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An Tard, 8, 2000, p. 67 à 71



Ekphrasis, amplification et persuasion dans les Édifices de Procope

L’auteur souligne ici la nécessité de prendre en compte les usages rhétoriques spécifiques de
l’ekphrasis pour juger de la façon dont les contemporains ont reçu les Édifices de Procope. Ces
usages sont ceux que préconisaient les principaux manuels, et qu’illustraient divers antécédents (soit
pour des constructions déjà, soit pour d’autres réalités comme les batailles). Il s’agit essentiellement
de la multiplication de détails propres à rendre concret ce que l’on évoque, dans son aspect final
comme dans le processus de sa réalisation. Et dans le cas de la louange procopienne de Justinien, on
retrouve notamment l’ “amplification” prônée dans le Basilikos Logos de Ménandre ; ce n’est pas
une exagération, au demeurant, mais l’effet d’un souci de véritablement persuader. La présentation
de Sainte-Sophie est particulièrement révélatrice. Procope l’érige en œuvre maîtresse, pour mieux
convaincre surtout de ce qu’il affirme pour l’ensemble des réalisations de Justinien. Par l’ekphrasis,
l’écrivain vise encore à préserver les réalisations de l’oubli, assignant à son panégyrique le rôle
commémoratif d’une inscription sur un monument. [J.-P. C.]

The genre of the Buildings is notoriously difficult to define of description) can help us to understand how such a text
since the work combines elements of panegyric, might have been received.
historiography and periegetic literature1. Far from being a The rhetorical treatments of ekphrasis cannot directly help
question of purely literary interest, the problem of genre is us settle questions of genre (still less of the reliability of the
key to our understanding of how the work might have been descriptions, which can only be determined by comparison
received and understood by its sixth-century audience. I with the archaeological record) since ekphrasis was discussed
would like to approach this problem of reception by focussing as a technique, equally useful to historians, poets and orators
on one strand of the literary texture of the Buildings: the use of all persuasions, rather than as a genre in itself2. But the
of ekphrasis. Most readers would agree that ekphraseis of specifically rhetorical uses of ekphrasis, particularly in
buildings play a major role in Procopius’ text. The pièce de panegyric, are the ones which are most potentially valuable
résistance is the elaborate description of Hagia Sophia in for understanding Procopius’ project and how it might have
Book One, but the rest of the text consists largely of more or been received by an audience who were familiar with the
less elaborate descriptions of cities and fortifications. These, practice of panegyrical ekphrasis3. We do not need to sup-
although they do not reach the scale of the account of Hagia
Sophia, still satisfy the ancient definition of ekphrasis as a 2. By the sixth century ekphrasis had come to be used as an
circumstantially detailed account of a place or action, to name independent form, often but not exclusively celebrating buildings
but two of the standard subjects for ekphrasis cited in or works of art, as in Paul the Silentiary’s ekphrasis of Hagia
rhetorical handbooks. Understanding the function of Sophia and works by Procopius of Gaza and John of Gaza. This
ekphrasis and the presuppositions underlying its use (which development is noted by Nicolaus, author of a fifth century ver-
differ from the presuppositions which underlie our notion sion of the Progymnasmata, but he insists that ekphrasis is still
essentially a constituent part of a larger work.
3. This is not to assume that the Buildings was necessarily composed
for rhetorical performance, though Downey’s hypothesis that
1. On the generic affinities of the Buildings see J. Irmscher, Book One was originally composed and performed separately is
Justinian als Bauherr in der Sicht der Literatur seiner Epoche, attractive; see Downey, Notes. A knowledge of rhetoric is likely
in Klio, 59, 1977, p. 225-9 and Cameron, Procopius, p. 90. to have informed the reception of texts which were read privately.
68 RUTH WEBB An Tard, 8, 2000

pose that this audience (or even the author) were consummate the Alexandrian Acropolis7. Another, which Procopius makes
rhetoricians themselves, but rather that exposure to the all- great use of in the Buildings, is to describe the process by
pervasive habits of panegyric would have engendered cer- which it was made, giving a detailed narration of the cons-
tain expectations which may differ from those created by truction process. Theon’s first-century Progymnasmata is
our own experience of literature. the only version of these preliminary exercises to make
explicit reference to this practice as a category of ekphrasis,
USES OF EKPHRASIS which he terms ekphrasis of the tropos (the “manner in
which” something is made), citing as models the accounts
Ekphrasis was defined in the handbooks as a speech which of the fabrication of the Shield of Achilles by Hephaestus in
brought its subject matter vividly before the eyes of the Iliad 18, and of the construction of military fortifications
audience 4 . In this it is synonymous with enargeia, and stratagems in Thucydides and other historians8. But the
hupotuposis, diatuposis and diagraphe which are used concept is implicit in Nicolaus and clearly present in the
interchangeably in other treatises5. Very little practical in- later commentators on Aphthonius9.
formation about how to achieve the effect of «placing before The sources on ekphrasis which I have been discussing
the eyes» is transmitted in the handbooks, but it is clear from are all handbooks describing the elementary rhetorical
the model ekphrasis of the Alexandrian Acropolis given by exercises which a student would have encountered at the
the fourth-century rhetorician Aphthonius, and from scattered very beginning of his rhetorical studies. As such they can be
comments elsewhere in the literature that reference to details read as reflections of the basic concepts and categories of
of appearance was vital. Breaking down a subject into its literary and rhetorical discourse which were deeply ingrained
various parts was one method: Aphthonius’ own model in writers and audience alike. Most importantly, we find a
ekphrasis, of the Alexandrian Acropolis, takes the reader definition of ekphrasis which stresses the imaginative im-
on a tour of the site, describing each part in turn. For pact of works on the audience, and which envisages the des-
Nicolaus, writing in the following century, an ekphrasis is cription of objects as a form of description of the actions of
characterised by the amount of perceptible detail evoked a person or group of people. A study of ekphrasis in the
for the reader, in contrast to narration, which merely states Buildings must therefore include the many places where
some fact6. Procopius gives detailed, circumstantial accounts of the
Aphthonius’ model ekphrasis of an architectural complex manner in which (to borrow Theon’s formulation) Justinian
reflects, like the Buildings itself, a growing interest in Late constructed certain projects. In fact, Procopius appears in
Antiquity in the description of monuments. But these were places to refer to the technical classification of such passa-
by no means the only type of subject matter which students ges, most clearly in the introduction to his account of the
of rhetoric were taught to expand into ekphraseis, and I water-gate at Dara, where he says: « I shall show (deloo) in
believe it is important to treat ekphraseis of buildings against what manner (tropos) he ensured that the city would never
the background of ekphrasis as a whole. For Aphthonius again suffer such damage from the river, with God clearly
and Nicolaus, detailed accounts of battles were as much helping him in this work10. »
ekphraseis as descriptions of buildings. What makes an
ekphrasis an ekphrasis is the reference to perceptible details,
whether of objects or actions, the purpose of which is to 7. On this technique in sixth-century and later ekphraseis of
place the subject (whatever it is) «before the eyes» of the churches see Webb, The Aesthetics of Sacred Space: Narrative,
Metaphor and Motion in Ekphraseis of Church Buildings in DOP,
53, 1999, p. 59-74.
In the case of man-made objects different modes of des- 8. Theon, Progymnasmata, 118, 27-119, 2 cites a fragment of
cription were envisaged, each emphasising a different as- Ctesias identifiable as FgrH III, 688, 9b F Jacoby, and
pect of the subject matter. One method was to describe the Thucydides’ account of the fortification (periteichismos) of
finished artifact, as Aphthonius does on his virtual tour of Plataea. This latter passage is identified in modern editions as 3,
21, a brief account of the finished construction. However, 2, 75-
8, a vivid account of the construction of the fortifications, fits
Theon’s argument much better.
4. See, for example, Aphthonius, Progymnasmata, ed. H. Rabe 9. In his eleventh-century commentary Doxapatres includes an
(Leipzig, 1926) p. 36: ¦kfrasiw ¡sti lñgow perihghmatikòw êp ƒ extended discussion of the ekphrasis of the tropos, with particular
öcin gvn tò dhloæmenon. « Ekphrasis is a descriptive (literally: reference to buildings, explaining that buildings can be described
leading around) speech which brings the subject matter (to either as they appear in their finished form, or through an account
deloumenon) vividly before the eyes. » of their construction. Doxapatres, Homiliae in Aphthonii
5. Ekphrasis is a technical term, not usually found outside Progymnasmata, in Rhetores Graeci ed. C. Walz, 2 p. 513-14.
handbooks and scholia, we should therefore not be surprised to 10. Procopius, Buildings, 2, 3, 1: ÷ntina d¢ prosepoÛhse trñpon
find that Procopius does not use it. t» pñlei mhk¡ti aét» p‹yow pròw toè potamoè jumb»nai
6. Nicolaus, Progymnasmata, ed. J. Felten, Leipzig, 1913, p. 69, toioèton, toè yeoè diarr®dhn aétÒ junepilambanom¡nou tò
ll.2-3. spoædasma toèto, ¤gÆ dhlÅsv.
Both the verb deloo and the reference to the «manner in These two examples show how ekphrasis could be used
which» Justinian constructed his defences at Dara link this in a speech which was composed, in theory at least, to
passage directly to the technical discussions of ekphrasis in produce a practical effect, persuading the governor to visit,
the handbooks. The Progymnasmata can give us an idea of or the emperor to send aid. (In practice, of course, such spee-
the sorts of compositional categories and techniques which ches would have been part of a carefully choreographed ritual
lay at the root of rhetorical training and which must have of persuasion, in which the decision would have been
informed common conceptions of literary and rhetorical motivated by many factors, but this did not release the orator
texts. These elementary discussions were simply a prelude from his duty to produce an appropriately persuasive
to the further stages of rhetorical training which taught speech15). Closer to the case of the Buildings is the Basilikos
students how to put the skills they had learned into practice Logos, the speech in praise of an emperor, which restricted
in more elaborate compositions11. The ways in which students itself, as audiences would have been well aware, to « the
were taught to make use of ekphrasis in larger contexts, like good things pertaining to the Emperor16 ». Menander advises
declamations (meletai) or epideictic (or panegyric) speeches his readers to use description (using ekphrasis and the verb
can tell us more about the sorts of expectations an audience ekphrazo interchangeably with other terms) not just of the
familiar with this type of rhetorical production would have settings of the emperor’s victories, but also of the events of
brought to their reading of rhetorical ekphrasis. his campaigns (recommending classical and hellenistic
Nicolaus, at the end of his discussion of the exercise of historians as models). Such descriptions were part of the
ekphrasis, gives an indication of these expectations. In general amplification (auxesis) of the emperor and his
explaining how ekphrasis could be used in various types of achievements which formed the backbone of the Basilikos
speech, he states that this type of discourse had a properly logos. The use of ekphrasis in Procopius’ Buildings fits this
rhetorical effect in deliberative (political) speeches, helping pattern: the ekphraseis of how Justinian constructed this or
to persuade an audience, while in judicial speeches it was a that project play the same role as the ekphraseis of battles
valuable means of amplifying a subject12. His words point and military stratagems which Menander advises. From the
to a persuasive function for ekphrasis which informs its use point of view of the relation of the ekphraseis to their
in many types of composition, including Procopius’ Buil- historical subjects, this is tantamount to repeating the
dings. generally agreed opinion that Procopius took his starting
point from agreed facts (the necessary starting point for
EKPHRASIS, EPIDEICTIC AND THE BUILDINGS amplification) and proceeded to embellish them17. But if we
consider the Buildings from the point of view of the audience,
Of all the rhetorical genres, epideictic (or panegyric) is
or readers (since we do not need to assume any particular
the one most directly relevant to Procopius’ project, as has
reception context), there is more to say.
often been noted. According to Nicolaus, the function of
The term auxesis refers to « techniques used to increase
ekphrasis in panegyric was primarily to produce a feeling of
the perceived importance of some fact taken as given18 ». It
pleasure (hedone) in the audience13. This would seem to
served as a kind of verbal highlighting which aimed to af-
indicate a primarily decorative role for ekphrasis in
fect the audience’s perception of the subject. In this way the
epideictic, but Menander Rhetor’s instructions for composing
degree of elaboration in each ekphrasis of a site serves to
the many types of epideictic speech which articulated key
point out relative importance of places and projects, rather
moments of private and public life for the late antique elite
as on the Madaba Map the most important sites are portrayed
hint at a more complex function, and one which brings the
in stylised detail (the visual equivalent of ekphrasis) while
role of the epideictic orator closer to that of the judicial or
others are merely given a visual mention. Ekphrasis,
deliberative orator who has to persuade his audience.
moreover, was only one of many such techniques, and we
Menander implies, for example, that the ekphrasis of a city
in a speech inviting an official to visit that city would
contribute to the persuasive force of the speech, and that the
hupotuposis of earthquake damage was an essential part of 423. 19-28. See R. Webb, Mémoire et imagination: les limites
the Ambassador’s speech requesting imperial help (just as de l’enargeia dans la théorie rhétorique grecque in Dire l’évi-
today’s appeals for aid rely heavily on the visual depiction dence, ed. C. Levy and L. Pernot, Paris, 1997, p. 229-48 on the
of ruined buildings)14. psychological workings of such descriptions.
15. See P. Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity:
Towards a Christian Empire, Madison, 1992, p. 107 on the
11. Theon, Progymnasmata, 70, 24-71.1 is keen to point out that analogous example of Bishop Flavian’s persuasion of Theodosius
the elementary exercises he is describing are a useful preparation 16. Menander Rhetor, ed. D.A. Russell and N.G. Wilson, Oxford,
for the composition of poetry and history as well as oratory. 1981, Treatise 2, 368, 4-5.
12. Nicolaus, Progymnasmata, p. 70, ll. 9-13. 17. See Michael Whitby, Dara, p. 737-72 and Antioch, p. 537-48.
13. Nicolaus, Progymnasmata, p. 70, ll. 13-15. 18. M. Heath, Invention in S. Porter (ed.), Handbook of Classical
14. Menander Rhetor, On Epideictic, 427. 9-16 cf 428 7-15 and Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period, Leiden, 1997, p. 95.
70 RUTH WEBB An Tard, 8, 2000

can see others at work in the Buildings, like the frequent the emperor’s military achievements would, ideally, make
implicit comparisons of Justinian’s actions with former the audience feel as if they too had witnessed his prowess in
emperors’ neglect of the sites, or even the lists of place- distant lands. The technique is the same as that recommended
names at 4, 4, 4.11 and 5, 9, which aim to impress by sheer by Quintilian for convincing a judge in a judicial case: he
quantity and are therefore in keeping with the overall effect must be made to feel that he can see the events playing out
of the work19. in his mind’s eye23. Similarly, for Menander’s epideictic
Within the rhetorical system of composition, amplifica- orator it was not enough simply to state these successes,
tion was far more than embellishment or systematic instead the audience had to be made to feel as if they were
exaggeration. As Laurent Pernot has shown, it had persua- there (in a process analogous to the setting up of a monu-
sive ends, even in the context of an epideictic speech20. It is ment, or holding a triumphal procession, to provide a visual
true that epideictic orator did not need to argue for one side sign of victory for the people).
or the other of a case since, particularly in the case of the In presenting detailed accounts of Justinian’s building
Basilikos Logos, he was dealing with generally agreed facts. achievements in distant parts of the Empire, Procopius was
But he still needed to present them in a convincing manner doing much the same as the orator who attempted to evoke
and to highlight particular qualities of the subject through the emperor’s success in battle in a speech after the event.
his speech. The ekphraseis of battles and the like which In the Buildings, as in Menander’s account of the Basilikos
Menander prescribes for the Basilikos Logos have a very Logos, ekphraseis thus serve a dual purpose: they provide
precise function. They are there to illustrate the emperor’s illustrations of the subject’s qualities and at the same time
qualities, as is clear from the way in which Menander advises serve as proof of the speaker’s claims. The vocabulary of
the speaker to intersperse them with praise for the emperor’s proof and demonstration is frequent in epideictic speeches24
wisdom (phronesis) and to emphasise that all the events and recurs throughout the Buildings. This is particularly true
described are to be attributed to him alone: « he was himself of the opening sections, where Procopius lays out his aims
the planner, the commander, the discoverer of the moment and hints at his methods. His concern is that people may not
for battle, a marvellous counsellor, champion, general, believe (apisteo 1, 1, 17) that all these buildings are the work
orator21 ». of one man, his text is there to record Justinian’s achievement,
Precisely as Menander suggests, Procopius credits to persuade his present and future audiences that these are
Justinian several times with solutions to architectural (rather Justinian’s works. Like a forensic orator, he is concerned to
than military) problems: at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople counter disbelief, and to offer proof (tekmerioo, 1, 1, 16).
(1, 1, 67-78), where his suggestions are interpreted explicitly Including a convincing, circumstantially detailed ekphrasis
as signs of his intelligence (1, 1, 67)22, at Dara (2, 1.11-2, in a speech was a well established way of trying to achieve
21) and Antioch (2, 2, 18). In fact Procopius goes one step persuasion.
further, attributing Justinian’s inspiration to a divine source It is particularly interesting to consider Procopius’
at 1, 1, 71 and 2, 2, 9, so that the monuments become signs treatment of Hagia Sophia in this light. The account of the
both of the emperor’s intelligence, as envisaged by building and of Justinian’s role in its construction is the most
Menander, and of divine favour, as befitted a triumphant elaborate in the Buildings, as might be expected. But
Christian emperor. Procopius makes clear that it functions as part of a larger
In Menander’s scheme there is an extremely close inte- demonstration of Justinian’s deeds. The church, he says as
raction between description and evaluation. The interspersed part of the ekphrasis, is beyond belief (apiston 1, 1, 27) to
comments on the emperor’s qualities indicate how the those who have only heard about it and not seen it. But its
audience is to understand the phenomenon which has been existence was incontrovertible for a Constantinopolitan
described. But the description also serves both to illustrate audience. Procopius thus implicitly refutes any doubts his
and confirm the claims made. The aim of an ekphrasis was audience may have about the rest of his work: for if the visi-
to make the audience «seem to see» the thing or event ble marvels of Hagia Sophia are attributable to Justinian,
described in their mind’s eye. So an effective ekphrasis of then how much more believable are the lesser churches and
fortifications out on the frontier, which few would have seen
with their own eyes25?
19. On comparison as a means of amplifying a subject see
Quintilian, Institutio oratoria, 8, 4, 9-14 and L. Pernot, La rhé-
torique de l’éloge, Paris, 1993, p. 690-8 on accumulation
(congeries) see Quintilian, ibid. 8, 4, 26-7.
20. L. Pernot, La rhétorique de l’éloge, p. 675-80. 23. Quintilian, Institutio oratoria, 8, 3, 62. See K. Eden, Poetic
21. Menander Rhetor, 373, 23-4 and 374, 25: aétòw õ tòn kairòn and Legal Fiction in the Aristotelian Tradition, Princeton, 1986.
t°w sumbol°w eêrÛskvn, sæmboulow yaumastñw, Žristeæw, 24. L. Pernot, La rhétorique de l’éloge, p. 680-2.
strathgñw, dhmhgñrow. 25. At De Aed. 4, 3, 1-2 Procopius appeals to visitors from distant
22. Cf. Buildings, 4, 1, 1; 4, 2, 11. regions who can corroborate his claims.
Procopius therefore uses Hagia Sophia as part of an of the Buildings. There, in a passage reminiscent of the
implicit argument a fortiori26. He presents the church as the classical historians, his concern is not only for the beliefs of
center-piece of Justinian’s building programme, and individuals in Justinian’s achievement, but that the effects
simultaneously establishes his description of it as proof of of time might completely obliterate all memory of it. His
his claims about that programme. The example of Hagia work is to be a historia (1.1.1 and 2) whose purpose is to
Sophia points to the special nature of buildings as a subject save the memory of events from the oblivion of time (1, 1,
of rhetorical ekphrasis. Unlike the military skirmishes 2). His work is therefore, implicitly, a textual monument
discussed by Menander Rhetor, building activity left lasting which promotes a particular interpretation of the physical
traces. But these traces demanded interpretation. The monuments it records, in an attempt to resist precisely the
audience had to think of these buildings as the result of type of appropriation we see in the account of the equestrian
Justinian’s activities, and as signs of his intelligence, provi- statue. Procopius is concerned to record, but above all to fix
dence and so forth. In this way the ekphraseis of the manner a certain understanding of what he records in the minds of
in which some of the buildings were constructed attempt to his audience. His rhetorical amplification of Justinian’s role
fix these monuments as signs. They thus function like ins- as builder served to « increase the perceived importance »
criptions, using the power of ekphrasis to associate each of this aspect of his reign. More precisely the ekphraseis of
building, whether it was known at first hand or only through Justinian’s activities create a history for the works in ques-
his verbal evocation, with a tale of Justinian’s involvement tion which is to be henceforth attached to the audience’s
in the mind of the listener. This desire to fix the meanings of idea of the monuments as firmly as an inscription is attached
things is particularly clear in the ekphrasis of the equestrian to a building. The Buildings is a rhetorical work in that it
statue which follows the account of Hagia Sophia and in seeks to affect the audience’s perceptions of its subject matter
which Procopius assigns a meaning to each detail of the sta- (whether the picture Procopius paints is historically accurate
tue. But, as Michael Whitby points out (above) the precise or not is an entirely different question, since techniques of
identification of this statue was questionable. Though it persuasion can be used to convey fact and fiction equally).
referred undoubtedly to the ideal of the emperor, the identity In this ideal picture, Justinian emerges as the founder of the
of the emperor is left unclear. In this implicit appropriation empire in its present state. Procopius’ own reference to the
of an earlier monument, Procopius gives us a glimpse of the effects of time, however, open the door implicitly to the bleak
process he is so eager to counteract in his opening remarks. possibility of future oblivion and destruction against which
he attempts to struggle through his text. These forces may
RHETORIC AND HISTORIOGRAPHY have won, but the very fact that Justinian’s name is still linked
with some of the remaining fragments is a sign that the Buil-
It is precisely the dangers of time, which causes great dings is still working its effect.
deeds to be swept away from human consciousness, which
preoccupy Procopius in the programmatic opening remarks Princeton University

26. Aristotle, Rhetoric, 2, 19, 4, uses the example of a building to

illustrate this type of argument: if it is possible for a beautiful
house to be made, it is all the more possible for a plain one to be

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