He was of Gaulish ancestry, born in Arelate (Arles). He received an exquisite education, first in Gallia Narbonensis and then in Rome, and at an early age began his lifelong travels through Greece, Italy and the East.
Favorinus had extensive knowledge, combined with great oratorical powers, that raised him to eminence both in Athens and in Rome. He lived on close terms with Plutarch, with Herodes Atticus, to whom he bequeathed his library in Rome, with Demetrius the Cynic, Cornelius Fronto, Aulus Gellius, and with the emperor Hadrian. His great rival was Polemon of Smyrna, whom he vigorously attacked in his later years.
After being silenced by Hadrian in an argument in which the sophist might easily have refuted his adversary, Favorinus subsequently explained that it was foolish to criticize the logic of the master of thirty legions. When the Athenians, feigning to share the emperor's displeasure with the sophist, pulled down a statue which they had erected to him, Favorinus remarked that if only Socrates also had had a statue at Athens, he might have been spared the hemlock.
Hadrian banished Favorinus at some point in the 130s, to the island of Chios. Rehabilitated with the ascension of Antoninus Pius in 138, Favorinus returned to Rome, where he resumed his activities as an author and teacher of upper-class pupils. Among his students were Alexander Peloplaton, who would later teach and serve under Marcus Aurelius, and Herodes Atticus, who also taught Marcus Aurelius and to whom Favorinus bequeathed his library.. His year of death is unknown, but he appears to have survived into his eighties, and died perhaps around 160.
Hofeneder (2006) suggests that Favorinus is identical with the "Celtic philosopher" explaining the image of Ogmios in Lucianus. (Eugenio Amato had suggested this identification before in "Luciano e l'anonimo filosofo celta di Hercules 4: proposta di identificazione", Symbolae Osloenses 79 (2004), 128–149).
Of the very numerous works of Favorinus, we possess only a few fragments, preserved by Aulus Gellius, Diogenes Laërtius, Philostratus, Galen, and in the Suda, Pantodape Historia (miscellaneous history) and Apomnemoneumata (memoirs, things remembered). As a philosopher, Favorinus considered himself to be an Academic Skeptic; his most important work in this connection appears to have been the Pyrrhonean Tropes in ten books, in which he endeavours to show that the Pyrrhonist Ten Modes of Aenesidemus were useful to those who intended to practise in the law courts.
Galen devoted to a polemic against Favorinus in "De optima doctrina", opposing Favorinus’ thesis that the best instruction consists in the argument in which one speaks, in each particular question, in favour of opposite sides. Galen’s treatise says that Favorinus wrote a work "On the Academic Disposition" also called "Plutarch" and a work against Epictetus named "Against Epictetus" staging one of Plutarch’s slaves, Onesimus, arguing with Epictetus. Favorinus wrote "On the Cataleptic Phantasy" in which he is said to have denied the possibility of katalepsis, the key notion of Stoic epistemology.
Favorinus is described as a eunuch (εὐνοῦχος) by birth. Polemon of Laodicea, writer of a treatise on physiognomy, described Favorinus as "a eunuch born without testicles", beardless and with a high pitched, thin voice, while Philostratos described him as a hermaphrodite. Mason and others thus describe Favorinus as having an intersex trait. Retief and Cilliers suggest that the descriptions available are consistent with Reifenstein's syndrome (androgen insensitivity syndrome).
Favorinus owned an Indian slave.
- Wytse Hette Keulen "Gellius the Satirist: Roman Cultural Authority in Attic Nights" p119
- "Translation from Lucian; with an English translation, by A.M. Harmon. In eight volumes". Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 1947–1957. pp. 331–345.
- "Skepticism" (PDF). Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, Johns Hopkins University.
- Philostratus, VS 489
- Swain (1989) 150
- Retief, F P; Cilliers, J F G (2003). "Congenital eunuchism and Favorinus". South African Medical Journal. 93 (1): 73–76.
- Mason (1978)
- Horstmanshoff (2000) 103 n. 39
- Amato (2005) 13, n. 39
- Eugenio Amato (intr., ed., comm.) and Yvette Julien (trans.), Favorinos d'Arles, Oeuvres I. Introduction générale - Témoignages - Discours aux Corinthiens - Sur la Fortune, Paris: Les Belles Lettres (2005).
- Eugenio Amato (intr., ed., comm., trans.), Favorinos d'Arles, Oeuvres III. Fragments, Paris: Les Belles Lettres (2010).
- Ioppolo, A. M., "The Academic Position of Favorinos of Arelate," Phronesis, 38 (1993), 183-213.
- Gleason, M. W., Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome, Princeton (1995).
- Opsomer, J., "Favorinos versus Epictetus on the Philosophical Heritage of Plutarch: a Debate on Epistemology," in J. Mossman (ed), Plutarch and his Intellectual World (London, 1997), 17-34.
- Holford-Strevens, "Favorinos: the Man of Paradoxes," in J. Barnes et M. Griffin (eds.), Philosophia togata, vol. II (Oxford, 1997), 188-217.
- Horstmanshoff, M., Who is the True Eunuch? Medical and Religious Ideas about Eunuchs and Castration in the Works of Clement of Alexandria, in S. Kottek and M. Horstmanshoff (eds), From Athens to Jerusalem: Medicine in Hellenized Jewish Lore and in Early Christian Literature. Papers of the Symposium in Jerusalem, 9–11 September 1996 (Rotterdam, 2000) 101–118.
- Andreas Hofeneder, Favorinus von Arleate und die keltische Religion, Keltische Forschungen 1 (2006), 29-58.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Favorinus". Encyclopædia Britannica. 10 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 214.
- Mason, H.J., Favorinus’ Disorder: Reifenstein’s Syndrome in Antiquity?, in Janus 66 (1978) 1–13.
- Swain, Simon, "Favorinus and Hadrian," in ZPE 79 (1989), 150-158