Arator: Historia Apostolica

BookArator: Historia Apostolica

Arator: Historia Apostolica

Translated Texts for Historians, 73


August 25th, 2020



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Arator’s Historia Apostolica, published with papal approval and to great acclaim in 544, is an enthralling epic poem which retells the story of the Acts of Apostles, following clearly in the stylistic footsteps of Vergil and Lucan. On the other hand, it is also a detailed commentary on what Arator perceived to be the hidden meaning of the biblical text, divined and revealed through the technique of allegorical interpretation and drawing upon the exegesis of Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, and others. Narrative and commentary alternate throughout the work to enthralling effect, as the apostles Peter and Paul embark on their separate missionary adventures, eventually to be reunited in martyrdom in Nero’s Rome.

The translation is preceded by an introduction which begins with a re-evaluation of the sources which detail Arator’s life, in particular taking a fresh look at his relationship with his mentor Ennodius. There follow an examination of the poet’s aims, methods and inspirations and a discussion of his attitudes to heresies both past and present. The introduction ends with a ground-breaking examination of the ‘afterlife’ of Arator’s poem, mapping the extent of his influence, as evident in quotation and allusion, the copying of manuscripts, and inclusion in medieval libraries from the sixth century to the eleventh. Arator’s influence on several later authors, most notably the Venerable Bede, is explored in more detail in a number of appendixes. Arator’s combination of epic verse and mystical commentary was a heady and potent mix and ensured the poem’s popularity, not least among the monks of Anglo-Saxon England and the Carolingian continent.

'Richard Hillier delivers here an imposing work, richly documented and welcome in English scholarship on a poet whose fame medieval and literary complexity are no longer to be demonstrated and which therefore deserves to be better translated and commented to reveal the flavors of his subject.'Paul-Augustin Deproost, Latomus
Translated from French,
'Richard Hillier livre ici un travail imposant, richement documenté et bienvenu dans l’érudition anglophone sur un poète dont la renommée médiévale et la complexité littéraire ne sont plus à démontrer et qui mérite donc d’être de mieux en mieux traduit et commenté pour révéler les saveurs de son propos.'

Author Information

Richard Hillier is a Visiting Fellow at St John’s College in the University of Durham. His previous publications include Arator on the Acts of the Apostles: A Baptismal Commentary (Oxford Early Christian Studies; Oxford, 1993); Dynamic Intertextuality in the Miracula Nynie Episcopi: remembering Arator’s Historia Apostolica’, Anglo-Saxon England 44 (2016), pp. 163–180; Arator and Baptism in Sixth-Century Rome’, Studia Patristica 71 (2014), pp. 111–33.