Keywords: ancient lyric poetry, poetic hymns, ancient rhetoric, old Greek oratory, Second Sophistic, epideictic eloquence, prose hymns, Aelius Aristides
Abstract: Little is known about the time and circumstances of the appearance of the prose hymn genre. The first mention of it appears in the rhetorical literature of the Roman era, which also focuses on examples from late antiquity. Probably the most important such example for Greek rhetoricians was the corpus of prose hymns produced by Aelius Aristides — an orator, Atticist, and major representative of the Second Sophistic (2nd century A. D.). Based mainly on these texts, Menander of Laodice almost a century later drew up stylistic prescriptions for this genre. Aristides’ prose hymns were written between 142 and 177 A. D. and addressed to various gods: Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, Heracles, Serapis, Dionysus, Asclepius and others. Apparently, prose hymns were not widespread before Aristides: at religious holidays hymns in honor of the gods were usually performed by poets. The adaptation of this genre to prose, carried out by Aristides, consists in the contamination of traditionally poetic elements with the classic panegyric. This kind of “encomium” often served not only to glorify a particular deity, but also to honor the center of its worship, the inhabitants of a given area, and even Roman power. The high social and political status of rhetoric in the era of the Second Sophistic and Aristides’ personal authority may have contributed to the further development of this genre, the formation of its canons, and its affirmation in the rhetorical system of late antiquity.