The Second Sophistic: A Cultural Phenomenon in the Roman Empire

By Graham Anderson | Go to book overview

7

Some sophistic scene-painting

We have already witnessed a sophist going into raptures over a statue which refused to come to life in spite of the cascade of words so lovingly lavished on it. We have also seen that the sophists' world was able to witness not only a wealth of survivals from the great art and architecture of the past, but also a great deal of new building and artistic activity in the economic resurgence of the Eastern provinces. Sophists themselves participated in the patronage of the arts: Herodes Atticus was noted, and in a number of cases derided, for what his contemporaries saw as excessive enthusiasm in this direction; and we find Damascius, at the very end of antiquity, captivated by a statue of Aphrodite provided by Herodes himself. 1 In such an environment we expect some verbal response on the part of sophists to the visual world. And as in the case of history or philosophy, it will not always be quite the response we might expect.

It was taken for granted that part of a sophist's skill was to be adept in the presentation of verbal pictures in the broadest sense, as opposed to simple description of works of art. When Apollonius of Tyana is to stand trial before Domitian, a sophistic flourish invites us to 'picture the scene':

Let us go to the court-room to listen to our hero making his defence in the case, for already it is sunrise and the doors are open for eminent persons to enter. And the imperial retinue declare that the emperor has not even had a taste of food, doubtless absorbed in the details of the case. For they say he has to hand some scroll which he reads at times in anger, at others less so. And we should

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