Friday, 1 May 2015

Richard Bishop: Ambrose's Commemoration of Gratian

Political rhetoric and moral psychology converge in the study of Ambrose's imperial funerary speeches. Although his interpretation of Psalm 61 contains similar, pointed reflections on the western emperor Gratian's demise, and thus constitutes Ambrose's first effort at commemorating a dead emperor, no funeral was allowed to Gratian, Ambrose's remarks were not put into the form of a funerary speech, and scholars have therefore neglected to study them in that context. This paper makes good the deficit by interpreting those remarks in the context of Ambrose's funerary rhetoric. The bishop imposes a powerful scriptural narrative on the events surrounding the emperor's death: like Christ, Ambrose's Gratian undergoes betrayal and substitutionary death at the hands of a diabolical triad of persecutors (Judas, Pilate, Herod). Gratian's flight and subsequent resignation to his impending death are not haplessness, but pious nobility and utter reliance on God; his is a soul is properly disposed and therefore a model to other souls, whether private or imperial. The commemoration of Gratian therefore not only presages rhetorical strategies in Ambrose's later efforts at imperial funerary speaking, it also seeks to forge an affective bond between subjects and an emperor subject to God, as well as to sketch out the virtuous disposition of the imperial soul. In so doing, Ambrose's commemoration of Gratian constitutes an important moment in the unfolding articulation of Ambrose's scriptural politics.

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