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The Poetic Genres in the Julio-Claudian Period - A ludicrously comprehensive outline of latin literature

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The Poetic Genres in the Julio-Claudian Period

The Minor Poetry of Ovid’s Generation

  1. Valgius Rufus (consul in 12 BC) and Domitius Marsus were elegiac poets. Domitius Marsus wrote a famous epigram on the death of Tibullus.

  2. Grattius Faliscus wrote Cynegetica, a short didactic poem on hunting. Faliscus is his epithet. Ovid names Grattius in the Epistulae ex Ponto.

  3. Aemilius Macer wrote Hellenistic didactic poetry such as De Herbis, Theriaca, and Ornithographia (on herbs, serpents, and birds respectively).

Astronomical Poetry: Germanicus and Manilius

  1. Aratus, already translated by Cicero, was the model for Manilius and Germanicus.

  2. In Vergil’s proem to the first book of the Georgics, he predicts the catasterism of Octavian (he will be made an immortal star).

  3. Germanicus: adopted son and successor of Tiberius and son of Drusus II.

    1. Aratea: a translation of Aratus’ Phaenomena. Dedicated to a genitor, who is Tiberius.

    2. Prognostica

  4. Manilius: author of the five book didactic hexameter poem Astronomica.

    1. Manilius examines astronomy (the cosmos, its origins, stars, planets, celestial circles, comets), the signs of the zodiac, horoscopes, the locus Fortunae, decans of zodiacal signs and their influences on human characteristics, extra-zodiacal signs.

    2. Manilius is a Stoic. He says there is a res publica in the structure of the cosmos.

    3. Manilius emulates Lucretius, seeing the De Rerum Natura as the only example of a “high” didactic poetry.

Developments in Historical Epic

  1. Varius Rufus: a member of Maecenas’ circle and friend of Virgil and Horace.

    1. Thyestes: a tragedy

    2. De Morte: a poem, perhaps a didactic one

    3. Panegyric of Augustus

    4. Wrote lost epics which Horace calls forte epos.

  2. Albinovanus Pedo: a rival of Virgil and Ovid, he wrote a poem on Germanicus’ expedition.

  3. Rabirius: Bellum Actiacum.

  4. Cornelius Severus: wrote Res Romanae.

  5. Sextus Ena


Appendix Vergiliana

  1. Dirae: a poem of invective, with curses, on the land confiscations.

  2. Lydia: a pastoral love lament to a woman named Lydia. Joined, without any indicated separation, to the Dirae

  3. Catalepton (“small collection”, “few at a time”): 15 short poems, a “container” of small texts. With a panegyric on Messala, who celebrated a triumph in 27 BC.

  4. Culex: an epyllion on a shepherd who kills a kindly mosquito, who stings a snake about to sting the farmer. The mosquito visits the shepherd in a dream and tells him about his descent to the underworld. Historically attributed to the young Virgil. The Culex is a parody of a serious epic.

  5. Ciris (a type of heron): an epyllion on the love of Scylla for Minos. Scylla betrays her father Nisus.

  6. Copa (“Cabaret girl”): a lady innkeeper draws tenants to her inn by dancing.

  7. Moretum (“The Loaf”): themorning rising of a peasant and the making of his meal, a salad. Describes in minute detaill the simple life of a peasant.

  8. Priapea (3 poems): Priapus speaks.

  9. Elegiae in Maecenam

  10. Aetna: a scientific poem in 645 hexameters on the causes and phenomena of volcanoes. The author of the Aetna imitates Manilius.

Phaedrus and the Fable Tradition

  1. Phaedrus is the first author of either Greece or Rome to create a collection of fables “conceived as an independent poetic work and intended for reading” (Conte 433).

  2. Phaedrus was a freedman from Thrace—a freed Thracian slave.

  3. Phaedrus wrote 5 books of fables.

  4. Phaedrus is indebted to Aesop for his fables. Phaedrus used the devices of the foreword (promythion) and afterword (epimythion).

  5. Phaedrus was persecuted by Sejanus, as he says in the prologue to his third work of fables.

  6. Phaedrus was active under Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius.

  7. Some of Phaedrus’s fables are found in the Appendix Perrotina.

The Poetic Genres in the Neronian Age

  1. Calpurnius Siculus wrote Eclogues in the style of Vergil, under Nero.

    1. Nemesianus was a fourth century writer who wrote four eclogues transmitted along with Calpurnius Siculus’ eclogues.

  2. Some random dude wrote a Carmina Einsidlensia.

  3. Laus Pisonis: a long panegyric on Piso in hexameters, attributed by some to Calpurnius Siculus. Praises Piso of Pisonian conspiracy fame.

  4. Nero wrote much poetry before he died at 30.

    1. Troica: on the war at Troy, with Paris as its hero.

    2. Nero supposedly recited his Troica while Rome burned.

    3. Nero loved mythological and geographic allusion.

    4. To review literary emperors: Claudius wrote histories, Hadrian wrote a poem to his animula, Nero wrote Troica and mythological works.

  5. Ilias Latina: a poetic abridgment of the Iliad.

  6. Caesius Bassus was a lyric poet who also wrote a medical treatise dedicated to Nero.

  7. Sulpicia wrote to her husband Calenus. Martial praises her, comparing her to Sappho.


  1. Marcus Annaeus Lucanus was born in Cordoba in Spain on November 3rd, 39 AD.

  2. Lucan was the nephew of Seneca the Younger, being the son of Annaeus Mela (Seneca’s brother). Lucan moved in 40 AD to Rome from Corduba.

  3. At Rome, the Stoic Annaeus Cornutus taught Lucan. At school, under the tutelage of Cornutus, Lucan met his friend Persisu.

  4. Lucan entered the court of Nero and was, for a while, his intimate friend.

    1. Lucan wrote and recited a Laudes Neronis at the Neronia of 60 AD.

    2. Lucan broke with Nero; sources claim that Nero was jealous of his literary talent.

    3. Lucan praises Nero at the beginning of the De Bello Civili.

  5. Pharsalia (Bellum Civile): a 10-book hexameter poem on the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, Lucan (an “anti-Vergil”) styled his poem an anti-Aeneid.

    1. Left unfinished, abruptly breaking off in Book 10, due to the author’s death.

    2. Pompey sees the ghost of Julia in a dream. Cato and Brutus discuss joining Pompey vs. not joining the conflict at all.

    3. Includes a lenghty list of allies, in imitation of Homer’s Iliad’s catalogue of ships.

    4. Naval battle between the people of Massilia (Marseilles) and Caesar’s army.

    5. The Pompeian hero Vulteius; the death of the young Caesarian Curio at the hands of Numidian troops.

    6. The Senate meets in Epirus; the Pompeian Appius gets an ambiguous reply when he consults the oracle at Delphi. Pompey and his wife Cornelia grieve about their separation.

    7. Pompey is besieged at Dyrrhachium; the Caesarian hero Scaeva performs gallant deeds. Pompey’s son Sextus Pompey consults the sorceress Erichthon, who uses necromancy to summon back to life a soldier, who says that ruin awaits Sextus Pompey and his family.

    8. At the battle of Pharsalus, the Pompeian Domitius Ahenobarbus (an ancestor of Nero) dies a Heroic death.

    9. Pompey suggests joining his troops to the Parthians but Lentulus speaks, objecting. King Ptolemy has Pompey killed on the advice of his courtiers. Pompey’s headless body is abandoned on the seashore, where a man named Cordus buries it.

    10. Cato takes command of Pompey’s army and crosses the Libyan desert, meeting sandstorms and snakes. Cato refuses to consult the oracle of Ammon, since knowledge of the future should not alter a wise man’s decisions.

    11. Caesar visits the tomb of Alexander the Great at Aexandria and holds a banquet which Cleopatra attends. The Egpytian priest Achoreus discusses the sources of the Nile. The Alexandrians try to rebell against Caesar. The poem breaks off.

  6. Lost works: Iliacon (on the Trojan war), Catachthonion (descent to the underworld), De Incendio Urbis, Medea (an unfinished tragedy), Saturnalia, Silvae (10 books), Laudes Neronis.

    1. Lucan also wrote libretti for pantomimes, like Juvenal.

  7. Characteristics of the Pharsalia

    1. The Pharsalia sings of “wars more than civil”: it criticizes fratricidal war

    2. The Pharsalia as an anti-Aeneid which destroys Augustan myths.

    3. Lucan as an anti-Vergil.

    4. Lucan erects an “anti-myth of Rome” which

    5. Inversion of Anchises’ “tu, Romane” speech in the Aeneid.

    6. Prophecies of Disaster.

    7. Victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa Catoni

    8. Quintilian described Lucan as ardens et concitatus.

    9. Martial says that Bellum Civile sold well in his time; Tacitus associates Lucan with Horace and Virgil; Statius and Florus admired the Bellum Civile.

    10. Petronius’ own Bellum Civile may be a criticism of Lucan’s style.

    11. Servius in his commentaries on the Aeneid said Lucan wrote history, not poetry.

    12. Fronto attacked Lucan’s style as repetitive.


  1. Gaius Petronius Niger, described by Tacitus in his Annals, was consul around 62 AD and a courtier of Nero. He committed suicide by Nero’s command. He may not actually be the man who wrote the Satyricon.

  2. Tacitus says that Petronius was the arbiter elegantiae in Nero’s court, regarded by Nero as an optimal judge of chic and refinement.

    1. Petronius opened his veins and then spent his last hours at a banquet. Before his death, he openly denounced the emperor’s crimes in his testamentary letter, which listed Nero’s wicket deeds. He destroyed his signet ring.

  3. Satyricon: Satirical novel on the adventures of Encolpius, Giton, Ascyltus, Eumolpus.

    1. Contains the famous Cena Trimalchionis, rediscovered in the Dalmatian town of Trogir in the Codex Traguriensis. We have all of Book 15, parts of 14 and 16.

    2. The Satyricon is narrated by the protagonist Encolpius. Encolpius and Giton are the only characters to appear in all episodes of the novel.

    3. Encolpius discusses the decline of oratory with his teacher Agamemnon.

    4. Encolpius travels with the troubled Ascyltos and Giton. A woman named Quartilla involves Encolpius, Giton, and Ascyltos in a rite of Priapus to satisfy her sexual desires. The three escape to a banquet at Trimalchio’s house.

    5. Trimalchio is a boastful, crude, extremely wealthy freedman who speaks with imperfect Latin.

    6. Encolpius and Ascyltos both have a homosexual love for Giton, which culminates in a violent quarrel in which Ascyltos takes Giton away.

    7. Encolpius meets the wandering poet Eumolpus, who recites to him a book on the Capture of Troy.

    8. Encolpius recovers Giton from Ascyltos. A new romantic triangle arises when the poet Eumolpus shows affection towards Giton.

    9. Encolpius, Giton, and Eumolpus disembark at a Greek city where they meet Encolpius’ work enemy, the merchant Lichas, who wants to avenge an earlier happening. Lichas is traveling with a woman of “dubious morality,” named Typhaena. During a storm, Lichas is swept overboard.

    10. Encolpius, Giton, and Eumolpus find themselves at Croton, where they hatch a scheme to take advantage of all the legacy hunting going on there. Eumolpus plays a wealthy old rich man with Encolpius and Giton as his slaves.

      1. On the road to Croton, Eumolpus lectures his friends on epic poetry and declaims a long poem called Bellum Civile.

    11. Encolpius loses his sexual ability after he meets the woman Circe.

    12. Priapus persecutes Encolpius, so Encolpius submits to humiliating magical practices to regain his virility.

    13. Eumolpus’ ploy: whoever wants his estate must eat his corpse.

  4. Ancient terms for narratives: historia, fabula, Milesia, etc.

  5. The Priapean genre was a type of joking and obscenely sexual epigram, practiced by Martial, the author of the Priapea in the Appendix Vergiliana, and apparently Catullus.

    1. The Satyricon shows some similarities and allusions to Priapus.


  1. Aules Persius Flaccus was born at Volterra in Etruria in 34 AD.

    1. Persius’ father died when he was six years old.

    2. The name Aules is a mixture of Aulus and the Etruscan Aule.

    3. The Stoic philosopher Annaeus Cornutus left the biggest mark on Persius. Under Cornutus, Persius met Lucan (his friend), Caesius Bassus, Seneca, and Thrasea Paetus.

      1. Thrasea Paetus wrote a life of Cato Uticensis that would become a model for Plutarch’s biography. He committed suicide when ordered by Nero.

    4. Persius died when he was almost 28 years old.

  2. Valerius Probus was the first commentator on Persius and probably wrote a vita of Persius. According to Valerius Probus, Persius scriptitavit raro et tarde.

    1. Persius published nothing during his lifetime. Cornutus revised his works and Caesius Bassus made sure they were published.

    2. Upon his death, Persius left his extensive library to his friend and teacher Cornutus.

  3. Satires: 6 satire poems in hexameters.

    1. Persius criticizes the mannerisms of contemporary poetry, contemporary moral degeneration, etc. Persius encourages the Stoic lifestyle.

    2. Satire 4: nosce te ipsum is important for those seeking public office.

    3. Satire 5: addressed to Cornutus, develops theme of freedom according to Stoic doctrine.

    4. Satire 6: form of letter, addressed to Persius’ friend Caesius Bassus. Criticizes avarice, promotes the moderate Stoic sage instead.

      1. Persius’ satire is informed by a Stoic ethical need to point out and combat corruption and vice. Related to this, he calls himself semipaganus and espouses rusticitas.

      2. Persius obsesses over the metaphor of the belly as the center of man’s existence.

      3. Persius has a harsh style with which he denounces vice, to shake men into realizing their faults.

      4. Persius rejects rheotrical embellishments (tectae pictoria linguae) in favor of common language (verba togae), but distorts that language using his own style. Persius is quite obscure

  4. At a recitation of Persius, Lucan got so excited that he exclaimed that Persius’ works were real poetry, and his only trivialities.


  1. Decimus Junius Juvenalis was born at Aquinum. He had rhetorical training and continued to practice rhetoric, mostly for fun, until middle age. His satires make accurate reference to the Roman legal system.

  2. Juvenal wrote 16 Satires, divided into 5 books.

  3. Juvenal was banished either under Domitian or Trajan.

  4. Juvenal started writing poetry at a mature age, after the death of Domitian in 96 AD, and he continued to write into the reign of Hadrian.

  5. Juvenal’s oldest friend was Martial.

  6. According to the ancient tradition, he was sent to Egypt when he was eighty years old, under the pretext of a military command, because certain of his verses gave offense to a the emperor’s favorite.

  7. Quotes by Juvenal

    1. Difficile est saturam non scribere: widespread moral corruption compels Juvenal to become a satiric poet.

    2. Quando uberior vitiorum copia?—never has there been more moral degeneracy.

    3. Si natura negat, facit indignatio versum.

  8. Summary of Juvenal’s Satires

    1. Satire 1: Juvenal’s prefatory satire, in which he rails against fashionable declamations and mythological obscurity. Difficile est saturam non scribere

    2. Satire 2: Juvenal rants against homosexuals. Attacks hypocrites who cloak the “foulest vice beneath the appearance of virtue” (Conte 474).

    3. Satire 3: Juvenal’s friend Umbricius is leaving Rome, because the city has become dangerous for honest men.

    4. Satire 4: Domitian calls a council to deliberate how to cook a gigantic turbot given to him as a gift.

    5. Satire 5: The rich Virro gives a dinner and his guests are humiliated.

    6. Satire 6: Juvenal’s longest satire, a famous tirade against the immorality and vices of women.

    7. Satire 7: Juvenal remembers fondly the patronage of Augustan age literature, lamenting the decline of study and the wretched condition of contemporary writers.

    8. Satire 8: Juvenal attacks the false nobility of birth and extols the true nobility that comes from talent and feeling.

    9. Satire 9: A dialogue where the homosexual Naevolus protests for being “ill-rewarded for his difficult services” (Conte 475).

    10. Satire 10: The folly of human desires.

    11. Satire 11: Juvenal’s friend gives him a modest dinner, which he compares with the ostenstatious banquets of rich men.

    12. Satire 12: Juvenal attacks legacy hunters

    13. Satire 13: Juvenal attacks cheats and swindlers.

    14. Satire 14: Juvenal discusses the upbringing of children, arguing that example must accompany teaching.

    15. Satire 15: Juvenal recounts an episode of cannibalism in Egypt, which he claims to know.

    16. Satire 16: Incomplete, this satire lists the advantages of military life.

  9. Unlike Persius, Juvenal believes that men are irredeemably susceptible to corruption, and does not believe he can influence their behavior.

  10. Juvenal, a member of the Italian middle class, often conveys a certain rancor towards society, a hidden resentment at being excluded from it.

  11. Juvenal scornfully views the crowd. He also does not like flattering, intriguing Greeks and Orientals. Pretty much, Juvenal does not like anybody.

  12. In his last two books of five, Juvenal renounces indignatio and adopts the more detached attitude of Stoic apatheia. He thus returns to the “diatribe tradition’ of previous satire, from which he has previously departed.

  13. Juvenal breakes satire’s “traditional link with comedy” and brings satire “near to traegy” (Conte 477). He uses epic-tragic language in connection with vulgar content to emphasize the lowness of its content.

  14. Juvenal is first mentioned by Lactantius. Servius Donatus’ student Nicaeus made an epitome of Juvenalian satire.

Epic in the Flavian Period

Publius Papinius Statius

  1. Statius was born at Naples between AD 40 and AD 50, the son of a schoolmaster. He had success in public recitations and poetic contests at Rome.

  2. Statius was a protégé of Domitian.

  3. Silvae (5 books): 32 short verse poems in various meters, published gradually from 92 AD onwards.

    1. According to Quintilian, the title indicates a series of sketches.

    2. Statius addresses courtly poems directly to Domitian in his Silvae. He embodies the beginnings of imperial worship in his fawning over Domitian.

    3. Statius’ Silvae includes a famous poem about him not getting any sleep.

    4. Statius was reknowned for improvising short poems.

  4. The Thebaid (12 books): published in 92 AD.

    1. Statius sings fraternae acies, but treats a mythological topic, rather than a historical topic like Lucan, but the Thebaid recalls the Bellum Civile in subject matter.

    2. Statius’ programmatic epiilogue says he has a lofty model, the Aeneid. Statius wants the Thebaid to follow the Aeneid’s model “at a distance”.

    3. Two halves of the Thebaid: one half (6 books) on the journey, one half (6 books) on the war. So, like the Aeneid.

    4. Book 1: Oedipus summons the Furies of the Underworld to persecute the house of Thebes. Oedipus’ two sons are quarreling over the thorne.

    5. Laius returns to earth from the Underworld and inspires Eteocles to break the pact with Polyneices. Tydeus, Adrastus’ son-in-law, goes to Thebes to claim the throne, and escapes an ambush set by Eteocles.

    6. The seven against Thebes (Adrastus, Polyneices, Tydeus, Capaneus, Parthenopaeus, Hippomedon, Amphiaraus) marc on the city. Hypsipyle aids them.

    7. The Seven establish the Nemean games when Opheltes is killed.

    8. Amphiaraus is swallowed into hades. Tydeus eats his enemy Melanippus’ brains when mortally wounded. The fury Tisiphon urges on the battle.

    9. Hippomedon falls during a battle in the river.

    10. Menoeceus, Creon’s son, sacrifices himself for the good of the city. Capaneus tries to scale the walls of Thebes but is struck by Zeus’ thunderbolt for proclaiming that not even Zeus could stop him.

    11. Eteocles and Polyneices kill each other, Jocasta hangs herself, Oedipus is driven out of Thebes, Creon becomes king, and forbids the Argives burial. Theseus, king of Athens, intervenes.

    12. “Who can deny that presages come from hidden causes? Destiny is unfolded before man, but he does not want to read it, and anticipation of the future is lost. Thus we turn presages into accidents, and Fortune has the power to smite us.”

    13. The emperor Gordian I based his Antoninias on the Thebaid.

  5. The Achilleid: an unfinished epic poem. Only book 1 and the beginning of book 2 are left.

    1. We only have episodes dealing with the young Achilles on Scyros.

    2. Statius planned to narrate all of Achilles life, but obviously died before he could.

  6. De Bello Germanico: Statius’ historical poem on the deeds of Domitian, his patron. Lost.

  7. Agave: Statius’ successful pantomime libretto. Lost.

Valerius Flaccus

  1. Gaius Valerius Flaccus Balbus Setinus. We know next to nothing about him.

  2. Quintilian wrote multum in Valerio Flacco nuper amisimus (“we have recently suffered a great loss in the death of Valerius Flaccus”).

  3. The Argonautica (8 books): unfinished epic poem, dedicated to Vespasian.

    1. Recounts about three quarters of the story told in Apollonius of Rhodes’ 4 book Argonautica.

    2. Jason’s expedition to find the Golden Fleece, returning with Medea, etc.

    3. Aeson commits suicide, persecuted by the tyrant Pelias. Overtones of Roman history.

    4. The Argo is the first ship, which must open up the seas so that civilization can develop.

Silius Italicus

  1. Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus was born around AD 26.

  2. Silius Italicus was a lawyer and connected to Nero. According to Pliny, he was an informer for Nero.

  3. Silius Italicus was proconsul of Asia under Vespasian. Earlier, he had been familiar with the emperor Vitellius.

  4. Silius Italicus got an incurable disease and starved himself to death.

  5. Silius Italicus purchased the tomb of Vergil, and collected the relics of him.

  6. Of Silius, Pliny wrote: scribebat carmina maiore cura quam ingenio. The

  7. Punica (17 books): Epic on the Second Punic War

    1. The Punica is the longest Latin historical epic to come down to us, and usually considered the worst (if not the worst poem in all of Latin literature).

    2. It recounts the Second Punic War, beginning with Hannibal’s expedition to Spain and ending with Scipio’s triumph following Zama.

    3. Silius has ludicrous divine intervention, like Hannibal being whisked away on a cloud. Scipio Africanus journeys to the underworld.

    4. Silius includes a sketch of Ennius, the heroic poet from Rudiae who fought with the Roman army in Sardinia. Ennius was a revived Orpheus, relaxing from battle by playing his cithara, protected by Apollo when attacked, combining the abilities of Homer and Hesiod.

    5. The war against Hannibal is presented as a continuation of Vergil, derived from the curse of Dido against Aeneas’ descendants. Juno protects Carthage in the Punica.

    6. Aition on Bacchus and Falernian wine.

    7. Silius Italicus generally just sucks.

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