Francis Cairns Publications

ARCA Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs ISSN 0309-5541

Biblical Epic and Rhetorical Paraphrase in Late Antiquity

Michael Roberts

ARCA 16. ISBN 978-0-905205-24-3. x+253pp. 1985. 

The turning of biblical texts into Latin poetry - biblical paraphrase - was a significant literary activity in late antiquity (third to sixth centuries AD). The most important surviving examples of this form are Juvencus and Sedulius (of the Gospels), Arator (of Acts), "Cyprianus Gallus" (Genesis to Judges), Claudius Marius Victorius (Genesis) and Avitus (parts of Genesis and Exodus). Generally described as biblical epics because they are written in hexameters and imitate pagan epic (especially Virgil), they have also been widely recognized to have drawn for their technique of composition on the rhetorical school exercise of paraphrase.

Dr. Roberts analyzes in convincing detail how the epic genre interacted with the biblical text through the medium of paraphrase to produce a distinctively Christian literature. He begins by offering the first modern study of paraphrase; two chapters describe its theory and practice, taking into account the standard rhetorical handbooks and recently discovered papyrological evidence. From this perspective, he analyzes the types of alterations biblical epic writers made to the biblical text, thereby demonstrating the literary effects they were trying to achieve.




1. Introduction: Problem and Procedures

2. The Paraphrase in Rhetorical Theory. The Beginnings to the First Half of the Second Century A.D.
Progymnasmata and the paraphrase before Cicero: Cicero; Theon; Quintilian; Pliny the Younger; Other References
The Post-Hadrianic Period: Definition; Modes of the paraphrase

3. The Ancient Practice of the Paraphrase
Grammatical Paraphrase
Rhetorical Paraphrase: School exercises; Literary paraphrases

4. Christian Reception of the Paraphrase: The Biblical Epic
Biblical Epic as Verse Paraphrase
New Testament Poets
Old Testament Poets

5. The Manipulation of the Biblical Text
Abbreviation and Omission
Transposition and Conflation
Literal Paraphrase
Modal Variation and the Handling of Speech
Periphrasis, Synonymic Amplification and Interpretatio

6. The Bible Amplified: The Construction of the Narratio
The New Testament Poets
The Old Testament Poets: The treatment of the narratio; The search for poetic excellence

7. Conclusion

Select Bibliography; Select List of Text Editions Used; Indexes


L'Antiquité Classique 56 (1987) 401-2 (Luc Verheijen)

Latomus 47 (1988) 175-6 (Jean Meyers)

Journal of Theological Studies 39 (1988) 589-90 (Judith McClure)

Revue des Etudes Latines 63 (1985) 424-5 (Jean-Louis Charlet)

Gnomon 58 (1986) 740-42 (Michael Wissemann)

Romance Philology 44 (1991) 472-7 (D.R. Shanzer)

Patristics 18 (1990) 8-9 (Robert D. Snider): "Perhaps a little unexpectedly, in this study the epics emerge as a living part of the cultural context in which they were composed." "This is a generally excellent book and its excellence is enhanced by a style that is clear, precise and humane. Moreover, the book has an importance beyond the results of its own investigation."

Anzeiger für die Altertumswissenschaft 42 (1989) 254-7 (Franz Quadlbauer)

Speculum 64 (1988) 493-6 (Albert L. Rossi): "There is much to admire and profit from in Biblical Epic; it is an important contribution to the study of the literature of late antiquity. Roberts's combination of solid scholarship with critical acumen will make this book indispensable to classicists and medievalists alike."

Philologus 133 (1989), review article "Die Spätantike Gesellschaft und die Literatur" by Wolfgang Kirsch, 128-146, esp. pp.141-3