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Fabius Planciades
Fulgentius




Introduction

This site is devoted to the late antique Latin mythographer and allegorist Fulgentius (fl. c. AD 500?). Below you will find some introductory information, as well as links to an online bibliography and brief excerpts from Fulgentius' works.

Background

Fulgentius' dating remains very uncertain. Since he shows familiarity with the works of Orosius, he cannot be writing before the early fifth century AD, while the earliest secure reference to his corpus occurs in the Carolingian theological treatise known as the Libri Carolini. The works themselves reveal that he comes from North Africa (he makes reference in one work to the Libyan alphabet as "noster"; another work is dedicated to an otherwise unknown "Catus presbyter Carthaginis"). Apparent references to the recent accession of a barbarian monarch have suggested that he is writing under one of the later Vandal kings, perhaps around AD 500, and his works certainly fit comfortably into a literary climate that included Dracontius and the poets of the Latin Anthology.

One of the most controversial issues in Fulgentian studies has centered on his possible identity with the Bishop and Anti-Arian controversialist Fulgentius of Ruspe (AD 467-532). This identification first appears in the middle ages, and has been accepted by many (but by no means all) modern authorities.

Works

The Mitologiae, in three books, opens with an elaborate prosimetric preface in which Fulgentius is visited by the Muse Calliope and several of her associates, who are persuaded to assist him in his contemplated project.

In the body of the work, Fulgentius presents a set of allegorical interpretations of myth, beginning with the Olympian gods in Book I and continuing to a variety of other myths in the second and third books (including the story of Cupid and Psyche). The work is notable for its use of etymology in the service of allegorical interpretation, and also for its interest in iconography (this latter quality appealing especially to later scholars and artists). While the author is manifestly a Christian, there is nothing inherently Christian about most of the interpretations presented, and indeed many can be traced back to pagan sources.

The Expositio Virgilianae Continentiae is a shorter companion piece in which the shade of the Roman poet Vergil appears to Fulgentius and explains to him the hidden allegorical meaning of his epic poem, the Aeneid. The work was an important influence on the 12th century allegorical commentary sometimes ascribed to Bernardus Silvestris, and directly or indirectly on Dante.

The Expositio Sermonum Antiquorum is a relatively brief work in which Fulgentius defines a number of more or less obscure words, and offers illustrative quotations from various authors, ranging from Demosthenes to Martianus Capella. Some of these quotations are unexceptionable; others, such as the notorious allusion to "Cornelius Tacitus in libro facetiarum" have aroused suspicion that Fulgentius may have invented many of the more recondite authors and works cited in the treatise.

The De Aetatibus Mundi et Hominis, which has a separate manuscript tradition from the other three works, is a potted history of the world in fourteen books, running from the creation up to 363 AD. Books I-IX cover Biblical history; Book X the career of Alexander, Book XI the history of Republican Rome, Books XII-XIII the life of Christ and the careers of the apostles, and Book XIV the Roman emperors through the death of Julian the Apostate and the accession of Valentinian I.

The treatise breaks off abruptly, and is generally thought to be unfinished or incompletely preserved. This hypothesis is based partly on a remarkable technical feature; the work is a 'lipogram,' a literary form involving the deliberate avoidance of certain letters of the alphabet. More specifically, each (brief) book of the work omits the corresponding letter of the alphabet. Thus in Book I (omitting A), Fulgentius is unable to name his principal subjects, [Adam] and [Eva]. Fulgentius indicates in the preface that the work was planned to cover 23 books, corresponding to the 23 letters of the Latin alphabet.

Simultaneously with this formal constraint, Fulgentius attempts to realize a thematic conceit: the successive ages of the world are to be compared to the successive stages of an individual human life (hence the work's title, "On the Ages of the World and of Man"). This plan is carried through in the earlier books, but tacitly dropped partway through the extant treatise.

A brief treatise Super Thebaiden, attributed to "St. Fulgentius Episcopus" and offering an allegorical interpretation of Statius' Thebaid is now generally thought to be medieval.

Style.

All of Fulgentius' works are marked by a highly elaborate Latin prose style, characterized by arcane vocabulary, hyperbaton and an attention to prose rhythm (click here for a sample). These traits, which can be traced back to the prose of Apuleius, are shared with a number of other roughly contemporary Latin authors, including Sidonius Apollinaris, Ennodius, and Cassiodorus.

Later Influence

The Mitologiae, Expositio Virgilianae Continentiae, and Expositio Sermonum Antiquorum enjoyed a considerable success in the middle ages and early Renaissance particularly within the commentary tradition that extends from John the Scot and Remigius of Auxerre in the ninth century to the allegorical commentators of the twelfth. The Mitologiae in particular served as a basic compendium of mythology, influential both in its own right and through its absorption into the work of the so-called Third Vatican Mythographer, now generally identified as a certain Master Alberic of London.

See further ...

For online texts of the Mitologiae click here, here, or here.

For an online text of (part of) the De Aetatibus click here.

Click here for an annotated bibliography of scholarship on Fulgentius.

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