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Q. Cu'rtius Rufus

the Roman historian of Alexander the Great. Respecting his life and the time at which he lived, nothing is known with any certainty, and there is not a single passage in any ancient writer that can be positively said to refer to Q. Curtius, the historian. One Curtius Rufus is mentioned by Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 11.21) and Pliny (Plin. Ep. 7.27), and a Q. Curtius Rufus occurs in the list of the rhetoricians of whom Suetonius treated in his work " De Claris Rhetoribus." But there is nothing to shew that any of them is the same as our Q. Curtius, though it may be, as F. A. Wolf was inclined to think, that the rhetorician spoken of by Suetonius is the same as the historia. This total want of external testimony compels us to seek information concerning Q. Curtius in the work that has come down to us under his name; but what we find here is as vague and unsatisfactory as that which is gathered from external testimonies. There are only two passages in his work which contain allusions to the time at which he lived. In the one (4.4, in fin.), in speaking of the city of Tyre, he says, nunc tamen longa pace cuncta refovente, sub tutela Romanae mansuetudinis acquiescit; the other, which is the more important one (10.9), contains an eulogy on the emperor for having restored peace after much bloodshed and many disputes about the possession of the empire. But the terms in which this passage is framed are so vague and indefinite, that it may be applied with almost equal propriety to a great number of epochs in the history of the Roman empire, and critics have with equal ingenuity referred the eulogy to a variety of emperors, from Augustus down to Constantine or even to Theodosius the Great, while one of the earlier critics even asserted that Q. Curtius Rufus was a fictitious name, and that the work was the production of a modern writer. This last opinion, however, is refuted by the fact, that there are some very early MSS. of Q. Curtius, and that Joannes Sarisberiensis, who died in A. D. 1182, was acquainted with the work. All modern critics are now pretty well agreed, that Curtius lived in the first centuries of the Christian aera. Niebuhr regards him and Petronius as contemporaries of Septimius Severus, while most other critics place him as early as the time of Vespasian. The latter opinion, which also accords with the supposition that the rhetorician Q. Curtius Rufus mentioned by Suetonius was the same as our historian, presents no other difficulty, except that Quintilian, in mentioning the historians who had died before his time, does not allude to Curtius in any way. This difficulty, however, may be removed by the supposition, that Curtius was still alive when Quintilian wrote. Another kind of internal evidence which might possibly suggest the time in which Curtius wrote, is the style and diction of his work; but in this case neither of them is the writer's own; both are artificially acquired, and exhibit only a few traces which are peculiar to the latter part of the first century after Christ. Thus much, however, seems clear, that Curtius was a rhetorician: his style is not free from strained and high-flown expressions, but on the whole it is a masterly imitation of Livy's style, intermixed here and there with poetical phrases and artificial ornaments.


The work itself is a history of Alexander the Great, and written with great partiality for the hero. The author drew his materials from good sources, such as Cleitarchus, Timagenes, and Ptolemaeus, but was deficient himself in knowledge of geography, tactics, and astronomy, and in historical criticism, for which reasons his work cannot always be relied upon as an historical authority. It consisted originally of ten books, but the first two are lost, and the remaining eight also are not without more or less considerable gaps. In the early editions the fifth and sixth books are sometimes united in one, so that the whole would consist of only nine books; and Glareanus in his edition (1556) divided the work into twelve books. The deficiency of the first two books has been made up in the form of supplements by Bruno, Cellarius, and Freinsheim; but that of the last of these scholars, although the best, is still without any particular merit. The criticism of the text of Curtius is connected with great difficulties, for although all the extant MSS. are derived from one, yet some of them, especially those of the 14th and 15th centuries, contain considerable interpolations. Hence the text appears very different in the different editions.


The first edition is that of Vindelinus de Spira, Venice, without date, though probably published in 1471. It was followed in 1480 by the first Milan edition of A. Zarotus. The most important among the subsequent editions are the Juntinae, those of Erasmus, Chr. Bruno, A. Junius, F. Modius, Acidalius, Raderus, Popma, Loccenius, and especially those of Freinsheim, Strassburg, 1640, and Ch. Cellarius, 1688. The best edition that was published during the interval between that and our own time is the variorum edition by H. Senkenburg, Delft and Leiden, 1724, 4to. Among the modern editions the following are the best: 1. that of Schmieder (Göttingen, 1803), Koken (Leipzig, 1818), Zumpt (Berlin, 1826), Baumstark (Stuttgard, 1829), and J. Mützell. (Berlin, 1843.)

Further Information

Critical investigations concerning the age of Q. Curtius are prefixed to most of the editions here mentioned, but the following may be consulted in addition to them : Niebuhr " Zwei klassiche Lat. Schriftsteller des dritten Jahrhunderts," in his Kleine Schriften, i. p. 305, &c.; Buttmann, Ueber das Leben des Geschichtschreibers Q. Curtius Rufus. In Beziehuung auf A. Hirt's Abhandl. über denselb. Gegenstand, Berlin, 1820; G. Pinzger, Ueber das Zeitalter des Q. Curtius Rufus in Seebode's Archiv für Philologie, 1824, 1.1, p. 91, &c.


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1182 AD (1)
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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Tacitus, Annales, 11.21
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 7.27
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