City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria

By Edwards, Mark J. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2008 | Go to article overview

City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria


Edwards, Mark J., The Catholic Historical Review


City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria. By Edward J. Watts. [The Tranformation of the Classical Heritage, XLL] (Berkeley: University of California Press. 2006. Pp. xii, 288. $55.00.)

This book finds the pagan teacher of philosophy at his acme in Roman Athens and Alexandria, and escorts him to the oblivion of the sixth century. The Athens depicted in chapter 2 is a city that retained little of its past except its schools. As trade declined in the second century, wealth ebbed into the hands of a few proprietors, who sought influence through the patronage of learned institutions. These in turn used forcible enrollment to swell the cohorts which they deployed in open riot against the students of other masters. The ascendancy that a man's gifts might confer on him, when reinforced by the hardihood of his pupils and the purse of a local magnate, could be broken only by a coalition of his rivals; in the case of Prohaeresius, to whom the entire third chapter is devoted, even this did not suffice. Having subsisted for many years as a "colleague," or teacher without a school of his own, Prohaeresius won fame with an unforeseen display of eloquence at the age of fifty-five. As soon as he had his own pupils to command, they showed peculiar address in kidnapping new recruits as their ships came into harbor, while he himself disarmed the enmity of the civic powers, still largely pagan, by professing Christianity. When Julian came to power, imperial favor was withdrawn, and there was to be no restoration of his old hegemony before his death. The exercise of patronage within a school is illustrated in chapter 4 by Plutarch's adoption of Proclus at the instance of his vicegerent Syrianus. In chapter 5 we read how the Athenian school after Proclus' death was forced by patrician intrigues into the hands of the feckless Hegias, who resembled Proclus only in his militant espousal of pagan rites.

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