Themistius

Philosophy

Themistius

The eloquent Euphrades nicknamed Themistius was a statesman, rhetorician, and philosopher. He flourished in the reigns of Constance II, Julian, Jovian, Valens, Gratian, and Theodosius I; and he enjoyed the respect, despite their numerous differences, of all those emperors, and the fact that he was not a Christian. In 355 Constantius submitted himself to the senate, and in 384 he became prefect of Constantinople on the election of Theodosius. Of his numerous works, thirty-three orations, as well as various observations and epitomes of Aristotle's works have come down to us. He was born and taught at Phasis, Paphlagonia. Apart from a brief period in Italy, he lived the remainder of his time in Constantinople. He was the son of Eugene, who was also a distinguished philosopher, and is mentioned in Themistius's prayers more than once. Themistius was trained in philosophy by his father, and he dedicated himself primarily to Aristotle, though he also studied Pythagoreanism and Platonism. Although still a young adult he wrote observations on Aristotle, which were made public without his permission, which earned a high respect for him. He had passed through his childhood in Asia Minor and Syria. He first encountered Constance II when, in the eleventh year of his reign, 347, the emperor visited Ancyra in Galatia, on which time Themistius gave the first of his surviving orations, Peri Philanthropias. He moved to Constantinople not long after, where he taught philosophy for twenty years. He was elected a senator in 355; and the letter persists, in which Constantius introduces him to the Senate and speaks both of Themistius himself and of his father in the best possible words. We do have the prayer of gratitude that Themistius presented to the Constantinople Senate in response to the letter of the emperor early in 356. In 357, in Constantinople's senate, he recited two prayers in memory of Constance, supposed to be delivered to the emperor himself, who was then in Rome. Constantius granted him the privilege of a bronze statue as a reward; and by a decree that still remained, he was promoted to the praetorian rank in 361. Themistius may have served as Constantinople's proconsul in 358–359; he was the last to hold that office, until the title was promoted to urban prefect status. Constantius died in 361; but Themistius undoubtedly maintained the favour, as a scholar and non-Christian, of Julian, who spoke of him as the world's best senator, and the first scholar of his day. The Suda notes that Julian declared Constantinople's Themistius prefect; but this is disproved by Themistius 'speech when he was finally assigned to that office under Theodosius. Shortly before Julian's death in 363, in a letter to Themistius, Themistius delivered a prayer in his memory that no longer remains but is alluded to at some length by Libanius. In 364 he went to meet Jovian at Dadastana, on the frontier of Galatia and Bithynia, as one of the Senate Members, and to grant upon him the Consulate; and on this occasion he gave a prayer which he subsequently reiterated at Constantinople, in which he asserts absolute freedom of faith to follow every religion. In the same year, in the presence of the latter, he gave an oration in Constantinople in memory of Valentinian I and Valens 'accession. His next prayer is addressed to Valens, congratulating him on his June 366 triumph over Procopius, and interceding for some of the rebels; it was delivered in 367. In the next year, in the second campaign of the Gothic War, he followed Valens to the Danube and gave a congratulatory oration on his Quinquennalia, 368, before the emperor at Marcianopolis. His next prayers are to the young Valentinian II on his consulship, 369, and to the Constantinople Council, in the presence of Valens, in memory of the Goths 'unity, 370. On March 28, 373, on the tenth year of his rule, he delivered a congratulatory letter to Valens on the arrival of the Emperor. It was also during Valens 'time in Syria that Themistius delivered an oration to him persuading him to end his persecution of the Catholic community.

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