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CHAPTER 3 UNSPEAKABLE PAGANISM? Modern scholars know Flavian best for his religious activities . If the generalist knows of him at all, it is as the intransigent (or reactionary) champion of Roman paganism against the new religion of the empire, Christianity. From De Rossi’s initial publication on, it has always been remarked that there is no apparent reference to paganism in the rehabilitation. There is no mention of his pagan priesthood in the cursus at the head of the inscription, nor can any allusion to paganism be deciphered in the text of the imperial letter. Certainly there is some ‘‘religious ’’ vocabulary. The letter speaks of the ‘‘restoration of the ‘reverend recollection ’ of Flavian’’ (sanctissimae recordationis, lines 14–15), and claims that that restoration is an ‘‘homage’’ (veneratio, line 15) to Theodosius. The emperor Theodosius hoped that Flavian would ‘‘dedicate’’ (consecrari, line 20) his histories to him and speaks of his own piety (piaetas, line 21). The current emperor, Valentinian III, speaks of his feelings toward Flavian as ‘‘reverence’’ (reverentia, lines 24 and 36) and alludes to certain traditional rites, absolving the family of Flavian of ‘‘the debt of duty owed the dead’’ (religiosi muneris debito, line 33). However, it would be foolish to put any weight on such vocabulary. With the exception of the reference to the ‘‘debt of duty owed the dead,’’ the context of the letter does not dictate any strictly religious sense. The meaning of the absence of reference to religion in this document is not immediately clear. Some have argued that the omission is innocuous: by 431 public documents no longer mentioned pagan religious activities, but restricted themselves to political offices and deeds. On this interpretation the silence of the rehabilitation is merely a product of the monumental medium.1 Others might maintain that although Christianity had decisively triumphed by the time of Flavian’s rehabilitation, religion remained a sensitive subject, and while many may have been comfortable with the rehabilitation of Flavian the statesman and historian, it was not possible to honor or even mention Flavian the pagan. Or it might be argued that while Christianity dominated life in the imperial court, even in the mid-fifth century many in the Roman senatorial class continued to adhere to paganism. The emperor might allow the elite to rehabilitate Flavian, but only to a point. So the silence might be understood as a repression of this aspect of Flavian’s life by the Christian imperial court.2 To the extent that scholars discuss this problem at all, they implicitly acknowledge that Flavian’s religious activities remained notorious at the time of his rehabilitation, and that their omission from the document requires some explanation. The discussion is only about the implications of the omission , not about the fact of it. Before attempting to come to terms with the meaning of this silence, however, it is necessary to establish that there is a silence here at all. Is something deliberately not being said, or is there actually nothing that is not being said? Is Flavian’s paganism a significant fact, which the rehabilitation suppresses for some reason? Or is his paganism simply forgotten or irrelevant in the context of this letter, one of an infinite number of things not mentioned because they are not remembered or do not matter? For example, it might be argued that Flavian’s disgrace had less to do with religion than with politics; that his role as ‘‘champion of the pagan cause’’ has been greatly exaggerated by modern scholarship; that there is no reference to his paganism in this inscription because religion was irrelevant to his original condemnation and so is not worth mentioning in the rehabilitation. Another position might be that paganism was ‘‘ancient history’’ by 431; that the religious affiliations of prominent men of Flavian’s generation had become largely irrelevant (if perhaps still of some cultural importance as an object of nostalgia and romanticism); that no matter what the function of religion in Flavian’s activities in the usurpation of 394, it had long been forgotten by 431. Any attempt to identify a silence—or the absence of it—in this document will have to set the problem in two separate but related contexts. First there is the problem of the elder Flavian’s activities in 394 and his subsequent condemnation. What was the character of Flavian’s religious views? Did he use the usurpation of Eugenius as an occasion to promote paganism against Christianity? Was he...


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