Thursday, 30 April 2015

Klazina Staat: ‘Let him thus be a Hippolytus' (Pe. 11.87): horror and rhetoric in Prudentius' Peristephanon 11

Prudentius' Peristephanon (ca. 400-405; Cunningham 1966) contains a collection of early-Christian martyr stories, which is famous for its rhetorical qualities and classicizing style. In Peristephanon 11 (Pe. 11), the author recounts the story of the martyr Hippolytus, who is sentenced to death after his refusal to worship the ancient gods.

In this paper, I want to investigate how and to what rhetorical effect two ancient literary techniques are employed in Pe. 11, viz. the ekphrasis of a painting (Pe. 11.125ff.), as well as the use of imagery that is related to Hippolytus' namesake in the ancient tragedy. These are common techniques for characterizing protagonists in late-antique texts. Examples can be found in pagan novelistic texts (e.g., the novels of Chariton, Xenophon of Ephesus and Heliodorus; cf. Bartsch 1989 and De Temmerman 2014: 47-49, 142, 145 and 253), as well as other early-Christian texts besides the Peristephanon (e.g., works of Paulinus of Nola and Asterius of Amasea; cf. Malamud 1989: 165-172, Miller 2009: 63-73 and Webb 2007).

I want to show that Prudentius' application of the two techniques in Pe. 11 is different from other examples in ancient novelistic and early-Christian literature. They are not used as characterization techniques, but focus on the cruelties of Hippolytus' violent martyrdom and the accompanying disintegration of his body. Elaborating on Miller, I want to argue that this rhetoric of horror irresistibly catches the attention of the readers and makes their minds receptive for a proper veneration of the saint's relics (cf. Miller 2009: 77-81).

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