Liba'nius（*Liba/nios), the most distinguished among the Greek sophists and rhetoricians of the fourth century of our era. He was born at Antioch, on the Orontes, and belonged to an illustrious family of that place; but the year of his birth is uncertain, some assigning it to A. D. 314, and others two years later, according to a passage in one of the orations of Libanius (i. p. 94, ed. Reiske). He received his first education, which was probably not of a very high character, in his native place, but being urged on by an invincible desire of acquiring knowledge and cultivating his mind, he went to Athens. He himself mentions among his teachers Cleobulus, Didymus, and Zenobius (Epist. 50, 100, 321, 407, 1181). While at Athens, he became the object of a series of intrigues, against which he had to struggle throughout his subsequent life. The pedantry then prevalent at Athens, to which he was obliged to submit, made a bad impression upon him, so that he appears to have devoted himself more to private study than to the methodic but pedantic system adopted in the schools (Liban. De Fort. sua, p. 13, &c.; Eunap. Vit. Soph. p. 130). His favourite study was the classical writers of Greece, and the love he thus early imbibed for them, accompanied him through life (De Fort. sua, pp. 9, 100, 144; Eunap. p. 131). His talent and perseverance attracted general attention, and he had the certain prospect of obtaining the chair of rhetoric at Athens (De Fort. sua, p. 19, &c.), but he himself was not inclined to accept the office, and left Athens, accompanying his friend Crispinus to Heracleia in Pontus (De Fort. sua, p. 21, &c.). On his return, as he passed through Constantinople, he was prevailed upon by the rhetorician Nicocles, who held out to him the most brilliant prospects, to remain in that capital; but before he settled there, he went to Athens to settle some of his affairs. On his return to Constantinople, he found that a sophist from Cappadocia had in the meantime occupied the place which he had hoped to obtain (De Fort. sua, p. 25, &c). He was accordingly obliged to set up a private school, and in a short time he obtained so large a number of pupils, that the classes of the public professors were completely deserted (l.c. p. 29). The latter, stimulated by envy and jealousy, devised means of revenge: they charged him with being a magician, and the prefect Limenius, who was a personal enemy of Libanius, supported them, and about A. D. 346 expelled him from the city of Constantinople (I. c. p. 30, &c.; Eunap. p. 131, &c.). He went to Nicomedeia, where he taught with equal success, but also drew upon himself an equal degree of malice from his opponents (De Fort. sus, p. 36, &c.). After a stay of five years, which he himself calls the happiest of his whole life (l.c. p. 38), he was called back to Constantinople. But he met with a cool reception there, and soon after returned to Nicomedeia, to which place he had formed a strong attachment. An epidemic disease, however, which raged there, obliged him again to go back to Constantinople (l.c. p. 54, &c.). Strategius, one of his friends, procured him an invitation to the chair of rhetoric at Athens, which however Libanius declined to accept (l.c. p. 58, &c.), and being tired of the annoyances to which he was exposed at Constantinople, he paid a visit to his native city of Antioch; and as on his return to Constantinople, he began to suffer from ill health, his medical attendants advised him to give up teaching, and he sued for and obtained from the emperor Gallus permission to settle at Antioch, where he spent the remainder of his life. The emperor Julian, who showed him great favour and admired his talent, corresponded with him (l. e. p. 87; Eunap. p. 135; Suidas, s.v. Λιβάνιος). In the reign of Valens he was at first persecuted, but he afterwards succeeded in winning the favour of that monarch also; Libanius wrote a eulogy upon him, and prevailed upon him to promulgate a law by which certain advantages were granted to natural children, in which Libanius himself was interested, because he himself was not married, but lived in concubinage (l.c. pp. 97, 125, 166; Eunap. p. 133). The emperor Theodosius likewise showed him esteem (De Fort. sua, p. 137), but notwithstanding the marks of distinction he received from high quarters, his enjoyment of life was disturbed by ill health (l.c. pp. 94, &c., 119, 146, &c.), by misfortunes in his family (l.c. pp. 67, &c., 126, &c., 165, &c.), and more especially by the disputes in which he was incessantly involved, partly with rival sophists, and partly with the prefects (l.c. pp. 76, 86, 69, &c., 92, &c., 98, &c., 112, &c.). It cannot, however, be denied, that he himself was as much to blame as his opponents, for he appears to have provoked them by his querulous disposition, and by the pride and vanity which everywhere appear in his orations, and which led him to interfere in political questions which it would have been wiser to have left alone (l.c. pp. 129, 132, 140). In other respects, however, his personal character seems to have been gentle and moderate, for although he was a pagan, and sympathised with the emperor Julian in all his views and plans, still he always showed a praiseworthy toleration towards the Christians. He was the teacher of St. Basil and John Chrysostom, with whom he always kept up a friendly relation. The year of his death is uncertain, but from one of his epistles it is evident that in A. D. 391 he must have been still alive (Epist. 941), but it is probable that he died a few years after, in the reign of Arcadius. This account of the life of Libanius is mainly based upon an autobiography of the rhetorician which is prefixed to Reiske's edition of his works (vol. i. p. 1, &c.), under the title Βίος ῤ λόγος περὶ τῆς ἑαυτοῦ τύχης, or De Fortuna sua, the brief article of Suidas (s. v. Λιβάνιος), and on the information given by Eunapius in his Vitae Sophistarum (p. 139, &c.).
WorksWe still posses a considerable number of the works of Libanius, but how many may have been lost is uncertain.
Προγυμνασμάτων παραδείγματα, i. e. model pieces for rhetorical exercises, in thirteen sections.
EditionsTo this, however, some more sections were added by F. Morellus in his edition (Paris, 1606). But modern criticism has shown pretty clearly that the additions of Morellus are the productions of two other rhetoricians, Nicolaus and Severus (Walz, Rhet. Graec. i. pp. 394, &c., 546).
2. ΛόγοιΛόγοι or orations, whose number, in Reiske's edition, amounts to sixty-five (vol. i.--iii.). Another oration of Libanius Περὶ Ὀλυμπίου, was discovered in a Barberini MS. by J. Ph. Siebenkees, who published it in his Anecdota Graeca (Nürnberg, 1798, pp. 75, 89). A sixty-seventh oration was first published by A. Mai in his second edition of Fronto (Rome, 1823, p. 421, &c.).
3. ΜελέταιΜελέται or declamations, i. e. orations on fictitious subjects, and descriptions of various kinds. Their number in Reiske's edition is forty-eight, but two additional ones were published afterwards, one by F. Morellus (Venice, 1785, 8vo.), and the other by Boissonade, in his Anecdota Graeca (i. pp. 165-171).
4. Life of DemosthenesA life of Demosthenes, and arguments to the speeches of the same orator. They are printed in Reiske's edition of Libanius (iv. p. 266, &c.), and also in most of the editions of Demosthenes.
5. ἘπιστολαίἘπιστολαί, or letters, of which a very large number is still extant. Many of these letters are extremely interesting, being addressed to the most eminent men of his time, such as the emperor Julian, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, and others. In this collection there are also many very short letters, being either letters of introduction, or formal notes of politeness and the like. The style in all of them is neat and elegant.
EditionsIn the edition of J. C. Wolf (Amsterdam, 1738, fol.) there are no less than 1605 epistles in Greek, in addition to which there are 397 epistles of which we only possess a Latin translation by Zambicarius, first published at Krakau, but reprinted with several others in Wolf's edition (p. 735, &c.). Two other letters in the Greek original were published by Bloch, in Munter's Miscellanea (Hafiiae, 1.2, p. 139, &c.).
ἐπιστολικοὶ χαρακτῆρες, or formulae of letters.