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20.08.02 Pelttari, The Psychomachia of Prudentius (Pucci)

20.08.02 Pelttari, The Psychomachia of Prudentius (Pucci)

Pelttari's aims are to make the Psychomachia accessible to students, while communicating a kind of learning useful to more advanced readers and researchers, goals difficult of balance that are nevertheless well achieved. The normal preliminaries comprise the Introduction (3-37), including a treatment of the poet's large output, and what can be cogently said or surmised about Prudentius' life, rightly controlled by the details of the poet's so-called Praefatio, but finessed to create a global view that is both detailed and current. While they might have been placed with more profit before the localizing jump to the poet's life and writings, a brief three pages cast a more totalizing view of late ancient literary activity in the West. This sort of activity, and the cultural changes it implies, are, Pelttari notes, "hardest to measure." Yet, in observing that, "if you stop to think about it, the point of poetry is not entirely clear," Pelttari manages to open a large space for his readers by insisting that in late antiquity people did in fact "stop to think about" poetry. Readers are rightly seduced by this simple observation, and learn much from the examples Pelttari cites in support of it.

Following a brief description of the metrical differences between preface and poem, and a schematic breakdown of its parts, Pelttari next looks over the Psychomachia against the backdrop of Paul's articulation at 1 Cor. 13:13 of the key virtues of faith, hope and love. This is sensible, since Fides is the first to do battle and Spes appears at the poem's midpoint, while the praise of Pax at the poem's conclusion can be linked to love. In thinking about the sources of Prudentius' diction, Pelttari emphasizes the foundational influence of scripture and of Virgil's Aeneid, whose verbal energy allows for differing stylistic registers. Pelttari also notes the ways in which Prudentius brings into contact the themes of inner conflict, the soulful struggle between good and evil, and its cosmic counterpart, the antagonism between mutually opposed universals. This allows him to ponder more carefully the allegorical power of the Psychomachia in a discussion that takes in the pagan and Christian traditions of allegoresis that influenced Prudentius' artistic practices.

In thinking about the poem's composition and publication, Pelttari marshals much food for thought: while we don't know when the poem was written or how it was published, there is some evidence to argue for a date as late as 408 or 409, especially since the Praefatio, securely datable to 404, doesn't seem to mention the Psychomachia in a description of the poet's other compositions found there. There is some evidence, too, provided by the poet himself, that indicates Prudentius may have written the poem with illustrations in mind, and many of the extant manuscript illustrations point to Christian iconographic traditions datable to the fifth century. The manuscript tradition also gives weight to the idea that the Psychomachia once formed part of a trilogy that included the Apotheosis and the Hamartigenia. A brief section on reception, finally, says what such space allows: the topic is enormous because there has never been a time when thePsychomachia was not widely read, and its influence extends far beyond the authors of late antiquity and the Middle Ages who wrote in Latin.

For the Latin text (41-74), Pelttari follows Cunningham in citing five manuscripts, the two oldest, A (the so-called Puteanus = Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Latinus 8084); and B (the so-called Ambrosianus = Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana D 36 Sup.); and three others, T (Bibliothèque nationale, Latinus 8087); E(Universiteit Leiden, Burmannus Q 3); and S (Stiftsbibliothek, St. Gallen, Sangallensis 136), these three used by Cunningham to represent larger families of manuscripts, and going to what Pelttari rightly calls Cunningham's eclectic approach. Pelttari also turns selectively to C (University of Cambridge, Corpus Christi 22), which represents the traditions of A and E; J (Bibliothèque municipale de Montpellier, H220), which belongs to the same family as T; and Y (Neapolitanus IV G 68), from the same family as S. These are used to cite scribal conjectures, or to verify that a particular reading belongs to one of the groups of manuscritps represented by T or S. A few other manuscripts are cited for their glosses or commentaries. In order to allow readers fuller access to a luxury copy of Prudentius' verses that dates from about a century after his death, Pelttari offers a complete collation of A. Otherwise, his apparatus criticus is, as he notes, negative in that it cites mainly departures from the printed text.

As befits his intended audiences, Pelttari's comments (75-224) run the gamut. Some are basic, e.g., on v. 887, "fetus: accusative plural" (216), but can also go to the ways in which grammatical choices augment theme, e.g., on pr. 1, "Senex fidelis prima credenda via:...The gerund (credendi) presents belief as an activity or way of being, whereas a finite verb might have treated it as a single action..." (77). Other comments are historical, e.g., on pr. 21, "barbarorum," which reports the ways in which Prudentius' references to barbarians have been thought to point to the unrest owed to Alaric's incursions ca. 408 into Rome (82). Some comments attend to meter, e.g., the choice to compose the preface in iambic trimeters (77), while others are more revealing of Pelttari's sense of Prudentius' verbal artistry, e.g., the observations on vv. 18-20, which point up the poet's allegorical skills, but also offer a rich discussion of the ways in which Prudentius may well have had in mind an illustrated copy of the poem (96). In this vein, Pelttari includes seven illustrations drawn from various manuscripts of thePsychomachia, which give readers a sense of the style and details of such drawings, and, in several instances, also allow them to see a folium of the Psychomachia. A glimpse of the ancient and beautiful Ambrosianus (B), for example, takes readers back to but a century after Prudentius lived (100). A helpful feature of the commentary is the divisions of the poem that organize it, which orient readers across the sweep of the Psychomachia's nine-hundred-some verses, but also give a sense of topic and theme, since they are keyed to the figures doing battle throughout.

The commentary can be more local when it deals with textual matters. The comment on v. 309, which Gnilka thought an interpolation, allows Pelttari to correct the record and perhaps work against Gnilka's nervous tendency to see interpolation lurking in every corner: "the only problem with this line is that it is somewhat anticlimactic" (142; the presumed interpolation at vv. 726-28is likewise judiciously handled (189-190)). Other comments place Prudentius in dialogue with his near-contemporary poets. At v. 404, "pando viam," Pelttari notes a possible echo of Ausonius, Eph. 3.30/37, and though he downplays the affiliation he otherwise notices, I think it's more than fair to say, as Pelttari does, that Prudentius' phrasing may go to the poet's sense that Ausonius did not possess a sufficient amount of spiritual sobriety (154). Spiritual waywardness is a hallmark of Ausonius' large output, and the Eph. can surely stand as an emblem of this tendency, given that Ausonius would seem to send up the ancient pedagogical tradition in this collection, and to pay only lip service to Christianity as he does so. Other comments attend to the ways in which Prudentius would seem to allude to earlier poets, both pagan and Christian. There seems to be a lot of Claudian, and a lot of Paulinus of Nola, in Prudentius' verbal arsenal. Perhaps the pagan poets stand out. The comment on v. 553, "Fit virtus specie," for example, points up the poet's reliance on Juvenal 14.109-14 in powerful ways (169).

Pelttari also offers insights on particular readings and their variants. At v. 492, for example, is it peculator or speculator? After working through the evidence, Pelttari chooses peculator (rightly, it seems to me), and offers four reasons for doing so (163). A similar attention to detail is offered at v. 787, "puro," a reading that is difficult, Pelttari admits, but preferable "because the adjective is appropriate in the context of a just offering and because the phrase is original" (197). The variant liquido, however, is given a full vetting, even though it is jettisoned in the end (198). It is good to see Georgia Nugent's Allegory and Poetics so amply cited by Pelttari as an interpretive and literary source energizing his commentary. The scholarly shift toward late ancient literary studies that Nugent's book helped to initiate is fully met in Pelttari's careful vetting of its views throughout.

The book is rounded out with appendices that attend to meter (225-229) and literary terms (231-234), which appear in the commentary in capital letters to indicate that they are defined in these pages. The bibliography (235-248) gathers the works Pelttari uses, but his touch is comprehensive, so it also stands as a current bibliography for work on the Psychomachia. A real contribution to Prudentian studies is the glossary (249-327), a comprehensive gathering of Prudentius' diction, which, as Pelttari notes, gestures, for the Psychomachia, to Bergman's unfinished Lexicon Prudentianum. I regret the lack of indices to assist readers in negotiating content in a book of over three hundred pages. The book is beautifully produced: I commend the University of Oklahoma Press for its commitment to publishing scholarly works of this kind in its Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture. Few presses can match the standards on display here.

Commentaries remain a desideratum of late ancient literary studies. In his Preface, Pelttari modestly anticipates that the Cambridge Green and Yellow commentary on thePsychomachia, now in progress, will fill a gap (xiii). With considerable acumen and learning, Pelttari's commentary goes a long way toward filling this gap already. The Cambridge commentary will have to take account of Pelttari's views, which collectively, and in manifold ways, create new literary, textual, and interpretive spaces for readers of the Psychomachia to inhabit.