The Past as Literature: exempla and the Culture of Rhetoric

Peter Van Nuffelen

in Orosius and the Rhetoric of History

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199655274
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191745232 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Early Christian Studies

The Past as Literature: exempla and the Culture of Rhetoric

Show Summary Details


An ubiquitous feature of the Historiae is the comparison between past and present. Its aim is not just to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian present, but also to undermine the positive view of the Roman past created by rhetorical training. To that end, Orosius questions the traditional perception of the past as a series of exempla, either by omitting good ones or by expanding bad ones, and profiles himself as a true historian who states the facts, in contrast with his supposedly biased predecessors. Orosius' attitude is peculiar: in contrast with Ammianus he rejects the authority of the pagan past, but in comparison with Christian authors he does not propose alternative, Christian exempla, because his main aim is to question the traditional perception.

Keywords: exempla; rhetorical education; polemic in historiography; Christian views of exempla; Ammianus

Chapter.  12592 words. 

Subjects: Early Christianity

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.