Alexander and Demosthenes Side by Side, and Angry Plato: Integrative Dream Art of Aelius Aristides

  Bershadsky, Natasha. 2023. “Alexander and Demosthenes Side by Side, and Angry Plato: Integrative Dream Art of Aelius Aristides.” In “Γέρα: Studies in honor of Professor Menelaos Christopoulos,” ed. Athina Papachrysostomou, Andreas P. Antonopoulos, Alexandros-Fotios Mitsis, Fay Papadimitriou, and Panagiota Taktikou, special issue, Classics@ 25.

This study [1] traces several threads of the fabric of the Sacred Tales by Aelius Aristides, an orator and intellectual, a passionate worshipper of Asclepius and a lover of the ancient Greek past, who lived in the second century CE. The article considers three pairs of opposing figures that achieve unity in the dreams of the Sacred Tales. The first pair consists of a Roman emperor and an enemy king, who conclude a peace treaty; the second pair is Demosthenes and Alexander of Macedon, envisaged in a common tomb; the third pair is Plato and Demosthenes, or the art of philosophy and the art of oratory. Aristides himself participates in every union; his persona blends with the persona of Demosthenes, and that hybrid figure heals the rifts between the key figures of the Hellenic history.

1. Two emperors, and a joyful doubling

My first example of the unity of opposites in the Sacred Tales is the shortest and the most obvious. Aristides dreams that a Roman emperor and a character described as “the King of our enemies,” conclude a peace treaty. [2] The episode is fictional, but it has a well-defined anchoring in reality. “Antoninus, the elder Emperor,” is Marcus Aurelius Antoninus; [3] the enemy King, whom Aristides identifies as Vologases, is Balāš IV, the only Parthian king to declare war on the Romans (continued from 161 to 166 CE).

On the twelfth, I dreamed that Antoninus, the elder Emperor, and the King of our enemies made a treaty of peace and friendship with one another. […] And Antoninus was well in his prime, and the other somewhat imposing to look upon. He sat not far from me, and on the other side, upon a throne Antoninus. [4]
Aristides Sacred Tales 1.36

The two figures sit symmetrically on either side of Aristides and the foreign one asks him to give a reading. Aristides expresses his delight at the suggestion in the following terms:

ἤδη μέν τις καὶ ἄλλος χρηστοῦ τινος αὐτῷ συμβάντος καὶ βουλόμενος ἐνδείξασθαι τὴν ἡδονὴν εἶπεν ὡς ἄρα εἴη πλεῖν ἢ διπλάσιος γεγονώς, ἄλλος δέ τις ὡς ἐν μακάρων νήσοις εἶναι δοκοίη, ἐγὼ δὲ καὶ αὐτὸς οὕτως ὑπὸ τῆς παρούσης ἡμέρας τε καὶ τύχης διάκειμαι.
Now somebody who wished to indicate his pleasure, when some good thing happened to him, said, ‘that he was more than doubled with joy,’ and somebody else, ‘that he seemed to be in the Isles of the Blest.’
Aristides Sacred Tales 1.38

The sense of doubling with joy is Aristides’ elegant response to the appearance of the two rulers together; but it is also an expression of the integration of opposites, of combining two counterparts into one unit.

Interestingly, before this scene both the Roman emperor and the Parthians appear separately, and their relations with Aristides in these episodes are somewhat adversarial. These dreams come from the first book of the Sacred Tales, the diary, which describes dreams that occurred over a period of a month and a half, in January–February 166 CE. Each dream is introduced by its date. So, on the eleventh of January Aristides dreamed that Parthians captured him and one of them attempted to brand him (Sacred Tales 1.9). Then a change of attitude happens, and the Parthian becomes the channel of divine advice (about not bathing).
On the seventeenth of January, Aristides dreamed about seeing the Roman Emperor, but not approaching to kiss him. In the dream he explained to the Emperor that he had been instructed by Asclepius not to kiss in that manner. Again, an unharmonious situation is resolved when the Emperor declares that Asclepius is the best to worship (Sacred Tales 1.23).
The dream in which the Roman emperor and the Parthian king concluded a peace treaty took place on the fourth of February; a week later, on the eleventh of February, Aristides dreamed a new variant, in which two Roman emperors, an older and a younger one, took part. The younger one turns out to be a boy in age (Sacred Tales 1.47). Aristides walks flanked by the two emperors; sometimes the younger emperor moves around so that the elder is in the middle. They ascent a ladder, and the younger one helps Aristides (Sacred Tales 1.48). Then Aristides thanks them for their help, and they praise him as an orator.

κἀκ τούτου ἤρχετο ὁ πρεσβύτερος λέγειν ὅτι τοῦ αὐτοῦ εἴη καὶ ἄνδρα ἀγαθὸν εἶναι καὶ περὶ λόγους ἀγαθόν. ἐπεξῄει δὲ ὁ νεώτερος ῆμα τινός, λέγων ὅτι ἀκολουθοίη τῷ τρόπῳ καὶ τὰ τῶν λόγων. κἀγὼ εἶπον ὅτι βουλοίμην ἂν ταῦτα οὕτως ἔχειν· λυσιτελεῖν γάρ μοι εἰς τοὺς λόγους, εἴπερ γε τὰ ἄλλα τοιοῦτος ὑφ’ ὑμῶν ὑπείλημμαι, καὶ ἅμα εἰ μέλλω δύ’ ἀνθ’ ἑνὸς ἕξειν τἀγαθά.
And after this, the elder Emperor began to say that it was an attribute of the same man to be morally good and a good speaker. The younger continued with the saying of someone that ‘words follow character.’ And I said that “I wished that this were so. For it would profit me in speaking, if indeed in other things I am so regarded by you and if at the same time I would have two goods instead of one.”
Aristides Sacred Tales 1.49

The doubling (two goods instead of one) is explicitly expressed again; [5] but this time, remarkably, we learn about the nature of the two counterparts. They are the moral goodness (literally, ‘being a good man,’ ἄνδρα ἀγαθὸν εἶναι) and the excellence in rhetoric (‘being good concerning the speeches,’ περὶ λόγους ἀγαθόν). In other words, the counterparts are the philosophy and the oratory. The two historical figures presiding over philosophy and oratory in Aristides’ world are Plato and Demosthenes, and we will explore their appearances in the dreams of the Sacred Tales.

2. Becoming Demosthenes

Demosthenes is a prominent figure in the Sacred Tales. [6] A reference to him appears close to the beginning of the Book 1, in the following dream: [7]

ἐδόκουν γὰρ ὡς ἐπὶ τῇ εἰωθυίᾳ μελέτῃ τῶν λόγων Δημοσθένη τινὰ μεταχειρίζεσθαι καὶ λέγειν δὴ πρὸς τοὺς Ἀθηναίους ὡς ἐκεῖνος ὤν· ὑμεῖς μὲν οὖν διὰ τοῦ κήρυκος ἐρωτᾶτε τίς ἀγορεύειν βούλεται, ἐγὼ δὲ ὑμᾶς ἡδέως ἂν ἐροίμην τίς ὑμῶν βούλεται πράττειν. ἡ κωμῳδία γε τὸ λοιπόν ἐστιν, ἔλεγον δὲ ἀναφέρων εἰς τοὺς Τελμισσέας τοῦ Ἀριστοφάνους ὡς ἐκεῖ λόγῳ τις ἠγωνίζετο, ἔργῳ δὲ οὔ.
I dreamed that as in my accustomed declamations, I was practicing some Demosthenes and spoke to the Athenians as if I was he (ὡς ἐκεῖνος ὤν): “You ask through the herald, ‘Who wishes to speak? But I would rather ask you, Who wishes to act? Or is the rest but a comedy?” I spoke in reference to The Telemessians of Aristophanes, since there someone contended with words but not in deed.
Aristides Sacred Tales 1.16
Let us start from the waking life. The practice of adopting Demosthenes’ persona for delivering a speech is described in A Reply to Capito, Aristides’ third Platonic oration. Aristides depicts recomposing Demosthenes’ speech Against Leptines chapter by chapter, and then performing that new speech to a friend (a certain Maximus), in a competition with Demosthenes (A Reply to Capito 4.3–4). [8] The attempt to outperform Demosthenes on his own ground is a form of an unbounded admiration, in which being defeated by Demosthenes’ original speech is an equally honorable scenario:

μὴ ἀδικῶ γε, ἔφην ἐγώ. καὶ ὃς μὰ Δία εὐγενῶς τε καὶ ὡς ἂν πᾶς ἠράσθη τε καὶ ἠγάσθη ὅστις φιλόλογος, οἶσθα, ἔφη, ὅτι κάθημαι πρὸς τοῦ Δημοσθένους; κἀγώ, τὸν αὐτὸν ἄρ’, ἔφην, ἐμοὶ βουκολεῖς, ὥστ’ εἰ νικῴη μ’, οὐκ ἐχθρὸς ὁ στεφανούμενος, ἀλλ’ ᾧ σύ τε κἀγὼ συσπεύδομεν.
“I am not doing anything wrong in this, am I?”, I said. And he [Maximus] replied, with real nobility and in a spirit that would win the affection and admiration of every lover of literature, “You know very well that my loyalty is to Demosthenes.” “In that case,” I said, “‘You tend the same one as I do,’ [9] so if I’m beaten by him, the winner of the victor’s wreath will not be an enemy, but the man you and I both are devoted to.” [10]
Aristides A Reply to Capito 4.4

Interestingly, we also have an attestation of Demosthenes’ presence in the dream-related world of the Asclepieion of Pergamon, which was so central in Aristides’ life. [11] A famous orator, Polemon of Laodicea, dedicated a statue of Demosthenes at the Asclepieion, and the statue base, which has survived, says that the statue has been erected according to a dream (κατὰ ὄναρ). [12] Moreover, we know that Polemon also composed speeches in the persona of Demosthenes (Philostratus, Lives of Sophists I 542–543). It has been suggested that “[t]hrough the claim to personal divine revelation Polemon associated his own identity with Demosthenes and in so doing polemically reconstructed the fourth-century orator.” [13] Polemon died in 144 CE, so the dream-inspired statue of Demosthenes must have been a part of the votive landscape of the Asclepieion, when Aristides arrived there in 145 CE.

Demosthenes never appears in the dream-world of Aristides as a person, as do other historical figures like Plato, Sophocles, or Lysias. [14] However, the Sacred Tales contain multiple mentions of Demosthenes. I believe that the absence of a face-to-face oneiric encounter with Demosthenes stems from Aristides’ close identification with that orator. Aristides does not see Demosthenes, because in his dreamlife he can become Demosthenes. The dream at the beginning of the Sacred Tales that I have cited above provides a life-like example, rehearsing the real practice of composing speeches in the style of Demosthenes. In the dream Aristides speaks to the Athenians, in his own words, as if he was Demosthenes (ὡς ἐκεῖνος ὤν). We will next see a more spectacularly dreamlike version of the persona of Aristides fusing with Demosthenes.

3. The crown

Aristides recounts the following dream, which he dreamed sometimes around 147 CE:

χρόνῳ δ’ ὕστερον οὐκ οἶδ’ ὁπόσῳ τινὶ φαντάζομαι τοιάδε. ἐδόκουν εἶναι περὶ τὴν ἑστίαν τοῦ Διὸς τοῦ Ὀλυμπίου καὶ πατρῴου, συλλόγου δὲ γιγνομένου δημοτελοῦς περὶ πλήθουσαν ἀγορὰν ἑστῶτα τὸν κήρυκα τὸν ἱερὸν παρ’ αὐτὴν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν κρηπῖδα ἀνειπεῖν τοὐμὸν ὄνομα σὺν ἅπασι τοῖς περὶ αὐτό, ὡς δὴ δημοσίᾳ στεφανουμένου, ὥσπερ ὅταν ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις χρυσῷ στεφάνῳ στεφανώμεθα, προσθεῖναι δὲ ὅτι λόγων ἕνεκα· βεβαιώσασθαι δ’ αὐτὸ ἑτέρᾳ προσθήκῃ ἐπειπόντα, καὶ γάρ ἐστιν ἀήττητος περὶ λόγους.
And later, I do not know how much, I had the following vision. I dreamed that I was at the hearth of the Temple of the Ancestral Olympian Zeus. When there was a public assembly at forenoon, the sacred herald stood right by the base of the god’s statue and called out my name with all of its adjuncts, as if I were being publicly crowned, as when in the assemblies we are crowned with a golden crown, and he added, “because of his speeches.” He confirmed this by another addition, saying besides, “For he is invincible in oratory.”
Aristides Sacred Tales 4.48

I propose that in the dream Aristides is being crowned in the persona of Demosthenes. The combination of a golden crown and a reference to public speeches inescapably recalls the story of the most famous golden crown given to an orator, the crown awarded to Demosthenes on a motion by Ctesiphon. While the proposal was made by Ctesiphon in 336 BCE, the crowning took place six years later: the original proposal was blocked by Aeschines, and the case was taken up again only in 330 BCE, when the crown was finally awarded after a trial, during which Demosthenes delivered his most famous speech, On the Crown.

On the Crown itself appears in the Sacred Tales in the following dream of Aristides:

ὁ δὲ θεὸς τάδ’ ἐσήμαινεν· ἐδόκουν τὸν Ἄλκιμον τὸν διοικητήν, ὃν ἔπεμψα τούτων ἕνεκα, ἐπανήκειν, κομίζοντά μοι λόγον Δημοσθένους τὸν ὑπὲρ τοῦ στεφάνου, ἔχοντα οὐχ ὡς νῦν, ἀλλ’ ἑτέρως γε καὶ καθ’ ἑτέραν σύνθεσιν.
But the god gave the following sign. I dreamed that my steward Alcimus, whom I had sent for this purpose, returned and brought me Demosthenes’ oration On the Crown, which was not as now, but otherwise and differently composed.
Aristides Sacred Tales 4.97

A metamorphosed On the Crown, different and differently composed, beautifully fits the dream occasion of awarding a golden crown for oratory. The reference to crowning of quasi-Demosthenes recomposes history, transforming the complicated and dangerous situation of 330 BCE into an unmixed triumph, where Aristides-Demosthenes is pronounced ‘invincible’ (ἀήττητος) in oratory. [15] That adjective in fact is employed in the original On the Crown: Demosthenes explains defensively that he is not responsible for the defeat of Athens by Philip, since Philip won by his military strength, bribery, and corruption, over which Demosthenes had no control; Demosthenes nevertheless claims victory by remaining uncorrupted, and grandly asserts: “Therefore, in my person, Athens is undefeated” [16] (ὥστ᾿ ἀήττητος ἡ πόλις τὸ κατ᾿ ἐμέ, On the Crown 18.247).

That desperate posturing was done not only to gain a golden crown, but likely to save Demosthenes’ life: it has been argued that the motion to crown him was taken up as a protective measure after Alexander’s defeat of the Spartan rebellion in 331 BCE, which Demosthenes apparently supported (Aeschines Against Ctesiphon 167). [17] In 330 BCE the position of Demosthenes was extremely vulnerable: Alexander could have demanded his surrender, as he already did in 335/334 BCE (Diodorus 17:15).
None of these complexities surfaces in that dream of Aristides. However, another dream of his where stephanoi are central appears implicitly to connect with the old tensions of the Macedonian ascension to power. On the surface, the dream concerns Aristides’ physical symptoms: at that point he suffered from a build-up of mucus, and from a swelling of his veins and throat. He dreamed he was reading a book:

ἀλλὰ πρὸς τῷ τέλει τοῦ βιβλίου τοιάδε μάλιστα ἐνῆν. ἦν δὲ ὡς ἐπί τινος τῶν ἀγωνιστῶν λεγόμενα. ταῦτα δὴ πάντα ὁ θεὸς συλλογισάμενος καὶ ὁρῶν τὸ εῦμα ἄρδην φερόμενον προσέταξεν ὕδωρ πίνειν, οἴνου δὲ ἀπέχεσθαι, εἴ τι δεῖται νικῆσαι· ἃ δὴ καὶ σοί, ἔφη, ἔξεστι μιμησαμένῳ στεφανοῦσθαι ἢ συστεφανοῦσθαι. ἐνταῦθα ἔληγεν. εἶθ’ ὑπεγέγραπτο τοῦ λόγου δὴ τοὐπίγραμμα, φιλοστέφανος, ἢ φιλησιστέφανος.
But at the end of the book, there was, indeed, the following—it was said, as it were, concerning some athlete: “When the god had considered all these things and saw that the flow was abundant, he commanded him to drink water and to abstain from wine, if he desired at all to be victorious. ‘If you too imitate this,’ he said, ‘it is possible for you to win the crown of victory or to share in it [literally, ‘to win a crown together’]’”. Here it ended. Next the title of the discourse was subjoined as “The Crown Lover” or “The Crown Desirer.”
Aristides Sacred Tales 3.31

This passage appears to weave a subtext in an uncannily sophisticated way. There are two rare words pertaining to garlands, or crowns, in the passage: συστεφανοῦσθαι and φιλησιστέφανος. The only occurrence of the verb συστεφανόω ‘to crown together’ in our corpus that predates Aristides is the following passage from Demosthenes:

… οὗτος εἰς τἀπινίκια τῶν πραγμάτων καὶ τοῦ πολέμου, ἃ Θηβαῖοι καὶ Φίλιππος ἔθυον, εἱστιᾶτ’ ἐλθὼν καὶ σπονδῶν μετεῖχε καὶ εὐχῶν, ἃς ἐπὶ τοῖς τῶν συμμάχων τῶν ὑμετέρων τείχεσι καὶ χώρᾳ καὶ ὅπλοις ἀπολωλόσιν ηὔχετ’ ἐκεῖνος, καὶ συνεστεφανοῦτο καὶ συνεπαιώνιζε Φιλίππῳ καὶ φιλοτησίας προὔπινεν.
… Aeschines attended the service of thanksgiving which the Thebans and Philip held to celebrate their victory and their political success, was a guest at the banquet, and took part in the libations and doxologies with which Philip thanked Heaven for the destruction of the fortresses, the territory, and the armies of your allies. He even joined Philip in wearing garlands and singing the Hymn of Praise, and drank to his health in the loving-cup.
Demosthenes On the Embassy 19.128

The setting of this seemingly idyllic scene is the conclusion of the Third Sacred War (346 BCE), in which Phocis, with whom Athens sided, was defeated by the Delphic Amphictyonic League, and primarily by Thebes and Philip. The enthusiastic participation of Aeschines in these festivities is judged by Demosthenes to be a repellent mixing with the enemy. [18] The second word, φιλησιστέφανος, turns out to be equally rare: again, there is only a single instance in our corpus, in a fragment of Pindar’s paean for the Thebans.

ἰ]ὴ ἰή, νῦν ὁ παντελὴς Ἐνιαυτός
Ὧρα[ί] τε Θεμίγονοι
πλάξ]ιππον ἄστυ Θήβας ἐπῆλθον
Ἀπόλ]λωνι δαῖτα φιλησιστέφανον ἄγοντες·
Παιὰ]ν δὲ λαῶν γενεὰν δαρὸν ἐρέπτοι
σαό]φρονος ἄνθεσιν εὐνομίας.

Iē Iē, now have the all-concluding Year
and the Horae, daughters of Themis,
come to the horse-driving city of Thebe,
bringing to Apollo the crown-loving feast.
Long may Paean wreathe the people’s offspring
with the flowers of wise order. [19]

Pindar Paean 1 lines 5–10 (fr.52a)

The word φιλησιστέφανος brings us back to the same scene of Aeschines’ mixing with the enemies in Demosthenes’ speech On the Embassy: Aeschines joined Philip and the Thebans (for whom Pindar’s paean is composed) in wearing garlands (συνεστεφανοῦτο) and in singing paean (συνεπαιώνιζεν). [20]

These coincidences seem to be too precise and consonant not to pay attention at them; however, their overtones do not come to the surface of the text: at the conclusion of the passage, Aristides merely explains that he started to drink only water, not wine (and found it pleasant). Next the god gives new instructions, telling him to drink ἡμίνα βασιλική, a ‘royal half’ measure of wine (Sacred Tales 3.32). Later the god permits Aristides to drink as much as he wishes.
Yet, the themes of the peace between the enemies, of two halves coming together to form one whole, continue to resonate in other passages of the Sacred Tales, which we are going to consider next.

4. The common tomb

The following dream episode comes immediately after the scene of the golden crown at the assembly, which was the focus of the previous section:

κεκηρυγμένου δὲ τούτου διαβῆναι εἰς Ἀσκληπιοῦ κῆπον, ὃς ἔστι μοι πρόσθεν τῆς οἰκίας τῆς πατρῴας. κἀνταῦθα εὑρεῖν ἐκ δεξιᾶς τοῦ νεὼ μνῆμα κοινὸν ἐμοῦ τε καὶ Ἀλεξάνδρου τοῦ Φιλίππου, διαφράγματι μέσῳ διειργόμενον· καὶ τὸν μὲν ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ κεῖσθαι, ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ δὲ αὐτὸς κείσεσθαι. ἐπιστὰς δὲ καὶ προκύψας ἀπολαύειν εὐωδίας θαυμαστῆς θυωμάτων, καὶ τούτων τὰ μὲν τῆς ἐκείνου θήκης εἶναι, τὰ δὲ ἐμοὶ προσαποκεῖσθαι. χαίρειν τε οὖν καὶ συμβάλλεσθαι ὡς ἄρα ἀμφότεροι τὸ ἄκρον λάχοιμεν, ὁ μὲν τῆς ἐν τοῖς ὅπλοις δυνάμεως, ἐγὼ δὲ τῆς ἐπὶ τοῖς λόγοις. καὶ προσέτι γε κἀκεῖνο εἰσελθεῖν με, ὅτι οὗτός τε ἐν Πέλλῃ γένοιτο, πρᾶγμα τοσοῦτον, ἐπ’ ἐμοί τε οἱ τῇδε φιλοτιμήσοιντο.
When this was proclaimed, I crossed over to the garden of Asclepius, which lies before my ancestral home. And here I found, on the right of the Temple, a common tomb for me and Alexander, the son of Philip, which was separated by a partition in the middle. And he lay on one side, and I would lie on the other. Standing there and bending forward, I enjoyed the wonderfully sweet smell of incense, and some of this belonged to his tomb, and some was set aside for me as well. I rejoiced and conjectured that we both had reached the top of our professions, he in military and I in oratorical power. And in addition, it also occurred to me, that this man was very important in Pella, and that those here would be proud of me.
Aristides Sacred Tales 4.49

I would like to suggest that in this episode, as in the previous one, the “I” is a fusion of the persona of Aristides with the persona of Demosthenes; it is Aristides reenacting Demosthenes, or Demosthenes reenacted by Aristides. This interpretation clarifies the logic of the dream. We see a common tomb for Demosthenes and for Alexander, best in war and best in oratory. The dream is not self-aggrandizing: rather, it is integrative. The beautiful symbol of the union of the old enemies is the sweet smell of the incense smoke that wafts from both tombs, blending.

The implicit reference to Demosthenes’ On the Embassy takes a different meaning: in Aristides’ dream Demosthenes is doing in death something similar to what Aeschines did in life: he is reclining by Alexander’s side.
Interestingly, another dream episode that we have discussed in the previous section, in which Aristides receives the transformed version of On the Crown, continues with the oracle from Sarapis and Isis: “They said that ‘the matter would be accomplished, and you will make friends with your enemies,” ὡς πεπραξομένου τε τοῦ πράγματος καὶ ἐχθροῖς εἰς φιλίαν ἥξεις ἔφασαν (Sacred Tales 4.97). An everyday situation is connected to this oracle in Aristides’ narrative: he becomes friends with two powerful men who opposed him previously; however, it seems possible that the episode operates on two levels at once, and constitutes a part of the systematic and subtle harmonizing makeover of the motifs connected to Demosthenes.
Alexander and Demosthenes appear together in the Sacred Tales, in an episode that is uniquely not a dream. Aristides has been commanded by the god in a dream to make a speech (“it befits you to speak in the manner of Socrates, Demosthenes, and Thucydides,” σοὶ πρέπουσι λόγοι σὺν Σωκράτει καὶ Δημοσθένει καὶ Θουκυδίδῃ, Sacred Tales 4.15). Maximus, [21] the same friend whom we met at the beginning of this study listening to Aristides competing with Demosthenes, comes up with Aristides’ first “problem,” a theme for a speech:

καὶ ἦν γε τὸ πρόβλημα τοιόνδε· μέμνημαι γάρ, ἅτε καὶ πρῶτον λαβών· Ἀλεξάνδρου, φησὶν, ἐν Ἰνδοῖς ὄντος συμβουλεύει Δημοσθένης ἐπιθέσθαι τοῖς πράγμασιν. εὐθὺς μὲν οὖν ἐδεξάμην τὴν φήμην τὸν Δημοσθένη τε αὖθις λέγοντα καὶ τοὺς λόγους ὄντας περὶ τῆς ἡγεμονίας. καὶ μικρὸν ἐπισχὼν ἠγωνιζόμην, καὶ τά τε δὴ τῆς ἄλλης δυνάμεως ἦν οἷα θεοῦ παρασκευάζοντος, καὶ ἔδοξεν ὁ τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ χρόνος οὐ σιωπῆς, ἀλλ’ ἀσκήσεως εἶναι.
It was he who proposed the problem. And the problem was as follows, for I remember it, since it was the first which I received: “While Alexander,” he said, “is in India, Demosthenes advises that it is time to act.” I immediately accepted the omen of Demosthenes speaking again and of the subject, which was about empire. And pausing a little, I contended, and my new strength was such as is of the god’s devising, and the year seemed not to have been passed in silence, but in training.
Aristides Sacred Tales 4.18

Thus, the identification with Demosthenes in the Sacred Tales coincides with the very beginning of Aristides’ speech-making as commanded by the god; [22] Demosthenes and Alexander appear together, as a pair of opposites.

We have seen how the dreams of Aristides could bring the Roman emperor and the Parthian king to form a double act. In the same way his dream brings Demosthenes and Alexander, mortal enemies, to recline in a common tomb. The parallel is particularly interesting since it has been suggested that “Aristides’ depiction of the historical rivalry between Athens and Philip may reflect the present-day rivalry between the Romans and the Parthians.” [23] In his waking life, Aristides was rather dismissive of the Macedonians, commenting that “no one would pride himself on having Pella or Aegae as his home town” [24] (Πέλλῃ μὲν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ἂν φιλοτιμοῖτο πατρίδι οὐδὲ Αἰγαῖς, Panathenaic Oration 1.334). Aristides composed two speeches in the persona of Demosthenes, speaking to the Thebans about their alliance with Philip (To the Thebans I and II); there he calls Philip “a barbarian, a man who is naturally divided from you [the Thebans]” (βάρβαρον ἄνθρωπον καὶ φύσει κεχωρισμένον, To the Thebans I 9.44). The praise that Aristides allots Alexander (To Rome 24–26) is quite subdued. [25] Yet his dream overrides his misgivings and Demosthenes’ hatred, in creating an image of a unity.
The sense of unity has a spectacular mystical continuation in the next dream episode, immediately following the Alexander-Demosthenes dream:

τοιαῦτα καὶ ἀκοῦσαι καὶ ἰδεῖν ἔδοξα καὶ πρὸς ἐμαυτὸν εἰπεῖν τε καὶ συλλογίσασθαι, τὰ μὲν ὡς παρὰ τῷ Διί, τὰ δ’ ὡς ἐν Ἀσκληπιοῦ πρὸ τῆς οἰκίας. τὰ δ’ ἐντεῦθεν ἤδη, εἰ μὲν θέμις, εἰρήσθω καὶ γεγράφθω, εἰ δὲ μή, τοσοῦτον σοὶ μελήσειε, δέσποτα Ἀσκληπιέ, ἐπὶ νοῦν ἀγαγεῖν μοι διαγράψαι παντὸς δυσκόλου χωρίς. πρῶτον μὲν ὤφθη τὸ ἕδος τρεῖς κεφαλὰς ἔχον καὶ πυρὶ λαμπόμενον κύκλῳ, πλὴν τῶν κεφαλῶν· ἔπειθ’ οἱ θεραπευταὶ προσειστήκειμεν, ὥσπερ ὅταν ὁ παιὰν ᾄδηται· σχεδὸν δὲ ἐν πρώτοις ἐγώ. κἀν τούτῳ νεύει ἔξοδον ὁ θεός, ἔχων ἤδη τὸ ἑαυτοῦ σχῆμα ἐν ᾧπερ ἕστηκεν. οἵ τε δὴ οὖν ἄλλοι πάντες ἐξῄεσαν κἀγὼ μετεστρεφόμην ὡς ἐξιών, καὶ ὁ θεός μοι τῇ χειρὶ προδείκνυσι μένειν. κἀγὼ περιχαρὴς τῇ τιμῇ γενόμενος καὶ ὅσον τῶν ἄλλων προὐκρίθην ἐξεβόησα, εἷς, λέγων δὴ τὸν θεόν. καὶ ὃς ἔφη, σὺ εἶ. τοῦτο τὸ ῆμα ἐμοί, δέσποτ’ Ἀσκληπιέ, παντὸς ἀνθρωπίνου βίου κρεῖττον, τούτου πᾶσα ἐλάττων νόσος, τούτου πᾶσα ἐλάττων χάρις, τοῦτ’ ἐμὲ καὶ δύνασθαι καὶ βούλεσθαι ζῆν ἐποίησε.
As to what comes next, if it is fitting, let it be said and written, and if not, may you be fully concerned, Lord Asclepius, to prompt me to describe it without causing any disagreeableness. First the cult statue appeared to have three heads and to shine about with fire, except for the heads. Next we worshippers stood by it, just as when the paean is sung, I almost among the first. At this point, the god, in the posture in which he is represented in his statues, signaled our departure. All the others were going out, and I was turning to go out, and the god, with his hand, indicated for me to stay. And I was delighted by the honor and the extent to which I was preferred to the others, and I shouted out, “The One”, meaning the god. But he said, “It is you.” For me this remark, Lord Asclepius, was greater than life itself, and every disease was less than this, every grace was less than this. This made me able and willing to live.
Aristides Sacred Tales 4.50

The three dreams seem to form a ladder of psychic experiences: first, identifying with a role model (Demosthenes); next, forming a unity of opposites (Alexander-Demosthenes); finally, perceiving one’s own oneness with the god (Aristides-Asclepius).

5. Love and Scorn

Let me pass to another pair of opposites, prominent in the Sacred Tales, in particular, and in Aristides’ oeuvre, in general: Demosthenes and Plato. The dream that we are going to consider now follows the episode that we have already discussed, in which Aristides receives his first “problem,” speaking like Demosthenes who advises to act while Alexander is in India. Now Aristides describes the encouragement for practicing oratory that he received in his dreams: [26]

Ἀρχὴ μὲν οὖν αὕτη τῆς μελέτης τῶν λόγων ἡμῖν ἐγένετο, καὶ οὕτως ἐπανήλθομεν. ἐγίγνετο δὲ καὶ ἄλλα πολλὰ εἰς ταυτὸν φέροντα, καὶ τὸ δὴ μάλιστα ἐπιρρῶσαν τοιόνδε ἦν. ώσανδρος ἦν τῶν φιλοσοφούντων καὶ ἄλλως περὶ τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ θεραπείαν ἐπιμελής· οὗτος ἐδόκει μοι παρ’ ἀνδρὸς φιλοσόφου τῶν ἐπιφανῶν ἀρτίως διηγγελμένου παρὼν ἑστάναι πρόσθεν τῆς κλίνης, οἷον ἔνθεός τε καὶ σφόδρα ἐσπουδακώς· ἔπειτα λέγειν περὶ τῶν λόγων τῶν ἐμῶν εἰς ὅσον προβεβηκότες εἶεν, μνησθῆναι μὲν δὴ Πλάτωνος καὶ Δημοσθένους, ἐφ’ οἷσπερ ἐμνήσθη ἑκατέρου· ἀκροτελεύτιον δ’ ἐπιθεῖναι, παρῆλθες ἡμῖν τῷ ἀξιώματι τὸν Δημοσθένη, ὡς μηδ’ αὐτοῖς ἄρα τοῖς φιλοσόφοις εἶναι ὑπερφρονῆσαι. τοῦτο τὸ ῆμα πᾶσαν ἐμοὶ τὴν ὕστερον φιλοτιμίαν ἐξῆψε, τοῦτ’ ἐποίησε πᾶν ὅ τι ποιοίην περὶ λόγους ἔλαττον εἶναι τοῦ δέοντος νομίζειν.
This was the beginning of the practice of oratory for us, and so we returned to it. There were also many other dreams which pertained to the same, and the following was particularly encouraging. Rhosander was a philosopher and especially diligent in the service of the god. This man seemed to me to come from a gentleman who was a distinguished philosopher and who had just now held a seminar, and to stand before my bed, as it were, inspired and very serious. Next he spoke about the great improvement of my speeches. He remembered Plato and Demosthenes, in whatever way he remembered each. Finally he added, “For us you have surpassed Demosthenes in dignity, so that not even the very philosophers can scorn you”. This remark kindled all my later ambition. This made me feel that everything, which I might do in oratory, was less than I should do.
Aristides Sacred Tales 4.19

Plato and Demosthenes as the best of the Greeks, [27] and overcoming the threat of the philosophers’ scorn: these themes seem to be central for Aristides. A Reply to Capito, the speech that contains the scene of Aristides recomposing Demosthenes’ Against Leptines, starts in this way:

Νῦν σὲ καὶ μᾶλλον φιλοῦμεν οὕτως ἐρωτικῶς τοῦ Πλάτωνος ἔχοντα, ὃν ἐγὼ φαίην ἂν τιμᾶν καθ’ Ὅμηρον ἶσον ἐμῇ κεφαλῇ. εἰ γάρ τοι καὶ πάντες φαῦλοι πρὸς ἐκεῖνον, ἀλλ’ ἕκαστος τιμιώτατος αὐτὸς ἑαυτῷ, φασίν. καίτοι τί λέγω; οὐκ οἶδα μὲν γὰρ εἰ πιστεύεις, ἀληθὲς δὲ ἐρῶ. εἰ δὲ μὴ ἐγγὺς ἐκεῖνον ἔφησας ἡμῶν εἶναι, οὐκ ἂν οὕτω με εὔφρανας ὡς ὅτι προκατείληψαι δείξας· οὕτως ἐμοὶ φίλος ἁνὴρ καὶ φίλων ἐπέκεινα. συνέβη δέ μοι καὶ περὶ Δημοσθένη τοιοῦτον ἕτερον, φράσω δὲ καὶ πρὸς σέ.
I love you now more than ever because of this devotion (houtōs erōtikōs) of yours to Plato, whom I would say that I esteem, in Homer’s phrase, “as much as I do my own person.” (Even if everyone is worthless compared to him, each man is, so they say, supremely valuable in his own eyes.) But what do I mean by this? I don’t know if you believe me, but I will tell you the truth all the same. If you had said that Plato came nowhere near me, you would not have delighted me as much as you actually have by showing that he has a prior claim on your allegiance—so true is it that this man is dear and beyond dear to me. Something similar happened to me with Demosthenes too, and I shall tell you about it.
Aristides A Reply to Capito 4.1

At that point, Aristides tells the story about the competition with Demosthenes by recomposing Against Leptines that we have discussed earlier. Aristides concludes the story by an admission of intense love:

οὕτως ἐμοὶ κοινῶς μὲν εἰπεῖν τῶν παλαιῶν ἀνδρῶν, δι’ ἀκριβείας δὲ τούτων ὑπὲρ πάντας ἔρως δεινὸς καὶ φιλία θαυμαστή τις ἐντέτηκεν ἐκ παιδός.
This is how deeply a tremendous love (erōs) and an extraordinary affection, for the ancients in general and above all specifically for these two [Plato and Demosthenes], has been ingrained in me from boyhood.
Aristides A Reply to Capito 4.6

But how does one love Plato who does not love one back? Plato’s Gorgias with its biting devaluation of rhetoric as an intellectual fraud, a combination of powerless flattery, conniving deception, and moral indifference, would seem to stand in any orator’s way. [28]

Aristides composed three speeches in response to Plato’s attack: A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory, A Reply to Plato: In Defense of the Four, and A Reply to Capito. His approach to Plato combines admiration and argument in a manner that has been described as “double-edged.” [29] The impact of the compounded aggression and appreciation has been evaluated differently by different researchers. Did Aristides aim to reconcile philosophy and oratory? [30] Or was he, as Michael Trapp has argued, “deeply dismissive” of Plato under the pretension of high regard? [31]
What seems clear is that Aristides could imitate Plato supremely well, on the level of both form and content. He can recreate the rapid exchange of the Platonic dialogue; he inserts abundant quotations from Plato and answers him back; he uses Plato’s dialectic method against him. [32] This use of Plato against Plato, [33] revealing the internal contradictions of Plato’s arguments, appears to be an invasion of an orator into the philosophical territory, claiming the authority to interpret Plato more penetratingly than the contemporary Platonists themselves. [34] He also claims Plato as a practitioner of the highest form of oratory. [35]
At the same time, while Aristides mimics and assails Plato, he keeps thinking of Demosthenes: according to Trapp’s observation, “as the pressure on Plato increases through Or. 3, so echoes of Demosthenes, and direct appeals to his personal example, grow more noticeable.” [36]
The defense of oratory by Aristides proceeds in two directions. On one hand, he constructs an argument claiming that dialectic is merely a subdivision of oratory: [37]

καίτοι ἔγωγε ᾤμην οὐ πάνυ ταῦτ’ ἀλλήλων κεχωρίσθαι, ἀλλ’ εἶναι τὴν διαλεκτικὴν μέρος τι τῆς ητορικῆς, ὥσπερ τὴν ἐρώτησιν τοῦ παντὸς λόγου, καὶ τὸν αὐτὸν τρόπον ὅνπερ τοῖς δρομεῦσι μέτεστι τοῦ βαδίζειν, οὐ μὴν τοῖς βαδίζουσιν ἅπασι τὸ θεῖν οἷόν τε, οὕτω καὶ τοὺς ητορικοὺς πρὸς τοὺς διαλεκτικοὺς ἔχειν. Πλάτωνα δὲ ἐξαιρῶ λόγου, ἱκανὸς γὰρ καὶ ἀμφότερα.
I myself would certainly have thought that the two [dialectic and oratory] are not entirely separate from each other, but rather that dialectic is a subdivision of oratory, just as the question is a subdivision of speech in general, and that just as people running can also be said to walk, while not all who walk are able to run, so things also stand between orators and dialecticians. Plato I except from this generalization, since he is in fact equally good at both.
Aristides In Defense of the Four 3.509–510

On the other hand, oratory is also a kind of philosophy (this passage is key for his argument, so Aristides repeats it in a later speech): [38]

φαίνῃ γὰρ καὶ σὺ τοῦτό γε συγχωρῶν, ὅτι ἐπὶ τῷ μὴ ἀδικεῖσθαι τέτακται. οὐκοῦν ὅτε ἀδικεῖν μὲν οὐ προσηνάγκαζεν, ἀδικεῖσθαι δὲ οὐκ ἐᾷ, ὡς δὲ ἐκ τοῦ λόγου συνέβαινεν, οὐδέτερον τούτων ἐᾷ, οὔτε ἀδικεῖν οὔτε ἀδικεῖσθαι, εἰ μὲν [οὖν] καὶ τῆς φιλοσοφίας ὁ αὐτός ἐστιν ὅρος, φιλοσοφία τις οὖσα ἡ ητορικὴ φαίνεται. εἰ δὲ ἐξαρκεῖ τῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ μὴ ἀδικεῖν, ἡ ητορικὴ τελεώτερον· τὸ γὰρ χαλεπώτερον κτήσασθαι καὶ μεῖζον ἤδη προστίθησιν, ὅπως μηδ’ αὐτὸς ὑπ’ ἄλλων ἀδικήσεται.
Thus, because it [oratory] did not compel the doing of wrong, and does not allow people to be wronged, but as has emerged from the argument, allows neither of these things, doing wrong or being wronged, if this is also the definition of philosophy, oratory is clearly a kind of philosophy. But if philosophy requires only abstention from doing wrong, then oratory is more perfect, because it adds what is more difficult to acquire and more important, namely ensuring that one is not wronged oneself by others either.
Aristides A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory 2.305 = A Reply to Capito 4.18

Taken together, these two suggestions come close to indicating that for Aristides, oratory and philosophy are one and the same thing. [39]

6. Playing with Plato

Aristides consecutively narrates two dreams focused on Plato in the Sacred Tales. In the second one, where Plato appears in person, he is angry:

τοῦτο μὲν αὐτὸν Πλάτωνα ὁρᾶν ἐδόκουν ἑστῶτα ἐν τῷ δωματίῳ τῷ ἐμῷ ἀπαντικρὺ τῆς τε κλίνης κἀμοῦ· ὁ δ’ ἔτυχε μεταχειριζόμενος τὴν ἐπιστολὴν τὴν πρὸς Διονύσιον, καὶ μάλα μεστὸς ὢν θυμοῦ προσβλέψας δέ μοι, ποῖός τις, ἔφη, σοὶ φαίνομαι εἰς ἐπιστολάς; μὴ φαυλότερος τοῦ Κέλερος; τὸν γραμματέα δὴ λέγων τὸν βασιλικόν. κἀγώ, εὐφήμει, ἔφην, τὸ καὶ μεμνῆσθαί σε τοιοῦτον ὄντα ὅστις εἶ. καὶ οὐ πολὺ ὕστερον ὁ μὲν ἠφάνιστο, ἐγὼ δὲ συννοίᾳ εἰχόμην. παρὼν δέ τις εἶπεν, οὗτος μέντοι ὁ διαλεγόμενός σοι ὡς Πλάτων ἀρτίως ὁ σὸς Ἑρμῆς ἐστι· λέγων δὴ τὸν εἰληχότα τὴν γένεσιν τὴν ἐμήν. Πλάτωνι δ’, ἔφη, εἴκαστο.
I dreamed that I saw Plato himself standing in my room, directly across from my bed. He happened to be looking on his letter to Dionysius, and was very angry. He glanced at me and said, “How suited do I appear to you for letter writing? No worse than Celer?”—meaning the Imperial Secretary. And I said, “Hush! Remember who you are!” And not much later, he disappeared, and I was held in meditation. But someone present said, “This man who spoke with you just now as Plato is your Hermes,”—meaning my guardian deity. “But,” he said, “he likened himself to Plato.”
Aristides Sacred Tales 4.57

The dynamics of emotions in the dream reflect in miniature the relationship between Aristides and Plato. The fact that Plato’s anger is linked to his letter to Dionysius is surely related to Aristides’ critique of Plato, which used Plato’s Sicilian venture to demonstrate inconsistencies in Plato’s reasoning. The project begins in Oration 2, A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory (2.280–298) and is continued in Oration 4, A Reply to Capito, which starts from addressing Capito’s unhappiness about Aristides’ handling of Plato’s Sicilian trip in Oration 2 (A Reply to Capito 4.9).

Aristides’ response in the dream, “Hush! Remember who you are!” (κἀγώ, εὐφήμει, ἔφην, τὸ καὶ μεμνῆσθαί σε τοιοῦτον ὄντα ὅστις εἶ), picks up another key theme of his Platonic orations, in which he accuses Plato of being φιλονεικότερος ‘overaggressive’ (A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory 2.13) and contemptuous of key cultural figures of ancient Greece. [40] But then Plato the angry disappears; next, a sublime resolution connects Plato to Aristides through the figure of Hermes.
Hermes provides a link between the figures of Plato and Demosthenes. In Oration 3, In Defense of the Four, Aristides famously describes Demosthenes as Hermes: [41]

ἀλλὰ γὰρ οὐκ εἰ Πλάτων ὁ τῶν Ἑλλήνων τοσοῦτον ὑπερφέρων καὶ δικαίως μέγιστον ἐφ’ ἑαυτῷ φρονῶν κατηγορῆσαί τινων ἠξίωσεν μεγέθει τινὶ καὶ ἐξουσίᾳ φύσεως, τοῦτο καὶ μάλιστ’ ἄν τις ἀγανακτήσειεν, ἀλλ’ ὅτι καὶ τῶν κομιδῇ τινὲς οὐδενὸς ἀξίων ἀφορμῇ ταύτῃ χρώμενοι μελέτην ἤδη τὸ πρᾶγμα πεποίηνται καὶ τολμῶσιν καὶ περὶ Δημοσθένους, ὃν ἐγὼ φαίην ἂν Ἑρμοῦ τινος λογίου τύπον εἰς ἀνθρώπους κατελθεῖν, ὅ τι ἂν τύχωσιν βλασφημεῖν.
It is not, however, the fact that Plato, who excels all other Greeks by so much and quite justifiably has the highest opinion of himself, should have seen fit, in the greatness of his genius and with the license this allows him, to denounce certain individuals, that should especially arouse our indignation. It is rather the fact that certain other completely worthless characters, taking this as their starting point, have now made a regular exercise of the thing and even dare hurl whatever insults come to hand against Demosthenes, the man who I would say came down to earth as the very image of Hermes, god of eloquence.
Aristides In Defense of the Four 3.663

Hermes Logios was a patron deity of orators; [42] so Aristides’ dream assimilation of Plato to Hermes can be interpreted as yet another way of claiming Plato for oratory; yet, perhaps it is more precise to say that for Aristides Hermes as a patron deity of eloquence [43] can be a universal force. [44]

Immediately before this dream, Aristides narrates another dream where Plato is central:

ἐπέδειξε δέ μοι καὶ περὶ τῆς φύσεως τῆς αὑτοῦ τὰ μὲν ὄψει, τὰ δὲ καὶ λόγῳ. ἔσχε δὲ οὑτωσί. ἀνεῖχε μὲν ἑωσφόρος, ἡνίκ’ ἦν τὸ ἐνύπνιον. ἐδόκουν δὲ βαδίζειν ὁδόν τινα δι’ ἐμαυτοῦ χωρίου προσορῶν τῷ ἀστέρι ἄρτι ἥκοντι, καὶ γὰρ εἶναι πορείαν πρὸς ἀνατολάς. παρεῖναι δὲ Πυραλλιανὸν τὸν ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ, ἄνδρα ἡμῖν τε ἑταῖρον καὶ περὶ τοὺς Πλάτωνος λόγους εὖ γεγυμνασμένον, οἷα δ’ ἐν ὁδῷ καὶ ἡσυχίας οὔσης προσπαίζων αὐτὸν καὶ ἅμα ἐρεσχελῶν εἰπεῖν, ἔχεις μοι πρὸς θεῶν εἰπεῖν—πάντως δ’ ἐσμὲν μόνοι—τί ταῦτα ὑμεῖς οἱ περὶ τὸν Πλάτωνα ἀλαζονεύεσθε καὶ ἐκπλήττετε τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. ἔφερε δέ μοι τοῦτο εἰς τοὺς περὶ φύσεως αὐτοῦ καὶ τῶν ὄντων λόγους. καὶ ὃς ἀκολουθεῖν με ἐκέλευε προσέχοντα τὸν νοῦν. ἐκ τούτου δὲ ὁ μὲν ἡγεῖτο, ἐγὼ δ’ εἱπόμην. καὶ προσελθὼν μικρὸν ἀνασχὼν τὴν χεῖρα δείκνυσί μοι τόπον τινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ· καὶ ἅμα δεικνὺς ἔφη, οὗτος δή σοί ἐστιν ὃν καλεῖ Πλάτων τοῦ παντὸς ψυχήν. ἀναβλέπω τε δὴ καὶ ὁρῶ Ἀσκληπιὸν τὸν ἐν Περγάμῳ ἐνιδρυμένον ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, καὶ ἅμα τε ἀφυπνιζόμην ἐπὶ τούτοις καὶ τὴν ὥραν αἰσθάνομαι ταύτην ἐκείνην οὖσαν ἐν ᾗ ἐδόκουν ταῦτα ὁρᾶν.
The god also gave me a demonstration of his nature, partly by sight, partly also by word. It was as follows. The morning star had risen, when the dream occurred. I dreamed that I was walking on a certain road through my estate, and was gazing at the star which had just now appeared, for my path was towards the east. Pyrallianus, from the Temple, a man who was a comrade of ours and one highly trained in Plato’s dialogues, was present. Jesting and teasing him, as it were on a leisurely walk, I said, “can you tell me by the Gods—we are entirely alone—why you Platonists put on this mummery and scare (ἐκπλήττετε) men?” This was in reference to his dialogues about nature and being. And he ordered me to pay attention and attend after him. Then he led and I followed. And having gone a little ways, he held up his hand and showed me a certain place in heaven. And at the same time, and he showed it, he said, “This, as far as you are concerned, is what Plato calls the soul of the Universe.” I gazed up and I saw Asclepius of Pergamum established in heaven. And just after this, I woke up, and I perceived that it was the very hour, in which I dreamed that I saw these things.
Aristides Sacred Tales 4.55–56

The aggression on the part of Aristides is this case is only a mock-aggression, a friendly teasing. He is at ease with his friend the Platonist. [45] The reference to the dialogues about nature and being aims at Timaeus; it is precisely in Timaeus that the expression τοῦ παντὸς ψυχήν, ‘the soul of the Universe,’ or more literally, ‘the soul of the whole,’ occurs (Timaeus 41d); [46] the dialogue includes a very complex description of a process of creation of that World Soul (34b–36e). Thus, it is precisely the dialogue that elicits the initial bantering that is shown to be connected with the cosmic revelation of Asclepius. [47]

Aristides plants a quote from Plato into his narration of this dream: προσπαίζων αὐτὸν καὶ ἅμα ἐρεσχελῶν εἰπεῖν ‘jesting and teasing him’ closely echoes παιζούσας καὶ ἐρεσχηλούσας ‘jesting and teasing’ in а passage from the Republic, where Socrates asks about the way in which stasis might appear in Callipolis. Should he ask the Muses for an answer, he wonders:

Πῶς οὖν δή, εἶπον, ὦ Γλαύκων, ἡ πόλις ἡμῖν κινηθήσεται, καὶ πῇ στασιάσουσιν οἱ ἐπίκουροι καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες πρὸς ἀλλήλους τε καὶ πρὸς ἑαυτούς; ἢ βούλει, ὥσπερ Ὅμηρος, εὐχώμεθα ταῖς Μούσαις εἰπεῖν ἡμῖν ὅπως δὴ πρῶτον στάσις ἔμπεσε, καὶ φῶμεν αὐτὰς τραγικῶς ὡς πρὸς παῖδας ἡμᾶς παιζούσας καὶ ἐρεσχηλούσας, ὡς δὴ σπουδῇ λεγούσας, ὑψηλολογουμένας λέγειν;
“How then will our state be stirred up, Glaucon,” I said, “and in what way will our auxiliaries and rulers break into factions against each other and within themselves? Or do you want us, like Homer, to pray to the Muses to tell us ‘how first revolt (stasis) broke out,’ and have them speak to us in high tragic style, jesting and teasing us as if we were children, while apparently talking seriously?” [48]
Plato Republic 8.545d–e

A notoriously and intentionally obscure description of a so-called “nuptial number,” [49] somehow related to human procreation and likely to be misunderstood (and thus bring stasis) follows this invocation of the Muses in the Republic (546c). The ambiguous performance of the Muses (channeled by Socrates), both bewilderingly solemn and playful, creates the kind of experience that we also encounter reading the Sacred Tales: a reaction of wavering between disbelief and wonder. [50] The Platonic Soul of the Whole and Aristides’ Asclepius are revealed to be one and the same; in parallel, the mode of talking that Aristides employs is shown to be remarkably similar to the way Plato’s Socrates sometimes speaks. [51]

It is curious that both dreams related to Plato contain a trace of antagonism; yet, all antagonism vanishes at the marvelous conclusion of each dream, in which the connection between Plato and Aristides is reinforced. This emphasis on the connection between Aristides and Plato poses a question about the seriousness of Aristides’ attacks on the philosopher. How dismissive of Plato is Aristides, in reality? How angry is Plato? How strong is the opposition between Plato and Demosthenes?
A recent book by William Altman provides radically new answers to these questions. Altman argues that self-contradictions in Gorgias was intentionally planted by Plato as provocations, testing the ability of his students to read critically; [52] detecting the internal contradictions and thinking them through brings the reader to a realization that there should exist a “true rhetoric” (Gorgias 517a), which is compatible with philosophy. Thus, Aristides, who makes this exact inference after detecting Plato’s logical faults in Gorgias (A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory 2.351–361), emerges as a brilliant reader of Plato, who reads the dialogue in the way it was intended to be read. [53] Plato’s antipathy to rhetoric is illusory, and Aristides’ famous description of him as “father and teacher of orators” (τὸν τῶν ητόρων πατέρα καὶ διδάσκαλον, A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory 2.465) can be perceived as fully justified.
Altman’s interpretation harmonizes remarkably well with Aristides’ Platonic dreams, which show Plato’s anger and Aristides’ playful aggression while emphasizing the profound connection of Aristides to Plato.
Altman’s argument goes much further: he makes a compelling case that Demosthenes was Plato’s student (a tradition attested in antiquity but mostly discounted by the modern scholarship), [54] and that it was precisely Gorgias that influenced Demosthenes most. [55] He proposes that at its earliest stages (before the battle of Chaeronea), Plato’s Academy was not opposed to involvement in politics, and both oratory and philosophy were taught there; [56] the figure of Demosthenes emerges as an envisioned response to Plato’s Gorgias, an orator guided by higher philosophical principles. [57] On this reading, Plato and Demosthenes, the most eloquent philosopher and the most philosophic orator, paired in the dreams of Aelius Aristides, turn out to have deep historical affinities.

7. Someone’s statue in the temple of Plato

We do not know how the Sacred Tales ended: we have only the beginning of the sixth book. In the absence of the ending, the culmination of the narrative is the closing of the fifth book, in which Aristides recounts a very long and cohesive dream which takes place in Athens. [58]
In the dream, Aristides comes to Athens and lives there just under Acropolis, with the opisthodomos of Athena’s temple visible from his house. He stays in the house of the doctor Theodotus: that figure appears throughout the Sacred Tales, and while it seems that there was a human doctor of that name near Aristides, in the dreams he is pointedly one of the embodiments of the god Asclepius. [59] It is tempting to identify the location of the house of the doctor Theodotus as the Athenian Asclepieion, on the south slope of the Acropolis. A procession in honor of Eros is setting out (Sacred Tales 5.57). A colleague of Aristides, Lucius, urges Aristides to take a certain boy as a student; he praises Aristides to the boy:

καὶ δὴ καὶ παῖδά τινα Λούκιον πρὸς αὐτὸν λέγειν περὶ ἐμοῦ ἄλλα τε δὴ εὔφημα καὶ ὡδί πως τὸν ἔπαινον διατίθεσθαι, οὗτος, ἔφη, ἐστὶ Πλάτων καὶ Θουκυδίδης καὶ Πλάτων καὶ ὁ δεῖνα· καὶ πολλοὺς κατέλεξεν οὕτως ἀεὶ τῷ Πλάτωνι συζευγνύς τινα, ὡς τὰς ἁπάντων τούτων δυνάμεις ἔχοντα ἐμέ.
And Lucius made other complimentary remarks about me to him, and praised me somehow in the following fashion. “This man,” he said, “is Plato and Thucydides, and Plato and so and so.” And thus he listed many men, while always joining someone with Plato, as if I had the powers of all these men.
Aristides Sacred Tales 5.58

Next Aristides goes to the Lyceum, and there ascends steps to enter a temple, which is no less in size than the Hekatompedos (= the Parthenon [60] ). On his way he receives four eggs (5.61). [61]

αὐτὸς δὲ ἐν τῷ προνάῳ γενόμενος ὁρῶ τὸν νεὼν Πλάτωνος ὄντα τοῦ φιλοσόφου, καὶ τὸ ἄγαλμα ἐκείνου μέγα καὶ καλὸν ἑστηκός, ἐκ δεξιᾶς δ’ αὐτοῦ οὐκ οἶδ’ ὅστις εἱστήκει. καθῆστο δὲ ἐπὶ τοῦ οὐδοῦ γυνὴ μάλ’ εὐσχήμων, ἣ διελέγετο περί τε τοῦ Πλάτωνος καὶ τοῦ ἕδους. συνεπελάμβανον δέ τινες καὶ ἄλλοι τοῦ λόγου καὶ ἅμα ὡς περὶ παλαιοῦ διελέγοντο. κἀγώ, τοῦτο μέν, ἔφην, οὐκ ἔνεστιν εἰπεῖν ὅτι καὶ παλαιόν· ὅ τε γὰρ τύπος τῆς ἐργασίας ἐλέγχει νεώτερος ὢν Πλάτωνός τε οὐ πολὺς ἦν λόγος ἐπ’ αὐτοῦ Πλάτωνος, ἀλλ’ ὕστερον, ἔφην, προὔβη δόξα. εἰπόντος δέ τινος ὡς καὶ τρεῖς ἔδει νεὼς εἶναι Πλάτωνός γε, τί δ’ οὐ καὶ Δημοσθένους, ἔφην ὑπερβαλών, ὀγδοήκοντα, καὶ Ὁμήρου γε, οἶμαι; καὶ ἔτι ταῦτα λέγων, ἀλλ’ ἴσως, ἔφην, τοὺς μὲν νεὼς τοῖς θεοῖς προσήκει καθιεροῦν, τοὺς δὲ ἄνδρας τοὺς ἐλλογίμους τῇ τῶν βιβλίων ἀναθέσει τιμᾶν, ἐπεὶ καὶ αὐτῶν, ἔφην, ἡμῶν τιμιώτατα ἃ φθεγγόμεθα, ὡς δὴ τοὺς μὲν ἀνδριάντας καὶ τὰ ἀγάλματα τῶν σωμάτων ὄντα ὑπομνήματα, τὰ δὲ βιβλία τῶν λόγων. Τοιαῦτα εἰπὼν καὶ ἀκούσας ἐπανῄειν. καὶ κατιδὼν ἐπιόντα τὸν σύντροφον τοὺς χρόνους ἀνενεούμην, ὁπόσοις τισὶ πρότερον γενοίμεθα Ἀθήνησιν ἅμα.
When I reached the entrance, I saw that it was a temple of Plato, the philosopher, and that a great and fair image of him was erected there, and a statue of someone was erected on his right. A very beautiful woman sat upon the threshold and spoke about Plato and the statue. Some others also took part in the discussion, and at the same time spoke about it as if it were ancient. And I said, “It is not possible to say that it is ancient. For the form of the workmanship is shown to be rather recent, and there was not much regard of Plato in Plato’s own life time, but,” I said, “his reputation grew later.” Yet when someone said that there ought to be three temples of Plato, “Why not,” I said extravagantly, “eighty of Demosthenes, and of Homer at any rate, I think?” And, having said this, I added, “But perhaps it is proper to consecrate temples to the gods, but to honor famous men with the offering of books, since,” I said, “our most valuable possessions are what we say. For statues and images are the monuments of bodies, but books of words.” When I had said and heard these things, I returned. And when I saw my foster brother approaching, I recalled how much time had passed since we were formerly together at Athens.
Aristides Sacred Tales 5.62–64

As Aristides turns to go home to the Acropolis, a flash of lightning skims the edge of his hair. He climbs up and down some ladders and gets home; the procession in honor of Eros returns, and he is told the lightning was a good sign and that his sacrifices turned out correctly (5.64–65).

The integrative quality of the dream starts from its location: Aristides comes to Athens, which constitutes the center of his universe. [62] His home in Athens is either inside or in the close vicinity of the Asclepieion. The fact that Aristides ascends steps to the building that turns out to be a temple of Plato confirms Plato’s centrality for Aristides’ internal hierarchy. But Plato is referred to in the dream even before Aristides arrives to his temple, and a reference is linked with the motif of doubling. Aristides is compared to Plato and Thucydides, and “Plato and so-and-so” (καὶ Πλάτων καὶ ὁ δεῖνα). Thucydides is mentioned twice in the Sacred Tales: here and in the initial recommendation of the god, “to speak in the manner of Socrates, Demosthenes, and Thucydides” (Sacred Tales 4.15). [63] His name connects the two episodes, and suggests the possibility that we should recognize Demosthenes under the generic mask of “so-and-so.”
Indeed, Aristides speaks about Demosthenes in Plato’s temple, hyperbolically (ὑπερβαλὼν) proposing that there should be also eighty temples of Demosthenes (and temples of Homer, too [64] ). [65]
The statue of Plato in the temple is also accompanied with another statue—of whom, Aristides does not know: ἐκ δεξιᾶς δ’ αὐτοῦ οὐκ οἶδ’ ὅστις εἱστήκει (“on his right I-do-not-know-who had been set up”). It is appealing to connect this anonym with the immediately preceding one, also paired with Plato, the “so-and-so” that we have just considered, and whom I suggested as an implicit reference to Demosthenes. I would go further and propose that this is not just a statue of Demosthenes, but a statue of Aristides-Demosthenes whom we have encountered lying side by side with Alexander.
The Sacred Tales contain two episodes in which Aristides recognizes himself in a statue. We have already discussed one of these episodes, the mystical scene in which Asclepius, who looks the way he is portrayed by his statues, tells Aristides that Aristides is one with the god (Sacred Tales 4.50). In the second dream episode (close to the beginning of the first book of the Sacred Tales) Aristides visits a temple of Asclepius at Smyrna:

περιεσκόπουν δέ, ὡς ἐν τῷ προνάῳ δὴ τούτῳ, ἀνδριάντα ἐμαυτοῦ· καὶ τότε μέν γε ὡς ἐμαυτοῦ ὄντα ἑώρων, πάλιν δὲ ἐδόκει μοι εἶναι αὐτοῦ τοῦ Ἀσκληπιοῦ μέγας τις καὶ καλός.
I examined, as it were, in this pronaos a statue of me. At one time I saw it as if it were of me, and again it seemed to be a great and fair statue of Asclepius. [66]
Aristides Sacred Tales 1.17

This dream episode takes place on the next day after the dream in which Aristides speaks to the Athenians as if he was Demosthenes (Sacred Tales 1.16).

After visiting Plato’s temple and talking there, Aristides sees his foster brother: καὶ κατιδὼν ἐπιόντα τὸν σύντροφον τοὺς χρόνους ἀνενεούμην, ὁπόσοις τισὶ πρότερον γενοίμεθα Ἀθήνησιν ἅμα (“and when I saw my foster brother approaching, I recalled how much time had passed since we were formerly together at Athens”; Sacred Tales 5.64). The meeting of the foster brothers in Athens, where they formerly used to be together is another dream-image of wholeness, of two parts joining, summoning up the recollection of the previous state of wholeness in the center of the world. [67] Given than Aristides calls Sophocles a brother of Aeschylus in one of his dreams (Sacred Tales 4.61), it does not seem impossible that the dream past to which Aristides refers is the glorious time when both Plato and Demosthenes lived in Athens.

8. Books, not bodies?

But how does one identify with Demosthenes in the world with no democracy? [68] Speaking in a vacuum, not connected to any action: the worry about its futility is woven into the dream where Aristides speaks to the Athenians as Demosthenes: [69] “You ask through the herald, ‘Who wishes to speak? But I would rather ask you, Who wishes to act? Or is the rest but a comedy…” ὑμεῖς μὲν οὖν διὰ τοῦ κήρυκος ἐρωτᾶτε τίς ἀγορεύειν βούλεται, ἐγὼ δὲ ὑμᾶς ἡδέως ἂν ἐροίμην τίς ὑμῶν βούλεται πράττειν. ἡ κωμῳδία γε τὸ λοιπόν ἐστιν… (Sacred Tales 1.16). The impossibility of acting in the world of the Roman empire needed to be vindicated, and in one of the speeches to Plato Aristides formulates his response:

τί δῆτα αὐτή γε καθ’ ἑαυτὴν ἡ ητορικὴ καὶ ὁ ήτωρ; ἐγὼ μὲν γὰρ οὐκ ἀποκνήσαιμ’ ἂν φάναι τοῦτον ἄριστον εἶναι περὶ λόγους ὅστις ἀνὴρ [ήτωρ] ἄριστος. εἰ τοίνυν τις καὶ τοιοῦτος ἐγγένοιτο οἷος ητορικὴν ἔχων εἰς μὲν δήμους ᾳδίως μὴ εἰσιέναι, μηδὲ περὶ πολιτείας ἀμφισβητεῖν ὁρῶν ἑτέρως ἔχοντα τὰ πράγματα, καὶ ταῦτα οὐκ ἐν ὑστάτοις ὢν δόξης ἕνεκα καὶ τιμῶν καὶ τῶν ἐπικαίρων φιλοτιμιῶν, αὐτὸς δὲ ἐφ’ ἑαυτοῦ τοῖς λόγοις χρῷτο, τὴν αὐτῶν φύσιν καὶ τὸ ἐν αὐτοῖς καλὸν τετιμηκώς, καὶ θεὸν ἡγεμόνα καὶ προστάτην ἐπιγραψάμενος τοῦ τε βίου καὶ τῶν λόγων, οὐδὲ τούτῳ χαλεπὸν πρὸς Πλάτωνα ἀντειπεῖν, ἀλλ’ οὗτος ἂν καὶ πολὺ καλλίστων καὶ δικαιοτάτων εὐπορήσειεν λόγων.
I should not hesitate to say that whoever is the best man is the one who is best with speeches. If therefore there should be anyone and of such quality who, while having rhetoric, can’t easily address the people nor debate concerning affairs of state—seeing that those affairs are now differently constituted (ἑτέρως ἔχοντα)—and regarding them, being not among the hindmost with respect to reputation, honors, and time-appropriate ambitions, if he alone and for himself should employ such speeches, having honored their nature and the Beautiful in them, and having inscribed God as guide and overseer of both his life and his speeches, not even for him is it difficult to answer Plato. [70]
Aristides A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory 2.429–430

This passage has been interpreted as Aristides’ personal apology of his inability to act politically under the Roman rule; a scholiast understood ἑτέρως ἔχοντα τὰ πράγματα ‘the affairs differently constituted’ as referring to the Roman empire. [71] Interestingly, in the dreams of Aristides the same idea of “the best man being best with speeches” is offered to Aristides by the Roman emperor [72] (that is, if we project the waking world onto the dream world, by Marcus Aurelius): κἀκ τούτου ἤρχετο ὁ πρεσβύτερος λέγειν ὅτι τοῦ αὐτοῦ εἴη καὶ ἄνδρα ἀγαθὸν εἶναι καὶ περὶ λόγους ἀγαθόν “And after this, the elder Emperor began to say that it was an attribute of the same man to be morally good and a good speaker” (Sacred Tales 1.49).

After Aristides proposes in the conversation at the temple of Plato that there should be eighty temples of Demosthenes, he takes his words back:

καὶ ἔτι ταῦτα λέγων, ἀλλ’ ἴσως, ἔφην, τοὺς μὲν νεὼς τοῖς θεοῖς προσήκει καθιεροῦν, τοὺς δὲ ἄνδρας τοὺς ἐλλογίμους τῇ τῶν βιβλίων ἀναθέσει τιμᾶν, ἐπεὶ καὶ αὐτῶν, ἔφην, ἡμῶν τιμιώτατα ἃ φθεγγόμεθα, ὡς δὴ τοὺς μὲν ἀνδριάντας καὶ τὰ ἀγάλματα τῶν σωμάτων ὄντα ὑπομνήματα, τὰ δὲ βιβλία τῶν λόγων.
And, having said this, I added, “But perhaps it is proper to consecrate temples to the gods, but to honor famous men with the offering of books, since,” I said, “our most valuable possessions (τιμιώτατα) are what we say. For statues and images are the means of remembering of bodies, but books of words.”
Aristides Sacred Tales 5.63

Considered carefully, this addition looks increasingly puzzling. First, Aristides seems to be arguing with his own dream, when he asserts in the temple of Plato that temples should not be dedicated to famous men. Further, the sentiment expressed is curiously disjunctive, dividing several elements that the Sacred Tales have been connecting previously. The distinction between gods and famous people was porous in an earlier dream, when Plato appeared as an embodiment of Hermes (Sacred Tales 4.57). [73] Separating books and bodies into different categories is also surprising for the text that establishes “a homology of body and book” as one of its key notions. [74]

Saying that books are reminders of speeches and images are reminders of bodies is stating the obvious; saying that our most valuable possession (τιμιώτατα) is what we say is startling. Not one’s soul, as Plato would assert and legislate (τιμιώτατον, Laws 731c; τιμιώτατα, Plato Laws 697b)? But no: it appears that for Aristides the words are his most precious possessions. [75] This is what he says to Plato elsewhere, humbly, obsessively, grandly: “No, impelled by words themselves, and in the belief that fine words are a fitting possession for a man to have, I work to the best of my powers” ἀλλ’ ὑπ’ αὐτῶν τῶν λόγων ἀχθεὶς καὶ νομίσας εἶναι πρέπον ἀνθρώπῳ κτῆμα λόγους καλούς, οὕτως ἐργάζομαι κατὰ δύναμιν τὴν ἐμαυτοῦ (A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory 2.431).
Words, not soul: would not Plato be angry? Words, not actions: might not Demosthenes feel derision? But this reduction to the bare core initiates an expansion, where disjunction gives way to unity. The verbal echo of τιμιώτατα leads us to the passage of Aristides that we have discussed earlier:

νῦν σὲ καὶ μᾶλλον φιλοῦμεν οὕτως ἐρωτικῶς τοῦ Πλάτωνος ἔχοντα, ὃν ἐγὼ φαίην ἂν τιμᾶν καθ’ Ὅμηρον ἶσον ἐμῇ κεφαλῇ. εἰ γάρ τοι καὶ πάντες φαῦλοι πρὸς ἐκεῖνον, ἀλλ’ ἕκαστος τιμιώτατος αὐτὸς ἑαυτῷ, φασίν.
I love you now more than ever because of this devotion of yours to Plato, whom I would say that I esteem, in Homer’s phrase, “as much as I do my own person.” (Even if everyone is worthless compared to him, each man is, so they say, supremely valuable in his own eyes.)
Aristides A Reply to Capito 4.1

This is the opening sentence of Aristides’ third speech on Plato, A Reply to Capito; and its unifying impulse is striking: valuing Plato as oneself, as Achilles cherished Patroclus (Iliad 18.82); loving the addressee even more because of his passionate love of Plato. It might be all about words, but suddenly the words are awash in emotion, and the emotion is love. I believe that this passage is an implicit bridge that provides connection to the puzzling ending of the fifth book of the Sacred Tales, the reference to the procession in honor of Eros. This is the only time that Eros is mentioned in the Sacred Tales. My conjecture is that this procession in honor of Love should have to do with the love (erōs) that Aristides declares so passionately in the beginning of A Reply to Capito (4.6): the love of the ancients (τῶν παλαιῶν ἀνδρῶν), and above all, of Plato and Demosthenes.

9. The flash of lightning

It has been long observed that Aristides uses the language of mystery cults; [76] he employs it for describing the experience of oratory; [77] he also speaks that language in the Sacred Tales when depicting mystical encounters with deities. [78] The concept that appears to be most fruitful to apply to Aristides is Richard Seaford’s idea of “interiorisation of Greek mystic initiation,” [79] a mental process that transposes the exterior experience of participating in a mystic ritual into an interior psychic experience.
One of the principal notions of mystery cults is the unity of opposites, an integration of opposite elements that transcends their incompatibility. [80] In the Sacred Tales, a similar synthesis appears to be at work; but peculiarly the opposites are historical figures. Aristides brings Demosthenes and Alexander, Demosthenes and Plato together by the intensity of his connection to the historical past, which acquires in his dream world a cosmic significance. That dream-Athens, the world’s center, is a place transformed by Aelius Aristides’ love of words; it is a universe where harmony might exist, even though historically there was none.
The two focal dream scenes, in which the opposing historical figures are brought together in the dreams of Aristides—the common tomb of Demosthenes and Alexander, and Plato’s temple possibly containing a statue of Demosthenes—do not seem to be patterned like initiatory experiences of confusion and fear followed by illumination. However, both of these scenes immediately precede dream experiences that resemble a mystic initiation. We have already discussed the episode following the description of the shared tomb, in which Aristides is revealed to be one with Asclepius. This is characteristic for the mystic vision: quoting Seaford, “[t]he division between subject and object […] was transcended by partial assimilation between the two, in both directions.” [81] Similarly characteristic of a mystic ritual is the appearance of light, when the three-headed statue of Asclepius seems to “shine about with fire” (πυρὶ λαμπόμενον κύκλῳ, Sacred Tales 4.50). [82]
In the case of the episode following the scene in the temple of Plato, there is also a sudden appearance of light—a gleam of a lightning that strikes Aristides as he exits the temple:

ἐπιστρέψαντος δέ μου ὡς πρὸς τὴν ἀκρόπολιν, ἵν’ οἴκαδε εἰσέλθοιμι, διῇξε σέλας ἐκ δεξιᾶς καὶ κατέσκηψεν οὕτω δή τι παρ’ αὐτὰς ἄκρας μου τὰς κόμας ὥστε ἐθαύμαζον εἰ μὴ ἡμμέναι εἶεν.
After I had turned toward the Acropolis, so that I might go home, a flash of lightning darted by from the right and skimmed the edge of my hair in such a way, that I wondered that it had not been set on fire.
Aristides Sacred Tales 5.64

Lightning is mentioned on three Orphic gold leaves from Thurii (the most frequent explanation is that it is connected to the killing of the Titans by Zeus with a thunderbolt); [83] it has been argued that lightning featured in mystic initiations. [84] Further, the following passage from Plutarch appears even more contextually relevant: [85]

ἡ δὲ τοῦ νοητοῦ καὶ εἰλικρινοῦς καὶ ἁπλοῦ νόησις ὥσπερ ἀστραπὴ διαλάμψασα τῆς ψυχῆς ἅπαξ ποτὲ θιγεῖν καὶ προσιδεῖν παρέσχε. διὸ καὶ Πλάτων καὶ Ἀριστοτέλης ἐποπτικὸν τοῦτο τὸ μέρος τῆς φιλοσοφίας καλοῦσιν, ὡς οἱ τὰ δοξαστὰ καὶ μεικτὰ καὶ παντοδαπὰ ταῦτα παραμειψάμενοι τῷ λόγῳ, πρὸς τὸ πρῶτον ἐκεῖνο καὶ ἁπλοῦν καὶ ἄυλον ἐξάλλονται, καὶ θιγόντες ἁμωσγέπως τῆς περὶ αὐτὸ καθαρᾶς ἀληθείας οἷον ἐντελῆ τέλος ἔχειν φιλοσοφίαν νομίζουσι.
But the apperception of the conceptual, the pure, and the simple, shining through the soul like a flash of lightning, affords an opportunity to touch and see it but once. For this reason Plato and Aristotle call this part of philosophy the epoptic or mystic part, inasmuch as those who have passed beyond these conjectural and confused matters of all sorts by means of Reason proceed by leaps and bounds to that primary, simple, and immaterial principle; and when they have somehow attained contact with the pure truth abiding about it, they think that they have the whole of philosophy completely, as it were, within their grasp. [86]
Plutarch Isis and Osiris 382d–e

In a beautiful loop, this description brings us back to philosophy, more precisely, to the interiorisation of the mystic initiation by philosophy, in which the climactic moment is visualized as a flash of lightning.

I have described earlier the sequence of dreams culminating in the vision of Aristides’ unity with Asclepius as a ladder of dream experiences; it appears that the fifth book of the Sacred Tales concludes with a similar ascending sequence of images. [87] The episodes bringing opposing historical characters together, are, in a way, Plutarch’s “conjectural and confused matters of all sorts,” the bright variegated fabric of human history, serving as a preparatory stage for the encounter with divine.


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[ back ] 1. It is a joy to offer this study to Menelaos Christopoulos, with admiration of his scholarship, with memories of summer logoi, and with wishes of inspiration and flourishing.
[ back ] 2. On the dream episodes with the participation of emperors in the Sacred Tales, see Flinterman 2004, who notes (p.373) the emperors’ affirmation of central aspects of Aristides’ identity in his dreams.
[ back ] 3. Behr 1981:427n58.
[ back ] 4. All translations from the Sacred Tales are by Behr 1981 (unless noted otherwise).
[ back ] 5. Interestingly, Petridou 2017a:246 comments that in parallel to the two emperors, a pair of “brother-like” deities, Asclepius and Sarapis, appear in Sacred Tales 1.38–39.
[ back ] 6. On the importance of Demosthenes for Aristides, see Miletti 2017:20–21, who notes that Aristides is described as “alter Demosthenes” in the dreams of the Sacred Tales. Demosthenes’ prominence in the narratives of dream revelations of the Sacred Tales has been also noted in Petsalis–Diomidis 2010:269 and n. 175; Downie 2013:117n63 also remarks upon it, and comments on the relevance for Aristides of the theme of overcoming physical limitations through oratory in Plutarch’s Life of Demosthenes (4.3, 6.3).
[ back ] 7. Discussed in Downie 2013:168–169.
[ back ] 8. On Aristides’ emulation of Demosthenes, see Miletti 2016.
[ back ] 9. A quote from Aristophanes Wasps 9, which in the context means “you serve the same god [Dionysos] as I do.”
[ back ] 10. All translations from Aristides’ three Platonic orations (Orations 2, 3, 4) are by Trapp 2017, 2021.
[ back ] 11. After a health crisis leading to a breakdown of his plans for a successful career of an orator, Aristides took up a residence at the Asclepieion for two years, 145–147 CE; in the middle of that period he was urged by the god to return to speech-making (Sacred Tales 4.15). Behr 1968:23–60.
[ back ] 12. I.Pergam. III 33; Puech 2002:399–401, no. 210.
[ back ] 13. Petsalis-Diomides 2010:269; more on the statue of Demosthenes dedicated by Polemon on pp. 267–269.
[ back ] 14. Sophocles: Sacred Tales 4.60; Lysias: Sacred Tales 4:59. On Plato, see below.
[ back ] 15. Aristides engaged in a creative rewriting of the Athenian history in his waking life: his speech could transform the enterprising and ruthless Athenians of Thucydides into peace-loving and moderate quasi-Romans. Oudot 2016.
[ back ] 16. All translations from Demosthenes are by Vince and Vince 1926.
[ back ] 17. Carawan 2019.
[ back ] 18. See Hobden 2013:129–132.
[ back ] 19. Translation by Race 1997.
[ back ] 20. I note with particular interest the observation of Rutherford that this paean may have celebrated a victory in war, in the context of a festival. Rutherford 2001:257. On Pindar’s importance for Aristides, see Petridou 2018:261–266; Gkourogiannis 1999.
[ back ] 21. According to an emendation by Behr 1981:436n30.
[ back ] 22. On the social context of this dream and Asclepius’ command to engage in oratory, see Petridou 2017b:201–204; also Trapp 2016:§§19–20.
[ back ] 23. Asirvatham 2008:215 with a reference to Behr 1981:487.
[ back ] 24. Translation by Trapp 2017.
[ back ] 25. The description of Aristides’ attitude to the Macedonians (and the translations of the quotes from To the Thebans) is based on Asirvatham 2008.
[ back ] 26. On this dream, see Petridou 2017b:204–205.
[ back ] 27. Espinosa 2019:50 interprets this dream as affirming Aristides’ “fusion of philosophy and rhetoric.”
[ back ] 28. Trapp 2020:85.
[ back ] 29. Flinterman 2000–2001:37–39.
[ back ] 30. Miletti 2017:17–19; Dittadi 2017:288–289; Peterson 2019:54; Espinosa 2019:43–47.
[ back ] 31. Trapp 2020:103; see also Pernot 2006:100–115.
[ back ] 32. Trapp 2020:98–101; Lauwers 2013:353–354.
[ back ] 33. Pernot 1993:325–328; Flinterman 2000–2001:36–37; Trapp 2020:91–95.
[ back ] 34. Lauwers 2013:353.
[ back ] 35. A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory 2.427–428; Flinterman 2000–2001:38.
[ back ] 36. Trapp 2020:109.
[ back ] 37. Trapp 2020:105–106.
[ back ] 38. Lauwers 2013:355–356.
[ back ] 39. On the complicated question of classification of philosophy and oratory in the Second Sophistic, see, among others, Lauwers 2013, Stanton 1973.
[ back ] 40. Oration 4.29–45; 3.601–626; Trapp 2021:xi–xv, and Trapp 2020:102.
[ back ] 41. On the history of reception of this comparison, see Pernot 2006:129–175.
[ back ] 42. Aristides A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory 2.19; Allan 2018, 49.
[ back ] 43. On logios as ‘master of speech’ see Nagy 1990a:221–225.
[ back ] 44. Aristides ends a passage describing Hermes’ powers by calling oratory “the bond that holds the universe together” (σύνδεσμον τὴν ητορικὴν τοῦ παντὸς ὀρθῶς), A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory 2.424.
[ back ] 45. On Aristides’ closeness with the Platonists on the basis of this passage, see Miletti 2017:16–17; Petridou 2017b:193n25; Remus 1996:159–160.
[ back ] 46. Israelowich 2012:154; Petridou 2017a:249n19; see further a detailed discussion in Bittrich 2017:45–50, who explores the significance of identification of Asclepius in the dream as the constellation Ophiouchos, Snake-Holder (following Schröder 1986:102).
[ back ] 47. Israelowich (2012:153–154) points out that philosophically Aristides’ conception of Asclepius coincides with that of the Platonists. On Asclepius in the Neoplatonic thought, see Afonasin 2019.
[ back ] 48. Translation by Emlyn-Jones and Preddy 2013.
[ back ] 49. Adam 1929:202, Huffman 2015:218–219.
[ back ] 50. On the ambiguity in perception of the Sacred Tales engendered by Aristides’ likening of himself to Odysseus, the exemplary liar, see Whitmarsh 2004:442, 446.
[ back ] 51. In parallel to his joking accusation that the Platonists scare men (ἐκπλήττετε, Sacred Tales 4.56) Aristides uses ἐκπλήσσω ‘to scare, to astound’ in the Sacred Tales twice to describe the effect of his own rhetorical practices (1.39, 5.33) and twice in narrating divine signs granted to him (2:12; 3.45).
[ back ] 52. Altman 2022:101, Altman 2020:xxv–xxvii.
[ back ] 53. Altman 2022:134–136.
[ back ] 54. Altman 2022.
[ back ] 55. Altman 2022:89–90, 101–106.
[ back ] 56. Altman 2022:21–42, 77, 118–119, 126.
[ back ] 57. Altman 2022:101, 134.
[ back ] 58. Downie 2013:181 comments on the parallelism between this dream and the dream of the tomb shared with Alexander (Sacred Tales 4.49).
[ back ] 59. Sacred Tales 4.21: σαφὲς δ’ εἶναι τοῦτό γε, ὡς ἄρα ὁ Θεόδοτος ὁ ἰατρὸς τὸν θεὸν δηλοῖ “But this was clear, that the doctor Theodotus signified the god.” Also 1.13, 1.55–56. The human Theodotus: 2.34, 4.38, 4.42.
[ back ] 60. Van Rookhuijzen 2020:7.
[ back ] 61. I hope to explore the motif of eggs in the Sacred Tales in a future study.
[ back ] 62. Richter 2011:124–130.
[ back ] 63. Thucydides plays in general a lesser role in the texts of Aristides. To give a numerical impression, Thucydides is mentioned fifteen times in the surviving corpus of Aristides, as opposed to eighty-five times for Demosthenes and three hundred forty-two times for Plato. In the Sacred Tales, Demosthenes is mentioned by name eight times, and Plato fifteen.
[ back ] 64. The subject of Aristides’ references to Homer, and particularly to the Odyssey, in the Sacred Tales has been discussed in numerous studies: Pearcy 1988:379–380, 384; Whitmarsh 2004:442, 446; Holmes 2008:112; Downie 2013:52–55; Brod 2016:15–17, 58–61.
[ back ] 65. I disagree with Miletti 2017:15, who infers from this remark of Aristides that he does not consider Plato to belong to the same tier of eminence as Homer or Demosthenes.
[ back ] 66. Downie 2013:65 comments on this scene that Aristides claims “a kind of homology with the god.” See also Martin 1987:70 on the central importance of the episodes of Aristides’ identification with the statue of Asclepius.
[ back ] 67. On the Athenians as foster parents of the mankind, see Panathenaic Oration 1.1–2; Downie 2013:10.
[ back ] 68. I note the observation of Canfora (2018:446), that Aristides “completely identifies himself not only with Demosthenes’ rhetoric but also with his politics.”
[ back ] 69. See discussion of this dream in Downie 2013:168–169.
[ back ] 70. Translation by Altman 2022. Trapp 2017:639 understands this passage differently, translating ἑτέρως ἔχοντα in this passage as “things are in a bad state.” However, in a different passage where Aristides uses the same expression, Trapp renders it literally: ταῦθ’ ἑτέρως ἔχοντα “things are otherwise” (A Reply to Plato: In Defense of Oratory 2.295 = A Reply to Capito 4.12). Such a literal translation is preferable also in the passage under discussion, I believe.
[ back ] 71. Pernot 2006:255–256; Altman 2022:136–137. Aristides seemed to consider avoidance of any public service positions a necessary part of his vocation: the help of Asclepius in assisting Aristides to free himself from various attempts to impose a role of a Roman official on him is an important subject of the Book 4 of the Sacred Tales. Downie 2013:157–181, discussing this stance with regard to Demosthenes on pp. 168–169.
[ back ] 72. The correspondence between the dream and In Defense of Oratory is noted by Flinterman 2004:372; see also Downie 2013:170 and n33, where she observes that this proverb is also cited by Plato in the Republic (400d).
[ back ] 73. One can also recall other people who are revealed to be a god in Aristides’ dreams, like doctor Theodotus or philosopher Rhosander (on whom see Petridou 2017b:204–205; Sacred Tales 4.19, 21).
[ back ] 74. Downie 2013:157.
[ back ] 75. Downie 2013:181.
[ back ] 76. Nock 1964:119–120; Bonner 1937:126, 130.
[ back ] 77. Miletti 2017:10; Downie 2013:117–120; Fields 2008:165.
[ back ] 78. Petridou 2017a:243–255; Brod 2016: 56–59, 66.
[ back ] 79. Seaford 2016:209.
[ back ] 80. Seaford 2003.
[ back ] 81. Seaford 2016:213.
[ back ] 82. On light in mystic initiations, see Seaford 2010 (see also other chapters in Christopoulos, Karakantza, and Levaniouk 2010); Ustinova 2013:115–116 with further literature.
[ back ] 83. L9 and L10a, b in Bernabé and San Cristóbal 2008:100; for the discussion, see pp. 109–114; Graf and Johnston 2007:13–15, 125–127.
[ back ] 84. Seaford 1996, 196–197. See also Nagy 1990b:140–142 on a strike of lightning as means of immortalization.
[ back ] 85. On this passage and its connection with the lightning on Orphic gold leaves, see Ustinova 2018:142, 324, 137–138.
[ back ] 86. Translation by Babbitt 1936.
[ back ] 87. Ladders are a recurrent image in the Sacred Tales, and should be explored further.