Aurelius Prudentius (Hymn-Writer)
Born: 348 - Roman province of Tarraconensis, Spain
Died: after 405, probably c413
Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (whose name is sometimes shown with a prefix of “Marcus”) was a Roman Christian poet. He was born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis (now Northern Spain). The place of his birth is uncertain, but it may have been Caesaraugusta Saragossa, Tarraco Tarragona, or Calagurris Calahorra. He came of a distinguished Christian family and received an excellent education, studied law, became an office-holder and rose rapidly, was twice governor of a province, and finally received high office at the court of Theodosius. Towards the end of his life (possibly around 392) Prudentius retired from public life to become an ascetic, fasting until evening and abstaining entirely from animal food. He decided to devote himself to poetry in the service of religion and the Church. He collected the Christian poems written during this period and added a preface, which he himself dated 405.
Aurelius Prudentius' earliest poems are the twelve hymns contained in the Cathemerinon (for use in the morning, at meals, and at night, from which the collection took its name). The model of Prudentius in poetry was Ambrose, though there is a distinct independent development. He employs the events of the times, and is not restricted to the forms of verse used by Ambrose. While his verse is popular, the lyrical element often recedes in consequence of the introduction of the didactic and epic admixture. A second collection, the Peristephanon, shows still greater originality and variety of verse form. This celebrates Spanish and Roman martyrs, and may have been influenced by the inscriptions of Damasus, which celebrated the martyrs. The epic and dramatic elements here are quite pronounced. There are extant also two didactic-polemic poems: Apotheosis, in 1,408 hexameters, exalts the deity of Christ against Patripassians, Sabellians, Jews, and Eremites; Hamartigenia, in 966 hexameters, deals with the origin of evil in a polemic against Marcion's gnostic dualism. Both of these lean on Tertullian. He also left a purely polemic work in two books (657 and 1,132 hexameters) called Contra Symmachum, in which he combats the heathen state religion. It is under the influence of Ambrose's epistle against Symmachus. All three of these lastnamed contained passages of beauty, but the Hamartigenia is the noblest. A fourth work, of slight esthetic interest, but important from a literaryhistorical point of view (915 hexameters), is the Psychomachia, the first example in the West of allegorical poetry, setting forth the conflict of Christian virtues with heathen vices. It comes out of the times of the author and portrays the life of those times, and had a great influence during the Middle Ages. Finally, there is extant a collection of forty-nine quatrains in hexameter with the title Dittochtæon, which sets forth a Biblical picture in each quatrain. It has been supposed that these explain decorations in the basilica attended by the author, twenty-four Old-Testament pictures on one side, twenty-four from the New Testament on the other, and one in the apse.
The poetry of Prudentius is influenced by early Christian authors, such as Tertullian and St. Ambrose, as well as the Bible and the acts of the martyrs. His Christmas plainsong hymn Divinum Mysterium ("Of the Father's Love Begotten") and the hymn for Epiphany O sola magnarum urbium ("Earth Has Many a Noble City"), both from the Cathemerinon, are still in use today. The allegorical Psychomachia, however, is his most influential work and became the inspiration and wellspring of medieval allegorical literature.
Liber Cathemerinon -- ("Book in Accordance with the Hours") comprises 12 lyric poems on various times of the day and on church festivals.
Liber Peristephanon -- ("Crowns of Martyrdom") contains 14 lyric poems on Spanish and Roman martyrs.
Apotheosis -- ("Deification") attacks disclaimers of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus.
Hamartigenia -- ("The Origin of Sin") attacks the Gnostic dualism of Marcion and his followers.
Psychomachia -- ("Battle of Souls") describes the struggle of faith, supported by the cardinal virtues, against idolatry and the corresponding vices.
Libri contra Symmachum -- ("Books Against Symmachus") oppose the pagan senator Symmachus's requests that the altar of Victory be restored to the Senate house.
Dittochæon -- ("The Double Testament") contains 49 quattrains intended as captions for the murals of a basilica in Rome.
1. Ades Pater Supreme
* Be Present, Holy Father
* Father, Most High, Be with Us
* Toil of Day Is Over, the
2. Ales diei nuntius
* The Wingèd Herald of the Day
3. Beata martyr, prospera
* Blest Martyr, Let Thy Triumph Day
4. Corde natus ex parentis
* Of the Father’s Love Begotten
5. Cultor Dei memento
* Servant of God, Remember
6. Deus ignee fons animarum
* Ah! Hugh Now Your Mournful Complainings
* Be Silent, O Sad Lamentation
* Cease, Ye Tearful Mourners
* Each Sorrowful Mourner Be Silent
* Father of Spirits, Whose Divine Control
* Hush, Mother, Too Loud Is Thy Weeping
* No More, Ah, No More Sad Complaining
* Now Your Sorrowful Plaints Should be Hush’d
* Why Weep Ye, Living Brotherhood
7. Lux ecce surgit aurea
* Lo! Golden Light Rekindles Day
8. Nox et tenebrae et nubila
* Now with Creation’s Morning Song
* Ye Clouds of Darkness, Hosts of Night
9. O sola magnarum urbium
* Earth Has Many a Noble City
* O Chief of Cities, Bethlehem
10. Salvete flores martyrum
* All Hail, Ye Little Martyr Flowers
* Sweet Flow’rets of the Martyr Band
Source: CCEL Website (Author: G. Krüger); Cyber Hymnal Website; Wikipedia WebsiteAryeh Oron (May 2006)
Owing to the fact that the poems of Prudentius were great favorites in Germany and were even used as a text-book, a large number of excellent MSS. are extant (cf. the work of Stettiner below) and a prodigious number of German glosses: The number of editions is large. The noteworthy editions are: M. Heinsius, Amsterdam, 1667; F. Arevalo, 2 vols., Rome, 1788-89, reproduced with prolegomena, MPL, lix.-lx.; T. Obbar, Tübingen, 1845; and A. Dressel, Leipsic, 1860. In English may be noted the Cathemerinon, London, 1845; also a transl. of the Hymns, by G. Morison, 3 parts, Cambridge, 1889; by R. Martin Pope, London, 1905; Translations from Prudentius: a Selection, by F. St. J. Thackeray (in verse), London, 1890; Songs (Selected and Translated), by E. Giliat-Smith, London, 1898. Consult: A. Ebert, Geschichte der Litteratur des Mittelalters, i. 251-293, Leipsic, 1880 (indispensable); L. Paul, Étude sur Prudence, Strasburg, 1862; P. Gams, Kirchengeschichte Spaniens, ii. 1, pp. 337-358, Regensburg, 1864; C. Brockhaus, Aurelius Prudentius Clemens in seiner Bedeutung fur die Kirche and seine Zeit, Leipsic, 1872; P. Allard, in Revue des questions historiques, xxv (1884), 345-385, xxxvi (1884), 5-81, xxxvii (1885), 353-405; A. Rosler, Der katholische Dichter Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, Freiburg, 1886 (detailed; has eye to church and doctrinal history); P. A. J. Puech, Prudence; étude sur la poesié latine chrétienne au 4. siècle, Paris, 1888 (elaborate); M. Manitius, Geschichte der christlich-lateinischen Poesie, pp. 61-99, Stuttgart, 1891; C. Weymann, in Commentationes Woelffinianæ, pp. 281-287, Leipsic, 1891; G. Boissier, in RDM, xci (1889), 357390; idem, La Fin du paganisme, pp. 106-151, Paris, 1894; A. Baumgartner, Geschichte der Weltlitteratur. 152 sqq., Freiburg, 1900; T. R. Glover, Life and Letters in the Fourth Century. 249-277, Cambridge, 1901; O. Bardenhewer, Geschichte der altkirchlichen Literatur. 396, 503, 635, 640, Freiburg, 1903; F. Maigret, Le Pohte chrktien Prudence, Paris, 1903; E. O. Winstedt, in Classical Reviewii (1903), 203-207; M. Schanz, Geschichte der romischen Litteratur. 211-235, Munich, 1904 (has full list of references); R. Stettiner, Die illustrierten Prudentius-Handschriften, Berlin, 1905 (sumptuous); DCB, iv. 500-505. Richardson, Encyclopaedia, p. 889, furnishes references to some excellent periodical literature.
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