- Eusebius von Caesarea, De Vita Constantini, Über das Leben Konstantins
This new bilingual edition of Eusebius’ Life of Constantine (De vita Constantini = VC), offers a German translation by Horst Schneider together with an introduction by Bruno Bleckmann; the Greek text is that of Fridhelm Winkelmann’s critical edition (GCS, 1991). In recent years, the VC has been newly translated into Italian (L. Tartaglia, 2001) and English (Av. Cameron and S.G. Hall, with a detailed commentary, 1999), serving the need for modern translations of this important text. Schneider’s new translation now joins P. Dräger’s recent one (2007), rendering this service to German readers. Schneider presents an up-to-date literal, clear, and readable translation of Eusebius’ heavy Greek style, accompanied by minimal footnotes.
The Life of Constantine is the single most important source for the reign of Constantine. In his introduction (pp.7–106), Bleckmann provides an overview of the main aspects of the work, often touching on controversial issues. A brief discussion of the significance of the VC poses the question whether the “Constantinus Christianus” of the Vita is merely a fanciful projection of the author. Any attempt to answer this fundamental question should distinguish among the historical Constantine, his own self-perception, and Eusebius’ construction of the Christian emperor. Bleckmann reasserts the wide consensus regarding Eusebius’ authorship of the VC. Eusebius wrote it only after the death of the emperor in 337, and apparently did not entirely finish it before his own death in 339. An account of the content follows. Bleckmann then discusses the genre of the VC and the intentions of the author. The work deals only with selected aspects of the emperor, confirming Eusebius’ stated goal “to put into words and write down that which relates to a life dear to God.” [End Page 178]
Scholarly consensus has characterized the VC as a literary hybrid of panegyric, biography, and historical and hagiographical narratives. It also should be regarded as a “mirror for princes,” and may further be viewed as a continuation of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. At the same time, the VC also should be considered in its conception and method of documentation as a new creation, as Eusebius in fact regarded it. As for its prospective audience, the heavy Greek style was conceivable only for a highly educated readership. It also is possible that the work’s addressees were Constantine’s sons, who were expected to guarantee the continuation of Constantine’s Christian policies through a promotion of a Constantinian myth. But the VC should not be seen mainly as a slanted hagiography because it hardly alludes to the ecclesiastical polemics that raged after Constantine’s death. The VC thus is primarily a historical-theological work endowed with the dimensions of sacred history. Bleckmann then discusses the sources of the VC, upholding the authenticity of the various documents and illustrating the historian’s use of his own writings.
The second part of the introduction examines the image of Constantine in the VC. As a background, Eusebius creates a pro-Christian idealization of Constantine’s father, Constantius I. Yet, Bleckmann argues that this referential framework already had been part of Constantine’s own propaganda that Eusebius then elaborated. According to Eusebius, Constantine continued his father’s religious policy until the conquest of the east. But his dramatic conversion began earlier, and his famous vision served only to enhance it. Constantine’s “vision of the cross” in 312 apparently is a fiction, one that belongs to a late official version of his rule; it does not yet appear in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. An earlier solar vision in 310 only later was given a Christian interpretation and it was in fact Constantine himself who developed the version reported by Eusebius.
For Constantine, the vision of the cross was only one of many visions and proofs of his unmediated relationship with the military God protecting him. Eusebius followed the Roman contemporary patriotic propaganda, depicting Constantine as a liberator from the tyrants. Bleckmann argues that Eusebius is...