Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THERE has been great excitement in the Guardian about the 'discovery' of a unique female Roman poet called Sulpicia. Alas, she has been around for some time.

Ancient literature survives largely because it has been copied and recopied (by hand, hence manu-script) down the millennia. The 15th-century printing revolution then ensured that everything available in manuscript form at that time is with us today. The six poems ascribed to the effortlessly aristocratic Sulpicia owe their survival to one of the patrons of literature in Rome in the 1st century BC, Messalla. He also happened to be her uncle and became her guardian on the death of her father, Servius Sulpicius Rufus, a leading lawyer and consul in 51 BC.

Among his literary circle Messalla counted the important Roman love poet Tibullus (c. 50-19 BC), a contemporary of Virgil and Horace. Whether by accident or design, the two books of Tibullus' poetry had a third book added to them consisting of the poetry of other authors in Messalla's circle -- including Sulpicia. …

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