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Journal of Religion and Violence

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published on December 6, 2016

Diane Shane Fruchtman
DOI: 10.5840/jrv201612532

Instructive Violence
Educated Children as Victims and Aggressors in Late Ancient Latin Martyr Poetry

This paper explores two parallel instances of child-centered violence in the martyrological poetry of Prudentius (fl. 405), one in which a child is the victim of violence and one in which children are the aggressors. In both cases, Prudentius presumes and manufactures his readers’ sympathy, building on their horror at seeing children involved in violence. But he uses that sympathy to opposite ends: in one case to align the reader with the youthful victim and his cause, and in the other to inspire revulsion and destabilize the Christian reader’s sense of his own character. Taken together, these two episodes—one a cautionary tale and one a model of Christian self-cultivation—offer the reader not only an argument for what type of education Christians should seek, but also the motivation to seek it. In other words, Prudentius was using depictions of violence inflicted on children and by children to educate his audiences about education.

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