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date: 28 July 2021

Gellius, Aulusfree

, Roman miscellanist

Gellius, Aulusfree

, Roman miscellanist
  • Leofranc Holford-Strevens


  • Latin Literature

Roman miscellanist, born between 125 ce and 128, author of Noctes Atticae (‘Attic Nights’) in twenty books. Internal evidence suggests publication c.180; an apparent echo in Apuleius' Apology, sometimes used to support an earlier date, can be otherwise explained. A probable reference in M. Cornelius Fronto apart, all knowledge of Gellius comes from his work: reconstruction of his life depends on the assumption, so far unfalsified, that his anecdotes, even if fictitious, are not anachronistic. There are slight but uncertain indications that he came from a colonia in Africa: however, most of his life was spent at Rome. He studied with Sulpicius Apollinaris, and knew Fronto; but the deepest impression was made on him by Favorinus. He spent at least a year in Athens completing his education as a pupil of Calvenus Taurus; he visited Ti. Claudius Atticus Herodes (2) in his summer retreat at Cephisia, attended the Pythian Games of (probably) August 147, and enjoyed the life of a student and a tourist. After his return he was appointed a judge to try private cases (14. 2. 1); but his interest in the law is essentially antiquarian.

The Noctes Atticae (of which we lack the start of the preface, the end of bk. 20, and all bk. 8 except the chapter-headings) is a collection of mainly short chapters, based on notes or excerpts he had made in reading, on a great variety of topics in philosophy, history, law, but above all grammar in its ancient sense, including literary and textual criticism. According to his preface, Gellius conceived the notion of giving literary form to his notes during the long winter's nights in Attica (whence the title), but completed the project (some 30 years later) as an instructive entertainment for his children. Variety and charm are imparted by the constant changes of topic, purportedly reproducing the chance order of Gellius' notes (a cliché of such works), and by the use of dialogue and reminiscence as literary forms for conveying information; the dramatizations are generally fictitious, though in settings based on Gellius' own experience. The characters of Gellius' friends and teachers are finely drawn; the fictitious persons are less individual.

Gellius is well read in Latin, less so in Greek (though he shows some knowledge of Homeric scholarship); his judgement is sensible rather than incisive. His style blends the archaic (see archaism in latin), the self-consciously classical, and the new: he lifts words from early authors but also invents new ones, he construes plenus only with the genitive but occasionally admits quod clauses instead of accusative and infinitive. He shares the age's preference for Early Latin and Sallust over Augustan and Silver writers, but admires Virgil and will hear no ill of Cicero (10. 3; 17. 5); most striking, however, is his liking for Claudius Quadrigarius, of whom he supplies almost half the extant fragments.

In later antiquity Gellius was admired by St Augustine and diligently read by Nonius Marcellus, Ammianus, and Macrobius; in the Middle Ages he was esteemed by Carolingian and 12-cent. scholars; he was also excerpted in several florilegia. For the Renaissance he was a well-spring of learning and a model for humanistic writing; though subsequently displaced from his central position and in the 19th cent. disparaged along with his age, he has never lacked readers who relish not only the information he conveys, the quotations he preserves, and the reflections he arouses, but also the charm of his style and his infectious love of books.


  • Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, s.v. “Gellius 2.”
  • M. J. Hertz (ed.), Noctium Atticarum libri XX (1883–1885).
  • C. Hosius, ed. A. Gellii Noctium Atticarum Libri XX. Leipzig: Teubner, 1903.
  • P. K. Marshall (ed.), Noctes Atticae (Oxford Classical Texts 1968; repr. 1990).
  • R. Marache (ed. and trans.), Les nuits attiques, bks. 1–15 in 3 vols. (Budé, 1967–1989).
  • F. Cavazza (ed. and trans.), Le notti attiche (1985– ).
  • G. Bernardi-Perini (ed. and trans.), Le notti attiche, 2nd edn. (1996).
  • J. C. Rolfe, Loeb Classical Library. London: W. Heinemann, 1927.
  • L. A. Holford-Strevens, Aulus Gellius, 2nd edn. corr. (2005).
  • S. M. Beall, ‘Civilis Eruditio: Style and Content in the “Attic Nights” of Aulus Gellius’, (Ph. D. Diss. Univ. of California at Berkeley (1988).
  • G. Anderson, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2. 34. 2 (1994), 1834ff.
  • L. A. Holford-Strevens and A. Vardi (eds.), The Worlds of Aulus Gellius (2004).
  • R. Herzog and P. Schmidt, Handbuch der lateinischen Literatur der Antike (1989– ), 4. 68–77.