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  • SLA Sponsored Panel"The Third Sophistic: New Approaches to Rhetoric in Late Antiquity"
  • Paul Kimball

The following studies by Heather Waddell Gruber, Giuseppe La Bua, and Aaron Wenzel represent three of five papers from a panel entitled "The Third Sophistic: New Approaches to Rhetoric in Late Antiquity," sponsored by the Society for Late Antiquity at the annual meeting of the American Philological Association at Philadelphia in January of 2009, the second such panel we organized at the APA annual meeting after we received our charter as an affiliated group and several years of offering three-year colloquia on various late antique topics.

The idea of dedicating a session specifically to late antique rhetoric had been inspired by an exchange on the Late Antiquity discussion list ( after Pierre-Louis Malosse announced the publication of a Festschrift entitled Approches de la Troisième Sophistique1 in honor of the Belgian philologist and Byzantinist Jacques Schamp. Opinion diverged on whether such a term actually was useful, but it became clear that even among its advocates there are real differences in its scope and application and several strategies used to defend its horizons.2 Victor Vitanza had used it first in reference to Continental philosophy and the writing, for example, of Derrida and Lyotard.3 For Anthony Kaldellis, it embraces the Byzantine heirs of Michael Psellus, whose interest in metaphysics was frequently at odds with the Comnenian orthodoxy of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.4 Alberto Quiroga, moreover, points to Simon Swain's comparison between the public persona of orators in the second-century biographical collection [End Page 262] of Philostratus and the far more pronounced anxieties surrounding public gesture in the sophistic biographies compiled by Eunapius of Sardis in the fourth-century.5 But Quiroga parts ways with Laurent Pernot on the question of including Christian orators and homilists. For Pernot the Third Sophistic was an exclusively pagan project.

In defining the parameters of this session we did not want to debate the virtues or defects of the term, believing that such a focus would be both too narrow to attract significant attention and could more or less swiftly degenerate into polemics, pitting an American tradition stressing the powerful and uninterrupted legacy of imperial culture and its antecedents in late antique and medieval rhetoric against European novelties. Our panel was rather intended to highlight recent and innovative work on late antique rhetoric in a wide variety of genres, periods, and contexts, and by doing so, indirectly question the term's value and utility. Whatever enthusiasms the notion of "Third Sophistic" may inspire and to whatever degree, it does call attention to a host of unjustly neglected or even despised authors and suggests the possibility of evaluating late antique sophistic rhetoric on its own terms, as Heather Waddell Gruber, Giuseppe La Bua, and Aaron Wenzel demonstrate here, restoring it to the central place it enjoyed in Late Antiquity by way of its ability to articulate a wide variety of ideologies through the employment of persuasive speech. [End Page 263]

Paul Kimball
Bilkent University (Turkey)


1. Eugenio Amato, ed., Approches de la Troisième Sophistique. Hommages à Jacques Schamp (Brussels, 2006).

2. Pierre-Louis Malosse, Bernard Schouler, "Qu'est-ce que la Troisième Sophistique" Lalies 29 (2009) 161–224 is the most critical and comprehensive survey.

3. Victor Vitanza, "'Some More' Notes, Towards a Third Sophistic" Argumentation 5 (1991) 117–139.

4. Anthony Kaldellis, Hellenism in Byzantium: The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition (Cambridge, 2007) 225–316.

5. Alberto Quiroga, "From Sophistopolis to Episcopolis: The Case for a Third Sophistic" Journal of Late Antique Religion and Culture 1 (2007) 31–42.



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