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The visual and intertextual effects of Ausonius’ versified riverscape, the Mosella, make it a prize specimen for modern study of late antique Latin poetics and aesthetics. What kind of performance – and then what kind of a book – would this poem originally have been, in the empire of Valentinian and his sons, in the 370s and ’80s? The chapter measures the oddity of the Mosella, and of the poet’s oeuvre, against the background of prior fourth-century Latin opuscular poetizing, to argue that Ausonius’ “poetical fame” (Gibbon) was at once enabled by his profile as an imperial officeholder and an effect of his deliberately stepping aside from it. A following generation of Latin writers, many of whom would style Christian literary careers for themselves, may be seen reprising – if not emulating – the trick that Ausonius performed in improvising a personal poetic subjectivity at the edge of the cognitive ecology of Roman empire.
This chapter looks at the ‘slippery figure’ of Boethius, whose religious and literary affiliations resist easy categorization, as a touchstone of discipline formation. It shows the ways in which Boethius repeatedly transgresses the generic boundaries imposed upon him by twentieth-century grand narratives of Latinity, focusing particularly on the narratives of E. R. Curtius, C. S. Lewis, and Northrop Frye. Boethius refuses to be corralled or co-opted in the service of either philology or theology: the effort required to construct and maintain a tradition can never fully conceal its own excesses or gaps. Finally, it looks at the way in which the myth of the western classic is dependent above all not on the text but on the codex, the material spine-hinged book.
This chapter presents reading scenes in the “Confessions” as models for an individual’s reading as a social or intersubjective act, and places Augustine’s work in the cognitive ecology of the late Roman Empire.
From Gibbon to Jones and beyond, late Roman historiography observes a period at the year 378. The pause signals not just the disaster of Hadrianople, reckoned as the “beginning of evil” (Rufinus) or the “beginning of the end” (Seeck) for Rome's empire, but also the termination of Ammianus's Res gestae. For Jones, following closely in Gibbon's footsteps, the quality of Ammianus's information merely postponed the moment when the modern historian found himself obliged to rely on “the very inferior narrative of Zosimus, eked out by the three Greek ecclesiastical historians, Socrates, Sozomen and Socrates” and “supplemented by some Latin historians, who lived nearer to the events which they describe, but are wretchedly meagre in content.” Aside from the ecclesiastical histories of Rufinus, Sulpicius Severus, and Orosius, the only Latin historical source worth mentioning at this juncture was “the last two chapters of the Epitome de Caesaribus,” amounting to a few pages on the reigns of Gratian and Theodosius. And yet all was not lost. Disappointing as his strictly historiographical sources for the Theodosian era might be, the modern historian had other stores to fall back on. “The codes,” wrote Jones, “are rich in laws for the whole period” and “the contemporary literature is also abundant.”
In the four decades since Jones's Later Roman Empire appeared, the “law” and “literature” of the Theodosian era have been laid ever more heavily under contribution by late Roman historians. No single scholar's work is more emblematic of that development than John Matthews's.