Gregory of Nazianzus’ Carmen 2,1,39 (εἰς τὰ ἔμμετρα) has generally been regarded as a sort of manifesto of Gregory’s poetry. Scholars have mostly concentrated on the programmatic core of the poem, but the iambic tirade of the closing part deserves attention as well. A thorough analysis of this text should start from a preliminary survey of its manuscript tradition, which points out the need of a critical edition, since the aged PG edition still relies on a few witnesses. Furthermore, this leads to the assumption that two different addressees are involved in the poem: the former is a fictitious one, whereas the second is Gregory’s sworn enemy, Maximus the Cynic. Thus, the iambic tirade which closes poem 2,1,39 should be set within the context of the Maximus affair. Such an identification affects the dating of the poem, too. Since the Maximus affair took place in summer 380, but on the other hand Gregory seems also to allude to the Council of Constantinople, which opened in 381, it may be concluded that the poem was composed in two phases and that the poetical program exposed is due to the re-working of an older satirical draft against Maximus.
So familiar are Gregory’s writings [. . .] that it takes an effort of the imagination to detach them, to be surprised at them. But the effort is necessary if we are to understand Gregory’s relationship to his several audiences.
A kind of prejudice often burdens Gregory of Nazianzus and flattens his well-rounded and politically committed figure into an icon of holiness. Gregory himself sketched a literary self-portrait: a reserved man, excessively sensitive and slightly weak, who spent his last days in seclusion composing poetry. In this respect, his famous poem 2,1,39, also known under the title of εἰς τὰ ἔμμετρα, is generally considered a programmatic manifesto; it appears mentioned almost everywhere as the doorway to the Carmina. This is true: here, the author luculenter declarat qua ratione sese ad versus scribendos contulerit, as Ernest Dubedout has already affirmed. Yet, despite various literary analyses of the programmatic Kern of the poem, “it cannot be considered a full-fledged ars poetica,” and its “full appreciation [. . .] and its significance is still lacking.”
One can feel, in other words, a certain embarrassment about 2,1,39 among critics, which might be due to the intrinsic incoherence of the poem. Two distinct parts can be identified within it: besides a central and programmatic core, the opening and the long second part of 2,1,39 (almost half the poem) resound with polemic tones unsuitable to the calmness that Gregory expresses in between. More light needs to be shed on the historical background of these verses, on their actual addressee, and on their author’s purposes. On these satirical elements—little studied so far—it will be worth dwelling in more detail on this analysis.
1. Back to the text: a few philological remarks to start with . . .
According to Heinz Martin Werhahn’s studies, the poem 2,1,39 belongs to the so-called Gedichtgruppe 13, together with sixteen others. The specific interest of this ἀκολουθία, which has not as yet been thoroughly studied, lies in its inner-consistency, since all the poems are not only written in iambic trimeter but also share a polemic flavour, many of them being addressed to Gregory’s enemies.
The poem 2,1,39 has come down to us in nine manuscripts, which have been collated in view of this study. Although the sample of verses taken into consideration does not suffice to draw general conclusions on the whole ἀκολουθία, some good readings may be restored in some cases (especially thanks to the high-quality text of L, for example).
Despite its great interest nowadays, the poem awaited a proper editio princeps longer than most of Gregory’s Carmina. It was first published in Leiden in 1590 by David Hoeschel, and then added in Fédéric Morel’s edition of 1609–1611, which was based, in turn, on the work of Jacques de Billy. Since Hoeschel’s text shares many wrong lectiones singulares with Mo, one might presume that his edition relied essentially on this one witness (or on a witness very close). Even later, as Morel’s edition flowed into the Maurist one, 2,1,39 seems to have been corrected only by means of Va, a recentior of ambiguous reliability. As a consequence, what one reads today in PG, should be regarded with the utmost caution: the reader, in fact, deals with a text eclectically reconstructed on the basis of just two out of nine sources.
However, since the quality of the transmission is generally high and the number of variants narrow, a preliminary literary survey is still possible. According to John McGuckin’s translation of the title (perhaps more neutral than the traditional Latin one), 2,1,39 is centred “On matters of measure”: indeed, the whole poem is a play on the double meaning of the Greek μέτρον, which obviously references both poetic metre and moral measure. Gregory’s argumentation in 2,1,39 can be summarized as follows:
Verses 1–11: Gregory argues with unnamed enemies, who are used to composing λόγοι ἄμετροι. He furthermore remarks on the value of God’s inspiration ([λόγοι] θεόπνευστοι).
Verses 12–31: Prelude to the programmatic section. The poet addresses in mild words someone he would like to attract to his poetry.
Verses 32–57: Programmatic core. Gregory lists the four reasons which have pushed him to use poetry, which are: (1) Keeping in check his natural inclination to write a lot; (2) Drawing young people closer to Christian teachings; (3) Emulating pagans, whose literary production is outstanding; (4) Giving some rest to his sick person.
Verses 56–67: Closing part of the programmatic section, with summary and ironical captatio benevolentiae directed to the σοφοί audience. Here Gregory hides an inner classification of his poems.
Verses 68–103: Wide and hawkish invective against an attacker. Suddenly the 2nd person disguises the identity of Gregory’s critic. But—Gregory claims—his use of the metre relies (1) on a Scriptural tradition and (2) on the topic of miscere utile dulci. Gregory throws one final dart at his enemy, still anonymous.
This short summary highlights that the poem is divided into two distinct sections. The former is the programmatic one (verses 12–67), while the second is what may be called the properly iambic one (verses 68–103).
2. How many addressees?
“The tone of the poem is undoubtedly polemical,” claims Čelica Milovanovič-Barham, without then dealing with this any further. Yet, it seems rather simplistic to dismiss the problem of the identity of Gregory’s addressee. As a matter of fact, one needs to ask how many addressees are alluded to in 2,1,39.
(1) On the one hand, Gregory’s mood towards his first addressee does not sound excessively harsh. The author, on the contrary, is driven by a didactic purpose not to condemn the desire to create verse, but rather to guide it. This addressee, in turn, would apparently like to learn. Moreover, the author has dedicated the whole poem, as a divertissement, to him.
(2) On the other hand, the real addressee of an iambic section appears below, and Gregory abruptly attacks him as an enemy in the flesh, outlining the figure of a poetaster, who gave birth to bad iambs but still criticizes Gregory’s verses. The skirmish against him is somewhat forceful, and Gregory resorts to the use of the 2nd person much more than before (cf. verses 84, 88, 98, 101 [PG 37:1335–1336]), closing with a final downpour of sarcastic insults.
The overall impression is that there are two addressees involved in the poem, working on the basis of inner linguistic and logical consistency, as will be shown later. Looking at the literary context that Gregory’s use of the iambic metre implies, both these sections respond to a specific function: late-antique iamb mostly survived as low-level didactic metre, whereas its archaic use in violent personal invective (ἰαμβικὴ ἰδέα) gradually disappeared. Yet, Gregory stands out as a noteworthy exception, since his extensive use of trimeter is often meant, at one and the same time, to convey a didactic message and to attack his enemies, making of him one of the last exponents of the archaic tradition. But this ἰαμβικὴ ἰδέα, in which 2,1,39 has to be framed as well, was designed to “be directed towards a target, a person—or a group of persons.”
3. Seeking a rival: Maximus and the poetic quarrel
As a matter of fact, every iambographer has his rival: Archilochus had Lycambes, Hipponax had Bupalus, and Callimachus had many more. What about Gregory, then?
Even those barely acquainted with Gregory’s biography know Maximus the Cynic, an Egyptian “philosopher” sent to Constantinople by Peter the bishop of Alexandria (380 C. E.). Maximus—a traitor to his friends—is said to have woven a web of deceit to seize the see of Constantinople. Gregory’s disappointed telling of this misadventure can be found in the poem 2,1,11 De vita sua. Here is Gregory’s sworn enemy.
In the poem 2,1,41 Adversus Maximum, sixty verses which clearly sound like a reply to the Cynic, Gregory vents anger against him. It is no surprise that between this poem and 2,1,39 there are similarities that allow to glimpse a shared background. Federico Fatti was the first to attempt to identify the addressee of 2,1,39 with Maximus, furnishing solid support for his thesis, but his view has somehow been overlooked. Further evidence can be provided by comparing 2,1,39 with other passages of Gregory’s poetry.
3.1 Cross-references between 2,1,39 and 2,1,41
In both poems 2,1,39 and 2,1,41, the author resorts to an insistent percontatio, typical of the diatribic strategy. In 2,1,41, Gregory opens the poem by apostrophizing his enemy, just as he does in the epilogue-part of 2,1,39. Moreover, frequent use of either his enemy’s name or the emphatic 2nd pronoun is to be found in 2,1,41, as well as in the scoptic part of 2,1,39. One passage more than others detects a striking weave of mutual allusions:
2,1,41,19 (PG 37:1340):
2,1,39,69 (PG 37:1334):
ἔπειτα μέτρον ἔβλυσας, ἄμετρος ὤν;
Μέτρον κακίζεις εἰκότως ἄμετρος ὤν
The comparison might suggest, indeed, that the pun which 2,1,39 is centred on had already been sketched in these verses of 2,1,41, openly against Maximus.
Furthermore, along with these overlaps, even some poetic images are to be related to 2,1,41 in order to be fully understood. At the beginning of 2,1,39, for example, Gregory introduces himself and his work as divinely inspired, but such an image has to be read in opposition to that of Maximus in 2,1,41, ironically described as a poetaster inspired by a fake Muse (μουσόπνευστος). The author’s comparison with David and his cithara in 2,1,39 may likewise be thrown in sharper relief in the light of a previous and sarcastic identification of his enemy with misleading models of the pagans, such as Orpheus and Amphion in 2,1,41.
3.2 Further traces of Maximus within 2,1,39
Thanks to 2,1,41, one may venture to name Gregory’s enemy as Maximus. Indeed, the poem 2,1,39 itself discloses more traces. Its opening is a classical recusatio of others’ buzzing logorrhea. Gregory is annoyed by the “sand of the seas” and the “Egyptian flies” of his time. Again, the two expressions remind us of Maximus, the “eleventh plague” of Egypt, which in fact comes from the sea. This is highly typical of Gregory’s way of alluding to Maximus and his Egyptian helpers.
Gregory’s depiction of his enemy’s behaviour becomes more astonishing and obscure at verse 79: ταῦτ ̓ οὐ πρόδηλον ψεῦδος οὐχὶ διπλόη; What exactly did Gregory mean by suggesting his enemy’s “duplicity”? This is not just about Maximus’ histrionic two-facedness, as once more the De vita sua clarifies:
Ἦν τίς ποθ᾽ ἡμῖν ἐν πόλει θηλυδρίας,
[. . .]
Τοιαῦτα θαύμαθ᾽ ἡμῖν ἐκ τῶν νῦν σοφῶν,
διπλοῦν τιν᾽ εἶναι τὴν φύσιν τὸ σχῆμά τε
ἀμφοῖν μερίζειν τοῖν γενοῖν τρισαθλίως,
κόμην γυναιξίν, ἀνδράσιν βακτηρίαν.
Thus, Maximus happens to be “twofold” especially from a sexual point of view. He is a sort of cross-dresser, who deserves the author’s ridicule. Hence the reason Gregory writes of an “iambographer” who is also an “abortion-maker.” Doubtless Gregory carefully chose the word ἄμβλωμα, which refers to the scientific vocabulary of medicine, but also goes back to the archaic scoptic tradition through Callimachus.
Even the name of the addressee of 2,1,39 may conceivably be detected. It was perhaps disguised within verse 68, where the author urges him to show off his literary skills: σὺ τέλει τὰ μείζονα. According to Fatti, this verse may actually hide the sort of pun which Gregory adored: no one but “Maximus” could better compose “greater works” (τὰ μείζονα). Thus, despite the endeavour to erase his enemy’s name from these verses, Gregory scattered many traces of Maximus across them.
3.3 The tenzon
Features and imageries of the second part of 2,1,39 belong to a literary framework of ψόγος, which usually requires specific circumstances. As a revival of the ancient ἰαμβικὴ ἰδέα, the poem should be part of a wider poetic repartee.
Further references to Maximus’ previous poetic assault may be detected in the poem. Fatti, e. g., saw in the antithesis between a μέτριος Gregory and an ἄμετρος enemy a hidden reference to the excessive size of Maximus’ work. Even if caution is called for, it is remarkable that the iunctura μέτρον κακίζειν occurs with striking frequency in our verses (verses 69, 74, 100), whereas the verb κακίζω is never attested in Gregory’s poetry, nor is the term μέτρον ever connected to it. Hence, the author could be here mockingly imitating his rival by quoting elements of his poetic assault.
Despite some considerable debate about the literary form—whether in prose or metre—of the attack, it seems clear that Maximus’ provoking assault was itself in iambic trimeters. This is not only suggested by the label of ἰαμβοποιός, which Gregory gives to Maximus, but also strengthened by a careful analysis of a specific passage:
Ὃ γὰρ κακίζεις [scil. τὸ μέτρον] τοῦτό σοι σπουδάζεται
καὶ σφόδρ’ ἀμέτρως τὸ γράφειν ποιήματα.
Ὅτ’ ἂν δ’ ἐλέγχῃ πίστις ἀντεισέρχεται
καὶ πεζὸς ἡμῖν ναυαγῶν ὁ φίλτατος.
Here, without metaphors, the adjective πεζός alludes to a prose writer. In other words, Gregory is saying that Maximus sank precisely at the moment that he took the risk of writing in metre: his shipwreck took place in the sea of poetry, on account of some iambic (and likely bombastic) verses against Gregory of Nazianzus.
Gregory made no explicit mention of Maximus throughout 2,1,39, though. At the end of 2,1,41, once more, Gregory clearly declares that he was not going to mention Maximus’ name again. No wonder, then, that he stuck with his resolve. For example, in one of his bitterest iambic poems, De se ipso et de episcopis, he often makes digs at Maximus, yet through covert hints. Gregory admits it there: οὐκ ὀνομαστὶ τοὺς λόγους ποιήσομαι, and he must have followed such a path in 2,1,39 too. He refuses the ὀνομαστὶ κωμῳδεῖν, showing utmost concern as to what ancient rhetoric suggested in relation to ψόγος: “You should often ridicule or find fault, but without mentioning names.” By doing so in 2,1,39, he kept the promise he had made at the end of 2,1,41.
4. Composing twice, between turmoil and silence
As a matter of fact, 2,1,39 takes place between two phases of the author’s life. In this respect, the literary inconsistency between the programmatic core and the strictly iambic section might relate to chronology too, since some passages inform the reader of events preceding Gregory’s withdrawal to Arianzum, while elsewhere the poem’s focus seems later.
4.1 The withdrawal after the Council
The central section, where Gregory lists the reasons which led him to poetry, may also contain a hint of the events of 381, which actually strengthens the idea of composition post 381:
Πότ’ ἂν γράφων σύ, τοῖς κάτω νοήμασιν
ἀναμφιλέκτους, ὦ ’τάν, ἐκτείναις λόγους;
Ἐπεὶ δὲ τοῦτο παντελῶς ἀμήχανον,
κόσμου ῥαγέντος εἰς τόσας διαστάσεις,
πάντων τ’ ἔρεισμα τῆς ἑαυτῶν ἐκτροπῆς
τούτους ἐχόντων τοὺς λόγους συμπροστάτας.
The passage is unclear. Gregory is metaphorically pointing out to his addressee the futility of the secular world, but then he lapses into a gloomy description of a “universe going to pieces,” because of internal struggles, where “everybody” takes as “basis of his own aversion” opposing and competing reasons (“which rule together”). What did the author mean precisely here?
In this regard, it should be recalled that προστάτης in Gregory’s poetry usually refers to the bishop. As a matter of fact, the council of 381 ended with complete breakdown, against his own wish, as Gregory plainly tells us. Only in this light, does it become clear why he mentions such a shattered word: among his accusations to bishops, he actually included their flattery, their contentious attitudes, and their fickle theological opinions.
Moreover, the obscure λόγοι συμπροστάται of the PG edition would be better connected with the “unworthy bishops” of the council in 2,1,12. It is notable that this reading lacks any attestation in the manuscript tradition, and that it most likely depends on a much later conjecture. On the contrary, the reading provided by the manuscripts remains λόγοι σὺν προστάταις, which (in the absence of a proper critical edition) at least raises a doubt on the author’s original intention: perhaps he principally meant to draw attention to his hostile colleagues at the council. They were guilty, in his eyes, of the long-lasting Antiochian Schism: of a κόσμος even more ῥαγείς than before.
As already seen, the poetic program ends with a sort of halfway farewell. The author’s woeful mood is here intensified through the simile with the swan, a form of lyrical self-praise typical of Gregory’s style. Still, there are some details worth focusing on. (1) Within the structure of the poem, it is rather odd that this valediction seals the programmatic section, since it might have featured more properly at the end of the poem itself, like an ending tout court. (2) If referred to Gregory’s biography, this passage cannot help but recall his withdrawal after the council. The simile in 2,1,39 exhibits striking correspondence with an Aesopic apologue in Gregory’s letter to Celeusius, placeable in the silence Lent just before Easter 382. Celeusius had reproached him for his decision to retire, but whereas other people—Gregory answers—are nothing but chatty swallows, he has become a haughty and lonely swan close to death, which bursts out into a mysterious melody by spreading its wings to the Zephirus (which specifically recalls of the συρίγματα in 2,1,39). There is little doubt that this letter dates back to the forty days of silence. Gregory’s further reference, in this poem, and in letter 114, to the poetic and moral μέτρον, discloses a shared background for all these works with 2,1,39.
4.2 Rethinking a previous invective
Among the consequences of Gregory’s withdrawal, there may well have been some programmatic thoughts about his use of poetry. It is no surprise, then, that this is precisely what we find in the first section of the poem. It is hard to explain, though, why his “silent treatment” meant an iambic invective: [H]aec verba si in Cappadocia scripta sunt meo saltem iudicio adversarium [. . .] parum afficere potuerunt, Louis De Jonge would say.
It seems unlikely that Gregory would urge his recipient to the quest for the good through his verses, and—later in the poem—reproach the same person, for being irritated by his own educational project. How could that be? Why would the master mock his pupil, even eventually comparing him to an ape and a crow? It is undeniable: Gregory firstly speaks to a fictitious character, to whom he addresses his teachings, and later turns to Maximus.
Yet, both Gregory’s purposes of defending and legitimating his poetry (see especially verses 82–89 and 90–98), and the many striking inner-repetitions and parallels hold poem 2,1,39 together. Even though the frequent repetition of verses or hemistichs is a typical feature of Gregory’s style, some of these parallels happen to be especially interesting, since they appear to counter each other. That is particularly true in the case of verse 30 versus verse 101, where the author replaces “his own metres” with those of his enemy, and instead of the former generic subject (“most people”), he puts a singular subject (as the participle σταθμώμενος requires). The overall impression is that the poet wrote ab universali ad particulare: he placed circumstantial issues after a true proemial nucleus. Utrum in alterum, then? Was the poem 2,1,39 truly born in this form and did its author organize its inner order in such a way from the outset? Perhaps one might rather suppose two separate stages: a proper birth, first, and a later reworking.
5. Dating the poem: Quo autem vitae anno illud scripserit statui nequit
More than a century ago, Louis De Jonge had already felt the need to further discuss the problem of the chronology of Gregory’s poems, going beyond the dubious arrangement of the Maurist edition. As he came across 2,1,39, however, he too opted to assign it to Gregory’s last period of withdrawal, as is usual. Indeed, the Maurist organization of the poems has often been strongly criticized, but the general tendency among scholars to yield to it has prevailed so far. However, the poem as a whole cannot be placed within the context of the Carême de silence.
[F]ieri vix potuit, ut Maximus [. . .] e tota Oriente expulsus, ab omnibus episcopis orientalibus [. . .] damnatus, post duos annos rediret ibique contra Gregorium scriberet
De Jonge says, with regard to 2,1,41. As Gregory composed such iambic invectives against him, either Maximus was still in the vicinity, or he had just moved away, yet leaving in the author a still open wound. Why else would he refer to his enemy’s sudden change of mind and behaviour? Just as he had written in 2,1,41: “You used not to be like this, until yesterday,” he apparently bursts out again in 2,1,39, hinting at events which have only just happened: “It was not that long ago that you behaved like an ape with us, and now you have become a lion!” Maximus’ metamorphosis from ape into lion has to be linked to a bold and unforeseen deed: thus was his ordination behind Gregory’s back in Constantinople.
Once more, according to Fatti, the origin of 2,1,39 should be fixed within a very short time range: between June and August 380. Two points of his thesis perhaps deserve more attention, though: (1) Considering the poem as a whole, this dating is based on the iambic section and it consequently ignores the programmatic core; (2) The fact that Fatti as well identifies the historical background of the poem with the “Maximus affair” does not necessarily mean that Maximus had to be present in Constantinople at the precise moment that Gregory attacked him.
With regard to the above-mentioned verses 76–77, Thomas Hawkins has seen a reference to the so-called Strasbourg Epode. This echo, though distant, becomes closer, when one realizes that Gregory’s acquaintance with this lyric piece is certain. Furthermore, if this archaic iambic model is working here as in Horace, Epodes 10, where the poet attacks his rival Mevius, Gregory, in turn, would be purposefully resorting to it against his own enemy. In this passage, he would hence be wishing Maximus, who is poised to leave, a harshly sarcastic bon voyage, nothing but an upside-down προπεμπτικόν. If these verses indeed concealed such an ironic wish for shipwreck, one might be tempted to assume that they were composed right after Maximus raised anchor from the capital.
But despite Fatti’s hypothesis, 2,1,39’s iambic tirade is more likely to be assigned to the days that immediately followed Maximus’ departure, as he sought Theodosius’ support in Thessalonica in 380. Thanks to the Codex Theodosianus, two different imperial sojourns in Thessalonica can be established: the first from January until 14th July, the second from 20th September until 16th November, when Theodosius marched towards Constantinople, where on November 27th he endorsed Gregory’s election as bishop of the city.
Obviously, a terminus post quem for the composition of these verses is provided by Maximus’ betrayal. In the De vita sua, Gregory tells us that he tried to resign coram populo because of his great disappointment subsequent to Maximus’ behaviour. Yet, the Orthodox community of Constantinople did not easily give up: some people even burst into tears and let out hysterical yells. An unexpected reaction partially due to the sweltering weather: there is no doubt that it was summer when Gregory was speaking, and since orations 21 and 34—where Gregory still shows himself to be on good terms with Egypt—date back to May of that year, one must conclude that the affair of Maximus most likely happened during the summer 380. This memory would then relate to September, at the very latest.
It is hard to imagine that Gregory’s poetic reply was written around July 14th: not only would this imply that Maximus’ attack occurred earlier, but such a coup de théâtre as his betrayal and the following literary fights should have also happened within the short space of a month! Hence, between September 20th and November 16th (if we consider the navigation season at the time, perhaps before the end of October at the latest), Maximus left for Thessalonica. In order to shut Gregory up, he also left behind some insulting verses against his former friend. Gregory, however, promptly replied with those verses which today one reads in the closing part of 2,1,39. The inclement season was coming; Gregory himself had a first-hand experience of shipwreck (a great shock for him): no wonder he resolved to issue such a disgraceful au revoir to his enemy, by means of an iambic poem.
6. To conclude
The poet speaking in the middle of 2,1,39 is the poet of the silent period. Enough evidence has already been provided by the many parallels with the letter to Celeusius, which unquestionably belongs to the Carême de silence of 382.
The idle scuffles of the Ville lumière were merely a memory, and Gregory’s mouth was keeping holy silence. Yet, with his pen, he was writing more than ever, introducing himself as “an instrument of God.” Such a context is likely to have prompted Gregory to compose a proem for his poems, which one can nowadays read at the beginning of 2,1,39. Only in light of such a new appraisal may the composition of the poem be ascribed to 382 as well. We should not forget, after all, that: “Gregory’s poetry is perpetually poised upon the brink of death, lending his every pronouncement the urgency of being potentially his last” and that is what perhaps has often driven his reader to the wrong conclusions.
In the poem 2,1,39, it is hard to discern only one phase of composition. Gregory must have come across some verses of his own, instead, something like a draft of 2,1,39, that he had written years before. They were a series of verses written in reply to his enemy Maximus, composed in a rush between September and October 380. While rereading them, he must have been struck by their thorough suitability as an opening to his collection, since they already contained an outline of his program. Perhaps, on the basis of that μετριότης the ancient rhetoric had raised him to, a number of references, too direct, had to be softened. Thus, he set to work; he smoothed and modified that draft, adding a programmatic core, whose addressee was nothing but a fictitious and idealised one. To such a pupil he explained the grounds for his poetry, thus providing, at one and the same time, a bright and holy image of himself, enshrined in his verses.
© 2020 De Blasi, published by De Gruyter
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.