a1 St Andrews
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the works in which Ausonius of Bordeaux and Libanius of Antioch, writing within a few years of each other, recall their long and varied careers is that there is so little resemblance between them; the impressions given by these experienced and successful teachers could hardly be more disparate. The reader of Ausonius finds in his Protrepticus (Ep. 22 Peiper) a familiar enough picture of the terrors of the schoolroom; his Professores offer at first sight a series of bland commemorations apparently deficient in the interesting information which might be expected from such an archive. Libanius' many volumes, on the other hand, compared where appropriate with the Vitae Sophistarum of Eunapius, present a situation which is well summarised by the following sentences from Walden's work The Universities of Ancient Greece (still valuable seventy-five years after its publication): ‘There was, among the sophists of the fourth century…little, if any, of that spirit of brotherhood… that usually exists in a community of scholars at the present day. Instead there were jealousy, spite and often unrelenting hatred’. This striking divergence between Ausonius and his Eastern counterparts is unlikely to reflect a basic difference between East and West, or between Latin- and Greek-speaking milieux; the complaints of Augustine about his problems in Africa and Rome warn against such a simple answer. When one adds the evidence provided seven centuries later by the Frenchman Peter Abelard, whose plaintive Historia Calamitatum — an account of the disasters he suffered, not those which he caused — is remarkably similar to the prickly self-justification of Libanius in its account of bitter scheming and almost military manoeuvres in the educational world, one is forced to consider whether the evidence of Ausonius is not a serious anomaly, and to seek an explanation.