Much recent commentary on Gregory of Nazianzus’ poetic project is theoretical, based on programmatic statements in Carmen II.i.39, “On his own verses” (e.g. Lieggi 2009, Simelidis 2009, McGuckin 2006, Milovanovic-Barham 1997). In my communication, I will approach Gregory’s poetics from a different direction, starting from an examination of this poetics in action to discover how it reflects his more abstract statements about poetic composition.
I take as my case study Carmen II.i.50, “Against the burden of illness,” whose tangled imagery of communication and disease is interwoven with the goals of measure and healing set out for poetry in Carmen II.i.39. The metaphorical program of II.i.50 is essentially locative: references to places on the human body related to communication; repetitions of the question, “Where?”; and the nesting of the image of the speaker’s body within different spheres of the divine cosmos. In this complex web of imagery, poetic composition as a form of devotion to the Trinity cannot be understood apart from men’s role as physical communicators within the order of the divine economy –– a blending of Gregory’s anthropology and poetics, which I call his anthropological poetics. When viewed in light of this anthropology, poetry holds salvific power through its provision of a healing order for both mind and body –– evidenced in II.i.50 through the locative ordering –– thereby enabling worship. More explicitly, writing poetry for Gregory heals his notoriously diseased body and his lack of a place for speech after his departure from Constantinople, allowing him to fulfil his devotional vocation to preach.
Through this reading of Gregory’s anthropological poetics and the identification of the poetic mechanics of II.i.50, informed by other poems in the corpus (e.g. Carmina moralia 11–15), I hope more generally to offer strategies for confronting some of the interpretive challenges presented by the poetic corpus.