Politics, Philosophy, and Empire in the Fourth Century: Select Orations of Themistius

By Themistius; Peter Heather et al. | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 2
THEMISTIUS AND CONSTANTIUS:
THEMISTIUS ORATIONS 1 AND 3, CONSTANTIUS'
LETTER TO THE SENATE

HONOURS AND OFFICES

In either c.347 or c.350, Themistius gave the first of his formal political orations before the Emperor Constantius at Ancyra in Asia Minor. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. At about this time, Themistius was already teaching philosophy in Constantinople, the city in which he had spent much of his childhood. In 348/9, for instance, the future Emperor Julian seems to have studied the text of Plato's Laws under his direction there.1 A letter of Libanius from 362 confirms the point. In this, he commented that Themistius and himself had by then been acquainted for 12 years (Ep. 793), so that they originally met in c.350, and it is more than likely that they encountered one another as teachers in Constantinople. By the mid-350s at the latest, Themistius held a publicly funded teaching post there. Publicly funded teachers received an annual stipend from the city in which they taught, where the less fortunate had to rely solely upon student fees: a much more precarious existence. Whether Themistius already held a funded post when he taught Julian is unclear.2

A state-funded chair in the imperial capital was itself a mark of some favour, of course, but the unusual intimacy of the developing relation

1 Julian, Letter to Themistius 257d, 258a-d, quoting Laws 713–714a; Smith, 1995, 26–9.

2 Or. 33 has sometimes been seen as Themistius' inaugural speech as public professor of
philosophy in Constantinople, and refers to a new bronze coin which was thought to have
been issued in 348/9: Seeck, 1906, 295 n. 1; cf Vanderspoel, 1995, 49. The coin was really
introduced in 354, however, and the speech's contents better fit the circumstances of 359/60:
Callu, 1978; cf. Penella, 2000,44–5. Themistius certainly held a funded chair by the late 350s
when controversy erupted around him, and the Emperor Constantius' language implies
that he was doing so by 355 when he was adlected to the senate (on both matters, see The
Letter of Constantius
below). It is likely enough that Themistius had been holding the post
for some time at that point, but there is no explicit evidence as to exactly how long.

-43-

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