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Eusebia and Encomium: Julian Writes the Power of Praise

Jacqueline Long

Loyola University Chicago

This paper applies to late-antique imperial panegyric the maxim that a thoughtfully engaged outlier defines its field. Julian’s Speech of Thanks to Eusebia is the sole example preserved from antiquity of a prose address ostensibly celebrating a living empress. Arguably the speaker, as a Caesar, outranked his honoree. He represented not a community but himself. He spoke not to Eusebia but about her, in the third person throughout. He was not present when the speech was delivered before her, if ever it was delivered at all. More typically of encomium, recent critical attention has problematized its targeting and its sincerity (Tougher 1998 and 1998, Vatsend 2000, James 2012). But Julian reflected on his enterprise explicitly throughout the speech: assessing it in the terms he set, as an erudite performance-piece (cf. Nixon 1983, Bouffartigue 1992, Webb 2003), reveals his critique of the literary form he was using and this speech’s relationship with his other works.

Where Julian in his first Encomium of Constantius declared philosophical superiority to rhetorical praise (Or. 1.1-3C), in the Speech of Thanks to Eusebia he cited Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as precedents for praise, and Xenophon in historical writing (Or. 3.104A). Neither gambit seriously dichotomized philosophy and encomium: they alike served Julian’s claims to praise with intellectual and moral probity and a fluency extended from stricter discourse now to social gracefulness. In citing Homeric praise of wives (Or. 3.104C-106B), Julian aligned the Speech of Thanks not only with the second Encomium of Constantius for its abundant Homeric comparisons but also with the argument he later credited to his tutor Mardonius (Misop. 351C-352A) that literature, Homer paradigmatically, preeminently conferred pleasure. Thus when Julian carried through his promise to praise Eusebia with Classical literary amplification (Or. 3.110C, 112D-114B, 114C, 115B, 127D-128D, Homer; 116A Pindar; 126D-127B, Herodotus, etc.) and dilated most on Eusebia’s literary benefactions to him, sending him to Greece after preserving him from “every unjust charge” in the wake of Gallus’s execution (Or. 3.118B-120D) and making “Gaul and Celtis a Greek Museion by virtue of books” she gave him (Or. 3.123D-126A), Julian cast her as a transcendent patron in the very medium through which he returned to her his gratitude. James objected correctly that “Eusebia as a ‘person’ was not present” in the Speech of Thanks, correspondingly with the fact “that the Flavian empresses play a relatively small part in the histories of this period” (p.57). But if the goal of praise is to elevate the honorand morally correctly into the eternal and absolute of artistic pleasure, the temporal deeds of saving Julian’s life and getting him named Caesar – with which the Speech does credit her – are miserably particular acts. Focusing the speech on them might risk showing exactly how much Eusebia did contribute to Julian’s acquittal and promotion. It might make Julian a topic rather than the impresario of the speech. Julian instead drove the conventions of formal rhetorical praise into the empyrean (cf. Or. 3.122A-D, of the promotion but recalling Plat. Phaedr. 246a-54e and Il. 23.341): of course his encomium turned on his own successful performance of a literary feat, but he treated the literary occasion as a spur to triumph. Julian’s literary self-coaching through his exploit calls his audience’s attention to his genre’s power to transform.

Session/Panel Title

The Art of Praise: Panegyric and Encomium in Late Antiquity

Session/Paper Number


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