116th Annual Conference - Bellingham, Washington
Friday, November 9 - Sunday, November 11, 2018

Claudianus Mamertus the Poet: A Forgotten Reputation and the “Pange Lingua Gloriosi”

Richard Rush, University of California Riverside

Claudianus Mamertus’ reputation as a poet was a crucial part Claudianus’ reputation during the fifth century. Furthermore, I claim, through an analysis of Claudianus’ reputation as a poet and a reexamination of the manuscript tradition, that Claudius composed the poem “Pange lingua gloriosi,” currently attributed to the sixth-century poet Fortunatus.


Claudianus Mamertus was a priest of Vienne during the late fifth century. He served in the church under his older brother, simply known as Mamertus, who was bishop in Vienne. Claudianus is primarily known for his philosophical work, the De Statu Animae, a three-volume tract asserting that the soul is spiritual, not corporeal. Naturally, the De Statu Animae, Claudianus’ education, and Claudianus as a philosopher have dominated any study of the Viennese priest. However, studies that focus only on these aspects of his life produce a one-dimensional portrait of Claudianus. We lose sight of Claudianus’ relationships. He worked closely with his brother managing the church of Vienne. He was a friend and correspondent of Sidonius Apollinaris. We lose sight of the fact that Claudianus was not only a philosopher, but also a poet.

In this paper, I assess Claudianus’ reputation as a poet and assert that poetry was a crucial part Claudianus’ reputation during the fifth century. In doing so, I rely on the letters of Sidonius Apollinaris, especially the epitaph that Sidonius composed for Claudianus upon his death, and Gennadius of Marseilles’ entry on Claudianus in the De Viris Inlustribus, written in the mid 490’s.

Gennadius was even kind enough to name a poem that Claudianus wrote, the “Pange lingua gloriosi.” However, Gennadius’ evidence has been spurned as unreliable and this poem is currently attributed to the sixth-century poet Fortunatus due to its association with Fortunatus in the manuscript tradition.[1] My examination of Gennadius’ reliability reveals that while Gennadius did include some false information, he was sensitive to reporting the truth. When Gennadius included unsubstantiated rumors, he clearly marked them when he did. Therefore, Gennadius is more reliable than previously believed, although he still must be used carefully. Furthermore, the manuscript tradition used to attribute the “Pange lingua gloriosi” to Fortunatus does not begin until almost 200 years after Fortunatus lived. This leaves plenty of time for the “Pange lingua gloriosi” to have entered the Fortunatus manuscript tradition prior to the creation of the extant tradition.

Finally, I propose a scenario that could explain how the “Pange lingua gloriosi” could have become associated with Fortunatus. Fortunatus was a companion of the Merovingian queen turned nun, Radegund. Radegund had acquired a relic of the True Cross and had it installed in her monastery in Poitiers. In preparation for this event, Fortunatus composed several poems to be used as a part of the festivities. “Pange lingua gloriosi,” a poem about the cross on which Jesus was crucified and it was written in trochaic tetrameters catalectic, a rather rare meter used in processions, would have been a perfect fit for the occasion. I contend that “Pange lingua gloriosi” was used as a part of the ceremonies along with poems that Fortunatus did compose. Therefore, when Fortunatus’ poems were compiled, the “Pange lingua gloriosi” was included among Fortunatus’ other poems on the cross.

[1] Engelbrecht, Claudiani Mamerti Opera, (CSEL, Vol. 11, Vindobonae: Apud C. Geroldi Filium Bibliopola Academiae, 1885), xlviiii.

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