Gaius Valerius Flaccus

Gaius Valerius Flaccus (Setinus Balbus) (in English: /ˈflækəs/; died c. AD 90) was a Roman poet who flourished in the "Silver Age" under the emperors Vespasian and Titus and wrote a Latin Argonautica that owes a great deal to Apollonius of Rhodes' more famous epic.


He has been identified on insufficient grounds with a poet friend of Martial (1.61.76), a native of Padua, and in needy circumstances; but as he was a member of the College of Fifteen, who had charge of the Sibylline books (1.5), he must have been well off. The subscription of the Vatican manuscript, which adds the name Setinus Balbus, points to his having been a native of Setia in Latium. The only ancient writer who mentions him is Quintilian (10.1.90), who laments his recent death as a great loss; as Quintilian's work was finished about 90 AD, this gives a limit for the death of Flaccus.[1]

His only surviving work, the Argonautica, dedicated to Vespasian on his setting out for Britain, was written during the siege, or shortly after the capture, of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD. As the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD is alluded to, its composition must have occupied him a long time. The Argonautica is an epic poem probably intended to be in eight books (though intended totals of ten and twelve books, the latter corresponding to Virgil's Aeneid, an important poetic model, have also been proposed) written in traditional dactylic hexameters, which recounts Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. The poem's text, as it has survived, is in a very corrupt state; it ends so abruptly with the request of Medea to accompany Jason on his homeward voyage, that it is assumed by most modern scholars[2] that it was never finished. It is a free imitation and in parts a translation of the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, "to whom he is superior in arrangement, vividness, and description of character" (Loeb Classical Library). The familiar subject had already been treated in Latin verse in the popular version of Varro Atacinus. The object of the work has been described as the glorification of Vespasian's achievements in securing Roman rule in Britain and opening up the ocean to navigation (as the Euxine was opened up by the Argo).[1]

In 1911, the compilers of the Encyclopaedia Britannica remarked,

Various estimates have been formed of the genius of Flaccus, and some critics have ranked him above his original, to whom he certainly is superior in liveliness of description and delineation of character. His diction is pure, his style correct, his versification smooth though monotonous. On the other hand, he is wholly without originality, and his poetry, though free from glaring defects, is artificial and elaborately dull. His model in language was Virgil, to whom he is far inferior in taste and lucidity. His tiresome display of learning, rhetorical exaggeration and ornamentations make him difficult to read, which no doubt accounts for his unpopularity in ancient times.[1]


Older editions
Modern editions


  1. 1 2 3 Chisholm 1911.
  2. J.H.Mozley, in Loeb Classical Library, A.J. Kleywegt (2005) and others.


Further reading

Recent scholarship

Increased interest in the last decades has resulted in a full-length general introduction (Debra Hershkowitz, Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica: Abbreviated Voyages in Silver Latin Epic, Oxford University Press, 1999), two new editions, in 1997 (Liberman) and 2003, a commentary on the whole poem by F. Spaltenstein (Brussels: Latomus, 2002: Books 1-2; 2004: Books 3-5; 2005: Books 6-8) and a fair amount of commentaries on individual books:

The most recent translation of the poem into English is a version in blank verse by Kenyon College Classics Professor Michael Barich (XOXOX Press, 2009).

Flaccus also appears as a recurring character in Caroline Lawrence's Roman Mysteries series of children's novels. In the television adaptations he is played by British actor Ben Lloyd-Hughes.

External links

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