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Fifth-century CE Greek Christian verse paraphrase



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Lygouris, Konstantinos 


This thesis focuses on the literary phenomenon of Greek Biblical epic, that is, the rewriting of Christian prose narratives in the form of hexameter verse. It examines how such a transformation of form raised profound questions about the relationship between Christian and classical culture, through three research questions: What sort of cultural significance does the linguistic transmutation of prose texts into verse entail? How does such a transformation reimagine the relationship between aesthetics and theology? What is the projected engagement of such texts with their audience?

My central contention is that the transformation of Scriptural narratives in verse represents a profound cultural shift in late antique culture: Christianity expressed and negotiated its self-declared novelty and its place within the world of late antiquity, not simply by employing narratives of change, but through the transformation of its own textuality. After an introduction contextualising the production of verse paraphrases within its contemporary context and, specifically, the debates about the role of classical culture in a Christian ideology, this thesis focuses on three texts that were all written around the middle of the fifth century: the Metaphrasis of the Psalms, misattributed to Apollinaris of Laodicaea (ch 1); Aelia Eudocia’s Life of Cyprian (ch 2); and Nonnus of Panopolis’ Paraphrase of the Gospel of John (ch 3).

My analysis emphasises the powerful significance of formal transformations in late antiquity: verse does not merely become a vehicle for an idea but shapes and transforms Christian ideas too. My discussion of each text aims to demonstrate how verse paraphrases raised profound issues about the changing nature of Christian religion: how, in other words, the transformation of Christian narratives became central to the Christian narratives of transformation. Ultimately, the thesis suggests that recognising the centrality of verse paraphrases as cultural documents in fifth-century Christianity and the significance attached to form in and by these texts can profitably shed light on the wider late antique culture.





Goldhill, Simon


Christian literature, Imperial Greek Culture, Verse Paraphrase, Nonnus of Panopolis, Aelia Eudocia, Metaphrasis, Late Antique Intertextuality


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge; A. G. Leventis Foundation; Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation