Sextus of Chaeronea

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

Philostratus[3] 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,[4] 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"[5]

The date of this encounter is most likely 177-8, before Marcus' last departure for war.[6] Marcus is also said to have "showed off" his philosophy before Sextus.[7]

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.[8]

He is probably 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). Apuleius pays tribute to Sextus (and Plutarch) at the beginning of The Golden Ass.[9] In what is widely considered to be an error, the Suda identifies Sextus of Chaeronea as being the same person as Sextus Empiricus; although there is some plausibility to the identification [10] but Sextus of Chaeronea, it would seem, 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.


  1. Latin nepos indicated "grandson" in the Augustan age, but by the 3rd century meant "nephew".
  2. Historia Augusta, Marcus Aurelius 3.2
  3. Philostratus, Vitae sophistorum ii. 9 (557); cf. Suda, Markos
  4. A philosopher friend of Herodes Atticus
  5. Philostratus, Vitae sophistorum ii. 9 (557)
  6. C. R. Haines, Marcus Aurelius, page 376. Loeb Classical Library.
  7. Themistius, Orat. xi. 145b
  8. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, i. 9
  9. Apuleius, The Golden Ass, 1.2
  10. Suda, Sextos. The Suda goes on to relate a story about a third Sextus (Sextus Quintilius Condianus) who was impersonated by an imposter in the time of Commodus, cf. Cassius Dio, 72.6