Juvencus Ve'ttius Aquili'nus
one of the earliest among the Christian poets, flourished under Constantine the Great, was a native of Spain, the descendant of an illustrious family, and a presbyter of the church.
These particulars, for which we are indebted chiefly to St. Jerome, comprise the whole of our knowledge with regard to the personal history of this writer.
Juvencus owes his reputation to the first of the two following works:--
Historiae Evangelicae Libri IV.
, published about A. D. 332, a life of Christ in hexameter verse, compiled from the four evangelists.
The narrative of St. Matthew is taken as the groundwork, the additional facts supplied by the three others are interwoven in their proper places, the whole thus forming a complete harmony of the Gospels.
The liberal praises bestowed upon Juvencus by divines and scholars, from St. Jerome down to Petrarch, must be understood to belong rather to the substance of the piece than to the form under which the materials are presented. We may honour the pious motive which prompted the undertaking, and we may bestow the same commendation upon the laborious ingenuity with which every particular recorded by the sacred historians and frequently their very words, are forced into numbers; but the very plan of the composition excludes all play of fancy and all poetical freedom of expression, while the versification, although fluent and generally harmonious, too often bids defiance to the laws of prosody, and the language, although evidently in many places copied from the purest models, betrays here and there evident indications of corruption and decay.
The idea that this production might be employed with advantage in the interpretation of the Scriptures, inasmuch as it may be supposed to exhibit faithfully the meaning attached to various obscure passages in the early age to which it belongs, will not, upon examination, be found to merit much attention.
The Editio Princeps of the Historia Evangelica
was printed at Deventer in Holland, 4to. 1490.
It is included in the Poetarum veterum Eccles. Opera
of G. Fabricius, fol. Basil. 1564; in the Opera et Fragmenta vet. Poet. Lat.
of Maittaire, fol. Lond. 1713; in the Bibliotheca Patr. Max.
Lugdun. 1677, vol. iv. p. 55; and was published separately with a collection of commentaries, by Reuschius, 8vo. Lips. 1710.
Liber in Genesim
, in 1541 hexameters, divided into as many chapters as the original; an attempt, it would appear, to render the study of the Old Testament more generally popular by clothing it in a metrical dress, the plan and execution being in every respect similar to the Historia Evangelica.
For a long period the first four sections alone were known to exist, and were variously ascribed by different critics to Tertullian, Cyprian, or Salvianus of Marseilles; but the entire book, together with the real author, were made known in the beginning of the eighteenth century, from a MS. of the eleventh century, and published by Durand
. (See below.)
The Liber in Genesim
first appeared in its complete form in Martene et Durand, Scriptorum et Monumentorum Amplissima Collectio,
fol. Paris, 1723, vol. ix. p. 14, from whence it was reprinted, along with the Historia Evangelica,
in the Bibliotheca Patrum
of Galland, fol Venet. 1770, vol. iv. p. 587.
3. Lost Poetry
St. Jerome and other ecclesiastical biographers mention some hexameters upon the sacraments, but of these no trace remains.
Hieron. De Vir. Ill. 84, Ep. ad Magnum, Chron. Euseb.
ad A. D. cccxxix.; Gebser, De C. Vettii Aquilini Juvenci Vita et Scriptis,
8vo. Jen. 1827.