the last of the Latin classic poets, flourished under Theodosius and his sons Arcadius and Honorius. Our knowledge of his personal history is very limited.
That he was a native of Alexandria seems to be satisfactorily established from the direct testimony of Suidas, corroborated by an allusion in Sidonius Apollinaris (Epist.
9.13), and certain expressions in his own works (e. g. Epist.
5.3, 1.39, 56).
It has been maintained by some that he was a Gaul, and by others that he was a Spaniard; but neither of these positions is supported by even a shadow of evidence, while the opinion advanced by Petrarch and Politian, that he was of Florentine extraction, arose from their confounding the Florentinus
addressed in the introduction to the second book of the Raptus Proserpinae,
and who was praefectus urbi
in A. D. 396, with the name of their native city. We are entirely ignorant of the parentage, education, and early career of Claudian, and of the circumstances under which he quitted his country. We find him at Rome in 395, when he composed his panegyric on the consulate of Probinus and Olybrius.
He appears to have cultivated poetry previously, but this was his first essay in Latin verse, and the success by which it was attended induced him to abandon the Grecian for the Roman muse. (Epist.
4.13.) During the five years which immediately followed the death of Theodosius, he was absent from Rome, attached, it would appear, to the retinue of Stilicho (de Cons. Stilich.
praef. 23), under whose special protection he seems to have been received almost immediately after the publication of the poem noticed above. We say after,
because he makes no mention of the name of the all-powerful Vandal in that composition, where it might have been most naturally and appropriately introduced in conjunction with the exploits of Theodosius, while on all subsequent occasions he eagerly avails himself of every pretext for sounding the praises of his patron, and expressing his own fervent devotion. Nor was he less indebted to the good offices of Serena than to the influence of her husband.
He owed, it is true, his court favour and preferment to the latter, but by the interposition of the former he gained his African bride, whose parents, although they might have turned a deaf ear to the suit of a poor poet, were unable to resist the solicitations of the niece of Theodosius, the wife of the general who ruled the ruler of the empire.
The following inscription, discovered at Rome in the fifteenth century, informs us that a statue of Claudian was erected in the Forum of Trajan by Arcadius and Honorius at the request of the senate, and that he enjoyed the titles of Notarius
but the nature of the office, whether civil or military, denoted by the latter appellation we are unable to determine:--
CL. CLAUDIANI V. C. CL. CLAUDIANO V. C. TRIBUNO ET NOTARIO INTER CETERAS VIGENTES ARTES PRAEGLORIOSISSIMO POETARUM LICET AD MEMORIAM SEMPITERNAM CARMINA AB EODEM SCRIPTA SUFFICIANT ADTAMEN TESTIMONII GRATIA OB JUDICII SUI FIDEM D D. N N. ARCADIUS ET HONORIUS FILICISSIMI AC DOCTISSIMI IMPERATORES SENATU PETENTE STATUAM IN FORO DIVI TRAJANI ERIGI COLLOCARIQUE JUSSERUNT.
The close of Claudian's career is enveloped in the same obscurity as its commencement.
The last historical allusion in his writings is to the 6th consulship of Honorius, which belongs to the year 404.
That he may have been involved in the misfortunes of Stilicho, who was put to death in 408, and may have retired to end his days in his native country, is a probable conjecture, but nothing more.
The idea that he at this time became exposed to the enmity of the powerful and vindictive Hadrian, whom he had provoked by the insolence of wit, and who with cruel vigilance had watched and seized the opportunity of revenge, has been adopted by Gibbon with less than his usual caution.
It rests upon two assumptions alike incapable of proof--first, that by Pharius,
whose indefatigable rapacity is contrasted in an epigram (xxx.) with the lethargic indolence of Mallius, the poet meant to indicate the praetorian prefect, who was a native of Egypt; and secondly, that the palinode which forms the subject of one of his epistles refers to that effusion, and is addressed to the same person.
The religion of Claudian, as well as that of Appuleius, Ausonius, and many of the later Latin writers, has been a theme of frequent controversy.
There is, however, little cause for doubt.
It is impossible to resist the explicit testimony of St. Augustin (de Civ. Dei,
5.26), who declares that he was " a Christi nomine alienus," and of Orosius, who designates him as " Poeta quidem eximius sed paganus pervicacissimus."
The argument for his Christianity derived from an ambiguous expression, interpreted as an admission of the unity of God (III. Cons. Honor.
96), is manifestly frivolous, and the Greek and Latin hymns appended to most editions of his works are confessedly spurious.
That his conscience may have had all the pliancy of indifference on religious topics is probable enough, but we have certainly nothing to adduce against the positive assertions of his Christian contemporaries.
The works of Claudian now extant are the following:
1. Three panegyrics on the third, fourth, and sixth consulships of Honorius respectively
2. A poem on the nuptials of Honorius and Maria
3. Four short Fescennine lays on the same subject
4. A panegyric on the consulship of Probinus and Olybrius
, with which is interwoven a description of the exploits of the emperor Theodosius.
5. The praises of Stilicho
, in two books, and a panegyric on Stilicho's consulship
, in one book.
6. The praises of Serena
, the wife of Stilicho: this piece is mutilated or was left unfinished.
7. A panegyric on the consulship of Flavius Mallius Theodorus
8. The Epithalamium of Palladius and Celerina
9. An invective against Rufinus
, in two books.
10. An invective against Eutropius
, in two books.
11.De Bello Gildonico,
the first book of an historical poem on the war in Africa against Gildo.
12.De Bello Getico,
an historical poem on the successful campaign of Stilicho against Alaric and the Goths, concluding with the battle of Pollentia.
three books of an unfinished epic on the rape of Proserpine.
a fragment extending to a hundred and twenty-eight lines only.
, ten lines of a Greek poem on the same subject, perhaps a translation by some other hand from the former.
16. Five short epistles
; the first of these is a sort of prayer, imploring forgiveness for some petulant attack.
It is usually inscribed Deprecatio ad Hadrianum Praefectum Praetorio
, but from the variations in the manuscripts this title appears to be merely the guess of some transcriber.
The remaining four, which are very brief, are addressed--to Serena
, to Olybrius
, to Probinus
, to Gennadius
a collection of seven poems chiefly on subjects connected with natural history, as may be seen by their titles, Phoenix
, De Piis Fratribus.
18. A collection of short occasional pieces, in Greek as well as Latin, comprehended under the general title of Epigrammata.
The Christian hymns to be found among these in most editions are, as we have observed above, certainly spurious.
19. Lastly, we have a hundred and thirty-seven lines entitled Laudes Herculis
; but with the exception of some slight resemblance in style, we have no ground for attributing them to Claudian.
The measure employed in the greater number of these compositions is the heroic hexameter.
The short prologues prefixed to many of the longer poems are in elegiacs, and so also are the last four epistles, the last two idylls, and most of the epigrams.
The first of the Fescennines is a system of Alcaic hendecasyllabics; the second is in a stanza of five lines, of which the first three are iambic dimeters catalectic, the fourth is a pure choriambic dimeter, and the fifth a trochaic dimeter brachycatalectic; the third is a system of anapaestic dimeters acatalectic; and the fourth is a system of choriambic trimeters acatalectic.
It will be at once perceived that the first thirteen articles in the above catalogue, constituting a very large proportion of the whole works of Claudian, although some of them differ from the rest and from each other in form, belong essentially to one class of poems, being such as would be exacted from a laureate as the price of the patronage he enjoyed.
The object in view is the same in all--all breathe the same spirit, all are declamations in verse devoted either professedly or virtually to the glorification of the emperor, his connexions and favourites, and to the degradation of their foes. We must also bear in mind, while we discuss the merits and defects of our author, and compare him with those who went before, that although Virgil and Horace were flatterers as well as he, yet their strains were addressed to very different ears. When they, after entering upon some theme apparently far removed from any courtly train of thought, by some seemingly natural although unexpected transition seemed as it were compelled to trace a resemblance between their royal benefactor and the gods and heroes of the olden time, they well knew that their skill would be appreciated by their cultivated hearers, and that the value of the compliment would be enhanced by the dexterous delicacy with which it was administered.
But such refinements were by no means suited to the "purple-born" despots of the fifth century and their half-barbarous retainers. Their appetite for praise was craving and coarse. If the adulation was presented in sufficient quantity, they cared little for the manner in which it was seasoned, or the form under which it was served up. Hence there is no attempt at concealment; no veil is thought requisite to shroud the real nature and object of these panegyrics. All is broad, direct, and palpable.
The subject is in each case boldly and fully proposed at the commencement, and followed out steadily to the end.
The determination to praise everything and the fear lest something should be left unpraised, naturally lead to a systematic and formal division of the subject; and hence the career of each individual is commonly traced upwards from the cradle, and in the case of Stilicho separate sections are allotted to his warlike, his peaceful, and his magisterial virtues,--the poet warning his readers of the transition from one subdivision to another with the same care as when an accurate lecturer discriminates the several heads of his discourse.
It can scarcely be argued, however, that the absence of all reserve rendered the task more easy.
The ingenuity of the author is severely taxed by other considerations, with this disadvantage, that just in proportion as we might feel disposed to admire his skill in hiding the ugliness of his idol within the folds of the rich garment with which it is invested, so are we constrained to loathe his servile hypocrisy and laugh at his unblushing falsehood.
It was indeed hard to be called upon to vaunt the glories of an empire which was crumbling away day by day from the grasp of its feeble rulers; it was harder still to be forced to prove a child of nine years old, at which age Honorius received the title of Augustus, to be a model of wisdom and kingly virtue, and to blazon the military exploits of a boy of twelve who had never seen an enemy except in chains; and hardest of all to be constrained to encircle with a halo of divine perfections a selfish Vandal like Stilicho. To talk of the historical value of such works as the Bellum Gildonicum
and the Bellum Geticum
is sheer folly. Wherever we have access to other sources of information, we discover at once that many facts have been altogether suppressed, and many others distorted and falsely coloured; and hence it is impossible to feel any confidence in the fidelity of the narrator in regard to those incidents not elsewhere recorded.
The simple fact that pieces composed under such circumstances, to serve such temporary and unworthy purposes, have been read, studied, admired, and even held up as models, ever since the revival of letters, is in itself no mean tribute to the powers of their author. Nor can we hesitate to pronounce him a highly-gifted man. Deeply versed in all the learning of the Egyptian schools, possessing a most extensive knowledge of the history of man and of the physical world, of the legends of mythology, and of the moral and theological speculations of the different philosophical sects, he had the power to light up this mass of learning by the fire of a brilliant imagination, and to concentrate it upon the objects of his adulation as it streamed forth in a flashing flood of rhetoric.
The whole host of heaven and every nation and region of the earth are called upon to aid in extolling his patron, the prince, and their satellites; on the other hand, an infernal Pantheon of demons and furies with all the horrors of Styx and Tartarus, are evoked as the allies and tormentors of a Rufinus, and all nature is ransacked for foul and loathsome images to body forth the mental and corporeal deformity of the eunuch consul. His diction is highly brilliant, although sometimes shining with the glitter of tinsel ornaments; his similes and illustrations are elaborated with great skill, but the marks of toil are frequently too visible. His versification is highly sonorous, but is deficient in variety; the constant recurrence of the same cadences, although in themselves melodious, palls upon the ear. His command of the language is perfect; and although the minute critic may fancy that he detects some traces of the foreign extraction of the bard, yet in point of style neither Lucan nor Statius need be ashamed to own him as their equal. His powers appear to greatest advantage in description. His pictures often approach perfection, combining the softness and rich glow of the Italian with the force and reality of the Dutch school.
We have as yet said nothing of the Rape of Proserpine, from which we might expect to form the most favourable estimate of his genius, for here at least it had fair and free scope, untrammeled by the fetters which cramped its energies in panegyric.
But, although these causes of embarrassment are removed, we do not find the result anticipated. If we become familiar with his other works in the first instance, we rise with a feeling of disappointment from the perusal of this. We find, it is true, the same animated descriptions and harmonious numbers; but there is a want of taste in the arrangement of the details, of sustained interest in the action, and of combination in the different members, which gives a fragmentary character to the whole, and causes it to be read with much greater pleasure in extracts than continuously.
The subject, although grand in itself, is injudiciously handled; for, all the characters being gods, it is impossible to invest their proceedings with the interest which attaches to struggling and suffering humanity.
The impression produced by the commencement is singularly unfortunate.
The rage of the King of Shades that he alone of gods is a stranger to matrimonial bliss, his determination to war against heaven that he may avenge his wrongs, the mustering and marshalling of the Titans and all the monsters of the abyss for battle against Jupiter, are figured forth with great dignity and pomp; but when we find this terrific tempest at once quelled by the very simple and sensible suggestion of old Lachesis, that he might probably obtain a wife, if he chose to ask for one, the whole scene is converted into a burlesque, and the absurdity is if possible heightened by the blustering harangue of Pluto to the herald, Mercury. Throughout this poem, as well as in all the other works of Claudian, we lament the absence not only of true sublimity but of simple nature and of real feeling: our imagination is often excited, our intellect is often gratified; but our nobler energies are never awakened; no cord of tenderness is struck, no kindly sympathy is enlisted; our hearts are never softened.
Of the Idylls we need hardly say anything; little could be expected from the subjects: they may be regarded as clever essays in versification, and nothing more.
The best is that in which the hot springs of Aponus are described. The Fescennine verses display considerable lightness and grace; the epigrams, with the exception of a very few which are neatly and pointedly expressed, are not worth reading.
The Editio Princeps of Claudian was printed at Vicenza by Jacobus Dusenius, fol., 1482, under the editorial inspection of Barnabus Celsanus, and appears to be a faithful representation of the MS. from which it was taken.
Several of the smaller poems are wanting. The second edition was printed at Parma by Angelus Ugoletus, 4to., 1493
, superintended by Thadaeus, who made use of several MSS. for emending the text, especially one obtained from Holland. Here first we find the epigrams, the Epithalamium of Palladius and Serena, the epistles to Serena and to Hadrian, the Aponus, and the Gigantomachia. The edition printed at Vienna by Hieronymus Victor and Joannes Singrenius, 4to., 1510, with a text newly revised by Joannes Camers
, is the first which contains the Laudes Herculis, In Sirenas, Laus Christi, and Minacula Christi. The first truly critical edition was that of Theod. Pulmannus, printed at Antwerp by Plantinus, 16mo., 1571
, including the notes of Delrio. The second edition of Caspar Barthius, Francf. and Hamburg. 1650 and 1654, 4to., boasts of being completed with the aid of seventeen MSS., and is accompanied by a voluminous commentary; but the notes are heavy, and the typography very incorrect. The edition of Gesner, Lips. 1759, is a useful one
; but by far the best which has yet appeared is that of the younger Burmann, Amst. 1760, forming one of the series of the Dutch Variorum Classics, in 4to. An edition was commenced by G. L. König, and one volume published in 1808 (Götting.), but the work did not proceed farther.
The Raptus Proserpinae
was published separately, under the title " Claudiani de Raptu Proserpinae Tragoediae duae," at Utrecht, by Ketelaer and Leempt, apparently several years before the Editio Princeps of the collected works noticed above, and three other editions of the same poem belong to the same early period, although neither the names of the printers nor the precise dates can be ascertained.
We have a complete metrical translation of the whole works of Claudian by A. Hawkins, 2 vols. 8vo., Lond. 1817
; and there are also several English translations of many of the separate pieces, few of which are of any merit