Verse Hagiography Between Epic and Panegyric
: Venantius Fortunatus’s Life of St Martin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


My thesis reappraises Venantius Fortunatus’s Life of St. Martin of Tours (Vita S. Martini) as an epic poem which displays close links with late Latin panegyrics in prose and verse: themes and imagery of secular praise literature are redeployed and spiritualized in order to portray Martin as a powerful patron saint for a sixth-century Merovingian audience.

The introductory chapter places Fortunatus’s epic poem in the context of late Latin literature about Martin between the late fourth and late sixth centuries (Sulpicius Severus, Paulinus of Périgueux, Gregory of Tours) and explains the intertextual approach underlying my research.

Chapter Two offers a close reading of the proem as a programmatic section of Fortunatus’s epic. It discusses Fortunatus’s idea of poetic inspiration, analyzes the catalogue of exclusively Christian poets presented by Fortunatus as his literary forebears, and draws on parallels in earlier panegyrical literature to evaluate the conception of the poem as a votive offering.

Chapter Three discusses how Fortunatus’s intertextual relationship with Sulpicius Severus and Paulinus of Périgueux is enriched by other intertexts such as Vergil and Claudian. The analysis of two miracle narratives shows that emblems of kingship (a globe of fire and a bejeweled mantle) are turned into signs of consecration. Martin’s confrontation with Satan under the guise of a triumphant Christ clad in imperial regalia asserts the value of humility and self-sacrifice as a means to obtain a higher richness in heaven.

Chapter Four explains the portrayal of heaven as a court or Senate by analyzing the conclusive sections of books 2, 3, and 4 in light of earlier secular panegyrics, and also of early Christian exegesis.

The thesis concludes that, in contrast to former accusations of lacking originality, Fortunatus’s Life is an original poem which updates notions of sanctity in line with sixth-century cult and society.
Date of Award28 Sep 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorKarla F L Pollmann (Supervisor)

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