Venantius Fortunatus, Poems 2.14 (De sanctis Agaunensibus, 'On the saints of Agaune'), 19-20, 29-30
Extracts from a poem praising the martyrdom in the Alps of the Theban Legion.
Ecce, triumphantum ductor fortissime, tecum
quattuor hic procerum pignora sancta iacent 20
Fortunatus enim per fulgida dona tonantis,
ne tenebris crucier, quaeso feratis opem. 30
'See [Maurice], most valiant leader of the triumphant soldier, here lie with you the holy relics of four noble men ... I, Fortunatus, now beg by the glorious bounty of God that you grant me your aid that I may not be tormented by darkness.'
Text: Leo 1881, 42-43. Translation: Roberts 2017, 105, lightly modified.
Saint NameTheban Legion, commanded by *Maurice, martyrs of Agaunum Gaul : S00339
Saint Name in SourceMauricius
Type of EvidenceLiterary - Poems
Evidence not before565
Evidence not after576
Activity not before565
Activity not after576
Place of Evidence - RegionGaul and Frankish kingdoms
Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)Tours
Major author/Major anonymous workVenantius Fortunatus
Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and CustomsPrayer/supplication/invocation
Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and NarrativesAristocrats
Cult Activities - RelicsBodily relic - unspecified
SourceVenantius Fortunatus was born in northern Italy, near Treviso, and educated at Ravenna. In the early 560s he crossed the Alps into Merovingian Gaul, where he spent the rest of his life, making his living primarily through writing Latin poetry for the aristocracy of northern Gaul, both secular and ecclesiastical. His first datable commission in Gaul is a poem to celebrate the wedding in 566 of the Austrasian royal couple, Sigibert and Brunhild. His principal patrons were Radegund and Agnes, the royal founder and the first abbess of the monastery of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, as well as Gregory, the historian and bishop of Tours, Leontius, bishop of Bordeaux, and Felix, bishop of Nantes, but he also wrote poems for several kings and for many other members of the aristocracy. In addition to occasional poems for his patrons, Fortunatus wrote a four-book epic poem about Martin of Tours, and several works of prose and verse hagiography. The latter part of his life was spent in Poitiers, and in the 590s he became bishop of the city; he is presumed to have died early in the 7th century. For Fortunatus' life, see Brennan 1985; George 1992, 18-34; Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, vii-xxviii; PCBE 4, 'Fortunatus', 801-822.
The eleven books of Poems (Carmina) by Fortunatus were almost certainly collected and published at three different times: Books 1 to 7, which are dedicated to Gregory of Tours, in 576; Books 8 and 9 after 584, probably in 590/591; and Books 10-11 only after their author's death. A further group of poems, outside the structure of the books, and known from only one manuscript, has been published in modern editions as an Appendix to the eleven books. For further discussion, see Reydellet 1994-2004, vol. 1, lxviii-lxxi; George 1992, 208-211.
Almost all of Fortunatus' poems are in elegiac couplets: one hexameter line followed by one pentameter line.
For the cult of saints, Fortunatus' poems are primarily interesting for the evidence they provide of the saints venerated in northern Gaul, since many were written to celebrate the completion of new churches and oratories, and some to celebrate collections of relics. For an overview of his treatment of the cult of saints, see Roberts 2009, 165-243.
DiscussionThe four noble companions of Maurice were Exuperius, Candidus, Victor and Innocentius (Roberts 2017, 848-849). For Saint-Maurice-d'Agaune, see Vieillard-Troiekouroff 1976, 265-268.
If, as seems likely, this poem addresses the relics of the soldiers of the Theban Legion in their major shrine at Agaune (now in modern Switzerland), this poem was probably written when Fortunatus was in eastern Francia, soon after his arrival from Italy.
BibliographyEditions and translations:
Leo, F., Venanti Honori Clementiani Fortunati presbyteri Italici opera poetica (Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 4.1; Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1881).
Roberts, M., Poems: Venantius Fortunatus (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 46; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).
George, J., Venantius Fortunatus, Personal and Political Poems (Translated Texts for Historians 23; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995).
Reydellet, M., Venance Fortunat, Poèmes, 3 vols. (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1994-2004).
Brennan, B., "The Career of Venantius Fortunatus," Traditio 41 (1985), 49-78.
George, J., Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
Roberts, M., The Humblest Sparrow: The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).
Vieillard-Troiekouroff, M., Les monuments religieux de la Gaule d'après les œuvres de Grégoire de Tours (Paris, 1976).