Libanius

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Libanius (Greek: Λιβάνιος, Libanios; ca. 314 – ca. 394) was a Greek-speaking teacher of rhetoric of the Sophist school. During the rise of Christian hegemony in the later Roman Empire, he remained unconverted and regarded himself as a Hellene in religious matters.

He was born into a once-influential, deeply cultured family of Antioch that had recently lost most of its wealth and influence. When fourteen years old, Libanius fell in love with rhetoric and focused his whole life on it. He withdrew from public life and devoted himself to philosophy. He was unfamiliar with Latin literature, and deplored its influence. He also attacked the increasing imperial pressures on the traditional city-oriented culture that had been supported and dominated by the local upper classes. Libanius used his arts of rhetoric to advance various private and political causes. Despite his own religious views and his friendship with the Emperor Julian, called "the Apostate" for attempting to restore the traditional religions of the empire, Libanius cultivated long-lasting friendships with Christians, both as private individuals and as imperial officials.

He studied in Athens and began his career in Constantinople as a private tutor, but was soon exiled to Nicomedia. Before his exile, Libanius was a friend of the emperor Julian, with whom some correspondence survives, and in whose memory he wrote a series of orations; they were composed between 362 and 365.

The works of Libanius are valuable as a historical source for the changing world of the later 4th century. His first Oration I is an autobiographical narrative, first written in 374 and revised throughout his life, a scholar's account that ends as an old exile's private journal. In 354, he accepted the chair of rhetoric in Antioch, where he stayed until his death. Although Libanius was not a Christian, his students included such notable Christians as John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Despite friendship with the restorationist Emperor Julian, he was made an honorary praetorian prefect by the Christian Emperor Theodosius I.

Works

  • 64 orations in the three fields of oratory: judicial, deliberative and epideictic, both orations as if delivered in public and orations meant to be privately read (aloud) in the study. The two volumes of selections in the Loeb Classical Library devote one volume to Libanius' orations that bear on the emperor Julian, the other on Theodosius; the most famous is his "Lamentation" about the desecration of the temples (peri ton leron);
  • 51 declamationes, a traditional public-speaking format of Rhetoric in Antiquity, taking set topics with historical and mythological themes (translations into English by e.g. D.A. Russell, "Libanius: Imaginary Speeches"; M. Johansson, "Libanius' Declamations 9 and 10";
  • 57 hypotheses or introductions to Demosthenes' orations (written ca 352), in which he sets them in historical context for the novice reader, without polemics;
  • several dozen model writing exercises, Progymnasmata, that were used in his courses of instruction and became widely admired models of good style;
  • 1545 letters have been preserved, more letters than those of Cicero. Some 400 additional letters in Latin were later accepted, purporting to be translations, but were demonstrated to be misattributed or forgeries by the Italian humanist Francesco Zambeccari in the 15th century, in a dispassionate examination of the texts themselves. Among his correspondents there was Censorius Datianus.

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