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Cornelius Nepos (Κορνήλιος Νέπως in Ancient Greek literature) (c. 100-24 BC) was a Roman biographer. Supposedly he was born at Hostilia, a village in Cisalpine Gaul not far from Verona. His Gallic origin is attested by Ausonius, and Pliny the Elder calls him Padi accola ('a dweller on the River Po, Natural History III.22). He was a friend of Catullus, who dedicates his poems to him (I.3), Cicero and Titus Pomponius Atticus. Eusebius places him in the fourth year of the reign of Augustus, which is supposed to be when he began to attract critical acclaim by his writing. Pliny the Elder notes he died in the reign of Augustus (Natural History IX.39, X.23).

His simple style of writing has made him, in the UK at least, a standard choice for passages of unseen translation in Latin exams, from prep school, even up to degree level. (See external links)


Chronica, to which Catullus seems to allude in his dedication to Nepos. Ausonius also mentions it in his sixteenth Epistle to Probus, as does Aulus Gellius in the Noctes Atticae (XVII.21). It is thought to have been written in three books.

Exemplorum libri, of which Charisius cites the second book, and Aulus Gellius the fifth (VII.18).

De Viris Illustribus, from which Aulus Gellius draws an anecdote of Cato (IX.8).

De Vita Ciceronis. Aulus Gellius corrects an error in this work (XV.28).

Epistulae ad Ciceronem, an extract of which survives in Lactantius (Divinarum Institutionum Libri Septem III.15). It is unclear whether they were ever formally published.

Pliny the Younger mentions verse written by Nepos, and in his own Life of Dion, Nepos himself refers to a work of his own authorship, De Historicis. He also mentions a longer Life of Cato at the end of the extant Life of Cato, written at the request of Titus Pomponius Atticus.

His only surviving work is the Excellentium Imperatorum Vitae, which appeared in the reign of Theodosius I, as the work of the grammarian Aemilius Probus, who presented it to the emperor with a dedication in Latin verse. He claims it to have been the work of his mother or father (the manuscripts vary) and his grandfather. Despite the obvious questions (such as why is the preface addressed to someone named Atticus when the work was supposedly dedicated to Theodosius), no one seemed to have doubted Probus's authorship. Eventually Peter Cornerus discovered in a manuscript of Cicero's letters the biographies of Cato and Atticus. He added them to the other existing biographies, despite the fact that the writer speaks of himself as a contemporary and friend of Atticus, and that the manuscript bore the heading E libro posteriore Cornelii Nepotis ('from the last book of Cornelius Nepos') At last Dionysius Lambinus's edition of 1569 bore a commentary demonstrating on stylistic grounds that the work must have been of Nepos alone, and not Aemilius Probus. This view has been tempered by more recent scholarship, which agrees with Lambinus that they are the work of Nepos, but that Probus probably abridged the biographies when he added the verse dedication. The Life of Atticus, however, is considered to be the exclusive composition of Nepos.


  • Conte, Gian Biagio. Latin Literature: a History (trans: Solodow, Joseph B.). Baltimore. 1994. esp. pp. 221–3.
  • Peck, Harry Thurston: "Nepos" (Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1898)
  • Watson, Rev. John Selby. Justin, Cornelius Nepos, and Eutropius: Literally Translated, with Notes and a General Index. Henry G. Bohn, London 1853.

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

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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