previous next

Prude'ntius, Aure'lius Clemens

Our acquaintance with the personal history of Prudentius, whom Bentley has designated as "the Horace and Virgil of the Christians," is derived exclusively from a short autobiography in verse, written when the poet was fifty-seven years old, and serving as an introduction to his works, of which it contains a catalogue. From this we gather that he was born during the reign of Constantius II. and Constans, in the consulship of Philippus and Salia, A. D. 348; that after acquiring, when a boy, the rudiments of liberal education, he fiequented, as a youth, the schools of the rhetoricians, indulging freely in dissipated pleasures ; that having attained to manhood, he practised as a forensic pleader; that he subsequently discharged the duties of a civil and criminal judge in two important cities; that he received front the emperor (Theodosius, probably, or Honorius), a high military appointment at court, which placed him in a station next to that of the prince, and that as he advanced in years, he became deeply sensible of the emptiness of worldly honour, and earnest in his devotion to the exercises of religion. Of his career after A. D. 405, or of the epoch of his death, we know nothing, for the praises of Stilicho, who suffered the penalty of his treason in 413, indicate that the piece in which they appear (C. Symm. ii.) must have been published before that date, but can lead to no inference with regard to the decease of the author.

The above notices are expressed with so much brevity, and in terms so indefinite, that a wide field has been thrown open to critics for the exercise of ingenious learning in expanding and interpreting them. Every thing, however, beyond what we have stated, rests upon conjecture. We may, indeed, safely conclude that Prudentius was a Spaniard (see especially Peristeph. 6.146); but the assertions with regard to the place of his birth, rest upon no sure foundation; for although he speaks of the inhabitants of Saragossa (Peristeph. 4.1. comp. 97.) as "noster populus," he uses elsewhere the self-same phrase with regard to Rome (C. Symm. 1.192, comp. 36), and applies the same epithet to Calahorra (Peristeph. 1.116, 4.31), and to Tarragona (Peristeph. 6.143). In like manner the attempts to ascertain the towns in which he discharged his judicial functions, and to determine the nature of the dignity to which he was eventually elevated, have proved entirely abortive. With regard to the latter, Gennadius concludes that he was what was called a Palatinus miles, i. e. an officer of the household (Cod. Theod. 6. tit. 37), and certainly it is highly improbable that he ever was employed in active service; others imagine that he was consul, or praefect of the city -- or of the praetorium-- or that he was raised to the rank of patrician -- opinions unsupported by even plausible arguments, and therefore not worth confuting.


The extant poems of Prudentius, of which we now proceed to give a list, are composed in a great variety of metres, and these we shall describe as we go along.

I. Praefatio,

Praefatio, containing, as we have already remarked, an autobiography and a catalogue of the author's works. It extends to forty-five verses, and is composed in a stanza which would be termed technically Tricolon Tristrophon, the first line being a Choriambic Dimeter, the second a Choriambic Trimeter, the third a Choriambic Tetrameter, all acatalectic, and all formed upon the Horatian model.

II. Cathemerinon

Cathemerinon (i.e. καθημερινῶν ν̔μνῶν) Liber. A series of twelve hymns proper to be repeated or sung by the devout Christian; the first six at particular periods during each day; the remainder, with one exception, adapted to special occasions:--1. Ad Gallicantum, 100 lines, Iambic Dim. Acat. 2. Hymnus Matulinus. 112 lines, same metre as the preceding. 3. Hymnus ante cibum, 205 lines, Pure Dactylic Trim. Hypercat. 4. Hymnus post cibum, 102 lines, Phalaecian Hendecasyllabic. 5. Hymnus ad incensum lucerne, 164 lines, Choriambic Trim. Acat. 6. Hymnus ante somnum, 152 lines, Iambic Dim. Cat. 7. Hymnus jejunantium, 220 lines, Iambic Trim. Acat. 8. Hymnus post jejunium, 90 lines, Sapphic Stanza. 9. Hymnus omni hora, 114 lines, Trochaic Tetram. Cat. 10. Hymnus in exsequiis defunctorutn, 172 lines, Ana. paestic Dim. Cat. 11. Hymnus de natali Domini, 116 lines, Iambic Dim. Acat. 12. Hymnus Epiphaniae, 208 lines, same metre as the preceding.

III. Apotheosis.

Apotheosis. On the divinity of Christ and his relation to the Father. The orthodox doctrine of the Trinity is here defended against the Sabellians, the Jews, the Ebionites, the Manichaeans, and other heretics, while various discussions are intermingled on the Nature of the Soul, on Original Sin. and on the Resurrection. We have first a Praefatio of .56 lines in Iambic Trim. Acat. and Iambic Dim. Acat., placed alternately as in the first and second Epodes of Horace, after which follows the main body of the piece, comprised in 1084 heroic hexameters.

IV. Hamartigenia

Hamartigenia (Ἁμαρτιγένεια). On the origin of evil and of sin, occupied chiefly with a refutation of the heresies of the Marcionites. We have first a Praefatio of 63 lines in Iambic Trim. Acat., after which follows the main body of the piece, comprised in 965 heroic hexameters.

V. Psychomachia.

Psychomachia. The conflict and triumph of virtue in the soul of the Christian, especially of Faith, Chastity, Meekness, Humility, Moderation, Liberality, and Concord, against their antagonistic vices. We have first a Praefatio of 68 lines in Iambic Trim. Acat., after which follows the main body of the piece, comprised in 915 heroic hexameters.

VI. Contra Symmachum Liber I.

Contra Symmachum Liber I. An exposure of the origin and worthlessness of the heathen Gods, together with an account of the conversion of Rome to Christianity. We have first a Praefatio of 89 lines in Choriambic Trim. Acat., after which follows the main body of the piece comprised in 657 heroic hexameters.

VII. Contra Symmachum Liber II.

Contra Symmachum Liber II. A refutation of the statements and arguments in the celebrated petition presented by Symmachus [SYMMACHUS] to the emperor Valentinian, praying for the restoration of the altar and statue of Victory, cast down by Gratian. We have a second preface of 66 lines in Choriambic Dim. Acat., followed by 1132 heroic hexameters.

VIII. Peristephanon Liber

Peristephanon Liber (Περὶ στεφάνων), a series of fourteen poems in honour of various saints, many of them Spanish. who had worn the crown of martyrdom. 1. Passio Emeterii et Chelidonii Calagurilanorum Martyrum, 120 lines. Trochaic Tetram. Cat. 2. Passio Laureutii Martyris 584 lines, Iambic Dim. Acat. 3. In Honorem Eulaliae Virginis, 215 lines, Dactylic Trim. Hypercat. 4. Passio XVIII. Martyrum Caesaraugustanorum, 200 lines, in the Sapphic Stanza. 5. Passio Vincentii, 575 lines, Iambic Dim. Acat. 6. In honorem B. Fructuosi episcopi Tarraconensis et Augurii et Euloyii Diaconorum, 162 lines, Phalaecian hendecasyllabics. 7. Passio Quirini episcopi ecclesiae Siscianae, 90 lines, Choriambic Dim. Acat. 8. De loco quo Martyres passi sunt, nunc Baptisterium Calaguri, 18 lines in the Elegiac distich. 9. Passio Cassiani, 106 lines, consisting of the heroic hexameter and Iambic Trim. Acat., placed alternately as in Hor. Epod. 16.10. Romani Martyris Supplicium, 1140 lines, Iamlbic Trim. Acat. 11. Passio Hippolyti Martyris, 246 lines in the Elegiac distich. 12. Passio Petri et Pauli Apostolorum, 66 lines, in a distich consisting of a logaoedic verse placed alternately with the Iambic Trim. Cat., being the same measure as that employed by Horace. 100.1.4. 13. Passio Cypriani Martyris, 106 lines, a system of the logaoedic verses employed in the preceding. 14. Passio Agnetis Viryinis, a system of 133 Alcaic Hendecasyllabic verses, the same with those which form the first two lines of the Alcaic stanza in Horace.

IX. Diptychon

Diptychon (or Dittochaeon). Forty-eight tetrastichs in heroic hexameters relating to remarkable events and characters in Bible history, twenty-four being appropriated to those connected with the Old and twenty-four to those belonging to the New Testament. A keen controversy has arisen with regard to the authenticity of these summaries. They are not mentioned by Prudentius in his autobiography, when enumerating the rest of his productions, and they have been considered of an inferior stamp. Moreover, although find in all the best MSS., they are frequently placed, as it were apart, after the Epilogus mentioned below, thus indicating some suspicion in regard to the authorship, and in one codex they are ascribed to Amaenus, which some suppose to be merely a complimentary epithet, while others, contending that it is a proper name, have called into existence an independent Prudentius Amnaenus unheard of elsewhere. With regard to the title, we read in Gennadius that "Prudentius, vir seculari literatura eruditus, composuit Αιττοχαῖον de toto Veteri et Novo Testamento personis exceptis." Now, this Αιττοχαῖον, which has been interpreted to signify cibum duplicem (i. e. the Old and New Testaments), appears under the varying shapes Dittochaeon, Ditrochaeon, Dirochaeon, Diptychon, as the designation prefixed to the tetrastichs in the MSS., and we can scarcely doubt that Diptychon (Δίπτυχον) is the true form, and that the rest are corruptions. On the whole, notwithstanding the formidable array of arguments in support of the opposite view of the question, there does not seem sufficient grounds for rejecting these little narratives as spurious, or for regarding them, as some have done, in the light of abridgements by a later hand, of a more voluminous original. The circumstance, that Prudentius does not include them in his list proves nothing, since they may have been written at a later period; and that something of the kind actually was written seems clear from the passage in Gennadius, obscure though it be.

X. Epilogus,

Epilogus, from which we may, perhaps, infer that the preceding pieces had been composed after Prudentius had withdrawn from public life ; thirty-four lines. Trochaic Dim. Cat. and Iambic Trim. Cat. placed alternately.

and the

The Hexaemeron and the Invitatio (or Invitatorium) ad Martyrium, placed by Gennadiua among the works of Prudentius, are no longer extant, and many doubt whether they ever existed. The clause in which the latter is named is so confused as to be almost unintelligible.


Although considerable diversity of opinion has always prevailed with regard to the merits of Prudentius, it is hard to understand how he ever acquired that amount of reputation which he haundoubtedly enjoyed among many eminent modern scholars. We are not at all surprised by the admiration with which he was viewed in the middle ages; and we may not feel, perhaps, much astonished by the panegyrics even of Fabricius, Barth and Tillemont; but how one so acute as Bentley, a critic little addicted to hyperbolical commendation, could have employed the phrase quoted at the beginning of this article is quite incomprehensible. If he intended simply to affirm that Prudentius stands first among Christian versifiers, we may perhaps, though not without hesitation, acquiesce in the decision, but the expression seems to imply high positive praise; and to this it is impossible to subscribe. His Latinity is not formed, like that of Juvencus and Victorinus, upon the best ancient models, but is confessedly impure, abounding both in words altogether barbarous, and in classical words employed in a barbarous sense, with here and there obsolete forms from Lucretius and the comedians, affectedly interspersed; he is totally ignorant or regardless of the common laws of prosody; the very nature of his theme in the Apotheosis and Hamartigenia, which are in fact treatises on the most abstruse questions of dogmatic and controversial theology, presents a complete barrier to creative efforts or to a play of fancy; and those effusions which afforded more latitude for a display of poetical talent are in no way remarkable. The hymns are not, as they ought to be, songs of praise and prayer and thanksgiving, but are didactic essays, loaded with moral precepts and doctrinal subtleties, while the sufferings of the martyrs, which form the subject of the Peristephanon, are for the most part detailed with heavy spiritless prolixity. His powers appear to greater advantage in the books against Symmachus than in any other portion of his works, and the dirge "In Exsequiis defunctorum" (Cathem. x.) is perhaps the best specimen of his lyric style.


The earliest edition of Prudentius bearing a date is that printed at Deventer in 1472, and this is generally accounted the Princeps. By far the most complete and splendid is that of Faustinus Arevalus, 2 vols. 4to. Rom. 1788 and 1789, but for all ordinary purposes that of Obbarius (8vo. Tubing. 1845), whose Prolegomena embrace a large amount of information condensed into a small compass, will be found satisfactory. The edition of Weitzius (8vo. Hann. 1613) contains a complete collection of the earlier commentaries, and those of Chamillard, 4to. Paris, 1687 (in usum Delph.), of Cellarius, 8vo. Hal. 1703, 1739, and of Teolius (2 vols. 4to. Parm. 1788), are considered valuable. These poems will be found also in the Bibliotheca Patrum Max. fol. Lug. Bat. 1677, vol. v. p. 990, and in the collections of Fabricius and Maittaire

Further Information

Gennad. (de Viris Ill. 13; J. P. Ludwig, Dissert. de Vita A. Prudentii, Viteb. 4to. 1642; J. Le Clerque, Vie de Prudence, Amst. 1689; II. Middeldorpf, Comment. de Prudentio et Theologia Prudentiana, pt. 1.4to. Vratisl. 1823.) pt. 2.4to. Vratisl. 1827.


hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
405 AD (1)
348 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: