01 - Bodily Surfaces in Aelius Aristides’ Third Hieros Logos

In this paper, I look at Aelius Aristides' third Hieros Logos. While sections of this oration have been treated piecemeal (for example, Petridou (2017) discusses the initiation section at the end; Downie (2013, 105-7) and Petsalis-Diomidis (2010, 135-6) discuss his description of pain at III.16-19), it has not been treated either as a unified whole or in relation to the rest of the HL. This may be because the topic is self-evident and seemingly mundane; it is a chronicle of the materia medica prescribed by the god. In this presentation, I show that far from a straightforward list, the materia medica reconstitute the surface of Aristides' body and connects that surface to the surface of the earth. As such, this is a pivotal oration, bridging Aristides' internal world of HL I and II with his external world (HL IV and V).

HL III moves from the bathing, purgations, and epiphanies with which the second oration was concerned to the ointments applied and drinks and food ingested and avoided. The first application leaves him better able to retain water (6). Later, Aristides describes the sensation of an ointment: "[It] had a wonderful smell, and its power was immediately manifest" (22-23; trans Behr 1981). He goes on to describe the ingredients and a subsequent dream in which Telesphorus dances on his neck. The sensation of the ointment takes on the vitality of a dancing god.

Another theme that emerges in the oration is Aristides' relationship to the earth. He begins with two dreams of horses. In the first, he has fallen off a horse (2); in the second he is at sea, disembarks, and mounts the horse his foster father has brought him (3). A morning ride brings physical relief (5). Toward the end of the oration, a sacrifice quells a series of earthquakes along the Anatolian coast. Later, Aristides dreams of Sarapis' ability to shuttle people above and below earth.

Using new materialist frameworks, I argue that this oration explores and performs the permeability of bodily surfaces. Ointments activate the retentive work of the skin. Riding horses provides a sensory experience of the earth's porosity: the force of the hooves against the ground reverberates through the horse and then through its rider. The felt agency of the surface allows him to extend his agency to the earth - as quakes threaten to break it apart, he manages to hold it together. With these constitutive edges shored up, Aristides emerges in the last two orations as a professional rhetor.


Artemis Brod, Independent Scholar