Tyrants and saviours in Pan. Lat. XII(9)

pro-Constantinian Readings of the Aeneid

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Abstract

The paper revisits the anonymous Panegyricus Latinus XII(9) in praise of Constantine’s victory against Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge. Delivered in 313 CE, a year after the decisive battle during which Maxentius got drowned in the Tiber while trying to flee, the speech is known for its use of Virgilian motifs. Here I argue that the author draws systematically on the discussion on clemency and retribution which ancient commentators (Serv. ad Aen. 12.940) and modern scholars alike have long suspected as the focus of the second half of the Aeneid. Accordingly, the author of XII(9) draws on a specific reading of the Aeneid according to which Constantine, compared to Aeneas and Augustus, is justified for his excessive use of force, while Maxentius, compared to several tyrannical figures in the Aeneid, deserved his miserable death. Eusebius, who systematically engaged with the tradition of the Latin panegyrics, further developed the motifs introduced in XII(9) by casting Constantine as a God-sent freedom fighter against tyrants (Maxentius, but also Licinius and Maximinus). Thus, the author’s display of his rhetorical training contributes creatively to Constantine’s political agenda and inspires Eusebius to Christianize Virgil.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Late Antiquity
Volume14
Issue number1
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

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