Columella, L. Ju'nius Modera'tus
is known to us as the most voluminous and important of all the Roman writers upon rural affairs.
The only particulars which can be ascertained with regard to his personal history are derived exclusively from incidental notices scattered up and down in his writings. We thus learn, that he was a native of Cadiz (10.185); and since he frequently quotes Virgil, names Cornelius Celsus (1.1.14, 3.17.4, &c.), and Seneca (3.3.3), as his contemporaries, and is himself repeatedly referred to by the elder Pliny, it is certain that he must have flourished during the early part of the first century of the Christian era.
At some period of his life, he visited Syria and Cilicia (2.10.18); Rome appears to have been his ordinary residence (Praef. 20); he possessed a property which he calls Ceretanum
(3.3.3, comp. 3.9.6), but whether situated in Etruria, in Spain, or in Sardinia, we cannot tell; and from an inscription found at Tarentum it has been conjectured that he died and was buried in that city.
His great work is a systematic treatise upon agriculture in the most extended acceptation of the term, dedicated to an unknown Silvinus, and divided into twelve books.
The first contains general instructions for the choice of a farm, the position of the buildings, the distribution of the various duties among the master and his labourers, and the general arrangement of a rural establishment; the second is devoted to agriculture proper, the breaking up and preparation of the ground, and an account of the different kinds of grain, pulse, and artificial grasses, with the tillage appropriate for each; the third, fourth, and fifth are occupied with the cultivation of fruit trees, especially the vine and the olive; the sixth contains directions for choosing, breeding, and rearing oxen, horses, and mules, together with an essay on the veterinary art; the seventh discusses the same topics with reference to asses, sheep, goats, swine, and dogs; the eighth embraces precepts for the management of poultry and fishponds; the ninth is on bees; the tenth, composed in dactylic hexameters, treats of gardening, forming a sort of supplement to the Georgics (comp. Virg. Georg.
iv.); in the eleventh are detailed the duties of a villicus, followed by a Calendarium Rusticum, in which the times and seasons for the different kinds of work are marked down in connexion with the risings and settings of the stars, and various astronomical and atmospherical phaenomena; and the twelfth winds up the whole with a series of receipts for manufacturing different kinds of wine, and for pickling and preserving vegetables and fruits.
In addition to the above, we have one book "De Arboribus," which is of considerable value, since it contains extracts from ancient authorities now lost, and throws much light on the fifth book of the larger work, which appears under a very corrupt form in many of the MSS. Cassiodorus (Divin. Lect.
28) mentions sixteen books of Columella, from which some critics have imagined, that the tract "De Arboribus" was one of four written at an early period, presenting the outline or first sketch of the complete production. The MSS. from which Columella was first printed inserted the " De Arboribus" as the third book of the whole work, and hence in the older editions that which is now the third book is marked as the fourth, and so on for all the rest in succession.
The Latinity of Columella is in no way inferior to that of his contemporaries, and belongs to the best period of the Silver Age. His style is easy and copious to exuberance, while the fondness which he displays for multiplying and varying his mode of expression is out of taste when we consider the nature of his theme, and not compatible with the close precision which we have a right to expect in a work professedly didactic. Although we miss the racy quaintness of Cato and the varied knowledge and highly cultivated mind of Varro, we find here a far greater amount of information than they convey, and could we persuade ourselves that the whole was derived from personal observation and experience, we might feel satisfied that our knowledge of the rural economy of that epoch was tolerably complete.
But the extreme carelessness with which the Calendar has been compiled from foreign sources may induce the suspicion, that other matters also may have been taken upon trust; for no man that had actually studied the appearance of the heavens with the eye of a practical farmer could ever have set down in an almanac intended for the use of Italian husbandmen observations copied from parapegmata calculated for the latitudes of Athens and Alexandria.
With the exception of Cassiodorus, Servius, and Isidorus, scarcely any of the ancient grammarians notice Columella, whose works lay long concealed and were unknown even in the tenth century.
The Editio Princeps was printed at Venice by Nic. Jenson, 1472, fol., in a collection of "Rei Rusticae Scriptores" containing Cato, Terentius Varro, Columella, and Palladius Rutilius
. The first edition in which the "Liber de Arboribus" was separated from the rest was that superintended by Jucundus of Verona and published by Aldus, Venice, 1514, 4to. The most valuable editions are those contained in the "Scriptores Rei Rusticae veteres Latini," edited by Gesner, 2 vols. 4to. Lips. 1735, reprinted, with the collation of an important Paris MS., by Ernesti, Lips. 1773
; and in the Scriptores Rei Rusticae of J. G. Schneider, 4 vols. 8vo., Lips. 1794.
This last must be considered in every respect the most complete, and in the preface will be found a very full account of the different MSS. and of the gradual progress and improvement of the text.
The tenth book, under the title J. Moderati Columellae Hortuli Commentarium, appeared in a separate form at Rome, about 1472, from the press of Adam Rot
, and was frequently reprinted in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Translations exist in English, Lond. 4to. 1745
; in French by Cotereau, Paris, 4to, 1551
; in Italian by P. Lauro, Venez. 8vo. 1554, 1557, and 1559
, by Bened. del Bene, 2 tom. 4to. Verona, 1808
; and in German, among many others, by M. C. Curtius, 8vo., Hamburg, 1769