Vision and Agency in Prudentius’ Psychomachia

Continuing on the thread of agency over one’s faculties of reason from the Boethius blog post, we will now apply this question to Prudentius’ Psychomachia to see if we can’t complicate the matter further.

Sight and recognition is a major issue in the Psychomachia with the Vices and Virtues gouging each others’ eyes out for control over man’s soul, and the man, or really all of humanity, must “watch in the armour of faithful hearts, and that every part of our body which is in captivity and enslaved to foul desire must be set free by gathering our forces at home.” (Prudentius, 277-279) As we see with the case of Greed blinding men from the plight of their brothers, fathers, and friends for the sake of their material desires (Prudentius, 311-313), vices like Greed play an enormous threat of dominating one’s faculties so that their vision of what is true and good is unrecognizable from evil. Does this mean that one may not always have agency over their faculty of reason if vices can completely obstruct one’s ability to access that faculty?

In short, yes, but not preventably. As was hinted at in the first quotation, humans have the power to gather their spiritual forces so that the vices can’t overcome them in such a way. It is a tight struggle between the Vices and Virtues, but the Virtues persevere because they are inherently stronger than the Vices and so when humanity cultivates them, they are able to vanquish the Vices and experience utopia. This city upon a hill within man’s soul is one ever vigilant as the threat of a return of the Vices is always present. Humanity must constantly cultivate their Virtues and vigilantly watch for the return of Vice, otherwise they cannot secure their faculty of reason and thus their ability to exercise their free will.

-Alyse Leonard, Carolyn Zhao, and Flannery Hu

Prudentius. Psychomachia. Edited and Translated by H. J. Thomson, Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1949.

Image Citation: Poussin, Nicholas. Christ Healing the Blind of Jericho. 1650. Oil on canvas. 119×196 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

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