Quid facit cum evangeliis Maro? The Cultural Background of Sedulius' Intertextual Argument with Vergil in the Paschale carmen

Publication Year:
2009
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Repository URL:
https://repository.brynmawr.edu/dissertations/24
Author(s):
Hutchinson, Eric J.
Tags:
Classics
artifact description
This study investigates the late antique cultural background out of which the allusive program of Sedulius’ biblical epic poem Paschale Carmen arose, and culminates in a reading of select passages of the Paschale Carmen. In particular, it focuses on Vergilian reception by Christian and non-Christian writers of the fourth and fifth centuries to elucidate some of the great number of possible approaches to Vergil’s poetry in Late Antiquity. Not only did the variety of approaches that are examined allow for Christian interaction with and appropriation of Vergil; the cultural climate demanded it if committed Christians hoped to have a voice with the educated upper classes in this period. Through the examination of selections of the Commentaria of Servius, Macrobius’ Saturnalia, the prooemium to the Interpretationes Vergilianae of Tiberius Claudius Donatus, and the Vitae Vergilianae of Aelius Donatus and Phocas, both the openness of Vergilian reception and the pitfalls of some of its non-Christian varieties are made clear. An analysis of Jerome’s letters to Paulinus of Nola (Epistles 53 and 58) and Paulinus’ letter and poem to Jovius (Epistle 16 and Carmen 22) reveals that the ‘classics’ could not find a place in committed Christian reading and writing until they had been subordinated to a correct understanding of Scripture. Such engagement, then, often led to polemical and corrective appropriation of the non-Christian past. Paulinus’ Carm. 22 is especially significant in this regard, as it not only sets out for Jovius a program for a Christian-classical poetics but enacts it in a virtuosic use of allusion to, for example, Vergil and Lucretius while narrating Scriptural vignettes. Such a practice was continued and carried out on a large scale in Sedulius’ poem, where he (whether knowingly or not)answered Paulinus’ call for a classical poetics informed by Scripture, as is demonstrated in the final chapter of this study by an in-depth treatment of several types of Vergilian allusion in the Paschale Carmen, by means of which Sedulius conducts an implicit intertextual argument to show the superiority of a Christian view of the world to that expressed in Vergil’s poems.