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Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World

By Catherine M. Chin

Publication Year: 2011

Between the years 350 and 500 a large body of Latin artes grammaticae emerged, educational texts outlining the study of Latin grammar and attempting a systematic discussion of correct Latin usage. These texts—the most complete of which are attributed to Donatus, Charisius, Servius, Diomedes, Pompeius, and Priscian—have long been studied as documents in the history of linguistic theory and literary scholarship. In Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World, Catherine Chin instead finds within them an opportunity to probe the connections between religious ideology and literary culture in the later Roman Empire.

To Chin, the production and use of these texts played a decisive role both in the construction of a pre-Christian classical culture and in the construction of Christianity as a religious entity bound to a religious text. In exploring themes of utopian writing, pedagogical violence, and the narration of the self, the book describes the multiple ways literary education contributed to the idea that the Roman Empire and its inhabitants were capable of converting from one culture to another, from classical to Christian. The study thus reexamines the tensions between these two idealized cultures in antiquity by suggesting that, on a literary level, they were produced simultaneously through reading and writing techniques that were common across the empire.

In bringing together and reevaluating fundamental topics from the fields of religious studies, classics, education, and literary criticism, Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World offers readers from these disciplines the opportunity to reconsider the basic conditions under which religions and cultures interact.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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1. Introduction: Toward Tyranny

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pp. 1-10

This book is a very long answer to a very short question: How did literate Romans of the fourth and fifth centuries come to the idea that there was such a thing as Christianity? On its face the question seems naïve. There was, in this period, a dramatic growth in the numbers of people, buildings, books, and public events that were...

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2. Imagining Classics

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pp. 11-38

Learning to read is always a matter of learning to read something. Late ancient grammarians formed their discipline by teaching their students how to read the classics—or rather, by teaching their students how to read in a way that created classics. A wealth of material survives from late ancient...

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3. From Grammar to Piety

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pp. 39-71

Modern disciplinary boundaries separate literary history from religious history, and the study of language from the study of belief. For pre-modern readers, these distinctions did not apply. We have already seen that ancient linguistic practice took literature as both its beginning and its end. It did the same...

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4. Displacement and Excess: Christianizing Grammar

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pp. 72-109

Literate Christian Romans read Virgil and Homer. At least some literate non-Christian Romans read the Bible.1 The idea that one body of texts was the exclusive possession of one religious group, and another body of texts the possession of another, should puzzle us, in a literary and social context that did not enforce...

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5. Fear, Boredom, and Amusement: Emotion and Grammar

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pp. 110-138

If the academic practice of grammar construed Christianity and paganism as ideal entities manifested in physical texts, how, in turn, did grammatical schooling contribute to the construction of pagan and Christian people in late antiquity? How did late ancient authors’ thoughts about grammatical education...

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6. Grammar and Utopia

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pp. 139-169

Grammatical imagination changed the landscape of the Roman Empire. Classicizing and Christianizing writings about grammarians and the uses of the ars grammatica located religious and cultural difference in Roman places through the language of space and geography.1 As we have already seen, patristic writers’ use of the trope...

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Epilogue: Christianization and Narration

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pp. 170-173

Grammarians do not always tell stories, but grammar does allow stories to be told. In this book I have attempted to use grammatical literature as a starting point for understanding how individuals were formed in relation to large-scale cultural stories: not only narratives like that found in the...


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pp. 175-243

Works Cited

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pp. 245-260


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pp. 261-270

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pp. 271-272

This project began its life some time ago as a series of loosely connected thoughts on early Christianity and Roman education, and with help from a number of friends and colleagues, these thoughts have settled into a book. It is a pleasure to acknowledge the people who have done most to shape and encourage...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812201574
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812240351

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion