Decimus Manius Ausonius was born in Burdigala, now Bordeaux, about 310 A.D. and died there about 395 A.D. The son of a doctor, he completed his studies at Toulouse and taught grammar and rhetoric in his native city for thirty years. About the year 367 the Emperor Valentinian called him to Treviri (modern Trier) to educate his son Gratian. He was “quaestor sacri palatii” in 375, “praefectus Galliarum” in 378 and consul in 379.
After the assassination of Gratian, he retired to his estates near Bordeaux, and devoted himself to literary studies and to poetry. In his old age he became converted to Christianity.
He wrote “Ephemeris”, a poem in various metres describing the several moments in the poet’s day and the 483 hexameters of the “Mosella”, describing a journey along that river. He also wrote epigrams and poems in honour of Bissala, a Germanic slave girl, 26 verse epistles, many of which addressed to his disciple, Paulinus from Nola.
Ausonius belongs to the history of visual poetry because we find in him the typical mannerisms of visual poets, from the Alexandrines to Porphyrius. For example, by making use of Virgil’s works as if they were a stone quarry, Ausonius pieces together the collage of “Cento Nuptialis” where he explains in the dedication that the constructive element of the work consists in the use of a long line, one hexameter and a half, and in the coordination of the sentences by simply placing them one after the other in a new continuous text. Apparently Ausonius considered the “cento” a kind of picture poem, in the sense of a mosaic of phrases.
In a verse letter he mixes Greek and Latin in a systematic way, so that he appears to be a the precursor of macaronic poetry. He wrote also an enigmatic poem according to the style of the Alexandrine poet Lycophrone, that is by the punctilious use of rare words and sophisticated mythological innuendos.
He was a virtuoso of prosody and his “Oratio versibus rhopalicis” consists of 14 stanzas of three lines each: each line being rhopalic, that is to say that starting from a monosyllabic word, it progressively increases by one syllable (picture 1)
Ausonius is also the author of the “Technopaegnia”, a term by which he indicated a series of compositions in hexameters which regularly end by a monosyllable and in one poem; that monosyllable is repeated at the beginning of the next line thus producing a visual effect inasmuch as the whole composition appears blocked between two vertical series of monosyllables, which is reminiscent of the acrostic and telestic form of the versus intexti, though it has no primary basic text. Moreover the echo like connections between the end of a line and the beginning of the next reveal the birth of a phono-rhythmic sensibility that was eventually going to lead to the creation of the rhyme in Byzantine poetry, the contacio, when, by then, the sense of quantity in classical prosody had been lost. (picture 2 )
From the technical point of view, the Technopaegnion of this poem is an anadiplosis which is part of the figures born of the final position in the line, such as the telesticon, the rhyme , the epiphora and the epanalexis. The anadiplosis also creates a kind of linking in the dynamics of the text, underlined by the monosyllabic rhythm, an effect deliberately achieved by the author, who writes: “Sed cohaerent ita, ut circuli catenarum separati”.
To this figure Eberardus Alamannus will return: they are the “serpentine lines”, where the part which is repeated from the end of one line to the beginning of the next consists in a longer linguistic segment, by one syllable, as in “Laboryntus”.(Picture 3)
Ausonius’ Taechnopaegnia have nothing to do with the Alexandrine paegnia, with which they are often confused, as regards terminology.
Another type of research by Ausonius consists in hexameters that end with a monosyllable but whose beginning is free, as for instance “De Inconexis” (disconnected thoughts) (picture 4). Here one can note the same tendency to place the phrases
collage-like, as in the “Cento nuptialis”. It is the new taste for patchwork, where composing is identified not so much with inventio as with arranging and revising the materials of classical literature. This device acquires more sense in the question and answer poems “Per interrogationem et responsionem” which will reappear in Christian liturgy in the form of responsory. (picture 5)
The poem “De litteris monosyllabis graecis ac latinis” (picture 6) is a peculiar piece of work. In that bilingual text, apart from the insistence on monosyllabism, we find a series of misunderstandings (qui-pro-quo) which show how the Latins considered certain relationships between the two languages: for instance , the Greek diphthong “ ou” considered as one letter or the “eta” considered the same as the short “epsilon”, or the fact that Greek lacks the letter “v” (while in former times there was the “digamma”), while on the contrary this letter was used as the “beta” , as nowadays in Spain, or again the mixing up of the Greek “rho” with the Latin “p”, while in fact it is a guttural sound like in the German “raum”.
Ausonius’ work is an important link between Porphyrius and Venantius Fortunatus and moreover with the poetry of the Latin Middle Ages up to Eberardus Alemannus. For example, another point of contact between his technopaegnia and carmen XX by Angilbertus, who lived in the period of Caroline Renascence , which is an epanalexis (picture 7).
Even in the French “Rhétproqueurs” of the fifteenth century we can find echoes of Ausonius, as in this sort of anadiplosis by Meschinot (Picture 8). The anadiplosis will then be at the origin of chained rhymes, such as this “Virelai” from the “Traictie de l’Art de retoricque” (second half of the Fifteenth Century). (Picture 9)
And lastly here is an example of imitation after Ausonius, from the poem “per interrogationem et responsionem”, by Rabelais in chapter XXVIII of Pantagruel. (Picture 10).
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