Hermogenes of Tarsus

Hermogenes of Tarsus (Greek: Ἑρμογένης ὁ Ταρσεύς) was a Greek rhetorician, surnamed The Polisher (Ξυστήρ). He flourished in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (AD 161–180).

Life and workEdit

De ideis (Peri ideon) in ms. Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vaticanus graecus 103, fol. 179r.

His precocious ability secured him a public appointment as teacher of his art while he was only a boy, attracting the note of the emperor himself; but at the age of twenty-five his faculties gave way, and he spent the remainder of his long life in a state of intellectual impotence.[1] According to legend, he probably fell victim to a disease which resulted in meningitis, such as measles or yersinia. Philostratus of Lemnos notes he continued in this pitiable state until dying at an advanced age. Allegedly, Antiochus used to taunt him: "Lo, here is one who was an old man among boys and now among the old is but a boy."[2] The Suda records a rumor that after his death his heart was found to be enormous and covered in hair.[1]

During his early years, however, he had composed a series of rhetorical treatises, which became popular textbooks, and the subject of subsequent commentaries. We still possess some sections:

  • Περὶ στάσεων – On legal issues (staseis)
  • Περὶ εὑρέσεως – On the invention of arguments
  • Περὶ ἰδεῶν – On various kinds of style (or On types of style)
  • On the method of speaking effectively
  • Προγυμνάσματα – On rhetorical exercises (progymnasmata).

In On Types of Style,[full citation needed] Hermogenes identifies seven, rather than the traditional three—high, medium and low—elements of style. First is clarity, because of its importance. Clarity is subdivided into purity, which is sentence-level clarity, and distinctness, which is about over all organization. The next category, grandeur is subdivided into six parts, but generally clumped into four sections: solemnity and brilliance are the first section and are very similar. Solemnity is using short, abstract statements about elevated topics; brilliance takes those abstracts down to specifics, and is longer. The third part of grandeur is amplification. The last section of grandeur comprises three parts: asperity, vehemence and florescence. Asperity for sharp criticism, vehemence for disdain and florescence to ameliorate strong feelings. The category of beauty is not subdivided. The next type of style is rapidity—quick short sentence, rapid replied, sudden turns of thought in antithesis. The fifth style is ethos which is subdivided into simplicity, sweetness, subtlety and modesty. The last style, gravity, is the correct balance of all six of these types of style.

Editions and translationsEdit

In the Renaissance the famous publisher, book- and type designer Aldus Manutius introduced the Hermogenean rhetorical corpus to the Western European reader. The works of Hermogenes appeared in the Aldine series. The 19th century Hugo Rabe edition of the Opera Hermogenis, with Latin introduction, is based upon various editions, a.o. the Aldine edition.

Michel Patillon has translated the entire Hermogenic corpus into French, with copious annotations.[3] Malcolm Heath has translated On Issues (Περὶ στάσεων) into English,[4] and Cecil W. Wooten has translated On Types of Style into English.[5] A Dutch translation of On Types of Style appeared in late 2006.

Work on Hermogenes' influenceEdit

Mikael Johansson has tried to apply the unique rhetorical schemes of Hermogenes on some of the declamations of Libanius.[6]

Annabel Patterson wrote a book about Hermogenean style, rhetorical categories, and its influence on Renaissance writers, such as William Shakespeare. Hugh Blair also mentions Hermogenes in his work on rhetoric.

Other peopleEdit

There seems to have been yet another Hermogenes of Tarsus, remembered for being put to death by Emperor Domitian because of some allusions in his History.[7]


  1. ^ a b Suda s.v. Ἑρμογένης, Adler number: epsilon, 3046
  2. ^ Quoted in Davis, Janet B. "Hermogenes of Tarsus" in Classical rhetoric and rhetoricians
  3. ^ M. Patillon, Hermogène. L'art rhétorique. Paris: L'Age d'Homme, 1997.
  4. ^ M. Heath, Hermogenes On issues: strategies of argument in later Greek rhetoric. Oxford University Press, 1995.
  5. ^ C. W. Wooten, Hermogenes' on types of style. University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
  6. ^ M. Johansson, Libanius' Declamations 9 and 10 (Studia Graeca et Latina Gothoburgensia LXVII). Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 2006.
  7. ^ Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Loeb Classical Library, 1914, 10

External linksEdit