Jerome H. Neyrey, «"First", "Only", "One of a Few", and "No One Else". The Rhetoric of Uniqueness and the Doxologies in 1 Timothy», Vol. 86 (2005) 59-87
The distinctive way of honoring gods or God was to celebrate
what is unique about them, that is, praise of persons who were the "first",
"only", or "one of a few" to do something. Rhetoric from Aristotle to Quintilian
expounded the theory of "uniqueness", which the authors of Greek hymns and
prayers employed. One finds a Semitic counterpart in the "principle of
incomparability" describing Israelite kings. "Uniqueness" pervades the New
Testament, especially its doxologies. In them, "uniqueness" was richly expressed
in rhetorical mode, as well as by predicates of negative theology which elevated
the deity above those praising.
62 Jerome H. Neyrey
very few (cum paucis) to perform: and to these we must add any other
achievements which surpassed hope or expectation (super spem aut
expectationem) (Inst. Orat. 3.7.16, emphasis added).
His criteria of uniqueness, moreover, are clear and traditional:
â€œonlyâ€, â€œfirstâ€, â€œone of a fewâ€ or â€œsurpassing expectationâ€.
If Quintilian articulates the criteria for praise among the Roman
elite, Aelius Theon represents this same epideictic tradition in regard
to the second level of education (8). His progymnasmata, which
contain formal instructions for writing an encomium, domesticates
epideictic rhetoric for school purposes. Theonâ€™s importance consists
in two facts: (1) he represents a rhetorical tradition which is ancient
and consistent over time; and (2) his rules for an encomium indicate
that knowledge and practice of the art of praise was widespread and
conventional. His contribution is as follows:
Praiseworthy actions are also those occurring in a timely manner, and
if one acted alone (movno"), or first (prw'to") or when no one acted
(oujdeiv"), or more than others (ma'llon tw'n a[llwn), or with a few (metâˆ†
ojlivgwn), or beyond oneâ€™s age (uJpe;r hJlikivan), or exceeding
expectation (para; ejlpivda), or with hard work, or what was done most
easily and quickly (Theon, 9.35-38, emphasis added) (9).
The marked terms indicate what Theon understands as grounds for
praise, what we call the criterion of uniqueness. It may refer to what is
absolutely unique, such as when â€œone acted alone or first or with a
fewâ€. Great praise is also warranted for those who set new personal
standards, such as acting â€œbeyond oneâ€™s ageâ€ or â€œexceeding expecta-
tionsâ€. Finally, certain deeds were greatly admired such as those per-
formed effortlessly (â€œdone most easilyâ€) and timely (â€œquicklyâ€).
Finally, in his rhetoric of praise, Menander Rhetor presents a
different look at the tradition. His remarks, not so theoretical as those
of other rhetoricians, focus on the particular manner of amplifying
praise for the gods of a city.
... [W]e have to show that the greatest number (pleivstou") or the best
(ajrivstou") of the gods have honoured the city with the greatest
(8) R.A. KASTER, â€œNotes on â€˜Primaryâ€™ and â€˜Secondaryâ€™ Schools in Late
Antiquityâ€, TAPA 113  323-46; M. BLOOMER, â€œSchooling in Persona:
Imagination and Subordination in Roman Educationâ€, Classical Antiquity 16
(9) J.R. BUTTS, The â€œProgymnasmataâ€ of Theon. A New Text with
Translation and Commentary (unpublished dissertation; Claremont Graduate
School, 1987) 470-471.