After completing his studies at Ravenna, Venantius Fortunatus (veh-NAHN-shee-uhs fuhr-chew-NAY-tuhs) left Italy for Merovingian Gaul (c. 565 c.e.). There Fortunatus frequented the royal courts in northern Gaul and wrote poetry for kings and politically prominent bishops. In 567 c.e., Fortunatus arrived in Poitiers, where he was to spend the rest of his life. He soon acquired the patronage of such local luminaries as Saint Radegunda, for whom he wrote the famous hymns Vexilla regis and Pange lingua among many other works, and Gregory of Tours, who encouraged him to publish his poetry. Although Fortunatus continued to write poetry for royal patrons on occasion, religious figures such as Radegunda and Gregory were his primary patrons. Fortunatus’s ordination as a priest by 576 c.e. emphasizes the ecclesiastical focus of his career, which culminated in his consecration as bishop of Poitiers in the 590’s c.e.
Fortunatus is best known as a prolific author of verse and saints’ lives. In his own day, both Gallo-Romans and Franks regarded Fortunatus as the most accomplished writer in Gaul. Fortunatus’s ornate poetic style is no longer widely admired, but his works remain important not only for their historical value but also because they represent a transitional stage in Latin literature from the classical to the medieval.
George, Judith. Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1992.
George, Judith. Venantius Fortunatus: Personal and Political Poems. Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press, 1995.