Claudius Claudianus was born ca. 370 at Alexandria in Egypt and there received an education which provided him with the rhetorical and cultural competence to undertake a great variety of professional services. Claudian distinguished himself from other poets with a similar formation by his complete mastery of poetic Latin. He made his official debut as a Latin poet at Rome in January 395, with his panegyric for the consolatio of Probinus and Olybrius, scions of one of the most conspicuous families of the Christian senatorial aristocracy. He then went immediately to Milan, where the 11-year-old Honorius had just succeeded Theodosius d. 17 January 395. Claudian attached himself to the actual holder of power, the Vandal generalissimo Stilicho, whom in a long series of encomiastic poems he exalted as defender of Roman security and values, presenting his actions in the most favorable light. In this sense Alan Cameron spoke of Claudian as Stilicho’s propagandist.
The last act of Claudian’s ten-year run as official poet of the Western court first at Milan and from 402 at Ravenna was his recital at Rome of the panegyric for the 6th consolatio of Honorius in early January 404; after that date, we lose track of Claudian, and it can reasonably be supposed that a premature death ended his activity during the same year.
In his compositions even those which do not develop mythological subjects Claudian often has the pagan gods intervene, whereas Christianity is absent. In itself, this choice would not be proof of an adherence to paganism: it was in fact consistent with the classical tradition and is reflected in the figurative arts, where the representation of pagan themes is attested even in cases where the work was commissioned by Christians.
There is the testimony of Augustine, however, who in De civitate Dei 5, 26 calls Claudian a Christi nomine alienus; this description is taken up and intensified by Orosius VII, 35, 21: poeta quidem eximius, sed paganus pervicacissimus. In fact, of Claudian’s almost 10,000 verses, only 21 hexameters of car. min. 32, De salvatore, have an unequivocally Christian character. Recited at court for the celebration of Easter, the De salvatore treats the theme of the incarnation, passion and resurrection of Christ in classical language and a courtly tone but with an impeccable theology; the poem concludes by invoking Christ’s protection over the Augustus.
For this poem, which the common MS tradition attributes to Claudian, it is not methodologically proper to deny his authorship as was done in the past on the basis of the statements of Augustine and Orosius. Certainly, one hymn to the Savior is not enough to prove that Claudian was a Christian, even if it would be hard to believe that at the Christian court of Honorius he would make an open profession of paganism. If propagan sympathies and possible digs against Christianity are identifiable in places in his poems, they are nonetheless veiled and ambiguous references, or refer to persons who were already objects of criticism Gualandri 1989.
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