The Politics of the Second Sophistic
Janet Downie (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Lawrence Kim (Trinity University) [email@example.com]
Aldo Tagliabue (University of Notre Dame) [firstname.lastname@example.org]
The term “Second Sophistic” has always been political. Flavius Philostratus, who invented it, used the phrase to connect Imperial epideictic with the classical past of Athens, and when Erwin Rohde revived the term in the nineteenth century, his picture of Imperial Greek writers struggling to preserve an evanescent Hellenism reflected the fears of nineteenth century German nationalism. In recent decades, the label “Second Sophistic” has been adopted pragmatically as a convenient and meaningful frame for the growing scholarly conversation about Greek literary culture of the first three centuries CE, but it seems time to examine the intellectual consequences of this frame: What do we gain, and what do we miss when we read Imperial literature through the lens of the Second Sophistic? Does the term foster what Tim Whitmarsh describes as a “modern fantasy” of “seamless panhellenism”, or does it help to illuminate creative tensions between tradition and innovation in the literature of the period? What is distinctly “sophistic” about the “Second Sophistic”? And where does this term stand in relation to Imperial Literature understood more broadly as encompassing not only more or less classicizing Greek texts from the pagan sphere, but also Latin, Christian, Jewish, and other literary and paraliterary texts?
In this panel we will consider the politics of the Second Sophistic from a variety of perspectives, bringing together papers that address the literary, cultural, visual, linguistic, religious politics of the Imperial period itself, as well as papers that address the politics of the scholarly reception and interpretation of the period’s literary and cultural products – from large-scale cultural narratives of Greek tradition, decadence, and “Oriental” othering, to the politics of canonicity and disciplinary divides in the modern academy.