The Panegyric Composed by Ennodius in Honour of King Theodoric: How Rhetoric Writes History
The life and work of Ennodius (473/474–521) falls in a crucial but highly troubled period of late antiquity. With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the arrival of the Ostrogoths, and Theodoric’s takeover of authority, Ennodius witnessed a number of processes which set the course of events for the centuries to come. He left an important testimony to his time in his panegyric to King Theodoric, which demonstrates the author's high level of classical education as well as his familiarity with classical, imperial, and early Christian literature. A skilfully written rhetorical work spanning the years 461–506/507, elaborate in style and content, it bears ample testimony to the historical reality of Theodoric’s time and constitutes an important historical source for the early period after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
The panegyric dates from the first half of 507. The diversity of its content leaves the reasons for its composition open to speculation, the most likely hypothesis being that Ennodius wished to thank Theodoric for his victories and achievements in general (no particular event is highlighted). It is no coincidence that the panegyric was composed after the final regulation of Theodoric’s authority and after a relatively long period of peace. It is clear from the panegyric that Ennodius had a highly positive attitude to Theodoric, whom he saw as a continuator and stimulator of the idea of eternal Rome. In his view, Theodoric’s assumption of authority over the Western part of the Roman Empire was a historical watershed which would bring a rejuvenation of Rome; the beginning of a new golden age.
Besides its great historical value, the work of Ennodius is distinguished by its rhetorical and stylistic perfection. Confronted with the mass of historical material on Theodoric, Ennodius would have run into difficulties selecting an appropriate topic (inventio), but he emerges as a skilled collector and a masterly organiser in arranging the selected topic into a logical and original whole (dispositio). While the panegyric testifies to his thorough rhetorical education, the form of his presentation (elocutio) also displays some deviations from classical rhetorical standards (free word order, special metaphors, the use of periphrasis, paronomasia…). Embellishment through figures of diction (verborum exornatio) is matched by embellishment through figures of thought (sententiarum exornatio). Statistically, the prevailing rhetorical device is alliteration, followed by metaphor, antithesis, parallelism, intensification, and metonymy. In addition, a detailed analysis yields the following most frequent figure combinations: anaphora and parallelism; anaphora, parallelism and intensification (also enumeration); intensification and amplification; the use of synonyms… Similarly, the panegyric demonstrates Ennodius’ mastery of panegyrical topics (loci communes), which are displayed almost in their entire canon.
The analysis of the panegyric concludes by evaluating Ennodius’ originality and creativity against the rhetorical tradition of schools. A comparison of the formal division of his panegyric with Hermogenes’ point-by-point division of a hymn reveals that Ennodius, while generally maintaining the school tradition of hymns, at the same time shows considerable originality and creativity. With his panegyric to King Theodoric, he proves himself a master of selecting an (appropriate) historical topic, and a skilled author of embellishment through figures of thought and diction.
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