Friday, 24 May 2019

Thomas Tsartsidis: Ambrose and the Unity of Prudentius' Contra Orationem Symmachi

In 384, Symmachus, orator and the prefect of Rome, wrote his Third Relatio, a petition to the emperor Valentinian II for the restoration to the senate house of the altar of Victory, which had been removed two years earlier by Gratian. Bishop Ambrose of Milan opposed to Symmachus’ plea by providing counter-arguments in two letters, Epistulae 17 and 18. Nearly twenty years after Symmachus’ Relatio, the poet Prudentius undertook the task of refuting Symmachus’ arguments in his two books Contra Orationem Symmachi. The two books appear to have been grouped together soon after the battle of Pollentia (402), described in the second book (696-768). Much ink has been spilt regarding the dating and the relationship between the two books. Although both books form the work entitled Contra Orationem Symmachi, only the second book contains a refutation of Symmachus’ arguments. Book 1 consists of an anti-pagan invective section (42-407) sandwiched between a panegyric to the emperor Theodosius (1-41, 408-621) and only at the end of the book, an apostrophe to Symmachus (622-657).In this paper, I shall first revisit the vexed issue of the dating of the poem. Then, I will posit that a comparison to Ambrose’s Epistula 18 helps justify the structure of the first book, and especially the existence of the anti-pagan invective section, that seems unrelated to the main subject of the work, the refutation of Symmachus’ Third Relatio.     

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