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Poetry in the ‘Circle’ of Messalla

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2009


Our views on literary patronage in the Augustan Age may be dominated to such an extent by the personality of Maecenas that other, contemporary, patrons are forgotten or, worse still, seen as pale reflections of the ‘ideal’ patron, Maecenas, and so best disregarded. Professor Ronald Syme, for example, in his notable chapter on Augustus' ‘Organization of Opinion’, writes that ‘Augustus’ chief of cabinet, Maecenas, captured the most promising of the poets at an early stage and nursed them into the Principate. Augustus himself listened to recitations with patience and even with benevolence. He insisted, however, that his praises should be sung only in serious efforts and by the best poets. The Princeps succeeded: other patrons of literature were left far behind.’ This article looks briefly at the work of those poets who were closely associated with one of these ‘other patrons’, M. Valerius Messalla Corvinus, and attempts to show that his patronage, and the poets' attitudes towards it, were essentially Republican in nature—a factor which should be kept in mind in making any comparison between Messalla's poets and those more directly concerned with the Princeps.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1973

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page 25 note 1 The Roman Revolution (Oxford, 1939), 460.Google Scholar

page 25 note 2 It is a matter for speculation how the poems of the third book came to be collected together. Luck, G., The Latin Love Elegy (London, 1959), 95Google Scholar, cites the opinion of Lachmann, (Kleine Schriften, ii. 150 ff.)Google Scholar ‘that the Corpus Tibullianum was published from Messalla's “archives”, as a kind of document or memoir; the bad and the mediocre together with the good. This edition must have been made at a time when there was still some interest in Messalla and his circle.’ This third book was further subdivided by fifteenth-century scholars, the ‘Lygdamus’ elegies thereby forming in themselves the third book, and the remainder a fourth book, though there is no traditional authority for this subdivision.

page 26 note 1 Cf. Wilkinson, L. P., Ovid Recalled (Cambridge, 1955), 13.Google Scholar

page 26 note 2 Epp. v. 3. 5.

page 26 note 3 The Letters of Pliny (Oxford, 1966), 317.Google Scholar

page 27 note 1 So Westendorp-Boerma, R. E. H., P. Vergili Maronis Catalepton, Part Two (Assen, 1963), 15 fGoogle Scholar. Cf. Day, A. A., The Origins of Latin Love-Elegy (Oxford, 1938), 76 ff.Google Scholar

page 27 note 2 Cf. Luck, op. cit. 39 ff.

page 27 note 3 On Messalla's dates and career, see Hanslik, RE viiiA. 1. 131 ff., and Hammer, J., Prolegomena to an Edition of the Panegyricus Messallae (New York, 1925), 5 ff.Google Scholar

page 27 note 4 Constant allusion is made to the nobility of Messalla's birth; cf. Tibullus ii. 1. 33 f.; [Tibullus] iii. 7. 38–32; [Virgil, ], Catalepton 9. 39Google Scholar f. See also Syme, op. cit. 10, 18.

page 27 note 5 Dio xlvii. 33. 3–4; Velleius ii. 71.1; Appian, , BC iv. 38, 136Google Scholar. See also Syme, op. cit. 206.

page 27 note 6 RPh xx (1946), 96 ff.

page 28 note 1 Appian, BC v. 102 f., 109, 112.

page 28 note 2 Cf. [Tibullus] iii. 7. 107 ff.

page 28 note 3 On Poplicola, see Syme, op. cit. 269 and n., 296; also Münzer, , RE vii. 1003 ffGoogle Scholar. On Bibulus, see Syme, op. cit. 268; on Furnius, Syme, op. cit. 299. Uncertainty remains about Servius (line 86); he is probably the son of Cicero's jurist friend S. Sulpicius Rufus: see below on Sulpicia. Nothing is known about his loyalties.

page 28 note 4 Cf. Syme, op. cit. 198; Ullman, B. L., AJP xxxiii (1912), 164.Google Scholar

page 28 note 5 ‘Der Dichterkreis des Messalla’, AAWW lxxxix (1952), 22 ff.Google Scholar

page 29 note 1 JRS xl (1950), 3941.Google Scholar

page 29 note 2 Cf. Williams, Gordon, Tradition and Originality in Roman Poetry (Oxford, 1968), 38 f.Google Scholar

page 30 note 1 On the recusatio convention, see Gordon Williams, op. cit. 46 ff. The Augustan poets gave the recusatio an ulterior purpose which its Callimachean prototype (Aitia, fr. 1) did not have.

page 30 note 2 Hermes xc (1962), 295325.Google Scholar

page 32 note 1 Messalla is nowhere named in the six elegies, and there is considerable difficulty concerning their precise dating, especially with reference to [Tibullus, ] iii. 5. 1520Google Scholar. See Axelson, B., Eranos lviii (1960), 92111, 281–97Google Scholar; Büchner, K., Hermes xciii (1965), 65112, 503–8.Google Scholar

page 32 note 2 Jerome, , adv. Iovian. 46Google Scholar. Cf. Bréguet, E., Le Roman de Sulpicia (Geneva, 1946), 28 f.Google Scholar

page 32 note 3 Cf. Balsdon, J. P. V. D., Roman Women (London, 1962), 273, and n. 62 (p. 330).Google Scholar

page 32 note 4 This is much in the manner of, e.g., Propertius, iv. 3.Google Scholar

page 33 note 1 See Cesareo, E., Il carme natalizio nella poesia latina (Palermo, 1929)Google Scholar. There were some Greek antecedents for this type of literature, but it was in Rome of the first century b.c. that a separate literary form was made of it. Virgil (Ecl. 4—though hardly typical), Propertius (iii. 10), and Horace, (Odes iv. 11)Google Scholar have one example each.

page 34 note 1 For detailed analyses, see Cesareo, op. cit. 66 ff.; Luck, op. cit. 77 ff. Also now, Gaisser, Julia H., CPh lxvi (1971), 221 ff.Google Scholar

page 34 note 2 The Elegies of Albius Tibullus (New York, 1913), 35.Google Scholar

page 35 note 1 Cf. Dalzell, A., ‘Maecenas and the Poets’, Phoenix x (1956), 151 ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

page 35 note 2 Pont. i. 7. 28Google Scholar. I am much indebted to Mr. A. S. Hollis, Keble College, Oxford, and to Professor L. A. Moritz, University College, Cardiff, for advice and criticism at different stages in the preparation of the material contained in this article.