Philitas of Cos

Philitas of Cos was a scholar and poet during the early Hellenistic period of ancient Greece. He flourished in the second half of the 4th century BC and was appointed tutor to the heir to the throne of Ptolemaic Egypt. He was thin and frail; Athenaeus later caricatured him as an academic so consumed by his studies that he wasted away and died.

About Philitas of Cos in brief

Summary Philitas of CosPhilitas of Cos was a scholar and poet during the early Hellenistic period of ancient Greece. He flourished in the second half of the 4th century BC and was appointed tutor to the heir to the throne of Ptolemaic Egypt. He was thin and frail; Athenaeus later caricatured him as an academic so consumed by his studies that he wasted away and died. His vocabulary Disorderly Words described the meanings of rare literary words, including those used by Homer. His poetry, notably his elegiac poem Demeter, was highly respected by later ancient poets. However, almost all his work has since been lost and little is known of Philitas’ life. He seems to have died in Cos sometime in the 280s BC, and his pupil Hermesianax wrote that a statue of him was erected under a plane tree by the people of Cos, depicting him as “frail with all the glosses’“.

A more literal translation suggests that the invented epitaph pokes fun at Philitas’ focus on the lying word and words: “I am The Stranger, I am the Stranger,” or “The Stranger’s cares destroyed me.” He was so thin that he put lead weights in the soles of his shoes to avoid being blown away by a stiff wind. He may also have tutored Arsinoe II, Philadelphus’ older sister and eventual wife. It is commonly thought that Bittis or Battis was Philitas’s mistress, and that Ovid twice calls her “Battis’”. He may have spent at least ten years leading a brotherhood of intellectuals and poets that included Aratus, HermesianAX, and Theocritus, and the grammarian Zenodotus.