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Po'llio, Asi'nius

1. C. Asinius Pollio, a distinguished orator, poet and historian of the Augustan age. He was descended from a family of the Marrucini, and he may have been a grandson of the Herius Asinius, who commanded this people in the Marsic war. We learn from the Fasti Capitolini, and from inscriptions, that his father's name was Cneius. Pollio was born at Rome in B. C. 76 according to Hieronymus (in Euseb. Chron.), and he had consequently frequent opportunities of hearing in his youth Cicero, Caesar, Hortensius, and the other great orators of the age. He was early fired with the ambition of treading in the footsteps of these illustrious men, and accordingly in B. C. 54, when he was only twenty-two years of age, he came forward as the accuser of C. Cato, on account of the disturbances which the latter had caused in B. C. 56, when he was tribune of the plebs. Cato was defended by C. Licinius Calvus and M. Scaurus; but as the illegal acts of which he was accused, had been performed to favour the election of Pompey and Crassus to the consulship, he was now supported by the powerful influence of the former, and was accordingly acquitted. It can scarcely be inferred from this accusation that Pollio was in favour of the republican party; he probably only wished to attract attention, and obtain celebrity by his bold attack against one of the creatures of the triumvirs. At all events, he espoused Caesar's party, when a rupture at length took place between Caesar and Pompey, and repaired to Caesar in Cisalpine Gaul probably in the course of B. C. 50. He accompanied Caesar in his passage across the Rubicon at the beginning of B. C. 49, on which occasion he is mentioned in a manner that would indicate that he was one of Caesar's intimate friends (Plut. Cces. 32), and was a witness of his triumphal progress through the towns of Italy. After Caesar had obtained possession of Italy Pollio was sent, under the command of Curio, to drive M. Cato out of Sicily, and from thence crossed over with Curio into Africa. After the unfortunate battle, in which Curio was defeated by King Juba, and in which he lost his life, Pollio hastened back to the camp at Utica. collected the remains of the army, and with difficulty made his escape by sea. He now joined Caesar, accompanied him in his campaign against Pompey in Greece, and was present at the battle of Pharsalia, B. C. 48, which he could therefore describe as an eye-witness. After the battle of Pharsalia he returned to Rome, and was probably tribune of the plebs in B. C. 47, since he is mentioned in that year as one of the opponents of the tribune Dolabella, who was endeavouring to carry a measure for the abolition of all debts (Plut. Ant. 9). and as a private person he could not have offered any open resistance to a tribune. In the following year, B. C. 46, Pollio fought under Caesar against the Pompeian party ill Africa, and he related in his history how he and Caesar on one occasion had driven back the enemy when their troops were surprised (Plut. Caes. 52). He also accompanied Caesar next year, B. C. 45, in his campaign in Spain, and on his return to Rome must have been one of the fourteen praetors, whom Caesar appointed in the course of this year, since we find him called praetorius in the history of B. C. 44. (Veil. Pat. 2.73.) He did not, however, remain long in Rome, for Caesar sent him again into Spain, with the command of the Further Province, in order to prosecute the war against Sex. Pompey, who had again collected a considerable force since the battle of Munda. He was in his province at the time of Caesar's death on the 15th of March, B. C. 44, and his campaign against Sextus is described by his panegyrist Velleius Paterculus (l.c.) as most glorious; but he was, in fact, defeated, and nearly lost his life in the battle (D. C. 45.10). He would probably have been unable to maintain his position in his province, if a peace had not been concluded after Caesar's death between Rome and Sextus. This was brought about by the mediation of Antony and Lepidus; Sextus quitted Spain, but Pollio continued quietly in his province.

On the breaking out of the war between Antony and the senate in B. C. 43, Pollio was strongly pressed to assist the latter with troops. In his letters to Cicero, three of which have come down to us (ad Farm. 10.31-33), he expresses great devotion to the cause of the senate, but alleges various reasons why it is impossible for him to comply with their request. Like most of Caesar's other friends, he probably did not in heart wish success to the senatorial party, but at the same time would not commit himself to Antony. Even when the latter was joined by Lepidus, he still hesitated to declare in their favour; but when Octavian espoused their side, and compelled the senate in the month of August to repeal the sentence of outlawry which had been pronounced against them, Pollio at length joined then with three legions, and persuaded L. Plancus in Gaul to follow his example. Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus then formed the triumvirate, and determined who should be consuls for the next five years. Pollio was nominated for B. C., 40, but was in return obliged to consent to the proscription of his father-in-law, L. Quintius.

In the division of the provinces among the triumvirs, Antony received the Gauls with the exception of the Narbonese. The administration of the Transpadane Gaul was committed to Pollio by Antony, and he had accordingly the difficult task of settling the veterans in the lands which had been assigned to them in this province. It was upon this occasion that he saved the property of the poet Virgil at Mantua from confiscation, whom he took under his protection from his love of literature. In the Perusinian war which was carried on by Fulvia and L. Antonius against Octavian in B. C. 41 and 40, Pollio, like the other legates of Antony, took little part, as he did not know the views and wishes of his commander. Octaviall compelled him to resign the province to Alfelnus Varus; and as Antony, the triumvir, was now expected from Greece, Pollio exerted him-self to keep possession of the sea-coast in order to secure his landing, since an open rupture between Octavian and Antony seemed now almost inevitable. He was fortunate in securing the co-operation of Domitius Ahenobarbus, who was cruising in the Ionian sea with a squadron of ships which had formed part of the fleet of Brutus and Cassius. The threatened war, however, did not break out; and a reconciliation took place at Brundusium between Octavian and Antony in B. C. 40, at which Pollio acted the part of mediator. Pollio returned to Rome with the triumvirs, and now became consul with Cn. Domitius Calvinus, according to the promise made him three years before. It was during his consulship that Virgil addressed to him his fourth Eclogue.

In the following year, B. C. 39, Antony went to Greece, and sent Pollio with a part of his army to fight against the Parthini, an Illyrian people, who had espoused the side of Brutus and Cassius. Pollio was successful in his expedition; he defeated the Parthini and took the Dalmatian town of Salonae; and in consequence of his success obtained the honour of a triumph on the 25th of October in this year. He gave his son Asinius Gallus the agnomen of Saloninus after the town which he had taken. It was during his Illyrian campaign that Virgil addressed to him the eighth Eclogue (see especially 11. 6, 7, 12).

From this time Pollio withdrew altogether from political life, and devoted himself to the study of literature. He still continued however to exercise his oratorical powers, and maintained his reputation for eloquence by his speeches both in the senate and the courts of justice. When the war broke out between Octavian and Antony, the ; former asked Pollio to accompany him in the campaign but he declined on account of his former friendship with Antony, and Octavian admitted the validity of his excuse. He lived to see the supremacy of Augustus fully established, and died at his Tusculan villa, A. D. 4, in the eightieth year of his age, preserving to the last the full enjoyment of his health and of all his faculties. (V. Max. 8.13.4.)

Asiniius Pollio deserves a distinguished place in the history of Roman literature, not so much on account of his works, as of the encouragement which he gave to literature. He was not only a patron of Virgil, Horace (see Carm. 2.1), and other great poets and writers, but he has the honour of having been the first person to establish a public library at Rome, upon which he expended the money he had obtained in his Illyrian campaign. (Plin. Nat. 7.3, 35.2.) He also introduced the practice of which Martial and other later writers so frequently complain, of reading all his works before a large circle of friends and critics, in order to obtain their judgment and opinion before making them public. (Senec. Controv. iv. Praef. p. 441.) None of Pollio's own works have come down to us, but they possessed sufficient merit to lead his contemporaries and successors to class his name with those of Cicero, Virgil and Sallust, as an orator, a poet and an historian. It was however as an orator that he possessed the greatest reputation. We have already seen that he distinguished himself when he was only twenty-two by his speech against C. Cato : Catullus describes him in his youth (Carm. 12.9) as

Disertus puer et facetiarum,"

and Horace speaks of him in the full maturity of his powers (Carm. 2.1. 13) as

"Insigne maestis praesidium reis
Et consulenti, Pollio, curiae ;"

and we have also the more impartial testimony of Quintilian, the two Senecas and the author of the Dialogue on Orators to the greatness of his oratorical powers. Belonging as he did both to the Ciceronian and the Augustan age, the orations of Pollio partook somewhat of the character of each period. They possessed the fertility of invention and the power of thought of the earlier period, but at the same time somewhat of the artificial and elaborate rhetoric which began to characterise the style of the empire. There was an excessive care bestowed upon the composition, and at the same time a fondness for ancient words and expressions, which often obscured the meaning of his speeches, and detracted much from the pleasure of his hearers and readers. Hence the author of the Dialogue on Orators (100.21) speaks of him as durus et siccus, and Quintilian says (10.1.113) that so far is he from possessing the brilliant and pleasing style of Cicero (nitor et jucunditas Ciceronis), that he might appear to belong to the age preceding that of the great orator. We may infer that there was a degree of pedantry and an affectation of learning in his speeches; and it was probably the same desire of exhibiting his reading, which led him to make frequent quotations from Ennius, Accius, Pacuvius, and the other ancient poets. (Quint. Inst. 1.8.11, 9.4.76.) The care however with which he composed his speeches--his diligentia--his diligentia-forms an especial subject of praise with Quintilian. (Comp. in general Quint. Inst. 10.1.113, 10.2.25, 12.11.28; Senec. Control. iv. Praef. p. 441, Suas. vi. p. 50; Senec. Ep. 100; Auct. Dial. de Orat. 17, 21, 25.) Meyer has collected the titles of eleven of his orations. (Orator. Roman. Fragm. p. 491, &c.)

As an historian Pollio was celebrated for his history of the civil wars in seventeen books. It commenced with the consulship of Metellus and Afranius, B. C. 60, in which year the first triumvirate was formed, and appears to have come down to the time when Augustus obtained the undisputed supremacy of the Roman world. It has been erroneously supposed by some modern writers from a passage in Plutarch (Plut. Caes. 46), that this work was written in Greek. Pollio was a contemporary of the whole period embraced in his history, and was an eye-witness of many of the important events which he describes. His work was thus one of great value, and is cited by subsequent writers in terms of the highest commendation. It appears to have been rich in anecdotes about Caesar, but the judgment which he passed upon Cicero appeared to the elder Seneca unjustly severe. Pollio was assisted to some extent in the composition of the work by the grammarian A tteius Philologus, who drew up for his use certain rules which might be useful to him in writing. (Suil. s. v. Ἀσίννιος ; Senec. Suas. vi. vii.; Hor. Carm. 2.1; Suet. Jul. 30, De Ill. Gram. 10; Plut. Caes. 46; Tac. Ann. 4.34; Appian, App. BC 2.82; V. Max. 8.13. ext. 4.)

As a poet Pollio was best known for his tragedies, which are spoken of in high terms by Virgil and Horace, but which probably did not possess any great merit, as they are hardly mentioned by subsequent writers, and only one fragment of them is preserved by the grammarians. (Verg. Ecl. 3.86, 8.10; Hor. Carm. 2.1.9, Sat. 1.10. 42 ; Charis. i. p. 56, ed. Lind.) The words of Virgil (Eel. 3.86), "Pollio et ipse facit nova carmina," probably refer to tragedies of a new kind, namely, such as were not borrowed from the Greek, but contained subjects entirely new, taken from Roman story. (Welcker, Die Griechischen Tragyödien, p. 1421, &c.)

Pollio also enjoyed great reputation as a critic, but he is chiefly known in this capacity for the severe judgment which he passed upon his great contemporaries. Thus he pointed out many mistakes in the speeches of Cicero (Quint. Inst. 12.22), censured the Commentaries of Caesar for their want of historical fidelity, and found fault with Sallust for affectation in the use of antiquated words and expressions (Suet. de Ill. Gram. 10), a fault with which Pollio himself is charged by other writers. He also complained of a certain Patavinity in Livy (Quint. Inst. 1.5.56, 8.1.3), respecting which some remarks are made in the life of Livy. [Vol. II. p. 795.]

Pollio had a son, C. Asinius Gallus Saloninus, who is spoken of elsewhere. [GALLUS, No. 2.] Asinius Gallus married Vipsania, the daughter of Agrippa and Pomponia, the former wife of Tiberius, by whom he had several children: namely, 1. Asinius Saloninus. (Tac. Ann. 3.75 ) 2. Asinius Gallus. [GALLUS, No. 3.] 3. Asinius Pollio, spoken of below [No. 2], Asinius Agrippa, consul A. D. 25 [AGRIPPA, p. 77a], Asinius Celer. [CELER.] (Lipsius, ad Tac. Ann. 3.75.)

(The following are the most important authorities for the life of Pollio, in addition to those which have been cited above: Cic. Fam. 9.25, 10.31, 11.9, ad Att. 12.2, 38, 39, 13.20; Appian, App. BC 2.40, 45, 82, 3.46, 74, 97, 4.12, 27, 5.20-23, 50, 64; Vell. 2.63, 76, 86; D. C. 45.10, 48.15, 41; and among modern writers, Eckhard, Commentatio de C. Asimo, iniquo optimorum Latinorum auctorum censore, Jen. 1793, and especially Thorbecke, Commentatio de C. Asinii Pollionis Vita et Studiis, Lugd. Batav. 1820.)

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hide References (32 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (32):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 10.31
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 11.9
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 9.25
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 2.11.82
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 2.7.45
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 3.10.74
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 3.14.97
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 4.3.12
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.6.50
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.7.64
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 2.6.40
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 3.7.46
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 4.4.27
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.3.20
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 5.3.23
    • Plutarch, Caesar, 52
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 30
    • Tacitus, Annales, 3.75
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.34
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 7.3
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 1, 5.56
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 1, 8.11
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 8, 1.3
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 9, 4.76
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 10, 1.113
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 10, 2.25
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 12, 11.28
    • Plutarch, Antonius, 9
    • Plutarch, Caesar, 46
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 8.13
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 8.13.4
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