Panegyrici Latini

The Twelve Latin Panegyrics refers to a compilation of twelve prose orations of ancient Roman and Late Antique origin, celebrated for their eloquent praise. Although the authors of most of these panegyrics remain unidentified, they are believed to have been of Gallic origin. The collection opens with a panegyric by Pliny the Younger, penned in AD 100, with the subsequent speeches dating from AD 289 to 389, primarily originating from Gaul. The initial manuscript, uncovered in 1433, has been lost, leaving only later copies for study.

Gaul was renowned for its rhetorical tradition, maintaining a leading role in this arena into the 4th century. The Aedui, early Roman allies keen on adopting Roman customs, were at the forefront, with their Maenian schools gaining fame as early as Tiberius’s reign (AD 14–37), thriving up until Eumenius’ grandfather’s time before closing in the mid-3rd century.

A resurgence of rhetorical interest occurred in late 3rd century Gaul, yet the rise of Trier as an imperial capital in the 280s sparked envy among orators for the imperial favor enjoyed by Trier’s inhabitants. Despite this, Trier did not significantly influence the period’s rhetorical landscape, possibly due to its proximity to the imperial court. Evidence, potentially influenced by Ausonius’ Professors of Bordeaux, indicates a shift in the rhetorical epicenter from Autun and Trier to Bordeaux in the later 4th century.

The panegyrics show an awareness of earlier rhetorical handbooks. Some scholars have posited that Menander of Laodicea’s works notably shaped the tenth panegyric in the series. However, the argument that Menander directly influenced the panegyrists is weakened by the fact that his advice represents standard rhetorical practices. The influence of other rhetorical guides, such as Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria, is evident in the way some panegyrics address themes of ancestry, parentage, and homeland, similar to speeches from 289, 291, 297, 310, 311, 321, and 389. Yet, the broader stylistic diversity within the collection suggests that other Latin orators like Cicero and Pliny the Younger, while present, were not the primary models.

The anthology includes the following notable orations:

  1. A speech by Pliny the Younger, expressing gratitude for his consulship in 100 AD, delivered to the Senate to honor Emperor Trajan. As the earliest piece in the collection, originating from a different time and location, it likely inspired subsequent orations. Revised and expanded by Pliny, this piece stands out for its length and portrayal of Trajan as the quintessential leader, contrasting him with Domitian.
  2. An oration by Pacatus, dedicated to Emperor Theodosius I, presented in Rome in 389.
  3. A speech by Claudius Mamertinus, celebrating Emperor Julian in Constantinople in 362, marking his new role as consul that year.
  4. An address by Nazarius, given in Rome in 321 before the Senate, commemorating 15 years since Constantine I’s rise to power and the joint caesares status of his sons Crispus and Constantine II. Unique for its timing and focus on the Battle of Milvian Bridge victory in 312, it omits recent events.
  5. A 311 discourse from Trier by an unnamed speaker, thanking Constantine I for tax relief for Autun.
  6. An anonymous presentation in Trier in 310, for Constantine’s fifth accession anniversary and Trier’s foundation. It recounts a visionary encounter with Apollo and serves as a precursor to Constantine’s Christian vision, while also claiming Emperor Claudius II as Constantine’s forebear.
  7. A speech from 307, likely in Trier, on the occasion of Constantine’s marriage to Fausta, daughter of Maximian, celebrating both emperors’ feats with minimal mention of the wedding itself.
  8. An oration celebrating Constantius Chlorus’s retaking of Britain from Allectus in 296, likely delivered in Trier in 297.
  9. A piece by Eumenius in 297/298, aimed at the Gallia Lugdunensis governor, either in Autun or Lyon, advocating for Autun’s rhetorical school’s restoration and praising the tetrarchy, especially Constantius.
  10. A 289 speech in Trier for Maximian, commemorating Rome’s founding, possibly by Mamertinus, speculated to be the same author as the subsequent speech.
  11. A 291 address in Trier for Maximian’s birthday, attributed to Mamertinus, though authorship is uncertain due to textual corruption.
  12. A 313 oration in Trier by an anonymous speaker, elaborately depicting Constantine’s triumph over Maxentius in 312, with notable allusions to Virgil.

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