By Anders Cullhed (tr. by Michael Knight)
De Gruyter (2015) h/b 703pp £97.99 (ISBN 9783110310863)
Imagine that you are a writer and your aim is to set up a school to promote the teaching of Christian religion; that you live in the Roman Empire at some point between the second and the fifth century AD, that you are a newly converted Christian who has been educated by pagan teachers and, therefore, your education has been essentially formed on the works of Homer, Cicero, Horace, Ovid and Vergil. How would you now confront the classics? Would you be a ‘traditionalist’ who repudiates the value of pagan literature, or an ‘innovator’ who finds a compromise and negotiates ideas and themes of pagan culture by means of allegorical interpretations? These are the problems of ‘fictionality’ in late antique Latin literature at the heart of Cullhed’s investigation.
C. covers about three centuries of late antique literature in the Western Roman Empire, from Lactantius to Boethius. He illustrates the history of interchange between pagan and Christian literature and analyses, using a wealth of textual evidence, the difficulty that Christian writers had when faced with the dilemma of either rejecting, ‘recycling’ or transforming the ficta and fabulae of the old masters in the new cultural and religious context of Christianity.
The analysis is divided in five main sections. The first two are entirely devoted to Augustine’s ‘Christian Spirit’, his deep knowledge of pagan literature but also his (apparently) ‘traditionalist’ approach to it. The third section focuses on prose writers and ranges from Lactantius and his ‘enlightenment program’ of revaluating certain aspects of pagan literature, to Macrobius and Boethius’ antiquarian readings of Virgil. The last two sections analyse Christian poetry and the re-use of topics and symbols found in the work of Homer, Virgil et al. The book ends with an appendix of original Latin quotations.
I have only offered a short overview of a book which is complex in content and structure. C. has produced an important and useful work for those readers who are particularly interested in reception, evolution and criticism of pagan literature in the late antique Roman West.
Roberto Chiappiniello Valente—St. Mary’s Calne