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8. M. Valerius Messalla Corvinus, M. F. M. N., son of the preceding, was born, according to Eusebius, in B. C. 59, in the same year with Livy the historian. (Hieron. in Euseb. Chiron. Olmp. 180. 2.) Since, however, Messalla had gained some reputation for eloquence before the breaking out of the civil war in B. C. 43, the earlier date assigned by Scaliger (ad loc. Euseb.) for his birth, about B. C. 70, seems preferable. (Ellendt, Proleg. ad Cic. Brut. p. 131, comp. Clinton, F. H. vol. iii. p. 183, B. C. 59.) He was partly educated at Athens (Cic. Att. 12.32), where probably began his intimacy with Horace and L. Bibulus. (Hor. Sat. 1.10. 81-86; Appian, App. BC 4.38; comp. Plut. Brut. 24.) In the interval between Caesar's death and the formation of the triumvirate, Messalla returned to Italy. (Cic. Att. 15.17.) He attached himself to the senatorian party, and especially to its leader, Cassius, whom, long after, when he had become the friend of Augustus, he was accustomed to call " my general." (Tac. Ann. 4.34; D. C. 47.24; Plut. Brut. 40; Veil. 2.71.) Messalla was proscribed; but since his kinsmen proved his absence from Rome at the time of Caesar's assassination, the triumvirs, notwithstanding his wealth and influence (Appian, l.c.; Cic. Att. 16.16), erased his name from the list, and offered him security for his person and property. Messalla, however, rejected their offers, followed Cassius into Asia, held the third place in the command of the republican army (Vell. 2.71), and at Philippi, in the first day's battle, turned Augustus's flank, stormed his camp, and narrowly missed taking him prisoner. (Plut. Brut. 41.) To Messalla, on the night before the battle, Cassius made his protest that, like Cn. Pompey at Pharsalia, he was compelled to set his country's fortune on a single stake. (Id. ib. 40.) After the death of Brutus and Cassius, Messalla, with a numerous body of fugitives, took refuge in the island of Thasos. His followers, though defeated, were not disorganised and offered him the command. But he induced them to accept honourable terms from Antony (Appian, App. BC 4.38), to whom he attached himself until Cleopatra's influence made his ruin certain and easy to be foreseen. Messalla then, for the third time, changed his party, and served Augustus effectively in Sicily (Appian, App. BC 5.102-103, 110-113) B. C. 36; against the Salassians, a mountain tribe, lying between the Graian and the Pennine Alps, B. C. 34 (D. C. 49.38; Appian, App. Ill. 17; Strab. iv. p.189), and at Actium, B. C. 31. A decree of the senate had abrogated Antony's consulship for B. C. 31, and Messalla was appointed to the vacant place. (D. C. 1. 10.) At Actium he commanded the centre of the fleet, and so highly distinguished himself, that Augustus remarked, Messalla had now fought as well for him as formerly at Philippi against him. " I have always taken the best and justest side," was Messalla's adroit rejoinder. (Plut. Brut. 53.) At Daphne in Syria, Messalla proved himself an unscrupulous partisan, by dispersing among distant legions and garrisons Antony's gladiators, and finally destroying them, although they had not submitted until life and freedom had been guaranteed them. (D. C. 51.7.) He was proconsul of Aquitaine in B. C. 28-27, and obtained a triumph for his reduction of that province. (Fasti; Dio Cass. liii 12; Appian, App. BC 4.38; Tib. 1.7, 2.1. 33. 2.5. 117, 4.1, 4.8. 5.) Shortly before or immediately after his administration of Aquitaine Messalla held a prefecture in Asia Minor. (Tib. 1.3.) He was deputed by the senate, probably in B. C. 30, to greet Augustus with the title of " Pater Patrine; " and the opening of his address on that occasion is preserved by Suetonius. (Aug. 58; comp. Flor. 4.12.66; Ovid. Fast. 2.127, Trist. 2.39, 181; D. C. 56.8, 41.) During the disturbances at the comitia in B. C. 27, Augustus nominated Messalla to the revived office of warden of the city; but he resigned it in a few days, either because he deemed its functions unconstitutional--incivilem potestatem (Euseb. 1991),--or himself unequal to their discharge--quasi nescius imperandi (Tac. Ann. 6.11; comp. D. C. 54.6). Messalla soon afterwards withdrew from all public employments except his augurship, to which Augustus had specially appointed him, although, at the time of his admission, there was no vacancy in the augural college. (D. C. 49.16.) About two years before his death, which happened about the middle of Augustus's reign, B. C. 3-A. D. 3 (Dialog. de Orat. 17), Messalla's memory failed him, and he often could not recall his own name. (Hieron. ad Euseb. 2027; Plin. Nat. 7.24.) A statue erected by Augustus in his own forum to M. Valerius Corvus, consul in B. C. 348, was probably either a tribute to his living or a memorial of his deceased friend Messalla. (Gel. 9.11; comp. Suet. Aug. 21.) He left at least one son, Aurelius Cotta Messallinus [COTTA, No. 12]; and he had a brother who bore the name of Gellius Poplicola. (D. C. 47.24.) His tomb was of remarkable splendour. (Mart. 8.3, 10.2.)

Messalla was as much distinguished in the literary as in the political world of Rome. He was a patron of learning and the arts, and was himself an historian, a poet, a grammarian, and an orator. He wrote a history, or, more properly, commentaries on the civil wars after Caesar's death, from which both Suetonius (Suet. Aug. 58, 74) and Plutarch (Plut. Brut. 40, 41, 45, 53) derived materials. (Tac. Ann. 4.34; Tib. 4.1. 5.) Towards the close of his life he composed a genealogical work, De Romanis Familiis (Plin. Nat. 34.13, 35.2; Suet. Aug. 74.) The treatise, however, de Progenie Azugusti, which sometimes accompanies Eutropius and the minor Roman historians, is the forgery of a much later age. Messalla's poems were probably occasional--vers de société merely--and of a satirical or even licentious character. (Plin. Ep. 5.3.) His writings as a grammarian were numerous and minute, comprising treatises on collocation and lexicography, and on the powers and uses of single letters. The titles of two of these treatises have been preserved, " Liber de S. Litera" (Quinct. Inst. 1.7.23, 1.5.15, 9.4.38) and " Liber de involute Dictis" (Fest. v. Sanates); and Suetonius (Ill. Gr. 4) cites part of a grammatical work or letter of Messalla's. (Quinct. Inst. 1.5.61, 6.42, 8.3.24, 9.4.38.) His eloquence reflected the character of his age. It was an era of transition from the decaying forms of an aristocratical republic to the vigorous centralisation of the imperial system of Trajan and the Antonines. The ancient freedom of the forum was extinct; no great public causes survived; the measures of the government and the person of the ruler were hazardous topics, and the orator addressed not a mixed multitude, but a select audience. A scholastic spirit was rapidly encroaching upon the province of eloquence, and preparing the way for the rhetorical finesse of the later Roman schools. Messalla was not chargeable with all the vices of the rhetoricians, but neither had he retained the purity of the preceding age. He was preferred to Cicero, and the preference is a proof of the incompetence of his critics. More smooth and correct than vigorous or original, he persuaded rather than convinced, and conciliated rather than persuaded. His health was feeble, and the prooemia of his speeches generally pleaded indisposition and solicited indulgence. (Quint. 4.1.8; Dialog. de Orat. 17, 18, 21.) Of his speeches the following titles have been transmitted: 1. Contra Aufidiam (Quinct. 10.1.22); 2. Pro Liburnia, of which there is a fragment in Festus (s. v. tabem); 3. Pro Pythodoro (Sen. Contr. 2.12, p. 171, Bipont. ed.); 4. Contra Antonii Literas (Charis. p. 103); and 5. De Antonii Statuis (id. p. 80), both of which were probably delivered in B. C. 32, 31. Messalla mostly took the defendants' side, and was frequently associated in causes with C. Asinius Pollio. (Quinct. Inst. 10.1.24.) He recommended and practised translation from the Greek orators; and his version of the Phryne of Hyperides was thought to exhibit remarkable skill in either language. (Quinct. 10.5.2). Messalla was somewhat of a jurist in his diction, preferring native Latinisms to adoptive Greek words: e. g. funambulus to schoenobates (Schol. Cruqu. ad Hor. Sat. 1.10, 28), and archaisms to novelties in expression and orthography. In the age of Domitian Messalla had become nearly obsolete; beside the gaudy ornaments and measured declamation of the rhetoricians, he appeared tame and insipid. (Sen. Excerpt. Contr. iii. Prooem. ; Dialog. de Orat. 21; Meyer, Fragm. Or. Rom. p. 208; Schott, de Rhet. ap. Sen. Memor.

His political eminence, the wealth he inherited or acquired in the civil wars (Casaub. in Pers. Sat. 2.71), and the favour of Antony and Augustus, rendered Messalla one of the principal persons of his age, and an effective patron of its literature. (Quinct. 12.10.11, 11.28.) His friendship for Horace (Od. 3.21, Sat. 1.6. 42, 10. 29, 85, A. P. 371) and his intimacy with Tibullus are well known. In the elegies of the latter poet, indeed, even where he is not (as in elegies 1.7, 4.1) the immediate subject of the poem, the name of Messalla is continually introduced. The dedication of the " Ciris," a doubtful work, is not sufficient proof of his friendship with Virgil; but the companion of " Plotius and Varius, of Maecenas and Octavius" (Hor. Sat. 1.10. 81), cannot well have been unknown to the author of the Eclogues and Georgics. He directed Ovid's early studies (ex Point. 4.16), and Tiberius sought his acquaintance in early manhood, and took him for his model in eloquence. (Suet. Tib. 70.) Some of Messalla's bon mots, which were highly relished by his contemporaries, have been handed down to us. (Sen. Suas. 1, 2, 3.) He was a man well suited to the era in which he lived. He was courtly, cautious, and serviceable to the government both abroad and at home; and his early passion for liberty easily subsided into reasonable acquiescence in a government that at least protected life and property. If he merited his own description of Dellius [DELLIUS], a man who had danced through a revolution (Sen. Suas. 1), he atoned for his compliance by his zeal in behalf of his friends (Plut. Brut. 53), by his encouragement of literary aspirants (Sen. Suas. 6), and by his intimacy with the best and wisest men of his generation.

Messalla's life forms the subject of several monographies, e. g. De Burigny, Mémoires de l'Acad. des Inscript. xxxiv. p. 99 ff.; D. G. Moller, Disputat. de M. Val. Corv. Messalla, Altorf. 1689, 4to.; L. Wiese, de M. Val. Messall. Corvin. Vita et Studiis Doctrinae, Berol. 1829, 8vo.; to which add Ellendt. Proleg. ad Cic. Brut. pp. 131-138.

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  • Cross-references from this page (28):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 12.32
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 15.17
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 16.16
    • Homer, Odyssey, 3.21
    • Appian, Illyrian Wars, 4.17
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.12.113
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 4.6.38
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.11.102
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.11.103
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.12.110
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 21
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 74
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.34
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.11
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 58
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 70
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.13
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 7.24
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 5.3
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 9.11
    • Plutarch, Brutus, 53
    • Plutarch, Brutus, 24
    • Plutarch, Brutus, 40
    • Plutarch, Brutus, 41
    • Plutarch, Brutus, 45
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.2
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.3
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