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

Liba Taub

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.



Philip Hardie

At the summit of the ancient hierarchy of genres, epic narrates in hexameter verse the deeds of gods, heroes, and men The authority of Homer, the name given to the composer of the Iliad and the Odyssey, ensures that the forms and conventions of the Homeric poems are determinative for the whole of the Greco-Roman tradition of epic. From an early date, the production and reading of epic poems was accompanied by intensive scholarly and critical activity. Over the centuries, numerous epics were written on both legendary and historical subjects, as the genre responded to changing aesthetic and ideological conditions. In Rome, Virgil’s Aeneid successfully established for itself an authority comparable to that of the Homeric poems, and all later Latin epics place themselves within a Virgilian tradition. Epic in Greek and Latin continues to flourish in late antiquity, when Christian writers appropriate its forms to propagate their own messages and praise their own heroes.


Dionysius Periegetes  

J. L. Lightfoot

Dionysius Periegetes is the Alexandrian author of a poem in 1,186 hexameters entitled “Periegesis of the Known World” (Οἰκουμένης Περιήγησις). Answering to Aratus’s Phaenomena as a specimen of cosmographically themed didactic epic, and conceived on a similar scale (Aratus’s poem has 1,154 lines), it describes the approximate layout of the seas and landmasses as they were understood at the time of the poem’s composition during the reign of Hadrian. It is the only work on its subject to survive in hexameters. In light of the loss of geographical poems by “Alexander” (presumably of Ephesus) and Varro of Atax, its closest relatives are the partially preserved iambic poems by ps.-Scymnus and Dionysius son of Calliphon. But the poet’s scrupulous metre and sophisticated use of allusion constructs a lineage across archaic, classical, and Hellenistic poets to place him among the most refined writers of the Second Sophistic movement. The packaging of dense informational content with user-friendly readability and adept poetics proved a winning combination, and Dionysius’s poem remained on school syllabuses for a good millennium and a half after its composition.



Emily Kneebone

A poet from Apamea in Syria (see Cyn. 2.127), author of the Cynegetica, a Greek didactic poem on hunting in four books (2,144 hexameter verses). The author’s name is lost, and nothing is known of him beyond the information provided in the poem, which was frequently transmitted in manuscripts together with Oppian’s Halieutica and was attributed to the same poet until the 18th century, along with a now-lost Ixeutica (a poem on bird-catching, possibly in two books). The Suda and the Byzantine Vitae attached to the manuscripts conflate the poets. The Cynegetica models itself on the Halieutica in many respects, but was clearly composed by a different author: the two poems refer to different homelands (the author of the Halieutica is from Cilicia), were written at different times (the Halieutica between 177 and 180 ce), and are stylistically distinct. The Cynegetica is addressed to the Roman emperor Caracalla, and is likely to have been composed between 212 and 217 ce, after the deaths of Septimius Severus and Geta in 211.


law, Roman, institutional scheme of  

Jakob Fortunat Stagl

The institutional scheme of Roman law was developed primarily by Gaius on the basis of a preceding tradition of law manuals. The scheme consists of dividing the law into a General Part, Family Law, Property Law, Law of Succession, Law of Obligations, and Civil Procedure. This scheme is apparent not only in Gaius’s Institutes but also in the whole of his didactic scheme, which can be discerned from descriptions of the curriculum in his time. Gaius’s larger didactic scheme is indebted to contemporary philosophical, rhetorical, and didactic currents, which made it possible for him to organise the law of Rome in such a solid and plausible way that the emperor Justinian adopted this scheme for his compilation, comprising the Institutes, the Digest, and the Codex.


Prudentius Clemens, Aurelius, 348–after 405 CE  

Cillian O'Hogan

Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a Christian Latin poet who wrote in a variety of genres and metres. Born in northern Spain, in 348ce, he had a career in public administration before retiring to write poetry. His major works include the Liber Cathemerinon (poems keyed to the liturgy and religious calendar), Psychomachia (an allegorical epic on the battle between Virtues and Vices for the human soul), and the Liber Peristephanon (lyric poems in praise of the early martyrs of the church). Prudentius was particularly influenced by the works of Virgil and Horace, and aimed in his poetry to combine the form and language of classical Latin poetry with the message of Christianity. The most important Christian Latin poet of late antiquity, Prudentius was extremely influential throughout the Middle Ages.Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348–after 405ce) was the most important and influential Christian Latin poet of late antiquity. Called by Richard Bentley the ‘.



Emily Kneebone

Oppian: author of a five-book Greek didactic poem on fish and fishing at sea, composed around 177–180 ce and addressed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus. The first two books of the poem deal with the habits and habitats of marine species; the last three deal with methods for their capture. The poem, which contains a wealth of material on fish and fishing, is notable for its extended epic similes and representation of the affinities between human and non-human animals.A poet from Cilicia (see Hal. 3.7–8, 205–209), author of the Halieutica, a Greek didactic poem in five books (3,506 hexameter verses) on fish and fishing at sea. The poem is addressed to the emperor “Antoninus” and his son, and mentions their current period of co-regency (2.682–683); this is usually understood to refer to Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, which dates the poem to .



Jenny Strauss Clay

Hesiod, epic poet from Ascra in Boeotia, usually considered later than Homer, is author of the Theogony and the Works and Days (Erga); other works attributed to him in antiquity include the Catalogue of Women and the Shield of Heracles (Aspis). The Theogony recounts the origins of the cosmos and the genealogy of the gods from the beginning to the establishment of the Olympian order; it is prefaced by a lengthy proem that recounts Hesiod’s meeting with the Muses and a hymn to the goddesses. The genealogical catalogues are interrupted by narratives of the Succession Myth, with antecedents from the Near East. The Works and Days, which also has Near Eastern parallels, is addressed to Hesiod’s brother Perses and advises him how to live in the world Zeus has established for human beings by pursuing justice and practicing agriculture; it also includes advice on sailing, social behavior, and lucky and unlucky days. Famous and influential passages include Hesiod’s encounter with the Muses, the Prometheus-Pandora story, and the Myth of the Five Races.


Latin literature, popular  

Luca Graverini

Any attempt at defining popular literature with some precision is fraught with difficulties. A flexible and pragmatic approach is the most rewarding, since it allows one to look at the subject from a few different viewpoints: “popular” can be understood as referring to the Roman people as a whole, or only to its lower social strata; a text can be defined as popular because it has been composed in a popular milieu, and/or because it addresses a popular audience. A mode of reception of literature can also be labelled “popular.” The traditional Roman elite only conceived literature as something useful, which could and should contribute to the instruction of its readers and to the well-being of the State. However, gradually a different attitude emerged: one that appreciated literature, and especially narrative, mostly or even only for its pleasurable and escapist qualities, sometimes even without any concern for its cultural sophistication. This rather loose definition allows us to discern a popular streak in many literary forms. For example, it is often surmised that ancient drama addressed the Roman people as a whole, without distinction of social class or cultural level. Other forms of theatre, such as Atellanae, mime, and pantomime, had a more farcical nature and were especially favoured by a less sophisticated public, but at least on some occasions they made some demands on the education of their audiences and contributed to the diffusion of traditional Roman culture. Non-elite social classes had literary activities of their own, especially during the Empire, when literacy increased. These texts are extant especially thanks to epigraphical sources, and are often written in an unsophisticated and colloquial language. Narrative in its various forms could address very different audiences, but the possibility of reading a good tale for entertainment more than for instruction was always open, for sophisticated novels such as Apuleius’s Metamorphoses as well as for simpler tales and collections of mirabilia. Edifying Christian narratives were programmatically written in order to be understandable to and appreciated by a large and not necessarily cultured public, whose faith they intended to strengthen and promote. Playful poetry and didactic literature also had a space among midlevel literary activities.


Xenophon (1), Greek historian  

Christopher J. Tuplin

Xenophon (c. 430–c. 353 bce) came from a wealthy Athenian background and in his youth associated with Socrates. Participation in Cyrus’s unsuccessful rebellion in 401 and mercenary service with Spartan armies in Anatolia in 399–394 bce was followed by exile and prolonged residence near Olympia. Although there was a reconciliation with the Athenian state after 371, he may never have returned to live there permanently. In exile Xenophon became a writer, producing historical narratives, Socratic literature, technical treatises, an encomium of Agesilaus, a dialogue on tyranny, an analysis of Spartan success and failure, and a pamphlet on Athenian political economy. Many of these are the earliest (surviving) examples of particular genres or unusual variants on existing genres. Common to this extraordinarily diverse range of works are a didactic inclination, an intimate relationship with the author’s personal experiences combined with a variable authorial persona, use of the past as a way of talking about the present, a belief that purely practical pursuits have a moral component because they have social implications, and a style of exposition designed for engaged and informed readers who will ask questions of an apparently straightforward text while being prepared to be unsettled or wryly amused by the answers. The topic most persistently addressed by Xenophon’s oeuvre is leadership, broadly conceived—a task that demands special personal qualities, requires persistent careful effort, and, thanks to the unpredictability of events and of human behaviour, can rarely be pursued with prolonged and continuous success.