Epic Re-Fashioning of an Egyptian Saint 
in Maffeo Vegio's Antoniad

Antony Augoustakis

Baylor University

In his Antoniad, composed in 1437, Maffeo Vegio recounts the meeting between Antony, the great ascetic of the 4th century AD, and the hermit Paul, just before the latter's death.  The encounter is established in epic terms as part of God's divine plan to instruct Antony with humility and meekness.  Antony's assumption that he is the greatest Elder to dwell in the desert needs to be modified by his spiritual encounter with Paul.  The purpose of this paper is to explore the background of the episode in the classical tradition, namely to trace the allusions to Virgil's Aeneid and more specifically, to the character of Cleopatra and of Marc Antony.  The great Christian saint is portrayed as a foil to the pagan, self-indulgent, personalities of the queen and the Roman general.

In an ekphrasis, in the third book of the Antoniad (3.75-83), Vegio sets the scene of the two men's meeting in the Egyptian desert, in a cave (per exesum montem, 3.79).  The grotto was used as a place to mint coins (vastae incudes et multa fabrilis / materiae instrumenta, 3.80-81), in the 1st century BCE, the time of Cleopatra's affair with Antony (quo iunctus Cleopatra et Antonius olim est, 3.83).  Vegio borrows from Virgil's description of the cave of the Cyclopes in Aeneid 8 and transplants their laboratory from Sicily to Egypt.  The eighth book of the Aeneid, however, becomes an important source for Vegio.  While Virgil calls Cleopatra the Aegyptia coniunx (8.688), Antony the Great becomes the Aegyptius senex (3.93), a man whose character is contrasted to the pagan past of the area.  A cave, the usual place for a sexual encounter between a man and a woman in classical literature (cf. Dido and Aeneas), now becomes the location of the two men's union with God.  And yet, before the beginning of the ekphrasis, Vegio depicts the place in erotic terms:  Paul leads Antony into the cave eximio amore (3.74).  Unlike Ascanius in Aeneid 7, who kills the stag eximiae laudis amore (7.496), the two men are now inspired with a different kind of love, ardor for God and his creation.  Thus by means of alluding to Virgil, Vegio transforms the pagan world of classical literature into the world of early Christian hermitic life.

Back to the Meeting Program

[Home] [ About] [Awards and Scholarships] [Classical Journal] [Committees & Officers]
[Contacts & Email Directory
] [Links] [Meetings] [Membership] [News]