Claudianus, Claudius

, a Latin poet, who flourished in the fourth century, under the emperor Theodosius and his sons Arcadius and Honorius, was born in the year 365. Many learned men imagine him to have been born at Alexandria, in Egypt; others, however, have made a Spaniard of him, others a Frenchman, and Plutarch and Politian suppose Florence to have been the place of his nativity. It is certain that he came to Rome in the year 395, and insinuated himself into Stilico’s favour, who, being a person of great abilities, both for civil and military affairs, though a Goth by birth, was now become so considerable under Honorius, that he may be said for many years to have governed the western empire. Stilico afterwards fell into disgrace, and was put to death; and it is more than probable, that the poet was involved in the misfortunes of his patron, whom he had egregiously flattered, and severely persecuted by Hadrian, who was captain of the guards to Honorius, and seems to have succeeded Stilico. There is a reason, however, to think that he rose afterwards to great favour, and obtained several honours both civil and military. Arcadius and Honorius are said to have granted him an honour, which seems to exceed any that had ever been bestowed upon a poet before, having at the senate’s request ordered a statue to be erected for him in Trajan’s forum, with a very honourable inscription; and this is said to be confirmed by the late discovery of a marble, supposed to be the pedestal of Claudiau’s statue in brass. The inscription runs thus: “To Claudius Claudianus, tribune and notary, and among other noble accomplishments, the most excellent of poets: though his own poems are sufficient to render his name immortal, yet [as] a testimony of their approbation, the most learned and [h]appy emperors Arcadius and Honorius have, at the request of the senate, ordered this statue to be erected and placed in the forum of Trajan.” Under the inscription was placed an epigram in Greek, signifying that he had united the perfections of Homer and Virgil. The princess Serena had a great esteem for Claudian, and recommended | and married him to a lady of great quality and fortune in Libya, as he acknowledges very gratefully in an epistle which he addresses to Serena from thence, a little before his wedding day.

There are a few little poems on sacred subjects, which, through mistake, have been ascribed by some critics to daudian, and have made him be thought a Christian, But St. Austin, who was contemporary with him, expressly says that he was a heathen; and this is confirmed by Paulus Orosius, another contemporary. They are with more propriety ascribed to Claudianus Mamertus, the subject of the following article. The time of Claudian’s death is uncertain, nor do we know any farther particulars of his life than what are to be collected from his works.

In consequence of Orosius pronouncing him a heathen, “an obstinate pagan,” Cave thinks it may be reasonably inferred that he had written against the Christian religion. This Fabricius opposes, but Lardner says it may be reckoned somewhat remarkable, that a learned man, a devout worshipper of all the gods, a wit and a poet, and author of many works, should never say any thing disrespectful of Christianity. He allows, however, that it is somewhat more extraordinary that Claudian should so excel in Latin verse, as to approach the best writers of the Augustan age in purity and elegance. Gibbon’s character of Claudian, corresponding with this, is written with more than usual care and discrimination. If, says this historian, we fairly balance Claudian’s merits and defects, we shall acknowledge that he does not either satisfy, or silence our reason. It would not be easy to produce a passage that deserves the epithet of sublime or pathetic; to select a verse that melts the heart, or enlarges the imagination. We should vainly seek in the poems of Claudian, the happy invention and artificial conduct of an interesting fable, or the just and lively representation of the characters and situations of real life. For the service of his patron, he published occasional panegyrics and invectives; and the design of these slavish compositions encouraged his propensity to exceed the limits of truth and nature. These imperfections, however, are compensated in some degree by the poetical virtues of Claudian. He was endowed with the rare and precious talent of raising the meanest, of adorning tjie most barren, and of diversifying the most similar topics; tys colouring, mere specially in descriptive | poetry, is soft and splendid; and he seldom fails to display, and even to abuse, the advantages of a cultivated understanding, a copious fancy, an easy, and sometimes forcible expression; and a perpetual flow of harmonious versification. To these commendations, independent of any accidents of time and place, we must add the peculiar merit which Claudian derived from the unfavourable circumstances of his birth. In the decline of arts, and of empire, a native of Egypt, who had received the education of a Greek, assumed in a mature age the familiar use and absolute command of the Latin language, soared above the heads of his feeble contemporaries, and placed himself, after an interval of three hundred years, among the poets of ancient Rome. Strada, in his Prolusions, allows him to contend with the five heroic poets, Lucretius, Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, and Statius. His patron is the accomplished courtier, Balthazar Castiglione. His admirers are numerous and passionate. Yet the rigid critics reproach the exotic weeds, or flowers, which spring too luxuriantly in his Latian soil, and for which Dr. Warton, one probably ranked by Gibbon among these “rigid critics,” places Claudian with Statius and Seneca the tragedian, as authors into which no youth of genius ought to be suffered to look.

The first edition of Claudian was supposed to be one of 1470, but as the best critics reject it, the claim of priority is allowed to that of 1482, fol. The best editions are those of Barthius, Francfort, 1650, 4to; of Heinsius, Leyden, 1650, 12mo; Amst. 1665, 8vo; of Gesner, Leipsic, 1759, 2 vols. 8vo, and thought the edit. opt.; and of Burmann, Amst. 1760, 4to. 1


Crusius’s Lives of the Poets.—Vossius.—Fabric. Bibl. tat. and Bibl. Med, Ævi.—Blount’s Censura.—Saxii Onomast.—Cave.—Lardner’s Works.—Gibbon’s Roman History.—Warton’s Essay on Pope.—Guardian, Nos. 115, 119, 127, 164.