Birth, death, and rebirth in Nonnus' Dionysiaca and Paraphrase

  • Oliver George Gerlach

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis explores a new way to approach the Dionysiaca and the Paraphrase of Nonnus, reading the two texts in parallel and identifying the relationship between the poems and the cultural and religious contexts of their composition. It situates the poems firmly in their context and explores possible meanings the original audience will have found in the texts. Using the themes of rebirth and resurrection as a case study, this research identifies structural principles underlying Nonnian poetics, and connects these principles and themes with the cultural milieu surrounding the poems' composition. It takes a reader oriented approach, focusing on likely readings of the poems in their original context.

Treating the death of Zagreus and his rebirth as Dionysus as the paradigmatic moment underpinning both texts, this research identifies Pagan and Christian resonances in scenes of rebirth throughout both poems, and challenges the orthodox view of reading the two texts in isolation. This is achieved through study of lexical and thematic connections between scenes of resurrection across the poems, and by exploring the significance of these in the context of 5th-century Egypt. The themes of rebirth and resurrection are traced through the narratives of Zagreus and Dionysus, and Lazarus and Christ, alongside those of more minor characters, such as Ampelus and Tylus. This is then followed by an exploration of scenes of rape and birth as a counterpart to death and rebirth, exposing the importance of destruction and new generation, both birth and rebirth, to the goals of Nonnian poetics. This research shows that reading the Nonnian poems in parallel enriches understanding of the literary and theological detail, and identifies shared structural elements across both. Ultimately, it offers a new framework for study of the Nonnian poems, focused on their role as a single body of work.
Date of Award16 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorRoger Rees (Supervisor) & A. Sophie Schoess (Supervisor)


  • Classics
  • Late antiquity
  • Greek literature
  • Nonnus of Panopolis
  • Dionysus

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  • Full text embargoed until
  • 14 February 2028

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