Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348 Saragossa - between 405 and 413 (?) is with St Ambrose the most important poet from early Christianity. Very little is known about him and what is known is taken from the praefatio of his Cathimeron. This is a collection of hymns for use at certain hours of the days or for some special days like 25 December or Three Kings. He is in his 57th year when he wrote the praefatio and is looking back at his life. In the praefatio he tells us of his life before he converted to Christianity (lines 1-27) and his decision to spend his remaining years with writing Christian poetry (28-45). In some respects it is reminiscent of the Confessiones by St Augustine: the old life is depicted in bleak terms. There is nothing to suggest that his life was different from other Roman juveniles and his career was very successful. The date of his conversion and the circumstances are unknown. Given the quality of his poetry he must have written poems before. I too am now in my 57th year and maybe I should also think about a new career. Fortunately I recently read that 60 is the new 40, so I have many years ahead of me before I have to take that decision!
I give the first 27 lines of the poem: a complete text and a translation are here:
Praefatio to the Cathimeron lines 1-27.
Meter: first two Glyconic, third Lesser Asclepiad
- - - u u - u u
- - - u u - / - u u – u –
- - - u u - / - u u - / - u u – u -
Per quinquennia iam decem,
ni fallor, fuimus ; septimus insuper
annum cardo rotat, dum fruimur sole volubili.
Instat terminus, et diem
vicinum senio iam Deus adplicat.
Quid nos utile tanti spatio temporis egimus ?
Aetas prima crepantibus
flevit sub ferulis. mox docuit toga
infectum vitiis falsa loqui, non sine crimine.
Tum lasciva protervitas
et luxus petulans (heu pudet ac piget !)
foedavit iuvenem nequitiae sordibus ac luto.
Exin iurgia turbidos
armarunt animos, et male pertinax
vincendi studium subiacuit casibus asperis.
Bis legum moderamine
frenos nobilium reximus urbium,
ius civile bonis reddidimus, terruimus reos.
Tandem militiae gradu
evectum pietas principis extulit,
adsumptum propius stare iubens ordine proximo.
Haec dum vita volans agit,
inrepsit subito canities seni,
oblitum veteris me Saliae consulis arguens,
Sub quo prima dies mihi
quam multas hiemes volverit, et rosas
pratis post glaciem reddiderit, nix capitis probat.
quinquennium: period of five years
cardo cardinis (f.): hinge (i.e. the year turns around a pole)
instat terminus: the end is near
vicinum senio: as a neighbour to old age
crepantibus sub ferulis: under cracking/ sounding rods
toga: the toga virilis, taken at the age of 16
(me) infectum: me corrupted with (inficio)
protervitas –atis (f.): boldness
foedo: to deform
nequitiae sordibus ac luto: by the dirt and mud of wickedness
iurgia: legal disputes (Prudentius was a lawyer)
subiaceo (+ dat.): to lie near, couple (a legal term, meaning losing a case)
legum moderamine frenos reximus: I held the reigns in the office of laws (probably as prefect)
nobelium urbium: it is not known what cities)
reus: both `accused’ and `guilty’
militiae gradu: at that period not necessarily a military rank. It could also be a high civil rank
(me) evectum: promoted me
pietas principis: the favour of the Emperor
adsumptum…proximo: having accepted that rank ordering me to stand very near in the nearest rank (i.e. very close to the Emperor)
inrepo inrepsi inreptum: to creep
canietes –es (f.) greyness
oblitum veteris me Saliae consulis arguens = arguens me oblitum veteris Saliae consulis
proving me to have forgotten (obliviscor + gen.) the old consulship of Saliae (in 348, the year of his birth, so Prudentius is forgetting his childhood)
sub quo: under Salia
prima dies: birth day
nix capitis: the snow of my head `my white head’