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The Family of Argyrius

  • A. F. Norman (a1)


There are in the literary sources few examples of curial life extending over three generations with such a continuity of detail as is provided by Libanius in his references to the family of Argyrius. Yet in the more accessible works of reference, the student of the social life of the later Roman Empire will discover merely a shortened version by Ensslin (PW. Suppl. VII, 680) of Seeck's note on Obodianus (Briefe, 222). In addition, the index of the Teubner edition of Libanius presents much confusion between grandfather and grandson.

Towards the end of his life, Libanius addressed to the Emperor Theodosius an open letter upon the parlous state of the curiae at the time, contrasting their present hard lot with the state of things which had prevailed earlier in the century. In dealing with the recruitment of fresh blood into the curia, he cites as an example of previous practice the conduct of his own grandfather (Or. xlix. 18). He, some years before his death in 324, had been instrumental in securing for a young foreigner named Argyrius an introduction into the curia of Antioch. This he had succeeded in doing, despite Argyrius' alien birth, his youth, and lack of property, even against the opposition of the then governor and the then sophist of the city, Zenobius. Oddly enough, there was a family relationship between Zenobius and Argyrius, which Libanius mentions at a later time (Ep. 101).



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1 Paek, (T.A.P.A. LXXXII, 1951, p. 179, note 9) expresses the opinion that in 332 Argyrius may have undertaken the presentation of the Olympia in Libanius' place.

2 Since the composition of this article, the identification of Eubulus as given above has been challenged by Wolf, (Vom Schulwesen der Spätantike, pp. 93–6) in two particulars which are fundamental.

(a) He gives a fresh view upon the disputed identification of the Phoenician, sophist and antagonist of Libanius. Seeck, (Briefe, 39 ff.) had identified him with Acacius of Caesarea; Foerster (Vol. X, pp. 760–1) identified him with Eubulus (the view taken above). Wolf's suggestion is that the sophist is Acacius and that Eubulus is his patron in the curia, the two being the centre of the clique which opposes that of the sophist Libanius and his uncle, the decurion Phasganius. On this view, it is Acacius who leaves Antioch in the summer vacations for Phoenicia (i.e. Palestine), and is the consistent opponent of Libanius in rhetoric, while Eubulus is his political opponent. The argument is supported by a comparison of the narrative of Or. i. 90–120 with the details given in Epp. 274, 289, 454, 555, 754—a plausible interpretation. However, Libanius' method of introducing the sophist by description first, then going on to name Eubulus (Or. i. 90; Ep. 555), seems to me decisive. It is also consistent with his practice elsewhere in Or. i; e.g. 31 (Nicocles), 44–5 (Alexander), 66–8 (Philagrius), 164 (Lupicinus), 211 (Pelagius and Marcellinus). Moreover, the circumstances point equally well to Eubulus. We know that he was a successful rhetor. In 359 he is found giving a public performance (Ep. 119), and membership of the curia is by no means incompatible with the profession of rhetoric. In Ep. 173 the relations between Libanius and his opponent and his surviving son must be referred to Eubulus not Acacius. This information reconciles the of Ep. 561 (cf. Ep. 439) with the εἶς οἶκος of Ep. 537 (cf. Epp. 504, 529, 550) and the μοῑρα of Or. i. 116.

Admittedly, there had been rivalry between Libanius and Acacius (cf. Epp. 274, 722; Eunapius, vita Acacii). That, he says, was long past by the time Acacius left Antioch in 360, and does not seem to have lasted long after Libanius' arrival. The oration which Eunapius says dealt with Acacius occurs in 354/5 (Ep. 405). From about 358/9 Libanius can be seen working in Antioch amicably with him (Ep. 259, 289, 1306–7).

(b) Wolf rejects the deduction made by Seeck, (Briefe, 222) from the text of Or. xxxi. 47, that Eubulus is the elder brother of Obodianus. τὸν πρεσβύτερον, he says, refers not to Eubulus just mentioned but to the elder Argyrius. Obodianus is thus bidden to follow his father's example, a commonplace in the Letters. This interpretation gains much from the fact that nowhere is it explicitly stated that there is such a family connexion between Argyrius and Eubulus. This by itself is not, however, an insuperable objection. Libanius' silences about family relationships are as casual, as is his information; e.g. that between Argyrius and Zenobius is casually referred to in a commendation of a relative of Zenobius (Ep. 101); and nowhere in his letters to Modestus does Libanius refer to a family connexion between them, though he does claim such relationship with Eumolpius (Ep. 75. 6), who is almost certainly the brother of Modestus.

Other points which could lend some support to Seeck's view are:

(i) Argyrius and Eubulus are mentioned together as famous rhetors of the curia; in this context Libanius has just dealt with examples of rhetorical prowess provided by his own family (Or. xxxv. 10).

(ii) Argyrius came from outside, probably from the south, since he has connexions in Elusa. He was renowned as a rhetor. Eubulus is a contemporary of Libanius, and, if son of Argyrius, would himself be born outside Antioch. Thus ‘Phoenician, son and grandson of sophists’ (Or. i. 90) is not unsuited to Eubulus. Libanius can stress the alien origin in disapproval of the prodigal son while approving it in the case of his benefactor Argyrius.

(iii) In 355 the sophist's father is still alive in circumstances similar to those of Argyrius in Ep. 113 three years later (Ep. 405. 9, ).

(iv) The division of family loyalties has its parallel in the case of Argyrius and Zenobius. In both cases the reason is connected with professional interests. The sophistic immunity from curial obligations would probably hold some attractions for Eubulus. Other family feuds can be seen in Or. xxxviii (Silvanus and Gaudentius) and Or. lxiii (Olympius and Miccalus).

Wolf's suggestion, though attractive, I do not find completely convincing.

3 The date of Or. xxxi, Pro Rhetoribus. Wolf (pp. 94–6) re-examines the dating. Foerster (Vol. iii, 119) had originally dated it to 355, but later changed his mind, dating the speech t0 390, and identifying the sophist in Caesarea with Priscio (Vol. xi, 632). Wolf, in accordance with the suggestion of Walden, (Universities, p. 267), places it in the years 360/1. The speech is certainly before 364, when Arsenius is dead. In Or. xxxi. 47 he is still a student, as he was in 356/7 (Ep. 540). By the time of his death he had already entered upon the career of advocate (Ep. 1260. 4). The oration, then, is a year or two before 364. The sophist in Caesarea at this time was Acacius, and he had left Antioch before 361 (Or. xxxi. 42; Epp. 274, 289). The oration thus lies between 361 and 363. I would suggest that it is to be dated to the very end of 361 or the beginning of 362. Elpidius, who had cut Libanius own pay, may still have been in the saddle, thus accounting for the comparative mildness with which Libanius deals with the recent coolness of the administration towards rhetoric.


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