Festus, Macrobius, and Servius, make quotations, extending in all to about six lines, from the first and second books of the Bellum Histricum
of Hostius. From these fragments, from the title of the piece, and from the expressions of the grammarians, we learn that the poem was composed in heroic hexameters; that the subject must have been the Illyrian war, waged in the consulship of A. Manlius Vulso and M. Junius Brutus, B. C. 178, the events of which are chronicled in the forty-first book of Livy; and that the author lived before Virgil; but no ancient writer has recorded the period of his birth or of his death, the place of his nativity, the precise epoch when he flourished, or any circumstance connected with his personal history.
In the absence of any thing substantial, critics have caught eagerly at shadows. We are told by Appulcius in his Apology, that Hostia was the real name of the lady so often addressed as Cynthia in the lays of Propertius. Hence Vossius (de Poet. Lat.
100.2) has boldly asserted that Hostius belongs to the age of Julius Caesar, a position somewhat vague in itself, and resting upon no basis save the simple conjecture that Hostia was his daughter. (De Hist. Lat.
1.16.) Weichert, while he rejects this assumption, is willing to admit that a connection existed between the parties, and conceives that the precise degree of relationship is indicated by the words of the amatory bard, who, having paid a tribute in the first book of his elegies (2.27) to the poetical powers of the fair one, refers expressly in another place (3.18, 7; comp. 2.10, 9) to the glory reflected on her by the fame grandsire--
"Est tibi forma potens, sunt caste Palladis artes, Splendidaque a docto fama refulget avo."
Now if we grant that a paternal ancestor is here pointed out, since no one bearing the name of Hostius is celebrated in the literary annals of Rome, except the Hostius whom we are now discussing, it follows that he must be the person in question; and since Cynthia appears to have been considerably older than her lover, we may throw back her grandfather beyond the era of the Gracchi.
This supposition, at first sight far-fetched and visionary, receives some support from the language and versification of the scanty remains transmitted to us, which, although far removed from barbarism, savour somewhat of antique rudeness, and also from the circumstance that the Histric war was a contest so far from being prominent or important, that it was little likely to have been selected as a theme by any one not actually alive at the time when the scenes which he described were enacted, or at all events while the recollection of them was still fresh in the minds of his countrymen. (Festus, s. vv. tesca; scaexa ; Macr. 6.3
; Serv. ad Virg. Aen.
12.121; Weichert, Poet. Lat. Reliquiae,
Lips. 1830, pp. 1-18.)