Redeeming Epic: Furor, Classical Tradition, and Christian Cosmos in Late Antiquity
AbstractThis dissertation investigates the renewal and redefinition of the Vergilian epic tradition, as represented by the furor-theme, in the biblical epics of late antiquity. The Christian project of redeeming the most prestigious genre of classical literature in order to suffuse the language, themes, and cosmic vision of Vergil and his successors with new meaning offers a unique perspective on the wider relationship between late antique Christians and the classical culture they inherited. Despite a recent quickening of scholarly interest in late antique biblical epic, few works have devoted sustained attention to Vergilian diction as a vehicle for innovation in biblical epic. This study enhances our understanding of the role played by inherited epic keywords in the thematic development of the new genre. It illustrates how the linguistic and thematic significance of furor and its associated verbal cluster in Vergil’s Aeneid emphasizes an unresolved tension between cosmic order and chaos (Ch. 1). This ambivalence—still mediated through the concept of furor—proved programmatic for the cosmic perspectives articulated by later classical epicists from Ovid to Silius Italicus, who rework Vergilian themes to affirm or call into question the possibility of universal order (Ch. 2). Later semantic shifts, under the influence of patristic rhetoric and the Vetus Latina tradition (Ch. 3), facilitated the pioneering works of Juvencus and Proba, whose articulations of Christian cosmos depart radically from Vergilian ambivalence even as they appropriate the thematic categories of classical epic (Ch. 4), creating in turn a new model poetics further developed by Avitus of Vienne (Ch. 5). This literary-historical sequence reveals a hitherto-neglected aspect of Christian engagement with classical thought in late antiquity.
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