The paper deals with verse inscriptions from Eastern Late Antiquity, displayed at the entrances of churches, exploring through a selected sample of texts, their functions and purposes, focusing on literary features as part of the more general strategy of Christianizing the civic space of Late Antique cities. After briefly sketching out the reception of the symbolism of doors in Greek Christian poetry of the 4th and 5th century CE (i.e., the highbrow literary background that authors of inscriptions had to take into account), the paper examines verse inscriptions from different areas. First of all, inscriptions with Psalm quotations and metrical texts, like one carved on the marble lintel of the basilica at Palaiopolis (Kerkyra), (IG IX 1, 720 and 721 = 1060 Kaibel = 569 Felle), or that found on the mosaic floor at the western end of the nave facing the main door of the Basilica A of Nikopolis (to be dated to the end of the age of Justinian, or even later, SEG 55.630). Then inscriptions displaying classical rare words are taken into account, where literary features of the text intended to convey themselves a message. For example, the inscription from Bostra IGLS XIII 9119a-d = SGO 22/42/05, or the well-known 76-line inscription of the church of St Polyeuktos, to be dated to the 20’s of the 6th c. The latter is an exceptional case in every respect, conceived as a sort of guide to the glory of the church under the sign of paideia. An aspect, however, we also find in inscriptions of lower quality, like, for instance, two epigrams from the city of Jerash (Jordan), inscribed in the church of St Theodore (SGO 21/23/03 and /04), where the triumphalism of the text corresponds to the ‘visual triumphalism’ represented by spolia of pagan buildings incorporated into the church, as well as pagan inscriptions cut in pieces and used to pave the floor. The presence of verse inscriptions in this and other cases conveyed an ideological and literary message in itself. Displaying Greek paideia at the entrance of the church had also to do with the question of seizing the prestigious literary pagan tradition, and transforming it into something radically different. Such an ideological intention can even be seen in inscriptions of low literary level, where one can observe the curious, albeit not infrequent, phenomenon of the coexistence of a good acquaintance with epic language and a careless prosody or even an inability to produce correct hexameters. This is the case with some remarkable inscriptions of the 5th - 6th c. from Azra’ (SGO 22/14/04 = IGLS XV 186; SGO 22/14/03 = IGLS 15.177) and from the Hawran (SGO 22/36/04). Metrical inscriptions placed at the entrances of churches not only had the function of preparing the encounter between the believer and the church, or in some cases of introducing the viewer to the beauty of the temple (the ‘ekphrastic mode’): they also re-enacted the defeat of paganism, both as religion and culture (the ‘ideological mode’). If the poems, especially the highbrow style poems, were primarily addressing ideal readers able to understand their complex language, their pragmatic communicative functions were not limited to the upper class. They showed that pagan paideia was defeated both reversing and transforming ‘Homeric’ diction, and adopting the diction of new Christian poetry. Given the symbolism connected to entering a church, it is evident that inscriptions placed in the liminal zone were intended to be part of this moment so full of meaning to every worshipper. They conveyed every time a sense of victory over the past, proclaiming the new world of Christian paideia.

Versus De Limine and In Limine. Displaying Greek paideia at the Entrance of Early Christian Churches

Gianfranco Agosti
2018

Abstract

The paper deals with verse inscriptions from Eastern Late Antiquity, displayed at the entrances of churches, exploring through a selected sample of texts, their functions and purposes, focusing on literary features as part of the more general strategy of Christianizing the civic space of Late Antique cities. After briefly sketching out the reception of the symbolism of doors in Greek Christian poetry of the 4th and 5th century CE (i.e., the highbrow literary background that authors of inscriptions had to take into account), the paper examines verse inscriptions from different areas. First of all, inscriptions with Psalm quotations and metrical texts, like one carved on the marble lintel of the basilica at Palaiopolis (Kerkyra), (IG IX 1, 720 and 721 = 1060 Kaibel = 569 Felle), or that found on the mosaic floor at the western end of the nave facing the main door of the Basilica A of Nikopolis (to be dated to the end of the age of Justinian, or even later, SEG 55.630). Then inscriptions displaying classical rare words are taken into account, where literary features of the text intended to convey themselves a message. For example, the inscription from Bostra IGLS XIII 9119a-d = SGO 22/42/05, or the well-known 76-line inscription of the church of St Polyeuktos, to be dated to the 20’s of the 6th c. The latter is an exceptional case in every respect, conceived as a sort of guide to the glory of the church under the sign of paideia. An aspect, however, we also find in inscriptions of lower quality, like, for instance, two epigrams from the city of Jerash (Jordan), inscribed in the church of St Theodore (SGO 21/23/03 and /04), where the triumphalism of the text corresponds to the ‘visual triumphalism’ represented by spolia of pagan buildings incorporated into the church, as well as pagan inscriptions cut in pieces and used to pave the floor. The presence of verse inscriptions in this and other cases conveyed an ideological and literary message in itself. Displaying Greek paideia at the entrance of the church had also to do with the question of seizing the prestigious literary pagan tradition, and transforming it into something radically different. Such an ideological intention can even be seen in inscriptions of low literary level, where one can observe the curious, albeit not infrequent, phenomenon of the coexistence of a good acquaintance with epic language and a careless prosody or even an inability to produce correct hexameters. This is the case with some remarkable inscriptions of the 5th - 6th c. from Azra’ (SGO 22/14/04 = IGLS XV 186; SGO 22/14/03 = IGLS 15.177) and from the Hawran (SGO 22/36/04). Metrical inscriptions placed at the entrances of churches not only had the function of preparing the encounter between the believer and the church, or in some cases of introducing the viewer to the beauty of the temple (the ‘ekphrastic mode’): they also re-enacted the defeat of paganism, both as religion and culture (the ‘ideological mode’). If the poems, especially the highbrow style poems, were primarily addressing ideal readers able to understand their complex language, their pragmatic communicative functions were not limited to the upper class. They showed that pagan paideia was defeated both reversing and transforming ‘Homeric’ diction, and adopting the diction of new Christian poetry. Given the symbolism connected to entering a church, it is evident that inscriptions placed in the liminal zone were intended to be part of this moment so full of meaning to every worshipper. They conveyed every time a sense of victory over the past, proclaiming the new world of Christian paideia.
Agosti, Gianfranco
File in questo prodotto:
Non ci sono file associati a questo prodotto.

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11568/1144441
 Attenzione

Attenzione! I dati visualizzati non sono stati sottoposti a validazione da parte dell'ateneo

Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus ND
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? ND
social impact