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16 Vergil and Ovid at the Tomb of Agnes: Constantina, Epigraphy, and the Genesis of Christian Poetry

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Chapter Summary

Biography, archaeology and epigraphy conspire to promote the 340s, the decade of Constantina's inter-marital widowhood, as the years that saw both her patronage of Agnes's suburban funerary hall and her installation there of ambitious dedicatory epigram that, there are good reasons to believe, she herself composed for the occasion. Restoring Constantina to the list of notable early Latin Christian poets, therefore, is both a step towards rethinking the narratives of period's literary history and a way of honoring the novel roles played by metrical inscriptions in the invention of Christian Rome. One effect of Constantina's Vergilian allusion is to provoke sophisticated readers to view Agnes's resistance to male aggression and sexual violation in a religious context through lens of classically sanctioned Polyxena. Constantina's enlistment of Ovid is the neat deployment of a classical allusion to underwrite her boast in respect to her own accomplishments, poetic perhaps as well as euergetistic.

Keywords: Agnes; Constantina; Epigraphy; Latin Christian poets; Ovid; Vergil



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