It became a common practice, in the times of Diocletian and his immediate successors, for provincial states, especially the cities of Gaul, at that period peculiarly celebrated as the nursing-mother of orators, to despatch deputations from time to time to the imperial court, for the purpose of presenting congratulatory addresses upon the occurrence of any auspicious event, of returning thanks for past benefits, and of soliciting a renewal or continuance of favour and protection.
The individual in each community most renowned for his rhetorical skill would naturally be chosen to draw up and deliver the complimentary harangue, which was usually recited in the presence of the prince himself. Eleven pieces of this description have been transmitted to us, which have been generally published together, under the title of Duodecim Panegyrici veteres
, the speech of Pliny in honour of Trajan being included to round off the number, although belonging to a different age, and possessing very superior claims upon our notice, while some editors have added also the poem of Corippus in praise of the younger Justin. [CORIPPUS.] Of the eleven which may with propriety be classed together, the first bears the name of Claudius Mamertinus, who was probably the composer of the second also [MAMERTINUS]; the third, fourth, sixth, and seventh are all ascribed to Eumenius, with what justice is discussed elsewhere [EUMENIUS] ; the ninth is the work of Nazarius, who appears to have written the eighth likewise; the tenth belongs to a Mamertinus different from the personage mentioned above; the eleventh is the production of Drepanius, but the author of the fifth, in honour of the nuptials of Constantine with Fausta, the daughter of Maximianus (A. D. 307), is altogether unknown.
Discourses of this description must for the most part be as devoid of all sincerity and truth as they are, from their very nature, destitute of all genuine feeling or passion, and hence, at best, resolve themselves into a mere cold display of artistic dexterity, where the attention of the audience is kept alive by a succession of epigrammatic points, carefully balanced antitheses, elaborate metaphors, and welltuned cadences, where the manner is everything, the matter nothing. To look to such sources for historical information is obviously absurd. Success would in every case be grossly exaggerated, defeat carefully concealed, or interpreted to mean victory.
The friends and allies of the sovereign would be daubed with fulsome praise, his enemies overwhelmed by a load of the foulest calumnies We cannot learn what the course of events really was, but merely under what aspect the ruling powers desired that those events should be viewed, and frequently the misrepresentations are so flagrant that we are unable to detect even a vestige of truth lurking below. We derive from these effusions some knowledge with regard to the personal history of particular individuals which is not to be obtained elsewhere, and from the style we can draw some conclusions with regard to the state of the language and the tone of literary taste at the commencement of the fourth century; but, considered as a whole, antiquity has bequeathed to us nothing more worthless.
LATINUS PACATUS DREPANIUS was a native of Aquitania, as we learn from himself and from Sidonius, the friend of Ausonius, who inscribes to him several pieces in very complimentary dedications, and the correspondent of Symmachus, by whom he is addressed in three epistles still extant.
Panegyric to Theodosius
Drepanius was sent from his native province to congratulate Theodosius on the victory achieved over Maximus, and delivered the panegyric which stands last in the collection described above, at Rome, in the presence of the emperor, probably in the autumn of A. D. 391. If we add to these particulars the facts, that he was elevated to the rank of proconsul, enjoyed great celebrity as a poet, and was descended from a father who bore the same name with himself, the sources from which our information is derived are exhausted.
The oration, while it partakes of the vices which disfigure the other members of the family to which it belongs, is less extravagant in its hyperboles than many of its companions, and although the language is a sort of hybrid progeny, formed by the union of poetry and prose, there is a certain splendour of diction, a flowing copiousness of expression, and even a vigour of thought, which remind us at times of the florid graces of the Asiatic school.
Lost poetic works praised by Ausonius
How far the merits of Drepanius as a bard may have justified the decision of the critic who pronounces him second to Virgil only (Auson. Praef. Epigramm.
Idyll. vii.), it is impossible for us to determine, as not a fragment of his efforts in this department has been preserved.
He must not be confounded with Florus Drepanius,
a writer of hymns.
The Editio Princeps of the Panegyrici Veteres is in quarto, in Roman characters, without place, date, or printer's name, but is believed to have appeared at Milan about 1482, and includes, in addition to the twelve orations usually associated together, the life of Agricola by Tacitus, and fragments of Petronius Arbiter, with a preface by Franc. Puteolanus, addressed to Jac. Antiquaries. Another very ancient impression in 4to., without place, date, or printer's name, containing the twelve orations alone, probably belongs to Venice, about 1499.
The most useful editions are those of Schwarzius, 4to., Ven. 1728
; of Jaegerus, which presents a new recension of the text, with a valuable commentary, and comprehends the poem of Corippus, 2 tom. 8vo., Noremberg. 1779
; and of Arntzenius, which excludes Drepanius, with very copious notes and apparatus criticus, 2 tom. 4to., Traj. ad Rhen. 1790-97. The edition published at Paris, 12mo., 1643, with notes by many commentators, bears the title " XIV Panegyrici Veteres," in consequence of the addition of Panegyrics by Ausonius and Ennodius.
In illustration we have T. G. Walch, Dissertatio de Panegyricis veterum,
4to., Jenae, 1721; T. G. Moerlin, de Panegyricis veterum programma,
4to., Noremb. 1738; and Heyne, Censura XII Panegyricorum veterum,
in his Opuscula Academica,
vol vi. p. 80.
Sidon. Apollin. Epist.
8.12; comp. Panegyr.
cc. 2 and 24; Auson. Praef. Epigramm, Lud. Sept. Sap., Technopaegn., Gramaticomast., Idyll.
vii.; Symmach. Epist.
8.12, 9.58, 69.