For the ninth-century writer and bishop, see Prudentius of Troyes.

Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a Roman Christian poet, born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis (now Northern Spain) in 348.[1] He probably died in the Iberian Peninsula some time after 405, possibly around 413. The place of his birth is uncertain, but it may have been Caesaraugusta (Saragossa), Tarraco (Tarragona), or Calagurris (Calahorra).


Prudentius practised law with some success, and was twice provincial governor, perhaps in his native country, before the emperor Theodosius I summoned him to court. Towards the end of his life (possibly around 392) Prudentius retired from public life to become an ascetic, fasting until evening and abstaining entirely from animal food; and writing poems, hymns, and controversial works in defence of Catholicism.[2] Prudentius later collected the Christian poems written during this period and added a preface, which he himself dated 405.


The poetry of Prudentius is influenced by early Christian authors, such as Tertullian and St. Ambrose, as well as the Bible and the acts of the martyrs. His hymn Da, puer, plectrum (including "Corde natus ex parentis": "Of the Father's Love Begotten") and the hymn for Epiphany O sola magnarum urbium ("Earth Has Many a Noble City"), both from the Cathemerinon, are still in use today.[3]

The allegorical Psychomachia, however, is his most influential work, incorporating as it did elements of both Hellenic epic and inner psychological conflict.[4] It became the inspiration and wellspring of medieval allegorical literature, its influence (according to C. S. Lewis) exceeding its intrinsic artistic merit.[5] In the battle between virtue and vice, full weight is given to the power of Luxuria, “Flowershod and swaying from the wine cup, Every step a fragrance”.[6] With her attendants Beauty and Pleasure, and her weapons of rose-petals and violets, she succeeds in swaying the army of Virtue “in surrender to love”,[7] before succumbing to ultimate defeat.


With his merger of Christianity with classical culture,[8] Prudentius was one of the most popular medieval authors,[9] being aligned as late as the 13th century alongside such figures as Horace and Statius in Henri d'Andeli's Battle of the Seven Arts between Grammar (poetry) and Logic.[10]


The works of Prudentius include:


See also


  1. H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Classical Literature (1967) p. 508
  2. H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Classical Literature (1967) p. 508-9
  3. H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Classical Literature (1967) p. 508
  4. Gilbert Highet, Juvenal the Satirist (1960) p. 184
  5. C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (2013) p. 83
  6. Helen Waddell, The Wandering Scholars (1968) p. 48
  7. Quoted in B. Machosky, Structures of Appearing (2012) p. 85
  8. J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, The Barbarian West (1964) p. 12
  9. J. Broussard, The Civilisation of Charlemagne (1968) p. 58
  10. Helen Waddell, The Wandering Scholars (1968) p. 141-2

Further reading

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