Late Antiquity Discussion Questions

February 6: Constantine and Eusebius Discussion
Readings: Eusebius, Life of Constantine

  1. Besides his obvious faith/belief in the Christian God, what makes Constantine a great emperor in the eyes of Eusebius? Can you detect other traits that might be important?
  2. What is Eusebius’s conception of the Roman Empire? How is it compatible with Christianity?
  3. How does Eusebius present the Council of Nicaea and the other religious disputes of Constantine’s reign?
  4. What can we see about the state of the Christian Church and how it is organized?
  5. How does Constantine seem to understand himself in relationship with the Church and God?
  6. What does Eusebius show us about the importance of Christian Churches? 
  7. What does Constantine’s approach to pagans appear to be? What does Eusebius hate about pagans the most?
  8. Does Eusebius have anything bad to say about Constantine? Or are there places where his praises rings a bit hollow? Don’t be afraid to read between the lines a bit!

February 13: Ammianus Disscussion 1
Readings: Ammianus Marcellinus 14.5-7, 14.9-11, 15.1-3, 15.7, 15.9, 15.12, 16.1-5, 16.10-12, 17.3-4, 17.11, 17.13, 18.1, 20.4-5, 21.1-2, 21.5, 21.14-16, 22 (all), 23.1, 23.6, 24.6-8, 25.1-4

  1. How does Ammianus depict the Romans (in Rome specifically, not generally) of his day, and how does he contrast them with their ancestors? What made them great that has been lost, and who or what is to blame for the decline?
  2. What features and traits does Ammianus emphasize in his descriptions of various “barbarians” like the Gauls, Germans, Egyptians, and Persians? How do they help define what it means to be “Roman?” Does the comparison between Roman and barbarian always favor the Romans?
  3. Ammianus gives us numerous glimpses into the “courts” of the emperors. What is the nature of the courts and and how do they shape the nature of the late Roman empire and the emperors themselves?
  4. How do Constantius and Julian and Gallus contrast? Look especially at their respective obituaries, but also how Ammianus depicts their actions while they are alive, such as their attitudes towards their soldiers or their visits to major cities.
  5. What makes Julian out as a great emperor in Ammianus’s view? How does Ammianus criticize Julian? Does Ammianus try to explain Julian’s failure, or is it pure bad luck?
  6. Ammianus is famously a pagan author in an increasingly Christian world - how much does his paganism show through in his work, and how critical is he of Christianity? Does he attribute the failings of his time to the growth of Christianity at all?

Feburary 20: Ammianus Discussion 2
Readings: Ammianus Marcellinus 25.5-8, 25.10, 26.1-9, 27.5-7, 28.1, 28.4, 29.1-3, 30.5-10, 31.1-8. 31.12-16

  1. How does Ammianus continue to depict the Romans (in Rome specifically) in these later books? How does this compare to the earlier passages? Is this emblematic of the empire as whole as he depicts it, or is Rome a special case?
  2. Continuing with Ammianus’s depictions of barbarians, what features and traits does Ammianus emphasize in these later books, especially of the Goths and Huns? How do they help define what it means to be “Roman?” Does the comparison between Roman and barbarian always favor the Romans?
  3. How do Valentinian and Valens compare to the earlier emperors? Again, pay close attention to the obituaries Ammianus gives for each.
  4. Why, according to Ammianus, do the successors of Julian fail so badly, especially Valens? Could the disasters have been avoided with a better emperor, or were they due to factors outside anyone’s control? 
  5. Returning to Ammianus’s paganism, how does it show itself in these later books? How does he depict Christianity and its role in the decline of the empire in these books?

March 27: Prokopios Discussion
Readings: Prokopios, The Secret History and related documents

  1. Why does Procopius claim to write the Secret History? Does the work bear this out? What other motives can you infer from the text?
  2. Why do you think Procopius opens the work with an account of Antonina and Belisarius, rather than Theodora and Justinian?
  3. Pick out some of the crimes assigned by Procopius to Justinian or Theodora. What motives does Procopius give? Can you infer other reasons that might better explain the Emperor’s actions?
  4. What does Procopius feel is the proper role of women in society? Would he make a good gender studies teacher?
  5. Procopius goes on at length about Justinian’s efforts to enrich the state. Why, according to Procopius, does Justinian need all this money? How might Justinian justify his spending?
  6. What can we infer about Procopius’s own background and social standing?
  7. Can we reconcile Procopius’s presentation of Justinian and Theodora with the undoubted accomplishments of their reign?
  8. Can you think of any modern works in the same vein as the Secret History?

April 5: Gregory of Tours Discussion
Gregory of Tours: Preface, Book 1 (pp. 63-99), Book 2, Book 3 Preface, Book 4.21-34, 46-51, Book 5 Preface, Chapters 6, 11, 14, 17-18, 33-34, 39, 43-44, Book 6.2-5, 29-31, 45-46

  1. What does Gregory reveal about his purposes in writing his history? What does he want his audience to take away from it?
  2. How does Gregory’s account of the beginning of the world in Book 1 set the stage for his narratives about 6th century Gaul?
  3. Does Gregory have a sense of Frankish identity?
  4. What are Gregory’s attitudes towards women, and what does he show about their role in this period?
  5. What is the relationship of the secular and the sacred worlds in Gregory’s history? How do they overlap, how do they contrast?
  6. What does Gregory seem to think the biggest failings in his various subjects are?
  7. What does Gregory reveal about the how diplomacy was conducted in the late 6th century?

April 12: Gregory of Tours & Medieval Christianity Discussion
Selected Sermons of Leo I, Selected Letters of Gregory the Great, Selections from the Rule of St. Benedict
Gregory of Tours: Book 7.2-15, 32-38, Book 8.15-17, 28-34, Book 9.6, 8-10, 33, Book 10.10, 24-25, 31 (only from p. 601 to the end)

  1. What are the major concerns about the church in each of these authors, and how do they differ from one another?
  2. What do these authors show about the importance and role of symbols and objects in the Christian church during this period?
  3. What do these authors reveal about Rome’s (and the Pope’s) place in the larger Church during this period? How do they differ on its signficance?
  4. What do these texts show about the qualifications of priests (and especially bishops) and the role they have to play in the church and the community?
  5. What do these authors reveal about the relationship of the church and its bishops and the kings and emperors of the early middle ages?
  6. What aspects of behaviour is Benedict particularly concerned with in his rule, and why? How does this compare to what we see of monks (and nuns) in Gregory of Tours?

April 17: Beowulf Discussion
Beowulf (all)

  1. What sort of heroic or warrior code undergirds Beowulf and his fellow warriors, and what rules can we infer about it?
  2. What is the significance of different kind of physical objects in the poem and the societies it depicts?
  3. How does social organization work in the poem, such as the relationship between rulers and warrior class, and the obligations of each? Can we see beyond that to other levels of society?
  4. One of the most important social rituals is the banquet - how does this work? What rules underly its conduct and what does it accomplish?
  5. What does the nature of international relations appear to be? How are they conducted?
  6. What role do women have to play in this society? Are they totally without power?
  7. What part does Christianity have to play in the world of Beowulf?

May 1: Apocalypse Discussion