability to draw on private relationships of xenia. The evidence of diplomatic expertise, then, is another indication of the sophists’ participation and membership in the elite xenia network.
The Presocratics, too, seem to belong to this exclusive circle, at least if we take seriously the frequent attestations of their families’ prominent stature. For example, Thales is said to have been from a distinguished family (γένος λάμπρον, Diogenes Laertius 1.22), and Anaxagoras is reported to have been “eminent for wealth and noble birth” (οὗτος εὐγενείᾳ καὶ πλούτῳ διαφέρων ἦν, Diogenes Laertius 2.6). Heraclitus was of royal descent but gave up his claim to kingship in favor of his brother (ἐκχωρῆσαι γὰρ τἀδελφῷ τῆς βασιλείας, Diogenes Laertius 9.6). Empedocles, likewise, is said to be of an illustrious family (λαμπρᾶς ἦν οἰκίας, Diogenes Laertius 8.51) and to have once rejected an offer of kingship (τὴν βασιλείαν αὐτῷ διδομένην παρῃτήσατο, Diogenes Laertius 8.63), and we also possess evidence that Parmenides was of noble birth and wealth (γένους τε ὑπάρχων λαμπροῦ καὶ πλούτου, Diogenes Laertius 9.21). When he visited Athens with Zeno, they stayed at the house of Pythodorus, a known Athenian aristocrat (Plato Parmenides 127c).

Ξενία and the Seven Sages

But this thematic link between sophia and xenia does not begin with nor is exclusively restricted to the sources on the sophists. We have seen how Solon was greeted and received as a guest-friend by Croesus in Herodotus. Indeed, he was invited by the Lydian king in his capacity as a practitioner of wisdom, and Croesus comments on his reputation for wisdom and travel (πλάνη). We have also heard of Thales’ reputed travel to Egypt, where he allegedly learned geometry, [85] and of his participation in the banquet of the Seven Sages at Corinth. Another member in the stories surrounding the Seven Sages was Anacharsis, and we have interesting attestations of his travels. [86] Herodotus (4.76) relates how he traveled extensively and made displays of his wisdom during his travels (Ἀνάχαρσις, ἐπείτε γῆν πολλὴν θεωρήσας καὶ ἀποδεξάμενος κατ’ αὐτὴν σοφίην πολλὴν). Diogenes Laertius also attests to his many travels in 1.103 (πολλὰ πλανηθείς). Jan Fredrik Kindstrand has collected the sources for his travels in the Greek world and beyond, and he is said to have visited Sparta, Delphi, Myson in Chen, Periander, and Croesus. [87] Diogenes Laertius writes that he also went to Athens to visit Solon to become, if possible, his guest-friend (βούλοιτο αὐτὸν θεάσασθαι, ξένος τε, εἰ οἷόν τε, γενέσθαι). [88] Solon’s initial response was to dismiss him but, struck by his readiness of wit (καταπλαγεὶς τὴν ἑτοιμότητα), he changed his mind and befriended him. Here again we see the thematic link between travel, wisdom, and xenia. We have already explored this link with respect to the sophists and Presocratics, and now I would like to push the analysis even further back to the Seven Sages.
We have scant ancient sources on the Seven Sages, and the material is often problematic. But there still seem to be important themes that fit well with what we have outlined above. Thales, Solon, and Anacharsis all figured in accounts that designate them as members of the collegium of the Seven Sages. [89] They were famous for their wisdom and travels. Further, xenia seems to have constituted an important institutional framework for their travels: Solon was hospitably received by Croesus, and Anacharsis established a guest-friend relationship to Solon. [90] Diodorus Siculus (9.2) develops this thematic link in a passage where he writes that Croesus used to summon the wisest Greeks and, after spending time with them and benefiting from their wisdom, would send them away with many gifts (Κροῖσος ὁ Λυδῶν βασιλεὺς … μετεπέμπετο τῶν Ἑλλήνων τοὺς σοφωτάτους, καὶ συνδιατρίβων αὐτοῖς μετὰ πολλῶν δώρων ἐξέπεμψε καὶ αὐτὸς πρὸς ἀρετὴν ὠφελεῖτο πολλά). Later in the same book (9.26), Diodorus repeats the same passage but goes on to name the wise men invited: Solon, Anacharsis, Bias, and Pittacus. Apart from the names of the sages, what these passages add to Herodotus’ account is the mention of gifts. Herodotus invokes the language of gift-exchange only to problematize the commodification of wisdom suggested by Croesus. In the Herodotean version, Croesus sends Solon away giftless, deeming him unworthy of any compensation. Diodorus, on the other hand, describes an unproblematic exchange that leads to lavish compensation. Together, these two passages paint a picture of traveling sages hospitably received and generously rewarded for their services. Already in our sources on the Seven Sages, then, we see a quasi-institutionalized role of a wise man, sophos. He is a highly sought-after traveling practitioner of wisdom who journeys the Greek world and beyond through connections established through xenia. We also encounter these practitioners at banquets and symposia for the Seven Sages, and at the Panhellenic centers, with an emphasis on Delphi. This is a connection that we shall explore further in the next chapter.


[ back ] 1. Remarkably little has been written about travel, especially as it pertains to the travels of sophoi. The standard introduction in English to travel in antiquity is Casson 1994. See Dougherty 2001 for an exploration of the metaphorical use of travel, especially in relation to (poetic) wisdom, in the Odyssey. See also Hartog 2001 and, for an anthropological and cross-cultural account of travel, Helms 1988.
[ back ] 8. Philostratus Lives of the Sophists 1.9 = DK 82A1. See the discussion of this passage in chapter three, 61–78.
[ back ] 9. Diodorus Siculus 12.53 = DK 82A4.
[ back ] 10. Guthrie 1971:270.
[ back ] 11. Philostratus Lives of the Sophists 1.1 = DK 82A1a; Aelian Varia Historia 12.32 = DK 82A9. This story is further discussed in chapter five, 118.
[ back ] 12. Argos: DK vol. 2, p425:26 = Olympiodorus on Plato’s Gorgias 46:11; Thessaly: Meno 70a–71b, Isocrates Antidosis 155 = DK 82A18; Argos and Boeotia: Untersteiner 1954:93 with notes, and Schmid-Stählin 1940:59n10, cf. Guthrie 1971:270n2.
[ back ] 13. Isocrates Antidosis 156 = DK 82A18.
[ back ] 14. Suda = DK 84A1; Hippias Major 282c = DK 84A3.
[ back ] 15. Philostratus Lives of the Sophists 1.12 = DK 84A1a.
[ back ] 16. Hippias Major 282c = DK 84A3
[ back ] 17. Philostratus Lives of the Sophists 1.11 = DK 86A2. See also discussion in chapter three, 84–90.
[ back ] 18. Hippias Major 281a = DK 86A6.
[ back ] 19. Hippias Minor 363c = DK 86A8.
[ back ] 20. Hippias Major 368b–d = DK 86A12. See discussion in chapter 5, 113–115.
[ back ] 21. Plutarch Numa 1 = DK 86B3.
[ back ] 22. Hippias Major 285d–e = DK 86A11.
[ back ] 23. Memorabilia 4.4.5 = DK 86A14.
[ back ] 24. Thucydides 4.78.2. Cf. Herman 1987:119.
[ back ] 25. DK 11A11.
[ back ] 26. Plutarch Dinner of the Seven Wise Men 2d–e.
[ back ] 27. Diogenes Laertius 2.1 = DK 12A1.
[ back ] 28. Cicero De Divinatione 1.50.112 = DK 12A5a.
[ back ] 29. Aelian Varia Historia 3.17 = DK 12A3.
[ back ] 30. DK 21B8.
[ back ] 31. Diogenes Laertius 9.20 = DK 21A1. For a general discussion of archaic foundation (κτίσις) poetry and argument against its autonomy as a literary genre, see Dougherty 1994.
[ back ] 32. Diogenes Laertius 8.2–3.
[ back ] 33. Peter Kingsley (1994) argues that the reports of Pythagoras’ travels should be taken seriously, especially since the sources (Herodotus 2.81 and Isocrates Busiris 28) date back to the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Kingsley sees already in Heraclitus (DK 22B129) an implicit reference to Pythagorean travel. See also Guthrie (1962:163n2) who argues that Isocrates did not invent Pythagoras’ travel to Egypt but that it went back at least to Herodotus 2.123. For Isocrates’ Busiris, see Livingstone 2001.
[ back ] 34. Diogenes Laertius 8.52, 63, 66–67, 71, and 73 = DK 31A1; Athenaeus 14.620d = DK 31A12.
[ back ] 35. Diogenes Laertius 2.6–15 = DK 59A1.
[ back ] 36. DK 68B299.
[ back ] 37. Note that this story is also associated with Protagoras (Diogenes Laertius 9.34 = DK 68A1), quoted earlier on 94. See discussion below, 109n78.
[ back ] 38. Diogenes Laertius 9.35 = DK 68A1; Strabo 15.703 = DK 68A12; Cicero De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum 9.19.50 = DK 68A13; Aelian Varia Historia 4.20 = DK 68A16.
[ back ] 39. Diodorus Siculus (9.26.1) also mentions a meeting between Solon and Croesus, but there Solon is part of a larger delegation of the Seven Sages.
[ back ] 40. For the problem of chronology that this encounter poses, see How and Wells 1912, 1:66–67; and Asheri, Lloyd, and Corcella 2007:99, with bibliography.
[ back ] 41. Herman 1987:10.
[ back ] 42. “Ritual friendship appears as an overwhelmingly upper-class institution … People of humbler standing are significantly rare,” Herman 1987:34.
[ back ] 43. For the concept of symbolic capital, see the general discussion of how Bourdieu figures in my work, in the introduction, above, 17–19. Symbolic capital implies an expansion of the notion of economic capital. Resources available to agents in a field are not exclusively material but take the form of other rewards, such as recognition, honor, consecration, and prestige. Just like economic capital, symbolic capital is highly sought after and can be accumulated to assure profit (though not always economic) for its holders. For a concise statement of the significance of symbolic capital in Bourdieu’s sociology, see Bourdieu 1991:14–16. For an application of the concept of symbolic capital to Greek philosophy, see Nightingale 2000:157; see also Nightingale 1995 and 2004.
[ back ] 44. It seems to me that Marcel Mauss in his classic study The Gift outlines a pattern of exchange in “economic and legal systems that have preceded our own” that fits well with the Greek institution of xenia. He writes: “what they exchange is not solely property and wealth, movable and immovable goods, and things economically useful. In particular, such exchanges are acts of politeness: banquets, rituals, military services, women, children, dances, festivals, and fairs, in which economic transaction is only one element, and in which the passing on of wealth is only one feature of a much more general and enduring contract,” 5.
[ back ] 45. For manifestations of such threats, see examples in Herman 1987:1–5.
[ back ] 46. “Overtly or covertly, guest-friendship continued to act as a powerful bond between citizens of different cities and between citizens and members of various apolitical bodies. And by this persistence in the age of the cities, it became involved in actively shaping the value system of the polis and in formulating some of its most basic concepts and patterns of action,” Herman 1987:7.
[ back ] 47. It is important to note here that elite in this context does not have as its opposite democratic; rather, it is the opposite of forms of government that place the communal interests of the polis above the prosperity of individual members of the elite, which, of course, includes an oligarchy like Sparta. For an example of this, see Herman 1987:1.
[ back ] 48. Herman 1987:6.
[ back ] 49. The relationships developed within the xenia framework were in no way limited to the Greek world: “xenia relationships could exist between members of different Greek cities; between members of Greek cities and members of Greek ethne (for example, Macedonians, Epirotes); between Greeks and non-Greeks (for example, Persians, Lydians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Romans); and finally, between different non-Greeks,” Herman 1987:12.
[ back ] 50. “The concepts, outlook and symbols of guest-friendship were transferred from the personal level to the level of the whole community and, invested with new meanings, they provided the city with a framework for interacting with foreign individuals and communities,” Herman 1987:8.
[ back ] 51. Herman 1987:139.
[ back ] 52. For a full discussion of the nature and content of such an exchange system, see Herman 1987:73–106.
[ back ] 53. Herman 1987:81.
[ back ] 54. Herman 1987:150.
[ back ] 55. Very often these roles would of course overlap: Solon, for example, was a wise man, a lawgiver and legislative expert, and a poet.
[ back ] 56. Herman 1987:84.
[ back ] 57. The cultural affiliation between xenia and travel will become more apparent in chapter five, when we explore the relevance of xenia for the travels to and activities at the Panhellenic centers.
[ back ] 58. Montiglio 2000:88 is a typical representative of this view: “[T]he first philosophers who took to wandering did so under no other compulsion than their intellectual curiosity.” See also Montiglio 2005.
[ back ] 59. Humphreys 1978:213–214.
[ back ] 60. Humphreys 1978:225.
[ back ] 61. Thomas 2000:12.
[ back ] 62. Montiglio 2000, esp. 87–88 and 93; and 2005, esp. 24–41.
[ back ] 63. Montiglio 2000:88; and 2005:91–117.
[ back ] 64. Montiglio 2000:88.
[ back ] 65. “But unlike Solon or Democritus, the Sophists did not travel in order to acquire knowledge. Hardly any ‘theory,’ any abstract curiosity or ethnographic interest motivated their travels. Rather, the Sophists travelled to sell their skill,” Montiglio 2000:92; and 2005:105–117.
[ back ] 66. “The wanderings of the Sophist within the wandering realm of opinion highlight his unphilosophical nature and match his ability to assume any shape, like a wizard. Wandering is a manifestation of the Sophist’s fleeting mutability, which in turn gives rise to a multiplication of definitions. In sum, the Sophist’s wanderings connote verbal deceits, greed, and an evasive, slippery nature,” Montiglio 2000:93.
[ back ] 67. Renfrew and Cherry 1986:2.
[ back ] 68. “The significant unit is thus seen, in this perspective, to be the larger community beyond the polity level, comprised of loosely related, yet politically independent, interacting groups,” Renfrew and Cherry 1986:7.
[ back ] 69. Renfrew and Cherry 1986:8.
[ back ] 70. Renfrew and Cherry 1986:16.
[ back ] 71. This is not to deny the operation of xenia in the visits to the Panhellenic centers, only to emphasize its more pervasive influence as a social institution.
[ back ] 72. Renfrew and Cherry 1986:158.
[ back ] 73. Renfrew and Cherry 1986:158.
[ back ] 74. “In several works he insists that by offering counsel to certain individuals he is continuing the friendship which he had with their fathers (cf. Epistle 5.1; Epistle 6.1). He specifically asks the addressees of Epistle 6 to consider the epistle as xenia, as a token of guest-friendship (4),” Too 1995:110.
[ back ] 75. Isocrates Epistle 6.1 and 6.4.
[ back ] 76. Epistle 7.13.
[ back ] 77. To Nicocles 2 and To Demonicus 2. Cf. Too 1995:110–111.
[ back ] 78. See passage quoted earlier on 94 (Philostratus Lives of the Sophists 1.10. = DK 80A2). Note that Diogenes Laertius attributes this story to Democritus (9.34), and he also emphasizes how important the relationship of xenia was between Democritus’ father and Xerxes to bring about the interaction with the Magi. The fact that this account of the affiliation with the Magi is attributed both to Protagoras and Democritus does not in any way, I think, decrease its value as evidence for the importance of xenia for the sophists. If anything, it supports the claim that the sharp division between the Presocratics and the sophists is a false one.
[ back ] 79. Cf. ADKins 1973:10, who notes that “βέλτιστοι certainly has socio-political overtones.”
[ back ] 80. Ostwald 1992:343.
[ back ] 81. See Dodds 1959:12–15, esp. 13n2.
[ back ] 82. Gorgias: Diodorus Siculus 12.53 = DK 82A4; Prodicus: Philostratus Lives of the Sophists 1.12 = DK 84A1a, Hippias Major 282c = DK 84A3; Hippias: Philostratus Lives of the Sophists 1.11 = DK 86A2.
[ back ] 83. “The concepts, outlook and symbols of guest-friendship were transferred from the personal level to the level of the whole community and, invested with new meanings, they provided the city with a framework for interacting with foreign individuals and communities,” Herman 1987:8.
[ back ] 84. Herman 1987:139: “time and again, [Greek states] included in their embassies people who already stood in some warm and enduring relationship with the persons to be approached.” Cf. Humphreys’ discussion of the process of selecting ambassadors in fifth-century Athens. She highlights some important qualifications: wealth, sympathetic disposition to the party involved, and “ties of hereditary proxeny or other personal links with the state to which the embassy was dispatched,” Humphreys 1977–1978:100.
[ back ] 85. Diogenes Laertius 1.24.
[ back ] 86. For a general discussion of the Seven Sages, see Snell 1971; Martin 1993; and Busine 2002. See also discussion in chapter five. For Anacharsis, see Kindstrand 1981.
[ back ] 87. Kindstrand 1981:8.
[ back ] 88. Diogenes Laertius 1.101.
[ back ] 89. Anacharsis was first included in this group by Ephorus (ca. 350 BCE) according to Diogenes Laertius 1.41, but Kindstrand 1981:38, argues that he was “closely associated with it at an early date.” For a fuller discussion and relevant bibliography, see Kindstrand 1981:33–50.
[ back ] 90. In this context, we might mention what Plutarch has to say about Solon (Solon 26.3; cf. Herodotus 5.113). He came to Cyprus and was well received by one of the kings, Philocyprus. Solon took such a liking to the king that he advised him to move his city to a more favorable place on a nearby plain, and he stayed to manage the founding of the new city (ἐπεμελήθη τοῦ συνοικισμοῦ). In return, Philocyprus thanked Solon by giving the new city, formerly known as Aipeia, the name of Soli. This is the foundation Solon refers to in fragment 19 (West).