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The Anglo-Saxon manuscripts of Prudentius's Psychomachia

  • Gernot R. Wieland (a1)


According to his own testimony, the fourth-century Spanish poet Prudentius devoted himself to writing only late in life. The Praefatio to his works provides all the biographical details which we have of him: he was born in 348, the year in which Salia was consul (lines 25–6: ‘Sub quo [=Salia] prima dies mihi/ quam multas hiemes uoluerit’), he appears to have studied rhetoric (lines 8–9: ‘mox docuit toga infectum uitiis falsa loqui’), possibly practised law (lines 13–4: ‘Exim iurgia turbidos/ armarunt animos’), became governor of two cities (lines 16–7: ‘Bis legum moderamine/ frenos nobilium reximus urbium’) and finally was taken into the emperor's service (lines 20–1: ‘pietas principis extulit/ adsumptum propius stare iubens ordine proximo’). The exact date of his death is unknown, but it appears to have been before 410 because his writings, especially the Contra Symmachum, still praise a victorious Rome that had not yet been sacked by Alaric.



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1 Prudentius writes in his Praefatio, lines 1–3: ‘Per quinquennia iam decem / ni fallor, fuimus; septimus insuper / annum cardo rotat, dum fruimur sole uolubili.’ The text of all quotations is taken from Aurelii Prudentii Clementis carmina, ed. M. P. Cunningham, CCSL 126 (Turnhout, 1966).

2 See Contra Symmachum, lines 709–38, in which a personified Rome boasts of the victory over the Goths in 402 or 403 at Pollentia.

3 On Prudentius's life, see Messenger, R. E., ‘Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, a Biographical Study’, Leaders of Iberian Christianity 50–650 A.D., ed. Marique, J. M. F. (Boston, 1962), pp. 81102. On his writings in general, see Puech, A., Prudence: Etude sur la poésie latine chrétienne au IV e siècle (Paris, 1888)Rand, E. K., ‘Prudentius and Christian Humanism’, Trans. and Proc. of the Amer. Philol. Assoc. 51 (1920), 7183Rodriguez-Herrera, I., Poeta Christianus: Prudentius' Auffassung vom Wesen und von der Aufgabe des christlichen Dichters (Speyer, 1936)Peebles, B. M., The Poet Prudentius, Boston College Candlemas Lectures on Christian Literature 2 (New York, 1951)Thraede, K., Studien zur Sprache und Stil des Prudentius (Göttingen, 1965)Ludwig, W., ‘Die christliche Dichtung des Prudentius und die Transformation der klassischen Gattungen’, Christianisme et formes littéraires de l' antiquité tardive en Occident, Entretiens sur l'antiquité classique 23 (Vandoeuvres and Geneva, 1976), 303–63.

4 For studies on the Psychomachia, see Argenio, R., ‘La Psychomachia di Prudenzio’, Rivista di studi classici 8 (1960), 267–80Jauss, H. R., ‘Form und Auffassung der Allegorie in der Tradition der Psychomachia (von Prudentius zum ersten Romanz de la Rose)’, Medium Aevum Vivum: Festschrift für Walter Bulst, ed. Jauss, H. R. and Schaller, D. (Heidelberg, 1960), pp. 179206, at 186–9Gnilka, C., Studien zur Psychomachie des Prudentius (Wiesbaden, 1963)Herzog, R., ‘Der Gedanke des Seelenkampfes: heilsgeschichtliche und fingierte Allegorie’, Die allegorische Dichtkunst des Prudentius, Zetemata 42 (Munich, 1966), 93118 and Smith, M., Prudentius' Psychomachia: a Re-examination (Princeton, 1976).

5 Aldhelm, , Carmen de virginitate ed. Ehwald, R., Aldhelmi opera, MGH Auct. antiq. 15 (Berlin, 1919), 350471. Ehwald lists the following parallels: Aldhelm 437 and Psychomachia 736 (sublime tribunal); Aldhelm 2575 (spicula lita ueneno) and Psych. 436 (lita tela ueneno). Not listed by Ehwald are Aldhelm 2643 and Psych. 96 (furiarum maxima); Aldhelm 2548 (conculcat pedibus) and Psych. 452 (proculcat pedibus).

6 Bede, , De arte metrica, ed. Kendall, C. B., Bedae Venerabilis opera, CCSL 123A (Turnhout, 1975), 125 (reference to Psych. 594) and 135 (reference to Psych. Praef. 1–4).

7 Bolton, W. F. (A History of Anglo-Latin Literature, 5971066 i (Princeton, 1967)) mentions Prudentius's influence on Aldhelm (p. 82) and Bede (pp. 138 and 161), without, however, specifying whether it was the Psychomachia or some other work of Prudentius that was influential. One of the earliest references to the connection between Prudentius and Aldhelm and Bede is in Manitius, M., ‘Zu Aldhelm und Baeda’, Sitzungsberichte der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, phil.–hist. Klasse 112 (1886), 535634, at 571 and 619 respectively. On connections between the Psychomachia and Old English literature see, for instance, Huppé, B. F., The Web of Words (Albany, NY, 1970), pp. 141–2, where he establishes parallels between the Psychomachia and Judith. Cherniss, M. D., Ingeld and Christ: Heroic Concepts and Values in Old English Christian Poetry (The Hague, 1972), p. 198, mentions a connection between Juliana and the Psychomachia: ‘His [the devil's] reply contains much sustained martial imagery which is not contained in the Latin source, which is clearly figurative, and which calls to mind the imagery of Ephesians VI.12–17, and of medieval psychological allegories like Prudentius' Psychomachia’. Hermann, J. P., ‘Some Varieties of Psychomachia in Old English’, American Benedictine Rev. 34 (1983), 7486 and 188222, analyses the Psychomachia at 74–86 and attempts to show its influence on Anglo-Latin and Old English literature at 188–222. He argues, however, that Prudentius's Psychomachia did not significantly influence Aldhelm's De virginitate, and finds few Prudentian echoes in the sections which he calls ‘The Devil's Missiles’ and ‘The Wounds of Sin’.

8 See, for instance, Greenfield, S. B., A Critical History of Old English Literature (New York, 1965), p. 104: ‘The nature of composition by theme and formula is such that the Andreas poet … may, under the influence of his poetic heritage, simply have chosen his formulas on occasion neither wisely nor too well.’ Or Shippey, T. A., Old English Verse (London, 1972), p. 117: ‘Was this conservatism simply stupid, bought at the price of ridiculous discrepancy between style and subject? The first few lines certainly suggest as much … There is no hint that he means the warfare of the spirit’.

9 I am currently working on a monograph to be entitled The Theme of the Psychomachia in Anglo-Saxon England, in which I shall examine its influence on both Old English and Anglo-Latin literature.

10 The data for the manuscripts were compiled from Gneuss, H., ‘A Preliminary List of Manuscripts written or owned in England up to 1100’, ASE 9 (1981), 160, from the catalogues of the individual libraries, and from personal inspection. I should like to thank both the University of British Columbia and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council who provided me with financial support for my travels to the libraries in question.

11 For a detailed analysis of CUL Gg. 5. 35, see Rigg, A. G. and Wieland, G. R., ‘A Canterbury Classbook of the Mid-Eleventh Century (the “Cambridge Songs” Manuscript)’, ASE 4 (1975), 113–30.

12 See Wieland, G. R., ‘The Glossed Manuscript: Classbook or Library Book?ASE 14 (1985), 153–73, in which I attempt to answer the question ‘when is a glossed manuscript a classbook?’

13 Moreover, by having Vices fight Virtues in the sections on Ingluvies ventris against Ieiunium (lines 2482–543), Ira against Patientia (lines 2625–42), and Accidia against Constantia mentis (lines 2666–77), Aldhelm departs fron his primary models Gregory (Moralia in Job XXXI. 45) and Cassian (Collations) and seems to follow Prudentius. On Aldhelm and the Psychomachia, see also Aldhelm: The Poetic Works, trans. M. Lapidge and J. L. Rosier (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 99100, and Wieland, G. R., ‘Aldhelm's De octo vitiis principalibus and Prudentius's Psychomachia’, 55 (1986), 8592.

14 Cunningham, , Aurelii Prudentii Clementis carmina, p. xxiii.

15 By ‘significant difference’ I mean completely different words or phrases rather than merely different inflectional forms.

16 These manuscripts are:

A Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat. 8084 (s. vi)

B Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana D. 36 sup. (s. vi)

J Montpellier, Bibliothèque de l'Ecole de Médecine, H. 220 (s. ix)

E Leiden, Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, Burmannus Q. 3 (s. ix)

T Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat. 8087 (s. ix)

S Sankt Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, 136 (s. ix)

Y Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, iv. G. 68 (s. ix)

17 Even though Clm. 29031b contains only 26 lines, and lines at that which do not contain any important variants, the manuscript appears to belong to group III. Like the other manuscripts of this group it begins a new paragraph at line 30 with a capital ‘ilia’, whereas all other manuscripts begin a new paragraph with line 28 ‘Ecce lacessentem…’

18 CCCC 23 appears to be the second volume of a Prudentius manuscript. In CCCC 223 the Psychomachia also constitutes the first poem of the second volume. Note that the order Psychomachia, Peristephanon, and Contra Symmachum also appears in CCCC 223, Durham B. iv. 9, and Auct. F. 3. 6 – in other words, in all other ‘collected works’ manuscripts.

19 CCCC 23 contains a nearly complete series of illustrations; those in BL Add. 24199 are complete up to and including the illustration ‘A varitia se ornat ut facilius uirtutes fallat’; after that they become sketchy, as if they had been begun but not completed. Cleopatra C. viii lacks approximately seven illustrations to accompany the text of lines 705–45, which is missing. Several scenes involving Avaritia have not been completely finished. On the illustrated manuscripts see also Temple, E., Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts 900–1066 (London, 1976), at pp. 6970 for CCCC 23, pp. 70–1 for Cleopatra C. viii, p. 71 for Clm. 2903 Ib and p. 71 for BL Add. 24199.

20 Woodruff, H., ‘The Illustrated Manuscripts of Prudentius’, Art Studies: Medieval, Renaissance and Modern 7 (1929), 3379, at 51.

21 ibid. p. 50.

22 See also Stettiner, R., Die illustrierten Prudentiushandschriften (Berlin, 1895), pp. 170–2.

23 Woodruff, ‘The Illustrated Manuscripts’, p.35.

24 ‘One of the many missiles that she had scattered without effect she picks up from the dust of the field, for an unnatural use. The smooth shaft she fixes in the ground and with the upturned point stabs herself, piercing her breast with a burning wound’ (Prudentius, trans. H. J. Thomson (London and Cambridge, Mass. 1969), pp. 289–90).

25 These were first published by Zupitza, J., ‘Englishes aus Prudentiushandschriften’, ZDA 20 (1876), 3645.

26 ibid. p. 44: ‘es ist ein unbedeutendes Versehen, dass 24 sagitta durch mid his swurde… übersetzt ist’.

27 Woodruff (‘The Illustrated Manuscripts’, p. 78) briefly comments on those illustrations which show Ira killing herself with a sword rather than an arrow (or a spear). She contends that all Anglo-Saxon illustrations derive from illustrations in a now lost manuscript which she calls B and which first substituted the sword for the arrow. She claims that the mistake was corrected in BL Add. 24199 and Cleopatra C. viii, rather than that these manuscripts have different ancestors.

28 Two continental commentaries on Prudentius's Psychomachia have so far been published: Burnam, J. M., ‘Glossemata de Prudentio. Edited from the Paris and Vatican Manuscripts…’, University of Cincinnati Studies, Series 2, vol. i, no. 3 (1905), 5868 and Burnam, J. M., Commentaire anonyme sur Prudence d'après le manuscrit 413 de Valenciennes (Paris, 1910). The glosses of the Commentaire anonyme strongly resemble those of group B (established below).

29 The glosses in the first four lines of CCCC 223 and those of Clm. 29031b are very similar to those of my group A; those of the first three folios of TCC O. 2. 51 resemble those of group B.

30 My short commentary may also be seen to complement Kitson, P., ‘Lapidary Traditions in Anglo-Saxon England’, ASE 7 (1978), 960 and 12 (1983), 73123.

31 See below for CUL Gg. 5.35)'s gloss on berillum; the second part of the gloss, beginning with aque colorem, is quite clearly meant to comment on crysolitus in Cleopatra C. viii.

32 In Cleopatra C. viii this gloss is mistakenly attached to the lemma crysolitus.

33 The Old English glosses are published in Napier, A. S., Old English Glosses Chiefly Unpublished, Anecdota Oxoniensia, Medieval and Modern Ser. ii (Oxford, 1900), 211–12 (Auct. F. 3. 6), 214 (CUL Gg. 5. 35), and 215–16 (Cleopatra C. viii); in Meritt, H. D., Old English Glosses (A Collection), The Modern Language Association of America, General Ser. 16 (New York and London, 1945), 27 (CCCC 23, Clm. 2903 Ib) and 27–9 (CCCC 223); and in Page, R. I., ‘More Old English Scratched Glosses’, Anglia 97 (1979), 2745, at 3243 (CCCC 223).

34 In CCCC 223 aurata of line 358 is mistakenly glossed geolowum; aurata is anominative and not an ablative. Quite possibly the geolowum in CCCC 223 actually belongs to croceo of line 359.

35 Since there are not enough data for Clm. 29031b I do not include this manuscript here.


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