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Gallus, C. Corne'lius

(Eutropius, 7.10, erroneously calls him Cneius), a contemporary of Augustus, who distinguished himself as a general, and still more as a poet and an orator. He was a native of Forum Julii (Frejus), in Gaul, and of very humble origin, perhaps the son of some freedman either of Sulla or Cinna. Hieronymus, in Eusebius, states that Gallus died at the age of forty (others read forty-three); and as we know from Dio Cassius (53.23) that he died in B. C. 26, he must have been born either in B. C. 66 or 69. He appears to have gone to Italy at an early age, and it would seem that he was instructed by the Epicurean Syron, together with Varus and Virgil, both of whom became greatly attached to him. (Verg. Ecl. 6.64, &c.) he began his career as a poet about the age of twenty, and seems thereby to have attracted the attention and won the friendship of such men as Asinius Pollio. (Cic. Fam. 10.32.) When Octavianus, after the murder of Caesar, came to Italy from Apollonia, Gallus must have embraced his party at once, for henceforth he appears as a man of great influence with Octavianus, and in B. C. 41 he was one of the triumviri appointed by Octavianus to distribute the land in the north of Italy among his veterans, and on that occasion he distinguished himself by the protection he afforded to the inhabitants of Mantua and to Virgil, for he brought an accusation against Alfenus Varus, who, in his measurements of the land, was unjust towards the inhabitants. (Serv. ad Virg. Eclog. 9.10; Donat. Vit. Virg. 30, 36.) Gallus afterwards accompanied Octavianus to the battle of Actium, B. C. 31, when he commanded a detachment of the army. After the battle, when Octavianus was obliged to go from Samos to Italy, to suppress the insurrection among the troops, he sent Gallus with the army to Egypt, in pursuit of Antony. In the neighbourhood of Cyrene, Pinarius Scarpus, one of Antony's legates, in despair, surrendered, with four legions, to Gallus, who then took possession of the island of Pharus, and attacked Paraetonium. When this town and all its treasures had fallen into the hands of Gallus, Antony hastened thither, hoping to recover what was lost, either by bribery or by force; but Gallus thwarted his schemes, and, in an attack which he made on Antony's fleet in the harbour of Paraetonium, he sunk and burnt many of the enemy's ships, whereupon Antony withdrew, and soon after made away with himself. Gallus and Proculeius then assisted Octavianus in securing Cleopatra, and guarded her as a prisoner in her palace. After the death of Cleopatra, Octavianus constituted Egypt as a Roman province, with peculiar regulations, and testified his esteem for and confidence in Gallus by making him the first prefect of Egypt. (Strab. xvii. p.819; D. C. 51.9, 17.) He had to suppress a revolt in the Thebais, where the people resisted the severe taxation to which they were subjected. He remained in Egypt for nearly four years, and seems to have made various useful regulations in his province; but the elevated position to which he was raised appears to have rendered him giddy and insolent, whereby he drew upon himself the hatred of Augustus. The exact nature of his offence is not certain. According to Dio Cassius (53.23), he spoke of Augustus in an offensive and insulting manner; he erected numerous statues of himself in Egypt, and had his own exploits inscribed on the pyramids. This excited the hostility of Valerius Largus, who had before been his intimate friend, but now denounced him to the emperor. Augustus deprived him of his post, which was given to Petronius, and forbade him to stay in any of his provinces. As the accusation of Valerius had succeeded thus far, one accuser after another came forward against him, and the charges were referred to the senate for investigation and decision. In consequence of these things, the senate deprived Gallus of his estates, and sent him into exile; but, unable to bear up against these reverses of fortune, he put an end to his life by throwing himself upon his own sword, B. C. 26. Other writers mention as the cause of his fall merely the disrespectfull way in which he spoke of Augustus. or that he was suspected of forming a conspiracy, or that he was accused of extortion in his province. (Comp. Suet. Aug. 66, de Illustr. Gram. 16; Serv. ad Virg. Eclog. 10.1; Donat. Vit. Virg. 39; Amm. Marc. 17.4; Ov. Tr. 2.445, Amor. 3.9, 63; Propert. 2.34. 91.)


The intimate friendship existing between Gallus and the most eminent men of the time, as Asinius Pollio, Virgil, Varus, and Ovid, and the high praise they bestow upon him, sufficiently attest that Callus was a man of great intellectual powers and acquirements.


Ovid (Ov. Tr. 4.10. 5) assigns to him the first place among the Roman elegiac poets ; and we know that he wrote a collection of elegies in four books, the principal subject of which was his love of Lycoris. But all his productions have perished, and we can judge of his merits only by what his contemporaries state about him.

Surviving poems incorrectly ascribed to Gallus

A collection of six elegies was published under his name by Pomponius Gauricus (Venice, 1501, 4to), but it was soon discovered that they belonged to a much later age, and were the productions of Maximianus, a poet of the fifth century of our era. There are in the Latin Anthology four epigrams (Nos. 869, 989, 1003, and 1565, ed. Meyers, which were formerly attributed to Gallus, but none of them can have been the production of a contemporary of Augustus. Gallus translated into Latin the poems of Euphorion of Chalcis, but this translation is also lost.

Other works

Some critics attribute to him the poem Ciris, usually printed among the works of Virgil, but the arguments do not appear satisfactory. Of his oratory too not a trace has come down to us ; and how far the judgment of Quintilian (10.1.93; comp. 1.5.8) is correct, who calls him durior Gallus, we cannot say. The Greek Anthology contains two epigrams under the name of Gallus, but who their author was is altogether uncertain. Some writers ascribe to C. Cornelius Gallus a work on the expedition of Aelius Gallus into Arabia, but he cannot possibly have written any such work, because he died before that expedition was undertaken.

Further Information

Fontanini, Hist. Lit. Aquileiae, lib. i.; C. C. C. Völker, Commentat. de C. Cornelii Galli Forojuliensis Vita et Scriptis, part i., Bonn, 1840, 8vo., containing the history of his life, and part ii., Elberfeld, 1844, on the writings of Gallus.


A. W. Becker, in his work entitled Gallus, has lately made use of the life of Corn. Gallus for the purpose of explaining the most important points of the private life of the Romans in the time of Augustus. An English translation of this work was published in 1844.


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