The Elegies of Maximianus

The Elegies of Maximianus

The Elegies of Maximianus

The Elegies of Maximianus


Not much can be known about the life of Maximianus, who has been called "the last of the Roman poets," beyond what can be inferred from his poetry. He was most likely a native of Tuscany, probably lived until the middle of the sixth century, and, at an advanced age, went as a diplomat to the emperor's court at Constantinople.

A. M. Juster has translated the complete elegies of Maximianus faithfully but not literally, resulting in texts that work beautifully as poetry in English. Replicating the feel of the original Latin verse, he alternates iambic hexameter and pentameter in couplets and imitates Maximianus's pronounced internal rhyme, alliteration, and assonance. The first elegy is the longest and establishes the voice of the speaker: a querulous old man, full of the indignities of aging, which he contrasts with the vigor and prestige he enjoyed in his youth. The second elegy similarly focuses on the contrast between past happiness and present misery but, this time, for the specific experience of a long-term relationship. The third through fifth elegies depict episodes from the poet's amatory career at different stages of his life, from inexperienced youth to impotent old man. The last poem concludes with a desire for the release of death and, together with the first, form a coherent frame for the collection.

This comprehensive volume includes an introduction by renowned classicist Michael Roberts, a translation of the elegies with the Latin text on facing pages, the first English translation of an additional six poems attributed to Maximianus, an appendix of Latin and Middle English imitative verse that illustrates Maximianus's long reception in the Middle Ages, several related texts, and the first commentary in English on the poems since 1900. The imminence of death and the sadness of growing old that form the principal themes of the elegies signal not only the end of pagan culture and its joy in living but also the turn from a classical to a medieval sensibility in Late Antiquity.


My goal with this book is to provide a faithful—but not “literal”—translation that also works as poetry. I try to replicate the feel of the Latin elegiac distich with couplets in alternating iambic hexameter and iambic pentameter while allowing myself the customary substitutions of formal poetry in English. When possible, I imitate Maximianus’s pronounced internal rhyme, alliteration, and assonance, all of which are much more common in Late Antiquity than in the classical era. I also try to mimic his love of the spondee. (See Cupaiuolo 1997 at 381.)

The commentary is the only one in English other than the Webster edition of 1900. I try to explain facets of the text that might be unclear to a reader while also conceding confusion on many points in the hope of spurring future scholarship. Those concessions are important because I believe too much of the scholarship has stifled debate by interpreting the text rigidly rather than acknowledging its intentional and unintentional ambiguities.

No scholar has comprehensively traced the reception of the elegies in later literature, and I do not try to do so myself, but I note some instances of Maximianus’s influence, again in the hope of spurring future scholarship. I include the Imitatio Maximiani and Le regret de Maximian for that same reason but leave translation of those texts to interested scholars. I want to bring Maximianus to as wide an audience as possible, so I also include some notes that are unnecessary for classics scholars but possibly helpful to academics and students still refining their Latin.

Most textual analysis of the elegies ended over a century ago with the very different editions of Baehrens and Webster. Although Webster’s commentary is frustratingly erratic, his editorial choices are far more cautious and thoughtful than those of Baehrens. Baehrens’s editing reflects to a greater extent the late nineteenth-century bias toward aggressive emendations motivated by a misguided desire to “classicize” the Latin of Late . . .

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