Thursday, March 26, 2015


Eugenio Amato, Pierre Maréchaux, Procope de Gaza. Discours et fragments. Collection des universities de France. Série grecque, 503. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2014. Pp. cix, 617. ISBN 9782251005874. €145.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Elizabeth Mattingly Conner (

Version at BMCR home site

This impressive Belles Lettres volume, edited with commentaries by Eugenio Amato in close collaboration with Gianluca Ventrella and Aldo Corcella, presents the first complete collection of the rhetorical writings and fragments of Procopius of Gaza currently known, accessible for the first time in a French translation by Pierre Maréchaux. In particular, the present edition is the consequence of the discovery in the fall of 2011 of two works of Procopian oratory, the Epithalamium for Melēs and Antonina and a short dialexis introducing the epithalamium, as well as the recent demonstration of the Procopian authorship of two anonymous monodies previously attributed to Choricius, Procopius' successor at the School of Gaza. Additionally, this collation bases its text of works I-X on the discovery in 2012 of Vat. Lat. 9781, an apograph reproduced between 1804 and 1834 by the Italian paleographer Girolamo Amati, which survives in better condition than its antigraph, the Vat. gr.1898, the sole manuscript transmitting these works which was badly damaged by time and by chemical treatments administered by Cardinal Angelo Mai (ca. 1841). The volume is organized into an introduction with an appended older translation of Choricius' Funeral Oration to Procopius; the main body consisting of introduction, text of rhetorical works I-XV with facing-page translation, and elaborate notes, followed in turn by the text and facing-page translations of the fragments (F) and testimonies (T), followed by notes, a comprehensive bibliography (pp. 521-97), index locorum, index nominum, a concordance comparing the Teubner with the present edition, and plates reconstructing the Gaza clock and the painting described in the ekphrasis eikonos.

Amato's lengthy introduction offers a most useful synthesis of the available data concerning Procopius' biography, his writings, and their reception, as well as the transmission of the rhetorical writings and the relatively recent history of their editions. From the scant biographical data (the principal sources: Choricius' Funeral Oration, Procopius' letters, and Photius' Bibliotheca), Procopius (A.D. 470-530) emerges as an urban spokesman who enchanted Syro-Palestinian audiences with his oratory and played a public role in the continuing Christianization of his city (pp. XIX-XXVIII). Procopius' oeuvre that Photius dubbed "πολλοὶ τε καὶ παντοδαποί" encompassed scriptural commentaries, a rich variety of rhetorical genres (panegyric, ekphrasis, dialexis, ēthopoiia, epithalamium, monody), letters, a lost Homeric metaphrasis for classroom instruction, and two lost refutations of Proclus of which Amato accepts Procopian authorship (a controversial issue, see pp. XLV-LII). Amato's synopsis of the fate of Procopius' corpus surveys the sophist's admirers, imitators and collectors, including anonymous authors of lexica and florilegia (as in the 7th c. Lexicon Seguerianum, likely produced at Gaza, and the 9th c. Florilegium Marcianum), and Byzantine excerptors, particularly the literati of the Palaiologan era, who produced most of the surviving non-apograph copies of his works (the exception is the 16th c. ms. Athonensis Μον.Διονυσ.347[3881 Lambros]).

The commentaries of Amato and Ventrella pertaining respectively to the dialexeis (works I-III) and ēthopoiiai (works IV-VII) reprint much of the material presented in Amato's admirable 2010 volume Rose di Gaza: gli scritti retorico-sofistici e le Epistole di Procopio di Gaza (RDG).1 Amato contributes an illuminating survey of the possible festival/religious contexts of the dialexeis, arguing in particular for associating the Gaza festival of the Day of the Roses with the cult of the martyrs, and offers a persuasive reading of the figure of Dionysus as an allegorical reference to the Eucharistic wine in the Dialexis on the Rose (work III; pp. 32-39). In this way, Amato argues strongly for interpreting the Day of the Roses as accessible for Christians, thus grappling with an issue central to understanding the transition from paganism to Christianity. Ventrella's essay introducing the ēthopoiiai highlights the value of these texts for understanding the instruction and use of this complicated but widely-practiced rhetorical exercise, and underscores Procopius' lively and flexible engagement with a variety of genre prescriptions and models (pp. 75-88).

Commentary, text/translation, and notes concerning the two surviving ekphraseis (works VIII and IX) follow. Amato's commentary on the incomplete ekphrasis of a decorative animated clock housed in the Gaza city-center contains much of the discussion published in RDG but the present essay is noteworthy for its expanded demonstration of Procopius' creative adherence to the advice of the progymnasmata, evident in the description's organization and themes, and his discussion of the strategies the sophist deployed to draw upon his audience's Hellenic memory to elaborate the mythological narratives implicit in the clock statuary. With regard to Procopius' ekphrasis on the Gazan megalograph featuring mythological scenes of Theseus, Phaedra, and Hippolytus, as well as scenes inspired from Iliad Book 3, Amato offers new suggestions about the painting's layout and location as well as the identity of its donor Timotheus. Developing Manganaro's hypothesis that the painting may have adorned a public bath at Gaza, Amato identifies Timotheus as the same Timotheus, uncle of Melēs, whom Procopius praises in the epithalamium for restoring a Gaza bathhouse (see pp. 159-61). With the discovery of Vat. Lat. 9781, Amato clarifies a phrase in section 42 of the ekphrasis that was illegible in Vat. gr. 1898: the benefactor is identified as νόμων προβεβλημένος. Amato's suggestion that this indicates that Timotheus was a praetor (p. 168) is highly speculative, and it is inviting to suggest alternatively that Timotheus was an otherwise unknown provincial governor, possibly at Caesarea. Various late antique inscriptions from the Greek East honor the provincial governor as charged with execution of the law.2

The next section contains the extant incipit of Procopius' panegyric to the stratēlatēs Asiaticos (work X) a text virtually ignored by scholars of late antiquity since its publication in J.F. Boissonade's edition in 1846. Amato suggests the identification of Asiaticos with the homonymous official charged with military command of the province Phoenicia Libanensis that Evagrius Scholasticus mentions at Hist. eccl. 3.34. According to Evagrius, emperor Anastasius ordered Asiaticos in 515 to remove Cosmas and Severius, bishops of Epiphanius and Arethusa respectively, because of their letter of excommunication to Severus of Antioch, a champion of miaphysitism (p. XXVI; 225). Procopius' proximity to the figures of Asiaticos, Anastasius (also miaphysite), and Severus himself (a fellow-student at Alexandria, and later a monk at Gaza's port, Maiouma) provides Amato with new evidence of Procopius' probable miaphysitism, renounced later in life in favor of Chalcedonian orthodoxy (see pp. XXV-XXVIII). This oration, most likely an exemplum of the prosphōnētikos logos regulated by Menander Rhetor, provides important details for reconstructing a genre of which few examples survive (the discourse of Choricius addressed to the stratēlatēs Soummos furnishing a useful counterpart). Because of its truncated state, however, one wonders about the extent to which Procopius also amalgamated encomiastic genres in the remainder of the original. A succeeding section containing Amato and Ventrella's astute commentary and notes to the Panegyric to Anastasius (much of which was published in RDG) underscore the rhetor's dynamic adoption of classical literary forms in constructing the persona of the Christian basileus.

Corcella's subsequent discussion of a brief dialexis (work XII) transmitted with the two monodies makes a compelling case that this text may have introduced the epithalamium on the basis of its intertextual design (cf. p. 336). Amato's incisive reading of the Epithalamium for Melēs and Antonina (work XIII) that follows contains exciting new information concerning urban notables at Gaza (namely the families of Melēs, a former student of Procopius, and his bride, Antonina), and their contribution to Gaza political culture and monumental benefaction (pp. 349-58). This text also provides precious data for our knowledge of the genre of the gamēlios logos, of which regrettably few examples survive from any period, and offers new details concerning the late ancient Greek marriage rite (p. 349; pp. 358-63). Furthermore, the oration preserves valuable testimony for the reconstruction of a lost Empedoclean poem On Nature and also sheds light on a passage of Damascius' Commentary on Plato's Parmenides (p. 349; pp. 380-98). These latter two finds are fascinating for thinking about Procopius' identity as a philosopher-sophist and the vivacity of philosophical traditions among Gaza literati. One hopes that Procopius' incorporation of Empedocles may be of use to specialists, and in the meantime, Amato identifies tantalizing traces in his commentary and notes. Amato's distillation of the stages of Empedocles' cosmogony (final paragraph p. 393), however, could be clarified with references to specialist reconstructions and debates. Although Amato theorizes that Procopius' reference to Damascius betokens reciprocal exchange among Neoplatonist circles in Syria and Palestine, it is more likely that this evinces exchange between Gaza and Alexandria or Athens where Damascius acceded to the position of diadochos ca. 515. Damascius (460-538) and Procopius studied at Alexandria, at or around the same time, and likely shared similar intellectual networks. Additionally, Procopius' reference to a Greek Romance, specifically Achilles Tatius Life of Leucippē and Clitophron 1.17, to illustrate the force of Eros in the vegetal world includes a genre largely absent in Procopian intertextuality.

In the penultimate section of texts, Aldo Corcella confirms the Procopian paternity of two anonymous monodies (works XIV and XV), preserved in the ms. Laur.plut.60.6 [14th c.]), the first of which contains a verbatim passage attributed to the sophist at Florilegium Marcianum70. Corcella subsumes these texts under the designation of monody despite reservations owing to their experimental admixtures of funerary oration genres. Undoubtedly, both orations offered consolation for the loss of men hailing from families of the urban ruling classes: the first laments the death of a recently espoused young man (Amato contends that he should not be identified with Melēs, cf. 350-51n8), the second, a celebrated notable who enjoyed a long career in imperial administration, served in Egypt and occupied magistracies at Gaza itself. The final section of texts contains fragments of Procopius' lost Monody on Antioch, fragments of an Epitaph for Salaminios (whom Amato identifies as the great-uncle of Melēs), the testimony and fragments of the Metaphrases of Homer, the fragments and testimonies pertaining respectively to Procopius' two treatises refuting Proclus, fragmenta incertae sedis , and dubia vel spuria.

It is difficult to overstate the erudition and care of the authors, a small circle of Italian scholars, who contribute greatly to the contemporary understanding of a series of texts that have scarcely been the object of recent penetrating study. Applying impeccable paleographical methods, the contributors offer trenchant readings of texts recently discovered and long-neglected and present lucid translations, detailed and pain-staking annotation, and thoughtful suggestions for future study. This edition makes accessible in a modern language the vibrant interplay of classical and emerging Christian literary forms in Procopius' Greek that appears to characterize the leading figures of the so-called School of Gaza. Beyond its contribution to the study of Procopius of Gaza, this volume offers texts with fascinating applications relevant to key issues in the historiography of late antiquity, including the nature of benefaction and philotimia in the late ancient city, the role of the rhetor as the voice of the city whose oratory defined the major caesurae of citizen lives, the intertextual devices by which late antique literati developed a living identification with the classical past, and the rhetorical fascination of late ancient literati with scientific devices such as mechanical clocks. One can only hope that with such a fine volume, the scholarly community, particularly historians, will begin to notice these understudied works of the "other" Procopius.


1.  Eugenio Amato, ed., Rose di Gaza: gli scritti retorico-sofistici e le Epistole di Procopio di Gaza Hellenica 35 (Alessandria: Edizione dell'Orso, 2010).
2.   For inscriptions commemorating governors, see, e.g., Louis Robert, "Épigrammes relatives à des gouverneurs," Hellenica 4 (1948): 35-114, at 107-8; for the inscription honoring Nomos, provincial governor at Caesarea, see NO. 1260 Walter Ameling, et al. eds.Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae vol. 2 (Berlin; New York: De Gruyter, 2011).

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