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Secundus the Silent (2nd century) was a Cynic or Neopythagorean philosopher who lived in Athensmarker in the early 2nd century AD, who had taken a vow of silence.

He is known only from an anonymous Life of Secundus which has survived. We are told that he was sent away from home to be educated when he was a small boy. When he was an adult he decided to test the proposition that every woman is a whore. So he returned home dressed as a Cynic philosopher with long hair and a beard, and, unrecognisable to his own mother, he persuaded her to agree to sleep with him for fifty gold pieces. After he had spent the night with her, doing nothing more than sleeping chastely in her bed, he told her who he was. Shamed, his mother hanged herself, and Secundus, blaming his own tongue for the trouble he caused, committed himself to a life-long vow of silence, for which reason he is also described as a Pythagorean philosopher.

Having heard about this silent philosopher, Hadrian summoned him and threatened to execute him if he did not speak. Secundus refused to speak, and Hadrian, impressed by this resolve, relented. Secundus did, however, agree to answer twenty questions by writing the answers on a tablet.

These questions and answers are given in the anonymous text; short answers are given to questions such as "What is the Universe?", "What is God?", and "What is Beauty?". A typical response is the answer to question 17: What is Poverty?
A good thing that is hated, the mother of health, a hindrance to pleasures, a way of life free of worry, a possession hard to cast off, the teacher of inventions, the finder of wisdom, a business that nobody envies, property unassessed, merchandise not subject to tariff, profit not to be reckoned in terms of cash, a possession not interfered with by informers, non-evident good fortune, good fortune free of care.

How much of the story of Secundus' life is accurate is impossible to say. The questions and answers are just one example of several such compositions which survive, including a similar question and answer conversation between Hadrian and Epictetus.

There was a Rhetorician of the same period called Secundus of Athens, mentioned by Philostratus. Whether he could be the same person as this Secundus is unknown.



  • Perry, B., Secundus: The Silent Philosopher, in Hansen, W., (1998), Anthology of Ancient Greek Popular Literature. Indiana University Press.

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