Saint NamePeter the Apostle : S00036
Saint Name in SourcePetrus
Type of EvidenceInscriptions - Formal inscriptions (stone, mosaic, etc.)
Literary - Poems
Evidence not before366
Evidence not after384
Activity not before366
Activity not after384
Place of Evidence - RegionRome and region
Place of Evidence - City, village, etcVatican area
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Vatican area
Major author/Major anonymous workDamasan and pseudo-Damasan poems
Cult activities - PlacesCult building - dependent (chapel, baptistery, etc.)
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsPrayer/supplication/invocation
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesEcclesiastics - Popes
Cult Activities - Cult Related ObjectsInscription
SourceThe poems of Damasus
The surviving corpus of poetry by Damasus, pope from 366 to 384, comprises about sixty poems. Almost all are in honour of saints and martyrs, and were originally displayed at the tombs of martyrs in the cemeteries and catacombs that surrounded the city of Rome. They were inscribed on large marble plaques with distinctive lettering ('Philocalian script') by the calligrapher Furius Dionysius Filocalus (see Trout 2015, 47-52). The inscriptions were an important part of the programme of monumentalisation of the sites of saintly cult initiated by Damasus (see Trout 2015, 42-47).
The poems of Damasus are the first substantial corpus of texts devoted specifically to the cult of saints. They are of great importance for the history of saints' cult at Rome because, aside from what their content tells us, they can be dated so securely. If a martyr is the subject of a poem in the Damasan collection, this shows that their cult was established and formally recognised at Rome no later than the early 380s; the only comparable, but much briefer, material is that in the Chronography of 354 (E01052). By contrast, the surviving Roman saints' lives are of very uncertain date and almost certainly all later than Damasus' poems (which they sometimes used as a source: Lapidge 2018, 637-8).
Survival of the poems
Only a handful of Damasus' inscriptions survive intact; others partially survive in fragments, but the majority survive only through manuscript transmission, primarily via syllogae – collections of inscriptions from the martyr shrines and churches of Rome which were transcribed by pilgrims and then circulated in manuscript. The earliest of these seem to have been compiled in the 7th century, at the same time as the earliest pilgrim itineraries, and they were organised on the same basis, according to the location of inscriptions on the routes followed by pilgrims around the city. Unlike the itineraries, no sylloge survives in its original form: the extant syllogae were all compiled from earlier manuscript collections (whose traces are sometimes evident in the structure of the syllogae). The syllogae were edited by De Rossi in vol. 2.1 of the first edition of ICUR (1888), which remains the only modern edition of the syllogae as such (as opposed to the individual poems). On the syllogae containing Damasus’ poems, see Trout 2015, 63-65; Lapidge 2018, 638.
The most important syllogae for the transmission of Damasus' poems are the following:
The Sylloge Laureshamensis. A manuscript produced at the monastery of Lorsch in the 9th/10th century (Vatican, Pal. Lat. 833; digitised: digi.vatlib.it/view/bav_pal_lat_833). De Rossi (1888) believed that it contained material from four earlier collections, of which the one that he denoted Laureshamensis IV, dating from the 7th century, contained most of the Damasan material.
The Sylloge Centulensis. Produced in the monastery of St. Riquier in the 9th/10th century, held for most of its existence in Corbie, and now in the Russian National Library at St. Petersburg (Codex Petropolitanus F XIV 1).
The Sylloge Turonensis. Produced at Tours in the 7th century, but surviving only in two manuscripts from the 11th/12th century (Klosterneuburg Stiftsbibliothek Cod. 723; Göttweig Stiftsbibliothek Cod. 64 (78), digitised: manuscripta.at/diglit/AT2000-64).
The Sylloge Virdunensis. Produced at Verdun in the 10th century (Bibliothèque de Verdun, ms. 45, digitised: www1.arkhenum.fr/bm_verdun_ms/_app/index.php?type_recherche=cote&choix_secondaire=Ms. 45).
The Sylloge Einsidelnensis. Produced at the monastery of Einsiedeln in the 9th century (Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek 326, digitised: www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/sbe/0326).
It is certain that most poems in the corpus are by Damasus, either because they survive, wholly or partly, in their inscribed form or because Damasus refers to himself in the text (which he does frequently). In other cases his authorship has been assigned to poems on stylistic grounds. Since Damasus' style is quite distinctive (see Trout 2015, 16-26), this can usually be done reasonably securely, but there are instances where there is disagreement among editors as to whether poems are genuinely by Damasus.
DiscussionThe poem is in elegiac couplets. It is preserved only by the Sylloge Laureshamensis (Vatican, Pal. Lat. 833, fol. 27r). The second line of the first couplet is missing. In the manuscript the poem is headed simply Ad fontes, 'At the font', but it appears among a group of poems relating to St Peter's. It is attributed to Damasus on stylistic grounds, though Ihm denied Damasus' authorship, because the word antistes does not otherwise appear in his works and he very rarely uses elegiac couplets (Ihm 1895, 9-10); however, Ferrua rejected his doubts (Ferrua 1942, 94). See Trout 2015, 86-87. The entire first line of the poem is a quotation from Virgil: Aeneid 12.427.
The content of the poem itself suggests that it was in a baptistery which had been built, or perhaps renovated, by Damasus. This is supported by the manuscript heading, Ad fontes, while the placing of the poem among a group related to St Peter's, strongly suggests that the baptistery was part of the Vatican complex. It is generally agreed that Damasus built a baptistery at the Vatican, but no archaeological trace of it has been found, and there is no consensus as to precisely where it was located. For a summary of differing views, with full references, see Trout 2015, 87.
BibliographyEditions and translations:
Trout, D., Damasus of Rome: The Epigraphic Poetry. Introduction, Texts, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), no. 4, 86-87.
Epigraphic Database Bari, EDB14384, see http://www.edb.uniba.it/epigraph/14384
Ferrua, A., Epigramata damasiana (Rome: Pontificio Istituto di archeologia cristiana, 1942), no. 4.
de Rossi, G.B., and Ferrua, A., Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae Septimo Saeculo Antiquiores, n.s., vol. 2: Coemeteria in viis Cornelia Aurelia Portuensi et Ostiensi et tabulae Nr. 1-34 (Vatican: Pont. Institutum Archaeologiae Christianae, 1935), no. 4096.
Ihm, M., Damasi epigrammata (Anthologiae Latinae Supplementa 1, Leipzig: Teubner, 1895), no. 5.
de Rossi, G.B., Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae Septimo Saeculo Antiquiores, vol. 2.1 (Rome, 1888).
Lapidge, M., The Roman Martyrs: Introduction, Translations, and Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2018).