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Aurelius Prudentius Clemens

348-c.410. Christian Latin poet. Born in Spain, he is best known for the hymn “Of the Father's love begotten.” Lawyer and civil servant, he published his extensive collection of poems at the age of fifty-seven. He applied classical Latin verse-forms to Christian teaching, and although the educational and moral outweighs the imaginative and lyrical, his poetry has considerable artistic merit. Plain, but concise and effective in description, he writes with great fluency in an exceptional variety of meters (still quantitative, not accentual). He extends the allegorical method of biblical interpretation (e.g., see Ambrose, Origen) to nature, society, and wherever he sees the possibility of pointing a Christian moral.

In the Psychomachia (915 lines), an extended allegory, the virtues battle with the vices for possession of the soul. Three slightly longer poems defend orthodoxy against pagans and heretics, combining poetry and doctrine in a manner recalling Lucretius's exposition of Epicureanism.* Twelve hymns and fourteen poems on Christian martyrs exceed the usual length of classical lyric. But typical of his instructional aims are forty- eight four-line biblical “snapshots” (Dittochaei)—e.g., No. 30, “Christ is baptised”: The Baptist plunges men in water, his diet Locust and honey, his clothing camel-skins. When Christ bathed with those bathers, heaven's Spirit declared That this bather absolves every bather's sins.

A.S. Walpole, Early Latin Hymns (1922); J. Bergman (ed.), Prudentius (CSEL vol. 61, 1926); B.M. Peebles, The Poet Prudentius (1951); J.E. Raby, A History of Christian Latin Poetry (2nd ed., 1953); R. Herzog, Die allegorische Dichtkunst des Prudentius, Zetemata 42 (1966).

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