University Of California Press

© 1991 The Regents of the University of California

For Han Drijvers

Preferred Citation: Cameron, Averil. Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1991 1991.

For Han Drijvers


An invitation to give the Sather Classical Lectures confers both a great sense of intellectual responsibility and a heady amount of freedom. No restrictions are placed on the subject, so long as it somehow concerns the classical world, and while the discipline of six weekly lectures, delivered at eight in the evening to an extremely discerning and varied audience, may be daunting, it can, as so many others before me have discovered, also be an exciting and stimulating experience. The first lecture, one learns on arrival, is a major social event in the university calendar; in my case it coincided with the February storms—rain of a torrential quality not experienced in the traditionally rainy England—but the prospect of the Sather reception proved, somewhat to my surprise, enough of an attraction to counteract the deluge. One is fed with dreadful stories of dwindling audiences after that beginning, and it is true that the atmosphere changes and notably becomes much more informal with the subsequent change of room. But I like to think that Jane Sather, whose severe portrait looks down on all Sather lecturers from the walls of the Sather office, would not have been displeased to see another woman giving the lectures, only the third in the seventy-three series until this one, and that she would have been satisfied with the audience who came faithfully week after week to hear her.

The discussion that follows each lecture is traditionally informal and conducted in the hospitable surroundings of faculty houses and apartments. A lecturer naturally tends under such circumstances to want to relax rather than to explain or justify, but I am grateful not only for the generous hospitality offered so freely, but also for the many helpful comments and reactions, which often led me into unsuspected territory, particularly when they came, as they often did, from colleagues in disciplines outside the classical field. Here Randy Starn, Howard Bloch, and Svetlana and Paul Alpers immediately spring to mind. Within the classical field itself, I was particularly helped and encouraged, and often also entertained, by Leslie Threatte, Erich Gruen, Tony Long, Ron Stroud, Donald Mastronarde, Robert Knapp, Crawford H. Greenewalt, Charles Murgia, and Danuta Shanzer. I owe a special debt of friendship to Thomas Rosenmeyer and J. K. Anderson for their kindness throughout my stay. Other new friends who helped us in various ways as a family during our stay in the Berkeley community and the Bay Area are too numerous to list in full, but I should like particularly to mention the Herr family and the Humphrey family; finally, Kay Flavell helped us in many practical ways. I am not least grateful to Daniel and Sophie for disrupting their own lives to come with me to Berkeley.

Dinner table talk at Berkeley tends to center on two topics: food and the imminence of the next big earthquake. The latter sadly made itself felt in 1989. But in 1986, several months in this environment, detached from one's usual duties, was a stimulus as well as a privilege. During that time, and while I have been preparing the lectures for publication, I have had many opportunities to revise and refine my original ideas, although the chapters in this book still represent substantially the lectures as they were delivered. I should like to pay a particular tribute to the members of my graduate seminar at Berkeley, in particular Scott Bradbury, Maud Gleason, and Judith Evans-Grubbs, for

their continuing friendly interest and their very useful observations. Many others generously offered information, help, and ideas, among them David Blank, Ann Bergren, Peter Brown, Elizabeth Clark, Trudi Darby, Caroline Dewald, Hal Drake, Han Drijvers, Raoul Mortley, Michael Nagler, Karen Jo Torjesen, Kathleen O'Brien Wicker, William Wuellner, and Froma Zeitlin. It is immensely comforting to know that so many others are interested in the problems I have been trying to confront. I was able to present some material in other places during my stay, notably at Princeton University; Scripps College, Claremont, California; the University of California, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles; Duke University, Durham, North Carolina; and at the South-West Branch of the American Academy of Religion meeting at Chattanooga and previously at the Triennial Meeting of the Hellenic and Roman Societies held in Cambridge in July 1985. All these audiences without exception provided useful and often unexpected comments.

This is an ancient historian's book about early Christianity. It is also highly personal, in that it reflects a set of particular recent interests and reacts against particular ways of interpreting the role played by Christianity in the Roman empire. Its range is deliberately wide, in that I have sought quite consciously to connect for my own better understanding the late antique or early Byzantine society on which most of my other writing has focused with its roots in the Roman empire. Thus it is informed by a preoccupation with the problems of transition, and with historical change in general. I am as much concerned with the problem of how a historian can explain change as with what might actually be thought to have happened.

Many other thanks are due in addition for help and suggestions at various stages. A seminar series at the Institute of Classical Studies, London (published as History as Text [London: Duckworth, 1989]), enabled me to clarify some ideas as they began to take shape. Many friends and colleagues have allowed

me to see their own work in advance of publication, among them Peter Brown and Andrew and Anne-Marie Palmer. A series of lectures given at the Collège de France in 1987 at the invitation of Gilbert Dagron allowed me to develop further some of the ideas in the final chapter. Margaretha Debrunner Hall helped to remove many blemishes at the final stage, and Lucas Siorvanes and Richard Williams gave invaluable assistance with the illustrations. I thank André Deutsch, Ltd., for permission to reproduce the lines from Stevie Smith's poem "A Dream of Comparison" in chapter 5, and the late Professor K. T. Erim for allowing me to use the photograph from Aphrodisias. For all this I am grateful, but most of all I am grateful to the Classics Department at Berkeley for the invitation that first set my thoughts in this direction. The faults are many, the subject far too big, but they are mine, and I am indeed grateful in writing, delivering, and revising these lectures to have had so exhilarating an experience.



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