Libanius the Antiochene

More that fifteen hundred years before F. A. Neale wrote his book “Evenings in Antioch” Libanius was born into one of the wealthy families of the city. He was a pagan and when he grew up he became a teacher of rhetoric. Some of his students became even more famous than their teacher. One of them was the preacher John Chrysostom.

In his Oration XI Libanius gives a speech in praise of his hometown. This is how he described nature around Antioch:

This, now, I can say concerning my native city, that it is the fairest adornment of the land that is fairest under heaven. …

With us, however, all things vie with one another, the land, the streams, the temperate blending of the climate. As for the land, it is level like the sea, deep and rich and soft, yielding easily to the plough, wonderfully surpassing the expectations of its farmers, at once good for sowing and good for growing, and splendidly suited to both kinds of crops, providing tall trees in all their beauty and sheaves of grain taller than trees are in other lands, and crops in abundance, with more than an abundance of beauty. …

The rivers which run through the country, who could number them, some large, some small, some flourishing at seasons, others created by the winter, all equally useful, some flowing from the mountains, some raising in the plains, some flowing one into another, others into the lake and others still journeying to the sea? …

And while winter provides rain to satiety for the earth, taking away the cold, the heat makes the wheat spring up and fosters it with summer breezes which save both our bodies and crops from damage from burning heat. Thus for us alone is it possible to enjoy whichever of the seasons is present and to receive the coming one with pleasure, since in all of them there is a certain temperateness and gracefulness. …

(Translation by Glanville Downey).

A lot of things have changed in Antioch since Libanius wrote his oration. Modern Antakya cannot measure up it its own past. Most of the old and beautiful houses are neglected and left to decay while new and ugly concrete buildings are erected. And nature that Libanius praised so highly is all too often littered with garbage and empty plastic bags.
But if you look behind it, the beauty is still there.

About Antiochene

Writer and translatorliving in Antioch on the Orontes (Antakya, Turkey) and Copenhagen.
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