Saint NameXystus II, martyr and bishop of Rome, ob. c. 258 : S00201
Laurence, deacon and martyr of Rome : S00037
Saint Name in SourceXystus
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Poems
Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom
Evidence not before395
Evidence not after405
Activity not before258
Activity not after405
Place of Evidence - RegionIberian Peninsula
Rome and region
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcRome
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Osset
Major author/Major anonymous workPrudentius
Cult Activities - MiraclesMiracle after death
Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - Popes
SourceAurelius Prudentius Clemens (348–after 405) was a Christian aristocrat from Calahorra in the Spanish province of Tarraconensis. He was a high official in the imperial bureaucracy in Rome, but withdrew from public life, returned to Calahorra, and dedicated himself to the service and celebration of God. Most of what we know about his biography comes from the preface to the ensemble of his works, which can be reliably dated to 404 (Cunningham 1966, 1-2), and other autobiographical remarks scattered throughout his works (for a detailed discussion, see Palmer 1989, 6-31). He composed several poetical works, amongst them the Peristephanon (literally, On the Crowns [of the Martyrs]), a collection of fourteen poems of different length describing martyrdoms of saints. We do not know exactly at which point in his literary career Prudentius wrote the preface (possibly at the very end, just before publication); for attempts at a precise dating of the Peristephanon, see Fux 2013, 9, n. 1.
The poems in the Peristephanon, written in elegant classical metres, deal mainly with martyrs from Spain, but some of them are dedicated to saints of Rome, Africa and the East. The poems were widely read in the late antique and medieval West, and had a considerable influence on the diffusion of cult of the saints included. In later periods they were sometimes used as hymns in liturgical celebrations and had an impact on the development of the Spanish hymnody. Some indications in the poems suggest that they were written to commemorate the saints on their feast days, but Prudentius probably did not compose them for the liturgy of his time. Rather, they probably provided 'devotional reading matter for a cultured audience outside a church context' (Palmer 1989, 3; see also Chapter 3 in her book).
DiscussionOn the hymn see E00784.
The quoted episode is interesting because of the way Xystus is said to be martyred. In no other account of his death do we learn about crucifixion. It is possible that Prudentius, referring to it, played at the similarity between the name Xystus and Christus. However, since we know Prudentius had spent time in Rome, he was presumably reflecting a tradition he had heard in the city.
It is also interesting how the martyrdom of a bishop of Rome in Prudentius' poem is introduced only as a prelude to the martyrdom of a deacon of the city.
BibliographyEditions of the Peristephanon:
Cunningham, M.P., Prudentii Carmina (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 126; Turnhout: Brepols, 1966), 251-389.
Bergman, J., Prudentius, Carmina (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 61; Vienna, 1926), 291-431.
Translations of the Peristephanon:
Eagan, C., Prudentius, Poems (Fathers of the Church 43; Washington D.C.: Catholic University Press, 1962), 95-280. English translation.
Thomson, H.J., Prudentius, vol. 2 (Loeb Classical Library; London Cambridge, Mass: W. Heinemann; Harvard University Press, 1953), 98-345. Edition and English translation.
Fux, P.-Y., Prudence et les martyrs: hymnes et tragédie. Peristephanon 1. 3-4. 6-8. 10. Commentaire, (Fribourg: Academic Press, 2013).
Malamud, M.A., A Poetics of Transformation: Prudentius and Classical Mythology (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989).
Nauroy, G., “Le martyre de Laurent dans l'hymnodie et la prédication des IVe et Ve siècles et l'authenticité ambrosienne de l'hymne Apostolorum supparem,” Revue d'Etudes Augustiniennes et Patristiques 35 (1989), 44-82.
Palmer, A.-M., Prudentius on the Martyrs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).
Roberts, M., Poetry and the Cult of the Martyrs: The "Liber Peristephanon" of Prudentius (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993).