Cornelius Nepos

Summary

Cornelius Nepóte (Hostilia, c. 100 BC – Rome, c. 27 BC) was a Roman historian and biographer.

Little is known about the life of Cornelius Nepot. He was born in 100 BC in Hostilia (now Ostiglia), then a small village of Cisalpine Gaul near the Po and not far from Verona, now located in the province of Mantua. Its cisalpine origins are testified by Plinio il Vecchio, who defined it as Padi accola, that is, inhabitant of the banks of the Po.

He moved perhaps in 65 BC in Rome, where he met personalities of the culture of the time as Cicero (with whom he had long correspondence), Atticus, Varro and Catullus. Unlike these, however, was alien to the political life of those years. He had a special relationship with Catullus, who dedicated his Liber (or more likely a part):

According to the testimony of Pliny the Elder, Cornelius Nepos died, probably in Rome, around 27 BC, “under the principality of Augustus.”

The existence of the Chronica is testified to by Catullus. From these testimonies it emerges that the work was structured in three books and that it was a sort of compendium of universal history, from the mythical age up to that contemporary with Nepot, perhaps based on the work of the same name by the Greek Apollodorus. Catullus says (I, 5-7): “ausus es unus omne aevum tribus explicare chartis doctis et laboriosis” (“You alone dared to explain all history in three books full of culture and hard work”).

Another significant work of his is the Exemplorum Libri, a collection of anecdotal episodes in five books. Aulus Gellius and Carisius testify to its existence.

The De viris illustribus is a collection of biographies in sixteen books divided into sections. We have received only the entire book dedicated to foreign leaders (De excellentibus ducibus exterarum gentium). In addition, isolated, the lives of Cato the censor and Atticus.

Inspired by the poetae novi, perhaps in his youth, began to compose verses, but did not have the desired results and soon abandoned this idea, while remaining faithful to the aesthetic line supported by them, as indeed would suggest the dedication of Catullus.

The style of Cornelius Nepot is characterized by being flat and linear, sometimes very simple, although the writer has tried, especially in the biography of Atticus, to imitate the more complex one of his friend Cicero. The language is sometimes colored by some archaism. Unlike other Latin authors, finally, Nepot frequently uses the comparative of minority: among the Romans, in fact, there was a tendency to highlight more the abundance of a quality than the lack. The essential style of this author (in fact, the language is often monotonous and the information is schematic and summary) has made him, however, one of the most translated by those who are going to study Latin, along with Caesar, Phaedrus and Eutropius.

Sources

  1. Cornelio Nepote
  2. Cornelius Nepos