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On this page: Avidius Cassius – Avienus





AVIDIUS CASSIUS. [cassius.] AVI'DIUS FLACCUS. [flaccus.] C. AVIE'NUS, tribune of the soldiers of the tenth legion, was ignominiously dismissed from the army, on account of misconduct in the African war, b. c. 46. (Hirt. B. Afr. 46.)

AVIENUS, RUFUS FESTUS. The fol­lowing poems are ascribed to an author bearing this name :—

1. Descriptio Orbis Terrae, or, as it is variously entitled in different editions and MSS., Metaplirasis Perigeseos Dlonysii—Situs Orbis—Ambitus Orbis— in 1394 hexameter lines, derived directly from the ireptriyrjcns of Dionysius, and containing a succinct account of the most remarkable objects in the physical and political geography of the known world. It adheres too closely in some places, and departs too widely in others, from the text of the Alexandrian, to be called with propriety a trans­lation, or even a paraphrase, and still less does it deserve to be regarded as an independent work, but approaches more nearly to our modern idea of a new edition compressed in certain passages, en­larged in others, and altered throughout. These changes can hardly be considered as improvements, for not unfrequently the anxiety of the writer to expand and embellish his original has made him wander into extravagance and error, while on the other hand the fear of becoming prolix and tedious has led to injudicious curtailments, and induced him to omit the names of nations and districts which ought not to have been passed over. Nor does he attempt to correct the mistakes of his pre­decessor, nor to take advantage of those stores of knowledge which must have been available at the period when he lived ; but the blunders and follies of the old Greek poets, who were profoundly ignorant of all the regions to the West and North of their own country, are implicitly followed, and many things set down which every well-informed man under the empire must have known to be absurd. There is, however, a considerable energy and liveliness of style, which animates the inherent dulness of the undertaking and carries the reader lightly on, while much ingenuity is displayed in varying the expression of constantly-recurring ideas.

2. Ora Maritime*,, a fragment in 703 Iambic trimeters. The plan comprehended a full delinea­tion of the shores of the Mediterranean, together with those of the Euxine and sea of Asov, and a portion of the Atlantic without the pillars of Hercules ; but we know not if this design was ever fully carried out, for the portion which has oeen preserved is confined almost entirely to the coast stretching from Marseilles to Cadiz. The author professes to have commenced the essay in order to satisfy the intelligent inquiries of a youth named Probus, to whom it is addressed, with re­gard to the geography of the Pontus and the Maeotic Gulf ; but if intended for the purposes of instruction, it is impossible to imagine any task executed in a less satisfactory manner. There is an absence of all order and arrangement. Instead of advancing steadily in a given direction, we are carried backwards and forwards, transported abruptly from one spot to another at a great dis­tance, and brought again and again to the same point without completing any circuit, besides being


distracted with discussions on localities and objects totally foreign to the matter in hand. Moreover, the different nations and districts are distinguished by their ancient and forgotten names, instead of those by which they were actually known at the time when this guide-book was composed, and all the old and exploded fantasies of half mythical geography revived and gravely propounded. We are led almost irresistibly to the conclusion, that Avienus, possessing no practical or scientific ac­quaintance with his subject, had read a number of conflicting accounts of the countries in question, written in former times by persons who were as ignorant as himself, and had combined and pieced them together in the hope of elaborating a consistent whole,—neglecting with strange perversity the numerous sources of accurate information opened up by the wars so long waged and the dominion so long exercised by his countrymen in those regions.

3. Aratea Phaenomena, and Aratea Prog-nostica, both in Hexameter verse, the first con­taining 1325, the second 552 lines. They bear exactly the same relation to the well known works of Aratus as the Descriptio Orbis Terrae does to that of Dionysius. The general arrangement of the Greek original is followed throughout, and several passages are translated more closely than in the versions of Cicero and Germanicus, but on the other hand many of the mythical legends are expanded, new tales are introduced, and extracts from the works of celebrated astronomers, scraps of Pythagorean philosophy, and fragments of Aegyptian superstition, are combined and worked up with the materials of the old fabric. The re­sult is much more successful than in the two efforts previously examined. Here there was more room for the imagination to disport itself unencumbered with dry details and stubborn facts, and accord­ingly the interest is well sustained and the flowing and spirited style of the poet appears to great advantage.

4. Three short fugitive pieces, the first addressed to a friend, Flavianus Myrmecius, V. (7., requesting a gift of some pomegranates from his estates in Africa, in order to remove an attack of bile and indigestion ; the second, dr Cantu Sirenum, or Sirenum Allegoric^ on the allurements of the daugh­ters of Achelous and the device by which Ulysses escaped their wiles ; the third, Ad Amicos de Ac/ro^ enumerating the various occupations which by turns occupied the time and engaged the attention of the writer each day when living in country re­tirement.

We must remark, that while we can scarcely entertain a doubt that the two Geographical Essays are from the same pen, especially since in the second (1. 71) we find a direct reference to the first, we have no external evidence connecting them with the others, except the fact, that the same name is prefixed in all MSS. to the whole, with the exception of the 2nd and 3rd epigrams. But, on the other hand, the style, manner, and phraseology of the Aratean poems correspond so exactly with what we observe in the rest, that scholars in general have acquiesced in the arrange­ment which assigns the whole to one person. They evidently belong to an epoch when Latin litera­ture, although fast verging to old age, was still fresh and hale, and far from being paralyzed by infirmities ;—we still perceive with pleasure a

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