From Academic Kids

Libanius (Greek Libanios) (ca 314 AD - ca 394) was a Greek-speaking teacher of rhetoric of the later Roman Empire, an educated pagan of the Sophist school in an Empire that was turning aggressively Christian and publicly burned its own heritage and closed the academies.

He was born into a once-influential, deeply cultured family of Antioch that had recently lost most of its wealth and influence. When 14 years old, Libanius fell in love with rhetoric and focused his whole life on it. Like many 4th century pagans of high education, Libanius withdrew from public life and devoted himself to scholarship. 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 friend of the emperor Julian, with whom some correspondence survives, and used his arts of rhetoric as a potent defender of private and political causes. Among his pupils: John Chrysostom, Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, and the historian Ammianus Marcellinus. Libanius has much to tell us about the fanatical world of the later 4th century. Libanius's first Oration I is a revealing and colorful autobiographical narrative 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 a pagan, his students included the Christians John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia. He was a friend of the pagan emperor Julian (362-363), yet was made an honorary praetorian prefect by the very Christian emperor Theodosius I (379-393).

His 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;
  • 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;
  • 1544 letters have been preserved, more letters than Cicero. The Middle Ages uncritically accepted some 400 additional letters in Latin, 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, of which Libanius would have been proud.

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