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Beatrice Wyss / Rainer Hirsch-Luipold / Solmeng-Jonas Hirschi (Hgg.): Sophisten in Hellenismus und Kaiserzeit. Orte, Methoden und Personen der Bildungsvermittlung (= Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum; Bd. 101), Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2017, VIII + 246 S., ISBN 978-3-16-154591-7, EUR 69,00
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Rezension von:
María-Paz de Hoz
Departamento de Filología Clásica e Indoeuropeo, Universidad de Salamanca
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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María-Paz de Hoz: Rezension von: Beatrice Wyss / Rainer Hirsch-Luipold / Solmeng-Jonas Hirschi (Hgg.): Sophisten in Hellenismus und Kaiserzeit. Orte, Methoden und Personen der Bildungsvermittlung, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2017, in: sehepunkte 18 (2018), Nr. 1 [15.01.2018], URL:

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Beatrice Wyss / Rainer Hirsch-Luipold / Solmeng-Jonas Hirschi (Hgg.): Sophisten in Hellenismus und Kaiserzeit

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As Beatrice Wyss very appropriately states in her introductory pages of the book, the title is "etwas ungewohnt" bearing in mind that there is no known sophist in Hellenistic times and only very few mentions of others unknown to us. This is really the main question that this book raises. In fact, the chapters that deal chronologically with the section devoted to the Hellenistic period or even with the Hellenistic and the Roman Imperial times as well do not make any explicit mention of sophists: they discuss about intellectual spaces, about texts with a general didactic function or examine commentaries on previous philosophical works. The only chapters that really discuss sophists are those dealing with the Roman Imperial period. This organization of the book begs the question on whether the editors consider that many of the intellectuals in Hellenistic times are sophists, though they did not receive that name, or if they just intend to present the intellectual context in Hellenistic times as an antecedent of the context surrounding sophists in Roman times, when they played an influential role. Some clarification on this matter is needed in order to understand the relationship between the book's title and its content; an introductory chapter on this matter would have been welcomed.

Having said this, if we consider the book as an ensemble of chapters dealing with education in Hellenistic and Roman time, there are many very interesting aspects and a lot of new information on this topic. From a first set of papers dedicated to intellectual spaces (Holder on the gymnasion; Schulze on the Mouseion), the chapter of Galli, the most interdisciplinary paper of the book, is a very graphic presentation of how urban places (temples, imperial palaces, thermai) were adapted to public intellectual performance in Roman times, with the inclusion of libraries and auditoria. What is interesting is that Galli chooses Galen as example of the performative activities in these spaces. Without mentioning sophists, Galli presents us, through archaeological and literary sources, a Galen who enacted his medical performances in kind of a sophist in order to persuade his audience and to obtain approval by a great auditorium. Galen's appealing resources were those of a sophist, but he was never considered as such.

The relationship between philosophy and sophistic, though sometimes more implicit than explicit, is the topic of various chapters. Though with different perspectives, they all redound to another transversal idea of the book, though only stated explicitly by a couple of authors: the versatility of the term sophist, the richness of its qualitative as well as functional meanings. In order to establish the relation between sophist and philosopher, Michalewski makes an introduction that could have very well served as introduction of the book while analysing the cross senses of philósophos, sophistés and rhetor, and the specific uses of each of them. As she says (144), the initial words of Philostratos's Lives of the sophists resume the interactions between these three figures: "Ancient sophistic must be looked at as a rhetoric that is practiced in philosophy". In the works analysed by Malinewski, two middle-Platonic treatises, Alkinoos's Didaskalikós and Albinus's Prologue to Plato's reading, both from the second century AD, sophists and philosophers are differentiated by their way of living, and consequently also by its aim: achieving honours and social acknowledgement in one case; knowledge and spiritual improvement in the other. A central element in both analysed texts is nevertheless the use of rhetoric as a common instrument both for philosophy and for sophistic, being rhetoric an integral part of the didactic programme of the middle-Platonic school.

Though without focusing on sophists or on the relation between sophistic and philosophy, Urbanz and Sterling study texts of a philosophical-didactic nature (the second century BC Hebrew book of Jesus Sirach, translated into Greek, in the first case; Hellenistic and early Roman comments on philosophical works following the activity of Philo from Alexandria in the second). The reason for discussion of these texts in the book is that they were written in an educational setting. That is also the case of the rhetoric exercises mentioned in papyri, most of them from Roman times, and analysed by Schubert. It is interesting to mention that, as Schubert points, the teachers related to these educational texts are not termed sophists in the papyri, but in most cases, they are designated didaskaloi.

A different aspect of the relation between philosophy and sophistic is introduced by Wyss in her analysis of the philosophers' view of sophists. She states that in the first century AD the rejection had a social nature while in the second century it is intellectual. The reputation sophists had in Roman times is the main theme of the chapters that really concern sophists. Of particular interest due to its novelty among the studies on sophists is Goeken's analysis of the sophist's presence in symposia, both literary and real: his active participation in them and how this participation is dealt with in the sources, as well as the sophists as a topic of conversation in the banquets. The competitive character of the sophistic profession is analysed by Fron through interesting material, also aiming to search for the reasons of such an expanded rejection of sophists in Roman times.

In summary, the topic of the book is not the sophists but the intellectual context where the sophists are to be found, or, for Hellenistic times, inferred. There are three main thematic sections: intellectual spaces, texts that are supposed to be written for a didactic/school context and the reputation sophists had in the intellectual atmosphere of Roman times. Along the second and third part, the relationship between philosophy and sophistic plays an important role. Any reader interested in intellectual education in the ancient world will find this book interesting, useful and filled with new information, new focuses and nuances, and will enjoy the great quantity and variety of ancient quotations, albeit these come mainly from literary sources, not so much from papyri, and only very few from inscriptions. Paradoxically, being this one of the main points of interest of the book, the incoherence between the title and the content raises many questions on a topic that has been in the focus of intensive study since G. W. Bowersock's, Greek Sophists in the Roman Empire from 1969. What was a sophist for a Hellenistic Greek; why is there almost no mention of sophists in this period; what is the thread that leads from the first sophists to the reappearance of the sophistic movement in Roman times? On the other hand, the parts that are indeed dedicated to the sophists show the social and professional vagueness of the sophist, and the fact, as Michalewski estates, that the significance of the term sophist is always contextual. Could this vagueness of the term explain its absence in a period characterized for seeking linguistic specialization and a systematization of educative levels, contents and professionals, or did the social figure of the sophist just arise together with other social changes by the beginning of the Roman period? The book leaves the reader wondering about these and many other stimulating questions.

María-Paz de Hoz