Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
William V. Harris, Brooke Holmes (ed.), Aelius Aristides between Greece, Rome, and the Gods. Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2008. Pp. xiii, 322. ISBN 9789004172043. $169.00; €114.00.
Reviewed by Carl O'Brien, University College, Cork

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This impressive collection of conference proceedings helps to reduce the deficit of scholarship on Aristides since Charles Behr's 1968 study Aelius Aristides and the Sacred Tales and as such it represents a major landmark in the study of the Second Sophistic. The papers are subdivided into four sections, dealing with Aristides' literary predecessors, his self-presentation, the historical and political context in which Aristides composed his orations and finally the reception of Aristides' oeuvre, providing a comprehensive and multi-faceted portrayal of the orator.

The collection opens with Ewen Bowie's meticulously researched contribution, outlining Aristides' relationship to early Greek lyric, elegiac and iambic poetry. Bowie demonstrates that, with the exception of Pindar, Aristides' corpus actually contains relatively few quotations from other poets of this group (for example, he only cites two phrases of Alcaeus, p. 10). Bowie uses Dio of Prusa, Maximus of Tyre and Philostratus of Athens to demonstrate that Aristides' low citation rate from archaic poets, (when compared to Plutarch or Athenaeus, for example), is less surprising, when the practice of other second/third century orators is considered. The anomaly regarding the high incidence of Pindaric quotations, it is suggested, might be explained in terms of Pindar's stress on 'outstanding natural capacities', something which Aristides felt that he possessed (p. 17). Bowie provides extensive citation tables, documenting Aristides' citation of these early poets, usefully indicating the fragments for which Aristides is our only source (p. 22 - 29).

Historiography forms the subject of the next chapter, as Estelle Oudot explores Aristides rewriting of Thucydides in his Panathenaic Discourse. This is all bound up with Aristides' claims that the real Athenian empire is one of culture, which essentially transforms it from a temporally and spatially limited dominion into a universal one. This altered perception of the Athenian empire (conditioned by a new political reality, as a city under Roman dominion) causes Aristides to portray the Athenian national character in a different manner to Thucydides. While Aristides does suggest that the Athenians are courageous, he neutralizes this term by associating it with ideals such as justice and clemency (p. 38). Aristides also reflects similar attitudes to Plutarch in his Precepts of Statecraft by portraying Athens as an ideal subject-city (in that she is capable of policing herself internally). Oudot's treatment investigates Aristides' work against the larger backdrop of the rhetorical use of history.

Aristides' use of myth is treated by Suzanne Saïd. The myth most prominently utilized by Aristides was that of Heracles. Aristides' virtuosity in his use of this myth in different contexts is discussed, from its metaphorical interpretation in the Hymn to Athena to its use in criticizing Plato in To Plato: In Defense of the Four and To Plato: In Defense of Oratory (pp. 59-60). This is followed by an analysis of Aristides' various attempts to rework the myth. Sometimes this is to allow it to assume a moralizing character: so Zeus' long nocturnal tryst with Alcmene is interpreted not in sexual terms, but rather as the god's attempt to introduce as much of his divine nature into his offspring as possible. The final section of the paper looks forward to the discussion of Aristides' relationship with Rome in the later chapters of the volume by considering how Aristides' applied similar techniques in his treatment of the Prometheus myth and made it relevant to contemporary events by transforming it from a legend associated with democratic Athens to a justification of imperial Rome (p. 65).

G.W. Bowersock analyses Aristides' literary tastes in moralizing terms by considering Aristides' stance against pantomimes through the lens of Libanius's polemic against Aristides' position. Bowersock exposes Libanius's sophistic disingenuity; he defends pantomimes; an artistic form which he took steps to suppress in his native Antioch (p. 70). Aristides' statements also result from sophistic grounds: bitterness at the thought that pantomime dancers were receiving undue prestige at the expense of orators. A particularly useful feature of this chapter is Bowersock's consideration of epigraphic evidence in order to evaluate the role of pantomimes in international contests in Graeco-Roman antiquity.

Brooke Holmes investigates the manner in which Aristides' body becomes the focal point of his literary aspirations. Aristides' sees his Sacred Tales as epic in the manner of the Odyssey; both works contain a long-suffering hero. Holmes interprets the work in literary terms, rather than the perhaps now outdated technique of Freudian psychoanalysis. The interpretation in Freudian terms of Aristides' dream that he should sacrifice a finger as an attempt to appease a Father-figure through an act which represents castration springs to mind as an example. Since Aristides' inscribed the ring which he substituted instead of a finger, Holmes links this with the story of his foster-daughter, Philumene and her inscribed entrails (at Or. LI. 23), to suggest Aristides' desire to protect the body from writing (p. 100). This is because Aristides seems to link inscription with death, and, in support of this claim and to demonstrate the significance of written commemoration for the Asclepius cult, Holmes provides an extensive analysis of votives to the god.

One of the most enduring memories retained by any reader of the Sacred Talesis the spectacular ablutions performed by Aristides, the subject of Janet Downie's paper. Downie considers the role of alousia in ancient medical theory, where it was perceived as a legitimate recommendation within the context of 'drying' the moist humors, then thought to be the cause of abdominal complaints. However, for Aristides the issue of to bathe or not to bathe is something of an interpretative strategy. Downie illustrates how Aristides can construe bathing as a luxury, and how his abstention can, at least in part, be seen to result from a deliberate self-presentation as an ascetic, and a means of underlining his commitment to the intellectual rigors of oratory.

Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis' chapter 'The Body in the Landscape' can be seen as a microcosm of the themes of the entire collection. Bodily conception is again revisited, but Aristides' attitude to Rome, his literary aspirations, his role in public life and the interrelation of his corpus are also discussed. After surveying Aristides' description of Cyzicus (Oration 27) in terms of the human body, Petsalis-Diomidis considers a second account which Aristides gives of his visit to the city in the Sacred Tales. Petsalis-Diomidis used this example to illustrate the interrelation of Aristides' other orations with the Sacred Tales, as well as the manner in which the themes of travel, the body and the landscape can be connected in Aristides' corpus. The interconnection of these themes is also mentioned in the context of the benefits of Roman rule: safe travel at Oration 36 or the end of diseased cities, split by stasis at Oration 19. Petsalis-Diomidis then uses Aristides' bodily conception as a frame in which to interpret the Sacred Tales as an apologetic text in defense of his limited declaiming.

Dana Fields contrasts Plutarch's On Inoffensive Self-Praise with Aristides On an Incidental Remark, in which Aristides responds to ex tempore praise of himself which he inserted into an oration supposed to be in praise of Athena. Both writers consider self-praise in civic terms; Plutarch regards self-praise as detrimental to social harmony by enflaming the less privileged (p. 157). Aristides also sees it as philanthropic, as it explains to the audience the manner in which they should interpret the speech. Fields then contrasts both these remarks in the light of Plutarch's active public service and Aristides' more limited efforts.

Laurent Pernot examines Aristides' relationship with Rome, suggesting that along with the typical conviction of Hellenic supremacy, Aristides may have been sceptical towards Rome because his trip there was so closely associated with oratorical failure. An interesting framework which Pernot adopts for his discussion is a survey of Aristides' dream narratives. In a dream recounted in the Sacred Tales, Aristides refuses to kiss the Emperor Antonius Pius (in accordance with court etiquette) on the grounds that he is forbidden by Asclepius to do so. Pernot discusses two other dreams from this period of Aristides' life, in which he envisages himself meeting with Marcus Aurelius. The main thrust of these texts creates an impression that Aristides was not overly concerned with public obligations in comparison to his devotion to Asclepius (p. 182). This renders the second section of Pernot's argument particularly elegant; Aristides' refusal of the priesthood of Asclepius when offered it by the Smyrnan Assembly, after he had rejected the high priesthood of Asia, on the grounds that he had not received an order directly from the god to accept it. (Pernot mentions the expenses that the priesthood of Asclepius would have entailed at this time as an additional reason for Aristides' resistance).

Further detail on Aristides' attitude to the Empire is furnished by Francesca Fontanella's analysis of The Encomium on Rome. The interpretation she sets forth there of the Roman system as a mixed constitution, and the notion that there are natural rulers and natural slaves is placed in its context as part of an intellectual tradition that goes back to Aristotle's Politics. Aristides' involvement in Rhodes is dealt with by Carlo Franco, drawing upon the evidence of Oration 24, To the Rhodians on Concord and the chronologically earlier speech Oration 25, the Rhodiakos. Oration 25 is an address to the Rhodians after the earthquake which destroyed their city in 142 AD to console them and rouse their spirits. Oration 24 was composed in response to a request by certain Rhodians to intervene during a period of stasis, with Aristides avoiding mention of his earlier involvement in Rhodes; no doubt because his predictions of future prosperity there had remained unfulfilled.

Christopher Jones opens the section concerned with Reception by considering Phrynichos' response to Aristides, preserved in Photios' summary of the Sophistic Preparation. Phrynichos' life is considered by a brief treatment of the evidence supplied by the Suda and Photios, before Jones locates him in his social and intellectual milieu, as a means of explaining his admiration for Aristides. Raffaella Cribiore analyses Libanius' admiration for and oratorical rivalry with Aristides. Cribiore details Libanius' careful reworking of passages from his predecessor. Libanius' claim of returning to Antioch in triumph at Or. I.86-89 is clearly modeled on Sacred Tales 5.30-34. However, C. goes beyond documenting Libanius' emulation to evaluating the development of this literary relationship, observing Libanius' shift from competitive rivalry to later seeking comfort in Aristides' work when he was faced with various problems in later life, such as student apathy (p. 273 ff.).

Aristides' reception at Byzantium forms the topic for Luana Quattrocelli's paper. Quattrocelli astutely raises the question of whether Aristides' was really forced to abstain from rhetorical performances due to poor health or simply used it to mask fickle success (p. 279)., before analyzing a manuscript of the Sacred Tales once in the possession of Arethas, the Archbishop of Caesarea. The good bishop annotated the edition (Quattrocelli provides a graphological analysis, as well as two facsimiles of the manuscript, to demonstrate this claim). Arethas seems intent on portraying Aristides as an alcoholic and gives vent to other less than Christian opinions. It is Aristides' devoted monotheism and presentation of Asclepius as his personal saviour which arouses the hostility of the archbishop, as it parallels aspects of Christianity too closely.

Aristides' most famous texts are treated in detail. The selection of articles allows a comprehensive picture of the orator to emerge: his arrogance, involvement (or at times failure to be engaged) in political life, as well as his hypochondria and devotion to Asclepius are all dealt with. This volume fills a gap that has been allowed to develop in the scholarly literature and provides a detailed portrait of one of antiquity's most entertaining figures. Though the core market is undoubtedly those with an interest in the Second Sophistic, the range of the papers ensure that this volume will appeal to classicists with a more general curiosity concerning Aristides.

Table of Contents:

Abbreviations, vii
Preface, ix
Contributors, xi
W.V. Harris, Introduction, 1

Part One: Aristides and the Literature of the Past
I. Ewen Bowie, Aristides and Early Greek Lyric, Elegiac and Iambic Poetry, 9
II. Estelle Oudot, Aelius Aristides and Thucydides: Some Remarks about the Panathenaic Oration, 31
III. Suzanne Saïd, Aristides' Uses of Myths, 51
IV. G. W. Bowersock, Aristides and the Pantomimes, 69

Part Two: Aristides' Self-Presentation
V. Brooke Holmes, Aelius Aristides' Illegible Body, 81
VI. Janet Downie, Proper Pleasures: Bathing and Oratory in Aelius Aristides' Hieros Logos I and Oration 33, 115
VII. Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis, The Body in the Landscape: Aristides' Corpus in the Light of The Sacred Tales, 131
VIII. Dana Fields, Aristides and Plutarch on Self-Praise, 151

Part Three: Aristides and the Roman Empire of His Times
IX. Laurent Pernot, Aelius Aristides and Rome, 175
X. Francesca Fontanella, The Encomium on Rome as a Response to Polybius' Doubts About the Roman Empire, 203
XI. Carlo Franco, Aelius Aristides and Rhodes: Concord and Consolation, 217

Part Four: Reception
XII. Christopher Jones, Aristides' First Admirer, 253
XIII. Raffaella Cribiore, Vying with Aristides in the Fourth Century: Libanius and His Friends, 263
XIV. Luana Quattrocelli, Aelius Aristides' Reception at Byzantium: The Case of Arethas, 279

Bibliography, 295
Index, 319

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