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Reviewed by:
  • City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria
  • Mark J. Edwards
City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria. By Edward J.Watts. [The Tranformation of the Classical Heritage, XLI.] (Berkeley: University of California Press. 2006. Pp. xii, 288. $ 55.00.)

This book finds the pagan teacher of philosophy at his acme in Roman Athens and Alexandria, and escorts him to the oblivion of the sixth century. The Athens depicted in chapter 2 is a city that retained little of its past except its schools. As trade declined in the second century, wealth ebbed into the hands of a few proprietors, who sought influence through the patronage of learned institutions. These in turn used forcible enrollment to swell the cohorts which they deployed in open riot against the students of other masters. The ascendancy that a man's gifts might confer on him, when reinforced by the hardihood of his pupils and the purse of a local magnate, could be broken only by a coalition of his rivals; in the case of Prohaeresius, to whom the entire third chapter is devoted, even this did not suffice. Having subsisted for many years as a "colleague," or teacher without a school of his own, Prohaeresius won fame with an unforeseen display of eloquence at the age of fifty-five. As soon as he had his own pupils to command, they showed peculiar address in kidnapping new recruits as their ships came into harbor, while he himself disarmed the enmity of the civic powers, still largely pagan, by professing Christianity. When Julian came to power,imperial favor was withdrawn, and there was to be no restoration of his old hegemony before his death. The exercise of patronage within a school is illustrated in chapter 4 by Plutarch's adoption of Proclus at the instance of his vicegerent Syrianus. In chapter 5 we read how the Athenian school after Proclus' death was forced by patrician intrigues into the hands of the feckless Hegias, who resembled Proclus only in his militant espousal of pagan rites. The late fruit of this policy was the closure of the school in 529, a measure that Watts believes to have been directed only against the Neo-Platonists. I doubt this, since, although it is true that a ban on philosophy, sortilege, and astrology would incriminate many Platonists on three counts, it would not incriminate Platonists alone.

It is not clear why the Athenians Prohaeresius and Proclus each fill a chapter, while Ammonius and Origen must share one in the Alexandrian portion of this volume. There was more to be said, for Heinrich Dörrie's argument that the Christian and pagan Origens were taught by different Ammonii is not cited, let alone canvassed. The two Origens are properly distinguished,though by questionable reasoning: It is not clear that the one who put Plotinus to the blush in Rome had outlived his Christian namesake, as we are not informed that Porphyry (who arrived at the school in 262) was a witness of this encounter. In chapter 7, Christians claim the foreground for a while as the schools retire before the hum of trade and the clamor of ecclesiastical factions; the notices of Didymus,Theophilus, and Evagrius are mere samples of what might have been attempted, but Bishop Cyril's connivance in the murder of Hypatia is examined at length, without favor to either party. Watts may be right to conclude that her death extinguished any prospect of a truce [End Page 324] between philosophy and the Church in Alexandria for the best part of a century; if the details of the subsequent accord between Ammonius the scholarch and the patriarch Peter Mongus remain obscure, the fault lies not in Watts but in his tangled sources, which he handles with exemplary tact and ease. The book ends with the Christian John Philoponus, whose brilliance eclipsed the last pagan lights in Alexandria. [End Page 325]

Mark J. Edwards
Christ Church, Oxford