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Letter CCCXXXIX.

Basil to Libanius.

What could not a sophist say?  And such a sophist!  One whose peculiar art is, whenever he likes, to make great things small, and to give greatness to small things!  This is what you have shewn in my case.  That dirty little letter of mine, as, perhaps, you who live in all luxury of eloquence would call it, a letter in no way more tolerable than the one you hold in your hands now, you have so extolled as, forsooth, to be eaten by it, and to be yielding me the prize for composition!  You are acting much as fathers do, when they join in their boys’ games, and let the little fellows be proud of the victories which they have let them win without any loss to themselves, and with much gain to the children’s emulation.  Really and truly the delight your speech must have given, when you were joking about me, must have been indescribable!  It is as though some Polydamas32703270    A famous athlete of Scotussa.  Paus. vi. 5. or Milo32713271    The athlete of Crotona, who was crowned again and again at the Pythian and Olympian games. were to decline the pancratium or a wrestling bout with me!32723272    ὁ θλίβειν καὶ κατέχειν δυνάμενος, παλαιστικός· ὁ δὲ ὦσαι τῇ πληγῇ, πυστικός· ὁ δὲ ἀμφοτέροις τούτοις, παγκρατιαστικός.  Arist., Rhet. i. v. 14.  After carefully examining, I have found no sign of weakness.  So those who look for exaggeration are the more astonished at your being able to descend in sport to my level, than if you had led the barbarian in full sail over Athos.32733273    The story that Xerxes had made a canal through the isthmus of Athos was supposed to be an instance of gross exaggeration.  cf. Juv. x. 174:  Creditur olim Velificatus Athos et quidquid Græcia mendax Audet in historia,” and Claudian iii. 336:  “Remige Medo solicitatus Athos.”  But traces of the canal are said to be still visible.  I, however, my dear sir, am now spending my time with Moses and Elias, and saints like them, who tell me their stories in a barbarous tongue,32743274    This might lead to the idea that Basil knew some Hebrew, but the close of the sentence indicates that he means the Greek of the LXX., in which he always quotes Scripture. and I utter what I learnt from them, true, indeed, in sense, though rude in phrase, as what I am writing testifies.  If ever I learned anything from you, I have forgotten it in the course of time.  But do you continue to write to me, and so suggest other topics for correspondence.  Your letter will exhibit you, and will not convict me.  I have already introduced to you the son of Anysius, as a son of my own.  If he is my son, he is the child of his father, poor, and a poor man’s son.  What I am saying is well known to one who is wise as well as a sophist.32753275    σοφῷ τε καὶ σοφιστῇ.


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