Firmia'nus Sympo'sius, Cae'lius>
(also written Symphosius,
not to mention various evident corruptions,), a Latin poet.
We know nothing regarding the personal history of this writer, nor the period when he flourished; but from certain peculiarities of expression it has been conjectured that he was an African. His diction and versification, although by no means models of purity and correctness, are far removed from barbarism, and the enigmas contain allusions to various usages which had ceased to prevail long before the downfall of the empire.
The only reference, however, in any ancient writer to these compositions is to be found in Aldhelm, who died at the beginning of the eighth century.
His name is prefixed in MSS. to a series of a hundred insipid riddles, each comprised in three hexameter lines, collected, as we are told in the prologue, for the purpose of promoting the festivities of the Saturnalia.
The words with which the prologue commences,
Haec quoque Symposius de carmine lusit inepto,
Sic tu, Sexte, doces, sic te deliro magistro,
which point distinctly to some former efforts, have been made the basis of an extravagant conjecture by Heumann. Assuming that the reading as it now stands is faulty, he proposes, as an emendation,
Hoc quoque Symposium lusi de carmine inepto.
Sic me Sicca docet, Sicca deliro magistro,
and endeavours to prove that the true title of the work is Symposium,
that no such person as Symposius ever existed, and that the real author of these trifles is no less a personage than the Latin father Caelius Firmianus Lactantius, the pupil of Arnobius, who taught at Sicca; the author, as we learn from Jerome, of a Symposium.
This hypothesis, although supported by much learning, is so wild as scarcely to deserve confutation.
It will be sufficient to remark that all MSS. agree in representing Symposius
(or something like it) as a proper name,--that there are no grounds for supposing the Symposium
of Lactantius to have been of a light or trivial character, but that we are rather led to conclude that it was a grave dialogue or disquisition, resembling in plan the Symposia of Xenophon, of Plato, and of Plutarch, or the Saturnalia of Macrobius.
The Aenigmata were first printed at Paris, 8vo. 1533, along with the Sayings of the Seven Wise Men of Greece
: the most elaborate edition is that of Heumann, Hannov., 8vo. 1722, which was followed by that of Heynatz, Francof. ad Viad., 8vo. 1775
; the most useful is that contained in the Poet. Lat. Min. of Wernsdorf, vol. vi. part ii. p. 474, with very complete prolegomena (p. 410).
To the same author apparently belong two short odes; one entitled De Fortuna,
in fifteen Choriambic Tetrameters, ascribed in some copies to an Asclepias or Asclepadius, a mistake which arose from confounding the poet with the metre which he employed; the other, De Livore,
in twenty-five Hendecasyllabics, attributed occasionally to a Vomanus or an Euphorbus, while both pieces are frequently included among the Catalecta of Virgil.
The Odes are given in the Wernsdorf collection, vol. iii. pp. 386, 389.
See also vol. v. part iii. p. 1464, and vol. iv. part ii. p. 853.