16
PAGAN SCHOLARSHIP
Vergil and His Commentators

1

Arnaldo Momigliano once remarked that it was not so much pagan historians that disturbed Augustine, “who knew where to look for the real enemy,” as “the idealization of the Roman past which he found in fourth-century Latin antiquarians, poets and commentators of poets.” This, he argued, is why Augustine “went back to the sources of their antiquarianism, and primarily to Varro, in order to undermine the foundations of their work.”1 It is time to follow up, and qualify, this important insight.

Enough has already been said about the popularity of classicizing poetry at the Christian courts of Milan and Ravenna.2 It is easy to see why people like Augustine were distressed to see Christians applauding poems on Christian emperors decked out with pagan gods and goddesses, elaborately described in all their traditional dress and paraphernalia. Among the antiquarians the prime exhibits are the Saturnalia of Macrobius, largely devoted to Vergil, and the massive Vergil commentary of the grammarian Servius, partly because both have been generally assumed committed pagans, but also because of the often stated but never justified modern doctrine of Vergil as a “pagan bible,” a book “venerated, copied and expounded as a sacred text” (p. 608). A more modest illustration is the so-called Origo Gentis Romanae1 the first part in a tripartite corpus of texts covering all Roman history down to Constantius II.3 The Origo goes from Janus and Saturnus to Romulus and Remus, with the first third largely devoted to reconciling Vergil with other traditions. At 1. 6 indeed the anonymous pagan author claims to have “begun to write” a commentary on Vergil. As Christopher Smith has recently remarked, “the Origo is very close throughout to the Virgilian commentators,” and though they often disagree “they are recognizably inhabiting the same mental world.”4

That late fourth- and fifth-centurywestern culture was dominated by Vergil needs no demonstration. The writings, prose as well as verse, of all educated people,

1. Momigliano 1963, 98–99.

2. And at the eastern court in Constantinople, where the tradition lasted much longer.

3. The basic study remains Momigliano 1958, 56–73=Secondo Contributo (Rome 1960), 145–76.

4. C. J. Smith 2005, 97–136, at 101.

-567-

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The Last Pagans of Rome
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xi
  • Introduction 3
  • 1- Pagans and Polytheists 14
  • 2- From Constantius to Theodosius 33
  • 3- The Frigidus 93
  • 4- Priests and Initiates 132
  • 5- Pagan Converts 173
  • 6- Pagan Writers 206
  • 7- Macrobius and the "Pagan" Culture of His Age 231
  • 8- The Poem against the Pagans 273
  • 9- Other Christian Verse Invectives 320
  • 10- The Real Circle of Symmachus 353
  • 11- He "Pagan" Literary Revival 399
  • 12- Correctors and Critics I 421
  • 13- Correctors and Critics II 457
  • 14- The Livian Revival 498
  • 15- Greek Texts and Latin Translation 527
  • 16- Pagan Scholarship Vergil and His Commentators 567
  • 17- The Annales of Nicomachus Flavianus 1 627
  • 18- The Annales of Nicomachus Flavianus II 659
  • 19- Classical Revivals and "Pagan" Art 691
  • 20- The Historia Augusta 743
  • Conclusion 783
  • Appendix- The Poem against the Pagans 802
  • Selected Bibliography 809
  • Index 855
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