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Cinna, C. He'lvius

a poet of considerable renown, was the contemporary, companion, and friend of Catullus. (Catull. x., xcv., cxiii.) The year of his birth is totally unknown, but the day of his death is generally supposed to be a matter of common notoriety; for Suetonius (Suet. Jul. 85) informs us, that immediately after the funeral of Julius Caesar the rabble rushed with fire-brands to the houses of Brutus and Cassius, but having been with difficulty driven back, chanced to encounter Helvius Cinna, and mistaking him, from the resemblance of name, for Cornelius Cinna, who but the day before had delivered a violent harangue against the late dictator, they killed him on the spot, and bore about his head stuck on a spear. The same story is repeated almost in the same words by Valerius Maximus (9.9.1), by Appian (App. BC 2.147), and by Dio Cassius (44.50), with this addition, that they all three call Helvius Cinna a tribune of the plebeians, and Suetonius himself in a previous chapter (50) had spoken of Helvius Cinna as a tribune, who was to have brought forward a law authorizing Caesar to marry whom he pleased and as many as he pleased, in order to make sure of an heir. Plutarch likewise (Caes. 68) tells us that Cinna, a friend of Caesar, was torn to pieces under the supposition that he was Cinna, one of the conspirators. None of the above authorities take any notice of Cinna being a poet; but Plutarch, as if to supply the omission, when relating the circumstances over again in the life of Brutus (100.20), expressly describes the victim of this unhappy blunder as ποιητικὸς ἀνήρ (ἦν δέ τις Κίννας, ροιητικὸς ἀνήρ--the reading πολιτικὸς ἀνήρ being a conjectural emendation of Xylander). The chain of evidence thus appearing complete, scholars have, with few exceptions, concluded that Helvius Cinna, the tribune, who perished thus, was the same with Helvius Cinna the poet; and the story of his dream, as narrated by Plutarch (Caes. 1. c.) has been embodied by Shakspeare in his Julius Caesar.

Wleichert, however, following in the track of Reiske and J. H. Voss, refuses to admit the identity of these personages, on the ground that chronological difficulties render the position untenable. He builds almost entirely upon two lines in Virgil's ninth eclogue, which is commonly assigned to B. C. 40 or 41.

Nam neque adhuc Vario videor, nec dicere Cinna
Digna, sed argutos inter strepere anser alores,

arguing that, since Varius was alive at this epoch, Cinna must have been alive also; that the Cinna here celebrated can be no other than Helvius Cinna; and that inasmuch as Helvius Cinna was alive in B. C. 40, he could not have been murdered in B. C. 44. But, although the conclusion is undeniable if we admit the premises, it will be at once seen that these form a chain, each separate link of which is a pure hypothesis. Allowing that the date of the pastoral has been correctly fixed, although this cannot be proved, we must bear in mind--1. That Varo and not Vario is the reading in every MS. 2. That even if Vario be adopted, the expression in the above verses might have been used with perfect propriety in reference to any bard who had been a contemporary of Virgil, although recently dead. 3. That we have no right to assert dogmatically that the Cinna of Virgil must be C. Helvius Cinna, the friend of Catullus. Hence, although we may grant that it is not absolutely certain that Helvius Cinna the tribune and Helvius Cinna the poet were one and the same, at all events this opinion rests upon much stronger evidence than the other.

The great work of C. Helvius Cinna was his Smyrna; but neither Catullus, by whom it is highly extolled (xcv.), nor any other ancient writer gives us a hint with regard to the subject, and hence the various speculations in which critics have indulged rest upon no basis whatsoever. Some believe that it contained a history of the adventures of Smyrna the Amazon, to whom the famous city of Ionia ascribed its origin; others that it was connected with the myth of Adonis and with the legend of Myrrha, otherwise named Smyrna, the incestuous daughter of Cinyras; at all events, it certainly was not a drama, as a commentator upon Quintilian has dreamed; for the fragments, short and unsatisfactory as they are, suffice to demonstrate that it belonged to the epic style. These consist of two disjointed hexameters preserved by Priscian (6.16.84, ed. Krehl) and the Scholiast on Juvenal (6.155), and two consecutive lines given by Servius (ad Virg. Georg. 1.288), which are not without merit in so far as melodious versification is concerned.

Te matutinus flentem conspexit Eous
Et flentem paulo vidit post Hesperus idem.

The circumstance that nine years were spent in the elaboration of this piece has been frequently dwelt upon, may have suggested the well-known precept of Horace, and unquestionably secured the suffrage of the grammarians. (Catull. xcv.; Quint. Inst. 10.4.4; Serv. and Philargyr. ad Virg. Ecl. 9.35; Hor. A. P. 387, and the comments of Acro, Porphyr., and the Schol. Cruq.; Martial, Epigr. 10.21; Gel. 19.9, 13; Sueton. de Illustr. Gramm. 18.)

Besides the Smyrna, he was the author of a work entitled Propempticon Pollionis, which Voss imagines to have been dedicated to Asinius Pollio when setting forth in B. C. 40 on an expedition against the Parthini of Dalmatia, from which he returned in triumph the following year, and founded the first public library ever opened at Rome from the profits of the spoils. This rests of course upon the assumption that Cinna was not killed in B. C. 44, and until that fact is decided, it is vain to reason upon the subject, for the fragments, which extend to six hexameter lines, of which four are consecutive, throw no light on the question. (Charis. Instit. Gramm. p. 99, ed. Putsch; Isidor. Orig. 19.2, 4.)

Lastly, in Isidorus (6.12) we find four elegiac verses, while one hexameter in Suetonius (de Illustr. Gramm, 11), one hexameter and two hendecasyllabics in Gellius (9.12, 19.13), and two scraps in Nonius Marcellus (s. vv. Clypeat. cummi), are quoted from the "Poemata" and "Epigrammata" of Cinna, The class to which some of these fugitive essays belonged may be inferred from the words of Ovid in his apology for the Ars Amatoria. (Trist. 2.435.) (Weichert, Poetar. Latin. Reliqu.)


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hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 2.20.147
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 85
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 10, 4.4
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 19.13
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 19.9
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 9.12
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