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Latin Epics of the New TestamentJuvencus, Sedulius, Arator$

Roger P. H. Green

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199284573

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199284573.001.0001

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(p.385) APPENDIX 1 Juvencus and the Text of the New Testament

(p.385) APPENDIX 1 Juvencus and the Text of the New Testament

Latin Epics of the New Testament
Oxford University Press

It is sometimes stated with confidence that Juvencus worked directly from the Greek New Testament, but the matter is far from clear-cut. Juvencus uses a considerable number of Greek words,1 without apparent difficulty; some of these, though by no means unknown to Latin, may have been supplied by the Greek NT. He has thronus at 1. 101 (with the Greek at Luke 1: 52; the Latin versions have sede/-ibus) and 1. 482 (nothing in the Greek/Latin at Matt. 5: 16);2 machaera at 1. 212, 4. 522 (corresponding to Greek NT at Matt. 26: 52 but not Luke 2: 35, where the Greek is ῤομϕαία; the Old Latin versions have gladius (var. lect. famea [sic] both times); and at 4. 732 planus (as in the Greek, at Matt. 27: 63: the Latin versions give seductor). He also uses Greek case-endings—Moysea (4. 15, where the OL has the nominative case of the name) and Salomona (1. 644 and 2. 710, where the accusative case is in the OL)—but these need not have become known to him from a Greek source. Our knowledge of languages other than Latin in the Roman West is very patchy,3 and it would be wrong to rule out direct knowledge of Greek;4 but the matter can only be decided by examination of Juvencus’ Latin and the Greek and Latin originals. Where he has not followed the Latin closely, and is close to the Greek, the hypothesis that he used the Greek at that point should be entertained, but allowance must be made for his wide repertoire of synonyms. The results of such investigations have been meagre, and the position has not changed a great deal since Marold.5 Of the suggestions made in the commentaries of Kievitz and De Wit, some were intrinsically weak, while others have been overtaken by the systematic study of the Old Latin versions, or by the increased knowledge of late Latin usage. The precariousness of the communis opinio 6 can be seen from a study of the following passages gleaned from the various scholars since Gebser who have addressed this question, where the case for Juvencus’ use of the Greek (p.386) New Testament seems at its strongest. The ‘European’ text (Jülicher’s Itala) will be given as usual.

1. 87: (felix, ofemina salve) | felicem gestans uteri sinuamine fetum ((‘hail, o blessed woman), bearing in the curved space of your womb a blessed offspring’).

OL (Luke 1: 42): (benedicta tu inter mulieres) et benedictus fructus ventris tui (‘you are blessed among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’).

Greek: εὐλογήμενος ὁ παρπὸς τῆς ϰοιλίας σου: ‘blessed (is) the fruit of your womb’).

According to Kievitz, Juvencus’ rendering is closer to Greek ϰοιλία. than to the OL ventris tui. But in fact uteri is a close rendering of the OL, given that Latin has no word for ‘womb’ cognate with cavus (‘hollow’), as Greek does; sinuamine refers to shape, not hollowness, and this poetic word,7 part of a typical periphrasis, does not establish an awareness of the Greek version.

1. 200–1: trementibus ulnis | accepit puerum (‘with trembling arms he took the boy’).

OL (Luke 2: 28): et ipse accepit eum in manibus (var. lect. in manus).

Greek: ϰαὶ αὐτὸς ἐδέατο αὐτὸ εἰς τὰς ἀγϰάλας αὐτοῦ (‘and he himself received him into his arms’).

Ulnis (‘arms’) is closer to the Greek than to manibus (‘hands’); but again it might have been chosen as a poetic variant on manibus. It is common in classical Latin poetry, and Juvencus used it again at 3. 497 ulnis portare parentum (a detail not in Matt 19: 15, where Jesus blesses the children, in some ways a similar context).

1.202: nunc, nunc me famulum Dominus nunc liberat atris | corporis e vinclis. (‘now, now the Lord frees me his servant from the dark chains of the body’).

OL (Luke 2: 29): Nunc dimitte (dimittis) servum tuum, domine (‘Now, Lord, (you) let your servant depart’).

Greek: νῦν ἀπολύεις τὸν δοῦλόν σου, δέσποτα (‘now you release your servant, Lord’).

Is Juvencus’ verb libero closer in meaning to the Greek than to dimitto, as Röttger suggests?8 A close call, perhaps; and liberat might have been prompted by liberavit in the OL in Luke 1: 71, although Juvencus there (1. 124) used a different verb. It may also have seemed more appropriate to the notion of the chains of the body which he imports into the passage.

1.339: cuius vincla pedum non sum contingere dignus (‘the straps of whose footwear I am not worthy to touch’).

(p.387) OL (Matt. 3:11): cuius non sum dignus calciamenta portare (‘whose shoes I am not worthy to carry’).

Greek: οὗ οὑϰ εἰμὶ ἱϰανὸς τὰ ὑποδήματα βαστάσαι (‘whose shoes I am not sufficient to ?bear’).

Juvencus’ contingere (a word he uses elsewhere with the sense ‘touch’) is not close to the Greek βαστάσαι…, which can mean ‘lift up’, ‘bear’, ‘carry’, ‘carry off’ (=totlo in John 20: 15), and—but only in tragedy, according to LSJ—’touch’. He could perhaps have chosen it in preference to portare under the influence of the version in the other gospels (solvere corregiam, ‘stoop down and unloose’: Luke 3: 16, Mark 1: 7, John 1: 27), as a simplifying alternative. Use of the Greek is certainly not proven.

1. 356: scinditur auricolor caeli septemplicis aethra (‘the golden-coloured atmosphere of the sevenfold heaven is torn’).

OL (Matt. 3:16): etecce aperti sunt ei caeli (‘and, behold, the heavens were opened for him’); Mark 1: 10 has vidit caelos apertos (‘he saw the heavens opened’).

Greek (Mark 1: 10): εἶδε σχιζομένους τοὺς οὐρανούς (‘he saw the heavens torn’).

Fichtner argues that the verb scinditur was suggested to Juvencus by the Greek participle used in Mark’s version;9 such a switch is possible, as we have seen. But in classical Latin verse scinditur in this position is not uncommon.10

1. 552: mox aliam vultus partem praebere memento (‘remember to offer the ther part of your face soon’).

OL (Matt. 5: 39): praebe illi et alteram (var. lect. sinistram) (‘offer him the other/left (cheek)’).

Greek: στρέψου αὐτῷ ϰαί τὴν ἂλλην (‘turn the other one to him too’).

Juvencus cannot use the form alteram in hexameter verse (though in the nominative case it would be possible); for the change to aliam he did not need the prompting of the Greek, since the use of alius where alter might be expected is well established.11

2.551: parvulaque infantum vis haec comprendere cor da (‘and you wish the very small hearts of infants to understand these things’).

OL (Matt. 11: 25): revelasti ea parvulis (‘you have revealed these things to the very small’).

Greek: ἀπεϰάλυψας αὐτὰ νηπίοις (‘you have revealed them to infants’).

(p.388) The hexameter does not allow the form parvulis, and Juvencus has, characteristically, gone for a paraphrase using the form parvula with the noun cor da, and a genitive case (infantum). It is doubtful that he required the Greek word for ‘infants’ to suggest this last item to him.12

2. 707: et regina Noti vitales surget in or as (‘and the queen of the South rises to the shores of life’).

OL (Matt. 12: 42): et regina austri resurget (surget) (‘and the queen of the South will arise’).

Greek: βασίλισσα νότου ἐγερϑήσεται (‘the queen of the South will arise’).

At first sight a clear translation from the Greek, but a Latin source, or a paraphrase known to him, might have come up with noti; but since it is a common Latin word, and one favoured by poets, he might have devised it for himself, perhaps for metrical reasons.13

4. 81: ales uti dulces solita est sub corpore pullos… fovere (‘as a bird is accustomed to cherish its sweet chicks beneath its body’).

OL (Matt. 23: 37): quemadmodum gallina congregat pullos suos (‘as a hen gathers her chicks’).

Greek: ὃν τρόπον ἐπισυνὰγει ὂρνις τὰ νοσσία ἑαυτῆς (‘in the way that a bird gathers together her young’).

Juvencus prefers ales, which is a generic word for ‘bird’, as is the Greek SQVLS, to the more specific and workaday gallina of the Old Latin. It is not the commonest Latin word, and again a search for poetic diction is apparent. Greek influence is not certain.

4.794: vestrum est cunctas mihi iungere gentes (‘it is your task to join all races to me’).

OL (Matt. 28: 19): docete omnesgentes (‘teach all races’).

Greek: μαϑητεύσατε πὰντα τὰ ἒϑνη (‘make disciples of all races’).

Juvencus’ paraphrase seems to go to some lengths to give the sense ‘make disciples of, which the Greek probably means here (cf. Acts 14:21).14 This is perhaps the most impressive case.15

More candidates may come to light, especially from Book 3, hitherto the least studied, but it seems quite illegitimate to say with Ermini16 that (p.389) Juvencus often consulted the Greek, and unwise even to claim the Greek New Testament as part of his library, as Fichtner does.17 The above passages are not only few in number and precarious; they are also rather scattered, which enhances the probability that Juvencus did not make systematic use of the Greek NT. Details of Greek readings could have come through exegesis or by word of mouth, or, as some of the above cases show, the creative drive for poetic vocabulary may be responsible. Juvencus may well have understood Greek, and may be aware of interpretations from the Greek original, but it remains to be proved that it played any part in the process of paraphrase.

His principal model was certainly a Latin version. This is shown not only by the various kinds of verbal evidence accumulated by Widmann and Nestler,18 but also in a general way by passages where he follows what may be called the Latin tradition rather than the Greek. This seems to be the case at 1.414 (cf. Matt. 4:15), where the word via occurs in the nominative, as in the Old Latin, but the accusative case is used in Greek. The line Spiritus hie deus est, cui parent omnia mundi testifies to the Latin tradition (2.198; John 3:6) but not the Greek;19 at 3. 582-3 he has the addition ‘many are called but few are chosen’, which all Latin witnesses but few Greek ones have at Matt. 20: 16;20 and at 3. 612-20, as we have seen,21 he has the passage from Luke that is added after Matt. 20: 28 in Latin but not Greek versions.

In spite of much effort it has not been possible to specify which of the Old Latin (i.e. pre-Vulgate) versions he used, or even which of the two families, termed ‘European’ and ‘African’ from their provenance, his exemplar belonged to.22 Marold presented a number of passages where he claimed that Juvencus showed affinities with certain manuscripts or manuscript groups representing the European tradition;23 in response Sanday24 pointed out various places where he detected a greater affinity with the African. Marold’s findings were quantified by Nestler,25 and some are repeated by (p.390) Orbán.26 Other criteria might be considered: Juvencus omits Matt. 6: 13b with most versions of the European, Matt. 12: 47 with the African; he renders Matt. 17: 21, which the European has but not the African. But the significance of omissions must not be exaggerated; Juvencus leaves out material for his own reasons, as we have seen, and so such evidence has no diagnostic value. Appeal might also be made to stylistic preferences of the Old Latin versions; it is notable, for example, that where the African prefers the cum + subjunctive construction to express the notion ‘when/after (e.g.) he had done/was doing this’, the European prefers to use a participial construction.27 Juvencus has a marked fondness for the participle in such situations, but this choice may be one result of the strong epic colouring of his work. Scholars have also considered his use of simple and compound verbs, and his use of tenses and moods relative to possible exemplars, but here too Juvencus is demonstrably his own man. No doubt the range of such investigations could be extended, but this might prove to be unprofitable labour, not only because the number of extant versions is but a small proportion of what must have existed, and probably a correspondingly poor reflection of the kinds of admixture of relevant features, but also because account must always be taken of Juvencus’ working methods and above all of the relative freedom, at least in matters of style, that he allows himself.28


(1) Flury(1968).

(2) At 1. 539 we find sedes in Juvencus where the Greek NT has ϑρόνος.

(3) See e.g. Green (1990).

(4) But Madoz (1953/4), who is followed by Rchtner (1994), 189, is surely too sweeping when claiming widespread knowledge of Greek in Spain.

(5) Marold (1890).

(6) As claimed by Röttger, (1996), 10 n. 12.

(7) He also uses it of the female body (3. 56).

(8) Gebser (1827), and Röttger (1996), 35.

(9) Fichtner (1994), 62–4.

(10) Vergil, A. 2. 39, 6. 182; Ovid, M. 15. 739; Lucan 1. 551, 3. 638.

(11) TIL I. 1648. 70 ff.

(12) Cf. Colombi (1997a), 35.

(13) By using noti he can bring a dactyl into the line, although he does not avoid lines largely or even entirely composed of spondees (Hatfield 1890, 37–8).

(14) At Matt. 13: 52, however, the meaning of μαϑητευϑεὶς is closer to doctus and eruditus of the OL.

(15) Fichtner (1994), 31 and Röttger (1996), 125.

(16) Ermini (1960), 182.

(17) Fichtner (1994), 189.

(18) Widmann (1905), 6–11; Nestler (1910), sec. 1.

(19) Ambrose later accused the Arians of removing this line (De Spiritu Sancto 3. 10. 59), and it is found in Hilary (De Trin. 7. 14). But it is possible that it is an interpolation, or later addition, in Juvencus, as it is a single line and rather simpler than his usual style.

(20) Cf. 3. 772–3 (Matt. 22: 14), where in spite of his normal practice of economy Juvencus repeats the point, albeit in different words.

(21) See p. 29.

(22) See Burton (2000), 14–15 on the terminology.

(23) Marold (1990), 338–41.

(24) Sanday (1892).

(25) Nestler (1910), 27–30.

(26) Orbán (1995), 334–40, who confuses the issue by referring to the Vulgate as well as the OL.

(27) As in Matt. 8: 18 videns autem Iesus/cum vidisset autem lesus; Matt. 14: 15 vespere autem facto/cum serum autem factum est (esset); Matt. 15: 21 et egressus/cum autem exisset.

(28) Thraede (2001a), 887.