Prudentius, Marcus Aurelius Clemens


b Caesarauguta, N Spain 348, d c413. Trained as a lawyer, he practised as a judge and made his main career in civil administration, culminating in being made chief of the emperor Honorius’ imperial bodyguard. At the age of 56 or 57 he became ashamed of his sins and worldly, self-centred lifestyle and entered a monastery, devoting himself specifically to meditation, prayer and writing. In addition to autobiography, from which we learn most of what we know of him, his verse consisted of Christian apologetics, straightforward doctrine (eg on the Incarnation) and/or the rebuttal of what he saw as creeping paganism within the church. Like some of his contemporaries but more eloquently than most, he saw the need to combat the propaganda of Julian ‘the Apostate’, emperor 361–363, who derided the Christian faith as being the product of uncultured ignorance. His Lat hymns, usually 100 lines or more, are in classical style, reflective and/or didactic in tone; many selections from them are included in liturgical service books (breviaries) of the western church. They include the Liber Kathemerinon for daily use and Liber Peristephanon dealing with Spanish and Italian martyrs. His Psychomachia (warfare of the soul) proved influential for many later medieval poets. Fresh English edns of his work appeared in 1898, 1905 and (hymns alone) 1922; 5 of his texts are translated in the 1950 A&M, of which 3 are in its current edn (2000), as also in the New English Hymnal (1986). No.371.