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date: 30 November 2022

Aetna, Latin didactic poem by unknown poet, 1st half of 1st cent. celocked

Aetna, Latin didactic poem by unknown poet, 1st half of 1st cent. celocked

  • Liba Taub

Extract

Aetna, of unknown authorship, is an example of Latin didactic poetry. It aims to explain the volcanic activity of Mt. Etna (see Aetna (1)). The poem, included in the so-called Appendix Vergiliana, is ascribed to Virgil in our earliest manuscripts and included amongst his juvenilia by the Vita Donati, where, however, doubt is expressed about its authenticity. Few, if any, would now maintain this ascription or any of the other attributions that have been suggested. The poem predates the eruption of Vesuvius in 79ce, for it describes the volcanic activity of the Naples region as extinct. It is generally agreed to postdate Lucretius, and it likely alludes to Virgil and M. Manilius. Because of its resemblances to Seneca’s Natural Questions, and because Seneca himself shows no knowledge of the poem, a late-Neronian or Vespasianic date is perhaps probable, but an earlier date cannot be ruled out.Ancient authors tended to focus on particular examples of volcanic activity instead of generalizing about a broader category. Nevertheless, the devotion of an entire work to Aetna seems to have been unprecedented. The Aetna poet offers an explanation of the volcano as a purely natural phenomenon.

Subjects

  • Latin Literature

Updated in this version

Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

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