), distinguished teacher of rhetoric, was a native of Armenia, born about A. D. 276, of good connections, though poor.
He came to Antioch to study under the rhetorician Ulpian. Having soon risen to high distinction in his school, he removed to Athens, where he placed himself under Julian, then seated in the chair of rhetoric.
There came along with him from Antioch his friend Hephaestion.
A fact told by Eunapius in his life of Proaeresius (Vit. Soph.
vol. i. p. 73, ed. Boissonade), illustrates both the poverty and the zeal of these youths. They had between them but one change of raiment (ἱμάτιον καὶ τριβώνιον
), and three thin, faded blankets (στρώματα
). When Proaeresius went forth to the public schools, his friend lay in bed working his exercises, and this they did alternately. Proaeresius soon acquired a high place in his master's esteem, of which, as well as his own merit, a singular proof is given by Eunapius (ibid.
p. 71,&c.). On the death of Julian (according to Clinton, Fast. Rom.
p. 401, in A. D. 340), who left Proaeresius his house (Eunap. ibid.
p. 69), it was determined no longer to confine the chair of rhetoric to one, but to extend this honour to many. (Eunap. ibid.
p. 79.) Epiphanius, Diophantus, Sopolis, Parnasius, and Hephaestion were chosen from among a crowd of competitors; but Hephaestion left Athens, dreading competition with Proaeresius.
The students, generally, betook themselves to their professors, according to their nations; and there attached themselves to Proaeresius the students coming from the district south from Pontus inclusive, as far as Egypt and Lybia. His great success excited the jealousy of the others, who combined against him. Through the intervention of a corrupt proconsul, he was driven from Athens.
A new proconsul not only restored him, but, after a public trial, bestowed on him public marks of approbation, and placed him at once at the head of all the teachers of rhetoric in Athens.
The fresh attempts of his enemies to supplant him by splendid entertainments, at which they endeavoured to win over men of power, were rendered nugatory by the arrival in Athens of Anatolius, the praefect of Illyrium.
It is probable that the favour with which that accomplished man regarded Proaeresius, attracted to the latter the attention of the emperor Constans, who sent for him to Gaul, about A. D. 342. Constans detained him for more than one year (if we may found upon the expression χειμῶνας
, Eunap. ibid.
p. 89), and then sent him to Rome. Here he was highly esteemed, and having written or delivered a eulogy on the city, was honoured in return with a life-size statue of bronze, bearing this inscription, "The Queen of Cities to the Prince of Eloquence.
" On his departure from Rome, he obtained for Athens a tributary supply of provisions from several islands -- a grant which was confirmed by the eparch of Athens at the solicitation of Anatolius--and he himself was honoured with the title of στρατοπεδάρχης
. When the emperor Julian (A. D. 362) had promulgated the decree, for which he is so strongly censured, even by his eulogist Ammianus Marcellinus (20.10
), forbidding teachers belonging to the Christian religion to practise their art, we are told (Hieron. in Chronic..
An. 2378), that Proaeresius was expressly exempted from its operation, but that he refused any immunity not enjoyed by his brethren. To this partial suspension of his rhetorical functions, Eunapius also alludes, but, distracted by his love of the man, and his hatred of his religion, says doubtingly, "he seemed to be a Christian" (ibid.
p. 92). Eunapius says that it was about this very time he himself arrived at Athens, and found in Proaeresius all the kindness of a father.
It is probable, then, that this was in the year 363, when Julian was in the East, and we may suppose the edict less rigidly enforced. Proaeresius was then in his 87th year. Eunapius remained at Athens for five years, and states that his friend and teacher died not many days after his departure. Proaeresius had married Amphicleia of Tralles, and by her he had several daughters, all of whom died in the bloom of youth, and on whom Milesius wrote him consolatory verses. His rival Diophantus pronounced his funeral oration (Eunap. ibid.
p. 94), and his epitaph, written by his pupil Gregory Nazianzen, is given by Fabricius (Bibl. Graec.
vol. vi. p. 137).
From the account given of him by Eunapius, who had the best means of information, we learn that he was of gigantic stature (Casaubon and Wyttenbach, ad Eunap.
vol. ii. p. 285, conjecture that he was nine feet high !), and of stately bearing, so vigorous in his old age, that it was impossible to suppose him other than in the prime of life. His constitution was of iron strength (σιδηρέον
), braving the winter colds of Gaul without shoes, and in light clothing, and drinking unwarmed the water of the Rhine when almost frozen. His style of eloquence seems to have been flowing, and graced with allusions to classic times.
He had great powers of extemporaneous speaking, and a prodigious memory.
He has no great credit, so far as style is concerned, in his pupil Eunapius, but the names of Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen (Sozomen, H. E.
6.17), fully bear out his high reputation as a teacher of rhetoric. (Compare Suidas, s.v. Clinton, Fast. Rom.
pp. 401, 405, 449, 469; Westermann, Geschichte der Griech. Beredt.