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Did Palladas Produce an Iambic Collection for Constantine?

Kevin Wilkinson

University of Toronto

This paper will explore the possibility that the Greek Anthology preserves the remnants of a collection of poems in iambic trimeter for Constantine I by the fourth-century Greek epigrammatist Palladas of Alexandria. Most attested poets from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine Age had some degree of contact with an imperial court. The same appears to be true of Palladas, although this has been obscured by the longstanding misapprehension of his dates. Recent work, in part based on new papyrological evidence, has located his poetry in the early decades of the fourth century, rather than some 60-100 years later as previously thought (esp. Wilkinson 2009, 2012, 2015b). When read against this historical backdrop, several of his epigrams clearly reflect, without obvious irony or cynicism, the political and religious propaganda of Constantine (Augustus of the eastern provinces from 324-337). This is surprising for a poet whose signature was biting satire of public figures. However, it is noteworthy that the circumspect poems with Constantinian echoes were composed in iambic trimeter (both rare for the genre and also the metre of straightforward communication) rather than Palladas’ usual elegiacs (some of which contain a more characteristic, if also muted, bitterness in connection with political and social conditions under Constantine). The Anthology preserves a total of 20 iambic poems that are ascribed to Palladas, with considerable overlap in theme and vocabulary among them. In fact, at least 15 of them can be plausibly connected with Constantine’s court, where Palladas seems to have presented a legal appeal (first broached in Wilkinson 2015a). These include some that have already been analyzed individually for their Constantinian elements (e.g., Wilkinson 2009: 43-48, 53; 2010:181-189; 2015a; Barnes 2011: 127-129; Woods 2015). This paper will touch briefly on these important poems before considering some others that have not yet been analyzed in connection with Constantine’s court (including AG 10.94 on God’s tolerance of blasphēmia; AG 10.86, 10.95, and 11.291 on Palladas’ social function as a satirical poet; cf. Hawkins: 181-185). Analysis of some literary features (like internal echoes and the existence of doublets) will demonstrate the coherence of this collection, even if its original extent and shape are now indeterminable. The precise circumstances that brought Palladas into contact with Constantine’s court are probably beyond recovery, but it appears to be quite likely that he offered an iambic collection to the emperor as an accompaniment to a legal appeal (perhaps on the charge of blasphēmia). This is hardly a unique scenario. Indeed, at roughly the same time, Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius offered a gift of propagandistic Latin poems to Constantine as an accompaniment to his legal appeal for recall from exile (e.g., Barnes 1975; Wienand: 355-402). Like Optatianus, and like many other poets both earlier and later, Palladas was the literary client of an emperor.

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Insult, Satire, and Invective

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