The Second Sophistic: A Cultural Phenomenon in the Roman Empire

By Graham Anderson | Go to book overview

10

Piety and paideia: the sophist and his gods

We have already encountered Polemo claiming divine inspiration when he spoke at the inauguration in 131 AD of Hadrian's newly completed Olympieion. Elsewhere we find the same sophist 'conversing with the gods on equal terms', and even making witty remarks at the expense of a health prescription from Asclepius. 1 Nor was he alone in such company: Philostratus assures us that Asclepius used to converse with Antiochus of Aegeae even when he was awake, and thought of it as a fine achievement of his art to protect this sophist from illness; and we have also seen Antiochus depositing his researches on Perseus in the temple of Apollo Lykeios at Argos. 2 A relationship with the Panhellenic and local festivals meant as a matter of course the involvement of sophists in religious occasions; and the lavishness of such occasions could reflect the splendour of the sophists themselves. Herodes Atticus served as curator of both the Panhellenic and Panathenaic festivals; 3 Philostratus digresses on the latter with its ceremonial pageant in which the robe of Athena was conveyed in a ship mechanically drawn from the Ceramicus to the Eleusinium-a suitably grandiose setting for this prince among performers. Sophists can have relationships with the gods, and we can explore them further.

Speakers of widely different talent and complexion could claim divine support for their endeavours; the classic case has always been Aelius Aristides:

I seemed to be addressing some audience and giving them a rhetorical display when in the middle of my performance I called on the gods like this: 'Lord Asclepius, if in fact I am an excellent orator and a virtuoso, grant me health

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