The philosopher as charlatan


I love this description of a charlatan philosopher, from the Cynic satirist Lucian of Samosata. I came across it in Luke Timothy Johnson’s excellent audio lecture series, The Greco-Roman Moralists.

“Isn’t this Thrasycles ? No other ! With his beard spread out and his eyebrows uplifted, he marches along deep in haughty meditation, his eyes glaring like a Titan’s and his hair tossed back from his forehead, a typical Boreas or Triton such as Zeuxis used to paint. Correct in his demeanour, gentlemanly in his gait, and inconspicuous in his dress, in the morning hours he discourses forever about virtue, arraigns the votaries of pleasure and praises contentment with little.

But when he comes to dinner after his bath and the waiter hands him a large cup (and the stiffer it is, the better he likes it) then it is as if he had drunk the water of Lethe [forgetfulness], for his practice is directly opposed to his preaching of the morning. He snatches the meat away from others like a kite, elbows his neighbour, covers his beard with gravy, bolts his food like a dog, bends over his plate as if he expected to find virtue in it, carefully wipes out the dishes with his forefinger so as not to leave a particle of the sauce, and grumbles continually, even if he gets the whole cake or the whole boar to himself. He is the height of gluttony and insatiability, and he gets so drunken and riotous that he not only sings and dances, but even abuses people and flies into a passion. Besides, he has much to say over his cup – more then than at any other time, in fact ! – about temperance and decorum, and he says all this when he is already in a bad way from taking his wine without water and stammers ridiculously. Then a vomit follows, and at last he is picked up and carried out of the dining-room, while snatching at the flute-girl with both hands as he goes.”

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