Natural disasters feature prominently among the topics that preoccupied late ancient homilists. Earthquakes, droughts, pandemics, and other catastrophes both inflicted untold suffering on their communities and raised pressing questions of interpretation: to whom ought Christians ascribe the origin of these scourges? what message or lessons did they convey? and how could their impact be reconciled with the existence of a loving and powerful deity, intimately invested in the well-being of Christian communities? To address these questions, homilists across the Greek- and Syriac-speaking world turned to a wide range of textual and cultural resources. Many of the resulting works nevertheless coalesce around one central theme: that of children and the child/parent dyad. Authors turned to the familiar tropes of parents protecting, punishing, or educating their offspring—and the latter’s ambivalent characterization as both vulnerable and intractable in ancient discourse—to craft “disaster mythologies,” narratives designed to make sense of disaster and thus effect desirable responses on the part of the speakers’ audiences. This article explores this topos in the writings of three late ancient orators: the fourth-century Syriac homilist Cyrillona; his Greek contemporary Gregory of Nyssa; and the sixth-century bishop of Antioch, Severus.

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