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Claudian: an Overlooked Writer


Claudian: an Overlooked Writer

Olympus: The Fall of the Giants by Francisco Bayeu


By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB


Have you ever heard of the Roman writer Claudian? If you haven’t, you can’t be blamed since he’s been mostly ignored, not having lived in the so-called “Golden Age of Latin Literature”. I found out about him totally by chance when I was researching writers from the late empire. As you may know, at Carmenta we make an effort to rehabilitate good Latin writers who may have been overlooked simply because of the time when they were born, and so in this article I’ll do my best to give you the main points.

Claudian’s Life and Works

Claudian was born in Alexandria in c. 340 A.D. He lived during the rule of emperor Honorius, during the late Roman Empire. His poetical style is reminiscent of golden age writers like Ovid, and he often uses mythological motifs. Among his minor works are the Epithalamium and some poems dedicated to emperor Honorius. Among his best works are the Gigantomachia and the Rape of Prosepine.

A Taste of the Gigantomachia

The Gigantomachia is a common motif in classical literature. In his work, Claudian narrates the epic battle of the giants who rebelled against the Olympian gods. The word comes from the Greek anagigo “(angig+ “” –ygcam)”raw“(. Although his style is not as difficult as Vergil’s, I would recommend it only to advanced students.

Now let’s take a look at a fragment from his work. The meter used is the well-known hexameter used by Vergil, Homer, etc. This fragment describes the moment when Mother Earth orders the giants to rebel against the gods.

O pubes domitura deos, quodcumque videtis,
pugnando dabitur; praestat victoria mundum.
sentiet ille meas tandem Saturnius iras,
cognoscet, quid Terra potest, si viribus ullis
vincor, si Cybele nobis meliora creavit!
cur nullus Telluris honos? cur semper acerbis
me damnis urgere solet? quae forma nocendi
defuit? hinc volucrem vivo sub pectore pascit
infelix Scythica fixus convalle Prometheus;
hinc Atlantis apex flammantia pondera fulcit
et per canitiem glacies asperrima durat.

Children, ye shall conquer heaven: all that
ye see is the prize of victory; win, and the
universe is yours. At last shall Saturn’s son
feel the weight of my wrath; shall
recognize Earth’s power. What! can any
force conquer me? Has Cybele born sons
superior to mine? Why has Earth no
honour? Why is she ever condemned to
bitter loss? Has any form of injury passed
me by? There hangs luckless Prometheus in
yon Scythian vale, feeding the vulture on
his living breast; yonder, Atlas supports the
weight of the starry heavens upon his head,
and his grey hair is frozen stiff with cruel

(Translation by M. Platnauer)


I hope more teachers and students will take the time to examine the works of more obscure Latin writers. Students venturing into the unchartered territory of Latin literature are like miners who always end up with a gold nugget!


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André Bastos Gurgel
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.

Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.



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