a poem in 640 hexameters, entitled Aetna, lihas been transmitted to us, exhibiting throughout great command of language, and containing not a few brilliant passages.
The object proposed is not so much to present a highly coloured picture of the terrors of an eruption as to explain upon philosophical principles, after the fashion of Lucretius, the causes of the various physical phenomena presented by the volcano, and to demonstrate the folly of the popular belief which regarded the earthquakes and the flames as produced by the struggles and the fiery breathing of imprisoned giants, or by the anvils and furnaces of the swart Cyclopes.
With regard to the author all is doubt.
The piece was at one time generally supposed to belong to Virgil, in consequence, it would seem, of an expression in the biography of that poet, which bears the name of Donatus (scripsit etiam, de qua ambigitur, Aetnam
); some of the earlier scholars believed it to be the work of Petronius. probably from having found it attached to the MSS. of the Satyricon; by Julius Scaliger it was ascribed to Quintilius Varus; by Joseph Scaliger (and his opinion has found many supporters), to Cornelius Severus [SEVERUS], who is known to have written upon this topic, while others have imagined that they could detect the hand of Manilius or of Claudian. Wernsdorff, followed by Jacob, the most recent editor, fixes upon Lucilius Junior, procurator of Sicily, the friend to whom Seneca addresses his Epistles, his Natural Questions, and his tract on Providence, and whom he strongly urges to select this very subject of Etna as a theme for his muse. Although it is perfectly vain, in the absence of all direct evidence, to pronounce dogmatically upon the question of authorship, we may, from a careful examination of the style, language, and allusions, decide with certainty that it is not a production of the Augustan age, and therefore cannot be assigned to Severus; but whether it belongs to the Neronian epoch, or to a much later date, as Barthius maintains, it is impossible to determine.
(Donatus, Vit. Virg.
7; Vincent. Bellovac. Specul. Histor.
7.62, 20.20; Jacob Magn. Sopholog.
4.10; Jul. Scalig. Hypercrit.
7; Jos. Scalig. Not. in Aetnam ;
49.6, ad Stat. Theb.
10.911; Senec. Epist.
lxxix.; comp. Ep.
xix. Quaest. Natural.