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This book offers translations of ten rhetorical declamations of the fourth-century AD sophist Libanius of Antioch and some related texts, almost all appearing for the first time in a modern language. In these works the declaimer impersonates such mythological or historical figures as Poseidon, Paris, Achilles, and Orestes, either in court (as prosecutor or defendant) or by trying to persuade his audience to take a course of action. The texts illustrate the sophist's eloquence and had an educational purpose in the schools, but were also delivered before adult audiences. They also put the Hellenic past on display for audiences of the Greek East in the Roman Empire. The annotated translations are accompanied by analyses of their themes, structure, and argumentation.
Most scholars who have come to Libanius have not been likely to engage with the Declamations. They are rhetorical exercises, and until recently rhetoric in general has not had a good press in modern times. They are pieces on imaginary themes primarily associated with the school curriculum. Why go to them when we have Libanius’ orations on real-life themes and his letters, both filled with a wealth of contemporary political, social, prosopographical and cultural information? Nor does one have to visit the declamations to see Libanius’ oratorical skills in full swing; they are fully visible in the orations on real-life themes. Yet to neglect the declamations is to overlook a segment of his work that apparently he himself, as well as his ancient and Byzantine editors, wanted to be part of his literary legacy. This in itself should draw our attention to the declamations. Nor is Libanius the only ancient rhetor or sophist whose literary legacy includes declamations. Aelius Aristides’ corpus includes twelve (Orations 5–16 Lenz-Behr), and we know of other lost declamations of his that he might have been happy to have had preserved. Among Himerius’ orations there are five declamations, although we have only excerpts of them (Orations 1–5 Colonna). The corpus of Choricius of Gaza includes twelve declamations. Even Lucian’s varied oeuvre has four straight sophistic declamations: Phalaris I and II, Tyrannicide and Abdicatus. In its many articles on imperial sophists, the Suda (c. ad 1000) often mentions declamations (meletai) among their works, as it does in its article on Libanius (Λ 486 Adler); occasionally it mentions only a sophist’s declamations.
The first translation, produced by a team of eight scholars, of the Declamations and Preliminary Talks of the sixth-century sophist Choricius of Gaza. Declamations, deliberative or judicial orations on fictitious themes, were the fundamental advanced exercises of the rhetorical schools of the Roman Empire, of interest also to audiences outside the schools. Some of Choricius' declamations are on generic themes (e.g. a tyrannicide, a war-hero), while others are based on specific motifs from Homeric times or from classical Greek history. The Preliminary Talks were typical prefaces to orations of all kinds. This volume also contains a detailed study of Choricius' reception in Byzantium and Renaissance Italy. It will be of interest to students of late antiquity, ancient rhetoric, and ancient education.