Autobiography and Selected Letters (review)
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Libanius. Autobiography and Selected Letters, 2 volumes. Edited and translated by A. F. Norman. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 1992. Pp. 529 and 486. $15.50 each.

These well-produced volumes bring to four the number of Loebs devoted to the Antiochene sophist extraordinaireLibanius (314-ca. 393), all the work of Frank Norman, and move the series closer to fulfillment of its promotional claim to give "access to all that is important in Greek and Latin literature." Their LCL predecessors (1969, 1977) contained Libanius' Julianic Orations, together with a selection of speeches from the reign of Theodosius, none, if any, of which were then readily available in English or any other modern language. The new Loebs offer Libanius' autobiographical Oration1, prefaced by excellent introductory essays and a useful bibliography, and, from a corpus of about 1550, a selection of 193 letters (50 in Volume I), these followed by a valuable appendix on the chronology of several groups of letters, concordances for other editions of the letters, and indices of proper names.

Libanius composed the bulk of Or. 1 ca. 374 around the theme of the role of Fortune in his life; at various times between 380-392 he added several increasingly [End Page 70]bitter ramblings (Norman, vol 1: 8-9, thinks nine), these most likely never "published." A reading of the whole would probably repay almost any Spätantiker, though each will judge differently the profit and its margin. In particular, Libanius here warrants the attention of those interested in matters social—e.g. family, education, patronage—and psychological, Libanius (though no Augustine) being much given to careful, almost clinical description and often-convincing analysis of his state of mind.

Nonetheless, and in spite of its interest to students of the genre of autobiography, the inclusion (at Glenn Bowersock's suggestion) of Or. 1 may still elicit mixed emotions. Norman's earlier translation (Oxford, 1965) with text (of which the Loeb is, with a few unimportant exceptions, a reprint) and commentary, P. Wolf's German translation (Zurich/Stuttgart, 1967), and the Budé of J. Martin and P. Petit (Paris, 1979) render it in some degree redundant. Indeed, the limited commentary allowed in the Loeb format necessitates frequent consultation of these works. But Norman's 1965 study has long been out of print, and, though brief, the Loeb notes do identify individuals listed in the Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire(Cambridge, 1971) and direct readers to other scholarship subsequent to 1965. An even more important justification is that Or.1 and Libanius' Lettersare, as Norman states (vol I: vii), "mutually illustrative." This is especially true for the Loeb letters, since the illumination of Libanius' career and character is the guiding principle behind Norman's selection.

Through Or.1 and the Letters(one group from the years 355-365, a second from 388-393, both almost certainly from Libanius' duplicate files, and nearly all in very difficult Greek) we can come to know Libanius the man to a degree equalled for Antiquity only in the cases of Cicero and Augustine. Much surprises, though perhaps it should not. Libanius' variegated comments on individual women (see, e.g., the passages in Norman's index s.v. Alexandra) are a potential corrective to simplistic generalization about the status of females in Late Antiqutiy. And his seemingly contradictory remarks about Christians and Christianity, pagans and paganism, Manichees, and Jews, for instance, do more than demonstrate the inadequacy of such misleading, modern categories; they show, too, and often in rare, refreshing fashion, what Norman (vol II: 263, note d) terms "the nature of the man, not of his religious beliefs."

In shedding light on Libanius, the Letters, then, reveal much else. In fact, the corpus as a whole is arguably the most important until-recently-untranslated (there is G. Fatouros' and T. Krischer's German translation with text and commentary of 84 letters, Briefe [Munich, 1979]) and, therefore, underutilized, historical evidence in all of Greco-Roman literature. For example, two standard biographies of Julian in English—R. Browning, The Emperor Julian(Berkeley, 1976), and G. Bowersock, Julian the Apostate(Cambridge, Mass., 1978...