Chapter 4. Philosophical Politics, Tooth and Nail

An Introduction to Philosophical Polemics

What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish?
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
When we study the generation of Plato and Isocrates’ students, and their often polemical intercourse, across lines of genre and scholastic affiliation, we are presented with an unfamiliar picture of a space for debate and competition. Within this space are writers who have been variously remembered as philosophers, historians, orators, sophists, and poets. This raises multiple questions. What place did “philosophy” take for itself in the intellectual and political life of the later fourth century? Was the state of intellectual life at this period in some sense a legacy of the careers of the older generation, of Plato, Xenophon, and Isocrates? Will a close look at the activities of the students reflect light back upon the political and social import of the teachers’ lives?
Thus in this part of my study I continue my inquiry into the practical meaning and political organization of specifically intellectual activity, still aiming to take its measure not in terms of affiliation with political factions, but through an appreciation of how, in the internal rivalries among intellectuals, we may sometimes be able to observe more clearly the manner in which their specialized field of activity fits into the larger fabric of the life of the Athenian, and later Hellenic, community. My aim is to shed some light on the “school politics” of a poorly understood but vital transitional period in literary and intellectual history—the years between Plato’s death and the familiar figures of Hellenistic literature. [1] In this period, the intellectual giants of the last years of the independent Athenian polis, particularly Plato and Isocrates, saw their legacy handled and developed by the products of their schools.
By “school politics” I mean two sometimes quite irreconcilable things: first, in the sense of our own professional politics or office politics—rivalries, alliances, empire-building, and backstabbing that seem to be more about status in the intellectual arena than anything of consequence in what we would call the “real world”; second, how the scholastic institutions did, in fact, find a place for themselves in the Greek world’s inescapable political pressures, political events, and political fabric of life.
The impact of purely political power on the field of philosophy presents itself much more unmistakably in the students’ generation. Yet due caution must be applied to any attempt to answer the more familiar question of how philosophical or intellectual movements may have translated their own internal activities, configuration, and contests into a force capable of altering political history. This question has excited great interest and controversy, especially given the copious indications in the ancient literature that Plato’s Academy trained a cohort of students to further a common political agenda, or at least to apply themselves to reforming government by the criteria of philosophy. Studies by P. A. Brunt and Kai Trampedach have reacted to persistent sympathy for this simplified story in modern scholarship by addressing the issue strictly in these terms and producing refutations of any direct and successful application of the Academy’s organized activities to politics. Brunt took up “the thesis that it was a primary aim of Plato to produce political experts” and concluded that “the evidence on the political activities of Plato’s pupils is too weak to sustain in itself the thesis that it was one of his chief aims to prepare them for statecraft,” and finally that “whatever importance the school has in the history of political theory, its influence on the history of states was nil.” [2] Trampedach is similarly blunt about the political inconsequentiality of such noteworthy Academic–ruler relationships as those between Euphraeus and Perdiccas III, the “Platonics” and Hermias, [3] and Aristotle and Alexander: “These connections between philosophers and rulers, as has been seen, did not have political consequences.” [4]
It must be emphasized that neither of these studies took as their subject the form of life, politically conditioned and itself internally subject to a “political” organization, that brought the earliest students of the Academy together with their philosophical colleagues and quasi-philosophical quasi-colleagues in confrontations that were sometimes shaped for the consumption of rulers and other political notables. Even Trampedach’s book, despite having a decidedly prosopographical bent in its first half, neglects these complex interactions within the philosophical field in order to focus on the evidence for the philosophers’ purely political activities and relationships across the politician–philosopher divide. A consideration of the intrinsically political nature of ancient intellectual careers has not fit into the design of these modern political studies, just as philosophically trained scholars, in turn, have quite logically and consistently turned their attention away from the “distraction” of partisan squabbles in their investigations into the development and influence of philosophical doctrines in the schools of this period.
Movements and projects of a philosophical kind can often be shown to breathe the political spirit of their time, but attempts at direct intervention in the political order are less frequent. Even allowing for the relatively low degree of professional differentiation that still obtained in the Classical polis, Plato’s own formulation (whether in the seventh letter or in the Republic) of the divide between the phenomenon of political life and the way of philosophy strongly suggests that the criteria by which philosophy articulates a “higher politics” may not be those of its suitability to practical implementation. [5] While I would lay stress on Plato’s serious attention to imagining a marriage between the stringent demands of philosophy and the real parameters of a functioning political community, [6] which suggests the possibility that, for Plato, the philosopher’s life can be a model civic life, nonetheless these concerns are distinctly more universal than the necessary parameters of effective political action. Moreover, it should be enough for us to establish that, on the basis of what we can learn from Plato’s published works, it is not obvious how philosophy can or should affect politics. This is why Brunt and Trampedach’s tests for a direct effect produced negative results. And so, the connections between the philosophizing of Plato’s school and the shape and course of political life have to be sought through the layers that Plato deliberately interposed between them. This does not require regarding the activities of a philosopher as entirely autonomous or irrelevant, but we must be prepared to think in terms of the subtler translations of work that has specific value for philosophers (or, more generally, seems specifically provocative to other intellectuals) into the kind of capital that has currency in the political administration of states or in the contest among political entities for supremacy.
A better approach, and one that displays independent affinities to the present study, is that of Vincent Azoulay, whose Bourdieusian analysis is meant to “understand the way in which intellectual life in Athens organizes itself into a field of confrontations and rivalries, from which, in fine, individuals emerge by a series of strategies of distinction.” [7] This reading finds a “rupture” and deep division within the intellectual field in Athens, between a civically embedded pole (exemplified by the logographers and dramatic poets) and an assertively independent pole reflecting an “autonomization” due to Isocrates’ foundation of the first Athenian school in the late 390s, which would constitute the birth of a distinct intellectual field. [8] The study of Isocrates, therefore, affords us “a privileged means of access for decoding the play of the symbolic struggles that structure the field.” [9] Azoulay’s perspective thus leads him to deploy the term “politique au second degré” for some of the same motives for which I speak of “philosophical politics,” but second-degree politics is still a form of politics tout court, maintaining the same ends but pursuing them by specialized means, so that the philosophers’ activities are still fundamentally political in the ordinary sense (in Azoulay’s image, the umbilical cord joining politics and philosophy is stretched but not broken). [10] Although retaining the corrective points of Brunt and Trampedach, I am not prepared to allow power politics so decisive a role in determining the shape of the intellectual field and its internal politics.
Leaving open the questions of how effectively autonomous the field of philosophical and intellectual competition may have been, [11] and of what degree of correlation existed between its configuration and the political power dynamics more-or-less external to it, we must first attempt to describe the scene by assembling the participants who act upon it, their public and published interactions with each other, and the private relationships frequently alleged to cloud their integrity as agents of their texts and teachings. A structural account of such a personal network, together with some basic assessments of its characteristics as a field and as a group, may serve as the foundation for an account of the political dimension of their philosophical activity and do more to develop and complicate this account than another attempt to prove or disprove the existence of a philosophical cabal in the halls of power.
In what follows, I will take as the initial nodes on the network those whom tradition has identified as “students” of Plato or Isocrates. We have already considered several of these individuals. We want to understand better to whom they were talking, and about what. The network can then be expanded to include those whose intellectual or political converse connects to these figures. The principle of this method is to delimit a space within which persons worked recorded social effects on each other. It may also throw some light back on the institutional, social, and political context of Plato and Isocrates, who originated some of the most influential scholastic structures and modeled the philosophical career, and who by courting monarchs initiated an endeavor that continued among the younger group.
This later-fourth-century group of philosophers and others affords us a special opportunity to study these contextual intersections because of several notable changes that can be observed in progress among them. First, there is the sheer growth of the intellectual profession, manifested in a proliferation of schools, in the solidification of rhetoric and philosophy as organized disciplines with articulated doctrines, and in the emergence of a professionally literate class communicating across disciplinary lines. A second notable phenomenon, which may seem at odds with the first, is the apparently increased influence of courts and rulers on many intellectuals. Affiliations of this kind will be seen to come about through a mix of forces, including newly urgent practical necessities; ideal or theoretical proclivities are still important but are losing the determinative influence they had on Plato and Isocrates’ address to monarchs in the days before Philip. In the extreme instances we will observe a free-for-all of competition by any means necessary. [12]
Important aspects of this emergent generation and its quarrelsome obsessions have attracted some attention from students of fourth-century philosophy and history. G. E. L. Owen notably protested against the usually inadequate appreciation of the partial and polemical nature of our evidence for this moment in the history of philosophy in his “Philosophical Invective.” Owen deserves great credit for casting a ray of light on what is, indeed, still “a rich century of calumny whose measure the historians of philosophy are only starting to take.” [13] And his skepticism about castles made of such evidentiary sand can be nothing but salutary, if it prevents the misuse of hostile witnesses in reconstructing the philosophical ideas and doctrines developed and held by thinkers of the past. The communis opinio on such philosophically pressing questions as the tendencies and sympathies of Aristotle’s earliest philosophical writings has too often depended on such frail constructions, their own history—of coming to be out of ancient fragments in the modern scholarship of previous centuries—forgotten. [14] However, once we declare ourselves interested not only in doctrines, but also in controversies and position-taking among ancient intellectuals, the same evidence becomes invaluable, despite its problems.
It is important to recognize Owen’s focus: the ease with which historians may be misled when they are ignorant of the tradition’s wide stream of attack and manipulation. Accordingly, his results are primarily negative, as he demolishes the claim of unfounded and recycled accusations to serve as bases for making factually acceptable history. He concludes by expressing satisfaction if he has “put us on our guard against some evidence that wears an innocent face.” [15] So the tales of the talebearers are misleading if misappropriated. But if we do survey them with a skeptical eye, can we enlighten ourselves about anything beyond the dangers faced by the historian of philosophy and by the thin-skinned philosopher of antiquity? The vast supply of dubious evidence is itself positive evidence of something. Academics, Isocrateans, and Aristotle are all seen to pour their energy into rivalries and attacks that are variously personal, political, and professional.
Besides his detailed criticisms of specific pieces of evidence, which will be relevant to my own survey of personalities and entanglements, one of Owen’s contributions is his good sense in adapting what is familiar about stock slanders in the context of the works of the orators to the conditions specific to philosophers. In circles where literacy and education are paramount, plagiarism corresponds almost exactly to the charge of common theft that is regularly brought in ordinary disputes between “laymen,” while the teacher–pupil relationship is as ripe to be exploited for proxy smears among intellectuals as is the parent–child relationship in the contests fought in the Athenian lawcourts. [16] Owen uses this modest critical toolkit to make some elegant and persuasive refutations.
Owen also invites us to examine the evidence that some fourth-century pamphleteers went far beyond the weak invective of the Middle Comic stage and took up a coordinated program of propagandistic eulogy and vituperation, as in Athenaeus’ report (5.220a) that Socrates’ followers outdo the comedians in their destructive slander of all opponents. [17] At the same time, he draws a line between rhetorical “calumny and adulation by way of an epideictic exercise” and the more seriously drawn battle lines of the philosophers. From this point of view, Polycrates was a subphilosophical rhetorician, understood aright by Isocrates in the reply of his technical and playful Busiris (responding to both Polycrates’ earlier encomium of Busiris and his Accusation of Socrates), whereas Xenophon displays naïve misjudgment when he responds in serious earnest to the same allegedly playful Accusation of Socrates. [18]
This account valuably focuses at the same time on the conjunction of programmatic seriousness and comic-rhetorical touches in the polemics of these overlapping circles of writers, and on the exchange of encomia along tracks running near and parallel to the economy of invective. However, I believe that a better solution to this puzzle is to be found through the hypothesis that all of these writings and confrontations were part of a single serious-and-playful literary culture (at the very least, that some unity of topic and audience held together contemporary prosateurs’ treatment of the question of Socrates’ guilt). We do not need to seek refuge in the view that a Polycrates and a Xenophon miscommunicate with each other if we are willing to admit that a serious attack can wear a smiling face, and that purely technical display (rhetorical or philosophical) can itself be an effective weapon and assertion of superiority.
Can we believe that Polycrates’ intention had to be misjudged by Xenophon or unusually distorted in its general reception in order for the jeu to elicit from Xenophon a response in a supposedly different register? I do not doubt Owen’s literary instincts that the manner of confrontation in these sources is often surprisingly distant from political and forensic oratory, and closer to comedy. But this discrepancy should be placed in the context of the generally novel literary and political mores of philosophers and of the various obscure figures on the margins of recognized philosophy. This evolving group may have developed its own specific weapons, whose literary subtlety and deviousness should not cause us to forget that serious struggles (as over the status of Socrates and his legacy) were being fought. It may be helpful to consider the example of Plato himself, whose display of affinities to comedy at moments where he is engaged in serious philosophy and intellectual positioning is generally appreciated. Thus it may not be very useful to treat malice and jest as opposing poles, if so-called comic moments are in reality instances of specialized and subtle form of intellectual contest. The possibility that this mode of argument is a specialized creation within the broadly philosophical genre deserves further study. Moreover, one of Owen’s most penetrating observations, if fleshed out, may lend strong support to my account of generic and professional specialization. I refer to the trend in the fourth century wherein invective against philosophers “becomes weak and repetitive and generalized in the comedians in proportion as it becomes ruthless and uninhibited in the pamphlets of the sophists and philosophers themselves.” Owen can point to the well-read Athenaeus, who is in concurrence that such philosophers as the early Socratics are more slanderous than the comedians themselves. [19] I suggest that, as attacks and controversies are increasingly concentrated within the broadly philosophical profession, we must be more receptive to the special generic forms of intercourse that accompany the demonstrable formation of a more specialized space of discourse. A further result of these considerations is that Owen’s working distinction between the “philosophers” and the “pamphleteers” may not be tenable.
Whose voices were heard in the arena we wish to describe? Let us begin with Plato’s students, Isocrates’ students (and we must include Isocrates himself because of his remarkable longevity), their antagonists, allies, and patrons. This group is remarkable for its size and its lack of resemblance to the cast of characters that feature in the history of philosophy or any other recognized discipline.
The nucleus of this group—meaning not necessarily the most influential actors, but the ones whose recorded actions and publications give us the clearest picture of controversy and competition, while also allowing us to draw lines of personal connection that cross and multiply more prolifically than with others—includes Plato’s students Speusippus and Aristotle, and Isocrates’ students Cephisodorus and Theopompus. Still closely linked to this center are such figures as the Academic Euphraeus, Aristotle’s associate Hermias of Atarneus, and Eubulides of the Megarian school. [20] As we branch farther out, we will consider some of the minor orators and sophists with connections to Theopompus, and Isocrates’ other famous historian-student, Ephorus. The majority of these persons led careers that were subjected to the direct influence of Philip and the Macedonian court, a factor that will be impossible for us to ignore.


The historians Theopompus of Chios and Ephorus of Cyme are said not only to have been Isocrates’ students, [21] but to have received decisive guidance from him in their literary careers. This would have applied to both the subject matter of their histories, [22] and the marshaling of their intellectual energies according to their differing natures—the oft-repeated discunt, alter, uti dixit Isocrates in Ephoro et Theopompo, frenis eget, alter calcaribus. [23] This ancient tradition, together with a distinctly modern exclusive conception of these alleged students as writers of history, has created a literary bias, so that scholarly discussion is dominated by the question of whether there was a “school of rhetorical history” represented by Ephorus and Theopompus. [24]
My purpose in this section is not to examine again the evidence of “rhetorical history” in the pages of Ephorus and Theopompus, and then to ask again whether the literary influence that was apparent to so many ancient readers [25] implies personal contact and rhetorical training. Rather, in the context of the evidence we have already reviewed for the interpersonal and interscholastic relations of other alleged Isocrateans, I wish to focus on whether the historians show an awareness of, and a need to be involved in, a rivalry with those in schools of philosophy (especially the Academy). The modern construct “rhetorical history” focuses our attention on Ephorus and Theopompus’ methods and styles as historians rather than on what evidence exists that the two “historians” may have been much more typically “Isocratean” in aspects of their writing and lives that have little or nothing to do with historiography—especially Theopompus’ involvement in scholastic polemics. It is notable that the idea of rhetorical education attributed to Isocrates’ school in studies of Theopompus and Ephorus is extremely conventional, with little emphasis on the claim Isocrates lays to a political philosophia or on his students’ close ties with acknowledged sophists and philosophers. The appropriateness of substituting a test of “philosophical” awareness for a rhetorical litmus test can be illustrated as follows. Martin Ostwald and John Lynch, in their excellent survey of “The Growth of Schools” for the Cambridge Ancient History, declare that “it is difficult to detect Isocrates behind the rambling discussions of Sicily, of a utopian myth ascribed to Silenus, of Zoroastrianism, of Athenian demagogues” that we find in Theopompus’ Philippica. [26] This has the sound of reason—but what if we substituted Plato for “Isocrates”? Few would then deny that, indeed, perhaps the topics of discussion at the Academy left their mark, still visible, in the fragments of the Philippica. [27] These topics could fit into the ambitions of an Isocratean, not qua historian, but as a denizen of the interconnected, polymath scholastic world. [28] We have already taken some notice of one of the strongest indications of this interconnection—Speusippus’ concern with Theopompus’ anti-Plato slanders in the course of the Letter to Philip’s extended assault on Isocrates. [29] But before discussing the historian’s attitude towards the Academics we will review his links to the Isocrateans.
Theopompus’ relations with Theodectes and Theocritus—neither primarily a historiographer, and the former not at all—are a good example of a connection to the Isocratean circle that occurs outside the circle of “rhetorical history.” It will be recalled that Theodectes—variously called tragedian, orator, and sophist—was, together with Theopompus, one of the several Isocrateans who competed at Mausolus’ funeral. We may add to this that Theopompus himself wrote about Isocrates and Theodectes together, stating that they both were logographers and teachers for pay. [30] Significantly, in both of these testimonia there is a hint of rivalry between Theopompus and his putative schoolmates, something that is paralleled in the traditions about Theocritus and also in Theopompus’ relations with his political patron Alexander. At their worst, these tensions never approach the vehemence of the historian’s passionate hatred of anything Platonic, but they are an interesting subphenomenon in their own right. The link between Theopompus and Theodectes is mainly circumstantial—to be accepted and analyzed only on the basis of the evidence for Theopompus’ better-attested relations with others in the same circle—and it is as such that I present it here.
The case of Theocritus of Chios is more complex and more interesting. Our main interest in Theocritus in the following chapter will be as an attacker of Hermias, and this is something he has in common with Theopompus, as we will see shortly in our discussion of the abuses of Hermias addressed to Philip by the historian. Their togetherness on this point, however, did not keep Theopompus from abusing his fellow Chian [31] in his Advice to Alexander, quoted by Athenaeus. The target is Theocritus’ rise to a luxurious standard of living—now he drinks from gold and silver instead of from chipped ceramic. [32] It is interesting to compare the attacks on Harpalus also included in his Letter to Alexander or On the Chian Letters (FF 253–254), as they demonstrate that in Theopompus’ claims on Alexander’s attention, slights to an orator, historian, and polemicist not unlike himself held the same currency as lurid accounts of the powerful Macedonian insider and treasurer’s decadence. For this, we may think of the concoction of political propaganda and scholastic polemics in Speusippus’ Letter to Philip, but in Theopompus’ case the relations with powerful political figures are more definite and significant than in Speusippus’ case.
The mere fact that such men as Theodectes and Theocritus are on Theopompus’ mind constitutes a stronger connection to Isocrateanism than the misguided quest to discover Isocrates’ “views” in Theopompus’ history. Besides the inherent difficulties in establishing which of the Athenian schoolmaster’s perspectives on the world we would use for such a comparison, there is the larger problem that Theopompus’ greatest proximity to the Isocratean circle occurs when he is pursuing the polemical strategies that place him on the far side of a generational divide from Isocrates. The danger of false comparisons is especially acute when it comes to “political views,” that traditional criterion of factional affiliation. For example, there is little about the Isocratean variant of Panhellenism, which had been addressed in part to Athenians before Chaeronea, that would not inevitably be lost in the Theopompan translation. [33] Indeed, the same divide that separated Isocrates’ Philip from the Speusippean response to it, in which Theopompus was attacked, also separates Isocrates’ “politics” from the “political” activities of his younger associates. The term “political” is used with caution here, since it has to be stretched to cover something like relations with monarchs in general. If Theopompus’ Macedonian politics have decisively departed from the strategies of Isocrates’ Philip, they are so much more distant from earlier Isocratean flirtations with kings. Contrast, for example, the idealized son of Sparta’s ruling Eurypontid king fictively made to speak in Archidamus (ca. 366 BC) with the akrasia-afflicted Archidamus whom we encounter in Theopompus’ Philippica (FF 232–233, 312). Or consider how all the advice dispensed to the young monarch in Isocrates’ To Nicocles—concerning how to stay free from pleasure’s spell—is vividly shown as scorned and forgotten by the monarch at the center of the Philippica. [34]
The engagement with monarchs by Plato, Xenophon, and Isocrates’ generation, even when it tempts us to regard it as “really” political, kept much of its idealistic, or at least symbuleutic, character. This was simply not viable in the rough-and-tumble new philosophical politics. This change in the weather had more to do with the progress of history than with one’s scholastic affiliation. What was (at worst) a détente between Plato and Isocrates themselves was supplanted by a virulent struggle that aroused no less passion in Speusippus than in Theopompus.
Still, the literary comparisons between Isocrates and Theopompus do hold some interest in respect to the particular case of the polemical letters. For example, Jacoby, who was not ready to allow that Theopompus had actually attended Isocrates’ school, still felt that the Isocratean epistles provided the most relevant antecedent to the form of Theopompus’ missives to Philip and Alexander, [35] in which are found his attacks on both Theocritus and Hermias.
Theopompus’ attacks on Hermias and on Plato himself are by far the strongest evidence available for how invested he was in the status game played in philosophical circles (which, in turn, is the strongest evidence for the truth of his association with Isocrates). Didymus quotes, on the side of those who speak against Hermias, the Letter to Philip of Theopompus:
ὁ δ’ α[ὐτὸς ἐν τῆι Πρ]ὸς Φί[λιππον ἐπ]ι̣σ̣τολῆι καὶ ἣν π[αρεσκεύαστο (sc. Ἑρμείας) π]αρ[ὰ τοῖς] Ἕλλησι δόξαν ἱστορε̣[ῖ . . . . . . . .]ρ̣[. . . . .]λ̣ως δὲ χαρίεις καὶ φιλ[όμουσ]ος γεγ̣[ον]ώς· καὶ [βάρβ]αρος μὲν ὢν μετὰ τῶν Π[λατ]ωνείων [φ]ιλο[σο]φεῖ, δοῦλος δὲ γενόμενο̣ς̣ ἀδ̣ηφάγοις ζεύγεσιν ἐν ταῖς πανηγύρεσιν ἀγ̣ωνίζεται, σκοπέλους δὲ [καὶ] μικρ[ὰ χωρί]α̣ κεκτημένος ἔτυχε μὲν τῆς [τ(ῶν)] εὐέκ̣[τ(ων) δόξ(ης), τ(ὴν)] δὲ πόλιν τὴν Ἠλ<ε>ίων ἐπ̣[αγγέλλ]ειν [πρὸς αὐτὸν τὴν] ἐκεχειρία[ν] ἔ̣[π]ε̣ι̣σ̣[εν . . . .]·
The s[ame author in his l]etter [t]o Phi[lip] also writes about the reputation [he (Hermias) had cultivated with t]he Greeks. [Though he was a eunuch, he behaved like] a man of innate cul[tivati]on and grace. [Barb]arian though he is, he philosophizes with the P[lat]onists; and though he has become a slave in the bonds of gluttony, he competes at the sacred festivals. He has acquired some headlands [and] tiny [regions] and has won the esteem of [the] bodily fit. So he persuaded (?) the city of Elis to an[nounce the] cessation of hostilities [with him] … [presumably with a view to competing in the Olympic games].
Commentary on Demosthenes col. 5.21ff. = F 250 (trans. Shrimpton 1991:270f.)
This present-tense denunciation would seem to be motivated by a desire on Theopompus’ part to counter the standing of Hermias and his circle at court—a desire that is directly and obviously comparable with the aim of the Academic Speusippus’ words against Theopompus in his Letter to Philip. Given that Theopompus is elsewhere quoted as attacking not only Hermias, [36] but also Plato (see below), the tyrant’s Academic philosophizing must be more than just another civilized pursuit of which he is unworthy. Indeed, the best way to read this line is in precisely the manner I will suggest below for Theocritus’ poetic assault on Aristotle’s departure from the Academy. Though Theopompus’ βάρβαρος μὲν ὤν is concessive, it still insinuates that the Academy’s standards must not actually be as incompatible with such a creature as Hermias is alleged to be. Bertelli recognized this:
The disparaging intention expressed through the antithesis is, in my view, also evident in βάρβαρος μὲν ὢν μετὰ τῶν Πλατωνείων φιλοσοφεῖ. Only that in this case the polemic’s objective is double: it is not limited to Hermias alone but also involves the milieu of the Academy, as if Theopompus wished to say that Plato’s school admitted even barbarians to its teaching. [37]
Elsewhere in Theopompus’ surviving words, his opposition to the Platōneioi is not indicated so indirectly. Platonic thinking is not only a laughable indulgence for a barbarian, it is wrong and worth writing against. Athenaeus quotes from a book by Theopompus entitled Against the Diatribē of Plato, [38] where we may understand diatribē to mean “discourse” or even “dialogue style” (a sense in which it is used in the quoted text), “school” (quite likely), or “philosophical activity” in general:
καὶ γὰρ Θεόπομπος ὁ Χῖος ἐν τῷ Κατὰ τῆς Πλάτωνος διατριβῆς “τοὺς πολλούς” φησί “τῶν διαλόγων αὐτοῦ ἀχρείους καὶ ψευδεῖς ἄν τις εὕροι, ἀλλοτρίους δὲ τοὺς πλείους, ὄντας ἐκ τῶν Ἀριστίππου διατριβῶν, ἐνίους δὲ κἀκ τῶν Ἀντισθένους, πολλοὺς δὲ κἀκ τῶν Βρύσωνος τοῦ Ἡρακλεώτου.”
For Theopompus of Chios too, in his Against the Diatribē of Plato, says, “One would find that the majority of his dialogues are useless and false, and the greater number of them the work of someone else, being from Aristippus’ works [diatribai], and others from those of Antisthenes, and many from those of Bryson of Heraclea.” [39]
F 259 = Athenaeus 11.118c–d
Here the attack is mainly personal, using the stock charge of plagiarism (the intellectual equivalent to common thievery, as above). Even akhreious kai pseudeis need not be taken as a negative assessment of what Plato has achieved philosophically in his writings. This is possible, but the sense could also be that Plato has put out books that are “useless and counterfeit” because unoriginal.
If this fragment, then, is useful for establishing the existence of the book and showing the kind of libelous smear that we would expect to have balanced Speusippus’ Letter to Philip, other Theopompan material from this book or something in a similar vein shows that occasion did prompt the “historian” to take up philosophical language to claim his position in the scholastic field: “And Theopompus, too, declared for these reasons that the sweet body exists, but not sweetness” (καὶ Θεόπομπος δὲ τὸ μὲν γλυκὺ σῶμα διὰ ταῦτα ἀπεφήνατο συνεστηκέναι, τὴν δὲ γλυκύτητα οὐκέτι, F 359). Here Theopompus judges an opponent’s position not as plagiarized drivel, but as not convincingly argued with proper supports (dia tauta apephēnato). This is the sort of philosophical testimonium that, if it named Speusippus or Antisthenes instead of Theopompus, would have to be taken seriously as indicating a position on the ontology of abstracts. Moreover, the quotation occurs in Simplicius’ commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, [40] and it seems unlikely that Simplicius would have noticed and preserved the citation if it had come from a gossipy polemic devoid of intellectual interest. In truth, the context we should most likely imagine is, if not an abusive tirade, then perhaps neither a critique with strictly intellectual motivations (one starts to wonder just how common such a thing could have been in Theopompus’ time). Rather, the fragments taken together preserve something of the wild mix that was the new philosophical politics.
Something of this hybrid character is more perceptible in another text in which Theopompus names Plato, quoted in Epictetus:
τὸ δ’ ἐξαπατῶν τοὺς πολλοὺς τοῦτ’ ἔστιν, ὅπερ καὶ Θεόπομπον τὸν ῥήτορα, ὅπου καὶ Πλάτωνι ἐγκαλεῖ ἐπὶ τῷ βούλεσθαι ἕκαστα ὁρίζεσθαι. τί γὰρ λέγει; “οὐδεὶς ἡμῶν πρὸ σοῦ ἔλεγεν ἀγαθὸν ἢ δίκαιον; ἢ μὴ παρακολουθοῦντες τί ἐστι τούτων ἕκαστον ἀσήμως καὶ κενῶς <ἐ>φθεγγόμεθα τὰς φωνάς;”
What deceives the many is just what deceives Theopompus the orator in the passage where he charges Plato with wanting to define each thing. What does he say? “Did none of us say anything good or just before you? Or, unless we pay [paid] minute attention to what each of these things is, do [did] we utter sounds emptily and without meaning?”
F 275 = Dissertationes ab Arriano digestae 2.17.5 (trans. Shrimpton 1991:254)
The reference to Theopompus as a rhētōr, and the fact that he is lumped in with hoi polloi, may show some skepticism about Theopompus’ credentials for making this criticism. But the protestation regarding the danger that the forest will be lost for quibbling over the trees, although somewhat commonsensical, is not invalid and can certainly be paralleled in the interlocutors of Socrates in Plato’s dialogues (e.g. Protagoras). More to the point, what Theopompus says here is certainly not the smear of a polemicist in a hurry to say whatever will most hurt Plato’s image in the eyes of those outside the specialized scholastic universe. Rather, if it has any bite at all, it is only for the audience of those who know what Plato says in his books and care whether it is right or wrong (out of a love for knowledge or from jealous rivalry—and the two motives need not be segregated from each other).
Of course, from everything that we know about Theopompus, we expect anything he had to say about Plato to have had a political edge, however often his statements may have employed the manner of philosophical argumentation instead of philosophical polemics. We will see in the following chapter that Theopompus was also the source for the testimonium that Plato was honored at his death (or rebuked, following an alternative translation) by Philip. [41] Whatever the sense of this text, it should be unsurprising that Theopompus commented not only on the philosopher’s ideas, but on his relations with the Macedonian court. It should also be unsurprising that Plato’s standing among the Socratics mattered to Theopompus, and not only his standing with politicians (though it is always possible that the former was taken up in a polemic that bore on the latter, given the complexity of scholastic rivalry vis-à-vis the field of political power). This is reconfirmed by the terms in which Diogenes Laertius cites Theopompus’ praise of Antisthenes. [42] As noted above, the personal-sounding touch of the philosopher’s “leading anyone along with harmonious companionship” [43] has inspired ideas of a Cynic Theopompus. The decisive counterargument to this is the prosopography of Theopompus’ references to the world of philosophers, so rich in Isocrateans and Academics, to the virtual exclusion of all others.
When it came to the political game, Theopompus’ high-stakes polemics and high-risk literary style seem to have left him dangerously on both sides of the all-important pole of the political world, the Macedonian court. This corroborates our sense from other sources of the position of a participant in scholastic polemics. The prospect of disfavor was very real because the battles were vigorously contested on both sides, as we can see by juxtaposing Theopompus’ addresses to Philip and Alexander, on the one hand, and Speusippus’ Letter to Philip and the fact of Aristotle’s great success at Macedon, on the other hand. Thus Theopompus’ mixed bag of relations with both Philip and Alexander makes sense if we consider it apart from the assumptions of conventional factional politics.
The most obvious aspect of this political “inconsistency” was already to Polybius a cause for complaint. [44] This is the obvious dissonance between the statement in the proem of the Philippica that Theopompus was impelled to write his history “because Europe has never at all produced such a man as Philip son of Amyntas” (F 27) and the subsequent depiction of the same man in the lowest possible terms. [45] We may add that Philip’s promise is clearly celebrated in a surviving fragment of Theopompus’ Encomium of Philip. [46] Likewise, we may suspect that it was not an irresistible urge towards impolitic honesty that made Theopompus write harshly about Mausolus, at whose funeral he had delivered the prize-winning oration. [47]
The situation with Alexander, from whom Theopompus evidently enjoyed some strong support, is equally ambivalent in the end. The Suda entry on Ephorus, after mentioning Theopompus’ exile and many letters to Alexander against the Chians, goes on to mention both encomia and invective (psogos) directed at Alexander. [48] The existence of the encomia is attested elsewhere, [49] but this is the only source for a work dedicated to the rebuke of Alexander (no longer extant in the time of the compiler). The pattern Theopompus followed with Philip and Mausolus suggests that there may be some truth behind this testimonium. In any case, the true situation may have been less simple than that “Theopompus was a political supporter and, one might even say, an agent of Alexander.” [50]


Theopompus’ exuberant polemics illustrate one of the many layers of truth in the ben trovato tradition that Isocrates thought he needed the reins while Ephorus required the goad. Indeed, for all Ephorus’ fame, our traditions do not tell of his virulent attacks on his fellow writers. Perhaps this should restrain our tendency to believe that late writers invented scandalous stories willy-nilly about all the authors they read. One instance of the thematic and verbal connections between Ephorus and Isocrates is, however, worth reviewing briefly here.
Strabo transmits a passage from Ephorus’ treatment of Zaleucus’ legislation for Archaic Locri. [51] This passage figured in the earlier dispute about Isocrates’ influence, with Niese proposing, and Jacoby denying, that Ephorus’ inclusion of Areopagitika nomima as sources for Zaleucus’ legislation in addition to the classical Krētika and Lakonika clearly links this passage to Isocrates’ Areopagiticus. In the fragment of Ephorus, the Thurians misguidedly make the wise lawgiver’s simple and flexible code the object of an effort to achieve exactitude (akriboun). This recalls the passage in Isocrates’ Areopagiticus (39–43) in which the venerable Areopagus, in its care for good order (eutaxia), despises the ignorance of those who imagine that men turn out most perfect where the laws have the greatest akribeia. [52]
This passage from Isocrates’ political program, whose discussion of legislation Ephorus seems to have had in mind, is full of language remarkably suggestive of Isocratean educational theory. Laws work by practices and character dispositions (epitēdeumata and ēthē), and lawfulness resides in the soul (psukhē). Most impressively, Isocrates fixates on the term grammata (used to describe the errors inherent in sophistic education, which applies the model of the epistēmē of grammata to the epistēmē of logoi, Against the Sophists 10), repeating it four times in reference to the educative mechanism that is not effective in establishing eutaxia. [53]
The value of these connections is increased by the fact that the question of the role of legislation in political theory and practice was one on which Isocrates had expressed contrarian (minimizing) views that in turn were rejected in Aristotelian theory. [54] The topic thus stands out as the subject of active debate in the scholastic circles we have been describing.


[ back ] 1. As recent work (see Acosta-Hughes and Stephens 2011; White 2007; White 1994) is showing, the Hellenistic authors considered Plato very topical, but in their own peculiar way. I aim to complement such studies by suggesting how “Plato,” to early Hellenistic authors, could signify not merely a literary classic and famous defier of the poets but also a figure of authority and controversy in the school polemics of the intervening generations (which transmitted a strikingly different emphasis in intellectual circles).
[ back ] 2. Brunt 1993:283, 330, 332.
[ back ] 3. These two relationships will be taken up below.
[ back ] 4. Trampedach 1994:282. Sonnabend (1996) similarly adopts the limiting framework of “interstate politics,” though he acknowledges the inadequacy of partisan categories to account for the “intellectual competitive struggle played out in the Athenian public sphere” seen in Speusippus’ Letter to Philip (92).
[ back ] 5. We may make the provocative reflection that as such differentiation and specialization increased with the rise of philosophical schools, explicit contacts with politics and politicians increased as well. But any signs that intellectuals were the influencing and not influenced participant in these transactions are, if anything, scarcer than before.
[ back ] 6. This Platonic concern for “practical politics” may be seen in regard to legal norms (Crito) and religious norms (Euthyphro) that are apparently subject to philosophical clarification and validation, and in Plato’s serious engagement, in common with Isocrates, with rhetoric as a mode of effective citizenship whose powerful workings in politics can (or cannot) be reconciled with the guiding principles of philosophy (Phaedrus, cf. Gorgias).
[ back ] 7. Azoulay 2007:174.
[ back ] 8. Azoulay 2007:180, 182, 185–187. Philosophy as a refuge or exile from civic politics is expressed in Isocrates Panathenaicus 11, with a corresponding reorientation towards the more general Hellēnika kai basilika kai politika pragmata (193), and Azoulay emphasizes this disengaged stance (apragmosunē, 192).
[ back ] 9. Azoulay 2007:186f.
[ back ] 10. Azoulay 2007:184, citing Schuhl 1946–1947 in support of the view that “the goal of the Platonic school is evidently to train politicians.”
[ back ] 11. I have already tried to suggest a high degree of specifically and autonomously intellectual life in our period, with noticeable freedom to form projects according to theoretical motivations, and intellectual debate often conducted in relatively disinterested and impersonal terms. Our study of the generation of Plato and Isocrates’ students sees these qualities under stress and sometimes at risk of breaking down. This may seem somewhat surprising against the common perception of the strong Athenian roots of Plato and Isocrates’ schools in comparison to a higher degree of scholastic specialization and autonomy in succeeding generations. A better understanding of this particular history is one of the goals of this chapter specifically, and of the larger study that confronts the teachers’ interactions with those of their students.
[ back ] 12. It would be revealing to consider the path on which Plato’s and Isocrates’ students were set in relation to a modern ideal of a disinterested and specialized intellectual profession. It seems that at this period there are both important convergences and important divergences in progress between ancient and modern ideals.
[ back ] 13. Owen 1983:3. I will have several occasions to cite this article, which is one of very few to have gathered together in one place many of the names that concern me in this chapter. Work on this topic began with the valuable collection of material in Luzac 1809:101–318.
[ back ] 14. Indeed, Owen’s paper on philosophical invective (1983) seems most likely to have grown out of his important earlier work (Owen 1965) questioning the evidence that had been considered to bear on this question, and its interpretation, for he handles our material so as to produce further arguments against the influential account of Jaeger (1948).
[ back ] 15. Owen 1983:25, emphasis added.
[ back ] 16. Owen 1983:17, 14–16.
[ back ] 17. Owen 1983:18–21.
[ back ] 18. On Polycrates, see Livingstone 2001:28–40.
[ back ] 19. Owen 1983:19. Athenaeus 5.220a.
[ back ] 20. On Eubulides, see Aristocles F 2 Chiesara 2001 = T 58f Düring 1957, Ford 2011:63–65.
[ back ] 21. See the sources gathered at FGrHist 115 T 5 and 70 T 3. Interesting among the former is the Suda’s reference (s.v. Δημοσθένης, δ 454 = T 5b) to “Theopompus the Chian philosopher,” which makes Jacoby remark, “auch φιλόσοφος merkwürdig” (ad loc.). For a wider overview of the ancient traditions concerning Isocrates’ students, see Engels 2003.
[ back ] 22. Cicero De oratore 2.57, Photius Library 176.121a27–34. The latter passage (and it alone from the first three quarters of Photius’ account of Theopompus) is not in FGrHist, even though it continues the same indirect speech included as T 5a (φασί, 121a23).
[ back ] 23. Cicero Letters to Atticus VI 1.12, cf. Quintilian Training for Oratory 2.8.10 and Suda, s.v. Ἔφορος, ε 3953.
[ back ] 24. Those who have rejected the teacher–pupil relationship include Schwartz (1907) and Flower (1994); those who accept it include Kalischek (1913), Barber (1993 [1935]), Shrimpton (1991), and Bollansée (1998:149).
[ back ] 25. N.B. that modern scholars who argue against putting the historians in Isocrates’ school without exception claim that manifest stylistic similarities are at the root of the biographical tradition.
[ back ] 26. Ostwald and Lynch 1994:601.
[ back ] 27. One specific example of topical convergence between Academic dialogue and Theopompan muthos (see Strabo 1.2.35 = FGrHist 115 F 381 for Theopompus’ candid embrace of the way muthoi are deployed in his history) is the extraordinary muthos of the Μεροπὶς γῆ told by Silenus to Midas in book 8 of the Philippica (FF 74–75, cf. Brown 1955, Ferguson 1975:122f., Aalders 1978, Romm 1996:134f.). Theopompus deploys the myth as a very general meditation on the unlikely happy fulfillment of human life, and it is in this same guise, with altogether different details, that Aristotle presented the Silenus–Midas encounter in his Eudemus (fr. 44 R3, cf. Jaeger 1948:48f.). We may compare the significance of this to the common use of topos and paradeigmata in Isocrates’ Philip, Speusippus’ Letter to Philip, and Aristotle’s Rhetoric.
[ back ] 28. The unusual range of subject matter handled by Theopompus in his Philippica and minor works has led some scholars who were unimpressed with the explanatory power of the Isocrates tradition to draw the portrait of a Cynic historian under the guidance of Antisthenes (upon whom, alone of all the Socratics, the notoriously and unsparingly bitter Theopompus bestowed his rare praise, FGrHist 115 F 295 = Diogenes Laertius 6.14): see e.g. Hirzel 1892, Murray 1946, and Flower 1994:94–97. That such a construction has been found tempting in the absence of any reliable ancient testimony perhaps speaks to the perceived inadequacy of placing Theopompus’ literary career in so seemingly unremarkable an intellectual context as the fourth-century rhetorical manner.
[ back ] 29. Speusippus’ Letter to Philip will be discussed in detail in the following chapter.
[ back ] 30. FGrHist 115 F 25 = Photius Library 176.120b35–37: ἀλλὰ Ἰσοκράτην μὲν δι’ ἀπορίαν βίου καὶ Θεοδέκτην μισθοῦ λόγους γράφειν καὶ σοφιστεύειν, ἐκπαιδεύοντας τοὺς νέους κἀκεῖθεν καρπουμένους τὰς ὠφελείας.
[ back ] 31. For the possible import of Theopompus’ fellow Chians as his rivals, cf. Suda, s.v. Ἔφορος, ε 3953 = T 8: φυγὰς δὲ γενόμενος ὁ Θεόπομπος ἱκέτης ἐγένετο τῆς Ἐφεσίας Ἀρτέμιδος· ἐπέστελλέ τε πολλὰ κατὰ Χίων Ἀλεξάνδρῳ.
[ back ] 32. Θεόπομπος δ’ ὁ Χῖος ἐν ταῖς Πρὸς Ἀλέξανδρον συμβουλαῖς περὶ Θεοκρίτου τοῦ πολίτου τὸν λόγον ποιούμενός φησιν: “ἐξ ἀργυρωμάτων δὲ καὶ χρυσῶν πίνει καὶ τοῖς σκεύεσιν χρῆται τοῖς ἐπὶ τῆς τραπέζης ἑτέροις τοιούτοις, ὁ πρότερον οὐχ ὅπως ἐξ ἀργυρωμάτων [οὐκ] ἔχων πίνειν ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ χαλκῶν, ἀλλ’ ἐκ κεραμέων καὶ τούτων ἐνίοτε κολοβῶν” (F 252).
[ back ] 33. Nevertheless, this kind of Isocratean influence has been argued to exist, providing in turn a basis for disputing such allegations (e.g. Flower 1994:44f. and esp. 83–90).
[ back ] 34. Cf. Flower 1994:90.
[ back ] 35. “The letters should be put beside Isocrates’ circular letters. The comparison, to the extent that it is possible, is of great interest for Theopompus’ manner” (FGrHist II D, p. 390, ad 115 FF 250–254).
[ back ] 36. See F 291, Didymus’ quotation from Theopompus’ Pros Philippon, which (as Shrimpton says) sounds more like an obituary: “Hermias set out on this path a eunuch and a Bithynian by race (or: disfigured in appearance) [short gap] thirdly [gap], with Eubulus he took Assos and its tower and Atarneus and its environs. Of all people this man accomplished the most violent and wicked things against all, both its citizens and others, doing away with some by poisoning and others by the noose. When the Chians and Mytilenaeans put him in charge of some land over which they were disputing, he played many drunken tricks with unpaid military expeditions and grievously insulted most of the Ionians. A money-grubber and money-changer, he did not hold his peace when the Chians fell into misfortune [large gap] to restore their established constitutions. However, he did not altogether escape nor get off with his impious and disgusting manners, but he was arrested and sent to the King where he was extensively tortured and ended his life in crucifixion” (trans. Shrimpton 1991:125f., following the text of Pearson and Stephens 1983:13ff.).
[ back ] 37. Bertelli 1997:96.
[ back ] 38. For this work, under a slightly different title, see also Theopompus, FGrHist 115 T 48 (list of titles from Rhodes, ca. 100 BC): Καταδρομὴ τῆ[ς Πλάτωνος] διατριβῆ[ς].
[ back ] 39. For Bryson, compare the discussion of Plato Epistle XIII in the previous chapter.
[ back ] 40. Simplicius Commentary on Aristotle’s Categories, CAG VIII p. 216.
[ back ] 41. Diogenes Laertius 3.40 = F 294.
[ back ] 42. τοῦτον (sc. Ἀντισθένη) μόνον ἐκ πάντων Σωκρατικῶν Θεόπομπος ἐπαινεῖ καί φησι δεινόν τε εἶναι καὶ δι’ ὁμιλίας ἐμμελοῦς ὑπαγαγέσθαι πάνθ’ ὁντινοῦν (Diogenes Laertius 6.14 = F 295).
[ back ] 43. Or perhaps “with his elegant conversation,” as Shrimpton 1991:257.
[ back ] 44. Polybius 8.8–11 = T 19, cf. Hammond and Griffith 1979:275n1.
[ back ] 45. In the characterization of Shrimpton (1991:206): “Immediately after that [=F27], in his proem and throughout the entire history, he depicts him as a most uncontrolled woman-chaser, to the point of destroying his own household, as far as he could, through his impulsive predilection for that sort of thing; and, moreover, as a most unjust man and thorough mischief-maker in the manipulation of friends and allies; as the enslaver of a great number of cities, deceiving them with treachery and force; and as an impassioned alcoholic, so as frequently to be seen by his friends obviously drunk even in the day-time.”
[ back ] 46. ὡς Θεόπομπος ἐν τῷ Φιλίππου ἐγκωμίῳ, ὅτι εἰ βουληθείη Φίλιππος τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἐπιτηδεύμασιν ἐμμεῖναι, καὶ τῆς Εὐρώπης πάσης βασιλεύσει (Theon Progymnasmata 8 = F 256). Here I am considering Theopompus’ literary handling of the person Philip; for his broader political orientation, it is enough to see how Plutarch must constantly defend his sympathetic portrait in his Life of Demosthenes against Theopompus’ analysis.
[ back ] 47. φησὶ δὲ αὐτὸν (sc. Μαύσωλον) Θεόπομπος μηδενὸς ἀπέχεσθαι πράγματος χρημάτων ἕνεκα (Suda, s.v. Μαύσωλος, μ 299 = F 299).
[ back ] 48. καὶ μέντοι καὶ αὐτὸν Ἀλέξανδρον ἐγκωμιάσας πολλά. λέγεται δὲ καὶ ψόγον αὐτοῦ γεγραφέναι, ὃς οὐ φέρεται (Suda, ε 3953 = T 8).
[ back ] 49. ἔχομεν … καὶ Θεοπόμπου τὸ Φιλίππου ἐγκώμιον καὶ Ἀλεξάνδρου (Theon Progymnasmata 2 = F 255/257).
[ back ] 50. Flower 1994:23; at 23–25 material from the same context in the Suda is used to support this depiction without mention of the psogos.
[ back ] 51. Strabo 6.1.8 = FGrHist 70 F 139.
[ back ] 52. Niese 1909, FGrHist II C, p. 77, lines 25–32, ad 70 FF 138–139. Besides Ephorus’ invocation of Areopagitika, his εὐνομεῖσθαι … τοὺς ἐμμένοντας τοῖς ἁπλῶς κειμένοις is strikingly parallel to Isocrates Areopagiticus 41, τοὺς δὲ καλῶς πεπαιδευμένους καὶ τοῖς ἁπλῶς κειμένοις ἐθελήσειν ἐμμένειν.
[ back ] 53. οὺδὲν γὰρ ἂν κωλύειν ὁμοίοις ἅπαντας εἶναι τοὺς Ἕλληνας ἕνεκά γε τοῦ ῥᾴδιον εἶναι τὰ γράμματα λαβεῖν παρ’ ἀλλήλων, 39; ἀλλὰ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκ τούτων [= τῶν γραμμάτων] τὴν ἐπίδοσιν εἶναι τῆς ἀρετῆς, ἀλλ’ ἐκ τῶν καθ’ ἑκάστην τὴν ἡμέραν ἐπιτηδευμάτων, 40; δεῖν δὲ τοὺς ὀρθῶς ποιλτευομένους οὐ τὰς στοὰς ἐμπιπλάναι γραμμάτων, ἀλλ’ ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ἔχειν τὸ δίκαιον, 41; καὶ τοὺς κακῶς τεθραμμένους καὶ τοὺς ἀκριβῶς τῶν νόμων ἀναγεγραμμένους τολμήσειν παραβαίνειν, 41.
[ back ] 54. Brunt 1993:286f.