Libanius a celebrated sophist of the 4th century, noted as a friend of the emperor Julian, was born about A.D. 314 at Antioch, where he studied in early youth, devoting his attention to the purest classic models. After a stay of four years at Athens, where he attracted much attention, he pursued his studies at Constantinople, and here entered upon a brilliant career as teacher, which excited the envy of others, especially of the sophist Bemarchius, his former instructor. The latter falsely charged him with the practice of sorcery and many vices, so that the prefect was persuaded to expel him from the city, A.D. 346. He went to Nice, and shortly after to Nicomedia, and there pleasantly passed five years with great success as an instructor, and returned, by invitation of emperor Julian, who had frequently attended his lectures, to Constantinople, only to leave it, however, shortly after, on account of the opposition still existing. He retired, by permission of Cessar Gallus, to his native city. Here he continued to reside till his death which is supposed to have occurred after the accession of Arcadius, A.D. 395. In the death of Julian, Libanius lost much of his hope for the restoration of paganism. He complains to the gods that they had granted so long a life to Constantius, and only so brief a career to Julian. He interchanged many letters with Julian. Under Valens he defended himself successfully against a charge of treason, and seems to have obtained the emperor's favor. He besought from him a law, in which Libanius himself, on account of his own natural offspring by a mistress, was personally interested, granting to natural children a share in their father's property at his death. Libanius was the preceptor of Basil and Chrysostom; and, although himself a pagan to the end, always maintained friendly relations with these Christian fathers. He was a warm advocate for tolerance, and sought to defend the Manichaeans of the East from the violent measures directed against them. He addressed Theodosius in one of his Discourses in defense of the heathen temples, which the monks were eager to despoil. He lived long enough to see Christianity everywhere triumphant, and his personal efforts no longer applauded. Separate works of Libanius have from time to time been discovered and edited, but many yet lie in MS. only in different libraries. His style is rhetorically correct, but, in accordance with the spirit of his times, highly artificial. Gibbon's criticism may be considered too severe (Decline and Fall, chapter 24). Among the writings of Libanius are his Progymnasmata, or Examples of Rhetorical Exercises, divided into thirteen sections; and Discourses, many of which were never pronounced, nor designed for that purpose. Some of the latter are moral dissertations, after the fashion of the times, on such subjects as Friendship, Riches, Poverty. One is entitled Mova Sia, a lament on the death of Julian. Another, the most interesting of all his writings, is his autobiography, which he first wrote at the age of sixty years, entitled
Βίος ἣ λόγος περὶ πῆς ἑαυτοῦ τυχῆς. A fragment of his Discourses, addressed to Theodosius in defense of the heathen temples, was discovered by Mai in 1823 in the Vatican. 'The Declamlations , exceeding forty in number, are exercises on imaginary subjects. There are not less than 2000 Letters addressed to over 500 persons, among whom are Athanasius, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Chrysostom. He wrote also a Life of Demosthenes, and Arguments to the Orations of Demosthenes. There is no complete edition of Libanius. His Discourses and Declamations were edited by Reiske (Lips. 1791-97, 4 volumes, 8vo). The most copious edition of his Letters (1605 in the Greek, and 522 translated into Latin) is that by J.C. Wolf (Amsterd. 1738, fil.). See Herzog, Real-Encyklop. volume 8, s.v.; Wetzer u.Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon, volume 6, s.v.; Smith, Dict. of Gr. and Romans Biog. volume 2, s.v.; Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Emnpire, chapters 23, 24; Sievers, Leben des Libanius (Berl. 1868).