Michael Squire

in The Poetics of Late Latin Literature

Published in print January 2017 | ISBN: 9780199355631
Published online January 2017 | e-ISBN: 9780199355655 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Late Antiquity


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This chapter explores one of Late Antiquity’s most maligned artists: Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius (“Optatian”). Optatian’s works resonate against earlier Hellenistic traditions of picture-poetry (so-called technopaegnia). But Optatian’s exquisite artefacts, framed around an encomium of Constantine, also materialize early fourth-century aesthetic concerns: they operate against the backdrop of new literary forms (including the cento), and shifting visual cultural traditions (above all the new symbolic languages of early “Christian” art). The chapter explores Optatian’s kaleidoscopic works through three thematic lenses: first, by probing their “materialist aesthetics”; second, by analysing the critical concern with “signs” (signa)—that is, with entities that slide between words and images, Latin and Greek, and different frameworks of semantic exegesis; and third, by considering Optatian’s writings as fragmented (and fragmentable) spolia, forged from the past but also self-consciously “new.” “POP Art”, the chapter concludes, paints an extraordinarily graphic picture of a world in cultural, intellectual and theological flux.

Keywords: aesthetics; cento; Constantine; early Christian art; materialist aesthetics; Optatian (Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius/ Optatian Porfyry); picture-poetry / visual poetry / optical poetics; “POP art”; signs (signa); spolia/spoils/spoliation; technopaegnia; word and image; visual culture

Chapter.  30929 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Classical Literature

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