Christian Literary Propaganda

When Damasus joined Christian commemorations to the pagan feasts in the Codex-Calendar, the commemorations subsumed the essence of the original pagan feast. The result was a novel personal and communal religious experience. Just as the new feasts were a blend of pagan and Christian elements, the literary propagandizing texts of the same period also blended pagan and Christian elements. Their appeal relied upon the classical heritage common to Christians and pagans. Their poetic forms and intertextual references were directed to patricians and intellectuals in the church hierarchy who had been schooled in classical rhetoric. But they could also be adapted to sermons, liturgical ceremonies, and prayers that appealed to the wider congregation.

As the martyria became centers of pilgrimage, there was a corresponding embellishment and publication of the Roman martyrologies. These literary martyr acts were used in the service of conversion just as the martyr shrines and the Christian calendar. In these martyr texts, certain common features appeared. First, the piety of the martyr was clearly established (young maidens zealous in their faith were typical protagonists) and the crowd that gathered to watch the struggle was characterized as both sympathetic and agitated. The martyrdom often was described as occurring in a triallike setting. Finally, the martyr invariably exhibited an obstinate hostility toward the Romans. As we consider below the legends of Agnes, the virgin martyr and patron saint of Rome, we will discern all the elements typical of a martyrology.

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