Pauca tamen memorans : A selection of late antique epitaphs commemorating young women
My dissertation examines a selection of fourth- and fifth-century inscribed Latin funerary poems commemorating young, Christian women in late antique Rome and Roman Italy. An in-depth analysis of fourteen verse epitaphs dedicated to young women reveals how funerary poetry creates an identity of deceased individuals while at the same time demonstrates religious beliefs of the time and offers insights into the role of women through powerful poetic means. Epigraphic commemoration of the dead was a persistent feature of the “epigraphic habit” in Roman Italy, one whose vitality indexes the shifting religious and moral sentiments of an age transitioning from a classical to a Christian system of values. The fourth century not only saw a poetic revival but also a surge in epigraphic production. The epitaphs of my collection expose the intricate interplay of late antique poetic and consolatory literary topoi employed by epitaph writers to aid in alleviating the grief of the bereaved. My particular questions highlight issues of literary sensibility and biographical representation as well as religious and spiritual ideals. In these epitaphs, classical references to untimely death and astral immortality blend with Christianizing ethical codes and a revised sense of the afterlife drawn from Scriptural images. Close scrutiny of these cultural negotiations reveals the forces reshaping the social identities of non-elite women within their social and religious communities as well as in their own families. In other words, not only do these epitaphs inform us about the social lives of these young women but they also illuminate the lived religion of the time. The reasons for addressing these questions and problems are several. The corpus of late antique funerary poetry, along with the social class that it commemorates, has been understudied by the scholarly community. These epitaphs may reveal how the bereaved honored and identified the female victims of untimely deaths while also demonstrating the importance of young women’s roles in early Christian communities.
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