Friday, 20 March 2015

Eric Poche: The Tongue of Prudentius: The martyr Romanus as the Mouthpiece of the Peristephanon

Although the Peristephanon has received considerable attention in recent years, the tenth hymn (Pe.10), dedicated to the martyr Romanus, has largely been ignored. This disregard is not accidental. Pe.10 is in many ways the most problematic hymn in the collection. At 1140 lines, the hymn is nearly twice as long as any other poem in thePeristephanon. Even its placement in the collection is suspect. In Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs, Michael Roberts struggles to explain why it interrupts the "itinerarium" he sees running through Pe.9, 11 and 12. In her own magisterial work on the Peristephanon, Anne-Marie Palmer suggests that the poem may have originated as a solo composition added to the collection haphazardly by a later manuscript tradition. These scholars are justified in their criticisms of this hymn's authenticity. Whereas Prudentius is known for  tying the graphic death of a martyr to the ellaborate decor of his or her cultic site, there is no mention of locale at all in Pe.10. Romanus is remembered for his ellaborate, rhetorical speech rather than his graphic death. This hymn nevertheless serves an important purpose in the Peristephanon. This paper demonstrates that Prudentius not only produced this poem for his collection, but also intended to use it as a centerpiece for what would otherwise be a scattered collection of disparate martyr narratives. Its unusual composition and placement are intentional for this reason. The martyr Romanus serves as the tongue of Prudentius himself, explaining the nature of martyrdom to his audience.

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