Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Theopompus

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THEOPOMPUS of Chios, a celebrated historian and rhetorician, was born about 378 B.C. In early youth he seems to have spent some time at Athens, along with his father, who had been exiled on account of his Laconian sympathies. Here he became a pupil of Isocrates, and rapidly made great progress in rhetoric: we are told that Isocrates used to say that Ephorus required the spur but Theopompus the bit (Cic., Brutus, 204). At first he appears to have composed epideictic speeches, in which he attained to such proficiency that in 352-351 he gained the prize of oratory given by Artemisia in honour of her husband, although Isocrates was himself among the com petitors. It is said to have been the advice of his teacher that finally determined his career as an historian, a career for which his abundant patrimony and wide knowledge of men and places (Fr. 26) had singularly fitted him. Through the influence of Alexander, he was restored to Chios about 333, and figured for some time as one of the boldest and most uncompromising leaders of the aristocraticai party in his native town. After Alexander's death he was again expelled, and took refuge with Ptolemy in Egypt, where he appears to have met with a somewhat cold reception. The date of his death is unknown.

The works of Theopompus were chiefly historical, and later writers frequently cite them as authorities. They included an Epitome of Herodotus's History, the Hellenics ( EAATj^Ka, EA.A.Tjj j/ca} ta-Topiai), the History of Philip (QiXiinriKa), and several panegyrics and hortatory addresses, the chief of which was the Letter to Alexander. The genuineness of the epitome of Herodotus has been called in question; we possess only five quotations from it, preserved by grammarians or lexicographers, and consisting only of single words. The Hellenics was a somewhat ambitious work in 12 books, extending from 411 (where Thucydides breaks off) to 394 the date of the battle of Cnidus. A few insignificant fragments remain, but do not suffice to give us any idea of the general character of the work. By far the most ambitious history written by Theopompus was the $i ririKd. In this he narrated the history of Philip's reign (360-336) in 58 books, with frequent digressions on the names and customs of the various races and countries of which he had occasion to speak. So numerous were these digres sions that Philip III. of Macedon reduced the bulk of the history from 58 to 16 books by cutting out those parts which had no connexion with the achievements of the king. It was from this history that Diodorus and Trogus Pompeius derived much of their materials. Several fragments, chiefly anecdotes and strictures of various kinds upon the character of nations and individuals, are preserved by Athenseus, Plutarch, and others. Of the Letter to Alexander we possess one or two fragments cited by Athenseus, animadverting severely upon the immorality and dissipations of Harpalus. The Attack upon Plato, and the treatise On Piety, which are sometimes referred to as separate works, were perhaps only two of the many digressions in the history of Philip; some writers have doubted their authenticity.

The nature of the extant fragments fully bears out the criticisms of antiquity upon Theopompus. Their style is clear and pure, full of choice and pointed expressions, but lacking in the weight and dignity which only profound thought can supply. As we might expect in a pupil of Isocrates, he is especially careful to avoid hiatus. The artistic unity of his work suffered severely from the frequent episodes with which it was interspersed; his account of Sicily, for example, extended over several books. Another fault was his excessive fondness for romantic and incredible stories (Fr. 33, 66, 76, &c.); a collection of some of these was afterwards made and published under his name, with the title of &avfj.dffia (Diog. Laert, i. 115). He was also severely blamed in antiquity for his censoriousness, and throughout his fragments no feature is more striking than this (Fr. 54, 65, &c.) On the whole however, he appears to have been fairly impartial. Philip himself he censures severely for drunkenness and immorality (Fr. 136, 178, 262, 298), while Demosthenes receives his warm praise (Fr. 239, 263). There can be no doubt that in the Philippica the world has lost a great variety of pleasant tales and historians much valuable information upon many difficult points of Greek history and life.

See Müller, Fragmenta Historicorum Græcorum, i. 278-333, Paris, 1885.