Saturday, September 26, 2015

Libanius on the Calends

Also in Thomas Taylor's two volumes translation of 41 dissertations by Maximus of Tyre, there is material from Libanius about pagan festivals. The material is in vol. 2, p.267, and belongs to the Descriptions, part of the Progymnasmata.

The Progymnasmata is described by Craig Gibson as "the largest surviving ancient collection of preliminary exercises used to teach young men how to compose their own prose, a crucial step toward public speaking and a career worthy of the educated elite. Graded in difficulty, the exercises range from simple fables and narratives to discussions of wise sayings, speeches of praise and blame, impersonations of figures from myth, descriptions of statues and paintings, and essays on general propositions (e.g., should one marry?). It provides a unique glimpse into the schoolrooms of the ancient Mediterranean from the Hellenistic period to the Byzantine Empire, vividly illustrating how ancient educators used myth, history, and popular ethics to shape their students characters as they sharpened their ability to think, write, and speak".

On the Calends, (Latin: kalendae, "the called") were the first days of each month of the Roman calendar. The Romans assigned these calendsto the first day of the month, signifying the start of the new moon cycle, Libanius has this to say: 

"This festival is extended as far as the dominion of the Romans ; and such is the joy it occasions, that if it were possible time could be hastened for mortals, which, according to Homer, was effected by Juno respecting the sun, this festival also would be hastened by every nation, city, house, and individual of mankind. The festival flourishes on every hill and mountain, and in every lake and navigable river. It also flourishes in the sea, if at that time it happens to be undisturbed by tempest : for then both ships and merchants cut through its waves and celebrate the festival. Joy and feasting everywhere abound. The earth is then full of honours, inconsequence of men honouring each other by gifts and hospitality. The foot-paths and the public roads are crowded with men, and four-footed animals bearing burdens subservient to the occasion ; and the ways in the city are covered, and the narrow streets are full. Some are equally delighted with giving and receiving; but others, though they do not receive any thing, are pleased with giving, merely because they are to give. And the spring by its flowers, indeed, renders the earth beautiful, but the festival by its gifts, which, pouring in from every place, are every where diffused. He, therefore, who asserts that this is the most pleasant part of the year will not err ; so that if the whole time of life could be passed in the same manner, the islands of the blest would not be so much celebrated by mankind as they are at present. The first appearance of the swallow is, indeed, pleasant, yet does not prevent labour ; but this festival thinks proper to remove from the days of its celebration everything laborious, and permits us to enjoy minds free from molestation. These days free the youth from twofold fears, one arising from their preceptors, the other from their pedagogues. They also make slaves as much as possible free, and exhibit their power even in those in chains, removing sorrow from their countenances, and exciting some of them to mirth. They can also persuade a father who expects the death of his son, and through sorrow is wasting away, and averse to nourishment, to be reconciled to his condition, to abandon darkness, lay aside his squalid appearance, and betake himself to the bath : and what the most skilful in persuasion are unable to accomplish, that the power of the festival effects. It also conciliates citizen with citizen, stranger with stranger, one boy with another, and woman with woman. It likewise instructs men not to be avaricious, but to bring forth their gold, and deposit it in the right-hands of others".

The most useful referral to the translations of Thomas Taylor are care of Roger Pearse, who uncovered them and reported them here

Libanius on the Festivals

Thomas Taylor, the 18th century translator known as the “English Platonist”. wrote a two volume translation of 41 dissertations by Maximus of Tyre, in which there is material from Libanius about pagan festivals. The material is in vol. 2, p.267, and belongs to the Descriptions, part of the Progymnasmata.

Whether the festivals described are based on Antioch, or Athens, is not clear. I suspect that they are not likely to be Constantinople. Could this be a reflection of the rites at the Temple of Apollo at Daphne?

"Solemn festivals when approaching produce desire in the human race, when present they are attended with pleasure, and when past with recollection : for remembrance places men very near the transactions themselves. The recollection also possesses a certain advantage. For in speaking of solemn festivals it is also necessary to speak concerning the gods in whose honour they are instituted. Men prepare themselves for these festivals when they approach with joy. The multitude, indeed, procure such things as may furnish them with a splendid entertainment, but the worthy those things by which they may reverence the gods. Cattle and wine, and whatever else is the produce of the fields, are brought from the country. Garments also are purified ; and every one is anxious to celebrate the festival in perfection. Those that are in want of garments are permitted to borrow such as are requisite to adorn themselves on this occasion from those that have abundance. When the appointed day arrives the priests open the temples, pay diligent attention to the statues; and nothing is neglected which contributes to the public convenience. The cities too are crowded with a conflux of the neighbouring inhabitants, assembled to celebrate the festival; some coming on foot, and others in ships.

At sun-rise they enter the temples in splendid garments, worshipping that divinity to whom the festival is sacred. Every master of a house, therefore, precedes bearing frankincense : a servant follows him carrying a victim ; and children walk by the side of their parents, some very young, and others of a more advanced age, already perceiving the strong influence of the gods. One having performed his sacrifice departs ; another approaches to perform it. Numerous prayers are everywhere poured forth, and words of good omen are mutually spoken. With respect to the women, some offer sacrifices in the temples, and others are satisfied with beholding the crowd of those that sacrifice. When such things as pertain to the divinities are properly accomplished, the tables follow, at which hymns are sung in praise of the god who is honoured in the festival. Social drinking succeeds, with songs, which are partly serious and partly jocose, according to the different dispositions of the company. Some, likewise, feast in the temples, and others at home; and citizens request strangers to partake with them of the banquet. In the course of drinking, ancient friendships are rendered more firm, and others receive their commencement. After they have feasted, rising from table, some take the strangers, and show them whatever is worthy to be seen in the city, and others sitting in the forum gaily converse. No one is sorrowful, but every countenance is relaxed with joy. The exaction of debts gives place to festivity, and whatever might cause affliction is deferred to another time. Accusations are silent, and the judge does not pass sentence ; but such things as produce pleasure alone flourish. The slave is not afraid of blows from his master, and pedagogues are mild to youth.

In the evening they sup splendidly, at which time there are so many torches that the city is full of light. There are also many revellers, and various flutes, and the sound of pipes is heard in the narrow streets, accompanied with sometimes the same, and sometimes different songs. Then to drink even to intoxication is not perfectly disgraceful ; for the occasion in a certain respect appears to take away the opprobrium. On the following day the divinity is not neglected ; but many of those that worshipped on the preceding day do not again come to the shows. Those that contend in the composition of verses attend on this, but those with whom the contest is in the scenes on the preceding day. The third day also is not far short of these; and pleasure and hilarity are extended with the time of the festival. When the solemnity ends, prayers are offered for futurity, that they, their children, and families, may again be spectators of it ; after which the strangers depart, and the citizens accompany them".

Monday, August 31, 2015

Proculus - Study in a Bad Governor

Looking at the translation of Oration X, On the Plethron, the theme of this piece was Libanius' objections to an expansion of this sporting facility by the Comes Orientes (Count of the East) at the time, one Proculus. 

This individual was someone with whom Libanius carried on a rather dangerous feud over the years. The main mention of this official in the past was in our listing of the Comes Orientes here

Looking through Paul Petit's prosography of Libanius's acquaintances here one of the longest references is to Proculus who seemed to have been the bane of Libanius' life. Indeed considering what foul deeds the Comes was supposedly guilty of it is lucky that Libanius had high connections at court in Constantinople or the Comes might have singled him out for elimination. 

Our listing of the Comes Orientes has Proculus ruling from AD 383 (8 March) to 384 (Summer). Paul Petit's summation of Proculus' career states that Proculus was the son of Flavius Eutolmius Tatianus who was Comes Orientes from September AD 370 to Feb 374.

The first significant position held by Proculus was Praeses or consul of Palestine, then consul of Phoenicia, before 383. Then he was Comes Orientes from 382 to 384, until just before the month of July. He was recalled, in ignominy (according to Libanius). 

Proculus then became the wonderfully named Comes sacrarum largitionum (Count of the Sacred Largesses) in AD386, a role his father had previously held, and left the position in the same year. There was no allusion to these positions in the texts of Libanius, who never had any interest in provincial government.

Proculus became the prefect of Constantinople, at the period when his father Tatianus was prefect of the prætorium, named in the middle of AD 388 at which moment he was in Antioch, for Libanius attended his departure. The fall of Proculus (and that of his father Tatianus)  was precipitated in September of AD 392 by the intrigues of Rufinus. 

Rufinus, consul in 392, feared the power of Tatianus and Proculus, as the two of them held both the Praetorian prefecture of the East and the urban prefecture. Such concentration of power in the hands of father and son caused the envy of Rufinus's faction. Rufinus took advantage of some mishaps of Tatianus in the administration of finances, to depose and arrest him, and succeed him as prefect (September AD 392).

Proculus went into hiding. Rufinus then coaxed Tatianus and Theodosius to pardon Proculus, who received a letter from his father asking him to return to court. Once Proculus turned up, he was captured and imprisoned. He was tried and sentenced, in a manouevre by Rufinus, and sent to be executed in Sykai, a suburb of Constantinople. The story goes that the Emperor sent a messenger to order the execution halted, but Rufinus ordered the messenger to move slowly (festina lente!), so that he arrived after the execution had been carried out.

Proculus was subject to damnatio memoriae and was erased from monuments, such as the Obelisk of Theodosius in the Hippodrome.

Tatianus was later sent into exile, probably in Lycia, and he was subjected to a damnatio memoriae also. Later, a nephew of Proculus that came to power under the Emperor Marcian (AD 450–457) had the "good" name of Proculus restored, re-carving it on the obelisk.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Who's Who of Antioch in the mid-Fourth Century

Libanius was extraordinarily well positioned in Antiochene society. He was a renowned rhetorician, well-connected to the imperial family in Constantinople and came from a powerful  local family with strong political connections in the Bouleterion. As a result he was connected with a veritable "Who's Who" of the city and the empire. Not shy at touting his connections and name-dropping he was constantly naming names in his letters and orations. 

Paul Petit, the French scholar who died in 1981, wrote a work which attempted to quantify the prosography of Libanius's milieu. This encyclopedic work:

Les fonctionnaires dans l'œuvre de Libanius : analyse prosopographique. Préface de André Chastagnol et de Jean Martin. Besançon : Université de Franche-Comté, 1994. 288 p. (Annales littéraires de l'Université de Besançon, 541) 

is now available online in its entirety at the site here .

I have not worked out how to download it but it can at least be read online for the moment. 

It would be interesting for someone to take the names dropped by Libanius and convert it into a network diagram. 

Listing of sources for translations of Libanius' Orations

A very thorough summary of the translations of the Orations by Libanius has been prepared by Christine Lund Koch Greenlee, a graduate student at St Andrews University.

The pdf is available here

Friday, August 21, 2015

English Translation of "On the Plethron"

After much searching I finally found one of the two translations of Libanius' Oration X, "On the Plethron". The two versions were a French translation by Jean Martin and the English translation was by Glanville Downey. The latter apparently dated from 1960 but I could not find it anywhere until I stumbled on a link to his work:

  1. A History of Antioch in Syria: From Seleucus to the Arab Conquest, by Glanville Downey, originally published: Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1961.
And there as one of the appendices was the translation. 

I have written on this structure before so finally having the text in English is a great help. The Plethron was a form of wrestling arena and was probably located near (or in) the Forum of Valens and was used for the Olympic Games that were held in Antioch.

I pdfed it and uploaded it here .