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date: 02 December 2022

epic, biblicalfree

epic, biblicalfree

  • Martin J. Brooke


  • Christianity
  • Jewish Studies

A late antique genre in which material from the Bible is versified in hexameters. Six major texts survive, the earliest being (1) the Evangeliorum libri IV of Iuvencus. (2) The Heptateuchos of ‘Cyprianus Gallus’ versifies the first seven books of the Old Testament, and may originally have extended further. (3) The Carmen Paschale of Caelius Sedulius consists of four books which synthesize the Gospel narratives, preceded by a résumé of Old Testament miracles. A prose version of the same material was written to accompany the poem. Provenance is uncertain, but the works are usually dated to ce 425–50. (4) The Alethia of Claudius Marius Victorius, a teacher of Marseilles, is a three-book paraphrase of the earliest portion of Genesis, written c.430. (5) Alcimus Avitus, born of a noble family c.450 and appointed bishop of Vienne c.490, wrote a five-book epic De spiritalis historiae gestis, treating Genesis 1–3, the Flood, and the Crossing of the Red Sea. (6) The De actibus Apostolorum of the Italian subdeacon Arator treats the material of Acts in two books, devoted respectively to Sts Peter and Paul. It received public readings in Rome in 544.

It is sometimes argued that these texts were produced in order to make Christian material stylistically acceptable to educated pagans, and hence to aid conversion, but this is never explicit in the poems themselves, and hard to believe for the later works. Moreover, it is difficult to draw the generic boundaries between these poems and other contemporary texts which involve much biblical narrative while clearly having a theological orientation—Dracontius' Laudes Dei and Prudentius' Apotheosis and Hamartigenia.


  • Arator: A. P. Mckinley, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 72 (1951).
  • Avitus: R. Peiper, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 6/2 (1883).
  • Victorius: P. Hovingh, Corpus Christianorum, series Latina 128 (1960).
  • “Cyprianus Gallus”: R. Peiper, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 23 (1891).
  • Sedulius: J. Huemer, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 10 (1885).
  • R. Herzog, Bibelepik 1 (1975).
  • J. Fontaine, Naissance de la poésie dans l'occident chrétien (1981).
  • M. Roberts, Biblical Epic and Rhetorical Paraphrase in Late Antiquity (1985).