a slave brought to Rome some years before the downfal of the republic, and designated, according to the usual practice, from the country of his birth.
He attracted attention while yet a youth, by his accomplishment and wit, was manumitted, in consequence of his pleasing talents, by his master, who probably belonged to the Clodia gens. assumed the name of Publius,
from his patron, and soon became highly celebrated as a mimographer.
At the splendid games exhibited by Caesar in B. C. 45, he invited all the dramatists of the day to contend with him in extemporaneous effusions upon any given theme, and no one having declined the challenge, the foreign freedman bore away the palm from every competitor, including Laberius himself, who was taunted with this defeat by the dictator : --
Favente tibi me victus es, Laberi, Syro.
Publius is frequently mentioned with praise and repeatedly quoted by ancient writers, especially by the Senecas, by A. Gellius, and by Macrobius. Hence we conclude that his mimes must have been committed to writing, and extensively circulated at an early period; and a collection of pithy moral sayings extracted from his works appears to have been used as a school-book in the boyhood of Hieronymus.
A compilation of this description, extending to upwards of a thousand lines in Iambic and Trochaic measures, every apophthegm being comprised in a single line. and the whole ranged alphabetically, according to the initial letter of the first each, is now extant under the title Publii Syri Sententiae.
These proverbs, many of which exhibit much grace, both of thought and expression, have been drawn from various sources, and are evidently the work of many different hands; but a considerable number may with considerable confidenee be ascribed to Syrus and his contemporaries.
In addition, a fragment upon luxury, extending to ten Iambic verses, has been. preserved by Petronius (100.55).
A portion of the Sententiae
was first published by Erasmus, from a Cambridge MS., in a volume containing also the distichs of Cato, and other opuscula of a like character (4to. Argent. 1516)
; the number was increased by Fabricius in Syntagma Sententeiarum (8vo. Lips. 1550, 1560)
, and still further extended in the collections of Gruterus (8vo. 1604)
, of Velserus (8vo. Ingolst. 1608)
, and of Havercamp (8vo. Lug. Bat. 1708, 1727)
The best editions are those of Orellius (8vo. Lips. 1822)
and of Bothe, in his Poetarum Latin. Scemcorum Fragmcnta. vol. ii. p. 219 (8vo. Lips. 1834)
. to which we may add a second impression, with improvements, by Orellius, appended to his Phaedrus ( 8vo. Turin. 1832).
Cic. Fam. 12.18
; Senec. Controv.
7.3 Senec. Ep.
8, 94, 108, de Tranquill. An. 11, Consolat. ad Marc. 9;
Petron. 55; Plin. Nat. 8.51
; Gel. 17.14
; Macr. 2.2
Hieron. Chron. Euseb. ad Olymp.
184.2, comp. Ep. ad Laetam ;
Johann. Sarisb. 8.14.