Sextus of Chaeronea

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Sextus of Chaeronea
Sextus of Chaeronea.jpg
Engraving of a statue of Sextus of Chaeronea, 1803.
Bornc. 95
Diedc. 185
possibly Rome
EraHellenistic philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Epistemology, ethics

Sextus of Chaeronea (Greek: Σέξτος ὁ Χαιρωνεύς Sextos ho Chaironeus; c. 95 – c. 185) was a philosopher, a nephew or grandson[1] of Plutarch,[2] and one of the teachers of the emperor Marcus Aurelius.


Some historians infer that due to his relationship with Plutarch that Sextus was a Platonist.[3] Others infer that Sextus was a Stoic due to an ambiguous mention of Sextus as one of the teachers of Marcus Aurelius in the notably historically unreliable[4] Historia Augusta.[5]

The Suda also says that Sextus of Chaeronea was so high in the favour of Marcus Aurelius that he sat in judgment with him. Two works are mentioned: Ethics (Greek: Ἠθικά Ithika), and Inquiries (Greek: Ἐπισκεπτικά Episkeptika), but whether they were by Sextus of Chaeronea or Sextus Empiricus is unknown.

Philostratus[6] describes how even when Marcus was an old man, in the latter part of his reign, he received instruction from Sextus, who was teaching in Rome:

The Emperor Marcus was an eager disciple of Sextus the Boeotian philosopher, being often in his company and frequenting his house. Lucius,[7] who had just come to Rome, asked the Emperor, whom he met on his way, where he was going to and on what errand, and Marcus answered, "it is good even for an old man to learn; I am now on my way to Sextus the philosopher to learn what I do not yet know." And Lucius, raising his hand to heaven, said, "O Zeus, the king of the Romans in his old age takes up his tablets and goes to school"[8]

The date of this encounter is most likely 177–8, before Marcus' last departure for war.[9] Marcus is also said to have "show[n] off" his philosophy before Sextus.[10]

Philostratus also recorded this comment from Sextus who counseled Herodes Atticus with regard to his grief for the death of his daughter Elpinice: "No small gift will you give your daughter if you control your grief for her."[11]

In his Meditations, Marcus speaks of Sextus in glowing terms, and we discover the type of education he received from Sextus:

My debts to Sextus include kindliness, how to rule a household with paternal authority, the real meaning of the Natural Life, an unselfconscious dignity, an intuitive concern for the interests of one's friends, and a good-natured patience with amateurs and visionaries. The aptness of his courtesy to each individual lent a charm to his society more potent than any flattery, yet at the same time it exacted the complete respect of all present. His manner, too, of determining and systematizing the essential rules of life was as comprehensive as it was methodical. Never displaying a sign of anger nor any kind of emotion, he was at once entirely imperturbable and yet full of kindly affection. His approval was always quietly and undemonstratively expressed, and he never paraded his encyclopaedic learning.[12]

Apuleius pays tribute to Sextus and Plutarch at the beginning of The Golden Ass.[13] Sextus and Plutarch are mentioned by his descendant, Nicagoras of Athens (c. 180-250), on an inscription[14] and in an lament by Nicagoras' descendant Himerius for his young son's death.

What hopes I had for you! To what bad luck my [evil] spirit has condemned me! I now lament the person who I hoped would speak more forcefully than Minucianus, more solemnly than Nicagoras, more eloquently than Plutarch, more philosophically than Musonius, more intrepidly than Sextus—in a word, more brilliantly and better than all of his ancestors.[15]

He is likely the Sextus listed in the Chronicle of Jerome as flourishing in the 224th Olympiad (117 to 121): "Plutarch of Chaeronea, Sextus, Agathobulus and Oenomaus are considered notable philosophers."[16] The Chronography of George Synkellos has a similar mention of Sextus associated with events from 109 to 120 "In old age the philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea was appointed by the Emperor as procurator of Greece. The philosopher Sextus, as well as Agathobulus and Oenomaus were becoming known."[17] George Synkellos mentions Sextus again as flourishing in the period of 165 to 171, "Sextus, the nephew of the philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea"[18] suggesting that Sextus became known at a young age (perhaps age 25 in 120) and flourished in old age (perhaps age 70 in 165).


  1. ^ Latin nepos indicated "grandson" in the Augustan age, but by the 3rd century meant "nephew".
  2. ^ Historia Augusta, Marcus Aurelius 3.2
  3. ^ e.g., Andrew Laird in "Fiction, Bewitchment and Story Worlds: The Implications of Claims to Truth in Apuleius" in "Lies and fiction in the ancient world" 1993, p159
  4. ^ Amy Richlin Parallel lives: Domitia Lucilla and Cratia, Fronto and Marcus 2011, Eugesta p 165 "According to the mischievous author of the Historia Augusta – whocan never be trusted"
  5. ^ Pierre Hadot The Inner Citadel, 1998, p17
  6. ^ Philostratus, Vitae sophistorum ii. 9 (557) ; cf. Suda, Markos
  7. ^ A philosopher friend of Herodes Atticus
  8. ^ Philostratus, Vitae sophistorum ii. 9 (557)
  9. ^ C. R. Haines, Marcus Aurelius, page 376. Loeb Classical Library.
  10. ^ Themistius, Orat. xi. 145b
  11. ^ Philostratus, Vitae sophistorum ii. 9 (557)
  12. ^ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, i. 9
  13. ^ Apuleius, The Golden Ass, 1.2
  14. ^ Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum: 845, cited in Die Fragmente Der Griechischen Historiker 1999 ISBN 9004113045 p. 227
  15. ^ Himerius, Robert J. Penella, Man and the Word: The Orations of Himerius 2007 ISBN 0520250931 p. 32
  16. ^ "Jerome, Chronicle (2005) pp.188-332".
  17. ^ George Synkellos, Paul Tuffin, William Adler, The Chronography of George Synkellos ISBN 0199241902 2002 p 503
  18. ^ George Synkellos, Paul Tuffin, William Adler, The Chronography of George Synkellos ISBN 0199241902 2002 p 509