Monday, March 17, 2008


Libanius, the 4th century rhetorician, is the great chronicler of Antioch, its history, turmoils and modus vivendi (at least in his days). He was a prolific writer of which an enormous amount has survived. The very fact of its survival means that we have a view very much coloured by his view and by the happenings during his life. His greatest work is the panegyric, the Antiochikos, his Oration No. XI. This work reads like a press release from a very well paid publicity agency. It is in essence a rhapsody upon all things to do with the city. It is a fantastic resource for its description of the city and provides one of the chief means of knowing about the city's layout in the absence of any more concrete results form excavations. Despite being immensely conident in his own rightness, even Libanius might be overwhelmed to find his words resonating over 1600 years after they were first put to paper. The critics that proved to be the bane of his life have been washed away like footprints on the beach and Libanius remains to have the last word (and the last laugh).

Edward Gibbon in his "Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire" said of Libanius:

"The sophist Libanius was born in the capital of
the East; he publicly professed the arts of rhetoric and declamation at Nice, Nicomedia, Constantinople, Athens, and, during the remainder of his life, at Antioch. His school was assiduously frequented by the Grecian youth: his disciples, who sometimes exceeded the number of eighty, celebrated their incomparable master; and the jealousy of his rivals, who persecuted him from one city to another, confirmed the favourable opinion which Libanius ostentatiously displayed of his superior merit. The preceptors of Julian had extorted a rash but solemn assurance that he would never attend the lectures of their adversary : the curiosity of the royal youth was checked and inflamed : he secretly procured the writings of this dangerous sophist, and gradually surpassed, in the perfect imitation of his style, the most laborious of his domestic pupils.24 When Julian ascended the throne, he declared his impatience to embrace and reward the Syrian sophist, who had preserved, in a degenerate age, the Grecian purity of taste, of manners and of religion. The emperor's prepossession was increased and justified by the discreet pride of his favourite. Instead of pressing, with the foremost of the crowd, into the palace of Constantinople, Libanius calmly expected his arrival at Antioch; withdrew from court on the first symptoms of coldness and indifference ; required a formal
invitation for each visit; and taught his sovereign an important lesson, that he might command the obedience of a subject, but that he must deserve the attachment of a friend. The sophists of every age, despising, or affecting to despise, the accidental distinctions of birth and fortune, reserve their esteem for the superior qualities of the mind, with which they themselves are so plentifully endowed. Julian might disdain the acclamations of a venal court, who adored the Imperial purple; but he was deeply flattered by the praise, the admonition, the freedom, and the envy of an independent philosopher, who refused his favours, loved his person, celebrated his fame, and protected his memory. The voluminous writings of Libanius still exist: for the most part, they are the vain and idle compositions of an orator, who cultivated the science of words; the productions of a recluse student, whose mind, regardless of his contemporaries, was incessantly fixed on the Trojan war and the Athenian commonwealth. Yet the sophist of Antioch sometimes descended from this imaginary elevation ; he entertained a various and elaborate correspondence ; M he praised the virtues of his own times ; he boldly arraigned the abuses of public and private life; and he eloquently pleaded the cause of Antioch against the just resentment of Julian and Theodosius. It is the common calamity of old age, to lose whatever might have rendered it desirable; but Libanius experienced the peculiar misfortune of surviving the religion and the sciences to which he had consecrated his genius. The friend of Julian was an indignant spectator of the triumph of Christianity; and his bigotry, which darkened the prospect of the visible world, did not inspire Libanius with any lively hopes of celestial glory and happiness."

This however was merely Gibbons' view and quite clearly coloured by the same sentiments that have also accompanied the memory of Julian. History is now kinder to both than it was at Gibbons time. The adherence to the pagan cause obviously put Gibbon offside with both Libanius and his patron.

To say that Libanius was a character was a severe understatement. He was a great complainer and felt constantly disadavantaged by unsympathetic officialdom, fractious students and harassment from all and sundry. While he came from a wealthy family he did live a precarious and somewhat difficult life. As a pagan he was definitely on the wrong side of the mainstream political trends of his times. He had constant money concerns. His illegitimate son, Cimon, was a source of great concern to him as he struggled to gain him a position in society and unfortunately the son predecessed the father. On top of all this was one of the most curious elements of Libanius was that his health was very irregular with many attributing this to him having been struck (supposedly while reading Aristophanes) by lightning in his youth and lived to tell the tale..Maybe a lot of his other unique features could be attributed to this rather unique experience.

His Orations:

Oration 1: Autobiograhy (374 AD)

Oration 2: To Those Who Called Him Tiresome (381 AD)

Oration 9: On the New Year (392 AD)

Oration 10: On the Plethron (early 384 AD)

Oration 11: The Antiochikos (360 AD)

Oration 12: To the Emperor Julian as Consul (1st Jan 363 AD)

Oration 13. To Julian (July 362 AD)

Oration 14. To Julian On Behalf Of Aristophanes (Autumn 362 AD)

Oration 15. The Embassy To Julian (March 363 AD)

Oration 16. On The Emperor's Anger (March 363 AD)

Oration 17. The Lament Over Julian (364/5 AD)

Oration 18. Funeral Oration Over Julian (365 AD)

Oration 19: To The Emperor Theodosius, About The Riots (Spring 387 AD)

Oration 20: To The Emperor Theodosius, After The Reconciliation
(Spring 387 AD)

Oration 21: To Caesarius, Master Of Offices
(Spring 387 AD)

Oration 22: To Ellebichus
(Spring 387 AD)

Oration 23: Against The Refugees (Spring 387 AD)

Oration 24. Upon Avenging Julian
(378/9 AD)

Oration 27: Against Icarius I (after Jan 385 AD)

Oration 50: For The Peasantry, About Forced Labour (385 AD)

Oration 30: To The Emperor Theodosius, For The Temples (late 386 AD)

Oration 33: To The Emperor Theodosius, Against Tisamenus (late 386 AD)

Oration 45: To The Emperor, On The Prisoners (late 386 AD)

Oration 47: On Protection Systems (391 AD)

Oration 48: To The City Council (Autumn 388 AD)

Oration 49: To The Emperor, For The City Councils (Autumn 388 AD)

No comments: