Toward a Poetics of Late Latin Reuse

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Classical Studies



Publication Title

Classics Renewed: Reception and Innovation in the Latin Poetry of Late Antiquity


As Christian poets and readers grew among the Roman Empire's elite in the fourth century, Christian and non-Christian poets faced three related challenges. The first was the enormous prestige of the literary history of Greco-Roman poetry and the centrality of the Bible. Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Lucan, Juvenal, and Statius cast long shadows, just as Greek literary models had for those very authors in the Republican, Augustan, and post-Augustan periods. As Alan Cameron has recently emphasized, "the Roman literary tradition played a vital and continuing role in shaping the thought world of Christians and pagans alike. At the same time, the content and literary forms of the Bible stood together with the proliferating genres of patristic commentary as a separate tradition, for which Christian poets had to account in their work. For Prudentius or Paulinus of Nola, the Biblical texts of Jewish and Christian tradition, Roman Christian writings (Church Fathers, tributes to the martyrs), and the massive pagan inheritance could all be activated, separately or collectively, through allusion. On the secular side, Ausonius and Claudian barely, if at all, took part in the "new" content, and this resulted, according to contemporaries like Paulinus, in trivial poetry. So even non-Christian poets had to deal with Christian perspectives, if only as a possible source of hostile criticism.


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