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Features and Effects of the Jeweled Style in Juvencus

Blaise Gratton


            Juvencus, a Spanish priest who wrote under Constantine, was the first to render the Christian gospels into Latin hexameters, known as the Quattuor Libri Evangeliorum, connecting two influences already entrenched in Western civilization - namely the primary Christian texts with the epic tradition.  Despite this achievement, his work has perhaps not been as favorably viewed as other epic authors, especially in the area of his style.  Even Conte himself states that, “To give the elegance of Virgilian poetry to the biblical narrative was an enterprise beyond Juvencus' powers, however; he was crushed beneath the weight of his two models” (Conte, 1994).  I will argue rather that we can better appreciate Juvencus if we situate him within his own context of the aesthetics of Late Antiquity, especially through the framework of the “jeweled style” as laid out by Michael Roberts.

            As Roberts argues, the jeweled style is a feature of the poetics and visual art of Late Antiquity.  It is distinguished by mathematical regularity or symmetry as well as a contrasting antithetical use of words, meter, or ideas; play between repetitio and variatio likewise play a role.  Stratification (the unification of an entire line, as opposed to dividing up sections within a line) and alliteration are also used to great effect.  The end result forms a poetic creation which contains elements which interact with each other in intricate detail, like a gem (Roberts, 1989).  It is not a consistent feature throughout any one work, but rather an element which appears – or, to continue the metaphor, “glitters” - for emphasis and the marking of passages.  I will demonstrate how Juvencus uses the jeweled style to frame the beginning of certain scenes or aspects of an episode, consequently distinguishing the progression of events and moving the narrative forward.  Additionally, he uses it with lists of people or geographical areas to demonstrate his poetic prowess due to the difficulty of rendering proper nouns in verse.

Session/Panel Title

Thirty Years of the Jeweled Style: Reassessing Late Antique Poetry

Session/Paper Number


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