This volume has the great merit of presenting Gregory Nazianzen’s letter collection as a collection. Where scholars have traditionally directed their attention to individual items contained within it, to reconstruct Gregory’s activities during the 360s, 370s, and above all the fraught two-year period between summer 381 and autumn 383, Storin focuses on the second life that Gregory found for these documents by reissuing them for the ostensible benefit of his great-nephew. Nicobulus was a student in Cappadocian Caesarea, but Storin sees in the anthology much more than merely a supplementary textbook for epistolography classes; here the collection is weaponized, to dazzle those reading over Nicobulus’ shoulders (four members of the cultural elite of Caesarea are identified in particular) with compelling claims not only to Gregory’s supremacy in eloquence, but also to a philosophical integrity that rendered irrelevant his episcopal misadventures in Constantinople, and furthermore to first place in the now-sainted Basil’s catalogue of friends.
Few will disagree with the broad outlines of this reading: the last two decades have seen a decisive shift, especially in English-language scholarship, away from the sentimental picture of a haplessly unworldly Gregory that once prevailed, whose contours Storin deftly charts (18–24). And the argument that Gregory’s original collection was organized by dockets addressed to individual recipients is wholly persuasive: reproduction of Gallay’s tables giving the order of letters in each manuscript family helpfully suggests that the two tenth century manuscripts comprising family “u” might take us reasonably close to the original (minus, of course, the sample of letters from Basil). The two letters excerpted in the fifth-century Vienna papyrus Pap. Gr. Vind. 29788, nowhere near each other in any of the mss families, should also remind us that the collection early took on a loose-leaf format, which might have been present from the outset.
Storin’s more specific claims about the collection’s purpose will generate controversy. One important consideration is the date when Gregory “published” his anthology by sending it to Nicobulus. His editor Gallay had been content to let this float between 384 and 390 (Briefe, xix, clv); Storin pushes it back, with insistent repetition, to “late 383 or early 384” (1, 3, 12, 13, 102, 144, 159), to answer the specific difficulties that Gregory faced when stepping down from his bishopric at Nazianzus. The one argument advanced to justify this narrow window, that letter-writing classes were confined to the early stages of the rhetor’s curriculum (1; cf. 105), finds little support in the material adduced in the accompanying notes. A more reliable chronological indicator is available in the prosopography of the governors of Cappadocia II, where Gregory’s long-suffering patron Olympius left office in mid-383: a full term (a year was conventional) must be provided for Nemesius, whom Gregory addresses on his retirement (Ep. 200), and a further governor is approached at the start of his tenure (Ep. 195). This yields mid/late-384 as a terminus post quem, and the collection might therefore be tentatively assigned to the resumption of the school year that autumn, as Nicobulus entered (probably) his third year. A year is a very long time in reputation management, and if Gregory was still having to fight the same public-relations battle as in late 383, we might reasonably surmise that the cause was lost, and that even the most ingenious publication initiative was unlikely to turn the tide.
By autumn 384, moreover, Nicobulus had thoroughly belied any hopes that he might rekindle the family torch of academic glory. One wonders how reliable an intermediary this amiable slacker (Ep. 175) would be to the small circle of intended readers identified by Storin. The letter of introduction which Nicobulus had brought to Bishop Helladius in 382 (Ep. 167) expressed only conditional confidence that the bishop would oversee his morals, “if he might be impelled to associate often with you.” Was the young man ever seen in the cathedral again? There is certainly no trace of any updates on his moral progress, and Gregory’s subsequent quarrel with Helladius, duly advertised in the collection, will hardly have recommended the book to the metropolitan’s sympathetic attention. The two sophists Stagirius and Eustochius, the Tweedledum and Tweedledee who had fought over Nicobulus, had each received an epistolary put-down from Gregory over the squabble. Would they have helped promote a work that immortalized their belittlement? Both are represented in the collection primarily by this matriculation row; Eustochius, the winner, might have “focused more on administrative matters” (3), but the silence over Nicobulus’ progress (not least following his father’s death, which will have complicated fee-paying arrangements) is telling. Stagirius might well have been congratulating himself, meanwhile, on having escaped a third-rate student with so aggressively helicoptering a great-uncle. Far more closely linked to Nicobulus than either is Eudoxius, who receives five letters related to his progress (Epp. 174–177, 187), three conveyed by Nicobulus himself, presumably each at the start of a new term. And the collection reveals Eudoxius as someone who had once had a future. Letters to celebrities in Constantinople had extolled his promise and sought to assist his career there—these among the few items retrieved from the 360s. Eudoxius could have been a contender; fifteen years on, he was a subordinate teacher in a provincial school. The collection seems much better calculated to engage him than those with whom Storin brackets him, but his own leverage would be much less than theirs (quite apart from the mixed feelings that any of us would have about a volume that broadcast reference letters written long ago for glamorous jobs which we did not get). This is a reason, perhaps, for the collection’s failure to exercise any influence on the early biographical tradition about Gregory—in which Rufinus played a larger role than Storin allows. The remarkably low profile of the letters in Gregory the Presbyter’s sixth/seventh century biography (18) deserves stronger emphasis.
Storin’s Gregory is a busy, almost obsessive editor, devoting intricate care to a collection whose overall organization nevertheless seems (we are very far from Pliny’s careful variations, or Symmachus’ sonorously definitive docketing of his recipients) almost artlessly straightforward. The possibility is floated that Gregory’s editorial hand went as far as revision of the originals (156) or even outright fabrication (4), with Ep. 8 to Basil touted as a possible example (157). More discussion is needed of this explosive claim. Very little is said, too, about the inclusion in the collection of letters by Basil himself (29, 80, 156, 162), although this will have been one of the most striking and disconcerting features for the work’s first users: one function of these letters, perhaps, was to provide material that skeptics could check for authenticity against the copies held in the Caesarea archives. But the discussion of Basil is distorted by an insistence on radically downplaying Gregory’s relationship to him, and his public profile before 381. Earlier references to Basil in his writings are reduced to four (150), the sequence of speeches on Sasima: this ignores the explicit (and emphatic) references in Or. 5, Or. 18 and Carm. 2.2.1 295; and Mossay’s whimsical suggestion that Or. 10 was a retrospective fiction is several times endorsed (10, 155, 161, 164, 196n63) but never sufficiently justified. Nor is there positive reason to date the funerary epigrams on Basil to after 381 (152); and what of those on Basil’s brother Naucratius and mother Emmelia? Besides, the correspondence between Basil and Gregory had had an original currency of its own, as had Gregory’s visits to Pontus and Caesarea; their friendship was the topic of symposiastic chat (Ep. 58.4) and Gregory’s “Basilism” of episcopal rebuke (Ep. 50.5). Gregory had begun staking his claim to Basil long before 381. And some at least of these letters were probably read by more people in their initial circulation than in the anthologized version, at least during Gregory’s lifetime.
Storin succeeds admirably in discovering coherence in a collection that has been unduly neglected in the recent epistolographic turn in classical scholarship. One danger here, however (and Storin has almost certainly spent more time with the collection than did Gregory himself, or probably any ancient reader), is that genuine loose ends might be retrospectively tidied. Storin’s tricolor already contains a canton, spangled with the exemplary letters (teaching updates, and generic recommendations, rebukes, intercessions, and consolations) that other epistolographic handbooks routinely offered (94)—but the way that these examples are scattered through the “u” family (where Storin’s examples are nos. 101, 124, 125, 167, 207, 210, 211, 225, 233) and all other manuscripts surely tells against any strategic intention here, and would militate against practical use. The prosopography, too, suffers from occasional shoehorning. Gregory’s fellow-student Meletius is not Basil’s “doctor;” nor does either his Cappadocian functionary Cyriacus look like Basil’s Tarsine “son of peace,” or his governor-patron Olympius like Basil’s easy-going friend (84); Basil’s Timothy, an ascetic veteran, cannot easily be Gregory’s newly-discovered cultural prospect (85); Gregory’s Epiphanius is certainly not the bishop of Salamis (92); Philagrius’ schooling belongs to Alexandria, not Athens (83). Historical details occasionally go astray: the decuriae into which the clerks of Rome were brigaded become the senate (104), hubris is contrasted with assault (114), and the summary of Noel Lenski’s explanation of the division of Cappadocia (192n32) is muddled.
The style is zestfully colloquial. Storin’s readers “suss out” Gregory (3), to whom autobiography is “old hat” (12); a renaissance book title is “hilariously bizarre” (310); bishops “duke it out” (136) and a monk will “call out Basil’s undercooked theology” (161). Storin is also occasionally pugnacious. A rival hypothesis “beggars belief” (12), and a recent biographer “indulges himself” “with little interpretive justification beyond his own feelings” (23). The translation gives similar gusto to Gregory’s own words, in phrases like “everyone with a lick of sense” (108), or “hungry and grouchy” (164). The subtleties of Gregory’s Greek sometimes elude, as when the future participle of paschein becomes that of peithein (138) or a cascade of correlatives goes missing (142). Only occasionally does the meaning go seriously astray, most notably when flighty Alexandria, mindless in hot passion (Carm. 2.1.11 576–7), becomes “the unimportant town Alexandria…ignorant of its wrath” (133). There is also an unfortunate lapse in California’s traditionally high production standards, with successive headings to the endnotes (207–225) directing readers ten pages forward in each case.
These imperfections do not detract from the significant contribution that Storin makes to studies of Gregory. Not only is his doggedly creative autobiographer a challenging new addition to the gallery of Gregories brought to the market in recent years, but his claims about the character of his subject’s self-presentational project will require future studies to explore and examine the scope that might have been available for such projects, and the constraints that governed them.