THE LIFE OF PERSIUS by Suetonius Tranquillus – Read online




AULUS PERSIUS FLACCUS was born the day before the Nones of December [4th Dec.] [952], in the consulship of Fabius Persicus and L. Vitellius. He died on the eighth of the calends of December [24th Nov.] 953 in the consulship of Rubrius Marius and Asinius Gallus. Though born at Volterra, in Etruria, he was a Roman knight, allied both by blood and marriage to persons of the highest rank 954.

He ended his days at an estate he had at the eighth milestone on the Appian Way. His father, Flaccus, who died when he was barely six years old, left him under the care of guardians, and his mother, Fulvia Silenna, who afterwards married Fusius, a Roman knight, buried him also in a very few years. Persius Flaccus pursued his studies at Volterra till he was twelve years old, and then continued them at Rome, under Remmius Palaemon, the grammarian, and Verginius Flaccus, the rhetorician.

Arriving at the age of twenty-one, he formed a friendship with Annaeus Cornutus 955, which lasted through life; and from him he learned the rudiments of philosophy. Among his earliest friends were Caesius Bassus 956, and Calpurnius Statura; the latter of whom died while Persius himself was yet in his youth. Servilius (539) Numanus 957, he reverenced as a father. Through Cornutus he was introduced to Annaeus, as well as to Lucan, who was of his own age, and also a disciple of Cornutus.

At that time Cornutus was a tragic writer; he belonged to the sect of the Stoics, and left behind him some philosophical works. Lucan was so delighted with the writings of Persius Flaccus, that he could scarcely refrain from giving loud tokens of applause while the author was reciting them, and declared that they had the true spirit of poetry.

It was late before Persius made the acquaintance of Seneca, and then he was not much struck with his natural endowments. At the house of Cornutus he enjoyed the society of two very learned and excellent men, who were then zealously devoting themselves to philosophical enquiries, namely, Claudius Agaternus, a physician from Lacedaemon, and Petronius Aristocrates, of Magnesia, men whom he held in the highest esteem, and with whom he vied in their studies, as they were of his own age, being younger than Cornutus. During nearly the last ten years of his life he was much beloved by Thraseas, so that he sometimes travelled abroad in his company; and his cousin Arria was married to him.

Persius was remarkable for gentle manners, for a modesty amounting to bashfulness, a handsome form, and an attachment to his mother, sister, and aunt, which was most exemplary. He was frugal and chaste. He left his mother and sister twenty thousand sesterces, requesting his mother, in a written codicil, to present to Cornutus, as some say, one hundred sesterces, or as others, twenty pounds of wrought silver 958, besides about seven hundred books, which, indeed, included his whole library. Cornutus, however, would only take the books, and gave up the legacy to the sisters, whom his brother had constituted his heirs.

He wrote 959 seldom, and not very fast; even the work we possess he left incomplete. Some verses are wanting at the end of the book 960, but Cornutus thoughtlessly recited it, as if (540) it was finished; and on Caesius Bassus requesting to be allowed to publish it, he delivered it to him for that purpose., In his younger days, Persius had written a play, as well as an Itinerary, with several copies of verses on Thraseas’ father-in-law, and Arria’s 961 mother, who had made away with herself before her husband.

But Cornutus used his whole influence with the mother of Persius to prevail upon her to destroy these compositions. As soon as his book of Satires was published, all the world began to admire it, and were eager to buy it up. He died of a disease in the stomach, in the thirtieth year of his age 962. But no sooner had he left school and his masters, than he set to work with great vehemence to compose satires, from having read the tenth book of Lucilius; and made the beginning of that book his model; presently launching his invectives all around with so little scruple, that he did not spare cotemporary poets and orators, and even lashed Nero himself, who was then the reigning prince.

The verse ran as follows:

Auriculas asini Mida rex habet;
King Midas has an ass’s ears;
but Cornutus altered it thus;

Auriculas asini quis non hahet?
Who has not an ass’s ears?
in order that it might not be supposed that it was meant to apply to Nero.


[ A.U.C. 786, A.D. 34.]
[ A.U.C. 814, A.D. 62.]
[ Persius was one of the few men of rank and affluence among the Romans, who acquired distinction as writers; the greater part of them having been freedmen, as appears not only from these lives of the poets, but from our author’s notices of the grammarians and rhetoricians. A Caius Persius is mentioned with distinction by Livy in the second Punic war, Hist. xxvi. 39; and another of the same name by Cicero, de Orat. ii. 6, and by Pliny; but whether the poet was descended from either of them, we have no means of ascertaining.]
[ Persius addressed his fifth satire to Annaeus Cornutus. He was a native of Leptis, in Africa, and lived at Rome in the time of Nero, by whom he was banished.]
[ Caesius Bassus, a lyric poet, flourished during the reigns of Nero and Galba. Persius dedicated his sixth Satire to him.]
[ “Numanus.” It should be Servilius Nonianus, who is mentioned by Pliny, xxviii. 2, and xxxvii. 6.]
[ Commentators are not agreed about these sums, the text varying both in the manuscripts and editions.]
[ See Dr. Thomson’s remarks on Persius, before, p. 398.]
[ There is no appearance of any want of finish in the sixth Satire of Persius, as it has come down to us; but it has been conjectured that it was followed by another, which was left imperfect.]
[ There were two Arrias, mother and daughter, Tacit. Annal. xvi. 34. 3.]
[ Persius died about nine days before he completed his twenty-ninth year.]




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