Cornelius Nepos - Encyclopedia




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CORNELIUS NEPOS (c. 99-24 B.C.), Roman historian, friend of Catullus, Cicero and Atticus, was born in Upper Italy (perhaps at Verona or Ticinum). He wrote: Chronica, an epitome of universal history; Exempla, a collection of anecdotes after the style of Valerius Maximus; letters to Cicero; lives of Cato the elder and Cicero; and De viris illustribus, parallel lives of distinguished Romans and foreigners, in sixteen books. One section of this voluminous work (De excellentibms ducibus exterarum gentium, more commonly known as Vitae excellentium imperatorum) and the biographies of Cato and Atticus from another (De Latinis historicis) have been preserved. Erotic poems and a geographical treatise are also attributed to him. Nepos is not altogether happy in the subjects of his biographies, and he writes rather as a panegyrist than as a biographer, although he can rebuke his own countrymen on occasion. The Lives contain many errors (especially in chronology), but supply information not found elsewhere. The language is as a rule simple and correct. The Lives were formerly attributed to Aemilius Probus of the 4th century A.D.; but the view maintained by Lambinus (in his famous edition, 1569) - that they are all the work of Nepos - is now generally accepted. A dedicatory epigram written by Probus to the emperor Theodosius and inserted after the life of Hannibal, was the origin of the mistake. This dedication, if genuine, would only prove that Probus copied (and perhaps modified and abridged) the work. In modern times G. F. Unger (Der sogenannte C. N., 1881) has attempted to prove that the author was Hyginus, but his theory has not been favourably received.

Editions of the Lives (especially selections) are extremely numerous; text by E. O. Winstedt (Oxford, 1904), C. L. Roth (1881), C. G. Cobet (1881), C. Halm and A. Fleckeisen (1889), with lexicon for school use; with notes, O. Browning and W. R. Inge (1888), J. C. Rolfe (U.S. 1894), A. Weidner and J. Schmidt (1902), C. Erbe (1892), C. Nipperdey and B. Lupus (ed. maj., 1879, school ed., 1895), J. Siebelis and O. Stange (1897).

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