Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a Roman Christian poet, born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis (now Northern Spain) in 348. He probably died in the Iberian Peninsula, as well, some time after 405, possibly around 413. The place of his birth is uncertain, but it may have been Caesaraugusta (Saragossa), Tarraco (Tarragona), or Calagurris (Calahorra).
Prudentius practised law with some success, and was twice provincial governor, perhaps in his native country, before the emperor Theodosius I summoned him to court. Towards the end of his life (possibly around 392) Prudentius retired from public life to become an ascetic, fasting until evening and abstaining entirely from animal food. Prudentius later collected the Christian poems written during this period and added a preface, which he himself dated 405.
The poetry of Prudentius is influenced by early Christian authors, such as Tertullian and St. Ambrose, as well as the Bible and the acts of the martyrs. His hymn Da, puer, plectrum (including "Corde natus ex parentis": "Of the Father's Love Begotten") and the hymn for Epiphany O sola magnarum urbium ("Earth Has Many a Noble City"), both from the Cathemerinon, are still in use today. The allegorical Psychomachia, however, is his most influential work and became the inspiration and wellspring of medieval allegorical literature.
The works of Prudentius include:
- Liber Cathemerinon -- ("Book in Accordance with the Hours") comprises 12 lyric poems on various times of the day and on church festivals.
- Liber Peristephanon -- ("Crowns of Martyrdom") contains 14 lyric poems on Spanish and Roman martyrs.
- Apotheosis -- ("Deification") attacks disclaimers of the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus.
- Hamartigenia -- ("The Origin of Sin") attacks the Gnostic dualism of Marcion and his followers.
- Psychomachia -- ("Battle of Souls") describes the struggle of faith, supported by the cardinal virtues, against idolatry and the corresponding vices.
- Libri contra Symmachum -- ("Books Against Symmachus") oppose the pagan senator Symmachus's requests that the altar of Victory be restored to the Senate house.
- Dittochæon -- ("The Double Testament") contains 49 quatrains intended as captions for the murals of a basilica in Rome.
- Tränkle, H. (ed.). Prudentius, Contra Symmachum - Gegen Symmachus. Turnhout: Brepols, 2008. 284 p. (Fontes Christiani, 85).
- Catherine Conybeare, "sanctum, lector, percense uolumen: Snakes, Readers, and the Whole Text in Prudentius’ Hamartigenia," in W. Klingshirn and L. Safran (eds), The Early Christian Book (Washington DC, 2007), 225-240.
- Roy J. Deferrari & James M. Campbell, « A Concordance of Prudence », Cambridge Mass. 1932 (réimpr. Hildesheim 1966)
- Pierre-Yves Fux, « Les sept Passions de Prudence (Peristephanon 126.96.36.199-14). Introduction générale et commentaire », 496 pages, Éditions Universitaires Fribourg, 2003
- Michael Roberts, « Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs. The Liber Peristephanon of Prudentius », Ann Arbor 1993