previous next

Hygi'nus or Hygi'nus Polyhistor

or HI'GINUS, C. JU'LIUS. Suetonius, in his lives of illustrious grammarians, informs us that C. Julius Hyginus was a native of Spain, not, as others had less accurately stated, of Alexandria, that he was a pupil and imitator of the celebrated Cornelius Alexander, surnamed Polyhistor [ALEXANDER, p. 115], that he was the freedman of Augustus, and that he was placed at the head of the Palatine library. We learn from the same authority that he lived upon terms of close intimacy with the poet Ovid and with C. Licinius, " the historian and consular," a personage not mentioned elsewhere, and that having fallen into great poverty, he was supported in old age by the liberality of the latter, but no hint is given of the causes which led to this reverse of fortune.

We find numerous references in Pliny, Gellius, Servius, Macrobius, and others, to various works by "Hyginus" or "Julius Hyginus," which are generally supposed to have been the productions of the Hyginus who was the freedman of Augustus. Of these we may notice,--

Lost works


De Urbibus Italicis, or De Situ Urbium Italicarum, in two books at least. (Macr. 1.7 5.18; Serv. ad Virg. Aen. 1.281, 534, 3.553, 7.47. 412, 678, 8.597; see also Plin. H. N. Elench. Auct. ad Lib. III.


De Proprietatibus Deorum. (Macr. 3.8.)


De Düs Penatibus. (Macrob. St. 3.4.)


De Virgilio Libri. In five books at least. This seems to be the same with the work quoted under the title of Commentaria in Firfiliuim. (Gel. 1.21, 5.8, 6.6, 10.16, 16.6; Macr. 6.9; Serv. ad Virg. Aen. 12.120.)


De Familiis Trojanis. (Serv. ad Virg. Aen. 5.389.)


De Agricultura, in two books at least. (Charis. lib. i. 21.185, p. 115, ed. Putsch.; comp. Columell. 1.2, 9.2, 13.) To this treatise, in all probability, Pliny refers in his H. N. 13.47, 16.84, 18.63, 19.27, 20.45, 21.29.


Cinnae Propempticon. (Charis. lib. i. 21.134, pp. 108, 109, ed. Putsch., where two sentences are extracted.)


De Vita Rebusque Illustrium Virorum, in six books at least. (Gel. 1.14; Joannes Sarisber. Policrit. 5.7.) We may suppose that the De Vita et Rebus Africani, mentioned by A. Gellius (7.1), formed one of the sections of this essay. (See also Ascon. Pedian. in Pison.; Hieron. de Script. Eccles. praef.)


Exempla. (Gel. 10.18.)


De Arte Militari. (Joannes Sarisber. Policrat. 6.19.)

Surviving works

The whole of the above have perished; but we possess two pieces in prose, nearly entire, which bear the name of Hyginus, to which editors, apparently without any authority from MSS., have prefixed the additional designations C. Julius. These are,


A series of 277 short mythological legends, with an introductory genealogy of divinities. There are blanks from 100.206-219; from 225-238; from 261-270; and two single chapters, 222 and 272, are also wanting. Although the larger portion of these narratives has been copied from obvious sources, they occasionally present the tales under new forms or with new circumstances, and hence are regarded with considerable interest by those who investigate such topics.


The Editio Princeps of the Fabulae was published, under the inspection of Micyllus, at Basel, fol. 1535, in a volume containing also the Astronomica, Palaephatus and Phornutus, Fulgentius, Albricus, the Phaenomena of Aratus, and the Sphere of Proclus, in Greek and Latin; together with the paraphrase of the Phaenomena, by Germanicus.

The best edition of the Fabulae in a separate form is that of Schefer, 8vo. Hamb. 1674.


Addressed to a certain M. Fabius. The first book, entitled De Mundi ac Sphaerae ac utriusque Partium Declaratione, commences with a general outline of what the author proposes to accomplish, and is then devoted to a definition of the technical terms Mundus, Sphaera, Centrum, Axis, Polus, &c., which are very briefly explained; the second book, De Signorum Coelestium Historiis, comprises an exposition of the legends connected with forty one of the principal constellations, followed up by a brief notice of the five planets and the Milky Way; the third book, De Descriptionibus Formarum Coelestium, contains a detailed account of the number and arrangement of the stars which constitute the different portions of the fanciful shapes ascribed to the constellations previously enumerated; the fourth book, which ends abruptly, De quinque Circulorum inter Corpora Coelestia Notatione, et Planetis, treats of the circles of the celestial sphere, of the constellations appertaining to each, of their risings and settings, of the course of the sun and moon, and of the appearance of the planets.


The Editio Princeps of the Astronomica was published at Ferrara, 4to. 1475, and the second edition at Venice, 4to. 1475; besides which, three other editions were printed at Venice before the close of the fifteenth century.


These works exhibit in many passages such gross ignorance, and are expressed in phraseology which, although not uniformly impure, frequently approaches so nearly to barbarism, that no scholar now believes that they could have proceeded in their present shape from a man renowned for erudition, who flourished during the highest epoch of Roman literature; but the greatest diversity of opinion exists with regard to their real origin and history. Raphael of Volaterrae, misled by the dedication to M. Fabius, asserted that the author was contemporary with Quintilian; Schefer supposed that he lived under the Antonines, attributing the startling expressions and harsh constructions which everywhere abound to corruption and interpolation, while Muncker would bring him down to the last days of the empire. Again, many critics regard both treatises as merely translations from Greek originals; the astronomical portions, according to Scaliger, are taken from Eratosthenes, according to Salmasius from the Sphaera Graecanica of Nigidius Figulus; Muncker imagines that we must consider them as abbreviations of works by the Augustan Hyginus, executed by some unskilful hand, whom Barth decides to have been an Avianus, or an Ammianus, names which he found in a MS.; Reinesius and Van Staveren look upon the whole as a mere cento, pieced together, without care or discrimination, by an unlettered grammarian, who assumed the designation of the celebrated Hyginus that he might the more effectually recommend his own worthless trash; while, more recently, Niebuhr was led to believe that a fragment brought to light by himself (De Rebus Thebanis Mythologicis) was a portion of a much larger book, and that this furnished the materials from which, with later additions, the Fables of Hyginus had been worked up. The question has been rendered, if possible, still more complicated by the recent discoveries of Angelo Mai, who has published from MSS. in the Vatican three mythographers previously unknown, of whom the first may be as early as the fifth century, and appears to have been known under the appellation of Hyginus, at least the second book ends with the words “EXPLICIT LIBER SECUNDIUS C. HNI. FABULARUM”, an abbreviation of which the obvious interpretation is C. HIGINI. These writers, together with a full account of the MSS., will be found in the "Ciassici Auctores e Vaticanis Codicibus," Rom. 1831, vol. iii. pp. 1-277.


The best editions of both works are those included in the " Mythographi Latini" of Muncker, 8vo. Amst. 1681, and in the "Mythographi Latini " of Van Staveren, Lug. Bat. and Amst. 4to. 1742.

(Suet. de Illust. Gramm. 20, and comment. of Vinetus; Isidorus, de Nat. Ser. 17; Honor. Augustodun. de Phil. Mund. 3.12; Raphael Volaterr. Comment. xvi.; Reines. Var. Lect. 3.2, p. 273, 3.8, p. 480; Scaliger, ad Manil. i. p. 34, ad Euseb. Chron. 10; Salmas. de Annis Climact. p. 594. See also the introductions prefixed to the editions of Schefer, Muncker, and especially of Van Staveren, who has collected almost every thing.)


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: