Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Laurent Pernot, Giancarlo Abbamonte, Mario Lamagna (ed.), Aelius Aristide écrivain. Recherches sur les rhétoriques religieuses, 19. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2016. Pp. 583. ISBN 9782503567839. €90.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Michael Trapp, King's College London (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

It is happily becoming something of a cliché to say that things are looking up for Aristides studies. Much of the recent activity has understandably focused on the Sacred Tales, which are by any reckoning the most distinctive and immediately intriguing, not to say challengingly problematic, of Aristides' works: book-length studies include Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis' Truly Beyond Wonders (2010), Ido Israelowich's Society, Medicine and Religion in the Sacred Tales (2012), and Janet Downie's At the Limits of Art (2013). But there has also been useful and distinguished work on Aristides as orator and rhetorical craftsman, in particular Jean-Luc Vix's L'Enseignement de la rhétorique au IIe siècle après J.-C. à travers les discours 30-34 d'Aelius Aristide (2010) and Johann Goeken's Aelius Aristide et la rhétorique de l'hymne en prose (2012), both studies published in the same series as the present volume and associated with the long-running Aristides project organised from Strasbourg by Prof. Pernot. Volumes attempting to span the full range of Aristides' work have however been in shorter supply over this same period; in effect, one can point only to the 2008 collection, Aelius Aristides between Greece, Rome and the Gods, edited by Brook Holmes and W. V. Harris. It is this gap that the present volume aims to make good, offering 'une lecture des discours tenant compte de leur contenu et de toutes les données historiques, rhétoriques et littéraires' (8), but with a special emphasis on Aristides' profile as a writer. The title has been chosen so as evoke both the comprehensive scope of Boulanger's Aelius Aristide (1923)—the last study to attempt an integrated reading of Aristides as a whole—and the literary focus of Bompaire's Lucien écrivain (1958).

To this end, the whole of the surviving corpus of Aristides' work has been divided up, following the lead of the manuscript order, into thematically related chunks, and a scholar identified to contribute an essay on some aspect of each of them, with a further six invited to write on a series of thematic issues, including aspects of the later reception. The Panathenaic Oration (Or. 1) is covered by Estelle Oudot's essay on the stakes of Aristides' revisionary version of Athenian history, and the Platonic Orations (Orr. 2-4) by Antonio Dittadi's survey of the relationship that they construct between oratory and philosophy, and Antonino Milazzo's proposal of a connection between Or. 4, the Letter to Capito, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus' Letter to Pompey. Aristides's declamations, Orr. 5-16, are treated by Giuseppe Russo on Orr. 7-8 and Gianluigi Tomassi on 9-10, and the city orations (Orr. 17-27) by Carlo Franco on 22 (Eleusinian Oration), Juan Manuel Cortés Copete on 24-25 (the Rhodian Orations), and Susan Jarratt on 26 (To Rome). The orations relating to oratorical practice, Orr. 28-34, attract Lorenzo Miletti on 28 and 33 and Elisabetta Berardi on 30-32. Paola Cassella treats the oddly placed (and probably spurious) Or. 35 (To the Emperor), Johann Goeken the prose hymns (Orr. 37-46), and Salvatore Nicosia and Ido Israelowich the Sacred Tales (Orr. 47-52). In the second, thematically focused section ('Échos et réception'), Jean-Luc Vix writes on Aristides and comedy, Véronique Boudon-Millot on Aristides and Galen, Carla Castelli on Aristides' akribeia, Ferruccio Conti Bizzarro on citations of Aristides in Thomas Magister, Daniela Caso on early humanist translations of individual orations, and Luigi Spina, finally, on some miscellaneous appearances of Aristides in recent histories of classical literature and on the web. The reader is helped to keep track of where they are in the corpus as a whole by a complete list of the titles and numbers of the orations at the beginning of the volume (15-17), and to navigate the scholarly literature by an admirably full and clearly formatted bibliography at the end (467-544).1

With so many contributions, it is inevitable that there should be some unevenness in quality and also some variation in degree of relevance to the central themes. Thus Paola Cassella's essay is included, even though she argues that the oration she discusses (35) is definitely not by Aristides ('Aristide écrivain'?); and both Ido Israelowich and Véronique Boudon Millot focus on contextual and historical issues rather than literary ones ('Aristide écrivain'?). All the same, each essay at the very least puts down a marker for the interest of its own assigned part of the oeuvre, or aspect of Aristides, and a good number—in particular Dittadi's, Franco's, Berardi's and Goeken's—succeed in being more noticeably judicious and informative, as well as very pleasingly presented.

Three of the chapters stand out for their relatively greater length (35, 45, and 50 pages, respectively): Estelle Oudot on the Panathenaicus, Juan Manuel Cortés Copete on the Rhodian Orations, and Salvatore Nicosia on the Sacred Tales. All of them deserve an extra word for the interest of their contents as well.

Estelle Oudot has been publishing quietly incisive and original essays on the Panathenaicus for the last fifteen years; a major study clearly lurks behind this, and it would be good to have it in full sooner rather than later now. In this particular instalment, she focuses on Aristides' shaping of Athenian history in both content and style of presentation. In substance, she highlights a sense of this particular version of Athens as a product of and a reaction to the contemporary reality of Athens' status as a privileged but subordinate city of the Empire; in form, she points to Aristides' appropriation and repurposing of the methodological language of the same historians (Herodotus, Thucydides) as he pillages for the substance, and his evident concern to find a parallel between the coherence and consistency of Athenian behaviour over the centuries and the coherence he manages to infuse into his own oratorical presentation of it. Oudot rightly observes that in Aristides' hands Athenian history is considerably Romanised, and draws a suggestive parallel between this reshaping of an imagined Athens of the past and the recent (Hadrianic) reshaping of the physical fabric of the modern city. At the same time, she seems to me unnecessarily keen to play down any suggestion on Aristides' part of a latent rivalry, or even a degree of superiority, in the comparison of Athens and Rome. Exaltation of the subject of the moment is a fundamental trait of encomium, and in this particular case it is not hard to find the pinch points if you look for them. When Athens is credited with a perfect example of the mixed constitution (Or. 1.383-6), or praised as the bestower of a kind of universal citizenship (Or. 1.322-30) are these demonstrations of harmony between her and Rome, or implicit assertions that she got there first, or somehow has done better, even in respect of such central elements in Roman self-image?

Juan Manuel Cortés Copete's reading of the Rhodian Orations (Orr. 24-25) accepts both of them as genuine works of Aristides, one from his youth (25) and the other from his relative maturity (24). Following and supplementing C. P. Jones, he dismisses the worries over the features of Or. 25—its showy verbal style, emotionalism, and tolerance of the grotesque—that led Keil, Boulanger, and Behr to declare it spurious, interpreting these as the marks of a very young orator, still seeking his authentic voice, over-influenced by local tastes and atmosphere, and yet to be transformed by the effects of his encounter with illness and with Asclepius. This is in some ways a seductive reading, and it is grounded in a careful and sensitive discussion of the distinctive features of the Rhodian context. But at the same time, it seems to me severely to underestimate the scale of the problem posed by the tone and style of the speech, and to fall back too readily on a series of assertions about what the young Aristides, at the very beginning of his career, 'must have' or 'might have' liked and been aiming at, and what we might be able to infer about the stylistic influences he was exposed to in his early training. An extreme example is the speculation on p. 185 about lost local orations on the much earlier earthquake of 225 BC, which had perhaps been preserved and studied in local Rhodian schools of oratory, thus creating a climate in which an 'earthquake oration' was expected to have the extravagance of Or. 25.

Salvatore Nicosia's elegant and spacious, but also very alert account of the Sacred Tales, finally, is aimed at uncovering threads of continuity in what has so often been characterised as an impossibly chaotic text. Essentially, he seeks to demonstrate by a continuous reading of all five books of the Tales that there is always at least some linking element, on one level or another (time, place, language, psychology), between one constituent unit and the next. It is an approach that poses an interesting challenge to other recent discussions. If for Martin Korenjak the disorienting leaps from one episode to another are a deliberate attempt to arouse in the reader the same sense of helpless wonder that gripped the eye-witnesses to the cures worked on Aristides by Asclepius, and if for Janet Downie they are part of an equally purposeful but more broadly based problematisation of memory, recording and the textualisation of experience, is Nicosia's approach to be understood as a supplement to such readings, or a refutation? One does not have to follow Nicosia in every detail to find this not just an interesting and rewarding contrast but also a call to further dialogue.

The volume's overall ambition, of attempting an analytical survey of Aristides' written output of the same scope as Boulanger's, but inspired by the spirit of Bompaire, was always a demanding one for the editors to set themselves. It is no disgrace that the finished product does not really match up in full. There is easily enough here to constitute a welcome reminder of the breadth of Aristides' output, and the range of questions and scholarly approaches that should be brought to bear on him.

Table of Contents

Table des discours d'Aelius Aristide
Table de concordance
Estelle Oudot. Le Panathénaique d'Aelius Aristide (or. 1) : les voies et les enjeux d'une nouvelle histoire d'Athènes
Antonio Dittadi. Ἡ ῥητορικὴ τελεωτέρον: il confronto tra retorica e filosofia nei Discorsi Platonici di Elio Aristide (or. 2-4)
Antonino M. Milazzo. L'Epistola a Capitone di Elio Aristide (or. 4) e l'Epistola a Pompeo Gemino di Dionigi di Alicarnasso
Giuseppe Russo. Modelli storiografici e ideologia nelle Orazioni 7 e 8 di Elio Aristide
Gianluigi Tomassi. Sulla coppia de declamazioni Πρὸς Θηβαίους περὶ τῆς συμμαχίας di Elio Aristide (or. 9-10)
Carlo Franco. Le Discours pour Éleusis d'Aelius Aristide (or. 22) : entre histoire et rhétorique
Juan Manuel Cortés Copete. Los Discursos Rodios de Elio Aristides (or. 24-5): crisis social e identidad griega en el imperio
Susan C. Jarratt. An Imperial Anti-Sublime: Aristides' Roman Oration (Or. 26)
Lorenzo Miletti. Come sotto processo: simulazioni di oratoria giudiziaria in Elio Aristide (or. 28 e 33)
Elisabetta Berardi. Maestri di atticismo: la lingua e i suoi modelli in tre testi di ambiente scolastico di Elio Aristide (or. 30-32)
Paola Cassella. Echi di storia greca nell'Εἰς βασιλέα dello Pseudo-Aristide (or. 35)
Johann Goecken. Le corpus des hymnes en prose d'Aelius Aristide (or. 37-46)
Salvatore Nicosia. L'ordine (para)logico dei Discorsi Sacri di Elio Aristide (or. 47-52)
Ido Israelowich. Aristides as a Teacher: Rhetorical Means for Self-Promotion in the Fourth Sacred Tale (or. 50)
Jean-Luc Vix. Aelius Aristide et la comédie
Véronique Boudon-Millot. Aelius Aristide et Galien : regards croisés de l'orateur et du médecin sur la maladie
Carla Castelli. Filostrato e l'akribeia di Elio Aristide
Ferruccio Conti Bizzarro. Contributo alla tradizione indiretta di Elio Aristide in Thomas Magister
Daniela Caso. Le traduzioni latine di Elio Aristide in età umanistica (1417-1535)
Luigi Spina. Elio Aristide divulgato: fra storie della letteratura e web
Liste des auteurs du présent volume
Index des noms de personnes et de lieux
Index des auteurs et textes de l'Antiquité, du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance
Index des principaux mots grecs et latins
Table des matières


1.   I miss only the inclusion of D. Karadimas, Sextus Empiricus against Aelius Aristides: The Conflict between Philosophy and Rhetoric in the Second Century A.D. (Lund: Lund University Press, 1992). Janet Downie's title needs gentle correction from 'At the Limits of Arts. A Literay Study'; the entry for Charlet—Furno—Pade—etc. should make it clear that the author of the text edited by these scholars is Niccolò Perotti.

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