A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

the most celebrated Greek rhetorician of the second century of the Christian era, was born about A. D. 104, at Marathon in Attica. He belonged to a very ancient family, which traced its origin to the fabulous Aeacidae. His father, whose name was likewise Atticus, discovered on his estate a hidden treasure, which at once made him one of the wealthiest men of his age. His son Atticus Herodes afterwards increased this wealth by marrying the rich Annia Regilla. Old Atticus left in his will a clause, according to which every Athenian citizen was to receive yearly one mina out of his property; but his son entered into a composition with the Athenians to pay them once for all five minas each. As Atticus, however, in paving the Athenians, deducted the debts which some citizens owed to his father, they were exasperated against him, and, notwithstanding the great benefits he conferred upon Athens, bore him a grudge as long as he lived.

Atticus Herodes received a very careful education, and the most eminent rhetoricians of tire time, such as Scopelianus, Favorinus, Secundus, and Polemon, were among his teachers: he was instructed in the Platonic philosophy by Taurus Tyrius, and in the critical study of eloquence by Theagenes of Cnidus and Munatius of Tralles. After completing his studies, he opened a school of rhetoric at Athens, and afterwards at Rome also, where Marcus Aurelius, who ever after entertained a high esteem for him, was among his pupils. In A. D. 143 the emperor Antoninus Pius raised him to the consulship, together with C. Bellicins Torquatus; but as Atticus cared more for his fame as a rhetorician than for high offices, he afterwards returned to Athens, whither he was followed by a great number of young men, and whither L. Verus also was sent as his pupil by the emperor M. Aurelius. For a time Atticus was entrusted with the administration of the free towns in Asia; the exact period of his life when he held this office is not known, though it is believed that it was A. D. 125 when he himself was little more than twenty years of age. At a later time he performed the functions of high priest at the festivals celebrated at Athens in honour of M. Aurelius and L. Verus. The wealth and influence of Atticus Herodes did not fail to raise up enemies, among whom Theodotus arid Demostratus made themselves most conspicuous. His public as well as his private life was attacked in various ways, and numerous calumnies were spread concerning him. Theodotus and Demostratus wrote speeches to irritate the people against him, and to excite the emperor's suspicion respecting his conduct. Atticus Herodes, therefore, found it necessary to travel to Sirmium, where M. Aurelius was staying; he refuted the accusations of the Athenian deputies, and only some of his freedmen were punished. These annoyances at last appear to have induced him to retire from public life, and to spend his remaining years in his villa Cephisia, near Marathon, surrounded by his pupils. The emperor M. Aurelius sent him a letter, in which he assured him of his unaltered esteem. In the case of Atticus Herodes the Athenians drew upon themselves the just charge of ingratitude, for no man had ever done so much to assist his fellow-citizens and to embellish Athens at his own expense. Among the great architectural works with which he adorned the city, we may mention a race-course (stadium) of white Pentelic marble, of which ruins are still extant; and the magnificent theatre of Regilla, with a roof made of cedar-wood. His liberality, however, was not confined to Attica: at Corinth he built a theatre, at Olympia an aqueduct, at Delphi a race-course, and at Thermopylae a hospital. He further restored with his ample means several decayed towns in Peloponnesus, Boeotia, Euboea, and Epeirus, provided the town of Canusium in Italy with water, and built Triopium on the Appian road. It also deserves to be noticed, that he intended to dig a canal across the isthmus of Corinth, but as the emperor Nero had entertained the same plan without being able to execute it, Atticus gave it up for fear of exciting jealousy and envy. His wealth, generosity, and still more his skill as a rhetorician, spread his fame over the whole of the Roman world. He is believed to have died at the age of 76, in A. D. 180.

If we look upon Atticus Herodes as a man, it must be owned that there scarcely ever was a wealthy person who spent his property in a more generous, noble, and disinterested manner. The Athenians appear to have felt at last their own ingratitude; for, after his death, when his freedmen wanted to bury him, according to his own request, at Marathon, the Athenians took away his body, and buried it in the city, where the rhetorician Adrianus delivered the funeral oration over it. Atticus's greatest ambition was to shine as a rhetorician; and this ambition was indeed so strong, that on one occasion, in his early life, when he had delivered an oration before the emperor Hadrian, who was then in Pannonia, he was on the point of throwing himself into the Danube because his attempt at speaking had been unsuccessful. This failure, however, appears to have proved a stimulus to him, and he became the greatest rhetorician of his century. His success as a teacher is sufficiently attested by the great number of his pupils, most of whom attained some degree of eminence. His own orations, which were delivered extempore and without preparation, are said to have excelled those of all his contemporaries by the dignity, fullness, and elegance of the style. (Gel. 1.2, 9.2, 19.12.) Philostratus praises his oratory for its pleasing and harmonious flow, as well as for its simplicity and