Antioch as a Centre of Hellenic Culture as Observed by Libanius

Antioch as a Centre of Hellenic Culture as Observed by Libanius

Antioch as a Centre of Hellenic Culture as Observed by Libanius

Antioch as a Centre of Hellenic Culture as Observed by Libanius

Synopsis

Focusing on the first and last years of Libanius' Antiochene career (AD 354–388), this volume illustrates his great range of his rhetorical skills, while at the same time illuminating the intrigues of city politics and university life. The shorter speeches give unparalleled insights into problems of sharply contemporary relevance – teachers' pay, student indiscipline and rioting, threats from the rival Latin curriculum, accusations of professional incompetence, as well as everyday details of academic life.

Excerpt

It is characteristic of the man that by far the greater part of the information concerning Libanius is to be recovered from his own works. The most material account he gives is that of Oration 1, originally composed and delivered in A.D. 374, which was intended as a moralizing essay on Fortune, with his own career to that time as his point of reference, in the same way that twenty years before he had taken the career of his rival Acacius to illustrate his essay on Genius. To this purely sophistic essay there was added in chronological sequence over the next twenty years a series of occasional supplements, seemingly unpublished and unrevised, so that the whole work becomes an old man’s journal and consolation. The resultant rather shapeless oration, which bears the convenient, if inaccurate, title of the Life or the Autobiography, thus provides the chronological framework to which the mass of information contained in his other works can be referred. These works, discounting purely scholastic exercises and declamations, consist of the surviving orations, public and private, over 60 in number and covering a period of more than 40 years, together with more than 1,500 letters, the vast majority of which are concentrated in the years A.D. 355–65 and A.D. 388–93.

Thus we know that he was born in A.D. 314 in Antioch of a good municipal family which was just recovering from the disastrous punishment inflicted upon it by the intemperate wrath of the emperor Diocletian ten years before. Fatherless at the age of ten and with his uncles as guardians thereafter, he was brought up in the traditional Greek education of grammar and rhetoric, normal for his age and standing, but by the age of fifteen he had undergone his own conversion and, quite untypically and against the wishes of his family who envisaged a more worldly career for him, he was irmly set upon a career in rhetoric. In A.D. 336, with family opposition at last overcome, he set out to complete his studies in Athens, at an age more mature than that of the average student. There he remained for four years, a brilliant but awkward student, impatient of the professorial incompetence he found there, and priggishly non-conformist. By the end of A.D. 340 he had turned his back on Athens to try his luck as a private teacher in the new capital of Constantinople, with its parvenu society. His success was meteoric, but . . .

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