Published: Dec. 19, 2022

McClanahan Essay Prize Lecture

Athanasius Strikes Back: The Life of Antony as a Rebuttal of the Vita Apollonii
Jacob Horton, University of Colorado Boulder

Thursday, January 26, 2023  |  5:00 p.m.  |  Eaton Humanities 135

The Torment of Saint Anthony, attributed to Michelangelo

By the 5th century CE, Christian hagiography had become a preeminent form of literature in the Roman world. What began with harrowing stories about martyrs tortured and executed during the imperial persecutions transitioned into idealized accounts of ascetic holy men and women who became figurative martyrs, relinquishing not their lives but worldly pleasures. Christian hagiography did not emerge out of nowhere, however, finding comparanda in the biographies of earlier pagan holy men. In this talk, I analyze Athanasius’ Life of Antony and Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius in light of the concept of the θεῖος ἁνήρ (holy man). Analyzing the narratological and thematic elements, as well as the political and religious climate of the late fourth century, I argue that Athanasius’ work can fruitfully be read as a rebuttal of the Life of Apollonius and by extension of the Neo-Pythagorean movement. More broadly, I propose the reading of early Christian hagiography as a calculated response to the burgeoning pagan revival of the third and fourth centuries.

A reception will follow after the lecture in Eaton Humanities 350.

Register for the reception here

This essay prize and lecture is sponsored by Mary E.V. McClanahan. The Department is grateful for her generous support.

View the PDF poster here