Aristides Analysis

Life

Aristides (ar-uh-STID-eez) was a famous speaker and writer of the Second Sophistic, a period under the Roman Empire when people could attain wealth and high office because of their rhetorical accomplishments. Much of his work survives, including scores of speech texts, hymns that he wrote to pagan deities, and a record of 130 of his dreams over a twenty-five-year period (translated as Sacred Tales, 1968). Born into a wealthy, culturally Greek family enfranchised as Roman citizens and well educated in rhetoric, he fell ill on his first speaking tour to Egypt in 142 c.e. Several years of invalidism followed, some of which he spent trying to restore his health by living in the temple of Asclepius (god of healing) at Pergamum. The Sacred Tales record instructions received from Asclepius in dreams. After about 147 c.e., he had a successful career speaking, writing, and teaching rhetoric; he also fought legal battles to avoid performing various civic offices. He suffered smallpox in 165 c.e., appealed to the emperor for help for the city of Smyrna after its destruction by an earthquake in 177 c.e., and died at the age of sixty-three.

Influence

Aristides’ works were used in teaching as models of rhetorical excellence for hundreds of years. He is also of interest to medical historians because of his unusually detailed record of illness and treatment.

Additional Resources

Behr, C. A., trans. Aristides. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973.

Russell, D. Antonine Literature. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1990.