Homer in Late Antiquity

Being fascinated with the evolution of Greek identity, Homeric reception, and the relationship between the two, I’ve been eager to learn more about Aelia Eudocia (401-460), poet, saint, empress.

Her story, as I have learned it, intrigues: Born into a pagan Greek family in Athens, she was named Athenais after her city’s patron goddess. Her father, a philosopher who taught at the Academy of Athens, taught her rhetoric and poetry, including Homer and Pindar, and predicted that she had a great destiny ahead of her. So confident was he that he left her very little in his will. After her brothers refused to share their inheritance with her, she went to Constantinople to seek redress from the emperor. Long story short, she became emperor Theodosius II’s wife, converted to Christianity, was eventually banished from court, and lived the last years of her life in Jerusalem.

I’m especially interested in her Homeric cento, in which she uses lines from Homer to retell the life of Christ. In light of her life story, it seems a meaningful and touching way to bring the two parts of her experience—pagan and Christian—into harmonious dialogue. Though this does not seem, historically, to have been a popular view. From Irenaeus and Jerome in the 2nd and 4th centuries (respectively) to Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the 19th, cento poetry has had prominent detractors. Consequently (and for other reasons), Eudocia’s poetry has not been widely studied, at least in English translation. Still, I look forward to reading what exists.

Today’s questions: What do you think of cento poetry, as a medium? Also, if you have read Eudocia or books about her, any reading recommendations for me?

6 thoughts on “Homer in Late Antiquity

  1. Sadly, I don’t know about cento poetry or Eudocia (besides what you’ve shared about her), but what a life the latter had! I hope she will become more known in the English-speaking world!

  2. I haven’t be introduced this type of poetry. You are right: it sounds intriguing. I will definitely be researching her.


Leave a Reply