Martha A. Malamud here examines conflicting cultural, religious,
and literary codes in the work of Prudentius (348-post 405),
perhaps the most influential poet of Late Antiquity. Breaking new
ground, Malamud illuminates Prudentius' use of paradigms from
classical mythology and suggests that his poetry constitutes both
an analysis and a critique of the Christianity of his day.
A Poetics of Transformation begins with a discussion of
the characteristic techniques and ideas of the poetry of Late
Antiquity: abstract formalism, systematic allusion, and both
etymological and anagrammatic wordplay. Malamud considers both the
traditional techniques of classical poetry and the more radical
experimentation evident in the work of Prudentius' contemporaries.
Focusing on three poems in the Peristephanon, hymns to the
Christian martyrs Hippolytus, Agnes, and Cyprian, Malamud treats
some key aspects of Prudentius' work: his shaping of narratives
according to what she characterizes as a semantic determinism; his
treatment of conflicting historical accounts as if they were
mythical variants; and the congruences of his narratives to
patterns of classical mythology. She demonstrates that much of what
in Prudentius' work appears to conform to Christian doctrine can,
in fact, be traced to models in classical literature and mythology.
Malamud finds, for example, that the Greek hero Hippolytus and the
image of the labyrinth haunt Prudentius' account of St. Hippolytus,
and that his hymn to St. Agnes is shaped by the myth of Romulus and
Challenging generally accepted notions of the nature and
function of Christian poetry, Malamud's book sheds light on the
ways in which educated Romans of the fourth century perceived the
intellectual and spiritual struggle between Christianity and
Subjects: Language & Literature
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