FORTUNATUS, VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIANUS: Bishop of Poitiers and Christian poet; b. near Treviso, in Upper Italy, c. 535; d. in Poitiers in the beginning of the seventh century. He studied grammar, rhetoric, and jurisprudence in Ravenna, left Italy about 564, went through Germany to Gaul, lived for some time at the court of Sigbert of Austrasia, then went to Tours, and later to Poitiers. Here he became acquainted with Radegunde, a Thuringian princess, the divorced wife of Lothair I., who with her adopted daughter, Agnes, lived in the convent of the Holy Cross. The intercourse with these two women induced the poet to desist from his migratory life and to become presbyter in Poitiers. Thenceforth he lived in close connection with all prominent personalities of the country, wrote poetical eulogies, and grew in authority and fame as a poet, especially after he had collected and published his poems, at the instigation of Gregory of Tours. Shortly before his death he became bishop in Poitiers.


The poetical productions of Fortunatus are very numerous, most of them written for special occasions. He may indeed be called a court poet. Hospitality which he had enjoyed, the celebration of a wedding, a funeral--everything was put into easy verse. His poetic gifts were by no means slight; his language is picturesque and full of thought; his hexameters and pentameters surprise by the purity of their rhythm. But there is also not lacking a certain bombast and artificiality of expression, characteristic of the time, and still more faulty is the base flattery in his eulogies which reflects unfavorably upon his character. Since Fortunatus eulogized quite a number of eminent personages, his poems are valuable also for the historian. His descriptions of nature are excellent, as, for instance, his representation of a journey on the Moselle from Metz to Andernach, which he had undertaken in the suite of the king of Austrasia, likewise a poem on the castle of Bishop Nicetius of Treves. Still more valuable are three elegies composed under the inspiration of Radegunde; one represents the tragic fate of Galsvintha, daughter of a West Gothic king; a second is intended to console Amalafried, cousin of Radegunde, the last Thuringian heir; the last is to console Artachis, a relative of Amalafried, on the death of the latter. The greatest fame of Fortunatus, however, rests upon his religious hymns, as Vexilla regis prodeunt (transl. by J. M. Neale, The royal banners forward go), and Pange lingua gloriosi proelium certaminis (transl. by Neale, Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle), hymns on the Passion; and Quem terra pontus æthera (transl. by Neale, The God whom earth and sea and sky), a hymn on Mary. Fortunatus also wrote a comprehensive epic poem on the life of St. Martin (De vita Martini), and some lives of saints in prose, Albinus, Marcellus, Germanus, and others. He was the last great poet of the period before Charlemagne.