Cornelius Gallus

1st century BC Roman poet, orator and politician

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Statue head possibly depicting Cornelius Gallus

Gaius Cornelius Gallus (c. 70 – 26 BC) was a Roman poet, orator and politician.


Gallus' birthplace is unknown. It may have been Forum Livii (Forlì) or Forum Iulii.[1] Forum Iulii is based on the epithet "Foroiuliensis" that Jerome gave to him, but Foroiuliensis and Foroliviensis are very similar, so they are exchangeable.[2]

If we accept Forum Livii, Gallus' birthplace is Forlì, former in Cisalpine Gaul, today in Italy.

If we accept Forum Iulii, we are still uncertain, because there were many places with this name.

The dispute about Gallus' birthplace among supporters of Forlì and supporters of Fréjus or of a generic term for "Friuli" is attested since the Renaissance.[3] During the 20th century, Ronald Syme took in consideration Fréjus and Cividale del Friuli, both once called Forum Iulii, and called the former the more likely.[4][5][6] Jean-Paul Boucher recognized at least five candidates, and considered Forum Iulii Iriensium (modern Voghera) the most suitable.[3] It has been also suggested that "Foroiuliensis" could refer not to Gallus' birthplace, but rather to the place where he performed a memorable act, namely the erection of the Vatican Obelisk in the Forum Iulium of Alexandria, thus making some generic mentions of Gallia as the sole possible clue about his place of origin.[7]


Born in a humble family, Gallus moved to Rome at an early age where he was taught by the same master as Virgil and Varius Rufus. Virgil, who was in great measure indebted to the influence of Gallus for the restoration of his estate, dedicated one of his eclogues (X) to him. The Erotica Pathemata of Parthenius of Nicaea was also dedicated to Gallus.

In political life Gallus espoused the cause of Octavian and as a reward for his services was made prefect of Egypt (Suetonius, Augustus, 66). In 29 BC, Cornelius Gallus led a campaign to subdue a revolt in Thebes. He erected a monument in Philae to glorify his accomplishments. Gallus' conduct brought him into disgrace with the emperor and a new prefect was appointed. After his recall, Gallus committed suicide (Cassius Dio, liii 23).

Gallus enjoyed a high reputation among his contemporaries as a man of intellect, and Ovid (Tristia, IV) considered him the first of the elegiac poets of Rome. He wrote four books of elegies chiefly on his mistress Lycoris (a poetical name for Cytheris, a notorious actress), in which he took for his model Euphorion of Chalcis; he also translated some of this author's works into Latin. He is often thought of as a key figure in the establishment of the genre of Latin love-elegy, and an inspiration for Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid. Almost nothing by him has survived; until recently, one pentameter (uno tellures diuidit amne duas, "[the Scythian river Hypanis] divides two lands with its single stream,"[8] quoted in Vibius Sequester's De Fluminibus) was all that had been handed down. Then, in 1978 a papyrus was found at Qasr Ibrim, in Egyptian Nubia, containing nine lines by Gallus, arguably the oldest surviving MS of Latin poetry.[9] The fragments of four poems attributed to him, first published by Aldus Manutius in 1590 and printed in Alexander Riese's Anthologia Latina (1869), are generally regarded as a forgery; and Pomponius Gauricus's ascription to him of the elegiac verses of Maximianus is no longer accepted.

The surviving poetry of Gallus

Scholars used to believe, in the absence of any surviving poetry by Gallus and on the basis of his high reputation among his contemporaries, that his poetical gifts were little short of those of Virgil. The classicist Tenney Frank famously declared in 1922: 'What would we not barter of all the sesquipedalian epics of empire for a few pages of Cornelius Gallus, a thousand for each!'[10] The discoveries at Qasr Ibrim have now given us nine lines of Gallus. Coincidentally, one of them mentions Lycoris, ('saddened, Lycoris, by your wanton behaviour'), confirming their authorship.

Four lines which probably once stood at the beginning of a poem pay homage to Julius Caesar shortly before his assassination, on the eve of his projected campaign against the Parthians:

Fata mihi, Caesar, tum erunt mea dulcia, quom tu / maxima Romanae pars eris historiae / postque tuum reditum multorum templa deorum / fixa legam spolieis deivitiora tueis.

'I will count myself blessed by fortune, Caesar, when you become the greatest part of Roman history; and when, after your return, I admire the temples of many gods adorned and enriched with your spoils.'

This obsequious compliment need not be taken seriously. Later Augustan poets tended to distance themselves from the world of high politics and often drew a humorous contrast between the martial ambition of their ruler and their own ignoble love affairs. The next, missing, stanza may have subverted the sense, e.g. 'As it is, while you're off winning renown by conquering Parthia, I'm stuck here in Rome, with nothing to do but make love to Lycoris.'

A second, incomplete, block of four lines appears to be addressed to Lycoris. So long as she likes his verses, Gallus seems to be saying, he can ignore any 'peer reviews' they might attract from critics such as Publius Valerius Cato and Viscus:

. . . tandem fecerunt carmina Musae /quae possim domina deicere digna mea. / . . . atur idem tibi, non ego, Visce / . . . Kato, iudice te vereor.

'At last the Muses have made songs which I can utter worthy of my mistress. So long as . . . [they are pleasing?] to you, I am not afraid to be judged by you, Viscus, . . . nor by you, Cato.'


  1. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica; P. O. Kristeller calls him Gallus Forliviensis in Iter Italicum, E. J. Brill, Leiden-New York-Köln 1995.
  2. ^ Jerome: Chronicles, Olympiad 188.17 (27 BC): "Cornelius Gallus Foroiuliensis poeta, a quo primum Aegyptum rectam supra diximus, XLIII aetatis suae anno propria se manu interficit"
  3. ^ a b Boucher, Jean-Paul (1966). Caius Cornélius Gallus (= Bibliothèque de la Faculté des lettres de Lyon, 11) (in French). Paris: Les belles lettres. pp. 6–11.
  4. ^ Syme, Ronald (1938). "The Origin of Cornelius Gallus". The Classical Quarterly. 32 (1): 39–44.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Manzoni, Gian Enrico (1995). Foroiuliensis poeta: vita e poesia di Cornelio Gallo (in Italian). Milan: Vita e pensiero. pp. 4–14. ISBN 8834304667.
  8. ^ Hollis, Adrian (2007). Fragments of Roman Poetry c. 60 BC–AD 20. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 224. ISBN 0198146981. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  9. ^ R.D. Anderson, P.J. Parsons, & R.G.M. Nisbet, "Elegiacs by Gallus from Qasr Ibrim", Journal of Roman Studies 69 (1979) 128
  10. ^ T. Frank, Vergil: A Biography (1922)
Political offices
New title
Annexation of the Ptolemaic Kingdom
after the death of Cleopatra VII
Prefect of Egypt
30–26 BC
Succeeded by
Aelius Gallus
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