Abstract and Keywords
This chapter discusses how, despite himself, Aelius Aristides corresponds in many ways to the typical portrait of the sophist. It examines how his personality was both emblematic (practicing epideictic and deliberative eloquence as a counselor, declaimer, and formal speaker) and idiosyncratic: a man who lived in symbiosis with a god, Asclepius, in whom he found both a doctor and a mentor in rhetoric, and who refused to take on civic responsibilities, preferring reclusion to society, yet who also was occupied with promoting language and rhetoric among his contemporaries, and defined himself as the incarnation of the ideal orator in his century. Aristides holds a vital place in literature of the imperial period: his work gives evidence of a real creative process and offers a new vision of the world, where cultural Athens, Roman domination, and the urban world of contemporary Greece and Asia Minor subtly interfere in a new way.
presenting Aelius Aristides in a work on the Second Sophistic means presenting a sophist who vigorously rejected the term, and who called himself a rhêtôr.1 But despite himself, a sophist is what he was, if only with regard to his declamations (meletai), this being the first of the formal criteria by which Philostratus, in his Lives of the Sophists 1. 481,2 differentiated the Second (deutera) Sophistic from the original movement. He also delivered orations in political forums and ceremonies, gave lectures, took part in meetings and made informal presentations (laliai). In many ways, he corresponded to the typical portrait that was multiplied by the fifty or so personalities in Philostratus’s Lives. But in his rejection of this denomination, he was asserting a singularity that could not be reduced to a manifestation of overweening pride. We clearly perceive the tension that traverses a personality who was both emblematic of a cultural, literary, and social phenomenon, and idiosyncratic—a man who lived in symbiosis with a God, was wary of certain rhetorical practices, refused to take on the civic responsibilities that would normally have been incumbent on a person of his milieu, often preferring reclusion to society, and yet was occupied with promoting language and rhetoric among his contemporaries, and defined himself as the incarnation of the ideal orator in his century.
An Emblematic Figure of the Second Sophistic
If one follows, in a summary way, the defining criteria of the Second Sophistic—a period, a privileged geographical area and the manifestation of paideia—Aristides was objectively a writer-orator who typified this social and cultural movement.
Historically, Aristides’s life coincided with the Pax Romana and the Antonine era, which favored the travels and activities of orators and their cultivated audience. The (p. 256) activities of Greek-speaking intellectuals won the favor of philhellene emperors such as Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. Aristides would profit much from living in an age of such stability and prosperity. He was born in 117 ad, the year in which Hadrian came to power, and he lived until at least 180.3 His adult life coincided with the reign of Antoninus Pius, and in particular Marcus Aurelius, who, apart from being an emperor, was a scholar and philosopher who chose to write in Greek. Aristides and Marcus Aurelius shared two teachers, Herodes Atticus and Alexander of Cotiaeum, and they had an epistolary relationship. The major part of Aristides’s life was also spent in the cradle of the Second Sophistic. He was a native of Hadrianoutherai, in Mysia, a city recently founded by Hadrian. But he had close ties with Smyrna, “the hearth of the continent” (Or. 17.13)4 in terms of education and culture, of which he became an eminent citizen, and which he praised in high-flown terms (Or. 17 and Or. 18–20).5 He also had ties with Pergamum, which was a center of culture and religious debate,6 and where he made visits to the sanctuary of Asclepius over many years. Finally, his education and activities spanned the pedagogical and professional gamut of the Second Sophistic. He came from a wealthy family, and was a Roman citizen (on the base of a statue there are the tria nomina, ΠόπλιοςΑἴλιος Ἀριστείδης, along with the epithet Θεώδορος).7 He received a thorough rhetorical and literary education. In Smyrna he studied with Alexander of Cotiaeum,8 and he attended lectures by Polemon of Laodicea. In Pergamum, he frequented Aristocles, and in Athens, Herodes Atticus. Through his studies, he acquired an uncommon knowledge of the classical authors: Plato; the poets Homer, Simonides, and Pindar; the historians; and the orators Isocrates and Demosthenes. He acquired a precise knowledge of Greek history, and was a distinguished practitioner of the Attic dialect.9 At an early age, his mentors assured him that he could look forward to a literary career of the first rank (prôteuein, Or. 33.17). In order to complete his studies, and to develop his activity as an orator and teacher, he undertook a number of journeys. In 141, he set out for Egypt, where he spent two years. He honed his talent in the places he visited: Cos, Knidos, Rhodes, and Alexandria. He also began teaching, notably in Cyzicus, and subsequently visited Rome, Athens, and other cities, where he made speeches. He argued in favor of concord, so as to limit the rivalries between Smyrna, Ephesus, and Pergamum for the attribution of honors, and advocated the resolution of internal strife, notably in Rhodes (Or. 23 and Or. 24). He attended ceremonies during which he delivered, among others, the Panathenaikos, hymns in honor of divinities, a discourse on Apellas’s birthday (Or. 30), and funeral orations for his student Eteoneus and his master Alexander (Or. 31 and Or. 32).10 In this way he built up a considerable body of work. Some of his orations were given in public, some were meant only to be read. But all, it would seem, were intended for publication; which no doubt required one or more rewritings.11
Though being without question a cultured individual (pepaideumenos), with links to the domains of knowledge and power, practicing epideictic and deliberative eloquence as a counselor, declaimer, and formal speaker, Aristides was also, as Philostratus said, an idiosyncratic member of his intellectual milieu.
(p. 257) Throughout his career he was stricken with bouts of illness,12 though in fact his physical and mental states were the mainspring of his creativity. During his first visit to Rome (between late 143 and some time in 144), which he hoped would bring him professional success, he became seriously indisposed (Or. 48.60–70). And from then on he oscillated between periods of good health, during which he traveled around Asia Minor, delivering orations and lectures, and periods of treatment, often at the Asclepieion, for pathologies both acute and chronic.
The unexpected benefits produced by Aristides’s physical condition were a result of the personal relationship he established with the god Asclepius, in whom he found not just a doctor capable of assuaging his maladies (Or. 48.5–7; 50.32–37), but also a mentor in rhetoric. He quotes Pardalas, “the greatest expert of the Greeks of our time in the science of oratory,” as saying that “he believed that I had become ill through some divine good fortune, so that by my association with the god, I might make this improvement” (Or. 50.27).
From then on, Aristides regarded his activity as a divine mission. And with oratory having received the divine seal of approval, he saw it as the discipline that dominated, ordered, and educated the world.13
Another of Aristides’s distinguishing features was his ambiguous relationship with fame and power. Though he claimed to value only the judgment of his peers (Or. 34.38–47), he clearly courted the approval of both the public and the Roman authorities. He ended a hymn to Athena, for example, with the hope that he would win “honor from both our emperors,” and also be “best in wisdom and oratory” (Or. 37.29).14
Acclaim was not lacking, indeed. Aristides spoke of it himself, both in passing (Or. 42.14) and in detail,15 painting a self-portrait of a rhetor lauded for his eloquence and the masterful nature of his performances. This image, though suspect in its complacency, was in fact corroborated by the award of several honors (Or. 51.56),16 besides his personal relationships with emperors. The oration he delivered before Marcus Aurelius and Commodus in Smyrna in 176 won him their official recognition, and this encouraged him to write to them, on his own initiative, a letter that has remained famous, asking for their help in the reconstruction of the city after its destruction by an earthquake in 178.17 But he had to put up some stern resistance in order to avoid taking on the civic functions that would normally have been accepted by a person in his position: eirenarch in Adriani, prytan in Smyrna, tax collector, priest of Asclepius. This suggests that, although he had a number of students, including Eteoneus in Cyzicus, Damian of Ephesus, and Apellas, he did not hold a teaching position (see Or. 50.87) of the kind that would automatically have exempted him from such “liturgies.”18
Another of Aristides’s distinguishing traits was his avoidance of what Philostratus considered to be the touchstone of oratorical prowess, namely improvisation on a theme suggested by a member of the audience. But in Philostratus’s view, which he set out at some length, this was a deliberate choice, not a weakness. During the aforementioned imperial visit to Smyrna, Aristides postponed his address to the emperors for a day because, as he stated, he was “one of those who do not vomit their speeches but polish (p. 258) them.”19 And when he gave his address, he did so with “an admirable impetuosity of speech.”20 That being said, Philostratus was persuaded that in private he worked assiduously on his improvising skills.21 At any rate, in order to absolve Aristides for what, in the end, he evidently could not but see as a shortcoming, Philostratus depicted him as an orator of great erudition (eupaideusia)22 who was also the most skilled (technikos) of the sophists, and who worked to eliminate excess and triviality (kouphologia). In his text on Aristides, Philostratus plays up the value of technical and formal talent, while playing down the kind of bravura display that is commented on approvingly elsewhere in the Lives of the Sophists.
And in fact Aristides’s broad-ranging work included metadiscursive reflection and comments on rhetoric itself. While remaining to some extent within the framework of classical oratory, he adapted its forms to his own purposes, and reflected on its object, the logos.
His is the largest extant body of work by an orator of the Second Sophistic, comprising fifty complete orations, two that are incomplete (Or. 52, the sixth Sacred Tale, and Or. 53, A Panegyric on the Water in Pergamum) and one that is considered apocryphal23 (Or. 35, Regarding the Emperor).24
A Bridge between the Two Sophistics
Aristides was among those who bore out Philostratus’s view that the Sophistic of the Roman era was indeed “second” (deutera), rather than “new” (nea). And in formal terms, the classical Greek heritage was apparent in many of his orations, with their pure Atticism and their exemplification of rhetorical genres. But in a world where political messages were no longer delivered at the same times or places as before, he favored epideictic rhetoric. A prime example of this is the Panathenaikos, a long eulogy to Athens with a title that echoes an oration by Isocrates, to whose Panegyricus it also looks for inspiration, while part of its topos and its periodization of history come from classical funeral orations.25 Other works, such as the orations on Pergamum, Ephesus, Smyrna (Or. 23), and Rhodes (Or. 24), fall into the category of deliberative rhetoric. Nor is the forensic mode absent, given that the “Platonic discourses” (Or. 2–4) present themselves as defenses of oratory.
But Aristides goes further still in his work on literature. He reproduces the traits of the classical age by donning the personas of ancient orators. On one occasion, for example, “I immediately accepted the omen of Demosthenes speaking again” (Or. 50.18).26 He gives a voice to real or imagined orators, translocating the enunciative situation to the classical era in such a way as to enter into the Peloponnesian war in medias res,27 or to grapple with the complexity of relations between Greek cities during the fourth century bc.28 Beyond the appearance of an academic exercise, this is a novel form of mimesis. But it also involves a genuinely creative process that modern critics have tended to overlook.
(p. 259) Rhetoric and Literary Innovation
This creative process resulted from conscious work on the part of Aristides. He reworked and modified the precepts and topoi laid down by the theoreticians. His eulogy of Rome, for example, is totally silent about the history of the city and the empire. The hymns to the gods claim the right to use prose, not poetry. The Sacred Tales represent a personalization of the hieros logos. These are among the indications that Aristides was acutely conscious of genres, and that he wanted to work on rhetoric with a view to literary innovation. Such an approach to rhetoric was infused with the importance he ascribed to the function, and the power, of the logos in the human world, and the vocation of the orator. His work derives its underlying coherence from the logos, and it can only benefit from being read in that light. What was unusual was not so much his vision (one may recall Isocrates’s eulogy of the gift of speech) as the strength of his identification with it. “For me, oratory means everything, signifies everything. For I have made it children, parents. . . . This is my play, this is my work. In this I rejoice, this I admire, its doors I haunt” (Or. 33.20).
Oratory as a Mission, and the Sacred Tales as Its Manifesto
According to Aristides, it was at an early age that he formed the conviction of having been chosen by Asclepius, and of being given unique protection by the god. This resulted in an experience that was both intellectual and therapeutic; which is what he relates in the Sacred Tales, whose themes are clinical and medical (with a combination of psychological and affective components), and also rhetorical, building up, little by little, a picture of an orator mandated by a god to assume the mantle of his art.
The Sacred Tales have no parallel in ancient literature. They take the form of a narration29 that evokes the visions and dreams in which Asclepius regularly appeared to Aristides over a total of almost twenty years (143–155, then 165–171). Only a god could cure his maladies (Or. 47.57): acute conditions such as septicemia and tumors, or chronic respiratory and digestive problems.30 And the different remedies he describes—some conventional, others of the nature of paradoxical therapy—did make a significant contribution to the medical lore of the time.
But Asclepius also took in hand Aristides’s soul and mind, influencing his psychological and intellectual activities as a teacher (didaskalos), encouraging and advising him in his oratorical practice (Or. 42.11–12; 50.26),31 and introducing him to his illustrious predecessors (Or. 50.24). In the Sacred Tales, Aristides is carrying out a threefold task. Like Helen relating the misfortunes of Odysseus, he is thanking Asclepius by making a selective list (though it could not, in any event, have been exhaustive) of (p. 260) “all the achievements of the Savior, which I have enjoyed to this very day” (Or. 47.1); he is celebrating the god whose manifestations of solicitude he reports; and he is bearing witness to a consummate experience by giving structured form to a collection of notes compiled over a long period (Or. 48.1–4, 8).32
Retracing the history of a personal relationship with a god, and a divine cure, the Sacred Tales tell us of a pilgrimage that brings together a body, a voyage, and a miracle,33 clothed in the religious character of the Second Sophistic. Aristides is both praising a god and talking about himself; or rather, he is talking about himself through his praise of a god.34 In the triangular relationship between his ill health, his god, and his orations,35 he portrays himself as an inspired author, hypocritès, both the god’s voice and actor (Or. 42.12) who claims divine inspiration for his logos. He thus uses this covert strategy of self-promotion36 to build an image of a rhetor who, as a prophet of Asclepius (Or. 50.48), and in the eyes of the Roman authorities, is the “first of the Greeks and supreme in oratory” (Or. 50.87). Apart from the Sacred Tales, the way in which he saw the prestige and consistency of his intellectual career is clearly demonstrated in An Address concerning Asclepius (Or. 42): it was Asclepius who inspired the works that won him plaudits both from people and authorities, friendships with the “divine emperors,” and marks of favour on the part of “the whole Imperial chorus” (Or. 42.11–14).
In formal terms too, the title Hieroi Logoi merits attention. It stakes a claim for the work to be regarded as a manifestation of devotion to Asclepius, with the same degree of legitimacy as ex votos, aretalogical inscriptions, and confessional stelae. Furthermore, it uses a textual form that is generally reserved for aetiological reports of religious activities or ceremonies to talk about its author’s literary work and oratory, along with his psychological, somatic, and intellectual experience, thereby giving a clearly religious tone to what were among the traditional secular aspirations of the Roman Empire’s Greek-speaking elite: oratorical success and honors. The work is also important for its style of presentation of the self, with a narrative based on an anamnesis whose combination of reality and dreams37 goes beyond the mnemotechnics to which the rhetors’ technique has often been reduced.
Though not exactly an autobiography in the generally accepted sense, the Sacred Tales do mark an important stage in the literary history of sensibility and subjectivity.38 They have been given different types of reading—biographical, psychological, psychoanalytic, medical, etc.39 They had no real contemporary equivalent, but nor were they entirely unique. They are related to oneiromancy as it was practiced at the time, and to Marcus Aurelius’s spiritual exercises. They also bring to mind certain Christian accounts of mystical journeys and miraculous healing.40
The image of eloquence and the orator is not set down once and for all in a text manifesto. Far from it! Aristides brandished his conception of the oratorical art like a flag of war. He turned it into a combat that fed into the entire polemical side of his work. To begin with, it was against Plato that he opened the conflict, across the centuries, in order to reply to Socrates’s attacks on rhetoric (Or. 2–4). It was also with different groups of his contemporaries (rival sophists, students, philosophers) that he crossed (p. 261) swords (Or. 28, 33, 34). And finally, he competed with poetry to impose prose in religious hymns (Or. 37–46).
A Polemic across the Centuries: The Platonic Discourses
Aristides’s most serious disagreement was with a philosopher who had lived five centuries before his own time. In response to the attacks elaborated by Plato in the Gorgias, he composed two long orations in defense of rhetoric, and of four great Athenian politicians: Pericles, Cimon, Miltiades, and Themistocles.41 Rhetoric, for him, was no mere shadow (eidôlon) of technê; nor was it marked by the kolakeia that Socrates saw in it (Grg 462b–466a). And in his view, the accusation that the four statesmen had flattered their fellow citizens rather than striving to make them better human beings (Grg 151c–517c) flew in the face of reason and justice.
For Aristides, the stakes were high: it was a question of vindicating rhetoric against philosophy, and showing that oratory could be wholly beneficial to individuals and societies. In order to do so, the tactic he chose was to present Plato, whom he actually admired,42 as nothing less than an unwitting rhetor. He used Platonic terminology and concepts against Plato himself—though sometimes, it has to be said, in a distorted interpretation. He would regularly “construe a sentence in a positive light, where Plato was in fact being critical.”43 Thus he was able to postulate that Plato had a correct conception of rhetoric (Or. 4.8), and could even be termed “the father and teacher of orators” (Or. 2.465).44
In this way, Aristides killed two birds with one stone: he cleared rhetoric of Socrates’s accusations, and he preserved—indeed he co-opted—the prestige of Plato, whose work, he argued, lent itself to a moralistically sophist reading. This was an operation of fundamental importance. By substituting rhetoric for philosophy in the current of intellectual history, he put it forward as the foundation of politics, responsible (like Isocrates’s logos) for maintaining social cohesion and the fundamental possibility of life in common (Or. 2.210), while preventing force from becoming dominant, and also preserving the conditions for constitutional governance (Or. 2.205–234). Rhetoric both creates and, “like some sleepless guard” (Or. 2.401), preserves justice, law, and social life.
What emerges from this defense of speech—and speeches—is a portrait of the orator as a man of virtue (anêr aristos: Or. 2.429) who mirrors the four facets of Platonic virtue: intelligence, moderation, justice, and courage (Or. 2.235–236; 3.597). This political and ethical definition of eloquence as being both practically beneficial and morally instructive is in line with Isocrates’s philosophia and its pedagogical applications;45 to which must be added, in keeping with the Sacred Tales, the religious dimension that allowed Aristides to rediscover Plato via the Phaedrus. Oratory was inspired by the (p. 262) gods, and what for Aristides is real rhetoric could take its place beside prophetic and poetic mania.46
This view of the orator as an individual with a mission47 bears a strong resemblance to the way Aristides saw himself. Like Socrates, in particular, he stood aside from politics.48 In Oration 2.429–433, for example, he describes an era in which political debate no longer makes sense, since “the government is now differently constituted.”
Glory, distinction, and honor accrue to Aristides (Or. 2.430). But he himself is not interested in pandering to the mob, or in monetary gain. He is devoted to rhetoric for its own sake, with Asclepius as “the leader and patron of my life and speech” (Or. 2.429).49 Steeped in rhetoric, he imagines a new version of the Prometheus myth, in which it is not aidôs (mutual respect) and dikê (justice) that make life in society possible, but the oratorical art. This, however, is a gift that is now possessed only by “the best, the noblest, and those with the strongest natures . . . so that at the same time they could save themselves and others.” And thus the myth of Prometheus—he who founded the principles of democratic expression—can be used to justify the domination of an elite. Oratory is no longer characterized by the power of persuasion alone, as Isocrates had it,50 but by a force acting “from the top to the bottom, with orators who prefer law and order to confusion, preach internal as well as external concord, and prevent uproar, disorder, and faction.”51
A Polemic in the Debates of the Day
Aristides’s image of himself and his art casts light on the different polemics in which he engaged with his contemporaries. Several of his works (notably Or. 28, 33, and 34) allude to the intellectual debates, jealousies, and quarrels that littered the careers of these men of letters and culture, while also providing insights into his personality. In Or. 28, Concerning a Remark in Passing,52 he answers criticisms that had been directed at him because a hymn to Athena that he recited during an informal meeting of the faithful at the Asclepieum contained some incidental remarks (paraphthegmata) in praise of his own rhetorical and literary merits. He does not recant his words, but claims that they were dictated to him by the goddess herself: in fact, there had been many poets, orators, historians, and philosophers before him who had sung their own praises, and had met with no reproach. On the contrary, they had won approval for their haughty, noble stance.
Oration 28 is illuminating in several respects. It presents pride as something inherent in the Greek character (Or. 28.152); and the “incidental remarks” are a “eulogy of oneself” which, far from being a source of embarrassment, situates Aristides in a prestigious literary lineage. In any case, the numinous nature of the subject indemnifies it against any hint of impropriety.53 Aristides wishes to “lay claim to his rights as an author.”54 In a manner redolent of the Sacred Tales, he adduces divine inspiration as a vindication of his claim to total freedom of expression, and his right to formulate his viewpoint as he sees fit.55
(p. 263) Another aspect of the friction that existed between Aristides and his contemporaries is illustrated by Oration 33, To Those Who Criticize Him because He Does Not Declaim, written in 166/167 as a reply to those of his followers who would have wished him to give them more guidance in the techniques of rhetoric. He finds them insufficiently studious, and once again there is the self-image of someone who affirms that he has always been a “true lover” of orations (Or. 33.19–20), who delivers as many of them as he can, and who is attentive to his followers (Or. 33.21–22, 23).
And in the final polemical oration, Oration 34, Against Those Who Burlesque the Mysteries (of Oratory), probably written in 166, Aristides talks about the issues that divide the “Atticist” and “Asianist” modes of rhetoric. As a fervent Atticist himself, he criticizes his adversaries for the way they deform and debase the art. Declaiming in a melodic mode, they are like hermaphrodites or eunuchs, lyrists, or courtesans (Or. 34.45–47, 48, and 55). They bow to the whims of the public, like “the chorus leader who made quite a pretty picture by following his chorus” (Or. 34.47). In sum, they are lacking in classical oratory’s essential qualities, reflection, and argumentation (Or. 34.45), which are the sources of its persuasive power and its ability to improve the citizen’s soul (Or. 34.53).56
It is clear that the difference was far from being purely lexical or stylistic. For Aristides, Asianism was a corruption of rhetoric, in the moral sense. Worse still, its deviations from the rules that governed liberal education posed a threat to the established order.
Against the Hegemony of Poetry
Aristides’s promotion of the religious hymn in prose was another exercise of a polemical nature, in which he set out to renew a literary genre that had up to then been the preserve of poetry. The ten surviving examples by him (Or. 37–46) were composed at different points in his career. Most are addressed to gods (Athena, Heracles, Dionysus, Zeus, Sarapis, Poseidon, Asclepius, and the sons of the latter), but there are two that deal with sacred or “divinized” subjects: the well in Asclepius’s sanctuary and the Aegean sea. They are notable for the literary credo they advance, which is that prose is more appropriate than poetry as a vehicle for hymns in honor of the gods.
Aristides gave this type of discourse a new characteristic form,57 and in the long methodological prologue to his hymn Regarding Sarapis (Or. 45)58 he accords it a privileged status. He discusses the respective merits of poetry and prose in speaking either of or to the gods; and in both cases he finds prose to be more suitable for the purpose. Not that he rejects the idea of hymns in verse out of hand. Poetry has undeniable value (Or. 45.1). But it must be grasped in its totality, not subjected to intellectual or logical analysis. He recognizes the efficacy of poetry, but intends to promote the clarity and truth telling he associates with prose. Its topoi allow it to treat its subjects rigorously, without ornamental epithets or abstruse metaphors; which means that it can attain a high degree of precision (Or. 45.9). Prose is truth, because it does not indiscriminately incorporate the various mythological canons. And finally, although (p. 264) the poets use “metron,” in the technical prosodic sense, they possess neither its literary form, which lays down “the correct, economical use of words and intervals,”59 nor its moral form, which implies a sense of measure such as is indispensable to an accurate vision of the world. In raising the question of religious language, Aristides makes an important contribution to the long-running debate about the relationship between the poetic and the divine.60
Thus is the portrait of the ideal orator completed. Not only is he a beneficiary of divine inspiration, but he is in direct contact with the world of the deities. And there is an oracular character to Aristides’s accounts of his dreams—he sees himself as an intermediary between men and gods. For him, more than an art, rhetoric is a mystical activity, a sacred technê.
A New Vision of the World
Aristides’s views on the purpose and power of oratory are framed by a world that is under Roman domination, but whose adornments are the cities of Greece and Asia Minor. And this opens up a certain way of looking at his eulogies of cities, which constitute the finest examples of his epideictic work, in particular On Rome (Or. 26), no doubt composed in 144,61 and the Panathenaikos (Or. 1), celebrating a city that had been reinvigorated by Hadrian, and which was also delivered there, possibly during the Great Panathenaea of 155. The two orations could well be seen as a diptych, contrasting the cultural power of Athens with the political and administrative power of Rome.62 But beyond this demarcation of attributes, one might also look at the exchanges that took place between the two representations.
At first sight, the Panathenaikos is an extended historical overview of Athens from the time of the autochthons to that of Alexander, then moving on to Aristides’s own day. And in this respect it deviates from the usual topos of the eulogy, with chronology taking precedence over axiology.63 But this history is in reality an immobile history, being that of a people seen not as individuals but as a collective entity whose virtues derive from an original philanthropia. This opens up an interpretive schema in which the history of the Greeks is seen as a twofold movement involving, first, refuge and protection for other peoples (and here, Aristides is being faithful to Isocrates, and to the tradition of the funeral oration), and second, the propagation of Greek values across the world. So Athens is both philanthropic and (culturally, at least) hegemonic, and can now view itself in the light of a new dunamis: its real empire is not ephemeral, or limited by the action of three hundred triremes that win the occasional victory (Or. 1.322), but embodied in its culture, and the Greek language, with their subtle but irresistible aura (Or. 1.322–329). Presenting the city as an incarnation of refinement and civilization, untouched by the vagaries of history, Aristides makes it clear that Hellenism, by its very nature, is not to be evaluated according to contingent, temporal considerations. The values celebrated by Pericles (p. 265) are still there, but they have shifted their nature and become imperial values, centered on concord and consensus.64
Where the Panathenaikos sets Athens firmly within the Roman world, On Rome is a vibrant tribute to the projection of political, military, and administrative power. But what it describes is not an entirely new dispensation. And Aristides is clear about this: Rome simply took up where Greece left off. Governing the world as a single polis (Or. 26.36), it has imposed a type of order that it defines as a “common democracy of the world,” under the authority of “one man, the best ruler and director” (Or. 26.60). Rome sees Greece as its forebear, to be respected as such; it also enlightens the barbarians (Or. 26.96) and showers gifts on cities, “with an equal generosity toward all” (Or. 26.98), true to the founding ethos of Athens.
Rome’s destiny, in conclusion, is to historicize the perfection of Greece. The world can identify and judge itself only through Greek concepts. Rome may be the dominant influence, but the template remains Greek. Aristides’s eulogies, while reflecting the idea of a distinction between a civilizing power and a ruling power, also touch on the loans and borrowings that have taken place between them, with the implication that in the end they are interdependent.
It is difficult to gauge the true nature of Aristides’s loyalty to Rome.65 It was a sentiment he frequently expressed, for example in his exchanges with the emperors, or in the prayers for the perpetuation of the imperial dynasty that round out a number of his orations (e.g., Or. 26.109; 30.28; 46.42). But this does not nullify the lucidity of various remarks he makes about the situation of Athens and Greece under the Roman Empire (Or. 1.332), or a few of his silences that speak louder than words.66 And like Plutarch, or Dio of Prusa, he notes that Rome habitually reserves a right of intervention in the affairs of others.
Between Aristides’s acceptance of the Roman political order and his reverence for the Greek past, are there inconsistencies, or even contradictions? The fact is that his vision of the world was not predicated on a logic of either distinctive or exclusive values, but came about as an accretion of viewpoints. Each of his works brought together a different combination of qualities. And the qualities in question were essentially those of the world as he found it.
Though he was sometimes seen as backward-looking, Aristides’s interest in the past was quite specifically orientated. The quotations and references with which his work is strewn are indicative of the pleasure he took in the cultural heritage he shared with his audience of listeners and readers. And it is clear that the past was something he made use of in constructing an ideal image of Hellenism, for example in his encomiums to Athens, or his defense of the statesmen pilloried by Plato. But these references, far from being colored by denial or nostalgia, were prisms through which he looked at his own world. Thus, the history of Athens was the materialization of Hellenism. Rome had no past. And Plato, unbeknown to himself, had been an orator of an “imperial” age.
In the end, it was his own world that Aristides exalted. He celebrated the grandeur of Greece, and of the provinces that had been Hellenized, with their religious festivals and hymns, the beauty of their architecture, their language and literature. He imagined the (p. 266) cities of Asia Minor coming together to bury their rivalries. But he was also on familiar terms with the Romans. And he gave a running account of his dealings with gods and humans.
For him, rhetoric was the mode of writing and thinking that connected the world as he knew it to the classical period as he viewed it.
Though pedantic and prickly, Aristides was lavish in his praise of the peace and prosperity the Roman Empire had brought into being. War having been relegated to the past as myths (Or. 26.70), this was a time for festivals (Or. 26.97–99) and for travel, which was facilitated by maritime corridors rendered safe from depredation (e.g., Or. 1.9–12; 26.101–106). His work is a ringing endorsement of urban civilization during the Antonine era.67 But in his celebration of the Aegean sea and the Cyclades, he also talks about the opulence and unity of that region in a way that denotes a certain eastward shift in the center of gravity of the world. Among the cities that “shine with radiance and grace,” so that “the whole earth has been adorned like a pleasure garden” (Or. 26.99),68 he talks in particular about those to which he is most attached: Smyrna, a seat of culture and beauty (Or. 17.13; Or. 29.2 and 33);69 Pergamum, which at that time was experiencing a regeneration of its intellectual and religious life, centered on the Asclepieum, with its library, theater, and new temple; and Corinth, whose wealth and splendor he so admired (Or. 46). In a world like this, it is clear that if rhetoric was to further common values then it had to be epideictic (Or. 2.411).
Over time, there have been significant changes in attitudes to Aristides’s work.70 That he was no stranger to success in his own lifetime can be seen not only from the official recognition he achieved, but also, if indirectly, from the types of attack that were leveled at him. Early on, he won favor with the theorists and exponents of oratory (Pseudo-Aristides’s The Art of Rhetoric, Menander Rhetor, and Sopater who, in the fourth century, wrote the Prolegomena to Aristides), along with the grammarians and lexicographers who saw his work as the acme of Atticism (Pseudo-Longinus,71 Thomas Magister in the fourteenth century). Libanius was so fascinated by his work and opinions that he modeled his own oratorical output on that of his predecessor, whom he admired so much.72 Somewhat more surprisingly, he was a subject of interest to exegetes of Plato: up to the time of Michael Psellos in the eleventh century, at least, the Platonic discourses featured in philosophical discussions.
In Late Antiquity and the Byzantine Middle Ages, it was the Panathenaikos and the major epideictic and moral orations73 that shone most brightly. But there were other works—e.g., the Platonic discourses, notably To Plato: In Defense of the Four, Or. 3, and the Sacred Tales—which, while standing outside the traditional typology of rhetorical genres, attracted attention.74
During the Renaissance, Aristides faded into the shadows, being rediscovered only in the twentieth century by W. Schmid, U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, A. Boulanger, F. W. Lenz, and C. A. Behr. This rediscovery was, however, often accompanied by pejorative judgments which limned Aristides as a representative of a scholastic, artificial form of literature, often cut off from the real, contemporary world, and which introduced serious misreadings inspired by outdated prejudices.
(p. 267) Since the 1970s, Aristides has been the subject of a fresh evaluation. He is now seen as a source of material for new institutional, social, and religious approaches to history—that of the Antonine period, that of rhetoric, that of worldviews. In sum, he has recovered something of the reputation for which, as an orator-writer, he worked so hard.
As he himself said, it was also with future generations that he wanted to converse (Or. 51.52).
On some particular discourses: Oration 1 (The Panathenaic Oration), see Oliver 1968, Oudot 2006a, 2006b; Orationes 2–4 (The Platonic Discourses), see Flinterman, 2002a and 2002b, Milazzo 2002, and Pernot 1993b; Orationes 17–21 (Smyrnaean Orations), see Franco 2005 and Quet 2006; Oration 26 (Regarding Rome), see Oliver 1953; Oration 28 (Concerning a Remark in Passing), see Miletti 2011, Rutherford 1995; Orationes 30–34, see Vix 2010; Orationes 37–46 (Hymns), see Goeken 2012; Orationes 47–52 (Sacred Tales), see Downie 2013, Pernot 2002, Quet 1993; on his lost work, Robert 2012. English translations in Behr 1981–1986.
Boulanger 1923 is ancient and in French, but was the real first monograph upon this author.
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(1.) Behr 1994, 1163–1177. Aristides used the term “sophist” to denigrate the “Asianists” (Against Those Who Burlesque the Mysteries [of Oratory], Or. 34) or personal rivals (e.g., Or. 33.29). But he also used it in the neutral sense of “teacher,” and in particular “public teacher” (Puech 2002, 10–15).
(3.) Most of the biographical information about Aristides that is to be found in the present text comes from his own work (and in particular the Sacred Tales; Or. 47–52), Philostratus, 2.9.581–585, Sopatros’s Prolegomena (ed. F. W. Lenz, 1959), the Suda and various epigraphic sources. Behr (1968, 1994) gives a version which, though detailed, is sometimes conjectural. See also Bowie 1996.
(10.) Or. 32, taking the form of a letter to the magistrates of Cotiaeum.
(11.) The hymns (Or. 37–46), among others, were written down before being presented orally, and were later reworked. In other words, they were aimed firstly at listeners, then at readers.
(12.) Philostr. VS 581.
(13.) See, for example, Or. 46, The Isthmian Oration: Regarding Poseidon.
(15.) The Sacred Tales contain many references to the esteem in which he is held, e.g., Or. 48, 82; Or. 50, 48, 91, 95, 102; Or. 51, 29.
(18.) He gives a detailed account of his requests to the proconsul of Asia not to serve as an eirenarch in Adriani. And the emperors apparently sent a letter to the authorities in Smyrna confirming his fiscal exemption. Each time, he won his point, and was heaped with honors and excuses (Or. 50, 72–108). See Bowersock 1969, 36–41; Puech 2002, 27; Sartre 1991, 144–147.
(19.) Philostr. VS 583.
(20.) Philostr. VS 583.
(21.) Philostr. VS 583.
(22.) Philostr. VS 585.
(24.) See Bowie 1996 for a classification: the “epideictic” orations (in praise of cities: Or. 1 [Panathenaikos], Or. 18 and 21 [Smyrna], Or. 22 [Eleusis], Or. 26 [Rome], Or. 27 [Cyzicus], Or. 46 [Corinth], and those that commemorate a funeral [Or. 31 and 32] or a birthday [Or. 30]); the “deliberative,” or “polemical,” orations, which are either political (Or. 23 and 24) or related to Aristides’s career in rhetoric (the Platonic discourses, Or. 2–4); Or. 28, 29, 33, and 34; the Sacred Tales (Or. 47–52); the “declamations” (Or. 5–16); and the “hymns in prose” (Or. 37–46). There is also an essay on the source of the Nile, Or. 36.
(26.) See also Or. 28.6, 47.16, and 50.15.
(27.) Or. 5 and 6, the “Sicilian orations,” for and against sending reinforcements to Sicily; Or. 7 and 8, the “orations for peace.”
(28.) Or. 9 and 10, “orations on the alliance with the Thebans”; Or. 11–15, the “Leuctran orations.”
(31.) It is essentially in Or. 50 and 51 that Asclepius is spoken of as providing Aristides with methods for developing his rhetorical talents.
(32.) Philostr VS 581. On Asclepius’s actions in different domains, see, in particular, Or. 42.
(38.) See, for example, Or. 51.56, where Aristides goes from a psychological assessment of middle life to an expression of his spiritual fulfilment.
(39.) Petsalis-Diomidis 2010, 122–124. Recent research has relocated the Sacred Tales within the study of religion and culture in the second century (Nicosia 1979, 1988). Anthropological approaches have also been developed recently; see chapters by Holmes, Downie, and Petsalis-Diomidis in Harris and Holmes 2008.
(41.) Or. 2 (To Plato: In Defense of Oratory) and Or. 3 (To Plato: In Defense of the Four). There is also a brief work, Or. 4 (To Capito), in which Aristides replies to the criticisms of a contemporary philosopher. See Milazzo 2002.
(42.) Or. 50.57, 51.57–66, gives a significant dream in which Plato is quoted favourably (Or. 51.58), and is placed above Demosthenes and Homer (Or. 51.63).
(46.) Or. 2.52.
(47.) See Or. 3.672, for a contrasted portrait.
(48.) Pl. Ap. 31 c–d.
(56.) In this passage, Aristides rejoins the spirit of the Gorgias (503a), which he also draws on for his definition of eloquence.
(57.) There was already a tradition of prose hymns, and Aristides did not claim to be innovating in this area (see Or. 40.1, 44.1), though it is true that references in Greek sources are rare. He himself also composed hymns in verse (Bowie 1989; Goeken 2012, 66–69). His use of prose was thus a deliberate choice.
(67.) See, however, Or. 51.56, where Aristides regrets that, given his poor health, he has not been able to visit as many cities as he would have liked.
(68.) On urban development, see also Or. 26.97.
(71.) Fragment 50.12, ed. Patillon-Brisson.
(73.) Or. 18, 23, 24, 26, 27, and 34.