Weaving with words

Venantius Fortunatus's figurative acrostics on the Holy Cross

Brian Brennan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Within the collected works of Venantius Fortunatus, the sixth-century Latin poet who wrote verse for kings, royal officials, bishops, and nuns in Frankish Gaul, there are found three acrostic poems. One, on the themes of captivity and release (5.6) is accompanied by a prose letter (5.6a) in which the poet discusses his methods in composing this work, which he intended for decorative display on a wall. The other two acrostics are written on the theme of the Holy Cross (2.4; 2.5). This paper, which offers a new interpretation of the figurative acrostics on the Holy Cross, begins first by examining the compositional strategies discussed by Fortunatus in 5.6a and his use there of the extended metaphor of weaving for the composition of acrostic poetry. The paper then moves to a wider discussion of weaving as a metaphor in Fortunatus's poetry before exploring how the poet played with metaphors and materiality, particularly in those instances when he was writing verse intended to be actually placed on material objects or sent with them. It finally goes on to argue, on the basis of indications within the acrostic poems on the Holy Cross themselves and much circumstantial evidence external to them, that these poems (2.4; 2.5) were written for public display in the chapel of the Holy Cross convent at Poitiers. It argues that these acrostics were most probably intended as textile designs for church vela or "hangings."

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-53
Number of pages27
JournalTraditio
Volume74
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords

  • Venantius Fortunatus
  • acrostic
  • visual poetry
  • textile design
  • Holy Cross
  • Radegund

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