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Aristides, Publius Aelius


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(ad 117–after 181),

sophist (see second sophistic) and man of letters. Born in Mysia, he studied in Athens and Pergamum. Aged 26, he suffered the first of a long series of illnesses, which ended his hopes of a great public career and drove him to spend much of his time as a patient at the Asclepieum (see asclepius) of Pergamum. The rest of his life was passed mainly in Asia Minor, where he made his home in Smyrna, and when not ill occupied himself in writing and lecturing.

His many‐sided literary output (built on an intimate knowledge of the Classical literary heritage) made him a giant in his own day and, through its subsequent popularity, a ‘pivotal figure in the transmission of Hellenism’. It includes addresses delivered on public and private occasions, declamations on historical themes, polemical essays, prose hymns to various gods, and six books of Sacred Teachings. Among the public addresses, To Rome paints an impressive picture of the Roman achievement, as seen by an admiring provincial, while the Panathenaic Oration provides a potted history of Classical Athens. The historical declamations show an equal facility with Classical oratorical style and with the fine details of 5th and 4th cent. bc history. Of the polemical works, the most interesting are On Rhetoric and In Defence of the Four, which answer Plato's attack on rhetoric and politicians in Gorgias. The prose hymns were an influential model for later writers. The Sacred Teachings are in a class apart. A record of revelations made to Aristides in dreams by Asclepius, and of his obedience to the god's instructions, they supply both evidence for the practices associated with temple medicine (see medicine, 2) and the fullest first‐hand report of personal religious experiences that survives from any pagan writer.

Subjects: Classical studies

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