Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Nicholas Richardson, Prudentius' Hymns for Hours and Seasons: 'Liber Cathemerinon'. Routledge Later Latin poetry. London; New York: Routledge, 2016. Pp. xvi, 181. ISBN 9780415716642. $54.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Aaron Pelttari, University of Edinburgh (aaron.pelttari@ed.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site


The lyrical hymns of Prudentius combine the language of Vergil and Horace with a Psalmist's laser-sharp focus on the praise of God. They are no less poetry for being a learned Christian's expression of pious devotion. Not surprisingly, they have attracted the attention of modern and post-modern readers inclined to view their own religious and cultural transformations through the lens of late antique Christianity.

Richardson offers a useful introduction, translation, and commentary that is aimed at undergraduate survey courses but may also appeal to non-academic readers with some Latin. The introduction covers the life of Prudentius, his works, the Liber Cathemerinon, context, language, metre, reception, and transmission. Richardson helpfully provides details on the singing of Prudentius's hymns in the Middle Ages and on versions in modern hymnals. The section on metre is especially useful for students with some Latin. In a note on the translation, Richardson explains that "out of respect for the variety and skill with which Prudentius uses his metrical schemata" he has been strict with metre and sometimes adapted the classical schemes. The notes take up half of the book, and they provide a very nice mix of summary, observation, and references. Richardson is tuned in to intertexts in earlier Roman poetry, in the Christian scriptures, and among contemporary texts from late antiquity. Because a variety of texts including Horace, Ambrose, Claudian, and the scriptures are all cited, the notes give a good idea of the range of Prudentius's language. The volume concludes with a four-page bibliography of the most relevant secondary literature, and there is a reasonable amount of reference to it throughout. Notes on the wording and construction of the Latin original are not uncommon. On a more specific note, Richardson somewhat downplays the anti-Jewish polemics of Cathemerinon 11.

The series Routledge later Latin poetry was launched by Joseph Pucci in 2012, and volumes of Juvencus (BMCR 2017.03.25), Rutilius Namatianus (BMCR 2017.01.11), and Ausonius have already been published; Ennodius is advertised as forthcoming (full disclosure: Pucci was a reader for my PhD). According to the publisher's blurb, the series "is devoted to publishing creative, accessible translations," and it "responds to the increasing interest in later Latin authors and especially the growth in courses devoted to late antiquity." All of us who teach later Latin poetry in translation are glad to have these books available. They make a real difference when you are planning a course syllabus.

The high price of the hardback version is offset somewhat by the less-expensive paperbacks, but most students will probably read Richardson's translation in an electronic edition. My university library offers access to the text via ProQuest, and electronic copies can currently be purchased individually for use with apps by Amazon and VitalSource. I did not notice any inaccuracies in the ProQuest version, and it does offer a search tool. But the paper copy responded more quickly, was better formatted, and was more pleasant to read.

This book is ideal for undergraduate courses that include the Liber Cathemerinon. Advanced students should be directed to Gerard O'Daly's Days Linked by Song: Prudentius' Cathemerinon (Oxford, 2012), which Richardson cites as an important resource (ix). Those who want a translation of the poet's entire corpus can still use Sister M. Clement Eagan's version: The Poems of Prudentius (Washington, DC, 1962–1965). And there is also H. J. Thomson's two-volume Loeb translation (Cambridge, MA, 1949–1953), with the Latin on facing pages. These previous translations do not make a new version with a different focus any less welcome.

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