New Date! - Polytheism, Monotheism, and the Grey Areas in between

Antioch in the Fourth Century

Raffaella Cribiore (NYU)

In the fourth century CE pagans and Christians belonged to two groups that were not fixed and immutable but were in continuous evolution. The invaluable evidence from the sophist Libanius in Antioch allows us a glimpse at how some people were able to move smoothly in and out of pagan and Christian circles. In his orations Libanius projected the image of official spokesman of paganism that caught the attention of scholars. Yet through his letters it is possible to trace some change in his attitude over the course of his life. While mentions of individual gods occur throughout the orations, all individual gods except Zeus disappear from the late letters, though he continues to refer to the gods as a group. There are also many references to a single theos in both the orations and the letters. We cannot regard these occurrences either as examples of the complete assimilation of God / gods as in earlier centuries or as expressions of deference to Julian or to the Christian court. What one finds in Libanius or in Ammianus is not a restrictively monotheistic conviction but a shift toward a form of monotheism that can consist of the supremacy of one god over other deities or of the absorption of many gods into a single one.

A specialist in education in the Greek and Roman worlds, papyrology, and ancient rhetoric, Raffaella Cribiore has joined NYU as a Professor in the Department of Classics. She was previously at Columbia University where she was Curator of Papyri in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and an adjunct professor in the Department of Classics. She has written three books on ancient education: Writing, Teachers and Students in Graeco-Roman Egypt (Atlanta 1996); Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt (Princeton 2001), which won the prestigious Goodwin Award of the American Philological Association in 2004; and The School of Libanius in Late Antique Antioch (Princeton 2007). She also coauthored with R.S. Bagnall the book Women’s Letters in Ancient Egypt: 300 BC-AD 800 (Ann Arbor 2006). She was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 2004 and has written ca. 40 articles, primarily on ancient education.

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