Tibullus, A'lbius(his praenomen is unknown), was of equestrian family. The date of his birth is uncertain : it is assigned by Voss, Passow, and Dissen to B. C. 59, by Lachman and Paldamus to B. C. 54; but he died young (according to the old life by Hieronymus Alexandrinus, in flore juventutis) soon after Virgil (Domitius Marsus in Epigrammate) "Te quoque Virgilii comitem non aequa, Tibulle, Mors juvenem campos misit ad Elysios." But as Virgil died B. C. 19, if Tibullus died the year after, B. C. 18, he would even then have been 36. The later date therefore is more probable. Of the youth and education of Tibullus, absolutely nothing is known. His late editor and biographer, Dissen, has endeavoured to make out from his writings, that according to the law, which compelled the son of an eques to perform a certain period of military service (formerly ten years), Tibullus was forced, strongly against his will, to become a soldier. This notion is founded on the tenth elegy of the first book, in which the poet expresses a most un-Roman aversion to war. He is dragged to war, " Some enemy is already girt with the arms with which he is to be mortally wounded (L 13). Let others have the fame of valour; he would be content to hear old soldiers recite their campaigns around his hospitable board, and draw their battles on the table with their wine." (1. 29, 32.) But this Elegy is too perfectly finished for a boyish poem; by no means marks its date in any period of the poet's life; and intimates rather that he was, at the time when it was written, quietly settled on his own patrimonial estate. That estate, belonging to the equestrian ancestors of Tibullus, was at Pedum, between Tibur and Praeneste. This property, like that of the other great poets of the day, Virgil and Horace, had been either entirely or partially confiscated during the civil wars; yet Tibullus retained or recovered part of it, and spent there the better portion of his short, but peaceful and happy life. He describes most gracefully, in his first elegy, his reduced fortunes. " His household gods had once been the guardians of a flourishing, they were now of a poor family (1. 19, 20). A single lamb was now the sacrifice of that household, which used to offer a calf chosen from among countless heifers. On this estate he had been brought up, as a child he had played before the simple wooden images of the same Lares." The first elegy shows likewise Tibullus already on intimate terms with his great patron Messala, to whom he may have owed the restoration in part of his paternal estate. But in his love of peace, and the soft enjoyments of peace, he declines to follow Messala to war, though that war was the strife for empire between Octavian and Antony, which closed with the battle of Actium. But when Messala immediately after that victory (in the autumn of B. C. 31), was detached by Caesar to suppress a formidable insurrection which had broken out in Aquitaine, Tibullus overcame his repugnance to arms, and accompanied his friend or patron in the honourable post of contubernalis (a kind of aide-de-camp) into Gaul. Part of the glory of the Aquitanian campaign (described by Appian, App. BC 4.38) for which Messala four years later (B. C. 27) obtained a triumph, and which Tibullus celebrates in language of unwonted loftiness, redounds, according to the poet, to his own fame. He was present at the battle of Atax (Aude in Languedoc), which broke the Aquitanian rebellion. Messala, it is probable, went round the province to receive the submission of all the Gaulish tribes, and was accompanied in his triumphant journey by Tibullus. The poet invokes, as witnesses of his fame, the Pyrenean mountains, the shores of the sea in Xaintonge, the Saone, the Garonne, and the Loire, in the country of the Carnuti (near Orleans) (Eleg. 1.7. 9, foll.). In the autumn of the following year (B. C. 30) Messala, having pacified Gaul, was sent into the East to organise that part of the empire under the sole dominion of Octavian. Tibullus set out in his company, but was taken ill, and obliged to remain in Corcyra (Eleg. 1.3), from whence he returned to Rome. So ceased the active life of Tibullus : he retired to the peace for which he had yearned; his life is now the chronicle of his poetry and of those tender passions which were the inspiration of his poetry. The first object of his attachment is celebrated under the poetic name of Delia; it is supposed (Apul. Apolog. 106, but the reading is doubtful) that her real name was Plancia or Plautia, or, as has been plausibly conjectured, Plania, of which the Greek Delia was a translation. To Delia are addressed the first six elegies of the first book. She seems to have belonged to that class of females of the middle order, not of good family, but above poverty, which answered to the Greek hetaerae. The poet's attachment to Delia had begun before he left Rome for Aquitaine. His ambition seems to have been to retire with her, as his mistress, into the country, and pass the rest of his life in quiet enjoyment. But Delia seems to have been faithless during his absence frons Rome; and admitted other lovers. On his return from Corcyra, he found her ill, and attended her with affectionate solicitude (Eleg. 1.5), and again hoped to induce her to retire with him into the country. But first a richer lover appears to have supplanted him with the inconstant Delia; and afterwards there appears a husband in his way. The second book of Elegies is chiefly devoted to a new mistress named Nemesis. Besides these two mistresses (Christian morals command silence on another point) Tibullus was enamoured (his poems have all the signs of real, not of poetic passion) of a certain Glycera. He wrote elegies to soften that cruel beauty, whom there seems no reason to confound either with Delia, the object of his youthful attachment, or with Nemesis. Glycera, however, is not known to us from the poetry of Tibullus, but from the ode of Horace, which gently reproves him for dwelling so long in his plaintive elegies on the pitiless Glycera. Ovid, on the other hand, writing of the poetry of Tibullus, names only two objects of his passion : Hor. Carm. 1.33), the epistle of Horace to Tibullus gives the most full and pleasing view of his poetical retreat, and of his character : it is written by a kindred spirit. Horace does homage to that perfect purity of taste which distinguishes the poetry of Tibullus; he takes pride in the candid but favourable judgment of his own satires. The time of Tibullus he supposes to be shared between the finishing his exquisite small poems, which were to surpass even those of Cassius of Parma, up to that time the models of that kind of composition, and the enjoyment of the country. Tibullus possessed, according to his friend's notions, all the blessings of life-a competent fortune, favour with the great, fame, health; and seemed to know how to enjoy all those blessings.
Eleg. 3.5. 17.) The hexameter poem on Messala, which opens the fourth book, is so bad that, although a successful elegiac poet may have failed when he attempted epic verse, it cannot well be ascribed to a writer of the exquisite taste of Tibullus. The smaller elegies of the fourth book have all the inimitable grace and simplicity of Tibullus. With the exception of the thirteenth (of which some lines are hardly surpassed by Tibullus himself) these poems relate to the love of a certain Sulpicia, a woman of noble birth, for Cerinthus, the real or fictitious name of a beautiful youth. Sulpicia seems to have belonged to the intimate society of Messala (Eleg. 4.8). Nor is there any improbability in supposing that Tibullus nay have written elegies in the name or by the desire of Sulpicia. If Sulpicia was herself the poetess, she approached nearer to Tibullus than any other writer of elegies. The first book of Elegies alone seems to have been published during the author's life, probably soon after the triumph of Messala (B. C. 27). The birthday of that great general gives the poet an occasion for describing all his victories in Gaul and in the East (Eleg. 1.7). In the second book he celebrates the cooptation of Messalinus, the son of Messala, into the college of the Quinqueviri. But this second book no doubt did not appear till after the death of Tibullus. With it, according to our conjecture, may have been published the elegies of his imitator, perhaps his friend and associate in the society of Messala, Lygdamus (if that be a real name), i. e. the third book : and likewise the fourth, made up of poems belonging, as it were, to this intimate society of Messala, the Panegyric by some nameless author, which, feeble as it is, seems to be of that age; the poems in the name of Sulpicia, with the concluding one, the thirteenth, a fragment of Tibullus hilmself.