How Claudian changed epic to praise Stilicho

Solly, Dominic S. (2023). How Claudian changed epic to praise Stilicho. PhD thesis The Open University.



Claudian, whose surviving works in Latin date from 394 to 404, wrote a variety of poems, including the first traditional epic for three hundred years, De Raptu Proserpinae. His most substantive works other than that are the ten political poems, known as the Carmina maiora, that describe current events; one other poem is relevant, the Epithalamium, composed to celebrate the wedding of Honorius and Maria, daughter of Stilicho, in early 398. The political poems fall into three types: panegyrics especially of Stilicho, the effective ruler under the child-emperor Honorius; vituperations of their opponents, Rufinus and Eutropius; and two short mini-epics. These poems are the subject of my thesis. It has been argued, notably by Cameron in 1970, that Claudian should be viewed primarily as a propagandist for Stilicho. More recently there has been a concentration on the poet’s role as heir of the epic tradition. Claudian is a politically engaged poet rather than a propagandist; his success in this role was rewarded by a statue awarded by the decree of the Senate and the two emperors; only the base has survived where the inscription declares him to be the equal of Homer and Virgil. As a poet writing within the epic tradition, he was remarkably innovative.

I begin with an examination of his epic heritage and then his new creation (chapters 2-3). The poet shows a detailed knowledge of the different types of epic, which he adapts to create a new type, panegyrical epic. Next, I move to analyse various elements of his poetics, in terms of structural changes such as his use of verse prefaces (chapter 4), and his use of similes (chapter 5), both those adapted from his predecessors and his own inventions. I then examine his creation of the goddess Roma (chapter 6), and his treatment of heroes and villains (chapter 7): Roma is his most enduring creation and it is clear that the goddess had a special meaning for the poet. His characters, both good and evil, lack the moral complexity of the creations of his epic predecessors. I conclude with a separate analysis, to allow an evaluation of Claudian as an historical source; here I suggest that neither Claudian nor his audience were especially interested in accuracy. Throughout the thesis I show that the effectiveness of his adaptations to epic is shown by his influence on his successors.

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