European Pagan Memory Day

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Orosius lived between the fourth and the fifth century of current era; his work Seven books of history against the pagans became THE Book of ancient history for Middle Ages and more. During his life, he met other writers who were somehow protagonists of the antipagan polemic of his times: he was a disciple of Jerome and it was Augustin of Hippo who led him to write this History. Orosius met Augustinus in 413 and asked him advice about some theological matter Priscillianists and Origenists were discussing about. Lately, Orosius began to write his work as a supplement of Augustine's City of Gods, in which it was said that not Christianity and abandon of traditional cults were to be blamed for some recent tragic events in the Roman Empire (including the sack of Rome by Alaric in 410), but that this kind of facts happened in all ages.

Orosius in his work stresses very much this apologetic feature and even bends the whole history to his providential worldview: before Christianity "death and a thirst for bloodshed prevailed during the time in which the religion that forbids bloodshed was unknown"(Pref., 14) and only after the complete triumph of Christianity death would be finally defeated. To help this triumph, the divine providence would have allowed the birth of Rome with its empire, so that they could unify the world to better spread Christianity; barbaric invasion are a sign of divine providence too. All evil things in the world come from the man's blame and sin and from god's punishment. This is why Orosius often exaggerates the tragic aspects of past events; on the opposite, he believes the occasional gentleness of barbarian people to be a product of their conversion to Christianity, as he writes about the Goths (I, 16), who asked for alliance with Rome and a place to settle, instead of invading the city and taking lands with weapons.The whole world history, as well as descriptions of famous personalities, is bent to fit this view.

It is believed that Orosius didn't know Greek and so he turned only to Latin sources. He didn't went very much into these, anyway: about eastern history, his main source was the work of Justin, which was in turn a summary of Pompeius Trogus' work, while about the rest, apart the bible, he probably drew something from Tacitus, Livy or summaries of his Ab urbe condita, and certainly from the Chronicles by Eusebius, translated into Latin by Jerome, whose works were another source of Orosius'.

What matters more about Orosius' work for an ideal history of the late antiquity literature against pagans, is the fortune the History against the Pagans had during the following centuries. It was the main source about ancient history for Middle Age historians, along with Jerome's translation of Eusebius: it became so essential for knowledge of ancient history, that it was translated into several vernacular languages, into Arab too, and printed as soon as 1471. We have to wait for the nineteenth century for Orosius to be considered a no more reliable source for ancient facts and personalities, because of his extremely one-sided view and his more ideological than scientific method.

Reference works

Manuela Simeoni


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