Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies


This dissertation addresses how the literary genre of the philosophical dialogue was used by Latin authors in late antiquity (300–700 AD) to negotiate ongoing anti-heretical debates. ❧Traditional scholarship on this topic has focused mostly on the Greek dialogues. When the Latin material received attention, it was read in terms of its appropriation of and deviation from classical models. More recent scholarship has acted as a corrective to this model, and one key question that has emerged is whether true dialogue persisted into late antiquity at all. Some scholars have provocatively suggested that the democratic aims of the dialogue are inconsistent with the totalitarian discourse characterized by the Christian Roman Empire. Is late antiquity, in fact, the end of the dialogue? ❧ This thesis is an answer to this ongoing discussion. It argues that late antique Latin dialogues provide important evidence against a teleological understanding of the formation of Christian orthodoxy. This public discourse, though often characterized as authoritarian and monolithic, was lively, fragile, and actively interested in engaging with dissent. In addition to tracing the evolution of this subgenre of Latin literature and situating it within the context of classical rhetorical theories, this thesis includes close readings of two dialogues as case-studies: Jerome’s Contra Luciferianos(4th century) and John Maxentius’ Contra Nestorianos(6th century) ❧Chapter One provides an overview of the genre of dialogue in both Greek and Latin literature, from Plato through Cicero. It illuminates the non-linear nature of the history of this genre and cautions against a derivative model for understanding the late antique dialogue. It concludes with a definition: “A dialogue is a text, written in either mimetic or narrative form, whose intention is to relate the verbatim conversation of two or more interlocutors and shows a self-awareness of its place within the genre.” ❧Chapter Two establishes the first exhaustive catalogue and discussion of the twenty-one controversial dialogues from late antiquity. In addition to providing a synoptic view of the entire corpus, it also treats the historical context and argumentation for each individual dialogue. ❧Chapter Three illustrates how Jerome used both the form and content of his dialogue to address the Luciferian controversy in the late fourth century. By contrasting the methods of eristic and didactic dialogue and connecting them with contemporary events, Jerome models not only what arguments can solve the impasse, but just as importantly, how they must be presented. ❧ Chapter Four sheds light on how John Maxentius used and defied genre-expectations in his Dialogus Contra Nestorianosto defend what was widely understood to be a heterodox position. Self-deprecation, humor, anger, and even sympathy towards its opponents are all tactics used by this dialogue, which concludes with the absurd situation where both sides agree but refuse to acknowledge it. A commentary on contemporary politics, this dialogue demonstrates the dangers that pride and partisanship present to the truth. ❧Appendix A complements Chapter Two, including a digestible catalogue of the late antique controversial dialogues composed in Latin. ❧Appendix B includes the first translation of the Dialogus Contra Nestorianos into any modern language.

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