The ancient cento-genre was prone to be used on all kinds of subjects. New texts were created out of the classical epics. Empress Eudocia followed this practice and composed the story of Jesus in lines lifted almost verbatim from Homer’s epics. Jesus and his relevance to her audience is thus presented within the confines of style and vocabulary offered by the Iliad and Odyssey. The lines picked to convey her theology are often clustered around key Homeric motifs or type scenes, such as warfare, homecoming, feast, reconciliation, hospitality. Jesus waging war against all evil and Hades in particular runs throughout this Homeric and simultaneously biblical epic. The story starts in the Old Testament which is conceived as a divine counsel on Mt. Olympus where a plan to save sinful humanity is presented. The narrative then follows the biographic lines of the canonical gospels, with John’s Gospel holding pride of place in the way she renders and interprets the Jesus-story. The story told suspends both the geography and time of Jesus. Eudocia preaches the story she tells. She emerges in this poem as one of the most, if not the most prolific female theologian and preacher in the first Christian centuries.
Karl Olav Sandnes is New Testament professor at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion, and Society since 1993.
Chapter 1: A Homeric Gospel
Chapter 2: A Divine Plan is Conceived
Chapter 3: A Readers Guide: Chaps. 19–22
Chapter 4: A Ministry that Is a Sign: Introducing the Sign-Miracle Cycle
Chapter 5: Homeric Banquets and Feasting in the Sign-Miracle Cycle
Chapter 6: Homeward Bound in the Sign-Miracle Cycle
Chapter 7: Recognizing the Divine and Finding a Groom in the Sign-Miracle Cycle
Chapter 8: Taking on Death/Hades in the Sign-Miracle Cycle
Chapter 9: Feast and Eucharist in the Passion Story
Chapter 10: The Battle: Overthrowing Hades in the Passion Story
Chapter 11: “The Man Who Wrought Much Evil, Beyond the Others Together”: Judas
About the Author
Over 1,000 years before Milton put classical epic to work to ‘assert eternal Providence and justify the ways of God to Man’ in Paradise Lost, there was Eudocia, who in retelling the Christian story of salvation with lines from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey composed a theological poem of unusual communicative power. This is a woman—an empress, no less—who, as Karl Olav Sandnes puts it, insists on being heard, at a time of charged theological debate dominated by men. Sandnes presents Eudocia’s poem as an original, even idiosyncratic, interpretation of the Gospels that weaves together Christian and pre-Christian strands of tradition into one rich tapestry.
This is a careful study of Eudocia’s representation of Jesus as a Homeric hero in her Homerocentones—a very fine investigation into the work of an ancient, refined female author against the backdrop of Biblical passages silencing women, which Eudocia turns upside down. This intriguing research delves into one of the many ways in which classical culture and Christianity intersected in late antiquity in amazingly productive ways.
Was Eudocia, the daughter of a sophist and wife of Theodosius II, pagan or Christian? Was she Nestorius' supporter or a miaphysite? Was she a powerful court lady or a repudiated wife? The famous empress and poet is an unknown figure to the wider public and her life and work are full of contradictions. The so-called Homeric Centos -- a poem composed with verbatim Homeric lines -- is similarly a poem of incongruities. Is it Homeric or Biblical poetry? A school exercise, an imitation, or an emulation of The Poet? A pagan prank void of theological agenda? Finally, is it a work by a woman or a collage of various male editors? Scholars can and did give different answers. Where Karl Olav Sandnes succeeds is in going beyond the contradictions by providing a holistic reading of Eudocia's Homeric Centos. By reading the Homeric Centos as a Gospel Harmony, the author challenges the reader to understand the poem as a congruent meeting ground not only of classical traditions but also of scholarly methodologies. Balancing between the Homeric material and the theological context he gives an insightful reading of the poem and highlights its debt to the Old and the New Testament as well as Homer. He thus makes accessible to a wider audience a work that is usually placed in the margins of the canon, both for classicists and theologians, and shows the harmonious entanglement of classical paideia and Christian exegesis. This book will be of interest to scholars of Antiquity and Early Christianity alike. It is an excellent introduction and an astute reading of the multifaceted relationship between classical culture and Christianity in the fifth century CE and brilliantly shows the possibilities of a harmonious cohabitation.