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God and money in Horace (c. 3.16, Ep. 1.14) and Paulinus of Nola (c. 21, 28)

Alex Dressler

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Using Horace, Odes 3.16, as a window onto key monetary moments in the late fourth century poems of the radical Christian, Paulinus of Nola, this paper offers a case study in the representation of value in Latin literature.  Where Horace uses poetry to establish a personal relationship, with a monetary dimension, with his patron Maecenas (Bowditch 2001, 31-63, 161-210), Paulinus uses money to establish a personal relationship, with a poetic dimension, with his patron, St. Felix (Brown 1981, 54-60; Trout 1999, 160-98).  Precise examination of this process of reception elucidates, not only the use of the classical past by Christian authors, but also the specific forms of value in Latin literature (Mrozek 1984, 394), and above all, the reality of the economy in the imagination of the late empire (Giardina 2007).

Odes 3.16.1 begins with the image of “Danae imprisoned [in the] copper tower” (Inclusam Danaen turris aenea), which it half-rationalizes with the claim “entry was safe and easy for a god turned into money” (7f.: fore enim tutum iter et patens/ converso in pretium deo).  At various points in his yearly meditations on the death-day of St. Felix, Paulinus uses the model of Horace’s relationship with Maecenas to elaborate what Trout (1999, 133-59; cf. Brown 2012, 208-40) terms his “salvation economics”: “No importunate poverty here/ and if I want more, you [Maecenas] don’t deny it” (3.16.37f.: importuna tamen pauperies abest/ nec, si plura velim, tu dare deneges).  Both the personal relationship and the patron-mediated conversion of God and money appear in Paulinus’ longest autobiographical reflection (c. 21.443-5, with Trout 1999, 16-22):

            et quis me tantae uel spe modo possessorem

            praestitit esse rei?  quis me rem compulit istam

            spernere pro Christo, ut Christum mihi uerteret in rem?

            quis nisi tu, semper mea magna potentia, Felix?

            Who rendered me the owner, even if only in faith/speculation,

            of such a resource?  Who made me reject that resource

            in exchange for Christ, so that Christ would be turned to my profit?

            Who but you, my power forever great, Felix?

Horace next cautions Maecenas against becoming like those elite individuals who are “resourceless in great resources” (3.16.28: magnas inter opes inops).  When Paulinus generalizes about his decision to renounce his wealth, he cautions fellow elites against becoming “resourceless in their resources” (28.292: inter opes inopes).

These intertextual clues from Horace’s ode find their place in a more general symbolic dynamic (cf. Nazzaro 1994).  In the second half of Odes 3.16, Horace transitions to more contemporary references (ll. 26, 31, 33, 35) and focuses specifically on real estate.  These references, which are elliptical in the Odes, are more explicit in the Epistles, particularly Epistles 1.14, where Horace explores, in Bowditch’s phrase, “the material conditions of the aequus animus” (221-239), by juxtaposing the “brambles from his mind” (Ep. 1.14.4: spinas animo) with the brambles of his farm (5: res/rus).  The same language finds a place again in Paulinus’s c. 28.89: the anxieties of participation in elite culture appear as “brambles in the mind” (spinae sunt animo).

Against the background of Horace’s Odes 3.16, Paulinus’ reception in c. 21 and 28 implies two things.  First, the generic promiscuity of late antique poetry, its prose-like assimilation of divergent genres (e.g., lyric and satire), suggests an increasingly polarized sense of literature and life.  In other words, differences in genre matter less than the difference between reality and representation, and the apparently unmediated representation of reality as such becomes possible (Auerbach 2003 [1953], 63; Rancière 2013, x-xi).  Second, where Horace used real property as a reflection of his experience, Paulinus in contrast bases his experience on real property. In terms of the old dispute of economic and cultural history (Polanyi 1957), Paulinus’ reversal of Horace suggests that, in late antiquity, the economy has achieved a kind of autonomy, an existence separate from the lives of individuals, which individuals subsequently recognized and took as the basis of culture (Giardina 1999).

Session/Panel Title

Money, Markets, Land, and Contracts

Session/Paper Number

2.4

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