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LIFE OF PERSIUS.
The principal facts of Persius' life may be gathered from a memoir of which the following is a translation. The author, by some supposed to be Suetonius, cannot be conjectured with probability. It appears in most of the old MSS. of Persius, and in some of the oldest is said to be extracted from a commentary of Valerius Probus. That name is given to other memoirs besides this, and whether it represents one, or two, or several early Grammarians, is uncertain. There is no doubt however that the account is very old, and the statements have an air of truth which is confirmed by internal evidence. There is little in Persius' writings on which to construct an imaginary biography, and this is so far a guarantee for the genuineness of this Grammarian’s facts.
“Aulus Persius Flaccus was born the day before the nones of December, in the consulship of Fabius Persicus and L. Vitellius". He died the eighth day before the kalends of December, in the consulship of P. Marius and Asinius Gallus?. He was born (in Etruria ®], at Volaterrae, a Roman eques, by blood and marriage connected with men of the highest rank. He died at the eighth milestone on the Appian road, on his own estate. His father Flaccus left him a minor, about six years old. His mother Fulvia Sisennia afterwards married Fusius, a Roman eques, and him too she buried within a few years. Flaccus pursued his studies until his twelfth year at Volaterrae ; after that at Rome with the grammarian Remmius Palaemon, and the rhetorician Virginius Flavus'. When he was sixteen years old he first began to enjoy the friendship of Annaeus Cornutus, to whom he became so much attached that he never left him, and by him he was initiated to a certain extent in philosophy. He had for his friends from his earliest youth, Caesius Bassus, and Calpurnius Sura', who died young during Persius' lifetime.
14th December, A.D. 34.
2 24th November, A.D. 62. • Heinrich puts these words in brackets.
• Most MSS. have Flaccus; but Flavus is the reading of one of the oldest, and is probably the true name.
5 The common reading is Statura.
He reverenced as a father Servilius Nonianus. Through Cornutus he made the acquaintance of Annaeus Lucanus likewise', who was of his own age and a disciple of Cornutus. Now Cornutus was a tragic writer of that day', of the Stoic sect, and he left behind him books of philosophy. Lucanus so admired the writings of Flaccus, that while he was reciting he could scarcely refrain from crying out (and saying that this was true poetry] ®. He became acquainted with Seneca also, late in life, but not so as to be taken by his character. He enjoyed in Cornutus' house the society of two most learned men of very holy lives, at that time earnestly engaged in philosophy, namely, Claudius Agathemerus, a physician of Lacedaemon, and Petronius Aristocrates of Magnesia, whom above all others he admired and emulated, for they were his contemporaries and disciples of Cornutus'. He was also for nearly ten years greatly beloved by Paetus Thrasea, and travelled with him sometimes, Thrasea having married Persius' kinswoman Arria. He was a man of most gentle manners, of maidenly modesty, of handsome form, and a pattern of piety towards his mother, and sister, and aunt. He was discreet and chaste. He left about two million sesterces to his mother and sister, and only wrote a note to his mother, asking her to give Cornutus a hundred thousand sesterces, as some say, but as others will have it, twenty pounds' weight of wrought silver, and about seven hundred volumes of Chrysippus, or all his library'. But Cornutus took the books and left the money for his mother and sister, whom he had made his heirs. He wrote seldom and slowly. This very book he left unfinished. Some verses have been taken from the end of the book, that it might seem finished. Cornutus made some trifling corrections; and when Caesius Bassus asked that he might himself be allowed to edit it, he gave it him for that purpose. Flaccus also in his boyhood had written a comedy called Restio, and one book of
6 By 'Annaeum etiam Lucanum’he means Lucanus, who was also one of the Annaei, as Cornatus himself was.
7 Tragicus,' the reading of all the MSS., is most probably corrupt.
$ “Quin illa esse vera poemata diceret.” These words are no doubt an interpolation. Heinrich thinks the interpolator had in mind the modest language of Persius in the Prologus.
9. Cornuti minores.' The common reading is ‘Cornuto.' Agathemerus' name is given as Agaternus in the MSS. See below.
1 This should be ‘or as some say,' but the text is defective. (Heinrich.) As to the books of Chrysippus, see Introduction to S. v.
The MSS. have “pecuniam sororibus quas frater heredes fecerat reliquit,” which contradicts what has just been said. “Frater' was added when the first mistake, ‘sororibus,' was made.
3 The MSS. have Vescio. Heinrich changes this to Restio, the Ropemaker, which was the title of one of Laberius' farces.
'Odolttopuká, and a few verses for the wife of Thrasea, on her mother Arria, who had killed herself before her husband 5. All these Cornutus advised his mother to destroy. When his book was published, men began forthwith to admire and to seize upon it. [He died of a disease of the stomach in the thirtieth year of his age?. But afterwards, when he had left his school and teachers, having read the tenth book of Lucilius, he conceived a great desire to write Satires. The beginning of that book he imitated', first intending to abuse himself', and afterwards every body, which he did with such invectives against the modern poets and orators, that he even attacked Nero, the reigning emperor. The verse he wrote against Nero was as follows:
Auriculas Asini Mida rex habet,'
but it was corrected by Cornutus in the following way:
Auriculas Asini quis non habet ?'
lest Nero should think it was said against himself.”]
Persius then, as he has always been called in modern times rather than by his cognomen, Flaccus, by which his contemporaries knew him, was of equestrian rank, and was born at Volaterrae (Volterra), in Etruria, on the 4th of December, A.D. 34, the twenty-first year of Tiberius. His father Flaccus died when he was six years old, and he remained under the care of his mother Fulvia Sisennia at his native place, where he went to school till he was twelve years old ’. Like Horace, he then was taken to Rome and sent to a grammar and a rhetoric school, the former being under the management of one of the most celebrated teachers of the day, Remmius Palaemon ·, the other of Virginius Flavus, a rhetorician of eminence, who was afterwards exiled by Nero *. He took the 'toga virilis’ at sixteen, the usual age, and according to custom left school and went, as we should call it, to a private tutor, L.
4 “'OSOITOPIKwv librum unum.” See below.
7 This contradicts the other statement, that he died A.D. 62, that is, near the end of his twenty-eighth year. This clause is not from the original, but added by the compiler in ignorance.
8 What follows is out of order, and probably made up by the compiler. 9 See note on S. i. 1.
1 The Scholiast on v. 1 says, “semetipsum redarguit, quod ipse reliquit carmina, quae vulgus lecturum non sit, quoniam nou sunt vulgaria, et quod minime conveniant robusto ingenio et libidini.”
2 The beginning of A.D. 47, 7th of Claudius.
Annaeus Cornutus, a philosopher of the Stoic school, to which most men of thought at that time belonged. To Cornutus he became much attached, and the friendship continued to the end of his life. His obligations to this excellent man he feelingly acknowledges in the fifth Satire. While he was at school he appears to have written a comedy; also a poem, probably of a humorous cast, which he called 'Odoltopiké, Wayside Verses, or The Traveller, or whatever it may have been, and some verses on the death of his kinswoman Arria. She was the wife of Caecina Paetus, who for treason was put to death by Claudius. The allusion in the life is to her conduct on this occasion.
Paetus was required to be his own executioner. His wife, who loved him devotedly and had declared she would die with him, took a dagger, stabbed herself, drew it out, and handed it to her husband, and said, “Paetus, it is not painful 5.” This happened A.D. 42, before Persius was eight years old. These early productions his mother kept till her death, and then, by the judicious advice of Cornutus, destroyed them.
How soon after his father's death his mother married again, it is impossible to say. But that she remained with her two children, Aulus and his sister, at Volaterrae, till the boy was old enough to go to Romo, and that she continued to superintend his education till he went to Cornutus, may be assumed. The Scholiast, on S. vi. 6, says that after the death of her first husband she married in Liguria, where Persius was staying when that Satire was written. It more likely that she retired to this part of the country, to a house left her by her second husband, after his death, leaving her son to pursue his studies under the guidance and roof of Cornutus o.
At this time he formed an intimate acquaintance with that Caesius Bassus to whom the last Satire is addressed, and with Calpurnius Sura, of whom however we know nothing more than the Grammarian tells us, that he died young, and that Persius survived him.
5 See Pliny, Epp. iii. 16. Martial (i. 14) has an epigram on this event :
“Casta suo gladium cum traderet Arria Pacto,
Quem de visceribus traxerat ipsa suis,
"Sed quod tu facies hoc mihi, Paete, dolet.”” 6 From Persius' way of speaking of Lunae Portus it has been supposed by some that he was born there. But independently of the express testimony of the Grammarian, there is presumptive evidence in the name of Sisennia, which is Etrurian, and in Arria his kinswoman having married Caecina, whose family were natives of Volaterrae, to confirm the statement that Persius was born there. There is of course no weight to be attached to the tradition which is mentioned only, as far as I know, in Bayle’s notice of Persius in his Dictionary, that a modern family of Volterra (the Falconcini) are derived from Persius' father, who had but one son, and he died unmarried. From the same source I learn that a house was shown a century ago at Volterra as that of Persius.
The Grammarian says he reverenced as a father Servilius Nonianus, who was probably a friend of his own father. His praenomen was Marcus. He was consul the year after Persius was born, and died two years before him. He was distinguished as a public speaker and as an historian, and likewise for the purity of his life, as Tacitus says". The Scholiast says that Persius' honest friend, Macrinus (Plotius, the Scholiast calls him), to whom the second Satire is addressed, lived with Servilius, and so perhaps the intimacy between these friends began.
Among his fellow-pupils was M. Annaeus Lucanus, author of the Pharsalia, a young man of great abilities, whose career, like that of Persius, was short. He was about the same age as Persius when they were studying together, and survived him not more than three years. He was put to death for joining the conspiracy of Piso against Nero, A.D. 658. Jahn takes pains to show that there could be no great sympathy between the impetuous Spaniard and the quiet modest Persius; but very opposite characters are drawn into intimacy by circumstances and by particular points of mutual attraction. Lucanus praised the poetry of Persius with every appearance of sincerity, and that would be a virtue in his or any author's
eyes. It was, no doubt, through Cornutus or Lucanus that Persius became acquainted with another of the Annaei, M. Seneca, uncle of Lucanus. This acquaintance did not begin so soon as the others, and Persius was old enough to form a deliberate judgment of Seneca's character, and according to the Grammarian it was not favourable to him. That Seneca's connexion with Nero led him into acts at variance with his professed principles, is certain, and there is no reason to suppose that Persius entertained a warm affection for a man forty years older than himself, associated, with or without his own free will, with the crime of a matricide, and whose enormous wealth was chiefly accumulated through the favour of a tyrant whom Persius despised and abhorred. But the remark of the Grammarian seems to be that of one who had himself adopted the exaggerated opinion against Seneca, which the jealousy of his rivals and enemies gave rise to during his life!
Of the young men whom the Grammarian describes in such high terms, Claudius Agathemerus and Petronius Aristocrates, nothing is known.
7 Ann. xiv. 19.
8 See note on Juv. vii. 79. The age usually assigned to Lucanus at his death, twentysix, can hardly be right. The Grammarian says he was of the same age as Persius, and he could not have been much younger, or less than thirty, in A.D. 65. [The Grammarian's words are ' aequaevum auditorem,' which perhaps need not be taken very strictly. The evidence for Lucan's age at the time of his death is very small.]
9 The character of the younger Seneca, as a man and a writer, is temperately reviewed in Mr. Long's notice of him in the Dictionary of Biography,