Aulus Persius Flaccus
a Roman knight connected by blood and marriage with persons of the highest rank, was born at Volaterrae in Etruria on the 4th of December, during the consulship of L. Vitellius and Fabius Persicus, A. D. 34 (comp. Hierot. Chron. Euscb.
an. 2050). His father Flaccus died six years afterwards; his mother, Fulvia Sisennia married as her second husband a certain Fusius belonging to the equestrian order, and within a few years again became a widow. Young Persius received the first rudiments of education in his native town, remaining there until the age of twelve, and then removed to Rome, where he studied grammnar under the celebrated Remmius Palaemon, rhetoric under Verginius Flavius. When approaching the verge of manhood he became the pupil of Cornutus the Stoic, who opened tip to him the first principles of mental science, and speedily impressed upon his plastic mind a stamp which gave a character to his whole subsequent career. To this master, who proved in very truth the guide, philosopher, and friend of his future life, he attached himself so closely that he never quitted his side, and the warmest reciprocal attachment was clierished to the last by the instructor and his disciple. While yet a youth he was on familiar terms with Lutcan, with Caesius Bassus the lyric poet, and with several other persons of literary eminence; in process of time he became acquainted with Seneca also, lint never entertained a very warti admiration for his talents.
By the highminded and virtuous Paetus Thrasea (Tac. Ann. 16.21
). the husbandtl of his kinswoman the younger Arria, Persitis was tenderly beloved, and seems to have been well worthy of such affection, for he is described as a youth of pleasing aspect, of most gentle inantners, of maiden modesty, pure land upright, exemplary in his conduct as a son, a brother, and a nephew. IIe died of a disease of the stomach, at an estate near the eighth milestone on the Appiml way, on the 24th of November in the consulship of P. Marius and L. Asinitus Galluis, A. D. before he had completed his twenty-eighth year.
The extant works of Persius, who, we are told, wrote seldom and slowly, consist of six short satires, extending in all to 650 hexameter lines, and were left in an unfinished state. They were slightly corrected after his death by Cornuttus, while Caesius Bassus was permitted, at his own earnest request, to be the editor.
In boyhood he composed a comedy, a book of ὁδοιπορικά
(the subject is a matter of conjecture), and a few verses upon Arria, the mother-in-law of Thrasea, that Arria whose death has been rendered so celebrated by the narratives of Pliny and Dio Cassius (Plin. Ep. 3.16
; D. C. 9.16
; comp Martial. i 14).
The whole of these juvenile effusions were by the advice of Cornutus destroyed.
Few productions have ever enjoyed more widely diffused and more enduring popularity than the Satires. When read over to Lucan he could scarcely refrain from shouting with delight; when first given to the world they were devoured with eager admiration (editurn librum continuo mirari hiomines et diripere) ;
and a long unbroken chain of testimonies, direct or implied, to their merits, might be linked together, reaching from the period of their publication through the darkest portion of the middle ages down to the revival of literature, including the names of Quintilian, Martial, the emperors Septimius and Alexander Severus, Ausonius, Prudentits, Sedulius, Sidonius, Liudprandus, Adam of Bremen, Bernard of Clugny, Peter of Blois, and John of Salisbury, to say nothing of the scholiasts and grammarians by whom they are perpetually cited. Nor ought we to omit the great fathers of the church, Lactantius, Augtstin, and Jerome, of whom the two former frequently quote whole lines from Persius, while the latter seems to have been so thoroughly imbued with his phraseology that we encounter all the most striking expressions of the heathen moralist reproduced in the epistles, controversial tracts and commentaries of the Christian ecclesiastic. How far this reputation has been fairly earned, may admit of question.
It would seem that Persius, strangely enough, owes not a little of his fame and popularity to a cause which naturally might and, perhaps, ought to have produced an effect directly the reverse, we mean the multitude of strange terms, many of them derived, as case of Petronius, from the familiar language of ordinary life, proverbial phrases, far-fetched harsh metaphors, and abrupt transitions which every where embarrass our progress.
The difficulty experienced in removing these impediments, and the close attention required to follow the train of thought and the numerous rapid changes of person, necessarily impress deeply both the words and the ideas upon every one who has carefully studied his pages, and hence no author clings more closely to our memory, or rises more frequently to our lips in a quotation. His delineations of men dan manners are immeasurably inferior to those of Horace and Juvenal, nor can his cold formalism and rough ungainly style stand for a moment in competition with the lively practical good sense and easy grace of the one, or with the fiery indignation and sonorous rhetoric of the other. His pictures, although skilfully drawn, grouped with dexterity and often finished with patient minuteness, are deficient in reality; they are not sketched from human beings actually living and moving in the business of the world, but are highly coloured fancy pieces imagined by the student in his seclusion, created for the purpose of illustrating some abtract general principle or subtle philosophic paradox.
In fact, the tive last satires may be regarded as so many scholasttic exercises, each being devoted to the exposition of a doctrine propounded by the stoics, stated and developed according to their discipline. We must not, at the same time, withhold from him the praise of great ingenuity in moulding to his purpose the most refractory materials, of calling up a crowd of images by a few skilful touch's, and concentrating a muitirude or thoaghts within the compass of a few pregnant words.
He is, unquestionably, the most dramatic of the ancient satirists, his dialogues are in the highest degree spirited and effective, conveying a very distinct notion of the element which formed the staple of the original Satura, and which was revived in the Mimes of the Augustan age.
The first Satire-which is devoted to strictures on the false taste which prevailed in reference to poetry, and to an exposure of the follies and fopperies of fashionable bards, interspersed with numerous parodies on the most popular pieces of the day-is superior both in plan and execution to the rest; but we may remark, in passing, that there are no good grounds for the belief, which has prevailed front a very early epoch, that both here and elsewhere Nero is the mark against whom the most piercing sarcasms are aimed; a belief which has beyond measure perplexed and tortured commentators, and has given rise to inconceivable absurdity in the interpretation of obscure allusions.
Those passages in the fifth, where Persius describes the process by which his own moral and intellectual faculties were first excited and gradually expanded, are remarkable for their grace and beauty.
Several MSS. of Persius contain a collection of scholia ascribed to Cornutus, which by many of the earlier critics were received without hesitation as authentic.
But these annotations, as they now exist, are so full of mistakes, and display such palpable ignorance on common topics, that, although it is not impossible that they may contain observations which actually proceeded from the stoic, they must have assumed their present form in the in the hands of some obscure and illiterate grammarian.
The ancient glosses published originally by Pithou (8vo. Heidelb. 1590) are merely extracts containing what is most valuable in the scholia of the Pseudo-Cornutus.
The Editio Princeps of Persius is a 4to. volume without date, but known to have been printed at Rome by Ulrich Hahn, about 1470; and in addition to this, bibliographers have described upwards of twenty impressions, all published before the year 1500
. The notes of Fontius appeared first in the Venice edition, fol. 1480
; the commentary of Britannicus in that of Brescia, fol. 1481
; and the scholia of the Pseudo-Cornutus in that of Venice, fol. 1499
A multitude of editions, many of them illustrated by very voluminous annotations, issued from almost every classical press in Europe during the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and of these by far the most valuable is that of Isaac Casaubon (8vo. Paris, 1605)
, which has been very often reprinted, the commentary being not only superior to all which preceded it, but having served as the groundwork of all subsequent elucidations of the satirist.
Of the editions belonging to a more recent period, we may notice specially those of Koenig, 8vo. Goetting. 1803
; of Passow, 8vo. Lips. 1809
, accompanied by a translation and valuable remarks on the first satire; of Achaintre, 8vo. Paris, 1812 of Orelli, in his Eclogae Poet. Lat. 8vo. Turic. 1822, and much improved in 1833
; of Plum, 8vo. Havn. 1827
, with a most voluminous commentary ; of Otto Jahn, 8vo. Lips. 1843, with elaborate prolegomena and judicious notes
; and of Heinrich, 8vo. Lips. 1844, with excellent notes in German.
The student who possesses the editions of Jahn, Heinrich
, and the reprint of Casaubon, published with some additional matter by Duebner, 8vo. Lips. 1839, will be able without further aid to master the difficulties he may encounter
The translations into different languages are, as might have been expected, very numerous.
There are at least fourteen into English, upwards of twenty into French, a still greater number into German, and also several into Italian and various other European languages. Of those into English, that of Barten Holiday
is the most quaint, that of Grifford
is the most accurate, and affords the best representation of the manner of the original ; that of Dryden
is incomparably the most spirited and poetical, but is often diffuse, and often far from being correct; those of Brewster
are very praiseworthy performances. Of the German versions, those of Passow (8vo. Lips. 1809)
and Donner (8vo. Stuttgard, 1822)
enjoy considerable reputation.