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Flaccus, C. Vale'rius

All that is known or that can be conjectured with plausibility in regard to this writer may be comprehended in a very few words. From the expressions of his friend Martial (1.62, 77), we learn that he was a native of Padua; from the exordium of his piece, we infer that it was addressed to Vespasian, and published while Titus was achieving the subjugation of Judea; from a notice in Quintilian, Dod well has drawn the conclusion that he must have died about A. D. 88. The lines (5.5),
Phoebe, mone, si Cymaeae mihi conscia vatis
Stat casta cortina domo,
whatever may be their import, are not in themselves sufficient to prove, as Pius and Heinsius imagine, that he was a member of the sacred college of the Quindecimviri; and the words Setinus Balbus, affixed to his name in certain MSS., are much too doubtful in their origin and signification to serve as the basis of any hypothesis, even if we were certain that they applied to the poet himself, and not to some commentator on the text, or to some individual who may at one time have possessed the codex which formed the archetype of a family.


Works


The only work of Flaccus now extant is an unfinished heroic poem in eight books, on the Argonautic expedition, in which he follows the general plan and arrangement of Apollonius Rhodius, whose performance he in some passages literally translates, while in others he contracts or expands his original, introduces new characters, and on the whole devotes a larger portion of the action to the adventures of the voyage before the arrival of the heroes at the dominions of Aetes. The eighth book terminates abruptly, at the point where Medeia is urging Jason to make her the companion of his homeward journey. The death of Absyrtus, and the return of the Greeks, must have occupied at least three or four books more, but whether these have been lost, or whether the author died before the completion of his task, we cannot tell.

The Argonautica is one of those productions which are much praised and little read. A kind but vague expression of regret upon the part of Quintilian (10.1), " Multum in Valerio Flacco nuper amisimus," has induced many of the older to ascribe to Flaccus almost every conceivable merit; and, even in modern times, Wagner has not hesitated to rank him next to Virgil among epic bards of Rome. But it is difficult to discover any thing in his lays beyond decent mediocrity. We may accord to him the praise of moderate talents, improved by industry and learning, but we shall seek in vain for originality, or the higher attributes of genius. He never startles us by any gross offence against taste, but he never warms us by a brilliant thought, or charms us by a lofty flight of fancy. His diction is for the most part pure, although strange words occasionally intrude themselves, and common words are sometimes employed in an uncommon sense; his general style is free from affectation, although there is a constant tendency to harsh conciseness, which frequently renders the meaning obscure; his versification is polished and harmonious, but the rhythm is not judiciously varied; his descriptions are lively and vigorous, but his similes too often farfetched and unnatural. He has attained to somewhat of the outward form, but to nothing of the in ward spirit, of his great model, the Aeneid.


Editions

Valerius Flaccus seems to have been altogether unknown in the middle ages, and to have been first brought to light by Poggio Brocciolini, who, while attending the council of Constance in 1416, discovered in the monastery of St. Gall [see ASCONIUS] a MS. containing the first three books, and a portion of the fourth.

The Editio Princeps was printed very incorrectly, from a good MS., at Bologna, by Ugo Rugerius and Doninus Bertochus, fol. 1472; the second edition, which is much more rare than the first, at Florence, by Sanctus Jacobus de Ripoli, 4to, without date, but about 1431. The text was gradually improved by the collation of various MSS. in the editions of Jo. Bapt. Pius, Bonon. fol. 1519; of Lud. Carrio, Antv. 8vo. 1565-1566; of Nicolaus Heinsius, Amst. 12mo. 1680; and above all in that of Petrus Burmannus, Leid. 4to., 1724, which must be regarded as the most complete which has yet appeared; although those of Harles, Altenb. 8vo. 1781; of Wagner, Gotting. 8vo. 1805; and of Lemaire, Paris, 8vo. 1824, are more convenient for ordinary purposes. The eighth book was published separately, with critical notes and dissertations on some verses supposed to be spurious, by A. Weichert, Misn. 8vo. 1818.


Translations

We have metrical translations,--into English by Nicholas Whyte, 1565, under the title The story of Jason, how he gotte the golden flece, and how he did begyle Media; out of Laten into Englische ;--into French by A. Dureau de Lamalle, Paris, 1811 ;--into Italian by M. A. Pindemonte, Verona, 1776;--and into German by C. F. Wunderlich, Erfurt, 1805.

[W.R]

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88 AD (1)
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