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 p295  Introduction
to Paulinus Pellaeus

The author of the Eucharisticus is in some sense an elusive personage; for while the one surviving MS. states that the work is by an unknown writer (incerti auctoris), the editio princeps attributes it to St. Paulinus of Nola. This ascription was almost certainly found in the MS. (now lost) used by the first editor; and though quite impossible1 as it stands, it has so far been taken seriously by modern scholars that the poem is ascribed, not to the Saint, but to some other person of the same name.

Paulinus, as we may therefore call him, makes certain allusions to his relatives which show at any rate to what family he belonged. In ll. 26 ff. he refers to his father as vicarius of Macedonia, and again (l. 35) as proconsul of Africa: further on (l. 48 f.) he mentions a visit to Bordeaux in the same year in which his grandfather was consul, and finally (l. 332) alludes to Bazas as the native place of his forefathers. The chronology of the author's life leaves no room for doubt that the grandfather was Decimus Magnus Ausonius, the poet-rhetorician, who was consul in 379 A.D. But here our certainty ends. Was Paulinus the son of Hesperius (as Brandes  p296 argues), or of a daughter of Ausonius by Thalassius,2 as Seeck and Peiper maintain? The complete arguments on either side are too minute and too complicated to be summarised here; nor, after all, is the question important. All that need be said is that the author's references to Gaulish estates inherited from his grandfather (res avitae, ll. 422, 570) and to others in Macedonia left by his mother (materni census, l. 414) strongly favour Brandes' view that Paulinus was a son of Hesperius by a Macedonian wife.

We may now turn to the life history of the author. He was born at Pella in Macedonia in 376 A.D. and carried to Carthage nine months later on his father's promotion to the Proconsulship of Africa (ll. 24‑33). After eighteen months in this province he was taken first to Rome and then to Bordeaux, which he reached in 379 A.D. (ll. 34‑49). Here his education began. After passing through the elementary stage, he was advanced to read Plato, Homer and Virgil; though, being used to converse in Greek and almost ignorant of Latin, he found the last-named a trying author (ll. 65‑80). It is worthy of notice that at this early period he had a boyish ambition to be set apart — apparently for the monastic life (ll. 92 ff.). Just as he was beginning to take an interest in study and to show some promise, he was struck down by an ague. Doctors recommended exercise and amusement, with the result that horses, hounds and hunting took the place of books (ll. 113 ff.).

The youth, now rapidly growing up, next developed a love of finery and general magnificence, succeeded  p297 by indulgence in other amusements which he followed with a stronger sense of caution than of morality (ll. 140‑175). Hereupon parents intervened with the remedy of a marriage of convenience. Paulinus gained a wife, for whom he shows scant affection, but found an outlet his energies in restoring to order the neglected estate which was her portion (ll. 176 ff.). The independent means thus acquired were laid out in forming a comfortable and luxurious establishment, and Paulinus bade fair to settle down to an indolent, if blameless, life (ll. 202 ff.).

But this period of ease came to an abrupt end. In 406 A.D. his father died almost at the same time that the barbarians first burst into the Roman Empire (ll. 226 ff.). The attempts of his brother to upset his father's will was the first and least of his troubles (ll. 248 ff.): Bordeaux was occupied by the Visigoths, who sacked the city ere they evacuated it in 414 A.D. Paulinus, absent at the time, had failed to take the precaution which might have saved his property; and consequently his house was given up to plunder (ll. 271 ff., 308 ff.). To make matters worse, the puppet-Emperor Priscus Attalus inflicted on him the empty but apparently burdensome title of Count of the Private Largesses. Driven from his home which was burned, Paulinus fled with his family to Bazas, only to be besieged in the town, where he narrowly escaped assassination (ll. 328 ff.). His attempts to extricate himself had the unexpected result of ending the siege by detaching the Alans from their Gothic allies (ll. 343 ff.).

His position, however, was now difficult. Hostile Goths and dishonest Romans had made away with  p298 all, or nearly all, of his inherited property. Naturally he thought of removing to Macedonia, where his mother's estates remained intact, but was thwarted in this by his wife's obstinate refusal to make the voyage (ll. 404 ff., 480 ff., 494).

Probably it was in desperation at his difficulties that Paulinus sought to abandon the world (and his family) by becoming a monk (ll. 455 ff.); but from this purpose he was deterred by the advice of certain "holy men." A course of penance was imposed upon him, and at Easter, 421 A.D., he felt fitted to receive the Communion (ll. 464‑478).

As years passed by, his position grew worse and worse; his mother-in‑law, mother, and wife (of whom he speaks with some bitterness) died one after another; his sons left him to make their way to Bordeaux, where they too died (ll. 492‑515). His means, too, were now so small that he retired to Marseilles and there endeavoured to make a livelihood by working a very small property which he owned there. But this effort also failed and he returned to Bordeaux to live, apparently, in dependence (ll. 520 ff.).

But at length his continuous ill-fortune was relieved. His estate at Marseilles, though somehow embarrassed, was purchased by an unknown Goth who paid, if not the fair price, yet a sum sufficient to make him independent once more (ll. 575 ff.). It is evident that Paulinus expects that the proceeds will suffice to support his remaining years; and we may therefore take it that the transaction was carried out not long before the Eucharisticus was written, and that it was the last incident of importance in this strange life.

 p299  The poem was composed when the author was in his eighty-third year (ll. 12‑14), i.e. in 459 A.D.: in the nature of things his death must have followed not long after that date.

The Eucharisticus as Literature

Paulinus openly avows that his purpose in writing the Eucharisticus is to show how his whole life had been ordered and directed by Providence, and thereby in some measure to return thanks for such guidance. He is careful to disclaim both literary merit and literary ambition. And indeed in any strictly literary sense the value of the poem must be regarded as slight.

It is probable that the nature of his subject — reflexions upon times long gone by — induced him to adopt a slow and deliberate style. Yet even if this is so, it cannot excuse the long and laboured periods in which he unfolds his experiences. In the tangle of absolute, temporal, and relative clauses, complicated by parentheses and conditions, the reader is often hard put to it to follow the trend of the author's thought; sometimes (as in ll. 149‑153) a main verb is altogether lacking. A certain almost wilful ponderousness of expression (as in ll. 458 f.: qui sibi servari consuetam indicere curam | posse viderentur"), and a habit of introducing sentence after sentence with a relative (ll. 81, 85, 92) only increase the monotonous effect. It is not that Paulinus scorns any form of literary refinement and embellishment. He imitates such authors as were known to him — Virgil among the ancients, and Ausonius, Paulinus of Nola, Juvencus,  p300 Sedulius among the moderns. Moreover, as became a grandson of Ausonius, he was by no means indifferent to rhetorical and verbal effects, indulging largely in such antitheses as: "effectum . . . profectum(l. 6), or "officeret . . . succedente . . . cedente . . . sufficeret" (ll. 137‑140). The note struck by one word is frequently repeated with some variation further on (as in ll. 4 f.: "placidus . . . placita," or in 432‑4 "complacuit . . . placatum"). Alliteration also was frequently though not regularly brought into play; thus in ll. 182 ff. we have "possessa placeret | ad praesens posset" followed by "dudum desidia domini"; in l. 209 "pretio quam pondere praestans"; in l. 149 "vegetus veloci currere vectus | equo." Sometimes, but more rarely, he indulges in such plays as "ponere finem | nescis et ignaris solis succurrere nosti" (l. 445).

Of the metrical and rhythmic aspects of the Eucharisticus no adequate account can here be given.3 Licences such as statŭs (l. 194, genitive) and compertă (l. 197, ablative) may be due to the changes which Latin had undergone and was undergoing; but it is evident that Paulinus used the hexameter as a purely conventional mould into which his words were to be forced. As a result, his verses move as regardless of rhythm as a slow train over an ill-laid line.

But though we must deny to Paulinus literary precision, technical ease and grace,4 his work presents certain aspects which must not be ignored.  p301 Consciously or unconsciously he chose a subject which has something of the unity and regular development of a Greek tragedy. The varying phases of the first half of the author's life unfold themselves in an atmosphere of almost insolent prosperity seeming to invite the catastrophe or "reversal of fortune" which forms the central point. Misfortune after misfortune follows until it seems likely that the "hero" will be overwhelmed; only towards the close is the picture brightened (as in the Samson Agonistes) by some measure of consolation. Here, moreover, as in Milton's drama, the pervading idea of continuous divine direction is an additional bond of unity. And lastly, if we seek for individual passages, most will admit that the conclusion at least (ll. 590 ff.) has a solemn and majestic dignity of its own. Paulinus lacks literary craftsmanship, but he has, what many literary craftsmen lack, sincerity and real experience of what he describes; his poem, though essentially religious, is quite pure of the mendacious assumption of emotions never experienced which poisons so many "religious poems."

Historical Value of the Poem

When all allowance has been made, we must still admit that it is as an historical document that the Eucharisticus deserves to be read. Even here it is not the few concrete facts recorded (the sack of Bordeaux, the siege of Bazas and the like) which are chiefly important. The phrase "barbarian invasion," "collapse of the Roman power," and such like mean little unless their implication is understood; and the Eucharisticus does indeed reveal in a single instance what these events implied for  p302 thousands of happy and prosperous homes. First the free, gay and luxurious life of the well-to‑do is depicted; then the storm breaks, and

apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto.

The surviving unfortunates struggle on for a time, catching at expedient after expedient, but always sinking deeper. If in the end certain of them found some ark of safety, they might well see in their preservation a token of divine mercy.

Nor is the poem unimportant for social and moral history. The author's account of his youth and early manhood well illustrates the life led by a young provincial squire — set upon having the best that money could buy in the way of horses, hounds, and the like; fond of hunting and a gallop across country, and withal, careful to be in the latest fashion. One passage at least (ll. 160 ff.) is a remarkable commentary on ancient slavery and the curious moral distinctions based upon it.

MSS. and Editions of the Poem

Only two MSS. of the Eucharisticus are known to have survived into modern times: (1) Aº MS. (P) used by the first editor. Of the earlier and later history of this, nothing is known. (2) A ninth-century MS. (B), now at Berne (No. 317), and showing corrections by three subsequent hands (distinguished as B2‑B4). Both MSS. were derived from a single archetype.

The following have published editions of the Eucharisticus: —

(1) Marguarinus de la Bigne, in Bibliotheca Sanctorum Patrum, Appendix (Vol. III), Paris, 1579 (Editio Princeps).

 p303  (2) Caspar Barth, Animadversiones, Frankfurt, 1624 (republished with considerable augmentations and an emended text (pp150 ff.) in Christian Daum's Paulinus Petricorius, Leipzig, 1681).

(3) Collectio Pisaurensis, Vol. VI (Pisauri, 1766).

(4) Ludovicus Leipziger, Paulini Carmen Eucharisticum, Wratislau, 1858.

(5) Wilhelm Brandes, in Poetae Christiani Minores, Pars I, Vienna, 1888. (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Vol. XXVI.)

The text of the present edition is that of Brandes with a few negligible changes in punctuation.

There appears to be no English translation of the poem, and none in a foreign language is known to me. In the present version, intended as it is to stand side by side with the original, I have judged it better for the most part not to attempt to break up the author's long sentences. However desirable that process may be, it is calculated to perplex the reader who desires help in following the original rather than an independent version.

The Author's Notes:

1 The history of the author is entirely different from the known history of Paulinus of Nola.

2 If so, "Paulinus" is really the grandson Ausonius of Epist. xxi‑xxii. (Above, pp68 ff.)

3 On this see the Prolegomena to Brandes' edition, § iii.

4 As Brandes observes, many of the blemishes in this work may be due to the interruption of the author's training ere he had attained an adequate knowledge of Latin.

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Page updated: 20 Feb 08