Sextus of Chaeronea

Sextus of Chaeronea (Greek: Σέξστος ὁ Χαιρωνεύς, fl. c. 160 AD) was a philosopher, a nephew or grandson[1] of Plutarch,[2] and one of the teachers of the emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The Suda identifies Sextus of Chaeronea as being the same person as Sextus Empiricus, in which case Sextus would be a Pyrrhonist. This is not generally considered to be correct, although it is plausible. [3] Some historians infer that due to his relationship with Plutarch that Sextus was a Platonist.[4] Others infer that Sextus as a Stoic due to an ambiguous mention of Sextus as one of the teachers of Marcus Aurelius in the "Historia Augusta."[5]

The Suda also says that Sextus of Chaeronea was so high in the favour of Marcus Aurelius that he sat in judgement with him. Two works are mentioned: Ethics (Greek: Ἠθικά), and Inquiries (Greek: Ἐπισκεπτικά), but whether they were by Sextus of Chaeronea or Sextus Empiricus is unknown.

Philostratus[6] describes how even when Marcus was an old man, in the latter part of his reign, he received instruction from Sextus, who was teaching in Rome:

The Emperor Marcus was an eager disciple of Sextus the Boeotian philosopher, being often in his company and frequenting his house. Lucius,[7] who had just come to Rome, asked the Emperor, whom he met on his way, where he was going to and on what errand, and Marcus answered, "it is good even for an old man to learn; I am now on my way to Sextus the philosopher to learn what I do not yet know." And Lucius, raising his hand to heaven, said, "O Zeus, the king of the Romans in his old age takes up his tablets and goes to school"[8]

The date of this encounter is most likely 177-8, before Marcus' last departure for war.[9] Marcus is also said to have "show[n] off" his philosophy before Sextus.[10]

In his Meditations, Marcus speaks of Sextus in glowing terms, and we discover the type of education he received from Sextus:

My debts to Sextus include kindliness, how to rule a household with paternal authority, the real meaning of the Natural Life, an unselfconscious dignity, an intuitive concern for the interests of one's friends, and a good-natured patience with amateurs and visionaries. The aptness of his courtesy to each individual lent a charm to his society more potent than any flattery, yet at the same time it exacted the complete respect of all present. His manner, too, of determining and systematizing the essential rules of life was as comprehensive as it was methodical. Never displaying a sign of anger nor any kind of emotion, he was at once entirely imperturbable and yet full of kindly affection. His approval was always quietly and undemonstratively expressed, and he never paraded his encyclopaedic learning.[11]

Apuleius pays tribute to Sextus and Plutarch at the beginning of The Golden Ass.[12] He is possibly the Sextus listed along with Plutarch, Agathobulus and Oenomaus in the Chronicle of Jerome as flourishing in the 3rd year of Hadrian's reign (119 AD).


  1. ^ Latin nepos indicated "grandson" in the Augustan age, but by the 3rd century meant "nephew".
  2. ^ Historia Augusta, Marcus Aurelius 3.2
  3. ^ Suda, Sextos σ 235.
  4. ^ e.g., Andrew Laird in "Fiction, Bewitchment and Story Worlds: The Implications of Claims to Truth in Apuleius" in "Lies and fiction in the ancient world" 1993, p159
  5. ^ Pierre Hadot The Inner Citadel, 1998, p17
  6. ^ Philostratus, Vitae sophistorum ii. 9 (557); cf. Suda, Markos
  7. ^ A philosopher friend of Herodes Atticus
  8. ^ Philostratus, Vitae sophistorum ii. 9 (557)
  9. ^ C. R. Haines, Marcus Aurelius, page 376. Loeb Classical Library.
  10. ^ Themistius, Orat. xi. 145b
  11. ^ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, i. 9
  12. ^ Apuleius, The Golden Ass, 1.2