The Public Intellectual according to Choricius of Gaza, or How to Circumvent the Totalizing Christian Discourse
In the funeral oration (Or. 8) for his teacher Procopius, the rhetorician Choricius of Gaza pretends to respond to critics among the audience who find fault with the devotion of the deceased sophist to classical scholarship and insist on the precedence of Scripture and Christian faith. Addressing these misgivings Choricius underscores Procopius's theological studies as well as charitable activities, to the extent that his teacher even compares to priests and holy men. At first glance, this image seems to be evidence that Choricius felt the need to comply with the totalizing Christian discourse at the time. Yet numerous classical echoes, in particular references to Aelius Aristides's portrayal of Pericles and Demosthenes, demonstrate that the orator's ideal of the scholar as a public intellectual is largely based on traditional paideia. This article, thus, argues that Choricius aims to maintain in the Christian polis a central place for a secular education that, while not opposed to religion, fulfills a vital function for the individual and society as a whole.
When the teacher of rhetoric and head of school Choricius of Gaza at some point around 530 ce delivered the funeral oration for his predecessor Procopius, he drew on a long-standing and venerable tradition of rhetorical epitaphs, and thus he knew which qualities of the deceased to praise and how to present them according to the handbooks.1 Funeral orations were always intended to fulfill two basic functions: to console the mourning relatives and to hold up [End Page 454] the person who had passed away as an exemplar for the living to emulate.2 That is precisely what Choricius in the proem to his oration proposes to do, even while suggesting that with his speech he aims to put an image of Procopius before the eyes of the audience that will encourage their imitation.3 However, after a sketch of Procopius's upbringing and general conduct, already well into the first half of the oration, a heretical doubt seems to intrude upon the pious commemoration. As if his exuberant praise had elicited indignation, an anonymous listener is imagined to be wondering:
Perhaps hearing of such a plethora of accomplishments one will get the idea, "This man, I mean the deceased [Procopius], as it seems, never touched the divine scriptures. What leisure did he have, dividing his energy among so many virtues?" If someone was ignorant of him he might form such an opinion. But in fact he had such a great share also in this kind of erudition that, apart from the form alone, he was a priest in every respect.4
Choricius then proceeds to explain that his teacher was well versed in theological doctrine so that he could engage in controversies and, in addition, translated his theological expertise into charitable practice. From then on, a rather defensive tone permeates the portrait of the deceased sophist. Putting aside the question of whether Procopius actually faced such critical scrutiny of his studies in his lifetime, it is apparent that his eulogist wants the audience to take it for granted that in Gaza there is suspicion against the sophistic profession. The main point of the ignorant critics seems to be that classical learning had consumed too much of Procopius's time (σχολή), while theological studies should have had precedence. We may also surmise that the misgivings about traditional schooling have to do with the social functions of paideia, for Choricius then deals mainly with Procopius's activities for the benefit of disadvantaged people at the fringes of society, such as orphans and widows, as if to counter arguments that higher education served only to reproduce a closed group of elite men.5 No matter whether or not Choricius's praemunitio took up some real uneasiness, we will not go too far if we take his remarks [End Page 455] as support of the hypothesis, put forward by Averil Cameron and others, that at the end of antiquity an ever-expanding Christian discourse superseded the classical discourse until it gained total domination.6
There is indeed sufficient evidence from this period that secular learning, though still cultivated, lost its grip on imperial society and that under Justinian, despite some classicizing tendencies, the space for traditional paideia was narrowing.7 Considering that Choricius with his eulogy aims to cast favorable light not only on Procopius as an individual but also on his own profession, we may wonder how he confronts this issue. Can his speech pass as witness to growing religious pressure on the cultivation of classical learning? Or does he find a satisfactory solution to the problem so that teaching in the rhetorical school can maintain its position in the Christianized polis? His answer might be more complicated and subtle than it first seems because, while he defends Procopius as a distinguished expert in Christian doctrine, Choricius never claims for himself any deeper knowledge of Scripture or Christological questions, nor does he boast of any virtues of piety.8
Although the passage from the funeral oration apparently has great significance for Choricius's views on education and the relationship between secular and sacred, scholars have failed to grasp its wider implications.9 Despite rising interest in the so-called school of Gaza in recent years, the eulogy of Procopius has been largely neglected in terms of its significance for sixth-century culture and intellectual history. Studies still tend to examine it as a historical document of Procopius's biography and the history of Gaza.10 In addition, translations with commentaries, as well as some articles, have focused on textual problems and highlighted literary models, thereby enhancing the image [End Page 456] that the speech deserves attention mainly for its literary value.11 Meanwhile, our understanding of the local culture has been advanced thanks to recent editions and monographs on the literary output of Aeneas, Procopius, and Choricius.12 However, the image of Gaza's cultural fingerprint is still suffering from some simplistic, and harmonizing, misconceptions about the unproblematic blend of Hellenic paideia and Christian faith.13 It is, therefore, time to undertake an in-depth examination of a text that promises to give insight into what religious expectations Gazans had of paideia, and to assess the extent to which it was a religious matter in the first place. This article intends to shed fresh light on these questions by showing that Choricius outlined in the funeral speech a model of the teacher adapted for his own times. More precisely, it aims to demonstrate that, fully aware that his own profession was at stake, he conceived a role or identity that would ensure the place of paideia in late antique society.
Procopius the Priest
That the rhetorical epitaph is meant as a programmatic piece designed to set out the speaker's understanding of his own role in public is already made explicit immediately after the proem, when Choricius moves on from Procopius's studies in school to his performance on the job during his adult years. After having compared his master's moderating influence on the students to that of Pericles, he defines the excellence of the sophist in an authoritative and convoluted, manner:
For there are two ways through which the excellence of a sophist is put to the test: by astounding the theaters through the skill and beauty of his speeches, and by initiating the young into the mysteries of the ancients; for they, either observing the ancient saying—it says the beautiful is difficult—or because they do not want a large audience to become initiated in their own writings, [End Page 457] or because they know that human nature does not admire that which is accomplished with ease, but pays honor only to that which is completed with some toil—so they, since they paid attention to one of the reasons mentioned or even to all of them, neither made their own crafts accessible to everyone, nor, as the saying goes, is that sailing for every man. But as he, with the strength of his nature and the diligence of his toils, examined with each of them all that each had composed, so he brought the writings of all to light with precision.14
The accomplished sophist, according to this claim, succeeds both in swaying large audiences in public performances through his rhetorical skill, and in making young men familiar with his art.15 Choricius combines here the two main tasks of sophists in Late Antiquity: on the one hand, the sophist regularly appeared in public to deliver official addresses at festive events as well as declamations to entertain the crowd with his artistic creativity. On the other hand, to put it in an entrenched metaphorical way, it was his job in the rhetorical school to initiate the students into the mysteries of Hermes, that is, to impart the techniques of invention, style and delivery according to a rigid curriculum.16 Choricius's own works, consisting of epideictic pieces and school texts, reflect this profile very well. Interestingly enough, the definition of the sophist gives Choricius the opportunity to highlight that Procopius's and his own business is fundamentally shaped by an engagement, a dialogue as it were, with classical authorities. While in general the rhetorician teaches the mysteries of "the ancients," Procopius in particular sought to adapt and surpass the tradition by stripping it of its high-brow profile of exclusivity, disseminating classical learning instead to a wider audience, as the metaphor of the light suggests.17 This also stands out in the following paragraphs, which [End Page 458] extol Procopius's excellence in public performances and liken him to the classical orators Isocrates and Demosthenes.18
Accordingly, what the funeral oration in the first part of his portrait has to say on Procopius's strengths is completely in keeping with generic expectations.19 That he was such a powerful public speaker that even Rhetoric herself is deeply mourning his loss (11–12), that he devoted all his time to reading books (16), that he incessantly worked very hard (17), further that he was modest and exuded an awe-inspiring sense of decency (18–19), and that he excelled in unpretentious friendliness (ἐπιείκεια) and dignity (σεμνότης, 18): nothing of this is out of the ordinary.20 Yet, with the critical interjection which opened the article, a different discourse seems to blend into the traditional funeral eulogy, a discourse that resonates with particularly late antique preoccupations. First, Choricius insists that Procopius was imbued also with that type of paideia that deals with the divine scriptures (21). As a matter of fact, this claim is perfectly brought out by what we know of Procopius's biblical scholarship.21 He not only wrote a number of commentaries on the books of the Old Testament, of which substantial parts have survived, but has even been credited as the inventor of the so-called catena, a verse-by-verse commentary made up of excerpts of earlier commentators.22 Certainly, Procopius in his commentary activities benefited from the thoroughgoing study of the Homeric epics and other poets in the secular schools, which is why his successor can subsume both the exegesis of classical texts and that of the Bible under the label of paideia.23 That theological reasoning can make effective use of classical learning was also demonstrated by Procopius's refutation of Neo-platonic accounts of creation in the prologue to his Commentary on Genesis. There he employed philosophical arguments to prove the truth of Christian axioms against the mutually inconsistent principles of the Neoplatonists.24 [End Page 459] However, Choricius's defense may have more serious implications when he adds that the deceased sophist made himself familiar with "the doctrines of piety and those that dare to contradict them." Since he emphasizes that Procopius studied the latter only to refute them, it seems that he wants to rebut criticism that his teacher joined the wrong side in the fierce Christological quarrels of his time.25
While we can only speculate on Procopius's involvement in doctrinal controversy,26 the following paragraphs make clear that the speech is shifting the perspective from traditional schooling to "hard evidence" of Procopius's religious devotion. His interest in religious matters, the speech points out in a defensive manner, did not stop with dry scholarship, but went deeper, in fact so deep that Procopius demonstrated his expertise in scripture through his deeds (22). What follows is a list of facts that highlight that the sophist had fully absorbed the values of Christian ethics: he provided relief for many orphans and suffering widows; he kept a frugal diet, taking meals meant only to meet his minimum needs. Not content with that, he also cared for the sick and provided support to the poor. His practical charities are further accompanied and enhanced by the psychological therapy that he offers to those who are suffering mental pain.27 Right in the middle of this section on Procopius's charitable activities, Choricius, as if it had just occurred to him, interrupts himself to underline that his teacher differed from other intellectuals in that he had a very practical streak.28
Hagiographic Reminiscences in Oration 8
In the context of the late antique polis, such an idealized portrait of a sophist must have struck a chord with the wider audience. What Choricius recounts here is reminiscent of the activities and accomplishments that hagiographic biographies and theoretical treatises ascribed to church leaders and other saintly figures. Practical support for marginalized groups and providing comfort to the desolate usually fell into the domain of priests and bishops, who [End Page 460] through this engagement also built their clientele and established their patronage in the Mediterranean poleis.29 In addition, hagiographic narratives such as Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Macrina promoted the ideal of the holy man or woman distinguished by unsurpassable love for their neighbors, sometimes, as in the case of Macrina, adding intellectual rigor to this pastoral pursuit. Choricius himself, as his eulogies for the local bishop and his mother demonstrate, was fully aware of these key motifs and knew how to employ them to great effect.30 It is thus no coincidence that Procopius emerges from this passage as a priestly figure, an energetic practitioner of Christian philanthropy, instead of a lofty intellectual in the ivory tower. Fittingly, the churches are bewailing his death (31).
The hagiographic echoes in the funeral oration go even deeper. Brown and others have shown that the holy man in Late Antiquity not only possessed such virtues and ethical qualities that he qualified as a saintly figure and was recognized as such by others. Above all, this culture type performed an important social function as Christian ascetics mediated between humanity and the divine, as well as exercising patronage within the social system of the Empire.31 Procopius, as depicted in the speech, does not, to be sure, figure as a conduit to heaven; that might have stretched the audience's imagination too far. But what he does for the benefit of orphans, widows, the sick, and the poor draws a clear comparison between Procopius and contemporary ecclesiastical leaders. It is no surprise then that Choricius towards the end of his oration suggests that the bishop of Gaza now has inherited Procopius's position, continuing the sophist's work on behalf of the civic community.32
Thus, it seems logical for the passage quoted above to present Procopius as a priest in all but name. Further features fit this image as well, for instance the almost ascetic lifestyle that the sophist displays, in particular in minimizing the demands of his body. Not only does he refrain from anything that may go down as objectionable luxury, but he also triumphs over shameful pleasures and passions.33 Choricius does not fail to notice that Procopius's control of [End Page 461] his emotions, his moderate conduct, inspired other people to follow his path. Finally, all the qualities that render him a saintly man culminate in a death and burial that, as the speech points out, priests receive (47). That this image was entirely on the mark is demonstrated by a number of letters in which Procopius presents himself as a philosopher promoting a frugal lifestyle and encouraging his friends to follow his lead.34 Apparently, the sophists of Gaza wanted to be recognized as models of a common-sense way of life.
With the reference to possible critics of his admired teacher, Choricius strikingly shifts the perspective of his funeral eulogy. While Procopius is initially presented as a sophist largely according to the pattern of the rhetorical handbooks, at a certain point early on the speaker feels the urge to address potential misgivings about the scholastic pursuits of his deceased mentor by talking in detail about biblical scholarship and charitable activities. This move not only transforms the image of the sophist, who is made to resemble churchmen and ascetics; it also transforms the eulogistic discourse. Choricius incorporates in his classical oration Christian motifs and norms, even while avoiding religious terminology, in order to appease those who might judge Procopius from a religious viewpoint. We may thus wonder whether Choricius could not help but bow to the totalizing discourse of Christianity.
Procopius as Pericles's alter ego
Yet we should not jump to conclusions too quickly. That the orator refrains from employing unmistakably Christian terms and phrases should not cause surprise, nor that he does not reference scripture. As a sophist trained in classical rhetoric and aspiring to pure Atticism, it was inconceivable for him to make far-reaching linguistic concessions to Christianity.35 Still, the way in which Choricius describes Procopius's charitable activities is revealing for a number of reasons. First, although he plays off practice against words to the disadvantage of the latter, the speaker suggests that it was precisely through words that the sophist exerted his greatest influence. When Procopius engaged in medico–philosophical therapy, easing the hardship of orphans and widows, he was doing so mainly through discourse.36 Orphans, the speech says, had [End Page 462] no "perception" of their miserable state37 and widowhood "seemed" relieved because the sophist "alleviated their passions" (22, ψυχαγωγοῦντος ἐκείνου τὰ πάθη). Further, he "persuaded" many people who pursued unnatural desires to become restrained. The image of the therapist curing through skillful persuasion is complemented by Procopius's treatment of the sick and poor: again, we hear nothing precise about any practical measures, for instance providing food to the needy. Instead, his success in caring for the sick is due to his persuasion, which imitates Gorgias's famous healing rhetoric.38 Strikingly, when attending a banquet, Procopius seems to divert the feasters from indulgence and eating too much by replacing the food with "witty and pleasant stories" so that the banquet is nevertheless sweet.39 Of course, churchmen in Late Antiquity also employed rhetorical techniques and the art of persuasion very efficiently to fulfill their duties, but it remains striking that Choricius's praise of Procopius's charities is interwoven with references to the sophist's education and civilized manner.40 The speech evokes the impression that Procopius's support of people in need is just the flipside of his expertise as a scholar. In the same way as he contributes to the formation of young men in his school, the ideal sophist as rhetorical therapist rebuilds with his eloquence the mental health of the civic community.
Second, the notion of therapy, which pervades the funeral eulogy and is also prominent in the rest of Choricius's works, can lend further shape to Procopius's intellectual profile.41 We already had opportunity to mention that the sophist is compared to the Athenian general and politician Pericles in respect to his psychological influence on others. Although the political conditions had changed fundamentally from the classical era to the end of antiquity, the speech advocates the idea that the accomplished orator exerts tight control over the mind and emotions of the crowd. Procopius emerges from the speech as an adroit psychologist who is able to keep a firm grip on the masses so that the citizens of Gaza behave in an orderly manner, maintaining decent composure and self-control even when the sophist is not [End Page 463] present.42 This image is enhanced when Choricius deals with his teacher's care for others: we have seen that his main activity is to cure them from harmful passions and desires, whether they are in danger of surrendering to bodily temptations or are suffering from distress and bereavement. Overall, Procopius is depicted as an excellent philosophical therapist who employs his vocal brilliance in the service of a regime of affects.43 That is an idea which, though adopted by many Christian writers and also prominent in the monastic circles of Gaza, stood firmly in the tradition of the Stoic–Epicurean mainstream.44 Numerous philosophers had advocated philosophy as a specific care for the self and others, a way to the eradication of harmful passions and the tranquility of mind.
While Choricius's contemporary Dorotheus of Gaza claimed this care for the self as the distinctively monastic way of life, glossing over its classical roots, the funeral oration is fairly explicit that this concept of philosophy originated from a classical background.45 It is characteristic of this speech that it not only depicts the deceased sophist as offering comfort to all who labor and are overburdened, but at the same time makes plain in general terms that precisely this care is a core function of classical rhetoric and education. In the long section of consolation, which is addressed to Procopius's brothers, Choricius at once commends the addressees for their ability to cope with the loss and outlines his vision of tranquility of mind and moderation engendered by a sound classical upbringing. When the speaker deals with bereavement and pain, he cites Isocrates for the exhortation to avoid excess in joy as well as in sadness.46 Further, tragedy lends weight to Choricius's view that the noble man will bear whatever happens with steadfastness. Some lines later, he goes on to provide further evidence from Herodotus's Histories and the Trojan War.47 The entire passage amounts to a florilegium of consolatory commonplaces drawn from classical literature and mythology designed to encourage [End Page 464] Procopius's relatives in their self-control and appropriate composure through the internalization of the lesson that death is the greatest gift to mankind. It is then only natural that Choricius with his own speech aims to achieve the same goals that he ascribes to the literary education that Procopius's brothers have received. At the beginning of his eulogy he had admitted that he himself is in desperate need of consolation after the departure of his predecessor (1). While his own sadness might hamper him in consoling others, towards the end of the speech he displays confidence that his reflections on the human condition and death have cured him from his pain (49). With the plethora of references to the consolatory and restraining effects of paideia, the orator demonstrates that he, the continuator of Procopius's pedagogic work (46), has grasped what his teacher's invaluable support for others was all about: this man, "full of wisdom and born with the good fortune of eloquence," had exercised a positive impact on the polis above all through his training in classical culture.48
The Classical Framework
The literary genre of the funeral oration required the orator to compare the deceased to famous figures from the past, either placing them on a par with their predecessors or giving them the laurels. Choricius's speech is no exception to this rule as he makes mention of numerous characters, from Agamemnon and Menelaus to Pericles and Demosthenes. However, his selection of figures from Athenian history seems to serve a particular purpose. Needless to say, all of them (Pericles, Alcibiades, Isocrates and Demosthenes) were political orators and writers, which is why they are suitable for a comparison with a late antique sophist. But the two men who feature most prominently, the fifth-century general and the fourth-century antagonist of King Philip, also indicate that Choricius wants his audience to remember Procopius as a public leader in the Periclean mold. Should anyone among the listeners be in doubt about this quality, the speech in its final part claims that, while Demosthenes, who sought to protect Greece with his voice, left Athens shattered by storms and waves, Procopius handed over his hometown well anchored in a safe haven, that is, its bishop.49 He achieved what Pericles and Demosthenes failed to: securing political stability and order in the long run. Choricius considers his master not only a churchman just shy of ordination, but first and foremost an unrivalled political leader of his city.50 [End Page 465]
This is, however, not the whole story of the synkrisis with the two classical politicians. For those who are able to recognize some textual clues, the comparisons encompass another layer of meaning. Strikingly, in the two passages that pay tribute to Demosthenes's rhetorical excellence (the one at the beginning of the speech, the other at the end), Choricius twice employs the motif that an accomplished orator should be viewed as a replica of a famous precursor. First, with a flavor of a divine epiphany, Procopius is said to have come to mankind as the type, the exact image, of Demosthenes (10, ἔφης δ' ἂν εἰκότως αὐτὸν Δημοσθένους τύπον εἰς ἀνθρώπους ἐλθεῖν). This motif is later resumed when Choricius states that one of the sophists called the Athenian orator "a copy of Hermes Logios," the deity of rhetoric.51 By attributing the phrase to an authority the speech invites the audience to recall a passage from Aelius Aristides's In Defense of the Four against Plato, where Demosthenes is in fact characterized with exactly these words.52 Moreover, the first instance of this motif in section 10 is an almost verbatim quotation of Aristides's phrase. If Choricius's educated listeners became aware of this allusion, they must also have realized that the praise of Procopius as a Demosthenes redivivus is to be traced back to Aristides's image of the classical orator. The deceased sophist's public engagement and greatest success, the intertextual reference suggests, can and should be fully understood against the backdrop of the classical tradition. Only the eulogist who is imbued with the classics—as Procopius himself was—is able both to find the fitting points of comparison in the past and to present them in an appropriate literary form.
That the imitation and emulation of classical models affect Procopius's portrait to the core becomes even clearer when Choricius turns to Pericles. We noted at the beginning of this article that the funeral oration goes to some length to bring the sophist close to a priest and even furnishes him with traits that are reminiscent of Christian holy men. While these features certainly enhance the resemblance between Procopius and the bishop of Gaza to elevate the former to the plane of church leaders, it is also true that the way in which the speech presents him allows for a different reading. Once those who had been trained in the rhetorical school noticed Choricius's allusion to Aristides's Demosthenes, they might have recognized another echo of the same model. Constantinople on behalf of his hometown, see Proc. Gaz. Ep. 59, 84 (ed. Garzya and Loenertz 1963, 34, 44–45). Ciccolella 2010, 131 hypothesizes that Procopius was member of the proteuontes, the notables, of Gaza, see Ep. 42 (ed. Garzya and Loenertz 1963, 25–26). [End Page 466] For in his defense of the four Athenian politicians (Miltiades, Themistocles, Cimon and Pericles) against Socrates's criticism in the Gorgias, Aristides had made a remarkable statement in support of his portrayal of Pericles as outstanding in virtue: "He is said to have lived with such dignity that his life differed not at all from that of the prophets and priests, and that he was so self-controlled that he walked in an orderly manner and kept the straight path, according to the proverb."53
Apparently, when Choricius too was engaging in an apology for an admired leader, he considered Aristides's portrayal of the Athenian general an extremely felicitous depiction of the qualities in which Procopius distinguished himself. Moreover, Aristides's defense of Pericles may have seemed to him very well suited because it was ultimately derived from an even more famous model, the favorable characterization in Thucydides's Histories. The classical historian had already depicted his protagonist as a paragon of leadership, integrity, and decent conduct, a model for every citizen, and he had stressed Pericles's restraining influence over the masses in Athens. But while Pericles's control over the people—according to both Choricius, and Aristides—lasted only as long as he was present, Procopius managed to foster in others self-restraint and orderly conduct for the good.54 Still more strikingly, Choricius with a paraphrase of Thucydides and a direct address to Pericles blames the Athenian leader for arrogance and pride in his qualities so that Procopius's modesty can shine even brighter.55 Rather than imitating the questionable aspects of Pericles's personality, which are also present in Thucydides's account, Procopius replicates only what is useful and appropriate, but he never loses the connection with ordinary people. In this respect, he resembles much more Aristides's sympathetic picture of Pericles: his conduct in public, characterized by modesty, affability, and decent manners, deeply informs the behavior of others so that he emerges as outstanding pedagogue with every fiber of his personality.56 These are precisely the features that Aristides in his rhetorical showpiece attributes to Pericles. It is, thus, safe to say that Choricius's engagement with earlier texts reorients the image of his master, adding to the seemingly hagiographic guise another layer that owes much to the classical tradition. [End Page 467]
Both what the funeral oration highlights of Procopius's achievements and the way it presents his feats suggest that, other than what the hagiographic elements seem to indicate, the eulogistic portrait is dominated by the classical value system of the educated elite: political leadership, euergetism, patronage, excellence, and public recognition mark the respectable man and sophist. Despite his nods to Christian expectations, Choricius demonstrates that it is above all a thorough classical training that enables the public intellectual to fulfill vital functions for urban society. While classical references to, for instance, the Fates (27) or the Isles of the Blessed (48) are part and parcel of the literary form and may, therefore, be insignificant, the speech is completely clear that a successful and rewarding life rests on the foundation of Greek paideia. To silence Procopius's critics, Choricius points out, "May time be a cure for pain to the layman, but the man who has gone through the Muse and tasted divine lectures should not wait for such a therapy."57 It is the combination of traditional learning and familiarity with scripture that renders the educated man able to cope with the hardships of life.58 However, some moments later, Choricius adds a further twist when he defines birth as misery and death as deliverance: "poets have long been proclaiming this, as well as those who practice philosophy and the rhetors and the historians, concurring in one point and all agreeing with each other to put forward one single view about the evils of human life."59
Regarding the human condition and the central questions of human existence, one needs nothing but a unity of poetry, philosophy, rhetoric, and historiography to find the right answers. Whoever has gone through the curriculum of the classical schools, this passage claims, is well prepared to face any challenge in life and possesses "self-help" in any situation.60 To drive home this point, Plato is then cited for the insight that philosophy is the pinnacle of human happiness.61 All in all, Procopius's exemplary life proves that a wide range of current issues, from governing a city to the care for the marginalized, can be addressed by bringing paideia to bear.62 [End Page 468]
In his funeral oration for his teacher Procopius, Choricius attempts to overcome the "quarrel" between secular and sacred, between the demands of civic engagement and Christian values. This was a topic that in sixth-century Gaza still caused some controversy, indicated not only by the defensive tone of the speech but also documented by other contemporary texts.63 To tackle this problem, Choricius's eulogy features an imaginary critic who finds fault with Procopius's classical scholarship. Seizing this self-created opportunity, the orator outlines his ideal of a public intellectual who is very well placed to satisfy the urgent needs arising from urban life in that time. Despite the overall traditional presentation and form, Choricius finds a way to incorporate religious expectations and concepts, such as almsgiving and patronage of the deprived, so that the deceased sophist appears as a saint-like figure, though without any official position in the Church.
All the same, the oration primarily draws on the reservoir of topics which, according to the value system of the educated elite, underpinned all public leaders and benefactors. Concomitantly, it presents Procopius as a public intellectual almost exclusively in the literary form that had been established for centuries—that is, with phrases adopted from classical authors and numerous allusions to Plato, Thucydides, Aelius Aristides, and others. In doing so, Choricius fits religious norms into a classical framework; in a sense, Christian thought is "fenced in" or encircled by the classical code. At the same time, Choricius's ideal of the saintly sophist is underpinned by the belief that such a way of life can come to fruition only on the foundation of Greek paideia. Procopius's funeral was an excellent occasion to make this point because, on the one hand it allowed Choricius to portray his master as a man whose conduct and achievements flowed naturally from his classical upbringing, and, on the other hand, the funeral oration itself could be stylized as a showpiece of classical learning as a way of life, a second nature that was fit for any conceivable challenge. To return to the hypothesis of a totalizing Christian discourse, we can say that Choricius's ideal of the sophist maintains a central place for classical paideia in the Christianized polis and, by giving precedence to the [End Page 469] Hellenic heritage, deals gingerly with any attempts to raise the Christian discourse to total domination. He makes the case for an autonomous sphere for the secular, though a secular that is not neutral. Traditional literary culture, not incompatible with religious demands, fulfills vital functions for the individual as well as for communal life, and therefore it deserves support.
2. See Men. Rhet. 2.418–22, in particular 420 on encomiastic topics in the funeral oration.
3. Chor. Or. 8.3, see also 20 and 32 (ed. Foerster-Richtsteig, Teubner).
4. Chor. Or. 8.21: Τάχα τοίνυν τις τοσοῦτον πλῆθος κατορθωμάτων ἀκούσας τοιαύτην πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ἔννοιαν λήψεται· ἄνθρωπος οὗτος, τὸν τελευτήσαντα λέγων, οὐ πώποτε θείων, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἥψατο συγγραμμάτων. ποίαν γὰρ ἦγε σχολὴν τοσαύταις μεριζόμενος ἀρεταῖς; ταῦτα μὲν ἐκεῖνον ἄν τις ἀγνοῶν ὑπολάβοι· τῷ δὲ τοσοῦτον καὶ ταύτης προσῆν τῆς παιδείας, ὥστε πλὴν τοῦ σχήματος μόνου πάντα ἦν ἱερεύς. Greco 2010, 167 has argued that the term σχῆμα here refers, not to the habit of a priest, but to his ordination.
5. For criticism from a Christian viewpoint of the social functions of formal education see, for example, Chrysostom's On Vainglory or the Education of Children (SCh 188).
7. Cameron 1991, 195 criticizes the label "classical revival" that has been attached to the age of Justinian and argues that then even secular works written by members of the traditional elite were permeated by Christian ideas and values. See Bell 2013, 219–22 for some observations on the combination of classical elements and Christian ideology in the literature of Justinian's age.
8. Choricius, however, does employ his eloquence to praise Marcianus, the local bishop, and his mother Mary (Or. 1, 2 and 7). In these epideictic speeches he also describes two church buildings and their images, and makes references to New Testament stories. Photius criticizes him for introducing myths and "Hellenic stories" into his otherwise pious speeches (Phot. Bibl. cod. 160, 102b, ed. Henry, Budé). Barnes 1996, 178 has even called Choricius's Christian faith into question, though on insufficient grounds.
9. On the applicability of the sacred–secular divide to Late Antiquity, see Markus 2006, 4–6. The term "secular" is appropriate in this context because it does not, in the same way as "pagan," entail religious opposition.
11. Greco 2010; Corcella 2010. Corcella (508–10) also discusses the social role of the sophist as represented in the speech. Other scholars have argued, unconvincingly, that Choricius in his speeches promotes the view of literature as primarily innocent entertainment or sublimates it to the realm of pure beauty without any bearing on reality. See Webb 2006, especially 121–22 on the Apology of the Mimes; Greco 2007, 117; and Greco 2011, 103.
13. Ashkenazi 2004; Sivan 2008, 346–47. Downey 1958, in contrast, argued that in Gaza, the classical tradition was kept so far divorced from Christian faith that no real tensions arose between them. Ter Haar Romeny 2007, 175–76, although considering Choricius's reference to the anonymous critic, still believes that the pagan tradition still controlled the dominant discourse in Gaza, and that the content of the classical models was not a matter of concern for Christians. Champion 2014 gives a more nuanced picture, though focusing on the Christian engagement with Neoplatonism. See also Stenger 2010 for a critical view of the harmonizing image.
14. Chor. Or. 8.7: δύο γὰρ ὄντων, οἷς ἀρετὴ βασανίζεται σοφιστοῦ, τοῦ τε καταπλήττειν τὰ θέατρα συνέσει λόγων καὶ κάλλει τοῦ τε τοὺς νέους μυσταγωγεῖν τοῖς τῶν ἀρχαίων ὀργίοις—ἐκεῖνοι γὰρ εἴτε τὴν παλαιὰν διασώζοντες παροιμίαν—χαλεπὰ γάρ φησι τὰ καλά—εἴτε τὴν πολλὴν ἀκοὴν ἀμύητον εἶναι τῶν οἰκείων βουλόμενοι συγγραμμάτων εἴτε τὴν ἀνθρωπείαν ἐπιστάμενοι φύσιν τὸ μὲν εὐκόλως ἀνυόμενον οὐ θαυμάζουσαν, τιμῶσαν δὲ τὸ πόνῳ τινὶ κατορθούμενον ἐκεῖνοι τοίνυν ἕν τι τῶν εἰρημένων ἢ καὶ σύμπαντα ταῦτα σκοπήσαντες οὐ πᾶσι βασίμους τὰς οἰκείας προὔθηκαν τέχνας οὐδὲ παντὸς ἀνδρός, τὸ λεγόμενον, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ πλοῦς, ὁ δὲ φύσεώς τε ῥώμῃ καὶ πόνων ἐπιμελείᾳ καθάπερ ἑκάστῳ συνεσκεμμένος ὅσα πεποίηκεν ἕκαστος, οὕτω σὺν ἀκριβείᾳ τὰ πάντων ἦγεν εἰς φῶς. For the proverb "the beautiful is difficult," see Pl. Resp. 4.435c (ed. Slings, OCT) and Hp. mai. 304e (ed. Burnet, OCT).
15. Procopius himself in various letters, sometimes jokingly, discusses his identity as a sophist, mainly against the backdrop of the quarrel between rhetoric and philosophy. See Proc. Gaz. Ep. 7, 18, 37, 46, 126 (ed. Garzya and Loenertz 1963, 7–8, 14, 23, 28, 65). In Ep. 131 (ed. Garzya and Loenertz 1963, 67) he stylizes himself as a moral philosopher and anti-sophist.
19. [Dion. Hal.] Rhet. 6.277–83 (ed. Usener, Radermacher, Teubner); Men. Rhet. 2.413–14 (consolatory speech), 418–22 (funeral oration), 434–37 (monody). On the conventions of the ancient epitaphioi logoi see Soffel 1974, 50–78.
23. Metzler 2015, xvi–xviii. Litsas's 1980, 15 speculation, however, that exegesis of Scripture and Christian morality formed part of the curriculum in the school of Gaza is completely unfounded, given what we know about rhetorical schooling in the sixth century. Renaut 2007, 173 sees as the two main characteristics of the school of Gaza being a Christian school and a school of rhetoric, but she nowhere makes clear how she understands the label of a "Christian school."
24. Proc. Gaz. Gen. prologue (ed. Metzler 2015, 1–10), further the Refutatio Procli attributed to Procopius (PG 87.2: 2792e–h, fragments 7.1–2 and 8, ed. Amato, Budé). See Amato 2014, xlv–lii and Champion 2014, 105–35, 165–68 for a detailed discussion of Procopius's critique of Neoplatonic claims about creation.
26. In any case, it may be significant that Procopius in his Commentary on Genesis presents the excerpts of earlier commentators without identifying them and in such a way that he seems to reproduce one single author. This technique obviously minimizes dogmatic differences. See Metzler 2015, xiii.
28. Chor. Or. 8.24: Μικροῦ μέ τι διέδραμε τῶν ἐκείνου κατορθωμάτων. εἰωθότων γὰρ ὅσοι τὴν ὅλην σπουδὴν ἀπονέμουσι λόγοις, εἴ ποτε πράγμασιν ὁμιλεῖν ἀναγκάζοιντο, λίαν ἀρχαίως φέρεσθαι καὶ γέλωτα κινεῖν τοῖς τὰ τοιαῦτα δεινοῖς, οὐδενὸς ὤφθη δεύτερος τῶν ταύτην μόνον ἠσκημένων τὴν τέχνην.
30. For example, Chor. Or. 1.78; 7.18–23, 27, 32. Interestingly, Choricius in Or. 1.10 seems to claim that his own eulogy of Marcianus fulfills the same functions as hagiographic accounts of god-loving men in celebrations.
32. Chor. Or. 8.50. It is however wrong to infer from that remark that the bishop administrated the rhetorical school for some time or that the Church even exercised oversight over the school, as Litsas 1980, 12 and Ashkenazi 2004, 206–7 postulate.
33. Chor. Or. 8.23, see also 19. The concern with gluttony has a contemporary parallel in the monasticism of Gaza. See Dorotheus, Doct. 15.161 (SCh 92: 450). Considering that this was also a topic in pagan philosophy, it is however unlikely that, as Greco 2011, 106–7 suggests, Choricius paraphrases here a specific Christian model.
34. Proc. Gaz. Ep. 2, 75, 106, 131, see also 159, a meditation on human fate (ed. Garzya and Loenertz 1963, 3–4, 41, 55–56, 67, 76–77). See Ciccolella 2010, 132–34.
35. For his Atticist ideal see Chor. Or. 1 dial. 4; Or. 6.26; 8.1, 8; 26.4; 32.77; Corcella 2008, 447. The Athenian ideal features prominently also in Procopius's own letters, for instance in Ep. 33, 38, 101 (ed. Garzya and Loenertz 1963, 21, 24, 53–54) and the letter exchange with Megethius (ed. Amato, Teubner).
37. A similar expression is used by Procopius himself in his second monody, devoted to a man who had held offices in the local and imperial administration, see Op. 15 = Or. 5.6 (ed. Amato, Budé).
38. Chor. Or. 8.25, paraphrasing Pl. Grg. 456b (ed. Burnet, OCT).
39. The imagery of meal and banquet for the orator's art is abundant in Choricius's speeches; see, for instance, Chor. Or. 13.16; 16.1; Or. 1 dial. 5; Or. 3 dial. 4. See Greco 2014, 248–49 on the Platonic model of the metaphor.
41. Choricius refers to passions as mental illness and philosophical therapy, for instance at Or.3.15–16; 7.28; 32.101–2; 42.91.
42. Chor. Or. 8.6. Although this passage refers to Procopius as the head of school, the comparison with Pericles and then further episodes of Procopius's influence on people in Gaza strongly indicate that Choricius sees him as a powerful public speaker. See further Or. 8.19, drawing a parallel to Xenocrates converting Polemon from a dissolute life to philosophy.
44. Hadot's (1995) magisterial monograph shows how much the Christian notion of spiritual exercises owed to the philosophical tradition. He specifically deals with Dorotheus of Gaza and his philosophical instruction.
45. Stenger 2017 argues that Dorotheus in his Doctrinae diversae transferred methods and principles of the philosophical schools to his coenobium, though without acknowledging his debt to the classical tradition.
46. Chor. Or. 8.34, probably alluding to Isoc. 1.41–42 (ed. Mandilaras, Teubner).
47. Chor. Or. 8.37–40. See Hdt. 1.119 (Harpagus and Astyages), 1.31 (Cleobis and Biton); Hom. Il. 17.33–42 (Euphorbus). For the use of the Cleobis and Biton episode in consolatory speeches, see Men. Rhet. 2.414.1–2.
48. Chor. Or. 8.26: ἀνὴρ σοφίας μεστός, ἐπὶ καλῇ μοίρᾳ τῶν λόγων τεχθείς, δεινὸς τὰ δέοντα γνῶναι καὶ λαμπρὸς ἑρμηνεῦσαι.
50. Choricius's portrayal apparently reflects Procopius's actual role in Gaza as documented by his letters. The letters show his attempts to influence decision making at the imperial court in
51. Chor. Or. 8.49: … ὃν Ἑρμοῦ λογίου παράδειγμα τῶν σοφιστῶν τις καλεῖ.
52. Aristid. Or. 3.663 (ed. Lenz and Behr 1976–1980, fasc. 3: 511): … Δημοσθένους, ὃν ἐγὼ φαίην ἂν Ἑρμοῦ τινος λογίου τύπον εἰς ἀνθρώπους κατελθεῖν. Choricius adopts this phrase also in Or. 3.5 and 13.15. On this motif, see also Jul. Or. 7.237c (ed. Nesselrath, Teubner); Eun. V. Soph. 490 (ed. Goulet, Budé); Dam. V. Isid. fr. 13A3.
53. Aristid. Or. 3.12 (ed. Lenz and Behr 1976–1980, fasc. 2: 295–96): ἐκεῖνος τοίνυν λέγεται βιῶναι μὲν οὕτως σεμνῶς ὥστε μηδὲν τῶν προφητῶν καὶ τῶν ἱερέων τὸν ἐκείνου βίον διαφέρειν, οὕτω δὲ εἶναι σώφρων ὥστε καὶ βαδίζειν τεταγμένα καὶ τὴν ὀρθὴν ὁδὸν σώζειν κατὰ τὴν παροιμίαν.
56. Compare Chor. Or. 8.18–20 with Aristid. Or. 3.12–17, 29 (ed. Lenz and Behr 1976–1980, fasc. 2: 295–98, 301–2). Aristides, too, emphasizes Pericles's pedagogic influence over the people and the restraint of passions.
57. Chor. Or. 8.35: ἰδιώτῃ μὲν γὰρ φάρμακον ἔστω λύπης ὁ χρόνος, ὁ δὲ διὰ Μούσης ἐλθὼν καὶ θείων γευσάμενος ἀκουσμάτων μή μοι τὴν τοιαύτην θεραπείαν ἀναμενέτω.
58. Choricius commends the same combination in his second eulogy of Marcianus, Or. 2.9.
59. Chor. Or. 8.44: πάλαι ταῦτα βοῶσι καὶ ποιηταὶ καὶ φιλοσοφίαν ἀσκήσαντες ῥήτορές τε καὶ συγγραφεῖς ὥσπερ εἰς ἓν συνελθόντες καὶ πρὸς ἀλλήλους συνθέμενοι μίαν ἅπαντες γνώμην περὶ τῶν ἀνθρωπείων κακῶν ἀποφήνασθαι.
60. For education as "self-help" see Chor. Or. 8.36–37, 41.
61. Chor. Or. 8.45 with reference to Pl. Epin. 977d (ed. Burnet, OCT).
62. Choricius's defense of classical education may also foreshadow the challenges that paideia faced, and the debate over its value, in the middle of the century. See Bell 2013, 249–52 on the decline of paideia under Justinian.
63. See, for example, Aeneas of Gaza's philosophical dialogue Theophrastus; Barsanuphius and John, Ep. 722, 809 (SCh 468); Choricius's Apology for the Mimes (Or. 32). Proc. Gaz. Ep. 77 (ed. Garzya and Loenertz 1963, 42) is evidence that Procopius himself occasionally had to deal with such competing demands. In this letter, addressed to his friend Diodorus, Procopius expresses his disappointment that the addressee had preferred not to join him at a martyrs' feast because of an omen, a dream vision of Maiuma. Thus, the letter seems to indicate an opposition between the Christian celebration and the profane Maiuma festival. Amato 2010, however, hypothesizes that the panegyris for the martyrs combined the religious celebration with the profane festivities of the Maiuma.