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Sisenna, L. Corne'lius

a Roman annalist whom Cicero pronounces far superior to any of his predecessors, and whose name Varro prefixed to his own work upon history, is said by Velleius to have been a young man (juvenis) at the period of the Numantine war, the contemporary of Rutilius' Rufus, Claudius Quadrigarius, and Valerius Antias. The date thus indicated will by no means agree with the statements contained in Cicero's Brutus (64, 68), that he was intermediate between Hortensius and Sulpicius, of whom the former was born in B. C. 114, the latter in B. C. 124. The account here given is confirmed by the fact, which seems to be clearly established, that he was praetor in the year when Sulla died (B. C. 78), for supposing him to have obtained the office " suo anno," his birth would thus be fixed to B. C. 118 or 119. He probably obtained Sicily for his province, in B. C. 77, and from the local knowledge thus acquired was enabled to render good service to Verres, whose cause he espoused (Cic. Ver. 2.45, 4.20). During the piratical war (B. C. 67) he acted as the legatus of Pompeius, and having been despatched to Crete in command of an army, died in that island at the age of about fifty-two.


His great work, entitled Historiae, extended to at least twelve or fourteen books, but we cannot speak with confidence of a greater number, for although in certain editions of Nonius (s. v. refragabunt) we find a reference to book xxiii., some MSS., instead of xxiii., have xxii., and some xiv.

Many quotations are to be found in the grammarians, especially in Nonius, but they are not of such a description as to convey any information with regard to the events which the author was describing, being very brief, and for the most part merely examples of uncommon words with which he delighted, in the character of an improver of the ordinary language of the day, to overload his phraseology (" Sisenna quasi emendator sermonis usitati cum esse vellet ne a C. Rusio quidem accusatore deterreri potuit quominus inusitatis verbis uteretur," Cic. Brut. 76).

He seems to have commenced his literary labours in early years with a narrative of the Marsic war, and when further advanced in life, entered in his sixth book on the civil strife of Marius and Sulla, a subject which, according to Sallust, he treated with great skill and research, although somewhat reserved in the expression of his own opinions ("L. Sisenna optume et diligentissime omnium qui Sullae res dixere persecutus parum mihi libero ore locutus videtur," Sal. Jug. 95).

While Cicero, as we have noticed above, awards to him the palm over all previous and contemporary historians, he at the same time qualifies this praise by observing that however great his merits might be when compared with those of others, yet the distance by which he was removed from a high standard of excellence afforded a clear indication of how much this species of composition had been neglected by his countrymen. When characterising his oratorical powers, he represents him as well educated, speaking with purity, witty, and conversant with state affairs, but not laborious, little practised in pleading, and by no means distinguished for eloquence.

In addition to his Historiae, Sisenna, as we learn from Ovid, translated the Milesian fables of Aristides, and he also composed a commentary upon Plautus, of which a few scraps have been preserved.

Further Information

Cic. Brut. 64, 88, de Leg. 1.2; Gel. 16.9; Inscrip. Graec. apud Brisson. de Formulis, p. 224; comp. Gruter, C. I. diii.; Appian, App. Mith. 95; D. C. 36.2; Ovid. Trist. 2.443 ; Ritschl, de veteribus Plauti interpret. ยง 8, in his Parergon Plautin. 8vo. Lips. 1845, p. 376; Krause, Vitae et Fragmenta Historicorum Rom. 8vo. Berol. 1833, p. 299; C. L. Roth, L. Cornelii Sisennae hist. Rom. Vita, Basil. 1834.)


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