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  • The School of Libanius in Late Antique Antioch
  • Craig A. Gibson
Raffaella Cribiore. The School of Libanius in Late Antique Antioch. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. Pp. xi, 360. $45.00. ISBN 0-691-12824-3.

Cribiore’s new study of the school of Libanius offers a richly detailed view of the world of the late ancient classroom and the behind-the-scenes activities of one of its most famous teachers. It can be read most profitably, in my opinion, alongside Cribiore’s own earlier study of ancient education (Gymnastics of the Mind, 2001) and A. F. Norman’s translation of Libanius’ speeches pertaining to education (Antioch as a Centre of Hellenic Culture as Observed by Libanius, 2000). I expect that the present book will have two main audiences. Those interested mainly in Libanius the man will develop a more rounded and sympathetic view of the performing sophist, political activist, and depressed old man known from the Autobiography, orations, and letters, while scholars of ancient education can expect to learn more about the administrative nuts-and-bolts of an ancient teaching career, from the application and admission process to diagnostic testing, progress reports sent to parents, letters of recommendation, and the creation and maintenance of a professional network. Many of these topics are discussed nowhere else in the scholarship on ancient education, and none at this level of detail. Cribiore’s impressive coverage of the ancient sources and modern literature will help advance the scholarship on a number of key questions, some raised here for the first time. In addition, the comparisons drawn between Libanius’ school and the schools of tenth-century Byzantium, sixteenth-century Paris, and today should encourage non-classicist historians of education to integrate Libanius and his school more fully into their own comparative and historical studies.

Two highly original discussions are of particular interest. In her treatment of the little-known dokimasia, a public scrutiny of the rhetorical abilities of graduates when they return home (84–88), Cribiore shows that the entire community, from artisans to the educated elite, felt that they had a stake in the student’s success, and that their high expectations sometimes caused nervous students (including Libanius) to delay their homecoming. This public display was important both to the returning student and to the future enrollments of his teacher. In chapter 7, Cribiore weighs the importance of “complete training in rhetoric at a prestigious school” against “other factors (such as wealth and high social status)” (197) to a student’s career prospects, basing her argument largely on letters of recommendation that Libanius wrote for his students. While such a letter might help the young man get his foot in the door, Cribiore shows that the in-person interview (222–25), not previously studied in detail, served to prove the applicant’s capacity to take up the desired post. An appendix includes translations of over 200 letters related [End Page 91] to the conduct of Libanius’ school, most of them available in translation nowhere else. These make for fascinating reading in their own right, but also conveniently serve to document assertions made throughout the book.

I detected only a few mistakes: “a large part <of>” (56), “seems to {be} have a professional basis” (64), “one <of> the most” (105), “are complex system<s>” (129), “Heperechius” for “Hyperechius” (224). On 195 the Demosthenes mentioned in Himer, Or. 68.11 is the fifth-century general, not the orator.

Craig A. Gibson
University of Iowa


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