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Beyond the Second Sophistic

Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism

Tim Whitmarsh
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 291
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  • Book Info
    Beyond the Second Sophistic
    Book Description:

    The "Second Sophistic" traditionally refers to a period at the height of the Roman Empire's power that witnessed a flourishing of Greek rhetoric and oratory, and since the 19th century it has often been viewed as a defense of Hellenic civilization against the domination of Rome. This book proposes a very different model. Covering popular fiction, poetry and Greco-Jewish material, it argues for a rich, dynamic, and diverse culture, which cannot be reduced to a simple model of continuity. Shining new light on a series of playful, imaginative texts that are left out of the traditional accounts of Greek literature, Whitmarsh models a more adventurous, exploratory approach to later Greek culture. Beyond the Second Sophistic offers not only a new way of looking at Greek literature from 300 BCE onwards, but also a challenge to the Eurocentric, aristocratic constructions placed on the Greek heritage. Accessible and lively, it will appeal to students and scholars of Greek literature and culture, Hellenistic Judaism, world literature, and cultural theory.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95702-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction: Beyond the Second Sophistic and into the Postclassical
    (pp. 1-8)

    This book represents a series of experiments in alternative ways of thinking about ancient Greek literature, which I shall identify by the term (to which I lay no exclusive claim) postclassicism.¹ With this neologism I mean, principally, to mark an aspiration to rethink classicist categories inherited from the nineteenth century. It is not intended to proclaim any sharp rupture with existing theories and practices within the discipline, for clearly there are many theoretically informed approaches (literary and cultural theory, feminism, reception, Marxism, postcolonialism, queer theory …) that share in that labor of reconstructing the humanities legacy, but it seems to...


    • 1 The “Invention of Fiction”
      (pp. 11-34)

      “Invention” is one of the central tropes of classical, particularly Greek, scholarship: it seems that even in this methodologically hyperaware, post-postmodern age, we are still addicted to romanticizing narratives of origination (however contested). When it comes to the (discrete but interlocking) categories of fiction, prose literature, and the novel, recent years have seen originomania in overdrive. Can we attribute to Chariton, in the first century C.E., “the invention of the Greek love novel”?¹ Or was Theocritus responsible for “the invention of fiction”?² Or was it rather a question of “the birth of literary fiction,” thanks to philosophical innovations culminating in...

    • 2 The Romance of Genre
      (pp. 35-48)

      The previous chapter sought to sketch a large-scale narrative of the development of Greek prose fiction, a venture that involved setting aside the paradigm of the “imperial romance.” Cultural history cannot proceed by reverse engineering: we cannot comprehend ideas of fiction in the classical and Hellenistic periods if we view them simply as proleptic of later developments. That is teleological thinking of the most unhelpful kind. The previous chapter, then, sought to provide a narrative with no metanarrative, in which developments occur locally and adventitiously rather than according to some higher plan.

      This book as a whole is about experimenting...

    • 3 Belief in Fiction: Euhemerus of Messene and the Sacred Inscription
      (pp. 49-62)

      In this chapter I consider in more detail a figure who (as we saw in chapter 1) plays a pivotal role in the history of Greek fiction. Euhemerus of Messene is associated predominantly in the modern imagination with the rationalization of myth, of the kind that we find in the opening paragraphs of Herodotus, in Palaephatus, or in Dionysius Scytobrachion, and which may have had its ultimate roots in Hecataeus. Yet the Sacred Inscription¹ attributed to him seems to have had little to do with “euhemerism” in the current sense: so far as we can tell from the testimonies refracted...

    • 4 An I for an I: Reading Fictional Autobiography
      (pp. 63-74)

      Let us pause to develop a thread from the previous chapter. One of the questions posed there is whether Euhemerus was the author of the Sacred Inscription or whether this is merely the name of the narrator; I speculatively proposed that Theodorus of Cyrene may have been the author. But even if we discount that hypothesis and keep Euhemerus as the author, there is still an obvious sense in which Euhemerus the author is not Euhemerus the narrator, since the latter went to Panchaea and the former did not. The words in a text (any text) have issued from the...

    • 5 Metamorphoses of the Ass
      (pp. 75-85)

      In chapter 4, we briefly met Photius, the formidable ninth-century bishop of Constantinople; to him we owe our knowledge of Lucius of Patrae, one of the now lost authors of a version of the Ass story. Let us have a look in more detail at the crucial passage, codex 129 of his enormous Library (written for his brother at some point before he—Photius—became patriarch in 858):¹

      Various books of the Metamorphoses of Lucius [Loukios] of Patrae were read. It is lucid in its style, pure and prone to sweetness. It avoids neologism, but in the narrative it seeks...

    • 6 Addressing Power: Fictional Letters between Alexander and Darius
      (pp. 86-100)

      How does narrative fiction correspond to (or with) epistolography? The huge surge of critical interest in epistolary fiction (as form, cultural praxis, vehicle for revolutionary ideology, and normative mapping of gender roles) has lent it a central role in modern discussions of the formation of the European novel, particularly as a driver of all that is bourgeois, literate, kinetic, feminine, dialogic, sexual, self-relexive.¹ The European novel, as is well known, grew up at a time when the materialities of literary practice were evolving rapidly: not just the spread of printing (which Walter Benjamin in particular saw as instrumental in the...

    • 7 Philostratus’s Heroicus: Fictions of Hellenism
      (pp. 101-122)

      The reinvention of imperial Greek literary studies has afforded to Flavius Philostratus arguably the greatest net gain of any writer of the era. Where once he was “inadequate, even injudicious,”¹ a “second- (or third-) rate … mediocrity,”² he is now seen as the towering figure of Greek literary production under the Severans.³ Nowhere is the Philostratean revolution more evident than with the dialogue On Heroes. Until the mid-1990s, it was easily accessible only through the Teubner texts of Ludo de Lannoy (1977) and Carl Ludwig Kayser (1870). Since then, it has been translated with commentary into modern Greek, Spanish, Italian,...

    • 8 Mimesis and the Gendered Icon in Greek Theory and Fiction
      (pp. 123-134)

      Pictorialism, as we saw in the previous chapter, is a fixture in postclassical literature. Everywhere we look we find texts referencing artworks, particularly in erotic contexts. In this chapter I delve further into this connection between art, textuality, and eroticism, focusing on questions of gender politics. What does it mean to compare a woman to an artwork? Why this preoccupation with looking? How is the male gaze hooked, satisfied, problematized? My test cases are two later romances, Achilles Tatius’s Leucippe and Clitophon and Heliodorus’s Charicleia and Theagenes, which I read in dialogue with (what I argue to have been) an...


    • 9 Greek Poets and Roman Patrons in the Late Republic and Early Empire
      (pp. 137-153)

      The literary history of Greece under Roman occupation is usually written in terms of the dominance of prose. The reasons for this are many; some of them, indeed, are rooted in antiquity, in later Greeks’ own sense of living in a prosaic age (as we shall see in chapter 12). Yet in the first three centuries of our era, poetry was of course still being written, and in remarkable quantities:¹ notably, there are major extant epics by the Oppiani and Quintus of Smyrna,² many of the epigrams in the Greek Anthology, the numerous poems assembled in Ernst Heitsch’s two-volume Die...

    • 10 The Cretan Lyre Paradox: Mesomedes, Hadrian, and the Poetics of Patronage
      (pp. 154-175)

      In the previous chapter we saw how epigrams offer a different perspective on relationships between the Greek and Roman worlds in a decisive period when the nature of such relationships was still very much open to negotiation. It is particularly striking that the asymmetries and mechanics of power are, it seems, more visible in the epigrammatists than in the prose writers. The former dramatize hierarchical structures of patronage in a way that we only occasionally glimpse in prose literature, for example in Lucian’s On Salaried Posts and—implicitly—Athenaeus’s Sophists at Dinner, set in the house of the superrich Roman...

    • 11 Lucianic Paratragedy In memoriam Michael Foot
      (pp. 176-185)

      I turn in this chapter to a very different kind of poetic text. Lucian of Samosata is one of the acknowledged stars of second-century literature.¹ Born in Syrian Commagene and perhaps not even a native Greek speaker, he became a successful orator first, then turned in later life to writing the satires and parodies for which he is now best known. His influence in the early modern period was immense, particularly in northern Europe, where he came to be seen as the embodiment of a cultivated, intellectually sophisticated skepticism, an icon of wit and learning who could, so it was...

    • 12 Quickening the Classics: The Politics of Prose in Roman Greece
      (pp. 186-208)

      “The ‘age demanded’ … a prose kinema,” writes Ezra Pound in his (self-)parodic tribute to a bloodless writer. A resonant phrase; a cliché perhaps, meriting the arm’s-length inverted commas. But why is it that some ages characteristically demand prose? Why is a cultural shift toward prose so often figured as a decline from an earlier state of plenitude, the inauguration of a new aesthetic delinquency? In Pound’s panorama, the new literature is to be industrially produced (“made with no loss of time”), populist (kinema suggests the spectacular new medium of film), and deficient (“not, not assuredly” poetical). In the course...


    • 13 Politics and Identity in Ezekiel’s Exagoge For Froma Zeitlin
      (pp. 211-227)

      One of the many reasons why we need to travel “beyond the Second Sophistic” lies, as we saw in the introduction, in the excessive Hellenocentrism underpinning it—a Hellenocentrism that, for sure, goes back to certain Greek sources in antiquity but was both magnified and generalized in the nineteenth century by postromantic nationalism. Let us not mistake the rhetorical projections of certain ancients for historical reality. Greek cultural production in the Roman imperial era was not driven, as so many modern accounts (both conservative and progressive) suggest, by an obsessive urge to define the boundaries of Hellenism. We can certainly...

    • 14 Adventures of the Solymoi
      (pp. 228-248)

      Tragedy was big business in the Hellenistic era. Although Ezekiel’s Exagoge (see previous chapter) is the only substantially extant representative of the genre between the latest plays attributed to Euripides and Lucian’s Podagra (unless we count Lycophron’s Alexandra, in iambic trimeters but a monologue; see chapter 11 for Podagra), we know of many tragedians operating particularly in Alexandria; indeed, grammarians referred to a “pleiad” of tragic poets, an allusion to the bright stars that make up the constellation of that name.¹ More culturally central still, however, was epic, which lay at the very heart of Greek culture at every level....

    (pp. 249-274)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 275-278)