Classics Prudentius
Gerard O'Daly
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 October 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0020


The poetry of Prudentius, published in the first decade of the 5th century CE, seems to have become widely known only later in the 5th century. From then on, its influence was considerable. Its range includes lyric poems, martyr narratives, and theological, polemical, and apologetic works. These are marked by a fusion of classical Latin forms and imagery with Christian motifs that, while building on the hymnology of Ambrose and other antecedents, make up a body of original writing of great sophistication, often employing typology, symbolism, and allegory. The poems are a substantial and well-transmitted collection, whose reception is both literary and iconographical from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages and early Renaissance period.

General Overviews

A concise and illuminating presentation of Prudentius’s writings is given in Fontaine 1981. In English, there is no book-length introduction, but the older accounts of Raby 1953 and Edden 1974 are accessible, and Albrecht 1997 is wide-ranging and reliable. Rivero García 1996, in Spanish, provides the one modern book-length survey. Gosserez 2001 examines the poetry from the viewpoint of a single major motif. Malamud 1990 analyzes hermeneutical strategies in several poems. Kah 1990 is a dissenting voice, arguing that Prudentius’s Christianity is a façade.

  • Albrecht, M. von. 1997. Prudentius. In A history of Roman literature: From Livius Andronicus to Boethius with special regard to its influence on world literature. Vol. 2. By M. von Albrecht. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    A compact, informative survey in English on pp. 1357–1370 of every aspect of Prudentius’s poetry, including its reception, and with a helpful bibliography.

  • Edden, V. 1974. Prudentius. In Latin literature of the fourth century. Edited by J. W. Binns, 160–182. London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

    A readable general introduction in English, with all Latin quotations translated.

  • Fontaine, J. 1981. Naissance de la poésie dans l’occident chrétien: Esquisse d’une histoire de la poésie latine du IIIe au VIe siècle. Paris: Études Augustiniennes.

    This French history of later Latin poetry includes the best short introductory survey of Prudentius’s poems in the literary context of the later 4th and early 5th centuries. On Prudentius, see pp. 143–160, 177–209.

  • Gosserez, L. 2001. Poésie de lumière: Une lecture de Prudence. Louvain, Belgium: Peeters.

    A subtle general study in French of the motif and symbolic significance of light in the poems.

  • Kah, M. 1990. “Die Welt der Römer mit der Seele suchend . . .”: Die Religiosität des Prudentius im Spannungsfeld zwischen “pietas christiana” und “pietas Romana.” Bonn, Germany: Borengässer.

    Argues, against the critical mainstream, that Prudentius was a reluctant and unpersuaded Christian whose writings betray an unresolved tension between his ostensible beliefs and his roots in the pagan literary tradition. The book is marred by unconvincing interpretations of many passages in the poems.

  • Malamud, M. A. 1990. Making a virtue of perversity: The poetry of Prudentius. In The imperial muse: Ramus essays on Roman literature of the Empire. Edited by A. J. Boyle, 64–88. Bendigo, Australia: Aureal.

    Accessible discussion of aspects of several poems, focusing on signals within them on how they should be read, and on their Christian recasting of views on sexuality and virginity, where destabilizing ambivalence, textual and otherwise, is prevalent.

  • Raby, F. J. E. 1953. A history of Christian-Latin poetry from the beginnings to the close of the Middle Ages. 2d ed. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Outdated in its literary evaluation of the poems, but still a vivid survey, one of the few in English. On Prudentius, see pp. 44–71.

  • Rivero García, L. 1996. La poesía de Prudencio. Huelva, Spain: Universidad de Huelva.

    A well-informed and wide-ranging book-length Spanish survey of the poetry, with generous bibliography.

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