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Floods and Fires: A treacherous journey to Gaul

Frances Foster

(University of Cambridge)

In the autumn of 417 the Gallo-Roman aristocrat and poet Rutilius Namatianus returned to his native Gaul from his home in the city of Rome. He recounts the journey in his only surviving (fragmentary) poem, De Reditu Suo. Rutilius had held powerful offices in Roman government, but explains that he was asked to return to Gaul to protect his own estates and the local inhabitants following social, political and environmental unrest. During the previous year the locality had suffered attacks by Visigoths in addition to damage from flooding rivers and summer fires. Rutilius begins his journey at a difficult time of the year for travelling, since bad autumnal weather presents many problems, and meteorological phenomena feature prominently in the poem. Rutilius’s poem is highly literary, and he manipulates these climactic phenomena to reflect the fortunes — and misfortunes — of individual places or events. He employs the literary trope that meteorological phenomena are divinely inspired, linking the state of the sea, land and sky to relevant divinities. I examine how Rutilius understands, explains and (most crucially) uses meteorological phenomena to shape and present the changing landscapes of his journey and destination.

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