He was the pupil of the celebrated Herodes Atticus, and obtained the chair of philosophy at Athens during the lifetime of his master. His advancement does not seem to have impaired their mutual regard; Herodes declared that the unfinished speeches of his scholar were "the fragments of a colossus," and Adrianus showed his gratitude by a funeral oration which he pronounced over the ashes of his master. Among a people who rivalled one another in their zeal to do him honor, Adrianus did not show much of the discretion of a philosopher. His first lecture commenced with the modest encomium on himself, Πάλιν εκ Φοινίκης γράμματα, while in the magnificence of his dress and equipage he affected the style of the hierophant of philosophy.
A story may be seen in Philostratus of his trial and acquittal for the murder of a begging sophist who had insulted him: Adrianus had retorted by styling such insults δήγματα κόρεων, but his pupils were not content with weapons of ridicule. The visit of Marcus Aurelius to Athens made him acquainted with Adrianus, whom he invited to Rome and honored with his friendship: the emperor even condescended to set the thesis of a declamation for him. After the death of Aurelius he became the private secretary of Commodus. His death took place at Rome in the eightieth year of his age, not later than 192 AD, if it be true that Commodus (who was assassinated at the end of this year) sent him a letter on his death-bed, which he is represented as kissing with devout earnestness in his last moments.
The Suda lists his works as Metamorphoses (7 books), On Types of Style (5 books), On Distinctive Features in the Issues (3 books), and epideictic speeches Phalaris and Consolation to Celer. Of these works only three declamations are extant.
- Philostr. Vit. Adrian.
- Suda s.v. Αδριανός
- Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists
- S. Rothe, Kommentar zu ausgewahlten Sophistenviten des Philostratos (Heidelberg 1988) 87-126.