The Arts: Documentary Sources
264-476: The Arts: Documentary Sources
Notes on Literary Sources:
Earliest Latin authors: Many of these are known only from references in other, later authors, and/or from mere fragments of their work. The latter are edited in collections such as Jürgen Blansdorf’s Fragmenta Poetarum Latinorum (1995) or E. H. Warmington’s Remains of Old Latin (1979). These sources are the places to find texts of early authors such as Livius Andronicus. Warmington’s edition includes the Latin with English translations on facing pages.
Works listed: Some of the authors included here wrote many works besides those listed. The aim is to include the major works of the major Latin authors, and to suggest publication dates for these where possible.
Apuleius (Lucius [?] Apuleius), Metamorphoses, or The Golden Ass (circa 155 C.E.)—This novel, the only Roman one that has survived intact, is eleven books long and includes the famous story of Cupid and Psyche.
Augustine (Aurelius Augustinus), Confessions (circa 397–400 C.E.), City of God (circa 413–426 C.E.)—A formidable early Christian theologian and philosopher (subsequently canonized) who could also write with great tenderness.
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy (523–524 C.E.)—The last great writer of antiquity and the first great writer of the Middle Ages. The Consolation of Philosophy is a prison dialogue that mingles prose and verse, offering an explanation of divine providence that owes debts to Stoicism and Neoplatonism.
Gaius Valerius Catullus, Poems —One of the greatest poets of the late Roman Republic, Catullus was a master at packaging great emotion in polished small verse forms.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Speeches; Rhetorical Works; Letters; Philosophical Works —Rome’s greatest orator, and a central political figure of the late Republic, as well as a significant philosopher. His letters are a wonderful source for the social historian.
Ennius, Annales —Ennius might be considered the father of Roman poetry; his Annales collected, in versified form, a history of Rome from its beginnings to Ennius’s own day.
Valerius Flaccus (Gaius Valerius Flaccus Setinus Balbus), Argonautica (first century C.E.)—A follower of Vergil in epic, renowned for his many similes.
Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus), Epodes (circa 30 B.C.E.); Satires (circa 30 B.C.E.); Odes (books 1–3, 23 B.C.E.; Carmen saeculare, 17 B.C.E.; book 4, circa 13 B.C.E.); and Epistles (book 1, 21 or 19 B.C.E.; book 2, circa 19–16 B.C.E.)—Friend of Vergil, member of the circle of Maecenas, and Rome’s greatest lyric poet, Horace was successful at adapting Greek models to Latin verse, but also at composing that peculiarly Roman genre, satire.
Jerome (Eusebius Hieronymus)—Saint Jerome is most famous for his translation of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures into Latin (late 4th-early 5th century C.E.), which came to be known as the Vulgate Bible.
Lucan (Marcus Annaeus Lucanus), On the Civil War (circa 62–65 C.E.)—Lucan was a prodigious young talent who wrote an anti-epic about the demise of the Roman republic.
Titus Lucretius Carus, On the Nature of Things —Lucretius, Rome’s most significant poet/philosopher, produced a long hexameter poem that is one of the principal sources for Epicurean philosophy.
Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis), Epigrams (86–101 C.E.)—A prolific writer of epigrams with a satirical streak.
Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso), Amatory works (20s B.C.E. to 2 C.E.); Metamorphoses and Fasti (before 8 C.E.); Tristia (10–12 C.E.); Letters from Pontus (books 1–3, 13 C.E.; book 4, 18 C.E.)—Rome’s most prolific and irreverent poet.
Petronius (possibly Titus Petronius Arbiter), Satiricon or Satyrica (after 66 C.E.)—Writer of a rather bizarre but often hilariously funny satire.
Titus Maccius Plautus, The Comedies —Plautus was Rome’s most successful writer of comedy. His plays were adaptations of Greek originals; they were aimed at entertainment, even included many sung passages, and often sacrificed consistency to get an extra laugh.
Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus), Naturalis historia (published posthumously, after 79 C.E.)—Natural historian, soldier, statesman, and polymath, his intellectual appetite was insatiable.
Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus), Letters (early second century C.E.)—A perceptive chronicler of life in his own time.
Sextus Propertius, Elegies (20s B.C.E.)—Tibullus’s contemporary and colleague in the field of love-elegy. His first book of love poems was extremely popular.
Gaius Sallustius Crispus, The War against Catiline (circa 42–41 B.C.E.); The War against Jugurtha (circa 41–40 B.C.E.); The Histories (after 39 B.C.E.)—An historian critical of Rome in the late republic.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca [the Younger], Philosophical works, letters, tragedies, Apocolocyntosis, Naturales quaestiones (37–65 C.E.)—A poet, politician, and Stoic philosopher all in one.
Publius Papinius Statius, Thebaid (90 or 91 C.E.)—SiIvae and Achilleid (90s C.E.)—The most significant of the Flavian epic poets.
Silius Italicus (Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus), Punica (late first century C.E.)—Another follower of Vergil, Silius Italicus wrote the longest Latin epic poem that has come down to the modern age.
Publius (?) Cornelius Tacitus, On Agricola (98 C.E.), On the Germans (98 C.E.), Dialogue on Orators (circa 101–102 C.E.), Histories (circa 109–110 C.E.), Annals (circa 120 C.E.)—Rome’s most acerbic and powerful historian.
Publius Terentius Afer, The Comedies —Plautus’s more sophisticated but less successful younger contemporary, Terence wrote several plays (also based on Greek originals) that display a refined and subtle wit.
Albius Tibullus, Elegies (book 1, circa 27 B.C.E.; book 2, unknown)—A sensitive writer of love elegy in whose corpus the work of other poets from his circle are preserved.
Vergil (Publius Vergilius Maro), Eclogues (circa 42–35 B.C.E.); Georgics (36-29 B.C.E.); Aeneid (circa 19 B.C.E.)—Vergil, Rome’s greatest composer of epic verse, came to be regarded as Rome’s national poet. His Aeneid rivals the works of Homer.
Note on Visual Sources. The following selection is a brief overview of some noteworthy ancient literary figures who inform the modern reader something about art in the Roman world and Roman attitudes to it.
Ancient Ecphrases—The term ekphrasis, which in Greek means “description,” is usually applied in literary studies to a lengthy verbal description of a work of art, real or imaginary, found in ancient writings. These are themselves important as sources for ancient ideas about art and artistic production. Ecphrasis was a popular literary form and lasted throughout antiquity, beginning with Homer, poet of the Greek epic, the Iliad, which features a description of the shield of Achilles, the central hero of the poem. In book 8 of the Aeneid, Vergil, the great poet of the Augustan age, develops Homeric ideas in his ecphrasis of the shield of his own hero, Aeneas, on which is depicted the future history of Rome. Two writers of the third and fourth centuries C.E., Philostratus and Callistratus, discuss statues and paintings (some famous, others imaginary), sometimes putting them into their mythological contexts. TheGreek Anthology, a collection of short poems from the seventh century B.C.E. to tenth century C.E., is comprised of epigrams, epitaphs, and such, arranged in sixteen books, and contains some ecphrases. The detailed and sometimes fanciful descriptions found in ancient ecphrases vary widely in their tone and points of emphasis, but overall they can provide further insight into ancient attitudes to artworks and their perceived powers and ideological functions.
Polybius—In the course of his history of the rise of Rome from the First Punic War (264 B.C.E.) to its conquests in Greece in the mid-second century, he gives some insight into early Roman uses of art (for instance, portraiture).
Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero)—Provides evidence, to varying degrees of detail, of ancient Roman attitudes on art by, for instance, outlining the greed and devastating effects of the corrupt governor of Sicily, Verres, whom he prosecuted for plundering that province of much of its artistic treasures (70 B.C.E.). Elsewhere, Cicero displays an interest in Greek art in speaking of an evolution in painting and sculpture in which each medium progressively depicts “reality” more beautifully. His highest praise seems to go to the sculptor Pheidias (active in the fifth century B.C.E.), whom he portrays as a kind of artistic visionary.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus—A rhetorician, historian, and literary critic active in the late first century B.C.E., he draws stylistic comparisons between various types of orators and visual artists—a kind of criticism found in other ancient writers. He had a specific interest in early Roman culture and his Roman Antiquities in twenty books discussed the institutions of Rome down to the time of the first Punic war.
Vitruvius (Vitruvius Pol(l)io)—A Roman architect active under Julius Caesar and Augustus. His treatise On Architecture is an important source for Roman and Greek building techniques as well as philosophical attitudes relevant to the field. The work became very influential in antiquity and beyond and includes famous anecdotes such as the great inventor Archimedes’ shouting in the bathtub “Eureka” (Greek heurêka, “I’ve found it!”) on discovering the proportions of silver and gold in a wreath made for a tyrant of Syracuse. Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” is a canonical representation of the human figure based on bodily proportions enumerated by Vitruvius.
Livy (Titus Livius)—Author of a history of Rome in 142 books from the foundation of the city to the accession of Augustus, at whose behest he undertook the task. Only 35 books and some fragments survive, but periodically in Livy’s account one can see the longstanding Roman link between military conquest and the various roles of art, either as victory spoils to be put on public display, or as a means of commemorating success on the battlefield.
Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus)—Books 33-36 of The Natural History comprise the fullest source for the history of Greek and Roman painting and sculpture, but his real subjects in these books are the uses made by humans of metals, minerals, and types of stone. The achievements of the Greeks and Romans in the visual arts are extensively treated as examples of such usages. Despite these difficulties, Pliny is still of much value to understanding ancient art history, for he had access to a great amount of material and ancient evidence (he mentions using more than two thousand sources!) which have since become almost entirely lost. He lists in his sources the writings of many artists, and it is apparent that he is using a number of ancient art theories in many of his accounts of ancient art. Books 33-36 contain, then, not necessarily Pliny’s own personal tastes, but seem to preserve information and ideas traceable to various periods and authors who are often closer in time to the artworks being described.
Plutarch—His Parallel Lives compares the achievements of eminent Greeks and Romans and for centuries has been an important source for the history and character of many illustrious figures such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.
Suetonius (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus)—He wrote a series of biographies of the “Twelve Caesars” (from Julius Caesar to Domitian), which has long been acknowledged as emphasizing the scandalous and personal aspects of its subjects’ lives sometimes at the expense of overall reliability. He includes a number of interesting anecdotes, nonetheless, which involve the uses and abuses of art and various building programs by certain emperors.
Pausanias—His A Description of Greece focuses largely on much earlier Greek painting, architecture, and sculpture, but does include accounts of works commissioned in Greece under certain emperors such as Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, and the local benefactor, Herodes Atticus. Like Pliny, he relies on older sources (many lost to scholars now), but also inscriptions, eyewitnesses, and what he saw with his own eyes (autopsy). He is generally reliable, as later discoveries have confirmed, and he includes much important information in his records by locating many monuments in their historical and religious contexts. He tends to give fairly clear and dispassionate accounts of what he sees, and his preference for the art of Archaic and Classical Greece is in many ways typical of his time.
Cassius Dio—His eighty-book history of Rome from the city’s foundation to 229 C.E. is only very partially preserved. He moved in high civic Roman circles and held the consulship with the emperor Alexander Severus in 229, then retired to Bithynia. The history is arranged as a series of annals with many digressions and a focus on the shift from the republic to life under imperial monarchies.
Ammianus Marcellinus—A soldier of high rank from Antioch who saw service in many parts of the empire, and the last of the great pagan Latin historians of Rome. There he settled to complete his history in thirty-one books (now only partially preserved) that cover Roman imperial history from the accession of Nerva (96 C.E.) to events datable to circa 390 C.E., and include many antiquarian excursuses along the way.