The Characters
319 BCE

Student of Plato, student of Aristotle, Theophrastus was chosen by the latter as his philosophical successor and inheritor of his writings. As with the other great thinkers of his age, Theophrastus’ writings run the gamut from biology and ethics to grammar and logic to physics and metaphysics, each informing the other. It is his botanical work that has been most influential in scholarly terms. But The Characters is the one of more general significance.

Human nature and character. But not just character, character types – and the earliest record we have of an attempt to systematically categorize human personality. Theophrastus lays out thirty different types, generally defined by a less-than-flattering trait. The shameless, the officious, the gossip, the boor, the flatterer, the reckless, the coward, the oligarch and so on. They are short, cutting portraits – insightful, but no less entertaining for that, and represent an attempt to make sense of human nature by examining the differences and distinctions in human ways of being.