Vitalia Verba: Redeeming the Hero in Juvencus

in Vigiliae Christianae
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Juvencus’ epic portrayal of Christ establishes a new kind of Christian heroism, a concept refined through intertextual engagement with the Old Latin Bible, the Aeneid, and imperial Latin epic. Christ-as-verbum, The Word, wields verbal power against the furor of the enemies of salvation. His virtus, transcending and redefining the martial valor of the Vergilian tradition, is derived not from human achievement but from the vertical economy of grace—it is a gift (munus, donum) of God the Father streaming abundantly from heaven to earth. Juvencus takes advantage of the expanded semantic range of virtus in late antiquity to subvert and repurpose the heroic core of Latin epic: the miracles (munera, dona) of Jesus expose the helplessness of humanity, and restore it to physical and spiritual health through forceful word-deeds (vitalia gesta, vitalia verba). Through its close identification with fides, Christ’s expansive virtus imparts heroic stature to even the weakest disciple.

Vigiliae Christianae

A Review of Early Christian Life and Language

References

8

The illustration is that of McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 3. For the translation see D.R. Shackleton-Bailey, Cicero Philippics (London, 1986).

10

McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 5.

11

Cf. McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 107-127.

13

McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 98.

15

Burton, Old Latin Gospels, 124. This religious use of virtus can be glimpsed already in Cicero and Propertius; cf. McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 98.

21

Eisenhut, Virtus Romana, 30. Cf. also the comments of J. O’Hara, Inconsistency in Roman Epic: Studies in Catullus, Lucretius, Vergil, Ovid and Lucan (Cambridge, 2007) 45 on the importance of virtus in Ennius and in Ennius’ reception in republican times.

23

Eisenhut, Virtus Romana, 196-207. See also A. Blaise, Dictionnaire latin-français des auteurs chrétiens (Strasbourg, 1954) sub voce.

24

Eisenhut, Virtus Romana, 204.

28

Ovid, Met. 8,387, 13,153; Ilias Latina, 274; Valerius Flaccus, Argon. 1,177, 1,850; Silius Italicus, Pun. 9,69, 16,133, 16,280.

36

Jerome, de Viris Illustribus 84.

47

Cf. Green, Latin Epics, 51.

51

Green, Latin Epics, 65.

55

Hardie, Epic Successors, 57.

56

Hardie, Epic Successors, 4.

57

Hardie, Epic Successors, 29.

58

Hardie, Epic Successors, 3.

65

Hardie, Epic Successors, 3.

67

Hardie, Epic Successors, 3.

70

Green, Latin Epics, 83.

75

Deproost, Résurrection, 140.

76

Cf. Deproost, Résurrection, 140-141.

78

Cf. K. Thraede, “Epos,” in Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum Vol. v (Stuttgart, 1962) 1039. The phrase precedes the hero’s [Christ’s] aristeia, as in other Roman epics, but also emphasizes the radically different nature of his heroism.

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