Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Eugenio Amato, Gianluca Ventrella, Lucie Thévenet (ed.), Discorso pubblico e declamazione scolastica a Gaza nella tarda antichità: Coricio di Gaza e la sua opera. Duepunti, 38. Bari: Edizioni di Pagina, 2014. Pp. viii, 288. ISBN 9788874704040. €16.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Raffaella Cribiore, New York University (

Version at BMCR home site

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

In the fifth and sixth centuries CE, the city of Gaza was a vibrant intellectual center that competed successfully with Alexandria and Athens. Coricius was the official sophist of the city and succeeded Procopius of Gaza as the director of its famous school of rhetoric, in the last manifestation of what some have called the Third Sophistic. The book under review is a collection of papers and represents the proceedings of a colloquium held in Nantes in June 2014. It successfully illuminates how the intellectuals of Gaza, and Coricius in particular, were able to synthesize ancient tradition and their contemporary reality.

This book is divided into four parts that consider, with inevitable overlaps, various aspects of the oeuvre of Coricius; his role in society and his public performances; the relation between poetry and rhetoric (including a literary and rhetorical analysis of Coricius' declamations); and, finally, the manuscript tradition. Several contributors refer to the research of Paola D'Alessio who is the author of the last excellent paper that includes a description of the manuscripts.

A characteristic of this collection of essays is that many of them are related to each other so that, for example, as a whole they illuminate, without redundancy, the literary allusions of Coricius, his reflection of themes particular to the society in which he lived and to a Christian environment (even though he never referred directly to Christianity) and the precious information that can be derived from his works with regard to rhetorical performances and the public that attended them. At the end of the book (pp. 284-87) there are English abstracts of the individual papers; as English readers will be able to refer to these, I can take the liberty of concentrating on some specific contributions.

The identity of the audience for the performance of declamations and speeches of the Second and Third Sophistic remains a debated point. It is usually assumed that only the elites participated, and that the lower classes were excluded. Although Philostratus mentions the charm that Dio Chrysostom and Favorinus exercised even upon people who were illiterate or not versed in Greek letters, generally sophists are regarded as having performed for an elite public. In the opinion of this reviewer, enjoyment of a sophistic spectacle did not strictly depend on perfect understanding of the texts. As Nadine Sauterel mentions, some festivals attracted a varied public. Coricius' discourse For the Brumalia of the emperor Justinian was performed at a celebration in which people of every age and culture took part. Sauterel considers in detail the prose rhythm of this speech while Telesca shows that the same speech was not carelessly improvised but contained cautious political content. Matteo Deroma, who explicates the Patroclus, one of the three mythological declamations of Coricius, concludes that it well represents the elegance and refinement of the culture of Gaza. He argues that the well-known theme of Patroclus beseeching Achilles to return to battle addressed not only cultivated residents of the city but also less literate people who could not appreciate rhetorical nuance. Gianluigi Tomassi, in his examination of the Tyrannicida throws into relief Coricius' ethical treatment of the characters (some female) and shows how declamations also addressed moral and societal values that would appeal beyond a limited school audience.

The declamation studied by Gianluigi Tomassi concerns the topos of the geras, the prize that a hero claims after a feat of valor. The essay of Carlo Manzione centers around Coricius' treatment of the same topos in his Rhetor and emphasizes its traditional, rhetorical origin. Neither scholar mentions Libanius' humorous declamation 33, in which a miser is deeply disappointed because his son, a war hero, asks only for a valueless crown of olive as a reward. It is amusing that in the Rhetor of Coricius the protagonist, who persuades the enemy to refrain from besieging the city and thus prevails over a general who wanted war, requests as a prize that the latter place his son in his school rather than enrolling him in the army. This reviewer is again reminded of Libanius who in Oration 18.282 concludes that, if Julian's campaign had been successful, the Persians would have changed their language and dress and sophists would have taught rhetoric to their children.

In Coricius' works, the widespread editorial notes and the dialexeis offer precious details on how and where he performed his orations and declamations. Simona Lupi focuses on how the sophist organized and structured his performances, basing her observations on what Chiara Telesca elucidated in a paper "Sull' ordine e la composizione del corpus di Coricio di Gaza," published in Revue des Études Tardo-Antiques I (2011-2012) 85-109. The introductory notes are rather brief but illuminate aspects of a performance that would not be known otherwise. They are more extensive than the notes that precede Himerius' speeches which briefly indicate the occasion and location of their delivery. In Coricius, the notes appear to have originated with an edition that was prepared in his lifetime, because a later copyist would not have known such details. The dialexeis function as proems for orations and declamations. Like some speeches of Libanius and of Gregory of Nazianzus, some of Coricius' works were performed in more than one session with a pause in between. Each part of the work, therefore, was preceded by a dialexis. Matteo Deroma translates the two proems (22 and 23) for the Patroclus which give a good idea of the possible content of such introductions. From the second of these it is clear that Coricius responded to criticism that his work was too long. This combination of notes and proems is very intriguing; it is found in the works of Procopius and John of Gaza, and seems to indicate a specific editorial plan that the school had adopted.

Other papers in this collection, such as that of Aldo Corcella, show that Coricius dealt not only with hypothetical themes but referred to the contemporary reality of Gaza and Palestine. The interesting paper of Gianluca Ventrella focuses on the debate between Christians and pagans, Miaphysites and Chalcedonians about sacred iconography. Ventrella traces the possible influence of Dio Chrysostom in sixth century Gaza. He argues that Coricius' Spartiates might refer to oration 12 of Dio in discussing what form is most apt to represent the immaterial and invisible divine: Coricius might have been influenced by another more recent Neoplatonic or Christian source. Ventrella succeeds in reconstructing the philosophical and religious environment of Gaza.

This is a stimulating collection of essays. Eugenio Amato at the University of Nantes is directing a large project of edition, translation, and commentary of all the works of Coricius. Besides some established experts on late antiquity, there are among the authors of the various contributions younger, excellent scholars including some doctoral candidates. Eugenio Amato is well known for his generosity and dedication to his students who follow an excellent tradition of literary and philological studies under his guidance.

Table of Contents

I. Retorica e società a Gaza
Simona Lupi (Sassari), "Occasione e performance nelle declamazioni di Coricio di Gaza"
Aldo Corcella (Università della Basilicata), "Serio e giocoso in Coricio"
Ángel Narro Sánchez (Universitat de València) "Citas bíblicas en la obra de Coricio de Gaza"
Gianluca Ventrella (Université de Nantes) "Da Dione Crisostomo a Coricio: il motivo dell'artista alla sbarra a Gaza fra tradizione retorica e nuove istanze religiose"

II. Retorica e poesia
Onofrio Vox (Università del Salento) "Sulla poesia nella retorica tardoantica"
Delphine Lauritzen (CNRS-ENS, Paris) "Hermès et ses Muses dans le premier Éloge de Marcien par Chorikios de Gaza (op. I [or. 1] F./R.)"
Chiara Telesca (Università della Basilicata) "Su una metafora pindarica nell'orazione Sui Brumalia di Coricio di Gaza (op. XIII [dial. 7] F./R.)"
Nadine Sauterel (Université de Nantes) "Le rythme du discours impromptu Pour les Brumalia de l'empereur Justinien (op. XIII [dial. 7] F./R.)"

III. Le declamazioni coriciane: ipotesi di analisi retorico-letteraria
Matteo Deroma (Université de Nantes) "Per un'introduzione al Patroclus di Coricio di Gaza (op. XXXVIII [decl. 10] F./R.)"
Carlo Manzione (Université de Nantes) "Per una introduzione al Rhetor di Coricio di Gaza (op. XLII [decl.12] F./R.)"
Gianluigi Tomassi (Milano) "Continuità e innovazione nel Tyrannicida di Coricio di Gaza (op. XXVI [decl. 7] F./R.)"

IV. Tradizione manoscritta
Paola D' Alessio (Université de Nantes) "Aspetti della tradizione manoscritta di Coricio di Gaza (II)"

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