Thursday, 30 April 2015

Suzanne Abrams Rebillard: "Let me cry out in tragic voice!": Gregory of Nazianzus' Use of Tragic Pathos

In Gregory of Nazianzus’ accounts of monumental events in his life, he often alludes to Greek tragedy to convey emotion. This paper argues that Gregory turns numerous times to Sophocles’ Antigone, glossing high points of moral debate in Classical literature, to engage the audience in the moral and spiritual exercise of recounting such physical and psychic pain.

Three such allusive passages from De vita sua are explored, all including Gregory’s metapoetic commentary: first, Dvs 1044–5, before Gregory describes his reaction to Maximus the Cynic’s consecration, echoes Ant. 233ff, preceding a messenger speech reporting Polyneices’ burial; second, Dvs 1351ff, the sun breaking out as Gregory enters the church of the Holy Apostles, echoes Ant. 415ff, describing the sun before dust masks Antigone’s discovery of her brother’s corpse; and third, Dvs 1847ff, expressing Gregory’s devotion to the Trinity alone, not the episcopal throne, echoes Ant. 738ff, a debate between Haemon and Creon over civic authority and support for Antigone.

Gregory’s use of Sophocles’ voices in his first-person account unites them with his own self-conscious poetic voice. Thus, he telescopes history, myth, and his own experience to focus his audience’s attention on the emotions and moral dilemmas that undergird events. When this practice of allusion is considered in combination with De vita sua’s explicit pedagogical intent, Gregory’s poetry and its pathos can be seen to function in tune with Aristotle’s prescripts for tragedy, intimately involving the audience’s emotion in the text for their own spiritual development.

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