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The Origin of Sin

An English Translation of the "Hamartigenia"

by Prudentius; translated and with an introductory essay by Martha A. Malamud

Publication Year: 2012

Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348-ca. 406) is one of the great Christian Latin writers of late antiquity. Born in northeastern Spain during an era of momentous change for both the Empire and the Christian religion, he was well educated, well connected, and a successful member of the late Roman elite, a man fully engaged with the politics and culture of his times. Prudentius wrote poetry that was deeply influenced by classical writers and in the process he revived the ethical, historical, and political functions of poetry. This aspect of his work was especially valued in the Middle Ages by Christian writers who found themselves similarly drawn to the Classical tradition.

Prudentius's Hamartigenia, consisting of a 63-line preface followed by 966 lines of dactylic hexameter verse, considers the origin of sin in the universe and its consequences, culminating with a vision of judgment day: the damned are condemned to torture, worms, and flames, while the saved return to a heaven filled with delights, one of which is the pleasure of watching the torments of the damned. As Martha A. Malamud shows in the interpretive essay that accompanies her lapidary translation, the first new English translation in more than forty years, Hamartigenia is critical for understanding late antique ideas about sin, justice, gender, violence, and the afterlife. Its radical exploration of and experimentation with language have inspired generations of thinkers and poets since-most notably John Milton, whose Paradise Lost owes much of its conception of language and its strikingly visual imagery to Prudentius's poem.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book has benefited greatly from the hard work of others—especially Christopher Francese and Marc Mastrangelo, who had no reason, other than collegiality at the highest level, and love of scholarship, for expending so much effort on a project not their own. ...

Note on Translations and Editions

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pp. xi-xii


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pp. 3-6

The Origin of Sin

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pp. 7-48

An Interpretive Essay

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pp. 51-55

Macleish’s claim that a poem should not “mean” but “be” is profoundly paradoxical. How can a poem, an artifact of language, exist without performing language’s primary function, signification? Of what would such a poem consist? From the point of view of an early Christian reader, Macleish’s poem would be beyond understanding ...

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1. Writing in Chains

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pp. 56-75

The literature of the fourth century reflects the dynamism and upheaval of the time. The third century appears to have been a cultural wasteland for Latin literature, remarkable for the paucity of literature, especially poetry, that has survived. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the floodgates opened: old genres were revived and new ones created. ...

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2. Figuring It Out

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pp. 76-84

On the ornaments and figures of the Hamartigenia rested the burden of generating meaning in the mind of the active Roman reader. We will explore those ornaments and figures in what follows, in the hope that through the process of figuring out the figures in the text, the contemporary reader will be better equipped ...

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3. Seeking Hidden Truth

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pp. 85-95

By opening the Hamartigenia with a typological allegory and guiding us toward its correct interpretation through personification allegory, Prudentius draws attention to the pro cess of figural reading. But as is the case with the Psychomachia, whose preface also opens with a biblical exemplum that is interpreted for us (the story of Abraham), ...

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4. Falling into Language

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pp. 96-111

Prudentius uses the Greek term dialectica to associate Marcion with the dialectic reasoning typical of ancient philosophy. In the dialectical pro cess, truth is approached through a series of arguments and counterarguments; a favorite strategy of Socrates, who relied on this method, was to look for inconsistencies in his interlocutor’s argument. ...

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5. Under Assault

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pp. 112-128

In the Hamartigenia cosmic collapse leads immediately to a condemnation of women’s greed and vanity, epitomized by cosmetics, and of the inappropriate clothing and disgraceful behavior of effeminate men. Although it makes little sense chronologically or causally, there is nevertheless a logic to the way in which Prudentius moves ...

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6. Generation of Vipers

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pp. 129-139

The allegorical figures emerging from the poison Satan sows (serit, line 391) in our veins in the mini-Psychomachia of H. 517– 34 (Lat. 390– 405) gesture, as it were, to the devil’s appropriation of figural speech. His seminal role in creating them also associates Satan with the phenomenon of reproduction, ...

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7. Signs of Woe

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pp. 140-169

Perhaps the most peculiar feature of the Hamartigenia to readers brought up on the Genesis account of the Creation and Fall of mankind and influenced by a literary tradition that has been fascinated by the figure of Eve is the way in which she is minimized, almost eliminated, from the narrative of the origin of sin. ...

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8. In Aenigmate

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pp. 170-196

The Hamartigenia begins after the beginning, starting with the sacrifice of Cain and Abel (not the story of Adam and Eve with which the story of man begins in Genesis), and it ends both before and after the end—before and after the end of the world, in the vision of the Apocalypse as imagined by John the Evangelist, ...


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pp. 197-212


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pp. 213-222


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pp. 223-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780801463051
E-ISBN-10: 080146305X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801488726
Print-ISBN-10: 0801488729

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1