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Spurinna, Vestri'tius

a Roman general, who played a distinguished part in the war of succession which followed the death of Nero. Having espoused the cause of Otho, he received, along with Annius Gallus, the command of the forces upon the Po, destined to oppose the invasion of the Vitellians from the North. Upon the approach of Caecina he threw himself into Placentia, which he defended with so much gallantry and resolution, that the besiegers were compelled, after a desperate assault, to retire (Tac. Hist. 2.11, 18, &c., 36). Even after the hopes of his party had been crushed by the battle of Bedriacum, Spurinna remained steadfast in his loyalty, but we hear little more of him until he re-appears upon the stage in the reign of Trajan, under whom he achieved great fame by a bloodless victory over the savage tribe of the Bructeri, whom he reduced to submission, and was rewarded by the senate, on the motion of the prince himself, with a triumphal effigy in bronze (Plin. Ep. 2.7). His wife was named Cottia, and by her he had a son Cottius, a youth of the highest promise, who died at an early age, and a statue to his memory was decreed at the public expense, partly on account of his own merits, and partly as a tribute to his father, who was at that time absent in Germany (Plin. Ep. l.c. 3.8, comp. 5.17).

From the younger Pliny, who lived upon terms of the closest friendship with Spurinna, and ever speaks of him with the warmest respect, we learn that he was alive at the age of 77, in the full enjoyment of his faculties, mental and bodily, and a very interesting letter (Plin. Ep. 3.1, al. 2) is devoted to an account of the happy manner in which the old man was wont to pass his time. Among other occupations we are told, “Scribit . . . . et quidem utraque lingua, lyrica doctissime. Mirabilis dulcedo, mira suavitas, mira hilaritas, cujus gratiam cumulat sanctitas scribentis.


In the year 1613, Caspar Barthius published at the end of his Venatici et Bucolici poetae Latini four odes, or rather fragments of odes, in Choriambic measure, extending to nearly 70 lines, which he had found in the leaves of a MS. lying neglected among the rubbish of a library at Marburg. This Codex contained several other pieces copied at different periods, and these he describes. The odes in question were not divided into lines, but were written continuously like prose, the title prefixed being Incipit Vesprucius Spurinna de contemtu saeculi ad Martium. Barthius republished them in his Adversaria (14.5), and then for the first time declared his belief that they were the work of the Vestritius Spurinna, so well known to the readers of the younger Pliny. The opinions entertained by scholars touching these productions are very various. Some have pronounced them to be forgeries by Barthius, suggested by the epistle from which we have quoted above, and they urge strongly that the words of Pliny do not prove that Spurinna ever published any thing, while the absolute silence of the grammarians, who could scarcely have failed to notice the works of a lyric bard, the number of whom is so small, affords a strong presumption that nothing of the kind was in existence. This hypothesis, however, is by no means probable, for not only does the finder describe most minutely, and in such a manner as to court inquiry, the place where and the circumstances under which he became possessed of these remains as well as the contents of the volume in which they were included, but the verses themselves are so mutilated and confused that no one could expect to derive any credit or any gratification, directly or indirectly, from such a piece of dishonesty. Moreover, Barthius does not appear to have attached any importance to his discovery ; he speaks very doubtfully of the merit of the lines, he does not attempt to correct the errors nor to supply the blanks, and professes himself unable to determine the age to which they belong, but infers from the title, De Contemtu Saeculi, that they proceeded from a Christian pen. Nor was it until they were published for the second time that he assigned them to an historical personage.

Others have supposed that they were the production of some monk of the middle ages, who desired to place in the mouth of a heathen those exalted sentiments with regard to a contemplative life which were entertained by the ecclesiastics of that epoch; but the style of the Latinity, and the number of Grecisms involved, forbid us to adopt this theory. A third party imagine that they may have been fabricated at an early period, and may have embodied scraps or fragments which were actually in circulation as the words of Spurinna, and this is the view to which Barthius himself inclines.

It is almost impossible in a matter of this sort to form a very decided opinion. Every one who reads will discern that, in their present state, these lines in no way merit the eulogium pronounced by Pliny upon the poetical talents of his friend. Perhaps the most suspicious circumstance is that, notwithstanding the shortness, obscurity, and mutilated condition of the fragments, we are, in studying them, constantly reminded of the observations of Pliny, just as if they had been composed for the purpose of tallying with them. The very fact of the imperfect state in which they appear in the MS. is a proof that at the time when they were copied they must have been ascribed to some author of importance, for had not a fictitious value been attached to them from some such consideration, they would never have been thought worthy of being preserved.


These odes will be found in Wernsdorf, Poet. Lat. Min. vol. iii. pp. 351, &c., and a dissertation on the author, pp. 326, &c.

Further Information

See also Bayerus. " De Vestritio Spurinna lyrico et ejus Fragmenta," in the transactions of the Petersburgh Academy for 1750.


hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 2.11
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 2.18
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 2.7
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 3.1
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