Myth and History in Eusebius's 'De vita Constantini: Vit. Const. 1.12' in Its Contemporary Setting
The opening chapters of Eusebius's De vita Constantini contain several comparisons of Constantine with great figures from the past. The first two, Cyrus and Alexander (Vit. Const. 1.7-8), are predictable names in a work that bears many features of conventional royal panegyric. But Eusebius's choice of Moses for a third comparison (Vit. Const. 1.12) departs from conventional norms and shows that the subject of his bios is not going to be measured simply by traditional imperial standards. The following analysis of Vit. Const. 1.12 begins with a consideration of Eusebius's choice of subjects to compare with Constantine. We will see that the literary construction of the comparison with Moses derives from biblical typology as much as it does from a typical classical synkrisis. Embedded in the typological construction is an allusion by Eusebius to a widespread opinion that the story of the Exodus was a myth. This aspect of the comparison has not received the attention which it deserves. I will argue that the mythic reference works against the rhetoric of the comparison as a whole. Its anomalous presence requires an explanation. This paper identifies various sources of the mythic charge, and defends the hypothesis that the critic foremost in Eusebius's mind was the pagan philosopher Porphyry. It ends with the conclusion that the triumph of Constantine was a valuable antidote to the critique of Exodus as myth.
Harvard Theological Review