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The Satirical and Epical Basis of Damasus’ Anti-pagan Invective Carmen Contra Paganos

Diederik Burgersdijk

This paper sheds light on the literary construction of Damasus'(?) Carmen contra paganos (according to a recent attribution by Alan Cameron 2011), and tries to place this 120 hexameters poem in the literary modes of its time. The cento-like poem, which may be characterized as invective, heavily depends on the epic models as set by Virgil and Ovid, but also on the satirical heritage of which Juvenal is the foremost representant. Because of its invective style and content and on the base of slender historical clues, the poem has formerly been viewed as evidence of the last great battle between paganism and Christianity at the battle at the Frigidus in 395, after which the latter decisively prevailed. Looking beyond the ideological strain that the poem may reveal, it is striking that the author seems to primarily make use of a classical idiom to attack his adversary, an unnamed prefect of the city of Rome. By defeating the enemy by his own means, viz. the classical literary tradition, the late antique epical satirist attempts to appropriate classical models for a new era to arrive, that of Christianity.

Session/Panel Title

Traditions of Antiquity in the Post-Classical World: Religious, Ethnographic, and Political Representation in the Poetic Works of Paulinus of Nola, Claudian, and George of Pisidia

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