Timon of Phlius (Greek: Τίμων, gen.: Τίμωνος; c. 320-c. 230 BC) was a Greek skeptic philosopher, a pupil of Pyrrho, and a celebrated writer of satirical poems called Silloi (Greek: Σίλλοι). He was born in Phlius, moved to Megara, and then he returned home and married. He next went to Elis with his wife, and heard Pyrrho, whose tenets he adopted. He also lived on the Hellespont, and taught at Chalcedon, before moving to Athens, where he lived until his death. His writings were said to have been very numerous. He composed poetry, tragedies, satiric dramas, and comedies, of which very little remains. His most famous composition was his Silloi, a satirical account of famous philosophers, living and dead, in hexameter verse. The Silloi has not survived intact, but it is mentioned and quoted by several ancient authors.
A fairly full account of Timon's life was given by Diogenes Laertius, from the first book of a work on the Silloi by Apollonides of Nicaea; and some particulars are quoted by Diogenes from Antigonus of Carystus, and from Sotion. He was a native of Phlius, and was the son of Timarchus. Being left an orphan while still young, he was at first a dancer in the theatre, but he abandoned this profession for the study of philosophy, and, having moved to Megara, he spent some time with Stilpo, and then he returned home and married. He next went to Elis with his wife, and heard Pyrrho, whose tenets he adopted, so far at least as his restless genius and satirical scepticism permitted him to follow any master. During his residence at Elis, he had children born to him, the eldest of whom, named Xanthus, he instructed in the art of medicine and trained in his philosophical principles. Driven again from Elis by straitened circumstances, he spent some time on the Hellespont and the Propontis, and taught at Chalcedon as a sophist with such success that he made a fortune. He then moved to Athens, where he lived until his death, with the exception of a short residence at Thebes. Among the great men with whom he became personally acquainted in the course of his travels were the kings Antigonus and Ptolemy II Philadelphus. He was also linked to several literary figures such as: Zopyrus of Clazomenae; Alexander Aetolus and Homerus, whom he is said to have assisted in the composition of their tragedies; and Aratus, whom he is said to have taught. He died at an age of almost ninety.
Timon appears to have been endowed by nature with a powerful and active mind, and with a quick perception of the weaknesses of people, which made him a sceptic in philosophy and a satirist in everything. According to Diogenes Laertius, Timon was a one-eyed man; and he used even to make a jest of his own defect, calling himself Cyclops. Some other examples of his bitter sarcasms are recorded by Diogenes; one of which is worth quoting as a maxim in criticism: being asked by Aratus how to obtain the pure text of Homer, he replied, "If we could find the old copies, and not those with modern emendations." He is also said to have been fond of retirement, and of gardening; but Diogenes introduces this statement and some others in such a way as to suggest a doubt whether they ought to be referred to our Timon or to Timon of Athens, or whether they apply equally to both.
The writings of Timon are represented as very numerous. According to Diogenes Laertius, he composed "lyric and epic poems, and tragedies and satiric dramas, and thirty comedies, and sixty tragedies and the Silloi and amatory poems."
No remains of his dramas have survived. Of his epic poems little is known, but it may be presumed that they were chiefly ludicrous or satirical poems in the epic form. Possibly his Python (Greek: Πύθων), which contained a long account of a conversation with Pyrrho, during a journey to the Delphic oracle, may be referred to this class; unless it was in prose. It appears probable that his Funeral Banquet of Arcesilaus was a satirical poem in epic verse. He also wrote parodies on Homer, and some lines from a scepticism-themed poem in elegiac verse have been preserved, as well as one or two fragments which cannot be with certainty assigned to any of his poems.
The most celebrated of his poems, however, were the satiric compositions called Silloi, a word of somewhat uncertain etymology, but which undoubtedly describes metrical compositions, of a character at once ludicrous and sarcastic. The invention of this species of poetry is ascribed to Xenophanes of Colophon. The Silloi of Timon were in three books, in the first of which he spoke in his own person, and the other two are in the form of a dialogue between the author and Xenophanes, in which Timon proposed questions, to which Xenophanes replied at length. The subject was a sarcastic account of the tenets of all philosophers, living and dead; an unbounded field for scepticism and satire. They were in hexameter verse, and, from the way in which they are mentioned by the ancient writers, as well as from the few fragments of them which have survived, it is evident that they were admirable productions of their kind. Commentaries were written on the Silloi by Apollonides of Nicaea, and also by Sotion of Alexandria. The poem entitled Images (Greek: Ἰνδαλμοι) in elegiac verse, appears to have been similar in its subject to the Silloi. Diogenes Laertius also mentions Timon's iamboi, but perhaps the word is here merely used in the sense of satirical poems in general, without reference to the metre. According to Timon, philosophers are "excessively cunning murderers of many wise saws" (v. 96); the only two whom he spares are Xenophanes, "the modest censor of Homer's lies" (v. 29), and Pyrrho, against whom "no other mortal dare contend" (v. 126).
He also wrote in prose, to the quantity, according to Diogenes Laertius, of twenty thousand lines. These works were no doubt on philosophical subjects, and Diogenes mentions On Sensations, On Inquiries, and Towards Wisdom. Also among his lost works is Against the Physicists, in which he questioned the legitimacy of making hypotheses. It has been suggested that Pyrrhoniam scepticism ultimately originated with Timon. His work is frequently quoted by Sextus Empiricus, also a follower of Pyrrho. Apart from the fragments of the Silloi, most of what survives of Timon's work is what Sextus chose to quote.
The son of Timarchus of Phlius, a philosopher of the sect of the Skeptics, who flourished in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, about B.C. 279 and onwards. He first studied philosophy at Megara, under Stilpo, and then returned home and married. He next went to Elis with his wife, and heard Pyrrho, whose tenets he adopted. Driven from Elis by straitened circumstances, he spent some time on the Hellespont and the Propontis, and taught at Chalcedon as a sophist with such success that he realized a fortune. He then removed to Athens, where he passed the remainder of his life, with the exception of a short residence at Thebes. He died at the age of almost ninety.
Timon appears to have been endowed by nature with a powerful and active mind, and with that quick perception of the follies of men which betrays its possessor into a spirit of universal distrust both of men and truths, so as to make him a skeptic in philosophy and a satirist in everything. His agnosticism (to use a modern term) is shown by his saying that man need only know three things-viz. what is the nature of things, how we are related to them, and what we can gain from them; but as our knowledge of things must always be subjective and unreal, we can only live in a state of suspended judgment. He wrote numerous works both in prose and poetry. The most celebrated of his poems were the satiric compositions called silli (σίλλοι), a word of somewhat doubtful etymology, but which undoubtedly describes metrical compositions of a character at once ludicrous and sarcastic. The invention of this species of poetry is ascribed to Xenophanes of Colophon. (See Xenophanes.) The Silli of Timon were in three books, in the first of which he spoke in his own person, and the other two are in the form of a dialogue between the author and Xenophanes of Colophon, in which Timon proposed questions, to which Xenophanes replied at length. The subject was a sarcastic account of the tenets of all philosophers, living and dead-an unbounded field for skepticism and satire. They were in hexameter verse, and from the way in which they are mentioned by the ancient writers, as well as from the few fragments of them which have come down to us, it is evident that they were very admirable productions of their kind (Diog. Laert. ix. 12, 109- 115; Euseb. Praep. Ev. xiv. p. 761). The fragments of his poems are collected by Wölke, De Graecorum Syllis (Warsaw, 1820), and by Paul in his Dissertatio de Sillis (Berlin, 1821). See Parodia.