Tuesday, 21 May 2019
Mattias Gassman: Quasi Africanus inter deos: Lactantius’ Ciceronian Euhemerism
Lactantius’ Divine Institutes1 is an essential source for the fragments of Euhemerus in the Latin version of Quintus Ennius. Lactantius’ description of the gods as mortal kings deified after their deaths rests not just on his knowledge of Ennius’ Sacra Historia, but, still more, on the Classical author most essential to Lactantius’ own intellectual project: Cicero. Against much modern scholarship, this paper will argue that it is this Ciceronian heritage, and not the place of Jupiter and Hercules in Tetrarchic propaganda, that governs Lactantius’ theological polemic. At the beginning of his account of the gods’ lives and doings, Lactantius makes a cryptic reference to Hercules, the prototypical deified mortal, as “like an Africanus among the gods” (Div. Inst. 1.9.1). The phrase gestures to the central role of the two great Scipios in Cicero’s own experiments with divinization in De re publica. This paper will trace Ciceronian themes throughout Lactantius’ ‘Euhemerist’ account of the gods, concluding with the return to Hercules and Scipio in Div. Inst.1.19. Here Lactantius, in a striking reversal, takes Scipio as a model for a corrupt “royal virtus” that destroys the human race through violence; Ennius features again, through his famous epigram on Africanus’s immortalization, which Cicero had quoted in De re publica. Reinterpreted through Christian eyes, the most influential Latin religious theorist, Cicero, undermines the civic religion his De natura deorumhad sought to defend.