Timon of Phlius


Timon of Phlius (/ˈtmən/ TY-mən; Ancient Greek: Τίμων ὁ Φλιάσιος, romanizedTímōn ho Phliásios, gen. Τίμωνος, Tímōnos; c. 320 BC – c. 235 BC) was a Greek Pyrrhonist philosopher, a pupil of Pyrrho, and a celebrated writer of satirical poems called Silloi (Σίλλοι). He was born in Phlius, moved to Megara, and then he returned home and married. He next went to Elis with his wife, and heard Pyrrho, whose tenets he adopted. He also lived on the Hellespont, and taught at Chalcedon, before moving to Athens, where he lived until his death. His writings were said to have been very numerous. He composed poetry, tragedies, satiric dramas, and comedies, of which very little remains. His most famous composition was his Silloi, a satirical account of famous philosophers, living and dead; a spoudaiogeloion in hexameter verse. The Silloi has not survived intact, but it is mentioned and quoted by several ancient authors. It has been suggested that Pyrrhonism ultimately originated with Timon rather than Pyrrho.[1]

Timon of Phlius
Timon in Thomas Stanley History of Philosophy.jpg
Timon of Phlius, 17th-century engraving
Bornc. 320 BCE
Diedc. 235 BCE (aged c. 85)
EraHellenistic philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Notable ideas


A fairly full account of Timon's life was given by Diogenes Laërtius, from the first book of a work on the Silloi by Apollonides of Nicaea; and some particulars are quoted by Diogenes from Antigonus of Carystus, and from Sotion.[2] He was a native of Phlius, and was the son of Timarchus. Being left an orphan while still young, he was at first a dancer in the theatre, but he abandoned this profession for the study of philosophy, and, having moved to Megara, he spent some time with Stilpo, and then he returned home and married. He next went to Elis with his wife, and heard Pyrrho, whose tenets he adopted, so far at least as his restless genius and satirical scepticism permitted him to follow any master. During his residence at Elis, he had children born to him, the eldest of whom, named Xanthus, he instructed in the art of medicine and trained in his philosophical principles. Driven again from Elis by straitened circumstances, he spent some time on the Hellespont and the Propontis, and taught at Chalcedon as a sophist with such success that he made a fortune. He then moved to Athens, where he lived until his death, with the exception of a short residence at Thebes. Among the great men with whom he became personally acquainted in the course of his travels were the kings Antigonus and Ptolemy II Philadelphus. He was also linked to several literary figures such as: Alexander Aetolus and Homerus, whom he is said to have assisted in the composition of their tragedies; and Aratus, whom he is said to have taught.[3] He died at an age of almost ninety.


Timon appears to have been endowed by nature with a powerful and active mind, and with a quick perception of the weaknesses of people, which made him a skeptic in philosophy and a satirist in everything. According to Diogenes Laërtius, Timon was a one-eyed man; and he used even to make a jest of his own defect, calling himself Cyclops. Some other examples of his bitter sarcasms are recorded by Diogenes; one of which is worth quoting as a maxim in criticism: being asked by Aratus how to obtain the pure text of Homer, he replied, "If we could find the old copies, and not those with modern emendations." He is also said to have been fond of retirement, and of gardening; but Diogenes introduces this statement and some others in such a way as to suggest a doubt whether they ought to be referred to our Timon or to Timon of Athens, or whether they apply equally to both.


The writings of Timon are represented as very numerous. According to Diogenes Laërtius, he composed "lyric and epic poems, and tragedies and satiric dramas, and thirty comedies, and sixty tragedies and the Silloi and amatory poems." His work is frequently quoted by Sextus Empiricus, also a follower of Pyrrho. Apart from the fragments of the Silloi, most of what survives of Timon's work is what Diogenes Laërtius and Sextus chose to quote and what Eusebius preserved in Praeparatio evangelica quoting Aristocles quoting Timon's book Python in which Timon describes encountering Pyrrho the grounds of an Amphiareion while they were both on a pilgrimage to Delphi.[4] and in which Pyrrho provides this summary of his philosophy:

'The things themselves are equally indifferent, and unstable, and indeterminate, and therefore neither our senses nor our opinions are either true or false. For this reason then we must not trust them, but be without opinions, and without bias, and without wavering, saying of every single thing that it no more is than is not, or both is and is not, or neither is nor is not.[5]


No remains of his dramas have survived. Of his epic poems little is known, but it may be presumed that they were chiefly ludicrous or satirical poems in the epic form. Possibly his Python (Greek: Πύθων), which contained a long account of a conversation with Pyrrho, during a journey to the Delphic oracle, may be referred to this class; unless it was in prose.[6] It appears probable that his Funeral Banquet of Arcesilaus was a satirical poem in epic verse.[7] He also wrote parodies on Homer, and some lines from a scepticism-themed poem in elegiac verse have been preserved, as well as one or two fragments which cannot be with certainty assigned to any of his poems.[8]


The most celebrated of his poems, however, were the satiric compositions called Silloi, a word of somewhat uncertain etymology, but which undoubtedly describes metrical compositions, of a character at once ludicrous and sarcastic. The invention of this species of poetry is ascribed to Xenophanes of Colophon. The Silloi of Timon were in three books, in the first of which he spoke in his own person, and the other two are in the form of a dialogue between the author and Xenophanes, in which Timon proposed questions, to which Xenophanes replied at length. The subject was a sarcastic account of the tenets of all philosophers, living and dead; an unbounded field for scepticism and satire. They were in hexameter verse, and, from the way in which they are mentioned by the ancient writers, as well as from the few fragments of them which have survived, it is evident that they were admirable productions of their kind.[9] Commentaries were written on the Silloi by Apollonides of Nicaea, and also by Sotion of Alexandria.[10] The poem entitled Images (Greek: Ἰνδαλμοι) in elegiac verse, appears to have been similar in its subject to the Silloi.[11] Diogenes Laërtius also mentions Timon's iamboi,[12] but perhaps the word is here merely used in the sense of satirical poems in general, without reference to the metre. According to Timon, philosophers are "excessively cunning murderers of many wise saws" (v. 96); the only two whom he spares are Xenophanes, "the modest censor of Homer's lies" (v. 29), and Pyrrho, against whom "no other mortal dare contend" (v. 126).[8]


He also wrote in prose, to the quantity, according to Diogenes Laërtius, of twenty thousand lines. These works were no doubt on philosophical subjects, and Diogenes mentions On Sensations, On Inquiries, and Towards Wisdom. Also among his lost works is Against the Physicists, in which he questioned the legitimacy of making hypotheses.[13]


  1. ^ Brunschwig, (1999), pp. 249–251.
  2. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, ix. c. 12. §§ 109–115
  3. ^ Suda, Aratos.
  4. ^ Eusebius of Caesaria Praeparatio Evangelica Chapter 18
  5. ^ Eusebius. "Praeparatio Evangelica Book XIV". Tertullian Project. Retrieved 27 January 2023.
  6. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 64, 105; Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, xiv.
  7. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 115; Athenaeus, ix. 406
  8. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  9. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 115; Aristocles ap. Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, xiv.; Suda, Sillainei, Timon; Athenaeus, passim; Aulus Gellius, iii. 17.
  10. ^ Athenaeus, viii. 336
  11. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 65
  12. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 110
  13. ^ Sextus Empiricus, Against the Geometers, 2. in Sextus Empiricus IV: Against the Professors. R.G. Bury (trans.) (Harvard University Press, 1949/2000). p. 244 (Greek); 245 (English) ISBN 0-674-99420-5


  • Brunschwig, J., Introduction: The Beginnings of Hellenistic Epistemology, in Algra, Barnes, Mansfeld and Schofield (eds.), The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1999) p. 229-259.
  • Hornblower, Simon, and Anthony Spawforth ed., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2003) ISBN 0-19-866172-X
  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, William, ed. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. {{cite encyclopedia}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Timon of Phlius". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 989.

Further readingEdit

  • Dee L. Clayman, Timon of Phlius: Pyrrhonism Into Poetry, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009 (including a new reconstruction of the Silloi, with Greek text and English translation)

External linksEdit