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"British Library, MS Add. 24199, part 1, 10th century
Psychomachia, as the "battle between good and evil", on a Romanesque capital, "Monastery of Sant Cugat, Catalonia, Spain

The Psychomachia (Battle of spirits or soul war) by the "Late Antique "Latin "poet "Prudentius, from the early fifth century AD,[1] is probably the first and most influential "pure" "medieval allegory, the first in a long tradition of works as diverse as the "Romance of the Rose, "Everyman, and "Piers Plowman.

In slightly less than a thousand lines, the poem describes the conflict of "vices and "virtues as a battle in the style of "Virgil's "Aeneid. "Christian "faith is attacked by and defeats "pagan "idolatry to be cheered by a thousand Christian "martyrs. The work was extremely popular, and survives in many medieval manuscripts, 20 of them illustrated.[2] It may be the subject of wall paintings in the church at "Claverley, "Shropshire, England.

The word may be used more generally for the common theme of the "battle between good and evil", for example in sculpture.



The plot consists of the personified virtues of Hope, Sobriety, Chastity, Humility, etc. fighting the personified vices of Pride, Wrath, Paganism, Avarice, etc. The "personifications are women because in Latin, words for abstract concepts have feminine grammatical gender; an uninformed reader of the work might take the story literally as a tale of many angry women fighting one another, because Prudentius provides no context or explanation of the allegory.[3]

In a similar manner, various vices fight corresponding virtues and are always defeated. Biblical figures that exemplify these virtues also appear (e.g. "Job as an example of patience).

Despite the fact that seven virtues defeat seven vices, they are not the canonical "seven deadly sins, nor the "three theological and "four cardinal virtues.

Notable manuscripts[edit]

Other uses of 'psychomachia'[edit]

Theatre historian, Jonas Barish uses the term psychomachia to describe anti-theatrical conflict during the nineteenth century.[6]


  1. ^ Holcomb
  2. ^ Holcomb, 69–71
  3. ^ William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman (2001). Discovering the Middle Ages. "The Teaching Company. "ISBN "1-56585-701-1
  4. ^ Burgerbibliothek Cod. 264 (e-codices.unifr.ch)
  5. ^ Holcomb, 69–71
  6. ^ see "antitheatricality#19th and early 20th century (psychomachia)


External links[edit]

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