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date: 17 June 2024



  • Robert Browning
  •  and Peter Heather


Themistius, pagan Greek philosopher, rhetorician, and senator of *Constantinople was born in *Paphlagoniac.ce 317, studying in the eastern provinces and in Constantinople, where he opened a school (c.345). Attracting imperial attention, he soon won a salaried chair and became a member of the Constantinopolitan senate. As a philosopher, his explanatory paraphrases of many of Aristotle's works set a pattern of exegesis which was followed throughout the Middle Ages.It is often said that he was little influenced by contemporary *Neoplatonism, but his commentary on Aristotle De Anima shows that he was widely read in Plotinus, and the surviving speeches often cite Plato with approval. Where he really parted company from contemporary Neoplatonism was in his attitude to public life. His self-professed claim to intellectual originality lay in the proposition that it was acceptable to use rhetoric when advocating policies dictated by philosophical reasoning, and that—contrary to the stance of increasingly reclusive Neoplatonic Holy Men—it was correct to use philosophical wisdom in the service of the state. This explicitly accepted the claims of Roman imperial ideology that the state was a divinely-ordained entity, despite the fact that he was a pagan and it was now run by Christian emperors. Consistent with this view, his political speeches consistently sought to identify a religiously neutral strand of classical culture which was common to both Christians and pagans, an approach highly attractive to Christian emperors ruling an empire still dominated at the local level by pagan elites. Thus he found great favour under a succession of Christian emperors from *Constantius II to *Theodosius (2) I, culminating in the office of prefect of the city of Constantinople (383–4).


  • Late Antiquity

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