Friday, June 02, 2023


No Bed of Roses

Campbell Bonner, "Witchcraft in the Lecture Room of Libanius," Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 63 (1932) 34-44 (at 35-36):
But what professor's life is a bed of roses? We find in the orations that Libanius addresses to his students sufficient evidence of his troubles. In speciously receptive moments his pupils plagued the weary old sophist to entertain them with specimens of his epideictic oratory, and when he complied he sometimes found that he had cast his pearls before swine.4 Nothing could be truer to life than his picture of those lubberly youths tardily answering the summons to the lecture hall, mincing in, as he says, at the pace of a bride, or a tightrope walker, the late comers annoying those already seated, then even in the progress of the speech exchanging nods and whispers about horses and charioteers, actors and dancers, a fight just past or impending, while some stood as if carved out of stone, one hand crossed over the other, others fidgeted with their noses, and so on through the catalogue of schoolboy rudeness.5 In wilder moods they might seize upon one of the pedagogues who attended them to school and toss him in a carpet—a form of sport to which the emperor Otho was addicted in his riotous youth thereby drawing down upon themselves a lecture upon the heinousness of their sin.6

4 Or. 3.

5 Or. 3, 11-13. The passage has been translated or paraphrased by various writers on the schools of the period: Sievers, op. cit. p. 29; Capes, University Life in Ancient Athens, p. 143 f.; Walden, Universities of Ancient Greece, p. 321 f.; Schemmel, "Der Sophist Libanios als Schüler und Lehrer" (Neue Jahrb. xx [Pädagogik x], 65).

6 Or. 58, 18; Suet. Otho 2.
Id. (at 37-38):
In describing the discovery which convinced him that black arts were in practice against him, Libanius says "there appeared in the audience hall, I know not whence, a chameleon—an old chameleon, dead for many months. Its head was placed between its two hind feet, one of its forefeet was missing, the other was closing the mouth to impose silence."10 The last clause shows clearly that Libanius saw in the wretched body of the creature a token of the sufferings that some enemy desired to inflict upon him.

10 Or. 1, 249.

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