Libanius the Sophist

Libanius the Sophist: Rhetoric, Reality, and Religion in the Fourth Century

Raffaella Cribiore
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Libanius the Sophist
    Book Description:

    Libanius of Antioch was a rhetorician of rare skill and eloquence. So renowned was he in the fourth century that his school of rhetoric in Roman Syria became among the most prestigious in the Eastern Empire. In this book, Raffaella Cribiore draws on her unique knowledge of the entire body of Libanius's vast literary output-including 64 orations, 1,544 letters, and exercises for his students-to offer the fullest intellectual portrait yet of this remarkable figure whom John Chrystostom called "the sophist of the city."

    Libanius (314-ca. 393) lived at a time when Christianity was celebrating its triumph but paganism tried to resist. Although himself a pagan, Libanius cultivated friendships within Antioch's Christian community and taught leaders of the Church including Chrysostom and Basil of Caesarea. Cribiore calls him a "gray pagan" who did not share the fanaticism of the Emperor Julian. Cribiore considers the role that a major intellectual of Libanius's caliber played in this religiously diverse society and culture. When he wrote a letter or delivered an oration, who was he addressing and what did he hope to accomplish? One thing that stands out in Libanius's speeches is the startling amount of invective against his enemies. How common was character assassination of this sort? What was the subtext to these speeches and how would they have been received? Adapted from the Townsend Lectures that Cribiore delivered at Cornell University in 2010, this book brilliantly restores Libanius to his rightful place in the rich and culturally complex world of Late Antiquity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6908-4
    Subjects: History, Religion, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    “I know that you have helped many friends, and many others who were neither enemies nor friends.” So wrote Libanius to the Roman officer Decentius in 365, asking him to help the pagan priest Lemmatius, a man who had fallen into disgrace in the aftermath of the emperor Julian’s death. “Show a change stronger than change: the change that fortune has brought is harsh, and has made an illustrious man miserable; but the change that will come from you will restore someone who has been brought low to his previous condition…. Let a better tale spread everywhere: that Decentius pleaded...

  5. Chapter 1 Rhetoric and the Distortion of Reality
    (pp. 25-75)

    Rhetorical strategies of self-fashioning in the ancient world are particularly evident in those authors who have left a huge literary output, such as Cicero, Libanius, and Augustine. These writers often present themselves differently in different contexts as they try to project the persona that is most suitable to the circumstances. Augustine, for example, appears as tormented and doubtful in the Confessions but shows himself as a confident and dogmatic polemicist in the works against heretics.¹ Over the centuries his readers have responded to this second persona, the rigorous defender of the Christian faith, and have conferred on him an undisputed...

  6. Chapter 2 A Rhetor and His Audience: The Role of Invective
    (pp. 76-131)

    The philosopher Themistius declares: “If a person buries his orations in obscurity and locks them up as if they were bastards begotten in adultery, and does not bring this fine progeny of his out to bestow it on the community, how could he be more ill disposed toward his city and more deserving of public condemnation?”¹ With these words in mind, we must evaluate the question of how Libanius delivered and disseminated his orations. Did he bring them all out into the light, or did he hide some of them like illegitimate children? Did he benefit the community and his...

  7. Chapter 3 A Man and His Gods
    (pp. 132-181)

    In an essay written in 1764, Edward Gibbon remarks: “We are not ignorant of the pleasant and absurd system of Paganism, according to which the universe is peopled with whimsical beings, whose superior power only serves to make them more unjust and ridiculous than ourselves.”¹ Scholars have often mentioned the difficulty of comprehending Greco-Roman religion, alien as it seems to our modern expectations.² We look at images of the ancient gods, and they appear beautiful but worn down and distant. Whereas ancient Christianity has left a palpable heritage, we struggle at times to interpret the evidence of classical paganism because...

  8. Chapter 4 God and the Gods
    (pp. 182-228)

    In “Myris: Alexandria, A.D. 340,” the poet Cavafy celebrates the subtle nuances of friendship between a pagan and a Christian in late antiquity.¹ The poem tells the story of a group of young friends who are all pagans except one, Myris. When Myris dies, the narrator goes to his wake at his wealthy Christian home. With rising emotion he remembers his friend’s unrestrained participation in parties and nightlong sessions of revelry, filled with laughter and recitation of Greek verses; Myris, as avid a participant as anyone else, threw himself into these diversions ardently. But all of a sudden, the pagan...

  9. Conclusion: Julian’s School Edict Again
    (pp. 229-238)

    In the preceding chapters I have reflected on the fact that pagans and Christians in the fourth century were not two diametrically opposed groups. Rather than belonging to bounded, closed entities and organizations, many people had a practical, cultural, and social interest in what happened on the other side of the bridge (to use Guignebert’s metaphor).¹ Although some stood in rigidly discrete groups, others shared with their opposite numbers a cultural and social discourse that sometimes produced moments of extraordinary solidarity, displaying an affinity that challenged conventions. Julian’s school law has attracted much scholarly attention, but it will be worthwhile...

  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 239-256)
  11. Index
    (pp. 257-261)