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1 The Social Role and Place of Literature in the Fourth Century ad

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Chapter Summary

This chapter focuses on one specific issue, namely the social role of literature and explores how literature functioned within fourth-century society. First, the question of the social function of literature cuts across some of the traditional oppositions with which scholarship has tended to approach late antique literature. Without wishing to claim that it does justice to every piece of scholarship, the chapter suggests that three main narratives influence studies of literature in Late Antiquity. The first is the narrative of Christianization and resistance to it. The second narrative focuses on the continuity and transformation of classical literary traditions. Thirdly, scholarship on late antique literature has a marked preference for what are, in modern eyes, the most obvious literary texts, namely poetry. The major poets, such as Claudian, Prudentius, Ausonius, and Rutilius Namatianus have received detailed literary studies, whereas texts in prose are often left to historians.

Keywords: antique literature; Christianization; fourth-century society



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