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Title: Defining Pagan Mystery Cults in Christian Latin Authors of the Third and Fourth Centuries
Author(s): MASSA, Francesco
Journal: Latomus
Volume: 81    Issue: 3   Date: 2022   
Pages: 541-563
DOI: 10.2143/LAT.81.3.3291215

Abstract :
The paper aims to explore the perspective of Christian writers on Greek and Roman mystery cults and more particularly the vocabulary of mysteries by Latin Christian writers. We will focus on three authors – Arnobius, Lactantius, and Firmicus Maternus – who wrote three detailed presentations of pagan mystery cults; shared the same rhetorical training; and were almost contemporaries, but their historical contexts did not overlap. The analysis will show that these authors differ in their choice of vocabulary to describe the mysteries. If Arnobius’ treatise was steeped in the vocabulary of mystery cults, Firmicus Maternus hardly exploited this lexical field. Lactantius, for his part, promotes a systematic reflection on these rituals as part of his project to build a Christian knowledge.

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