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The Literary Heritage as Language: Atticism and the Second Sophistic
A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language
  • Lawrence Kim, Trinity University
Document Type
Contribution to Book
Publication Date

In his Lives of the Sophists (early third cent. CE), Philostratus describes the curious figure of Agathion, a primitive “survival” from the hinterlands of Attica who was nearly eight feet tall, wrestled wild animals, subsisted only on milk and the occasional barley-cake, and dressed in a patchwork garment fashioned from wolfskins. Agathion’s isolation has kept him free of civilization’s corrupting influences, and he disdains tragic performances and athletic competitions in good “noble savage” fashion (Lives 552–4). But it has also preserved, and this is what gives the portrait its particular Second Sophistic touch, Agathion’s language (γλῶττα). As he explains in an interview with the famous second-century orator Herodes Atticus, he has been taught by “the interior” (μεσογεία) of Attica, which is (unlike the city of Athens) “untainted by barbarians” (ἄμικτος βαρβάροις); its “accent is healthy” (ἡ φωνὴ ὑγιαίνει), and its “language sounds the purest strain of Attic” (γλῶττα . . . τὴν ἄκραν Ἀτθίδα ἀποψάλλει)” (Lives 553). Perhaps no anecdote more vividly illustrates the quasi-mythical status enjoyed by the Attic dialect in the imperial era. Agathion is more than just a “native speaker” of Attic; he embodies the qualities of the dialect itself as it was imagined by his sophistic contemporaries – archaic, ethnically pure, morally and physically “simple,” and uncorrupted by the passage of time.

Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Egbert J. Bakker
Citation Information
Kim, L. (2010). The literary heritage as language: Atticism and the Second Sophistic. In E. J. Bakker (Ed.), A companion to the ancient Greek language (pp. 468-482). Wiley-Blackwell.