Praetextatus – Death and Immortality: Christian Invective (Ch. 4.2)


Maijastina Kahlos, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus – A Senatorial Life in Between. Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae no. 26, Roma 2002.


The condemnation by Jerome

In CIL VI 1779 Paulina mourns her husband and comforts herself, saying that after her own death she will soon be his again:

His nunc ademptis maesta coniunx maceror,

felix, maritum si superstitem mihi

divi dedissent, sed tamen felix, tua

quia sum fuique postque mortem mox ero (v.38-41).

Jerome must have known these lines or similar words because in his letter to Marcella concerning the death of a Christian woman, Lea, he alludes to Praetextatus’ supposed immortality. He refers to Praetextatus as non palmatus consul, sed sacratus, i.e. consul designatus,[1] the opposite of the pious widow Lea who is enjoying eternal happiness after her death. This Praetextatus had ascended the Capitoline hill like a triumphant general a few days earlier, ante paucos dies, but now when he was dead, he had not reached the heavenly palace as his miserable widow pretended; rather he was cast into the disgusting darkness: Nunc desolatus est, nudus, non in lacteo caeli palatio, ut uxor conmentitur infelix, sed in sordentibus tenebris continetur.[2] Here the humble life of the widow Lea, whose life seemed madness to the world, is contrasted with the power and prestige of the widely respected Praetextatus; Jerome compares Praetextatus and Lea with the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.22-24. Paulina, felix as well as maesta coniunx in the funerary poem, corresponds to an uxor infelix in Jerome’s letter. Paulina’s illusions of heavenly palaces mentioned by Jerome are reminiscent of the words in the funerary poem, cura soforum, porta quis caeli patet (v.9).

Jerome wrote his letter soon after Lea’s death, attacking the idea that Praetextatus had become immortal. Since it is evident from the context of the letter that Praetextatus had been dead only a little while, ante paucos dies, before Jerome wrote the letter, it has been proposed that CIL VI 1779 must have been erected immediately after his death because Jerome had already seen it.[3] P. Lambrechts, however, proposed that the funerary poem is based on a funerary oration, laudatio funebris delivered by Paulina at Praetextatus’ funeral. Since only pauci dies separated Praetextatus’ death from the moment when Jerome wrote his letter to Marcella, it is unlikely that the funerary inscription for Praetextatus could have been engraved in such a short time. Instead, it is more probable that Jerome heard the funerary speech delivered at the funeral and that the ideas expressed in the laudatio funebris were inscribed later on the epitaph; thus, the poem on the funerary inscription was only a résumé of the speech.[4]

A laudatio funebris was an old Roman genre and an essential part of the Roman aristocratic funeral tradition. An elogium, a laudation on an aristocrat had two phases: first a laudatio funebris was delivered by a member of the family on the rostra on the day of the funeral,[5] and then its shortened verse form was inscribed on the funerary monument. In some cases the whole laudatio was inscribed on the monument, as the so-called laudatio Turiae.[6] Laudations on the deceased were still in use in the fourth century.[7] It is possible that Paulina delivered a speech and uttered some words containing a strong manifestation of pagan immortality to which Jerome reacted.

Paulina and her deceased husband are also mentioned in Jerome’s consolation letter to Paula on the occasion of the death of Paula’s daughter Blesilla. Jerome asserts that Paula should not mourn Blesilla’s death since she had entered eternal happiness. Instead, people should grieve over a dead man (Praetextatus) who will fall into gehenna, whom Tartarus will devour: Lugeatur mortuus, sed ille quem gehenna suscipit, quem Tartarus devorat, in cuius poenam aeternus ignis exaestuat. Here again, the widow has illusions of her husband going to heaven: Melior diaboli ancilla quam mea est. Illa infidelem maritum translatum fingit in caelum. Letting Christ himself speak in the passage, Jerome reprimands Paula for her grief and contrasts the firm faith of the pagan Paulina and the despair of the Christian Paula. This might also be a reference to Paulina’s funerary speech. Jerome’s words infidelem maritum are a malicious double-entendre that not only was Praetextatus Christian but suggest that he was an unfaithful husband. It is precisely fidelity that is emphasized in the funerary poem, Praetextatus’ fidelity to the Roman gods and to Paulina.[8] It seems that Jerome could hardly help admiring the mutual marital fidelity and love Praetextatus and Paulina manifested as well as the strength of Paulina’s own faith which he compares with Paula’s despair but he does not deign to mention Praetextatus by name.

Jerome’s malevolent words on Praetextatus in letters 23 and 39 illustrate the hostile Christian attitudes towards the pagan senators. His invective against Praetextatus is an example of the rivalry and antagonism between pagans and Christians that became more conspicuous under Gratian’s, Valentinian II’s, and Theodosius’ reign in the 380s, after a long period of peaceful coexistence in Rome.[9] Jerome continued the Christian satiric tradition of Tertullian, Commodianus, Arnobius and Lactantius against the pagans but actually his attacks against paganism were fewer than against Christian heretics because, as rivals, heretics were considered as more dangerous than pagans.[10]

Why was it Praetextatus who was the target of Jerome’s attacks? J. Flamant believes that Praetextatus irritated Jerome and other Christians because there was so little to criticize in his personality and he could not be attacked because of his character or morals. He was also felt to be dangerous because his syncretistic ideas resembled some Christian ideas of divinity too closely.[11] It seems that some Christian circles in Rome regarded his cult and building activities and his prestige as annoying and Jerome’s attack on him could reflect these fears. Furthemore, it is possible that Jerome attacked him on behalf of his patron Damasus who himself could not attack Praetextatus directly because they were tied in a kind of an alliance with each other.

The Carmen contra paganos – speculations

The anonymous poem Carmen contra paganos,[12] attacking an unnamed pagan senator and prefect, belongs to the increasing number of Christian invectives at the end of the fourth century. Most scholars have identified the unnamed target of the poem as Nicomachus Flavianus, mainly because the senator is mentioned as being a haruspex and Flavianus was known for his knowledge of soothsaying and divination.[13] G. Manganaro identified the target of the Carmen contra paganos with Gabinius Barbarus Pompeianus, city prefect in 408-409[14] while S. Mazzarino regarded the prefect as Q. Aurelius Symmachus’ father, L. Aurelius Avianius Symmachus and dated the poem to 377-385.[15]

L. Cracco Ruggini identifies the senator in the Carmen with Praetextatus and dates the poem to 385; thus, the poem should be called Carmen contra Vettium.[16] This identification is fortified by the eleventh-twelfth-century catalogue of manuscripts of the Benedictine monastery of Lobbes that mentions a lost work called Damasi episcopi versus de Praetextato praefecto urbis. F. Dolbeau, who found the title in the catalogue, demonstrates that the now lost text of Lobbes was the Carmen contra paganos of Cod. Par. Lat. 8084, basing his claim on the textual parallels between the Carmen contra paganos and Vita Sancti Ursmari, a poem composed by Hériger, the abbot of Lobbes in the eleventh century, who thus certainly knew the Carmen.[17] How reliable is the title in the catalogue and does it derive from late antiquity or from a later period, e.g. the early middle ages?[18] It is possible – though hypothetical – that the title is original, deriving from late antiquity but it is also possible that an early medieval reader titled the Carmen as Versus de Praetextato simply because he believed that the poem was written against Praetextatus.

The catalogue of Lobbes attributes the Carmen to Damasus, the Bishop of Rome but he has not been considered as a probable writer because his style is different, i.e. better, and he died soon after Praetextatus. Nonetheless, the writer probably belonged to the Roman Christian aristocratic circle influenced by Jerome, Damasus’ protégé, since the senator of the Carmen is criticized in a similar way as Praetextatus is in Jerome’s letters to Marcella and to Paula. Both in the CarmenCarmen could be someone within the group of Roman Christian senators.[19] There are other inaccuracies in the catalogue, for instance Praetextatus is called praefectus urbi though he was praetorian prefect before his death. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the Versus de Praetextato is identical with the Carmen contra paganos. and in Jerome’s letters the pagan senator is condemned to hell and his wife believes him to have reached heaven. Therefore, writer of the

Another argument for the identification of the unnamed pagan senator as Vettius Agorius Praetextatus is the transmission of the text in a codex connected with the Vettii. The subscription […]TIUS AGORIUS BASILIUS of the Cod. Par. Lat. 8084 obviously refers to Flavius Vettius Agorius Basilius Mavortius (cos. 527), possibly a descendant of Praetextatus, who also appears in the subscription of a manuscript of Horace’s epodes (see ch. 3.1). The folios containing the Carmen – also from the sixth century but in a different hand – were annexed to Prudentius manuscript probably a little later. Therefore, Cracco Ruggini proposes that the Carmen was added to the Prudentius manuscript Cod. Par. Lat. 8084 for antiquarian reasons since it was an invective against Mavortius’ forefather Praetextatus, Contra Vettium while the Prudentius manuscript contained Prudentius’ Contra Symmachum.[20]

It is possible that the Carmen contra paganos was written immediately after Praetextatus’ death because it was a product of an ideological battle that was fought upon his death, between those who saw in him a ‘beatified’ man – Paulina and Symmachus – and those who condemned him to hell – Jerome, his circle and the author of the Carmen. In the middle of these two extremes there were those who had not yet taken sides or wanted to remain neutral and who are referred to as proceres by the Carmen (v.110).[21]

The content of the poem is not totally clear for it is full of insinuations that must have been well-known to the contemporaries but remain obscure to us. Modern scholars have been eager to find explanations for every detail, though many details are merely rhetorical.[22] I am not going to give a thorough summary of all interpretations but rather confine myself to discussing the main internal arguments for the identification of the senator in the Carmen as Praetextatus.

The senator in the Carmen is called praefectus and consul; in fact, as Praetextatus died, he had been both praetorian prefect and consul designate for the next year. The words Artibus heu magicis procerum dum quaeris honores, / sic, miserande, iaces parvo donatus sepulchro. Sola tamen gaudet meretrix te consule Flora … (v.110-112) might refer to the consulate that the senator could not enter because he had died.[23] The Carmen criticizes the unnamed senator for his devotion to pagan cults and enumerates various gods and goddesses that he has worshipped, e.g. Mithras-Sol (v.47), Magna Mater and Attis (v.57-66, 77, 103-109), Bacchus (v.49, 71), Trivia (Hecate, v.71), Sarapis, Anubis and Isis (v.50, 91, 95, 98-102), Ceres and Proserpina (Core, v.96). He takes part in Roman religion as a follower of Numa Pompilius and Etruscis semper amicus (v.35, 50). The multitude of gods and cults here is as astonishing as on Praetextatus’ epitaphs and the senator has accumulated sacral offices in the very same cults as Praetextatus. The senator is called sacratus (v.46) and is characterized with ironical words, stating that no one was more sacred than he, sed fuit in terris nullus sacratior illo (v.34).

The strange words non ipse est vinum patriae qui prodidit olim / antiquasque domus, turres ac tecta priorum / subvertens, urbi vellet cum inferre ruinam (v.38-40) could allude to Praetextatus’ city prefecture in 367. CTh 14.4.4, the law addressed to Praetextatus in favour of suarii might have caused discontent among the Roman plebs and the author of the Carmen recalls the discontent of almost twenty years ago (olim).[24] The words could also suit Avianius Symmachus whose house was burnt by the Roman people because he was believed to have said that he would rather use his own wine for lime-kilns than sell it at the price the people hoped for.[25] The words antiquas domus … might be a Christian interpretation of Praetextatus’ restoration of pagan temples as he is seen as ruining the city of Rome.[26] The poem refers to disturbances that lasted for three months, mensibus iste tribus, totam qui concitus urbem / lustravit, metas tandem pervenit ad aevi (v.28-29).[27] Cracco Ruggini proposes that these disturbances were riots caused by the famine in the winter of 383-384 but this is highly speculative. The next verses (v.31-33) allude to the threat to Rome and expiatory rites that were often made by magistrates in the midst of difficulties.[28]

In verses 78-86 the senator is accused of seducing Christians to paganism and dragging them with himself to Tartarus. Two of those miserable apostates are named, Leucadius and Marcianus, both high magistrates (Leucadium fecit fundos curaret Afrorum, / perdere Marcianum †sibi†, proconsul ut esset). A Marcianus was vicarius Italiae in 384 while Praetextatus was praetorian prefect.[29] We do not know of apostasies influenced by Praetextatus in other sources.

The Carmen criticizes the senator for laughing at the death of prisoners, using obscure words, in risum quaerens quo dedere morti, / †gallaribus† subito membra circumdare suetus / fraude nova semper miseros profanare paratusspectaculum triumphale in which Praetextatus appeared publicly, probably for the last time.[31] Verse 6 purpurea quos sola facit praetexta sacratos recalls Jerome’s words on Praetextatus, divitem purpuratum, et non palmatum consulem, sed sacratum.[32] Could praetexta be interpreted also as a hint to Praetextatus himself? (v.43-45).[30] Vera proposes that these verses might be an allusion to the gladiatorial games that belonged to the Sarmatian

The enigmatic verses 26-27 quem Iovis ad solium raptum tractatus abisset / cum poena‹s› scelerum tracta vix morte rependat?[33] have given rise to several interpretations. U. Moricca corrected the words as quem Iovis ad solium raptum tractatus adisse and interpreted them as referring to Praetextatus’ glorious ascent to the Capitoline temple of Jupiter described by Jerome is his letter to Marcella. Tractatus could indicate the Roman people almost carried him to the Capitol.[34] Matthews corrects the verses as quem Iovis ad solium raptum iactatis abisse / cum poenas scelerum tracta vix morte rependat? (v.26-27), interpreting the Iovis solium as the heavenly throne of Jupiter where pagans believed their champion to have been removed after his death.[35] I think this interpretation better suits Praetextatus who is believed to have reached the heavenly palace and the gate of heaven.[36] The words tracta … morte imply that the senator died a slow and tormented death in order to pay for his sins as a pagan.[37] He is said to have suffered from dropsy (hydropem … maritum, v.121) which was regarded as a mortal disease in antiquity.[38] Vera points out that Symmachus assured them in his relationes to the emperors that Praetextatus died naturae lege, as if he opposed some Christian rumours that his friend’s death was a punishment by the god of the Christians. Symmachus may also have fought against Christian polemic – against the malevolent Jerome as well as the insinuations of the Carmen – elsewhere in his laudations on Praetextatus.[39] However, I find Vera’s speculation an overinterpretation of Symmachus’ words naturae lege which is a commonplace expression for human mortality frequently used by Latin authors.[40]

In the end of poem the senator’s wife is depicted as fervently taking part in pagan cults (v.115-120) which might refer to Fabia Aconia Paulina’s cult activities. After her husband’s death she tries to influence the Acheron itself with expiatory offers and magical songs in front of altars and in temples but, according to the writer, she only sends him precipitately to Tartarus, praecipitem inferias miserum sub Tartara misit (v.120).[41] The Carmen addresses the wife and exhorts her to cease lamenting for her husband, desine post hydropem talem deflere maritum (v.121). The senator of the Carmen is said to have died recently (rependat, v.27; iaces, v.111) at the age of sixty, sexaginta senex annis (v.67). If Praetextatus was sixty years at the point of his death in 384, he must have been born in 324, which is quite possible, though other dates are possible as well (see ch. 1.2).

Much of this internal evidence remains highly hypothetical[42] but supported by the external evidence from the catalogue of Lobbes it leads to the conclusion that Praetextatus was the target of the Carmen contra paganos.

The polarization of pagan and Christian attitudes

The city of Rome on the one hand enjoyed tolerance and peaceful coexistence to a certain extent; on the other hand, pagans were attacked by Christian writers who condemned pagans and pagan cults in several tractates, pamphlets and poems, particularly at the end of the fourth century and even as late as the fifth century. It seems that the decades (the 360s and 370s) recognized as an age of peaceful coexistence between pagans and Christians by many scholars (see my discussion in ch. 2.2) were followed by a period of a less tolerant atmosphere. Christian communities concentrated on defining and redefining their identities in the changing Empire. In order to clarify the Christian self-consciousness, Christian writers sharpened the division between pagans and Christians and severely assaulted the errors of pagans. In addition to the Carmen contra paganos, other poems were composed against pagans and pagan cults, e.g. Poema ultimum or Carmen ad Antonium by the so called Pseudo-Paulinus[43], Carmen ad quendam senatorem ex Christiana religione ad idolorum servitutem conversum by the so called Pseudo-Cyprianus[44], Paulinus of Nola’s carmen 19 in honour of St. Felix and Prudentius’ Contra Symmachum. An anonymous writer, often called Ambrosiaster, also attacks pagans in chapter 114 of his theological tractate Quaestiones Veteris et Novi Testamenti.[45] What is common to these invectives is that they deride the multitude of pagan gods and the immorality in pagan myths as well as describe polytheistic cult rituals and priests as shameful.

In the late fourth century Christian writers seem to have been particularly worried about apostasies.[46] The poem Carmen ad quendam senatorem, for instance, was targeted against an unnamed senator who converted from Christianity to paganism. Moreover, the Quaestiones Veteris et Novi Testamenti, the Carmen contra paganos (v.78-86) and Ambrose complain of apostasies. Ambrose refers to a substantial number of Christians who lapsed into paganism because of the privileges of pagan priests, even under Christian emperors.[47] In a fairly short time, from 381 onwards, laws against apostasies became more frequent and severe. Imperial concern for apostasy in legislation may have been realistic and e.g. CTh 16.7.5 in 391 probably reflects the social reality of apostasy among high office holders and senators.[48] Cracco Ruggini, dating the Carmen contra paganos, Quaestiones Veteris et Novi Testamenti, Poema ultimum and Carmen ad quendam senatorem between 380/382 and 385, has even proposed that the period of severe polemic and apostasies lasted for fifty years in Rome, that is, exactly the period of Praetextatus’ action and influence, and ends after Praetextatus’ death.[49] However, the dating of these anonymous polemical writings remains uncertain, and in any case, Praetextatus’ influence on these texts cannot be verified. Furthermore, Christian polemic against pagans continued far into the fifth century as Augustine’s Civitas Dei, Orosius’ Historia adversus paganos and Prudentius’ poems also attacked pagans and polytheistic religions.

There has been much discussion of whether the polemical anti-pagan literature in the fourth and fifth centuries was targeted against ‘real’ pagan adversaries and ‘real’ circumstances of pagan cults. Scholars, R.A. Markus for instance, have usually regarded the Christian attacks against paganism merely as a conventional literary topos, ‘shadow-boxing’, in the late fourth century.[50] It has been recently argued, e.g. by R. Lizzi and M.R. Salzman, that the significance and vitality of the pagan cults during this period has been underestimated; the polemical attacks of Christian apologists on pagan cults could reflect the ‘real’ religious situation in the fourth century and the pagan cults – the official Roman cults as well as the so-called Oriental cults – were regarded as a real danger for Christianity since pagan cults and feasts were still popular.[51] When Christian apologists are used as sources for polytheistic cults and their vitality, extreme caution is needed since Christian writers, understandably enough, wanted to give a picture of receding paganism.

In my opinion, the problem concerning the Christian polemic from 380-430 is even deeper and more complicated than a mere juxtaposition of literary topos and the actual religious situation. The Christian polemical texts reveal more about the Christian authors and their Christian communities than about the pagans and polytheistic cults themselves. What can be uncovered from the Christian texts is that the writers struggled with their pagan past and tried to define their Christian identity by clearing up their relationship with polytheistic religions and gods.


[1] Hier. epist. 23.2.

[2] Hier. epist. 23.2-3; Praetextatus is also referred to with the words ut designatum consulem de suis saeculis detrahentes esse doceamus in Tartaro. ­Praetextatus is not mentioned by name but called a consul designate who was non palmatus consul, sed sacratus because he was to be consul at the beginning of the next year.

[3] Bloch 1945, 216 n.43; Labourt 193; Wiesen 196. Vera 1983, 137 suggests that the epitaph must have been erected quickly.

[4] Lambrechts 9-14. Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 18 n.40 suggests that ante paucos dies separate Praetextatus’ triumph and death.

[5] Lambrechts 9-10 concludes from Lucian. de luctu 13 that both men and women delivered funerary orations; the passage mentions a custom in which the mother or the father throws herself or himself upon the dead child and expresses sorrow by speaking loudly and clearly. However, I would not interpret this as an actual laudatio funebris but simply as a lamentation for the dead. Lucian mentions elsewhere (de luctu 23) that some people deliver funeral orations at the monuments but neither men or women are specifically indicated in this text.

[6] CIL VI 1527. According to Suet. Claud. 1.5, Augustus gave an oration at Drusus’ funeral, composed a eulogy both in verse and in prose and had it engraved on his tombstone.

[7] Durry xxx-xxxi, lxxix. E.g. Ausonius composed series of eulogies in commemoration of his relatives and colleagues, Parentalia and Commemoratio professorum Burdigalensium.

[8] Hier. epist. 39.3. For the circumstances of the consolation letter, see Kelly 98-99; Labourt 194; Wiesen 195-196.

[9] Barcelò 184.

[10] Wiesen 12, 194-195; Grützmacher 1901, 275.

[11] Flamant 30; Cracco Ruggini 1974, 444.

[12] AL Shackleton Bailey, nr. 3; AL Riese, nr. 4. The Carmen contra paganos is preserved in a single copy annexed to a sixth-century Prudentius manuscript Cod. Par. Lat. 8084. For the text of the poem, see Appendix, p. 226-229.

[13] E.g. Mommsen 1870, 350-363; Matthews 1970, 464-479; Markschies 349-351. For bibliography, see Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 29 n.66. Carmen v.35-37: quem Numa Pompilius, e multis primus aruspex, / edocuit vano ritu pecudumque cruore / polluere insanum busti‹s› putentibus aras. Cf. Sozom. 7.22; Rufin. hist. 2.33; Macr. Sat. 1.24.17.

[14] Manganaro 1960, 210-224; Manganaro 1961, 23-45, followed by Heinzberger 162-196; Brown 1961, 3. Matthews 1970, 468-477 refutes Manganaro’s arguments.

[15] Mazzarino 1974, 373-377, 398-441.

[16] Cracco Ruggini 1974, 435, 444, Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 73-116, Cracco Ruggini 1979a, 128, supported by Vera 1983, 134. Praetextatus had already been suggested by R. Ellis, ‘On a recently discovered Latin poem of the fourth century’, Journal of Philology 2 (1868) 61-75 and by Moricca 1926, 85-107, Moricca 1928, 807-814. O’Donnell 80 n.133, Alan Cameron 1986, 57 n.53, Alan Cameron 1999, 114, Roda 1981, 108, McLynn 319, Salzman 1999, 132 n.72 and Shanzer 237-248 also believe that Praetextatus was the target of the Carmen.

[17] Dolbeau 1981, 39-42.

[18] E.g. Fraschetti 1999, 71-72 believes that the title Versus de Praetextato was added by a later learned copyist.

[19] Carmen v.83: mittereque inferias miseros sub Tartara secum; v.116-122; Hier. epist. 23.2-3: non in lacteo caeli palatio, ut uxor conmentitur infelix, sed in sordentibus tenebris continetur. Hier. epist. 39.3: illa infidelem maritum translatum fingit in caelum. Vera 1983, 136, 139.

[20] Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 75-77. For the discovery of the manuscript, the editions and the language of the poem, see Roncoroni 58-79, Lenaz 541-542 and Markschies 326-333.

[21] Vera 1983, 136-138.

[22] For the classical, especially Virgilian, echoes in the Carmen, see Mazzarino 1974, 447-449 and Shanzer 236. Shanzer 235 even suggests a close relationship between the Carmen contra paganos and the Cento by Proba, assuming that the Cento was written after the Carmen; for counter arguments, see Matthews 1992, 282-299.

[23] Carmen v.25: praefectus vester; v.112: te consule. Cf. e.g. Symm. rel. 12 quem iure consulem feceratis. Mazzarino 1974, 405 interpreted v.110-114 as referring to Avianius Symmachus who also died before entering the consulate.

[24] Moricca 1926, 106; Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 91-92. Olim as well as vellet, ornaret, daret and poneret refer to an earlier date.

[25] Amm. 27.3.4. Cf. CTh 11.2.2 (Oct. 23, 364) to Avianius Symmachus on the reduction of the prices of wines. Mazzarino 1974, 415-417.

[26] For Praetextatus’ restoration activities, see ch. 2.4.

[27] Mensibus iste tribus totum qui concitus orbem corr. Mommsen.

[28] Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 85-89. Symm. rel. 3.15-16; epist. 2.6-7; Ambr. epist. 18.20-21. Moricca 1926, 101 interpreted this threat as the pagan revival led by Praetextatus.

[29] Marcianus, vicarius Italiae in CTh 9.38.7 (March 22, 384); PLRE I, Marcianus 14, 555-556. A Marcianus was Symmachus’ correspondant: Symm. epist. 8.9; 8.23; 8.54; 8.58; 8.73. A Leucadius, praeses is mentioned by Sulp. Sev. dial. 3.11.8. PLRE I, Leucadius 1-2, 504-505.

[30] in risum quaerens quos dederet morti, / collaribus subito membra circumdare suetus corr. Mommsen.

[31] Symm. rel. 47.1 mocks the fear and panic of the Sarmatian prisoners of war who had to fight in these gladiatorial games. Vera 1983, 145-146. According to Mazzarino 1974, 418-419 the words suit Avianius Symmachus since CTh 9.40.8 (Jan. 15, 365) addressed to Avianius Symmachus forbade him to sentence Christians to the gladiatorial games.

[32] Hier. epist. 23.3.

[33] quem Iovis ad solium raptum trabeatus adisset corr. Haupt, Morel.

[34] Moricca 1926, 102. Hier. epist. 23.3. Mazzarino 1974, 454-455 also interpreted Iovis … solium as the temple of Iuppiter Capitolinus while tractatus referred to the meetings that senators held there.

[35] Matthews 1970, 472-473; followed by Lenaz 556-558; also Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 80. Cf. raptus referring to the ascension to heaven used in literature and on funerary inscriptions: Ovid. met. 11.756; Ovid. fast. 6.43; Aen. 5.255; CIL VI 1756 = CLE 1347: raptus in aethra.

[36] Hier. epist. 23.3; CIL VI 1779: soforum, porta quis caeli patet (v.9). See ch. 4.3.

[37] Moricca 1926, 102-103; Matthews 1970, 471-472; Lenaz 346.

[38] Mazzarino 1974, 401-404 and Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 81-83 with examples.

[39] Symm. rel. 10.2: functus est lege naturae; rel. 12.1: naturae lege resolutus est. Vera 1981, 103. Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 47 n.122 points out that Symmahus’ words about his friend resemble Ammianus’ words reposcenti naturae (25.3.15) about Emperor Julian whose death was also in dispute.

[40] Cf. e.g. Lucr. 3.687: expertis animas nec leti lege solutas; Sen. de ira 2.28.4: lege mortalitatis; Sen. epist. 8.70.14: aeterna lex; Amm. 14.7.9: compererat lege communi.

[41] Cf. Hier. epist. 23.3: non in lacteo caeli palatio … sed in sordentibus tenebris.

[42] Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 80 even interpreted vestras liceat componere lites (v.24) as a reference to the dispute over the Vestal statue to Praetextatus.

[43] CSEL 30, carm. 32, p.329-338.

[44] CSEL 23, p.227-330.

[45] CSEL 50, cap. 114, p.303-318.

[46] Apostasies are also known under Emperor Julian: Felix comes sacrarum largitionum in 362 (PLRE I, Felix 3, 332), Helpidius comes rei privatae in 362-363 (PLRE I, Helpidius 6, 415), Emperor Julian’s uncle Julian comes Orientis in 362-363 (PLRE I, Iulianus 12, 470-471), Hecebolius turned from Christianity to paganism under Julian but later returned to Christianity (PLRE I, Hecebolius 1, 409).

[47] Ambr. epist. 17.4: nonnullos enim illis privilegiis partim per imprudentiam, partim propter publicarum necessitatum molestias declinandas inretire voluerunt, et quia non omnes fortes inveniuntur, etiam sub principibus Christianis plerique sunt lapsi. Carmen ad senat. v.49-50; Aug. epist. 258; Quaest. vet. et nov. test. 114.13: facile enim imitatores invenit dehonestata nobilitas; cf. Liban. or. 30.28.

[48] Salzman 1993, 373, 376; Noethlichs 166-167; Ioannou 120. CTh 16.7.1 (May 2, 381); 16.7.2 (May 20, 383); 16.7.3 (May 21, 383); 16.7.4 (May 11, 391); 16.7.5 (May 11, 391); 16.7.6 (March 23, 396). Symmachus’ bitter words (epist. 1.51) nunc aris deesse Romanos genus est ambiendi, however, illuminate the other side of the circumstances. See also ch. 2.3.

[49] Cracco Ruggini 1979a, 120-122, 129, Cracco Ruggini 1979b, 124-130.

[50] Markus 1974, 7-8, calling the anti-pagan polemic of the late fourth century “a world of almost total unreality”. Similarly Vidman 164 who maintains that the attacks of Christian apologists against Roman gods was only an old locus communis. According to Croke – Harries 78 the apologetical literature of the time “submerged under a cloud of archaism and antiquarianism”.

[51] Cracco Ruggini 1979a, 129-130, 139-142; Lizzi 1990, 156; Christensen 26. Lizzi 1990, 162, 172 and Salzman 1990, 117 stress the persistence in official pagan religion, not only in Oriental cults; e.g. the calendar of 354 shows the vitality of the Roman pagan festivals. While Matthews 1973, 181 maintained that Christian polemic paid more attention to Sarapis and Magna Mater than to Jupiter and Juno, Rosen 398 points out that the Carmen contra paganos and the Poema ultimum were both targeted primarily against the Roman gods and secondarily against the Oriental gods.


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