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Rufinus' vivid account of the battle between the Eastern Emperor Theodosius and the Western usurper Eugenius by the River Frigidus in 394 represents it as the final confrontation between paganism and Christianity. It is indeed widely believed that a largely pagan aristocracy remained a powerful and active force well into the fifth century, sponsoring pagan literary circles, patronage of the classics, and propaganda for the old cults in art and literature. The main focus of much modern scholarship on the end of paganism in the West has been on its supposed stubborn resistance to Christianity. The dismantling of this romantic myth is one of the main goals of Alan Cameron's book. Actually, the book argues, Western paganism petered out much earlier and more rapidly than hitherto assumed.
The subject of this book is not the conversion of the last pagans but rather the duration, nature, and consequences of their survival. By re-examining the abundant textual evidence, both Christian (Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Paulinus, Prudentius) and "pagan" (Claudian, Macrobius, and Ammianus Marcellinus), as well as the visual evidence (ivory diptychs, illuminated manuscripts, silverware), Cameron shows that most of the activities and artifacts previously identified as hallmarks of a pagan revival were in fact just as important to the life of cultivated Christians. Far from being a subversive activity designed to rally pagans, the acceptance of classical literature, learning, and art by most elite Christians may actually have helped the last reluctant pagans to finally abandon the old cults and adopt Christianity. The culmination of decades of research, The Last Pagans of Rome overturns many long-held assumptions about pagan and Christian culture in the late antique West.
Alan Cameron is Charles Anthon Professor Emeritus of Latin at Columbia University. His previous books include Claudian: Poetry and Propaganda at the Court of Honorius, The Greek Anthology: From Meleager to Planudes, Callimachus and his Critics, and Greek Mythography in the Roman World.
Table of Contents
1: Pagans and Polytheists 2: From Constantius to Theodosius 3: The Frigidus 4: Pagan Priests and Initiates 5: Pagan Converts 6: Pagan Writers 7: Macrobius and the "Pagan" Culture of his Age 8: The Poem against the Pagans 9: Other Christian Invectives 10: The Real Circle of Symmachus 11: The "Pagan" Literary Revival 12: Correctors and Critics I 13: Correctors and Critics II 14: The Livian Revival 15: Greek Texts and Latin Translation 16: Pagan Scholarship: Vergil and his Commentators 17: The Annales of Nicomachus Flavianus I 18: The Annales of Nicomachus Flavianus II 19. Classical Revivals 20: The Historia Augusta Conclusion Appendix: The Poem against the Pagans