The Second Sophistic: A Cultural Phenomenon in the Roman Empire

By Graham Anderson | Go to book overview

3

Communing with the classics

The rhetorical frameworks within which a sophist could be expected to perform offer us only one dimension of his art. At its centre is the preservation of a cultural whole: the world of classical Greece recreated through its literature. In the private fantasies of Aristides' Hieroi Logoi closeness to the classics could become a quite literal affair:

I dreamed that I saw Plato in person standing in my bedroom, directly opposite my bed and me. It so happened that he was working on his letter to Dionysius, and was in a rage. He gave me a glance and said 'What sort of letterwriter do you think I am? Surely better than Celer?' (he meant the Imperial Secretary). And I said 'Shush! Great as you are you should not be talking about your reputation!' And not much later he disappeared, and I was deep in thought. But someone was there and said, 'This man who conversed with you just now as Plato is your Hermes' (he meant the god who has been allotted my nativity). 'But', he said, 'he was in the guise of Plato'. 1

It might be tempting to attribute this easy familiarity in part to Aristides' personal vanity. But the conscientious Fronto can affect similar familiarity with the past as he sends his pupil, the future Emperor Marcus Aurelius, an imitation of the speeches on Love in Plato's Phaedrus:

My dear boy, this is the third letter I am sending you on the same subject; the first came by the hand of Lysias, the son of Cephalus, the second by the hand of Plato the philosopher, and now this third one is by the hand of this

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