Himerius and Choricius on Student Bridegrooms: An Unnoticed Variety of Epithalamium

Robert J. Penella

Fordham University

     The fourth-century sophist, Himerius of Athens, wrote an epithalamium for his student Severus (Or. 9 Colonna); the sixth-century sophist, Choricius of Gaza, wrote two such pieces (Ors. V and VI Foerster-Richtsteig), one for his student Zacharias, and the second for a group of three students.  These are the only extant epithalamia composed by sophists for their students that I am aware of.  Ninety percent of these three orations consists of the standard motifs of the epithalamium, as these appear in other extant examples of the genre and in rhetorical handbooks (e.g., Menander Rhetor).  However, all three are marked by a distinctive motif: put briefly, the sophist notes that his student bridegroom has been won away from the Muses (i.e., rhetorical study) by Eros or Aphrodite and has abandoned study for love.  I shall examine this motif in detail, noting how it is variously developed in the three epithalamia under discussion.  When the motif is presented as criticism it is especially interesting, because this seems to break the rule that a panegyrical epithalamium should contain no criticism; but this "criticism" may not have been intended seriously.  I suggest that this motif marked a subtype of epithalamium that was common, despite the survival of only a few examples: if geography was not an obstacle, it would have made good sense, for several reasons, for parents to invite their son's sophist to speak at his wedding.  Two fundamental upper class concerns, a good education and a good marriage for their sons, will have been brought together in the scene of the sophist delivering an epithalamium for his student: the teacher, the academic "father" of his student, who initiated him in paideia, now also "blesses" his marriage.

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