Verse and Conversion: Poetship, Christianity, and the Transformation of the Roman World, AD 400-700
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CitationUngvary, David. 2018. Verse and Conversion: Poetship, Christianity, and the Transformation of the Roman World, AD 400-700. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation presents a cultural history of Christian Latin poetic authorship from the late Roman through the post-imperial period. It analyzes the evolution of Latin verse-writing habits, authorial practices, and routines (i.e. “poetship”) within contemporary Christian discourses surrounding spiritual self-formation, self-presentation, and behavior, and in the context of social and political reconfigurations during the period of Roman imperial transition from roughly AD 400 to 700. In particular, the study explores how classical Latin poetry, which the Roman nobility used for centuries to encode and reproduce the culture of their class, came to function as a medium for the representation of holiness and the assertion of ascetic Christian identity, often constructed in fundamental opposition to traditional Roman systems of power, morality, and belief. Investigation reveals that efforts to integrate poetic practice within post-Roman Christian life often functioned paradoxically, representing conflicting desires to retain classical poetry as an instrument of authority and to subvert the traditional modes and images of power to which poetry was connected.
Individual case studies entail historically sensitive close readings of verse writers active in the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries: Sidonius Apollinaris, Avitus of Vienne, Venantius Fortunatus, the Visigothic king Sisebut, and Eugenius of Toledo. These examinations show that Christian poets operated with new ethical and political imperatives under barbarian and ecclesiastical regimes to transfigure verse writing on social and aesthetic levels into a mode of pious practice, and to produce creative visions of authorship that both mirrored and made cultural transformations in the post-imperial world. Some poets implicated their writing practices in contemporary ascetic movements by renouncing secular themes and formal features for the sake of their souls; others described their religious poetry as the fulfillment of a sacred vow to God or the saints. Collectively, these cases open a window onto the development of interplay among poetic experimentation, shifting structures of regional power, and emergent spiritual practices, including ascetic conversion, Christian burial, and penance. Viewed in this light, the transformation of Christian Latin poetship appears not only as an intriguing moment in literary history, but as a cultural phenomenon with significant implications for the construction of early medieval society.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41129133
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