1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Calpurnius, Titus

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17687351911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 5 — Calpurnius, TitusJohn Henry Freese

CALPURNIUS, TITUS, Roman bucolic poet, surnamed Siculus from his birthplace or from his imitation of the style of the Sicilian Theocritus, most probably flourished during the reign of Nero. Eleven eclogues have been handed down to us under his name, of which the last four, from metrical considerations and express MS. testimony, are now generally attributed to Nemesianus (q.v.), who lived in the time of the emperor Carus and his sons (latter half of the 3rd century A.D.). Hardly anything is known of the life of Calpurnius; we gather from the poems themselves (in which he is obviously represented by “Corydon”) that he was in poor circumstances and was on the point of emigrating to Spain, when “Meliboeus” came to his aid. Through his influence Calpurnius apparently secured a post at Rome. The time at which Calpurnius lived has been much discussed, but all the indications seem to point to the time of Nero. The emperor is described as a handsome youth, like Mars and Apollo, whose accession marks the beginning of a new golden age, prognosticated by the appearance of a comet, doubtless the same that appeared some time before the death of Claudius; he exhibits splendid games in the amphitheatre (probably the wooden amphitheatre erected by Nero in 57); and in the words

maternis causam qui vicit Iulis[1] (i. 45),

there is a reference to the speech delivered in Greek by Nero on behalf of the Ilienses (Suetonius, Nero, 7; Tacitus, Annals, xii. 58), from whom the Julii derived their family.[2] Meliboeus, the poet’s patron, has been variously identified with Columella, Seneca the philosopher, and C. Calpurnius Piso. Although the sphere of Meliboeus’s literary activity (as indicated in iv. 53) suits none of these, what is known of Calpurnius Piso fits in well with what is said of Meliboeus by the poet, who speaks of his generosity, his intimacy with the emperor, and his interest in tragic poetry. His claim is further supported by the poem De Laude Pisonis (ed. C. F. Weber, 1859) which has come down to us without the name of the author, but which there is considerable reason for attributing to Calpurnius.[3] The poem exhibits a striking similarity with the eclogues in metre, language and subject-matter. The author of the Laus is young, of respectable family and desirous of gaining the favour of Piso as his Maecenas. Further, the similarity between the two names can hardly be accidental; it is suggested that the poet may have been adopted by the courtier, or that he was the son of a freedman of Piso. The attitude of the author of the Laus towards the subject of the panegyric seems to show less intimacy than the relations between Corydon and Meliboeus in the eclogues, and there is internal evidence that the Laus was written during the reign of Claudius (Teuffel-Schwabe, Hist, of Rom. Lit. § 306, 6).

Mention may here be made of the fragments of two short hexameter poems in an Einsiedeln MS., obviously belonging to the time of Nero, which if not written by Calpurnius, were imitated from him.

Although there is nothing original in Calpurnius, he is “a skilful literary craftsman.” Of his models the chief is Virgil, of whom (under the name of Tityrus) he speaks with great enthusiasm; he is also indebted to Ovid and Theocritus. Calpurnius is “a fair scholar, and an apt courtier, and not devoid of real poetical feeling. The bastard style of pastoral cultivated by him, in which the description of nature is made the writer’s pretext, while ingenious flattery is his real purpose, nevertheless excludes genuine pleasure, and consequently genuine poetical achievement. He may be fairly compared to the minor poets of the reign of Anne” (Garnett).

Calpurnius was first printed in 1471, together with Silius Italicus and has been frequently republished, generally with Gratius Faliscus and Nemesianus. The separate authorship of the eclogues of Calpurnius and Nemesianus was established by M. Haupt’s De Carminibus bucolicis Calpurnii et Nemesiani (1854). Editions by H. Schenkl (1885), with full introduction and index verborum, and by C. H. Keene (1887), with introduction, commentary and appendix. English verse translation by E. J. L. Scott (1891); see H. E. Butler, Post-Augustan Poetry (Oxford, 1909), pp. 150 foll., and F. Skutsch in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie, iii. 1 (1897).  (J. H. F.) 

  1. Iulis for in ulnis according to the best MS. tradition.
  2. According to Dr R. Garnett (and Mr Greswell, as stated in Conington’s Virgil, i. p. 123, note) the emperor referred to is the younger Gordian (A.D. 238). His arguments in favour of this will be found in the article on Calpurnius by him in the 9th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and in the Journal of Philology, xvi., 1888; see in answer J. P. Postgate, “The Comet of Calpurnius Siculus” in Classical Review, June 1902. Dean Merivale (Hist. of the Romans under the Empire, ch. 60) and Pompei, “Intorno al Tempo del Poeta Calpurnio” in Atti del Istituto Veneto, v. 6 (1880), identify the amphitheatre with the Colosseum (Flavian amphitheatre) and assign Calpurnius to the reign of Domitian.
  3. It has been variously ascribed to Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Statius and Saleius Bassus.