- Man and the Word: The Orations of Himerius
"Words, I think, have their own paints for making representations of things," wrote Himerius in Or. 12.2. This book of R. J. Penella, which contains the first English translation of the orations of this fourth-century sophist, allows us to see many such word paintings. Notwithstanding the occasion (praises of cities, addresses to students, declamations, or panegyrics for governors), Himerius' prose is remarkably uniform with its rich mythological background, dancing Muses, poetic diction, and rarefied atmosphere. His work deserves attention since he contributes to our knowledge of late Roman rhetoric, preserves fragments of ancient poetry, and influenced writers such as Gregory of Nazianzus.
Penella gives an excellent translation of these orations, which is clear and faithful to the original text and is sometimes less conservative in fragmentary passages than that of H. Voelker. The latter's book, Himerios: Reden und [End Page 348] Fragmente, appeared in 2003, when Penella's project was at an advanced stage. Penella's interest mostly lies in the historical background of the speeches he translates. Both Voelker and Penella do not provide a Greek text but rightly follow the standard critical edition by Colonna with its division into sections. It should be noticed, though, that this edition is out of print (and hard to find) and that the TLG gives Himerius' text only by line numbers, so that passages are sometimes not easy to identify.
After a general introduction, where he examines the evidence for Himerius' life and activity, Penella divides the orations into eight chapters according to various categories. While one chapter each (1 and 5) is devoted to the long funeral oration for his son and the rich epithalamium for Severus, the rest of the chapters contain encomia of cities and men (2); orations that concern his students and their arrival and departure from the school (3 and 4); declamations (6); orations composed for various officials (7); and fragmentary remains (8). In each chapter Penella gives introductory remarks on the occasions of those orations and raises some historical or textual issues. His prosopographical remarks are very helpful in identifying individuals that the sophist left unnamed. The translation of each oration follows. It is painstakingly accurate, though at times one may question the rendering of some individual terms (e.g., λόγοι in Or. 41 as "learning" instead of "rhetoric," an admittedly difficult word). The translated text is accompanied by plentiful notes that clarify the mythological and historical allusions.
Himerius' orations that refer to his school offer precious, albeit limited, information on the functioning of an ancient school of rhetoric. Since music, song, and dancing are frequent metaphors for oratory, it is not always easy to distinguish reality from a poetic world of fantasy. The rebellion of students, called "naughty nymphs" in Or. 66, may have been more unrestrained than the context seems to indicate. The ending of Or. 68, which regards the creation of a new oratory (see the example of Proteus, symbol of variety, as in Nonnos), was probably not concerned with Himerius' students manually building a new "theater" for their teacher, but may have been an extended metaphor. Penella often refers to the work of Menander Rhetor, especially in the panegyrical orations for officials. The picture of the governor that emerges is of course very encomiastic and ignores the less positive aspects (see instead Libanius).
In this book, Penella focuses on the translation and elucidation of Himerius' orations, and in this he does an excellent job. Scholars interested in ancient rhetoric and in late antiquity will welcome his translations. Yet a reader who is only moderately familiar with ancient and late antique rhetoric may think that at the time the schools offered only this. Though it is unfair to take an author to task for what he chose not to do, one wishes that Penella had expanded a little more on rhetoric for display (epideictic) and the relations of Himerius with Isocrates. Himerius practiced epideictic...