Second Sophistic

The philosophical school of sophism, which first flourished in fifth-century b.c.e. Athens, underwent a revival in the second century c.e., and for a brief period it attained a measure of intellectual fashionableness.

Although the political center of the Western world moved from Greece to Rome, the new capital did not feel the need to enforce its status as the center of the intellectual world.

Instead, many Romans were happy to accept the importation of new ideas and religious systems, from whichever part of their burgeoning empire they should arise. Within this generally liberal atmosphere, Greek and especially Athenian systems of thought held a special place.

Greek was likely to be the language of intellectual discussion among the educated urban elite, and familiarity with the works of the past was an essential part of refinement and statesmanship.

A revival in interest in Greek learning was ushered in by the emperor Hadrian in the second century c.e., and this inspired the growth of a set of professional teachers who came to be labeled Sophist and to be members of the Atticist school—that is, to be from Attica, or Athens.

Unlike the original Sophists, the later teachers focused entirely on the techniques of rhetoric and ability to argue so as to win an argument. Their methods had no ethical or truth-seeking element and were, therefore, susceptible to the criticism of sophism that it was amoral and improper for a person of good faith to use.

Those whose writings have been preserved and who have been associated with this movement include the historians Dio Cassius and Herodian, Maximus, Aelius Aristides, and Polemon of Athens. Polemon managed a successful school of rhetoric at Smyrna and was highly regarded by the emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius.

According to legend, Polemon had himself buried alive at the age of 56 to escape the misery of chronic gout. Since most extant works of this group are concerned mostly with substantive matters rather than in the practice of sophistry as a deliberate technique, there is no specific body of work that commemorates the Second Sophistic movement.