1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Prudentius, Aurelius Clemens

PRUDENTIUS, AURELIUS CLEMENS (348-c. 410), the most remarkable of the earlier Christian poets in the West, was probably born at Tarraco, though Saragossa and Calagurris have also been claimed as his birthplace. The meagre autobiographical preface, which he affixed to the complete edition of his works when he was fifty-seven years old, makes it clear that he received a liberal education—being of noble family—practised as a lawyer and entered official life, and finally held some high office under Theodosius. At the age of fifty-seven he retired to a monastery, but died shortly afterwards.

Bentley calls Prudentius “the Horace and Virgil of the Christians,” but his diction is stilted and his metre often faulty. The list of his works given in the preface mentions the hymns, poems against the Priscillianists and against Symmachus and Peristephanon. The Diptychon or Dittochaeon is not mentioned. The twelve hymns of the Cathemerinon liber (“Daily Round”) consist of six for daily use, five for festivals, and one intended for every hour of the day. Prudentius shows Ambrose as his master here, but gives to Ambrose's mystic symbolism much clearer expression. The Apotheosis and Hamartigenia are polemic, the first against the disclaimers of the divinity of Christ, the latter against the gnostic dualism of Marcion and his followers. In them Tertullian is the source of inspiration. Of more historical interest are the two books Contra Symmachum, of 658 and 1131 hexameter verses respectively, the first attacking the pagan gods, the second directed against the petition of Symmachus to the emperor for the restoration of the altar and statue of Victory which Gratian had cast down. The Peristephanon consists of fourteen hymns to martyrs. These were mostly Spanish, but some were suggested to Prudentius by sacred images in churches or by the inscriptions of Damasus. This book, with the Cathemerinon liber and the Psychomachia, was among the most widely read books of the middle ages. Its influence on the iconography of medieval art was great. The Psychomachia is aesthetically inferior, but had the greatest influence of all of Prudentius's writings. In it he depicts the struggle of Christendom with paganism under the allegory of a struggle between the Christian virtues and the pagan vices. The Dittochaeon is a series of quatrains, probably intended to explain forty-nine pictures of a basilica. The work is more interesting for archaeology than for literature.

Prudentius's works were published by Giselin at Antwerp in 1564, and by F. Arevalo at Rome in 1788, with complete commentary. This last is the edition reprinted in J. P. Migne's Patralogia Latina, vols. lix.–lx. (Paris, 1847). More recent editions are by Obbarius (Tübingen, 1845) and A. Dressel (Leipzig, 1886), while a critical edition has been undertaken by J. Bergmann.

See also J. Bergmann, Lexicon prudentianum, fasc. i. [a-adscendo] (Upsala, 1894); M. Schanz, Gesch. d. röm. Lit. (Munich, 1904); A. Ebert, Allgem. Gesch. d. Lit. des Mittelalters, vol. i. 2nd ed. Leipzig, 1889); M. Manitius, Gesch. d. christl. lat. Poesie (Stuttgart, 1891); T. R. Glover, Life and Letters in the Fourth Century (Cambridge, 1901); C. Brockhaus, Aur. Prud. Clem. in seiner Bedeutung f. d. Kirche seiner Zeit (Leipzig, 1872); A. Pnech, Prudence: étude sur la poésie latine chrét. au IVᵉ siècle (Paris, 1888); F. St John Thackeray, Translations from Prudentius (London, 1890); F. Maigret, Le Poète chrétien Prudentius (Paris, 1903); E. O. Winstedt, “The Double Recension in the Poems of Prudentius,” The Classical Review, vol. xvii. (1903).