Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Oxford University Press


The conception of Christian life as a pilgrimage towards God, a war against the forces of evil, has been reiterated right through the literature of late antiquity and the Middle Ages well into the Renaissance. This 'war' between Virtues and Vices, who fight for dominion over the Christian soul, possibly found its first poetic representation in Prudentius' Psychomachia. The action of this personification-allegory is fairly simple. The Christian Virtues led by Faith, despite certain initial reversals, ultimately triumph over the Vices in a series of combats and move on to build a holy city (in man's soul) in which will stand a temple dedicated to Wisdom.

C. S. Lewis1 is critical of the Psychomachia and points out a mechanical defect in the pitched battle. Fighting, Lewis feels, is an activity that is not proper to most of the virtues; and though he accepts that possibly Courage can fight, or that maybe 'we can make a shift with Faith' ,2 he cannot understand how Patience or Mercy or even Humility can fight.

I feel that Lewis has possibly missed the complexity inherent in the Prudentian allegory. Macklin Smith, however, has read a meaning more 'complex' and intricate than Lewis does, primarily because Prudentius seems to relate his personification-allegory to Scriptural history. Smith feels that the story of Abraham included in the Psychomachia indicates that the allegory participates in the history of human salvation. Thus he concludes that the Psychomachia is 'no simple narrative, but a sophisticated version of Christian history operative in several moral senses'. 3 Even considering Psychomachia merely as personification-allegory, I feel it is unique in its impact on the allegorical writing of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Chapter of

Renaissance Essays


Sukanta Chaudhuri


Copyright © 1995 Oxford University Press. This material was originally published in Renaissance Essays edited by Sukanta Chaudhuri, and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.