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This review is taken from PN Review 244, Volume 45 Number 2, November - December 2018.

Cover of The Elegies, edited and translated by A. M. Juster with an introduction by Michael Roberts
Evan JonesThe General Chaos of the World
Maximianus, The Elegies, edited and translated by A.M. Juster, with an introduction by Michael Roberts (University of Pennsylvania Press), $65
In the Western imagination, whenever anyone talks of the glory and splendour of Rome, this really means the Empire’s first three hundred years. These held a position of glamour and intrigue through the last century (think I, Claudius, Memoirs of Hadrian, Doctor Who and the Romans). That there was equally a quieter interest in the empire’s Republican days or its slow tectonic movement east tells as much about where modernists and postmodernists saw themselves as it does about the way in which the West viewed itself. The ideals of the imperial held sway, even as world wars were fought for the sake of democracy. Into the twenty-first century, and the era of the Late Empire and what is called Byzantium (but whose people referred to themselves as Romans) has started to return to favour. This is, in one sense, Gibbon’s decline. But in another, and it’s preferable, this is the origins of what happened next: the Renaissance.

The elegies of the late-Roman poet Maximianus (c. sixth century AD) are quiet and plain-spoken. He appears to have lived in the era of the Western reconquests of the Christian Emperor Justinian, flavourfully retold in Robert Graves’s less-famous Count Belisarius (1938). He may be the same Maximianus sent to the court of Justinian, detailed in the fifth elegy, about whom a letter is extant (translated and included in an appendix here). Yet the Maximianus of the elegies was a pagan, an inheritor of Horace, Juvenal and Ausonius, set apart from the Christian verse of the era ...

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