Alberto Rigolio is Associate Professor at Durham University and currently a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study. He works on the cultural and intellectual history of the eastern Mediterranean world in Late Antiquity. His current project focuses on the origins of Syriac, and asks why and how a local variety of Aramaic from northern Mesopotamia became the vehicle of one of the most prestigious literatures of Late Antiquity and beyond.
In the decades following emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, imperial backing for this religion coincided with intensified religious competition and search for orthodoxy across the Roman Empire. This paper argues that, in this context of renewed religious, but also literary, competition, a new self-awareness emerged in Syriac poetry, which ultimately reshaped Syriac poetics and led to the birth of Syriac literary criticism. This crucial and far-reaching transformation is instantiated in the work of Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373 CE), who made a case for the fundamental coherence of his poetry with Scripture.