Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Antiochikos of Libanius

Libanius is noted for having a large corpus of extant works. This chiefly consist of letters and orations, with an autobiography. The orations, we list elsewhere while the letters number in the hundreds. While we have made reference to a number of the orations, the key one for any Antiochophiles is the Oration XI: In Praise of Antioch.

The Oration XI was believed to have been written to be declaimed at some ceremony at one of the Olympic Games during the prime period of Libanius' fame in Antioch. Whether it actually was read or just made to appear like a speech to a gathering is not clear. In any case it gives a wonderful view of Antioch that has lingered down to the current day. While a sizable part at the start is given over to ruminations on the historical and quasi-mythological origins of the city, the main part is a gushing tribute to the city of his day with an extensive exhortation to see the wonderful sights and amenities of the city. If the speech was given to the locals it must have produced an upsurge of civic pride but also must have been telling them what they already knew from their daily activities around the metropolis. This might seem extraneous to be preaching to the converted, but it also gives veracity to the speech because if Libanius had seriously "gilded the lily" in his enthusiasms it would not have had much credibility with such a discerning and well-acquainted audience.

The orations of Libanius have been published in full at various times in history with Richard Forster's 12-volume Libanii Opera of the late 19th century being the most complete recent publication. Meanwhile the 20th century saw the Loeb editions which covered a plethora of orations and letters including some of the merely indifferent examples of Libanius' output. This edition was put together by A.F. Norman. The other work in English that includes some orations (including some of the more pertinent ones for the historian) was also by Norman in the form of his book " Antioch as a Centre of Hellenic Culture as Observed by Libanius". This is an excellent contribution and includes Norman's version of the Oration XI. The work of translating the Oration XI was also tackled by Glanville Downey, the doyen of scholars on Antioch of the 20th century. His translation appeared in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (Vol. 103, No. 5, - Oct. 15, 1959). It included a lengthy introduction and extensive footnotes.

The full Downey article can be found at:

We are also aware that there is a French version of the Antiochikos in a translation by Odile Lagacherie. Mention in made in some places of a Russian version by Olga Lebedeva.

In the interests of linking our comments elsewhere on the Oration XI to the subjects we highlight here we have formatted the Downey version of Oration XI into a pdf file which is available here.

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