Josep M. Escolà Tuset, Some notes on the Carmina Pseudocyprianea, Analecta Malacitana electrónica 6 (May 2000)

Some notes on the Carmina Pseudocyprianea  

Josep M. Escolà Tuset
University of Tarragona

The first time that I approached the poems that Hartel 1 includes in the appendix of his edition of the works of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, under the name of Carmina, I had no suspicion of the complex problem that is concealed here. The origins and transmissions of the six compositions are very diverse and uncertainty persists as to the personality and chronology of their respective authors.  The  necessity of preparing a critical edition of five of these poems ---- the first listed in the appendix is excluded for reasons  that I will discuss ---- has allowed me to  investigate in more detail their obscure and debateable history.  Here I want to briefly present the state of the question. 

The first of the carmina, entitled Genesis, is, in fact, a 165 hexameter fragment of a much lengthier composition, the Heptateuchos, whose author is today without question identified with Cyprian, a Gallic poet of the 5th century.   Hartel published this fragment, whose transmission is based on the editio princeps of Guillermo Morel 2  in 1560, unaware that Martène and  Durand 3  in 1733  had already added 1,276 verses from a manuscript of St. Germain-des-Prés.  Cardinal Pitra 4, in 1888, published more than 5,500 surviving verses corresponding to this work thanks to the finding of three new manuscripts, two at Santa Maria de Laon and the third from Trinity College Cambridge.  For this reason, then, this poem is left outside my new study and edition. 

Both of the following poems, Sodoma  (166  hexameters) and De Iona  (105 hexameters), are the work of the same poet, an anonymous author that must perhaps have lived at the end of the 4th century or the beginning of the 5th century.   They are both paraphrases of well-known  Biblical passages, identified already at the outset by the title, and,  taken together, they present a clear message:    God saves the just and the unjust who repent, but  he punishes those who remain obstinate in their sin, as happens to the inhabitants of Sodoma and Gomorrah.  It is indeed this contrast which allows us to consider the hypothesis that De Iona  has come down to us incomplete, since it ends with Jonah in the interior of the whale without narrating the return of the prophet to Nineveh and the later repentance of its inhabitants, an attitude that would contrast to that of the inhabitants of the  cities punished with the devastating fire.  Despite their evident relationship, the manuscript and printed tradition of both poems is not closely parallel, Sodoma  having the greater diffusion.

The Carmen ad senatorem ex christiana religione ad idolorum seruitutem conuersum  attacks with irony a senator who had abandoned Christianity and practiced the state cult.  This invective, "a kind of Horatian letter" in the words of Jacques  Fontaine 5, of 85 hexameters, is located in Rome at the end of the 4th century, a time at which the struggle between the followers of the  Christian doctrine and the doctors of the pagan cult is especially intense.  Jean-Michel Poinsotte 6  proposes Claudius Antonius, who was consul in 382 AD, as the author of this poem as well as the Carmen ultimum, anequally antipagan composition, attributed to Paulinus of Nola.  It is a short but original work on this subject and for the stylistic resources employed, as well as the use of short sentences of antitheses.

The poem that Hartel's edition entitles De Pascha, composed of 69 hexameters, alternates in  the manuscripts and editions between the titles De cruce Domini  and  De ligno uitae, which is really better adapted to its content.  Its chronology is less certain; the different opinions range between the second half of the 4th century  to the first half of the 6th century. The author, without identifying himself, resorts to the metaphor of the tree of the life, in reference to the cross of Christ, and develops from it an  allegorical poem of the birth and expansion of the Christian church.  The editio princeps (1501 AD)  is the oldest compared to other poems discussed here and has had greater diffusion, without a doubt because of the symbolic character of the cross, fundamental in the Christian religion.  Thus more than forty manuscripts contain it, although many of  these are late, and specifically from the Renaissance. 

The reference to its adressee, which Sandra Isetta 7 following the proposal of Manitius, identifies as the poet Flavius Felix who lived in Carthage at the time of king Thrasamund, allows us to locate approximately the chronological period (496-523)  of the last of the poems, the Ad  Flauium Felicem de resurrectione mortuorum , in other places entitled De iudicio Domini. In its 406 verses, with metrical particularitities and many of them with rhymes, the poet, whose name we do not know, begins with the creation of the world and the disobedience of Adam and Eve of the divine mandate, a circumstance that originates the appearance of evil in the  world.  Next, he approaches the subject that gives a basis for the title of the composition, that is to say, the  coming of the supreme judge,  the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment, in which God  will reward to the just and will punish the unjust. 

 From this exposition, it may be seen how accidental is the appearance together of the 6 carmina in the appendix of Hartel's edition.  Migne, in the second volume of his Patrologia Latina had also published them together, although, in this case, as an appendix to the edition of the works of Tertullian.  Twenty years after the edition of Hartel, Peiper published, in volume 23 of the same Vienna corpus,  the Heptateuchos of the Gallic poet Cyprian and adds, under the title incerti auctoris, the poems Sodoma, De Iona and Ad senatorem.  Previously, in editions of the 16th century they  alternately appear linked to works of Cyprian of Carthage and Tertullian. It is curious to see how Jacques de Pamelé includes, in the edition of the works of the Cartaginian bishop (Anvers, 1568), the Genesis, Sodoma, De cruce Domini and Ad senatorem, and, some years later (Paris, 1584), he publishes the Opera omnia of Tertullian, incorporating in them three of these same poems, because their style seems more closer to him to that of the apologist. However, the poem De Pascha appears more frequently in the editions of Cyprian, whereas the De iudicio Domini does in those of Tertullian.  Also it is surprising that the tradition has not habitually  reunited both the poems Sodoma and De Iona as works of the same author.  In fact in the edition of Hurez 8 the first is attributed to Cyprian and the second to Tertullian.  Likewise, the manuscript tradition does not  treat them together, since only two manuscripts of the 9th century transmit them to us jointly, whereas four others only include the Sodoma and another two De Iona. The largest gathering, in number of poems concerned, is of three: Sodoma, De Iona and  Ad senatorem in the manuscript Parisiensis latinus 2772.  Another two, Ad senatorem and Ad Flauium Felicem de resurrectione mortuorum  are found together in a manuscript:  Laudianus miscellaneus 451.

In spite of their thus different histories, the common denominator of all these carmina is that they  all participate in the purpose of proselytism and instruction which was the motivation for the creation of Christian poetry, in clear competition with the compositions of pagan authors.  This poetry did not hesitate to resort to the living tradition of the classic poets in order to better reach out to possible listeners or readers.  Each poet drinks of the source that interests him most, depending on the genre of his composition.  The Biblical paraphrases of the poems Sodoma and Iona have an epic atmosphere with numerous reminiscences of the Aeneid of Virgil and, to a lesser degree, of the  Metamorphosis of Ovid.  The first two verses of the De Pascha  (Est locus ex omni medius quem credimus orbe/Golgotha Iudaei patrio cognomine dicunt) 9 indicate the continuous Virgilian references that will follow one another throughout the allegorical exhibition of the benefits derived from the cross of Christ, canalized through the  institution of the Christian church.  The lengthy poem Ad Flauium Felicem, of a very descriptive character,  is inspired throughout by the works of the Mantuan poet, with special attention to the Georgics  when it describes  landscapes such as the paradise to which the blessed will go after  the final judgment, a locus amoenus to which are dedicated sixty verses (from 193  to 253), the first of which again makes the reference alluded to earlier: Est locus Aeoliis Domino dilectus in oris 10  Although the carmen Ad senatorem  displays fewer reminiscences of the classical poets, in verses 59-61 there is an explicit reference to Maro poeta, specifically Aeneid  6,617-8, to illustrate one of the numerous antithetical sentences that the Christian poem contains. 

This brief introduction has attempted to present a subject that still conceals many areas of uncertainty and that continue to require the attention of students as is demonstrated by the articles and editions that, although addressing individual poems, have worked on some of the poems in question.  J. H.Waszink in 1937 published an edition and a very complete study on the Carmen ad Flauium Felicem de resurrectione mortuorum 11. The poem De Pascha was the object of a critical edition, in 1976 by Angelo  Roncoroni 12 who collated nine manuscripts until then not considered.  Later, in 1989, Johannes Schwind also published a text of the same poem, based on 29  manuscripts, with a translation into German and commentary 13.  In 1993  Luca Morisi published a critical edition of Sodoma with a translation into Italian and commentary. 14

Marco Bertolini, in an article which appeared in 1989 15 announced that he was preparing a new edition of the Sodoma as well as of De Iona but I am uncertain whether it appeared.  The most neglected poem as regards editions seems to continue to be the invective Ad senatorem.

Therefore, faced by a field with so many questions and in the absence of a new edition that includes all five carmina, the purpose of my project is to provide a critical edition of the five poems, including material from some hitherto uncollated manuscripts, with a translation of the text into Catalan, and preceded by an introduction in which the questions only outlined here will be developed further. 


1. Cyprian of Carthage, S. Thasci Caecilii  Cypriani Opera (ed. of Hartel),  CSEL  3, 3 Vienna, 1871 

2. G. Morel, Cl. Marii Victoris oratoris Massiliensis, Aletheias..., Cypriani, Genesis et Sodoma..., París, 1560, pp. 126-132.

3. Marténe y Durand, Veterum scriptorum et monumentorum historicorum, dogmaticorum, moralium, amplissima collectio, t. IX. París, 1733, pp.15-56.

4. Pitra, Analecta nouissima Tusculana, II, 1888.

5. J. Fontaine,Naissance de la poésie dans l'occident chrétien, París, 1981, p. 216.

6. In the articule by J.-M. Poinsotte, «Le consul de 382 Fl. Claudius Antonius fut-il un auteur antipaïen?», REL,  LX, 1982, pp. 298-312.

7. S. Isetta, «Carmen ad Flauium Felicem. Problemi di attribuzione e reminiscenze classiche», Vetera Christianorum, 20, 1983, pp. 111-140.

8. Hurez (ed.), Poetae ecclesiastici latini,III,Cameraci, 1825.

9. Cf. Eneida1.530, 3.163 and 7.563.

10. Cf.nota anterior.

11. J. H. Waszink  (ed.), «Carmen ad Flauium felicem de resurrectione mortuorum» en Florilegium Patristicum, suppl. I, Bonnae, 1937.

12. A. Roncoroni, «Ps.-Cipriano, De ligno crucis. Testo e osservazioni», Rivista di storia e letteratura religiosa, 1976, pp. 380-390.

13. J. Schwind, «Das pseudocyprianische Carmen de Pascha seu de Ligno Crucis», en Ars et Ecclesia, Festschrift für Franz J. Ronig zum 60, Geburtsag, Trier, 1989.

14. Ciprinano de Cartago, Versus de Sodoma, (introduzione, testo critico, traduzione e commento a cura di Luca Morisi), Bologna, 1993.

15. M. Bertolini, «I mirabilia di Sodoma (Carmen de Sodoma 121-167)», Studi Classici e Orientali, 39, 1989, pp. 185-202.

Note: originally published online in Spanish.  This translation by Roger Pearse appears here by permission of the author.

This page has been online since 23rd July 2005.

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