1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Geoponici

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GEOPONICI,[1], or Scriptores rei rusticae, the Greek and Roman writers on husbandry and agriculture. On the whole the Greeks paid less attention than the Romans to the scientific study of these subjects, which in classical times they regarded as a branch of economics. Thus Xenophon's Oeconomicus (see also Memorabilia ii.4) contains a eulogy of agriculture and its beneficial ethical effects, and much information is to be found in the writings of Aristotle and his pupil Theophrastus. About the same time as Xenophon, the philosopher Democritus of Abdera wrote a treatise Περὶ Γεωργίας, frequently quoted and much used by the later compilers of Geoponica (agricultural treatises). Greater attention was given to the subject in the Alexandrian period; a long list of names is given by Varro and Columella, amongst them Hiero II. and Attalus III. Philometor. Later, Cassius Dionysius of Utica translated and abridged the great work of the Carthaginian Mago, which was still further condensed by Diophanes of Nicaea in Bithynia for the use of King Deïotarus. From these and similar works, Cassianus Bassus (q.v.) compiled his Geoponica. Mention may also be made of a little work Περὶ Γεωργικῶν by Michael Psellus (printed in Boissonade, Anecdota Graeca, i.).

The Romans, aware of the necessity of maintaining a numerous and thriving order of agriculturists, from very early times endeavoured to instill into their countrymen both a theoretical and a practical knowledge of the subject. The occupation of the farmer was considered next in importance to that of the soldier, and distinguished Romans did not disdain to practise it. In furtherance of this object, the great work of Mago was translated into Latin by order of the senate, and the elder Cato wrote his de agri cultura (extant in a very corrupt state), a simple record in homely language of the rules observed by the old Roman landed proprietors rather than a theoretical treatise. He was followed by the two Sasernae (father and son), and Gnaeus Tremellius Scrofa, whose works are lost. The learned Marcus Terentius Varro of Reate, when eighty years of age, composed his Rerum rusticarum, libri tres, dealing with agriculture, the rearing of cattle, and the breeding of fishes. He was the first to systematize what had been written on the subject, and supplemented the labours of others by practical experience gained during his travels. In the Augustan age, Julius Hyginus wrote on farming and beekeeping, Sabinus Tiro on horticulture, and during the early empire, Julius Graecinus and Julius Atticus on the culture of vines, and Cornelius Celsus (best known for his De Medicina) on farming. The chief work of the kind, however, is that of Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella (q.v.). About the middle of the 2nd century, the two Quintilii, natives of Troja, wrote on the subject in Greek. It is remarkable that Columella's work exercised less influence in Rome and Italy than in southern Gaul and Spain, where agriculture became one of the principal subjects of instruction in the superior educational establishments that were springing up in those countries. One result of this was the preparation of manuals of a popular kind for use in the schools. In the 3rd century Gargilius Martialis of Mauretania compiled a Geoponica in which medical botany and the veterinary art were included. The De re rustica of Palladius (4th century), in fourteen books, which is almost entirely borrowed from Columella, is greatly inferior in style and knowledge of the subject. It is a kind of farmer's calendar, in which the different rural occupations are arranged in order of the months. The fourteenth book (on forestry) is written in elegiacs (eighty-five distichs). The whole of Palladius and considerable fragments of Martialis are extant.

The best edition of the Scriptores rei rusticae is by J. G. Schneider (1794–1797), and the whole subject is exhaustively treated by A. Magerstedt, Bilder aus der römischen Landwirtschaft (1858–1863); see also Teuffel-Schwabe, Hist. of Roman Literature, 54; C. F. Bähr in Ehrsch and Gruber's Allgemeine Encyclopädia.

  1. The latinized form of a nonexistent Γεωπονικοί, used for convenience.