Gaius Cornelius Gallus, son of Gnaeus Cornelius Gallus, was a Roman equestrian born in 69 BCE at the Forum Iulii (modern Fréjus) in Gallia Narbonensis. Cicero mentions him in Ad Familiares 10.32 as familiaris meus, and Vergil offers him both thanks and praise in the Eclogues, so he must have had some early prominence in Rome. He is also a frequent addressee in Propertius‘ elegies.
During the war between Octavian and Antony, he sided with the former and fought against the latter’s forces in Egypt, where, after Antony and Cleopatra were deposed, he became its first praefectus. However, after setting up monuments to himself in Egypt (i.e. encroaching onto the territory of the newly appointed emperor), Gellius was exiled his actions, his lands confiscated, and sent into exile. He was forced to commit suicide in 26 BCE.
Before the war, he published a set of elegies (Amores, in four books), and, influenced heavily by Euphorion of Chalcis, translated and adapted Greek poetry into Latin.
His Amores, of which only scant amount exists, was dedicated to Lycoris, the pseudonym for Cytheris, a Greek mime and freedwoman of Volumnius.
For centuries, the only line of his was a quote found in the Libellus of Vibius Sequester discussing the Scythian river:
uno tellures dividit amne duas
It divides two lands with one stream
However, in 1979, a papyrus was found at Qasr Ibrim which contained ten lines from Gallus. The fragment mentions Lycoris, Gallus’ pseudonymous beloved, though some still doubt the authorship on grounds that it does not live up to the copious praise of the ancients.
Gallus is properly credited with being the originator of Latin elegy; he was later followed by Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid. Quintilian labels his work durior, “rather harsh,” lacking the charm of later elegists.
Picture of the papyrus with transcription and translation on Holt Parker’s website: Gallus Papyrus.
All Latin fragments found at PHI Latin Texts
Books and Articles
- R.D. Anderson, P.J. Parsons, & R.G.M. Nisbet 1979. “Elegiacs by Gallus from Qasr Ibrim.” Journal of Roman Studies 69: p. 128.
- Fairweather, J. 1984. “The ‘Gallus Papyrus’: A New Introduction.” Classical Quarterly 34.1: pp. 167-174.