The Defense Before Constantius

The Defense before Constantius presents literary problems very similar to those of the Defense against the Arians. Since Athanasius describes events of 356 and 357 (25-35), it seems natural to regard the work as a unitary composition written in the summer of 357 to refute the charges in the imperial order for his arrest.1 Yet the contents and tone of much of the work are difficult to reconcile with this assumption, and Archibald Robertson argued long ago that "the main, or apologetic, part' (which he identified as chapters 1-26) was written before the final chapters (27-35): for the former he proposed the date of 356, so that it would be contemporaneous with Athanasius' Letter to the Bishops of Egypt and Libya} That hypothesis does not go far enough. More recently, J.-M. Szymusiak analysed the Defense as follows:3

I. Original Defense (written between mid-353 and mid-355) 1 Preface

2-21 Refutation of four charges against Athanasius:

2-5 that he fostered enmity between Constantius and Constans before 350

6-13 that he corresponded with the usurper Magnentius in 350 14-18 that he used the Great Church begun by Gregory before it had been dedicated4

19-21 that he disobeyed an imperial summons to come to court in 353

II. Continuation (added in 357)

22-25* Diogenes' attempt to dislodge Athanasius between August and December 355 25b~26 Syrianus' attempt to arrest him in February 356

27-31 Persecution in the name of Constantius, especially his attempts to capture

Athanasius 32-35 Justification of Athanasius' flight

This analysis has the virtue of giving the original Defense before Constantius a real purpose: Athanasius writes as if he were delivering a real speech (3.1/2, 5.1,8.1,11.3,18.6)

and as if Constantius would listen and react to the work (16.2: 'you smile and show that this is so by your smile*), and he could have sent the original version to the emperor in 354. Szymusiak grounded his analysis in the claim that the whole of the first part is composed carefully with 'un véritable souffle oratoire,* while the flattering protestations of loyalty and deference in the second part are suffused with biting irony.5

Szymusiak was undoubtedly correct to distinguish between the beginning and the end of the Defense as different in nature and purpose. But he did not draw the dividing-line between the two parts of the work in exactly the right place. It should be drawn between chapters 18 and 19. Chapter 18 concludes with an invitation to Constantius to visit Alexandria and a prayer for his well-being—both of which are common features of a formal peroration.6 On grounds of both style and content, chapters 19-21 belong with the continuation, not with the original speech. However, chapter 7 refers to the suicide of Magnentius in August 353,7 and chapter 13 contains a clear allusion to the exile in 357 of Egyptian bishops who supported Athanasius (cf. 28; Hist. Ar. 72.2-5). Hence the hypothesis which best explains the present form of the Defense is the following modification of Szymusiak's schema:

(1) Athanasius composed a speech comprising chapters 1-12 and 14-18 for presentation to Constantius before 23 May 353, when Montanus arrived from court to summon him to Italy (Hist. ac. 1.8; Index 25).

(2) In 357 he revised the existing draft superficially and added a continuation comprising chapters 13 and 19-35, which began in the same general vein and gradually became more hostile toward Constantius. (A document of 353 is missing from the end of chapter 19—possibly because Athanasius wrote the continuation outside Alexandria.) As with the Defense against the Arians, however Athanasius probably never revised this composite work thoroughly for publication.

From this analysis of its genesis, it follows that the original Defense before Constantius is probably identical with the communication from Athanasius to the emperor which his envoys who set out from Alexandria on 19 May 353 must have taken with them (Hist. ac. 1.7; Index 25, cf. Sozomenus, HE 4.9.6). The original Defense, therefore, was presumably composed in the spring of 353. As for the continuation, Athanasius appears to be writing before he learned of the capitulation of Liberius in the summer of 357.®

A prosopographical detail confirms that Athanasius wrote the first part of the Defense before Constantius at an earlier date than the subsequent chapters. Chapter 10 describes Athanasius* public protestations of loyalty when envoys from Magnentius passed through Egypt in 350. Among the witnesses of his actions whom Athanasius invokes are the comes Asterius and Palladius, who subsequently became magister palatii, i.e., magister officiorum (10.3). The same pair of names recurs in chapter 22 as the men who brought to Alexandria a letter of Constantius written upon receipt of the news that Constans had been killed in late January or February 350. In this later passage Palladius is described in exactly the same words as before, but his companion, is 'Asterius, who became dux of Armenia*—an appointment which he presumably received after Athanasius wrote the earlier passage.9

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