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Aelius Aristides

Born: 117 AD
Birthplace: Hadriani, Mysia, Greece
Died: 189 AD
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Scholar

Nationality: Ancient Rome
Executive summary: Greco-Roman rhetorician, sophist

Aelius Aristides, surnamed Theodorus, a Greek rhetorician and sophist, son of Eudaemon, a priest of Zeus, was born at Hadriani in Mysia, AD 117 (or 129). He studied under Herodes Atticus of Athens, Polemon of Smyrna, and Alexander of Cotyaeum, in whose honor he composed a funeral oration still extant. In the practice of his calling he travelled through Greece, Italy, Egypt and Asia, and in many places the inhabitants erected statues to him in recognition of his talents. In 156 he was attacked by an illness which lasted thirteen years, the nature of which has caused considerable speculation. However, it in no way interfered with his studies; in fact, they were prescribed as part of his cure. Aristides' favorite place of residence was Smyrna. In 178, when it was destroyed by an earthquake, he wrote an account of the disaster to Marcus Aurelius, which deeply affected the emperor and induced him to rebuild the city. The grateful inhabitants set up a statue in honor of Aristides, and styled him the "builder" of Smyrna. He refused all honors from them except that of priest of Asclepius, which office he held until his death, about 189.

The extant works of Aristides consist of two small rhetorical treatises and fifty-five declamations, some not really speeches at all. The treatises are on political and simple speech, in which he takes Demosthenes and Xenophon as models for illustration; some critics attribute these to a later compiler (Spengel, Rhetores Graeci). The six Sacred Discourses have attracted some attention. They give a full account of his protracted illness, including a mass of superstitious details of visions, dreams and wonderful cures, which the god Asclepius ordered him to record. These cures, from his account, offer similarities to the effects produced by hypnotism. The speeches proper are epideictic or show speeches -- on certain gods, panegyrics of the emperor and individual cities (Smyrna, Rome); justificatory -- the attack on Plato's Gorgias in defense of rhetoric and the four statesmen, Thucydides, Miltiades, Pericles, Cimon; symbouleutic or political, the subjects being taken from the past history of free Greece -- the Sicilian expedition, peace negotiations with Sparta, the political situation after the battle of Leuctra.

The Panathenaicus and Encomium of Rome were actually delivered, the former imitated from Isocrates. The Leptinea -- the genuineness of which is disputed -- contrast unfavorably with the speech of Demosthenes. Aristides' works were highly esteemed by his contemporaries; they were much used for school instruction, and distinguished rhetoricians wrote commentaries upon them. His style, formed on the best models, is generally clear and correct, though sometimes obscured by rhetorical ornamentation; his subjects being mainly fictitious, the cause possessed no living interest, and his attention was concentrated on form and diction.

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