1902 Encyclopedia > Titus Calpurnius

Titus Calpurnius
Roman bucolic poet
(fl. 284 AD)

TITUS CALPURNIUS, a Roman bucolic poet, under whose name eleven eclogues have been transmitted to us, is interesting as the first imitator of Virgil in pastoral poetry, and from the controversy respecting his date. His eclogues usually occur in MS. along with the Cynegeticon of Nemesianus, who undoubtedly flourished under Carinus (284 A.D.), and hence he has been generally referred to the same epoch, This view is expressed in a famous passage of Gibbon (ch. xii.), where Calpurnius is cited as an authority for the spectacles exhibited with unusual splen-dour by Carinus. Gustavus Sarpe, in an ingenious disquisi-tion published in 1819, first maintained that Calpurnius had lived as early as the reign of Nero; his arguments have been repeated and greatly fortified by Moritz Haupt (1854), and have convinced the most recent authorities, Teuffel, the latest and most accurate historian of Latin literature, and Mr Pinder. This thesis would indeed be untenable if the last four eclogues could be ascribed to o Calpurnius, as they contain manifest imitations of Statius. Haupt, however, seems to have proved from internal evidence that they are the work of Nemesianus. Upon attentive consideration, however, it appears to the present writer that Calpurnius cannot have written either under Nero or under Carinus. 1. The first eclogue is indirectly dedicated to a sovereign, complimented as the auspicious successor of a lawless tyrant, by whom a large proportion of the senate had been executed or imprisoned (ver. 60-62, 69-73). This censure is inapplicable to Carus, and the compliment could in no case have been addressed to his son and successor Carinus. It is almost equally inappro-priate to Nero's predecessor, Claudius, who was popular with the senate (Suet, in Claudio, 12, 46). 2. The acces-sion of the new emperor is hailed as the termination of war (Eel. i. ver. 46-50) and the harbinger of a durable peace (i. 54; iv. 127, 131, and other passages). But Nero's accession took place at a period of profound peace, and Carinus's at one of extensive foreign hostilities. 3. Carinus cannot have been intended, inasmuch as no mention is made of his own or his father's military renown or of the association of his brother in the empire ; nor can he have been represented as favourable to the senate, which he notoriously detested (Vopiscus in Carino, c. 17). If, on the other hand, the poet had written to celebrate the acces-sion of Nero, he would not have omitted to celebrate the then omnipotent Agrippina. 4. Calpurnius's description of the games in the amphitheatre (Eel. 7) differs from the account of Vopiscus in the Augustan history,—whatever is especially celebrated by the one being omitted by the other. Calpurnius dwells wholly on the zoological, Vopiscus on the musical and dramatic features of the entertainment; the former has not a word to say on the nova spectacula indicated by the latter as the distinguishing features of tho show—the thousand pantomimists, the four hundred performers on wind instruments, the ursi mimum agentes. It may also be remarked that Calpurnius speaks of the amphitheatre as looking down upon the Tarpeian rock, which, according to the preferable opinion, was on the opposite side of the Capitoline hill to the Campus Martius, where the games were exhibited by Nero (Suet. in Nerone, 12).

It remains, therefore, to discover an emperor to whom the panegyric of Calpurnius can apply, whose predecessoi should have been a scourge to his subjects in general and to the senate in particular, and whose own accession at an early age should have been hailed as a pledge of permanent tranquillity—one, moreover, who should have exhibited public spectacles in the amphitheatre. All these conditions are fulfilled by Gordian III., whose accession at the age of thirteen or sixteen (238 A.D.) closed a series of civil wars and revolts which had proved fatal to six emperors, while the character of Maximin, virtually his immediate prede cessor, entirely corresponds to the description of Cal purnius. Maximin's ferocity had been chiefly indulged at the expense of the senate (Capitolinus, passim), and the public relief at Gordian's accession is significantly expressed by the great preponderance of inscriptions celebrating the tranquillity, of which he was regarded as the harbinger, among the legends of the medals struck during his reign. Other medals attest the fact of his having exhibited wild beasts in the Flavian amphitheatre (Gori, vol. iii. pp. 115-121). It may be added that the imperial favourite upon whose patronage Calpurnius relies may be plausibly identified with Timesitheus, Gordian's virtuous minister and father-in-law ; and that the mention (Eel. i. 77-78) of the comet which signalized the succession of the prince is illustrated by the appearance of a comet in China, which would probably be visible in Italy, in September 238, three months after Gordian's proclamation as sole emperor. (Williams, Chinese Observations of Comets, p. 21.) This comet continued visible in China for forty-one days. Calpurnius's statement that it had been conspicuous for twenty days when he wrote enables us, if our hypothesis be correct, to indicate the date of his literary debut with remarkable precision.

In this case Calpurnius is not strictly entitled to the distinction of having led the way in the bucolic imitation of Virgil,—fragments of two anonymous eclogues having been recently discovered and published which undoubtedly belong to the age of Nero. He is, however, Virgil's first follower of any mark, and no important modification has been introduced into his treatment. He is unquestionably a skilful literary craftsman, 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 achieve-ment. He may be fairly compared to the minor poets of the reign of Anne. No biographical particulars respecting him are known except his complaints of his poverty.

Calpurnius was first printed in 1471, together with Silius Italicus. He has been frequently republished, generally in company with Gratius and Nemesianus. The best edition is in vol. ii. of "Wernsdorf's Poetce Latini Minores. The most recent is that by Glaeser, Gottingen, 1842. (E. G.)

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries