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Corippus, Fla'vius Cresco'nius


In the year 1581 a work issued from the press of Plantin at Antwerp, edited by Michael Ruiz, a Spaniard, and bearing the title Corippi Africani Grammatici fragmentum carminis in laudem imperatoris Justini Minoris; Carmen panegyricum in laudem Anastasii quaestoris et magistri; de laudibus Justini Augusti Minoris heroico carmine libri IV.

The two first mentioned works, of which the first is imperfect, are extremely short, and in reality are merely the preface and epistle dedicatory of the third, which extends to nearly 1600 hexameter lines, and is a formal panegyric, conceived in all the hyperbolical extravagance of the Byzantine school, in honour of the younger Justin, who swayed the empire of the East from A. D. 565 to 578. Ruiz asserts, that these pieces were faithfully copied from a MS. more than 700 years old; but of this document he gives no description; he does not state how it had come into his possession, nor where it was deposited ; it has never been found; and no other being known to exist, the text depends upon the editio princeps alone.

Corippus, in the preface above mentioned, refers to a poem which he had previously composed upon the African wars.

Quid Libycas gentes, quid Syrtica proelia dicam
Jam libris completa meis ?

Now, Johannes Cuspianus " De Caesaribus et Imperatoribus" declares, that he saw in the royal library at Buda a poem in eight books entitled Johannis by Flavius Cresconius Corippus, the subject of which was the war carried on against the Africans by Johannes Patricius, and he quotes the first five lines beginning:

Signa, duces gentesque feras, Martisque ruinas.

Moreover, we can prove from history that Cuspianus was at Buda between the years 1510 and 1515. Secondly, it is known that as late as 1532 a MS. "De Bellis Libycis" was preserved in the monastery of the Monte Casino, bearing the name of Cresconius, the first word being " Victoris." This does not correspond, it will be observed, with the commencement given by Cuspianus; but the difference, as we shall soon see, is only apparent. Both of the above MSS. have disappeared and left no trace behind them. Lastly, in the Vallicellan library at Rome is a MS. of the tenth century, containing a collection of ancient canons, to which the transcriber has prefixed the following note : " Concordia Canonum a Cresconio Africano episcopo digesta sub capitulis trecentis: iste nimirum Cresconius bella et victorias, quas Johannes Patricius apud Africam de Saracenis gessit, hexametris versibus descripsit," &c. From this it was inferred by many scholars, that Cresconius must have flourished towards the end of the seventh century, since we learn from Cedrenus that, in 697, the Arabians overran Africa, and were expelled by a certain Johannes Patricius despatched thither by the emperor Leontius; hence also Corippus and Cresconius were generally distinguished from each other, the former being supposed to be the author of the panegyric upon Justin, the latter of the Concordia Canonum and the poem " de Bellis Libycis." Various other conjectures were formed and combinations imagined which are now not worth discussing, since a great portion of the doubt and difficulty was removed by Mazuchelli in 1814, who discovered the long-lost Johannis in the library of the Marquis of Trivulzi at Milan, where it had been overlooked in consequence of having been inserted in the catalogue as the production of a Johannes de Aretio, who lived towards the close of the 14th century, and who appears to have transcribed it into the same volume with his own barbarous effusions. The Praefatio to this Johannis begins:

Victoris, proceres, praesumsi dicere lauros,

while the first lines of the poem itself are the same with those quoted by Cuspianus, thus establishing the identity of the piece with that contained in the MSS. of Buda and Monte Casino, and enabling us to determine the full name of the author as given at the head of this article. The theme is a war carried on in Africa against the Moors and Vandals during the reign of Justinian, about the year 550, by a proconsul or magister militiae named Johannes, who is the hero of the lay. The campaign in question is noticed by Procopius (B. V. 2.28, B. G. 4.17) and Paulus Diaconus. (De Gestis Longobard. 1.25.) Of Johannes we know nothing except what we are told by Procopius and by the poet himself. He was the brother of Pappus; had served along with him on two previous occasions in Africa, under Belisarius in 533, and under Germanus in 537; his father was named Evantus; his wife was the daughter of a king; his son was called Peter; he had been employed in the East against the Persians, and had been recalled from thence to head an expedition against the rebellious Moors. (Procop. Il. cc. and B. G. 4.34; Johan. 1.197, 380, 7.576.)

Identity of the Author

Although the designation and age of Corippus are thus satisfactorily ascertained, and the author of the Johannis is proved to be the same person with the panegyrist of Justinian's nephew, we have no means of deciding with equal certainty whether he is to be identified with the African bishop Cresconius who compiled a Canonum Breviarium and a Concordia Canonum, the former being a sort of index or table of contents to the latter, which comprises an extensive and important collection of laws of the Church, arranged not chronologically according to the date of the several councils, but systematically according to the nature of the subjects, and distributed under three hundred titles. Saxe and most writers upon the history of ecclesiastical literature place the prelate in the reign of Tiberius III. as low as A. D. 698, this epoch being assigned to him on the double supposition that he was the composer of the Libyan War and that this was the Libyan War of Leontius ; but the latter hypothesis has now been proved to be false. The epithets Africani and Grammatici --attached, as we have already seen, to the name of Corippus in the editio princeps of the panegyric, the former pointing out his country, which is clearly indicated by several expressions in the work itself, the latter a complimentary designation equivalent at that period to "learned,"--convey the sum total of the information we possess concerning his personal history.


With regard to his merits, the epigrammatic censure of Baillet, that he was a great flatterer and a little poet, is perhaps not absolutely unjust ; but if we view him in relation to the state of literature in the age when he flourished, and compare him with his contemporaries, we may feel inclined to entertain some respect for his talents. He was evidently well read in Virgil, Lucan, and Claudian ; the last two especially seem to have been his models ; and hence, while his language is wonderfully pure, we have a constant display of rhetorical declamation and a most ambitious straining after splendour of diction. Nor is the perusal of his verses unattended with profit, inasmuch as he frequently sheds light upon a period of history for which our authorities are singularly imperfect and obscure, and frequently illustrates with great life and vigour, the manners of the Byzantine court. In proof of this, we need only turn to the 45th chapter of Gibbon, where the striking description of Justin's elevation, and the complicated ceremonies which attended his coronation, is merely a translation "into simple and concise prose" from the first two books of Corippus. The text, as might be anticipated from the circumstance that each poem depends upon a single MS., that one of these has never been collated or even seen by any modern scholar, and that the other was transcribed at a late period by a most ignorant copyist,--is miserably defective; nor can we form any reasonable expectation of its being materially improved.


The Editio Princeps of the Panegyric is generally marked by bibliographers as having been printed by Plantin, at Antwerp, in 1581; but Funceius (De inerti ac decrepit. L. L. Senectute, p. 247) speaks as if Ruiz had previously published an edition at Madrid in 1579; to this, or these, succeeded the edition of Thomas Dempster, 8vo., Paris, 1610; of Rivinus, 8vo., Leipzig, 1663; of Ritterhusius, 4to., Altdorf, 1664; of Goetzius, 8vo., Altdorf, 1743; and of Foggini, 4to. Rome, 1777, which completes the list.

The Johannis, discovered as described above, was first printed at Milan, 4to., 1820, with the notes of Mazuchelli.

Both works will be found in the best form in the new Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae at present in the course of publication at Bonn.

The Canonum Breviarium and the Concordia Canonum are printed entire in the first volume of the Bibliotheca Juris Canonici published by Voellus and Justellus at Paris, fol. 1661.

The Breviarium was first published at Paris by Pithou in 1588, 8vo., and is contained in the Bibliotheca Patrum Lugdun. vol. ix.


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