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Constructing Periander in Plutarch’s Symposium of the Seven Sages

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Stamatopoulou, Zoe. “Constructing Periander in Plutarch’s Symposium of the Seven Sages.” CHS Research Bulletin 5, no. 1 (2016). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:StamatopoulouZ.Constructing_Periander.2016

§1 In Plutarch’s Symposium of the Seven Sages,[1] the Corinthian seer Diocles recounts to a certain Nicarchus what transpired at a dinner party hosted by Periander, the tyrant of Corinth, in the fairly recent past. In the opening section that sets up the narrative frame for the account of the symposium, Diocles remarks that the event has been misrepresented to Nicarchus and promises to set the record straight:

οὔτε γὰρ μόνων, ὡς ὑμεῖς ἀκηκόατε, τῶν ἑπτὰ γέγονε τὸ συμπόσιον, ἀλλὰ πλειόνων ἢ δὶς τοσούτων (ἐν οἷς καὶ αὐτὸς ἤμην, συνήθης μὲν ὢν Περιάνδρῳ διὰ τὴν τέχνην, ξένος δὲ Θαλέω· παρ’ ἐμοὶ γὰρ κατέλυσεν ὁ ἀνὴρ Περιάνδρου κελέυσαντος) οὔτε τοὺς λόγους ὀρθῶς ἀπεμνημόνευσεν ὅστις ἦν ὑμῖν <ὁ> διηγούμενος· ἦν δ’ ὡς ἔοικεν οὐδεὶς τῶν παραγεγονότων. (Plutarch, Sept. Sap. Conv. 146C)

§2 For, in the first place, the dinner was not a dinner of the Seven alone, as you and your friends have been told, but of more than twice that number, and I was among them; for I was on intimate terms with Periander by virtue of my profession, and I was also the host of Thales, for he stayed at my house by command of Periander. In the second place, your informant, whoever he was, did not report the conversation correctly; apparently he was not one of those at the dinner.[2]

§3 By carefully constructing the credibility of the narrator, Plutarch here engages playfully with the opening of the Symposium of Plato, the author in whom Plutarch traces the origin of the ‘philosophical symposium’ (Quaest. Conv. 612D-E).[3] The Platonic text points to its fictionality not only by rendering the secondhand account inevitable (Pl. Smp. 172a-173b), but also by repeatedly drawing attention to the limitations of Apollodorus’ main source, namely the recollection of Aristodemus, who attended the symposium in question (Pl. Smp. 178a, 180c, 223c). By contrast, Plutarch invests his glaringly fictional dialogue with the authority and accuracy of an eyewitness.[4] The credibility of the eyewitness is a recurrent theme in this dialogue, e.g. in the context of Arion’s miraculous rescue (Sept. Sap. Conv. 161B) and of Cypselus’ dedication of his treasure at Delphi (Sept. Sap. Conv. 164B) and, given how extensively Plutarch’s reconstruction of sixth-century Greece in this work engages with Herodotus, it may be understood as a refraction of Herodotean opsis.

§4 In addition to establishing his credibility, Diocles’ initial remarks also situate Plutarch’s version of this story within the broader landscape of preexisting traditions regarding the meeting of the legendary sages. In 146C-D, Diocles clarifies that the sympotic gathering took place not in the city of Corinth (ἐν τῇ πόλει) but in Lechaeum, its main port. With this detail, the narrator signals that Plutarch’s dialogue does not follow the tradition attested already in Plato’s Protagoras (343a-b) that envisioned a gathering of the Sages at Delphi;[5] similarly, Plutarch’s dialogue deviates from stories that located a summit of Sages at the Panionion[6] and at the court of Croesus.[7] Instead, Plutarch here reshapes a narrative attested only in Archetimus of Syracuse (FGrH 1098 F1 = D.L.1.40), according to which the Sages were hosted by Cypselus in Corinth. Plutarch offers a variation both in terms of location (Lechaeum instead of Corinth) and in terms of chronology, envisioning the symposium during the rule of Cypselus’ son, Periander.[8] Finally, with Diocles’ polemical remark in 146C2-3, Plutarch establishes that, in his version, the hetaireia of the symposium extends beyond the closed group of the seven sages; thus he invites his reader to observe how the wise men socialize within this broader circle and what kinds of sympotic interactions emerge in such mixed company.[9]

§5 While in the opening passage Diocles raises the expectation of an expanded hetaireia, however, he refrains from revealing who the symposiasts were, with the exception of Periander, Thales, and Diocles himself. We know that Diocles is not one of the sages and Thales is, but which category does Periander belong to? The question is of particular importance because Periander’s place in the canon of the Seven was disputed. Modern scholars are quick to state that, in this dialogue, Periander is not counted among the Sages; Plutarch has ceded his place to Anacharsis,[10] giving Periander the role of the host instead.[11] This assessment, however, fails to do justice to the experience of the reader and the complexity of the text. I hope to show that Periander’s representation in this dialogue is dynamic rather than static. For the first six chapters, Plutarch manipulates the expectations of his readers, leaving the possibility open that the host may also be one of the Seven. Furthermore, the Corinthian tyrant retains a privileged relationship to the Seven even after the text clarifies that he is not one of them. This ambivalence, I suggest, contributes significantly to Plutarch’s construction of Periander as a paradigm for the wise monarch.

§6 Traditions recounting the deeds and sayings of several wise individuals, such as Solon and Thales, were already in circulation by the time of Herodotus and probably originate in the sixth century.[12] It is also very likely that stories of encounters and interactions among these men, which would contribute to the perception of them as a group, also date to the sixth century.[13] Nonetheless, the first extant reference to seven sages as a collective is found in Plato, according to whom all members of this group endorsed the paideia of the Lacedaemonians and appreciated the value of brachylogy in the verbal formulation of wisdom:[14]

τούτων ἦν καὶ Θαλῆς ὁ Μιλήσιος καὶ Πιττακὸς ὁ Μυτιληναῖος καὶ Βίας ὁ Πριηνεὺς καὶ Σόλων ὁ ἡμέτερος καὶ Κλεόβουλος ὁ Λίνδιος καὶ Μύσων ὁ Χηνεύς, καὶ ἕβδομος ἐν τούτοις ἐλέγετο Λακεδαιμόνιος Χίλων. οὗτοι πάντες ζηλωταὶ καὶ ἐρασταὶ καὶ μαθηταὶ ἦσαν τῆς Λακεδαιμονίων παιδείας· καὶ καταμάθοι ἄν τις αὐτῶν τὴν σοφίαν τοιαύτην οὖσαν, ῥήματα βραχέα ἀξιομνημόνευτα ἑκάστῳ εἰρημένα· οὗτοι καὶ κοινῇ ξυνελθόντες ἀπαρχὴν τῆς σοφίας ἀνέθεσαν τῷ Ἀπόλλωνι εἰς τὸν νεὼν τὸν ἐν Δελφοῖς, γράψαντες ταῦτα, ἃ δὴ πάντες ὑμνοῦσι, γνῶθι σαυτόν καὶ μηδὲν ἄγαν. (Plato, Prt. 343a1-b2)

§7 Such men were Thales of Miletus, Pittacus of Mytilene, Bias of Priene, Solon of our city, Cleoboulus of Lindus, Myson of Chenae, and the seventh in this group was said to be Chilon of Sparta. All these were enthusiasts, lovers and disciples of the Spartan culture; and one can recognize that character in their wisdom by the short, memorable sayings uttered by each of them; they assembled together and dedicated these as the first fruits of their wisdom to Apollo in his Delphic temple, inscribing there those maxims which are on every tongue—“Know thyself” and “Nothing in excess.”

§8 As Diogenes Laertius attests (D.L. 1.41-42), there was considerable variation regarding which wisdom figures belonged to the elite group of the Seven. Hermippus (second half of the 3rd century BCE) names 17 distinguished figures of the past, out of which different authors picked different combinations of seven (FGrH 1026 F 10);[15] on the other hand, Dicaearchus (mid-4th – early 3rd century BCE) mentions a smaller pool of names but distinguishes two categories (fr. 32 Wehrli = D.L. 1.41): Δικαίαρχος δὲ τέσσαρας ὡμολογημένους ἡμῖν παραδίδωσι, Θαλῆν, Βίαντα, Πιττακόν, Σόλωνα. ἄλλους δὲ ὀνομάζει ἕξ, ὧν ἐκλέξασθαι τρεῖς, Ἀριστόδημον, Πάμφυλον, Χείλωνα Λακεδαιμόνιον, Κλεόβουλον, Ἀνάχαρσιν, Περίανδρον (“Dicaearchus hands down four names fully recognized: Thales, Bias, Pittacus, and Solon; and he appends the names of six others, from whom one has to choose three: Aristodemus, Pamphylus, Chilon the Lacedaemonian, Cleoboulus, Anacharsis, Periander.”). Periander is among the figures whose inclusion in the canon was not consistent, but, unlike the others in this category,[16] his political record as a tyrant became central in the debate regarding his status as a sage. It is impossible to tell whether there was already a tradition treating Periander as a sage by the time of Herodotus, given that almost all the stories about him in the Histories are unflattering and none of them indicates a wide acknowledgement of his wisdom, with the possible exception of his mediation between the Athenians of Sigeum and the Mytileneans of Achilleum (5.95.2).[17] While Plato did not count Periander of Corinth among the Sages, Diogenes Laertius reports that Aristotle did: καὶ Ἀριστοτέλης μέν φησι τὸν Κορίνθιον εἶναι τὸν σοφόν· Πλάτων δὲ οὔ φησιν (D.L. 1.99 = Aristotle fr. 517 Rose). In the Politics, Aristotle mentions repeatedly Periander’s readiness to kill prominent citizens;[18] however, the Aristotelian Constitution of the Corinthians draws from a more positive tradition, according to which Periander was a moderate tyrant who opposed wicked behavior and ultimately changed the political landscape of Corinth by establishing a boulē (Aristotle fr. 611.20 Rose).[19] Like the other Sages, Periander too was associated with gnomic statements, and Diogenes Laertius knew of ca. two thousand lines of hypothekai attributed to him (D.L. 1.97-98, esp. ἐποίησε δὲ καὶ ὑποθήκας εἰς ἔπη δισχίλια). Yet Periander the Sage did not fully eclipse Periander the sinister tyrant. Negative stories continued to circulate (e.g., D.L. 1.95-97) and some authors dealt with the incongruity by assuming that there were, in fact, two Perianders.[20] In this context, the absence of Periander from the group of the Seven, going back to Plato’s Protagoras, was regarded as a rejection of his politics. For instance, when discussing Myson, Diodorus Siculus reports that he was inserted into the group of the Seven in Periander’s place after the latter was rejected because he had become a harsh tyrant (ὃν ἀντεισῆξαν εἰς τοὺς ἑπτὰ σοφούς, ἐκκρίναντες τὸν Περίανδρον τὸν Κορίνθιον διὰ τὸ τύραννον γεγονέναι πικρόν, 9.7). Both Pausanias (10.24.1)[21] and Diogenes Laertius (1.41, cf. 108)[22] trace the substitution of Periander by Myson in Plato’s Protagoras.

§9 Plutarch is fully aware of Periander’s contested affiliation with the Seven. In his Life of Solon, he notes that some of those who do not include Periander among the Sages count Epimenides as the seventh Sage in his stead (Sol.12.4). In De Malignitate Herodoti, Plutarch adopts the Herodotean narrative of Periander’s excessive revenge against the Corcyreans (Herodotus 3.48) without any substantial attempt to contradict or downplay it (859E-860C, 860F-861A). Finally, in De E 385D-F Lamprias treats Periander and Cleoboulus together as two brazen tyrants who assumed the appellation “wise” thanks to their power and influence rather than their actual wisdom; the Delphic E, he claims, corresponds to the number five, which is the number of the true Sages if one does not count the two fake ones. Lamprias’ claim is not only unparalleled in extant sources but also undermined within the dialogue by the reactions of his interlocutors (386A).[23] Nonetheless, it is an expanded variation of the well-known bias against Periander and of the idea that he does not deserve a spot among the Seven due to his tyrannical ethos. Thus it is reasonable to assume that Plutarch’s representation of the Corinthian tyrant in the Symposium is informed to some extent by the on-going discussion about whether or not he has a place among the Seven.[24]

§10 Indeed, I argue, for the first six chapters of his Symposium of the Seven Sages (146B-152B), Plutarch refrains from clarifying exactly how the Corinthian tyrant relates to the Seven, thus presenting his readers with the possibility that in this dialogue Periander is hosting this symposium in his guise as a ruler and a Sage. As I pointed out earlier, in his initial address to Nicarchus (146C) Diocles recalls that the event was attended by a large group which included the Seven but also at least eight other individuals. Diocles himself belongs to the latter group; of the other two symposiasts mentioned in that introductory passage, Thales is indisputably one of the Sages, but Periander’s status is not clearly defined. Gradually, as Diocles’ narrative unfolds, other symposiasts are identified: Thales and Diocles first chance upon Neiloxenus, the Pharaoh’s emissary, whose presence prepares the inclusion of Bias (ἐτύγχανε δὲ πρὸς Βίαντα πάλιν ἀπεσταλμένος, 146E), and, during the conversation, it becomes clear that Chilon too is expected to attend the symposium (ὅθεν … ἕκαστον, 148A). When the three men arrive at their destination, they see Anacharsis and Eumetis, a.k.a. Cleoboulina (148C-E). The girl’s presence at Lechaeum tacitly suggests that the symposium will also include her father Cleoboulus, the ruler of Lindus, who was often counted among the Seven. Perhaps an erudite reader could take the inclusion of Anacharsis as a hint that Periander is not one of the Seven, based on the assumption that Plutarch here models his line-up of Sages on Ephorus or some other author whose choice to count among the Seven Anacharsis but not Periander had been interpreted as a replacement of the latter by the former.[25] Still, when the guests take their seats and the discussion begins over dinner (149F-150D), the tally reveals only six Sages (not counting the host): Thales, Solon, Chilon, Bias (149F-150B), Anacharsis (150D), and Cleoboulus, whose attendance is not mentioned explicitly until 151C but has already been hinted at given the presence of Cleoboulina (148C-D, 150B).[26]

§11 After a short exchange about the aulos (150D-F), the discussion focuses on the query that Neiloxenus brings forth for Bias on behalf of Amasis the Pharaoh (151A-D).[27] Amasis is engaged in a wisdom competition with the king of the Ethiopians, and the latter has issued an impossible challenge, namely that the Pharaoh should drink up the sea. The stakes are high, for if Bias fails to solve the riddle for Amasis, the Pharaoh will lose territory around Elephantine. Bias solves the problem by countering one adynaton with another: as a prerequisite for fulfilling the Ethiopian’s request, Amasis should demand that his opponent first stop all rivers from flowing into the seas. Clearly satisfied with the response, Neiloxenus rejoices, but, in the midst of this celebration, Chilon remarks with a chuckle that Amasis should focus on being a better ruler for his people instead, and that, for this purpose, he would be better off benefitting from Bias’ expertise in political conduct.[28] By being good (χρηστὸν ὄντα), Chilon continues, Amasis could earn the love and worship of his subjects, no matter how lowly his pedigree is (151D-E).[29]

§12 Following up on Chilon’s remark, Periander proposes that everyone should take turns (ἅπαντας ‘ἀνδρακάς’, ὥσπερ ἔφησεν Ὅμηρος, 151E) giving a piece of (political) advice to the Egyptian king. Evidently, Periander’s ἅπαντες stands only for the Sages because, in response to the host’s suggestion, the reader is presented with a list of aphorisms defining the best monarchy (kingship or tyranny),[30] each performed by one of the wise men in the room. As the roll-call of the Sages unfolds (152A-B), the reader is confronted with a surprise: the sixth one to speak after Solon, Bias, Thales, Anacharsis, and Cleoboulus, is Pittacus of Mytilene, whose attendance has not been mentioned at all until now.[31] With Chilon following immediately after Pittacus,[32] it becomes clear that the canon of the Seven in this dialogue does not include Periander after all. The ordinal numbers used in this passage (δεύτερος…τέταρτος…πέμπτος…ἕκτος) draw further attention to the fact that this is a closed group with limited membership, and that Periander is not in it.[33]

§13 Far from being a sign of poor artistry on behalf of the author, the belated revelation of a symposiast reflects the process of recall and casts Diocles’ narrative as an unfolding oral performance.[34] I suggest, however, that the late inclusion of a seventh Sage is also a calculated manipulation of the reader’s expectations that ultimately serves Plutarch’s positive reconstruction of Periander. According to Dicaearchus (fr. 32 Wehrli), Pittacus was consistently considered one of the Seven. However belated, then, his appearance in Plutarch’s dialogue restores a missing piece of the canon; yet, for as long as his presence was obscured, the text defied the reader’s expectation, suggesting instead a non-canonical line-up of the Seven that would include Periander in Pittacus’ place. After all, such an unusual arrangement would be consistent with the untraditional location of the gathering and the unparalleled choice of Periander for the role of host.

§14 The text’s ambiguity about Periander’s status can be best understood in the context of Plutarch’s positive portrayal of the tyrant. In the opening chapters, the dialogue systematically overwrites narratives that had determined Periander’s negative reputation for centuries: for instance, the renewed sacrifices to Aphrodite with which Diocles’ narrative begins (146D) reframe the story about the illicit erotic interest of Periander’s mother by eliminating the disturbing element of pleasure[35] and by focusing on piety. Periander’s compliance with Melissa’s dream (146D) as well as her presence at the dinner (150B) point to a good marital relationship, thus drawing attention away from stories concerning her murder at Periander’s hands (Herodotus 3.50 and 5.92η; D.L. 1.94).[36] More importantly, Thales praises Periander for improving his conduct as a tyrant by opting to interact with the prudent people (including the Sages themselves) and to reject Thrasyboulus’ advice to eliminate the most eminent individuals in the community (147C).[37] Here Plutarch boldly rewrites one of the core narratives of Periander’s tyranny ever since Herodotus, namely that the Cypselid took Thrasyboulus’ cruel strategy to heart and brought about bloodshed.[38] The dissociation between the two tyrants in Plutarch’s dialogue is further reinforced a bit later in the dialogue, when Alexidemus, the arrogant bastard of Thrasyboulus, fails to appreciate Periander’s hetaireia and abandons it before the symposium even begins (148E-149C).[39] By raising the possibility in these first few chapters that Periander is not only the host of the Seven but also one of them, the dialogue reinforces its positive spin on the Corinthian tyrant, as it strongly encourages the reader to evoke, at the very least, the existent of other narratives and traditions that validate Periander by granting him the status of a Sage.

§15 The mention of Pittacus in 152B reconfigures the relationship between the Corinthian tyrant and the Sages; while it turns out that Periander is not one of the Seven, however, the distinction remains vague. As soon as Chilon utters the seventh and final gnome for Amasis, the symposiasts insist that Periander too make a statement (ῥηθέντων δὲ τούτων ἠξιοῦμεν ἡμεῖς καὶ αὐτὸν εἰπεῖν τι τὸν Περίανδρον, 152B).[40] Instead of contributing an aphorism like those of the Sages, however, Periander reflects upon the meaning of the maxims that were just uttered, and demonstrates both with his words and with his serious demeanor that he has received them first and foremost in his capacity as a ruler: ὁ δ’ οὐ μάλα φαιδρὸς ἀλλὰ συστήσας τὸ πρόσωπον “ἐγὼ τοίνυν,” ἔφη, “προσαποφαίνομαι τὰς εἰρημένας γνώμας ἁπάσας σχεδὸν ἀφιστάναι τοῦ ἄρχειν τὸν νοῦν ἔχοντα (“And he, not very cheerful, but with a hard set face, said, ‘Well, I add my view that the opinions expressed, taken as a whole, practically divorce any man who has sense from being a ruler.’”, 152B).[41] Periander interprets the aphorisms in relation to his own tyranny, but, even though he find the underlying message troubling, he does not antagonize the Sages nor does he attempt to defend his rule. Instead, it is Aesop who takes the Sages to task. Aesop, who also comes from the court of a king (150A),[42] criticizes the Sages for blaming rulers to their faces while posing to be their advisors and friends (152B-C). Solon counters that, by undermining the desirability of power, these maxims are meant to have a mitigating effect on rulers (152C). This leads to a brief friendly banter between Solon and Aesop (152C-F), but what interests me here is that, far from confirming an anti-monarchic reading of these sayings, Solon endorses and defends the importance of Sages as constructive advisors to kings and tyrants.[43]

§16 Periander’s statement in 152B is framed as an appendix (προσαποφαίνομαι) to the list of the seven maxims regarding monarchs and tyrants, issued by popular demand; later, however, when Mnesiphilus requests another performance of wisdom, now intended for those who live in an isonomos politeia, (154C-F), Periander’s contribution to the discussion relates to the sages’ apophthegms somewhat differently. The sages go around performing maxims in exactly the same sequence as earlier (152A-B); here too the text constructs this sequential arrangement by means of ordinal numbers (πρῶτος…δεύτερος…πέμπτος…ἕκτος). According to the pattern established in 152A-B, this list should end with Chilon, thus reinforcing the representation of the Seven as a closed group. Yet, once Chilon has finished his laconic statement, the list continues (154F): Τελευταῖος δὲ πάλιν ὁ Περίανδρος ἐπικρίνων ἔφη δοκεῖν αὐτῷ πάντας ἐπαινεῖν δημοκρατίαν τὴν ὁμοιοτάτην ἀριστοκρατίᾳ (“Finally, Periander once more concluded the discussion with the decisive remark, that they all seemed to him to approve a democracy which was most like an aristocracy.”). Just as in the 152B, the Corinthian tyrant reflects summarily on the preceding maxims, offering yet another definition of the best democracy but framing it as an interpretation of what has already been said. Not only does the text formally include Periander in the sequence without any further prompt, but, with πάλιν, it also creates an explicit parallel between this list and the previous one (152A-B). Both passages, then, link Periander closely to the Seven Sages: he is not one of them but, during these performances of wisdom, he is temporarily added to their circle; furthermore, while reflecting on their wisdom, he formulates his thoughts using brachylogy, a defining characteristic of the Sages ever since Plato. It is noteworthy that the sequence is extended to include the Corinthian tyrant only when the “rotation of wisdom” has to do with politics: when, later in the dialogue, the Sages (prompted by Anacharsis) take turns pronouncing on the attributes of the best household, the performance of maxims is concluded with Chilon as the seventh speaker (155C-D).[44]

§17 To sum up: in this paper, I have suggested that the opening chapters of Plutarch’s Symposium of the Seven Sages raise the possibility that Periander is hosting this gathering in his guise both as the tyrant of Corinth and as one of the Seven Sages. Furthermore, even after the belated revelation that Periander is not counted among the Seven, Plutarch maintains the close association between the tyrant and the Sages. I have argued that this dynamic treatment of Periander is part of his systematic rebranding in this dialogue. The Corinthian emerges as a paradigm for the wise ruler, who demonstrates an intellectual affinity to the Sages and benefits from continuous access to their counsel, sustaining a productive relationship with them despite the fact that most of them in principle oppose kingship and tyranny. That is not to say that Plutarch does not undercut and subvert the paradigm he constructs. I intend to discuss this matter at length in another paper, but I do want to point out here that, ultimately, there are enough hints in the text of the Symposium to suggest that the savagery and the cruelty which define Herodotus’ Periander may still be lurking underneath, ready to manifest themselves as soon as the beneficial influence of wise counselors is no longer available.[45]

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———. 2009. Plutarch’s ‘Maxime cum principibus philosopho esse disserendum’: An Interpretation with Commentary. Leuven.

Tell, H.P. 2015. “Solon and the Greek Wisdom Tradition.” TC 7:8-23.


[1] The title συμπόσιον τῶν ἑπτὰ σοφῶν is the only title assigned to the dialogue in the catalogue of Lamprias; the manuscript tradition, however, preserves the title συμπόσιον φιλοσόφων with or without the alternative τῶν ἑπτὰ σοφῶν συμπόσιον; see Lo Cascio (1997) 99.

[2] When available, I have used the translations of the Loeb series with some modifications.

[3] Hobden 2013:196.

[4] For a reading of the narrative frame of Plutarch’s Symposium of the Seven Sages as a reception of Plato Symp. 172a-174a, see Hunter 2012:202-203.

[5] Cf. Pausanias 10.24.1 and perhaps D.L. 1.99.

[6] Anonymous source in D.L. 1.40.

[7] Ephorus FGrH 70 F 181 mentions a meeting of the sages at the court of Croesus without Thales; Diodorus Siculus 9.26.2-27.4 recounts a meeting of Anacharsis, Bias, Solon, and Pittacus at Croesus’ palace (cf. D.L. 1.99). Croesus’ court is envisioned as a place that attracts itinerant wise men already in Herodotus (1.29).

[8] Cf. Plut. Sol. 4.1: “γενέσθαι δὲ μετ᾽ ἀλλήλων ἔν τε Δελφοῖς ὁμοῦ λέγονται καὶ πάλιν ἐν Κορίνθῳ, Περιάνδρου σύλλογόν τινα κοινὸν αὐτῶν καὶ συμπόσιον κατασκευάσαντος.” See also D.L. 1.99.

[9] Note that the extended hetaireia also allows Plutarch to construct as the primary narrator an invented character who, as far as we can tell based on extant sources, is independent from preexisting traditions.

[10] Defradas 1954:18-19 (= Defradas et al. 1985:180-81) and Lo Cascio 1997:52; see also, e.g., Busine 2002:95-96 and Leão 2008:484-85.

[11] Leão 2009:516-20 offers a useful discussion of Periander as a host, but he follows Defradas and others in assuming that the dialogue is informed by a strong anti-tyrannical sentiment. For a more balanced approach to the dialogue’s politics, see Aalders 1977, esp. 38-39.

[12] Pace Fehling 1985. See, e.g., Martin 1993, Adrados 1996:130-31, Bollansée 1999a, and Busine 2002:15-30 with bibliography.

[13] Cf. Martin 1993:120: “…there had to be an idealized corporate body of sages for the very notion of archaic sage to make sense. One wise man doesn’t work.” On the various narratives involving the agonistic circulation of objects among the Sages, see Busine 2002:56-64. In Plutarch Sept. Sap. Conv. 155E, Ardalus alludes to the circulation of Bathycles’ cup as an exclusionary incident that effectively set the Seven apart from everyone else.

[14] On the aesthetics of brachylogy in the context of Plutarch’s Symposium of the Seven Sages, see Kim 2009. On the Sages as performers, see Martin 1993:115-120.

[15] Hermippus’ list, as reported in D.L. 1.42, begins with Solon, Thales, Pittacus, and Bias, namely the four sages that were always included among the Seven according to Dicaearchus. On Hermippus’ work on the Seven Sages, see Bollansée 1999b:27-44, who assumes that Hermippus wrote biographies only of the seven men he singled out from the broader pool, and that he counted both Periander and Epimenides among these seven.

[16] On Plut. De E 385D-F, see below.

[17] According to Herodotus: (a) Periander killed his wife Melissa (3.50), committed necrophilia with her body, and later stripped the Corinthian women and burned their cloths as an offering to his dead wife (5.92η); (b) he sent 300 Corcyrean boys to Sardis for castration in order to avenge the murder of his estranged son, Lycophron (3.48-53); (c) he helped Thrasyboulus, the tyrant of Miletus, thwart the attack of Alyattes (1.20); (d) at the beginning of his rule, he was more lenient than his father Cypselus, but, after taking Thrasyboulus’ advice to eliminate the most eminent citizens, he became more bloodthirsty than his predecessor (5.92ζ); (e) he received the poet Arion after his miraculous rescue and, eventually, he punished his assailants (1.23-24); (f) he mediated the conflict between the Athenians of Sigeum and the Mytileneans of Achilleum (5.95.2). On the Sages as facilitators of concord, see Tell 2015:18-21.

[18] Pol. 3.1284a29-36, 5.1311a20-22 and 5.1313a36-40 refer to the same story as Hdt. 5.92ζ-η, yet, in Aristotle’s version, Periander gives the advice to Thrasyboulus, not the other way around. In Pol.5.1315b29-30 Aristotle attributes the long rule of the Cypselids partly to the fact that Periander was warlike.

[19] Cf. Hermippus FGrH 1026 F 11 = Athenaeus 10.442f-443a. The construction of Periander as ultimately anti-tyrannical underlies one of the sayings attributed to him: δημοκρατία κρεῖττον τυραννίδος (D.L. 1.97).

[20] D.L. 1.98-99: Σωτίων δὲ καὶ Ἡρακλείδης καὶ Παμφίλη ἐν τῷ πέμπτῳ τῶν Ὑπομνημάτων δύο φασὶ Περιάνδρους γεγονέναι, τὸν μὲν τύραννον, τὸν δὲ σοφὸν καὶ Ἀμβρακιώτην. τοῦτο καὶ Νεάνθης φησὶν ὁ Κυζικηνός, ἀνεψιούς τε εἶναι ἀλλήλοις.

[21] Pausanias 10.24.1: τὸν δὲ ἕβδομον Πλάτων ὁ Ἀρίστωνος ἀντὶ Περιάνδρου τοῦ Κυψέλου Μύσωνα κατείλοχε τὸν Χηνέα.

[22] D.L. 1.41: Πλάτων δὲ ἐν Πρωταγόρᾳ Μύσωνα (sc. ἐγκρίνει) ἀντὶ Περιάνδρου· Ἔφορος δὲ ἀντὶ Μύσωνος Ἀνάχαρσιν. On Ephorus’ unfavorable view of Periander, reconstructed partly through Nicolaus of Damascus, see Parker’s commentary on BNJ 70 F 179.

[23] Defradas 1954:18 (= Defradas et al. 1985:181) does not read Lamprias’ statement in its proper context and thus views it as Plutarch’s endorsement of an anti-tyrannical attitude inherited from Plato and perhaps also from Delphic circles; cf., more recently, Leão 2009:512. Contrast, however, Obsieger’s much more sensible reading (2013:119-120 and 125 on 386a).

[24] Unlike Kim 2009:484, I argue that Plutarch does, in fact, grapple with the issue of Periander’s eligibility.

[25] Ephorus, FGrH 70 F 182 = D.L. 1.41. On Anacharsis in Greek sympotic contexts, see Hobden 2013:107-116, esp. 108-112 on Plutarch’s Symposium of the Seven Sages.

[26] Both Cleoboulina and Melissa, Periander’s wife, attend the banquet (150B) but they retreat later (155E).

[27] See Konstantakos 2004 and 2005.

[28] On the meaning on Chilon’s laughter here, see Jazdzewska 2016:77-78.         

[29] Chilon proposes Bias’ wisdom as a much better alternative to the golden foot-basin, an allusion to the trick through which Amasis earned the respect and servitude of his people according to Herodotus 2.172.

[30] 152A: ‘ἐμοὶ μέν’ ἔφη (sc. Σόλων) ‘δοκεῖ μάλιστ’ ἂν ἔνδοξος γενέσθαι καὶ βασιλεύς καὶ τύραννος…’

[31] Thales refers twice to sayings of Pittacus (147B and 147C), but none of these references suggests that Pittacus is at Lechaeum as well. Furthermore, as the discussion of Epimenides and his alimos demonstrate (157D-158B), this hetaireia can evoke absent individuals associated with the Sages (on Epimenides as one of the Seven, see Hermippus FGrH 1026 F 10).

[32] The sequence is alphabetical with the exception of Solon, whom Chilon invites to speak first because he is the eldest and the person of honor in this symposium (151E), and Anacharsis who speaks after Thales and Cleoboulus.

[33] On the “rotation of wisdom” in the context of Plutarch’s Symposium of the Seven Sages, see Kim 2009:489-490.

[34] Cf. the belated mentions of two more symposiasts, Cleodorus the doctor (152D) and Chersias the poet (156E).

[35] Contrast D.L. 1.96: φησὶ δὲ Ἀρίστιππος ἐν πρώτῳ Περὶ παλαιᾶς τρυφῆς περὶ αὐτοῦ τάδε, ὡς ἄρα ἐρασθεῖσα ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ Κράτεια συνῆν αὐτῷ λάθρα· καὶ ὃς ἥδετο. φανεροῦ δὲ γενομένου βαρὺς πᾶσιν ἐγένετο διὰ τὸ ἀλγεῖν ἐπὶ τῇ φώρᾳ.

[36] As Mossman 1997: 126-27 points out, however, the text allows for the potential of future violence. See n. 44 below.

[37] Notice that the theme of good council applies both to Periander and Cleoboulus, whose politics have benefitted greatly from Cleoboulina’s influence (148D). On political council in Plutarch, see, e.g. Roskam 2002 and 2009, esp. 71-140.

[38] Hdt. 5.92ζ; cf. Arist. Pol. 5.1311a20-22 and 5.1313a4, where the roles are reversed: it is Periander who gives this advice to Thrasyboulus.

[39] On the revisionist approach to Periander’s biography, cf. also the version of the Arion story recounted later in Plutarch’s Symposium of the Seven Sages (160D-162B). For a discussion of the differences between this narrative and Hdt. 1.23-24, see Durán Mañas 2010/11: 78, who underscores the moralizing aspect of Plutarch’s Periander. I discuss the dialogue’s reception of Herodotus elsewhere.

[40] Kim 2009: 489.

[41] When Periander invites his guests to offer Amasis political wisdom, he says that this would be a valuable bonus for the Pharaoh as well as beneficial “for us” (ἡμῖν ἀντὶ πάντων ὠφέλιμος, 151E). At that point in the narrative, the benefit may be understood to pertain to the relationship between the Pharaoh and the present hetaireia; yet, after Periander’s comment in 152B, it is possible to (re-)interpret ἡμῖν … ὠφέλιμος in 151E as the expressed anticipation of benefit to Periander’s own one-man rule.

[42] Cf. the exchange between Solon and Aesop occurs at the court of Croesus in Plut. Sol. 28; cf. Diod. Sic. 9.28. On Aesopic approaches to those in power, see Kurke 2011: 131-58.

[43] Cf. Thales’ earlier comment about the positive influence of the Periander’s inner circle upon his governing style (147c): Περίανδρος δ’ ἔοικεν ὥσπερ ἐν νοσήματι πατρῴῳ τῇ τυραννίδι κατειλημμένος οὐ φαύλως ἐξαναφέρειν, χρώμενος ὁμιλίαις ὑγιειναῖς ἄχρι γε νῦν καὶ συνουσίας ἀνδρῶν νοῦν ἐχόντων ἐπαγομενος. Aalders 1977: 37-38 rightly points out that, while Plutarch’s Symposium draws material from political theory of the fifth and, especially, the fourth c. BCE, it endorses political ideals of Plutarch’s own era: a moderate and philosophical monarchy for the empire and a moderate republican democracy (which was de facto a moderate aristocracy) at the local level. Cf. Roskam 2009: 32-34 on the political virtue of the Seven Sages in Plutarch’s works.

[44] With the exception of Anacharsis, who speaks first instead of fourth and gives an extensive statement rather than a laconic gnome, the sequence remains the same (Solon, Bias, Thales, Cleoboulus, Pittacus, and Chilon). Although Periander is not included, it is noteworthy that, after offering his own utterance, Chilon adds (προσεπεῖπεν, 155D) a quote by Lycurgus. Both sayings are political in so far as they establish a connection between civic politics and the management of a household. The list of gnomai (155C) is excerpted in Stobaeus (4.28.14 Hense) without Anacharsis’ initial speech; it is probably in the interest of making seven speakers out of a passage that only included six that ὅτι, the conjunction that marks the section about Lycurgus as part of Chilon’s speech, is omitted in the text of Stobaeus.

[45] One may be tempted to see Periander’s positive representation in this dialogue as anti-Herodotean, but not all the negative stories that are revisited derive from Herodotus’ work (e.g., the passion of Periander’s mother for her son in 146D). Besides, in De Malignitate Herodoti Plutarch does not object to Herodotus’ treatment of Periander’s cruelty (859E-860C, 860F-861A). Most importantly, however, Plutarch’s representation of Periander in the Symposium of the Seven Sages, albeit positive on the surface, bears warning signs that a turn for the worse is still a possibility. Melissa’s presence raises the question of her impending demise (cf. Mossman 1997: 126-27), the threat promised by the portent of 149C-D is still looming (cf. Jazdzewska 2013:309), and Periander’s measured luxury in the presence of the Sages turns out to be false    (150C-D). Finally, Thales’ comment about Periander’s rule in 147C (quoted in n. 42) implies that Periander’s moderate leadership is rather fragile and thus underlines the importance of his continued association with the Sages.

About Zoe Stamatopoulou

Zoe Stamatopoulou received her PhD in Classics from the University of Virginia (2008) and has research interests in archaic and classical Greek poetry, Greek and Roman didactic poetry, ancient biographical traditions, and Greek literature of the Imperial era. She is the author of Hesiod and Classical Greek Poetry: Reception and Transformation in the Fifth Century BCE (forthcoming in 2016, Cambridge University Press) and of several articles on Greek literature. 2016-17 will be her first academic year as an Associate Professor of Classics at Washington University in St. Louis. During her fellowship at the CHS, she will be preparing a commentary on Plutarch's Symposium of the Seven Sages.

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