Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.08.57 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.08.57

Odile Lagacherie, Pierre-Louis Malosse (ed.), Libanios, le premier humaniste. Études en hommage à Bernard Schouler (Actes du colloque de Montpellier, 18-20 mars 2010). Cardo, 9.   Alessandria:  Edizioni dell'Orso, 2011.  Pp. viii, 242.  ISBN 9788862743174.  €25.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Delphine Lauritzen, Centre d’Histoire et Civilisation de Byzance, Paris, CNRS-UMR 8167 Orient et Méditerranée (

Table of Contents

This fine collection of seventeen articles (in French, English, Italian and Spanish) is dedicated to Bernard Schouler, in recognition of his pioneering research on the fourth-century sophist Libanius from Antioch. The main theme – Libanius as the first humanist – ensures the coherence and quality of the volume and allows this book to stand out among the increasing number of critical studies produced on Libanius over the past twenty years (no fewer than 130 publications, among which are around thirty books, as Malosse points out in his foreword). The volume takes into account all the genres in which Libanius excelled (official speeches, declamations, progymnasmata and letters). Following the innovative path opened by Schouler,1 the authors focus on Libanius’ ‘Hellenism’ rather than on the interest that his texts can have for history. The idea is that many themes of Libanius’ work can be seen as pre-figuring what was to be, about a millennium later, the humanist movement: political thought, care for education, the importance granted to language, psychological analysis, the use of rhetoric and its commitment to the good, and finally the reinterpretation of the history and mythological inheritance of classical Greece (p. v).

The chapters are grouped together in four units. The two first articles contextualize the overall theme (I) ‘L’humanisme chez Libanios, Libanios chez les humanistes’. In (1) “Libanios le premier humaniste”, Bernard Schouler sets the line of this collective reflection. To him, the fact that the Byzantines called Libanius ‘the little Demosthenes’ can be interpreted not only with reference to the purity and vigor of his style but also with respect to the political and ethical model represented by Demosthenes. Luigi-Alberto Sanchi builds on this view in (2) “Diffusion et réception de Libanios à la Renaissance”, showing how the abundance of surviving manuscripts proves that Libanius’ reputation as an essential figure of Greek paideia was important both in Byzantium and in the West. The pairing of these two essays convincingly suggests that late antique Antioch and Renaissance Europe shared many common features, particularly the rediscovery of the great authors of the past and their use for ‘humanistic’ purposes.

The fourteen articles that form the core of the volume are grouped in two units of unequal scope, In (II) ‘Culture, pensée et action’ the progression from one article to another is not always easy to discern: although all ten essays are concerned with Libanius’ rhetorical practice, they appear more as a collection intended to illustrate various aspects of the main theme than part of a structured arrangement. The third ensemble (III) ‘Humanité’ is more coherent thematically but contains only four articles. Many articles would have benefited from being placed next to others that shared similar prospective or referred to the same works of Libanius, and we will stress in our review this aspect of interrelation which definitely prevails throughout the volume.

Three articles draw specific attention to the literary technique of Libanius, addressing the issues of the style and aim of his rhetoric. Mikael Johansson, (3) “Libanius’ historical declamations and the sources”, stresses that it is not possible to establish precise links to Herodotus in Declamations 9 and 10. However, in the so-called Philippics, Decl. 17-23, direct imitations of Demosthenes’ style and content are certain. Thus, Libanius seems well to deserve his nickname of ‘little Demosthenes’. Robert J. Penella, (8) “Menelaus, Odysseus, and the limits of eloquence in Libanius, Declamations 3 and 4”, shows how both declamations present the same side of the case, i. e., the embassy to retrieve Helen, in two different ways. Libanius presents diplomatic speeches as having the potential to prevail over war, but since the Trojan War did happen, he also seems to imply that eloquence has its limits. In (16) “Libanius and the EU presidency. Career moves in the Autobiography”, Lieve Van Hoof demonstrates that this work should not be considered as an objective account of his author’s life, but rather as a literary re-construction with specific motivations.

Several articles set up Libanius’ work as a mirror of the society of his time. Marilena Casella, (5) “Metafore animali, suoni onomatopeici e proverbi in alcune orazioni κατὰ ἀρχόντων di Libanio”, displays how the animal world is presented as a mirror of man’s by the rhetor of Antioch. Isabella Sandwell, (9) “Divination and human intelligence in the writings of Libanius”, proves that the numerous references to divination and prophecy in Libanius’ writings are indicative of the social attitude adopted in Late Antiquity towards such matters. This analysis places itself within the long tradition of attempting to distinguish between divine inspiration and rational foreseeing based on human experience, which is still topical today among cognitive scientists.

The two articles that focus on the correspondence of Libanius both emphasize that this part of his work well reveals his ‘humanist’ side. Guillermo Perez Galicia, (7) “Las cartas de Libanio como claves de la nueva retórica de la paideia”, makes it clear that the letters of Libanius offer an insight into the ‘socio-political’ context — this expression is repeated no fewer than fourteen times in the first five pages of the article — of this ‘new type of rhetoric’ from the viewpoint of philanthropia, assimilated here to the notion of humanism. This interesting attempt could have called for further developments in the field of history of ideas. Bernadette Cabouret, (10) “Variations sur une recommandation”, explores how Libanius adapted his eloquence to the specific rank and ethos of his correspondent, using the letter as an instrument to exalt moral qualities.

The two articles concerned with the rhetorical exercises attributed to Libanius present two rather different viewpoints on the same topic. Craig A. Gibson, (6) “Portraits of Paideia in Libanius’ Progymnasmata”, says that paideia is not only a matter of culture but aims also to build the necessary moral skills in students who are expected to become leading figures in the civic life of their city. By contrast Manfred Kraus, (12) “Les conceptions politiques et culturelles dans les progymnasmata de Libanios et Aphthonios”, stresses the striking discrepancy between the classicizing moral ideas taught in the classroom and the reality of the late antique world, which was undergoing major and definitive changes at this point.

Another pair of articles directs our attention to Libanius’s praise of urban life and its influence on human behavior. Gilvan Ventura da Silva, (11) “Qualche riflessione sull’idea di città nell’Oratio XI di Libanio”, concentrates on the great central colonnaded street of the city as a factor in socialization, i. e., civilization. Catherine Saliou, (13) “Jouir sans entraves ? La notion de τρυφή dans l’ Éloge d’Antioche de Libanios”, goes one step further by providing an inspiring rereading of the notion of tryphè/voluptas as a positive value (baths, food and love) viewed as part of Libanius’ strategy in building a proper Antiochian urban identity.

Another theme under investigation is the relation between Libanius and the Emperor Julian, seen as a speculum principis. Odile Lagacherie, (4) “Jeu et enjeux de la rhétorique dans les Discours XII et XIII de Libanios”, argues that, as a kind of reply to the philosopher/emperor’s contempt, both speeches stress the fundamental role of rhetoric as a guardian of the Hellenic tradition. Raffaella Cribiore, (14) “Defending Julian: Libanius and Or. 37”, proposes a reading of the Against Polycles as a ‘memory speech’ mostly intended to defend the late emperor Julian from the accusation of poisoning his wife. Ugo Criscuolo, (15) “Considérations sur le dernier Libanios”, reminds us that the brief stay of Julian in Antioch between July 362 and March 363 and the subsequent friendship between the emperor and the rhetor was the highlight of Libanius’ life, who, until the end, recalled the memory of Julian as a model of political and ethical behavior who illustrated the virtues of the ancient world.

The conclusion comes as a ‘(IV) Contrepoint’, on the perceptions of Libanius that were expressed by his contemporaries. In the final article, (17) “L’autre Libanios, ou Libanios vu par les autres”, Gabriele Marasco underlines that, in contrast to the picture Libanius presents of himself, his contemporaries offer quite a different view. In Eunapius’ Lives of the Sophists, the chapter on Libanius bears the marks of personal enmity, even if it casts a positive light on Julian’s friendship and Libanius’ devotion to the cause of Hellenism. Libanius appears beyond doubt to have enjoyed a certain prestige as an intellectual, even among Christians. However, the silence of such authors as Ammianus Marcellinus and John Malalas suggests that his political influence was not as great as he would have wished it to be.

Finally, the editors provide a useful bibliography of Bernard Schouler (three pages), followed by the main bibliography (nineteen pages). The general editorial accomplishment of the volume is remarkable, even though some minor concerns could be raised.2


1.   B. Schouler, Libanios et la tradition hellénique, Lille-Paris 1984.
2.   In the opening article, I counted more than a dozen typographical errors of various types: Schouler: l. 30 p. 1, ‘»’ instead of ‘«’; n. 2 p. 2, missing accents in ‘(É)loge de St(é)phanos’; n. 2 p. 2 and n. 5 p. 3, a lack of consistency in the notes with the use of ‘éd’ or ‘ed’; l. 14 p. 5, the plural ‘les passe-droit(s)’ is misspelled; n. 18 p. 6, a missing final period; l. 9 p. 8, an extra ‘le’; n. 40 p. 10, ‘s’e(d)ntouraient’; n. 59 p. 14, an incomplete reference: ‘Liebeschuetz 1972,***’ (sic); l. 5 p. 15, missing ‘s’ in ‘il(s) sont installés’; l. 8 p. 15, ‘se lient’ instead of ‘se liant’; l. 15 p. 15, reference to footnote 65 is numbered as 6; l. 16 p. 18, an inserted space in ‘la( )quelle’. Three other articles, which have apparently been translated into French or quote French translations of Greek, contain the sorts of mistakes that one usually finds in such translations, though in this case they are so few that their authors deserve credit rather than blame: Sanchi: n. 20 p. 23, ‘apré(è)s’; l. 17 p. 24, ‘de la (d’une) durée de’; l. 24 p. 24, la ‘plus part (plupart)’; l. 29 p. 24, ‘en(tre) lesquelles’; Casella: l. 20 p. 56, ‘pa(â)turage’; n. 40 p. 60, ‘aboi(e)ments’; n. 40 p. 61, ‘rancum(n)e’; n. 47 p. 62, ‘le(s) coordonnées’; Kraus: a lack of consistency in the notes regarding the use of ‘cf.’ or not; and l. 13 p. 142, ‘deuxième à(-) troisième siècles’. A few other mistakes appear passim (e. g., l. 33 p. 48, ‘Le(s) corps des discours confirment’; n. 29 p. 52, ‘un de ces homme(s)’; in the bibliography there is a lack of consistency in the use of ‘éd’ or ‘ed’; pp. 217 and 218, Ph. Hoffman(n); l. 6 p. 223, Tu(r)key; and l. 35 p. 224, ‘e( )i tiranni’.

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