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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Vol. II

Athenodorus, the name of two Stoic philosophers of the 1st century B.C., who have frequently been confounded.

1. Athenodorus Cananites (c. 74 B.C.A.D. 7), so called from his birthplace Canana near Tarsus (not Cana in Cilicia nor Canna in Lycaonia), was the son of one Sandon, whose name indicates Tarsian descent, not Jewish as many have held. He was a personal friend of Strabo, from whom we derive our knowledge of his life.​a He taught the young Octavian (afterwards Augustus) at Apollonia, and was a pupil of Posidonius at Rhodes. Subsequently he appears to have travelled in the East (Petra and Egypt) and to have made himself famous by lecturing in the great cities of the Mediterranean. Writing in 50 B.C., Cicero speaks of him with the highest respect (cf. Ep. ad Att., XVI.11.4, 14.4), a fact which enables us to fix the date of his birth as not later than about 74. His influence over Augustus was strong and lasting. He followed him to Rome in 44, and is said to have criticized him with the utmost candour, bidding him repeat the letters of the alphabet before acting on an angry impulse.​b In later years he was allowed by Augustus to return to Tarsus in order to remodel the constitution of the city after the degenerate democracy which had misgoverned it under Boethus. He succeeded (c. 15‑10 B.C.) in setting up a timocratic oligarchy in the imperial interest (see Tarsus). Sir W. M. Ramsay is inclined to attribute to the influence of Athenodorus the striking resemblances which can be established between Seneca and Paul, the latter of whom must certainly have been acquainted with his teachings. According to Eusebius and Strabo he was a learned scientist for his day, and some attribute to him a history of Tarsus. He helped Cicero in the composition of the De Officiis. His works are not certainly known, and none are extant. (See Sir W. M. Ramsay in the Expositor, September 1906, pp268 ff.)​c

2. Athenodorus Cordylion, also of Tarsus, was keeper of the library at Pergamum, and was an old man in 47 B.C. In his enthusiasm for Stoicism he used to cut out from Stoic writings passages which seemed to him unsatisfactory.​d He also settled in Rome, where he died in the house of the younger Cato.​e

Among others of the same name may be mentioned (3) Athenodorus of Teos, who played the cithara at the wedding of Alexander the Great and Statira at Susa (324 B.C.);​f (4) a Greek physician of the 1st century A.D., who wrote on epidemic diseases; and two sculptors, of whom (5) one executed the statues of Apollo and Zeus which the Spartans dedicated at Delphi after Aegospotami; and (6) the other was a son of Alexander of Rhodes, whom he helped in the Laocoon group.​g

Thayer's Notes:

a The passage in Strabo is XIV.5.14 (Casaubon's pp674‑675); among Strabo's few other scattered mentions of him, XVI.4.21 (779F) is where Strabo calls him his "companion" (ἑταῖρος). The man is often called Athenodorus of Tarsus, but that name is ambiguous, since it might also refer to Athenodorus Cordylion, below — who is often said to have been from Tarsus, although that's uncertain. See I. G. Kidd, Posidonius, (Vol. II, The Commentary, CUP 1988), pp35‑36.

b Plutarch, Sayings of Romans, 207C and see the further note there.

c An entertaining ghost story is told by Pliny the Younger (LXXXIII) in which "Athenodorus the philosopher" plays a central rôle. Thanks no doubt to a popular site often noted for its inaccuracies, we read all over the Web that he is to be identified with Athenodorus of Canana: but, reading Pliny carefully, there is no indication of who this philosopher might have been, nor even any indication of date. Now given the prominence of Cananites, the identification is not unreasonable: but it is not certain by any means.

d Isidorus ap. Diogenes Laërtius, VII.34.

e Plutarch, Life of Cato the Younger, 10 16; Strabo, XIV.5.14 (674B).

f Chares, ap. Athenaeus XII.54 (538E).

g Athenodorus was a common name, as might be expected — the "gift of Athena"; 21 of them are listed at Attalus.Org, of whom fourteen may be called famous, or at least prominent.

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Page updated: 3 Aug 18