Abstract

In Late Antiquity, an idealized "Athens" could be used as an abstract symbol to represent paideia and Greek culture. At the same time, Athens was a particular and physical place with resonances of its own. Individuals could use the interplay between the abstract "Athens" and their own personal associations with the literal Athens to create differing definitions of the symbolic "Athens." This article examines the apparently paradoxical portrayals of Athens by Libanius (a pagan who criticized Athens) and Gregory of Nazianzus (a Christian who adored Athens). Both men were devoted to the paideia "Athens" represented on an abstract level, but the city also had a specific role to play in their perceptions of the geography and autobiography of paideia. This article proposes to solve the paradox by viewing Libanius' critique of "Athens" in the context of his professional rivalry with the schools of Athens and in his desire to magnify his native Antioch as a center of Greek culture at the expense of Athens. It further suggests reading Gregory's positive portrayal of "Athens" as way for him to remember his student days there with Basil of Caesarea (and enhance his own reputation in the process) and also as a way to show good Christians how they could safely approach pagan paideia. In seeing these portrayals of Athens thus, we can also see in microcosm two of the major ideological debates of Late Antiquity, namely, whether or not definitions of Hellenism should be tied to its traditional home in mainland Greece and how Christianity can appropriate classical culture.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1942-1273
Print ISSN
1939-6716
Pages
pp. 264-285
Launched on MUSE
2010-12-09
Open Access
No
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