Gaius Julius Hyginus

Gaius Julius Hyginus

Gaius Julius Hyginus (ca. 64 BC – AD 17) was a Latin author, but whether a native of Spain or of Alexandria is not sure, a pupil of the famous Cornelius Alexander Polyhistor, and a freedman of Caesar Augustus, by whom he was made superintendent of the Palatine library, according to Suetonius, "De Grammaticis", 20. [Not everyone is sure that the Hyginus of "Fabulae" was this freedman of Augustus; for one, Edward Fitch, reviewing H. I. Rose,"Hygini Fabulae" in "The American Journal of Philology" 56,4 (1935), p 422.]

Suetonius remarks that he fell into great poverty in his old age, and was supported by the historian Clodius Licinus. Hyginus was a voluminous author: his works included topographical and biographical treatises, commentaries on Helvius Cinna and the poems of Virgil, and disquisitions on agriculture and bee-keeping. All these are lost.

Under the name of Hyginus there are extant what are probably two sets of school notes abbreviating his treatises on mythology; one is a collection of "Fabulae" ("stories"), the other a "Poetical Astronomy".

"Fabulae" consists of some three hundred very brief and plainly, even crudely told myths and celestial genealogies, valuable for the use made by an author characterized by his modern editor as "adulescentem imperitum, semidoctum, stultum" ["an ignorant youth, semi-learned, stupid" according to H.I. Rose 1934] of the works of Greek writers of tragedy that are now lost. This school-boy [Arthur L. Keith, reviewing H. I. Rose "Hygini Fabulae" 1934 in "The Classical Journal" 31.1 (October 1935) p. 53, wondered "at the caprices of Fortune who has allowed many of the plays of an Aeschylus, the larger portion of Livy's histories, and other priceless treasures to perish, while this school-boy's exercise has survived to become the "pabulum" of scholarly effort."] compilation represents in primitive form what every educated Roman in the age of the Antonines was expected to know of Greek myth, at the simplest level. The "Fabulae" are a mine of information today, when so many more nuanced versions of the myths have been lost. In fact the text of "Fabulae" was all but lost: a single surviving manuscript from the abbey of Freising [A "Codex Freisingensis", noted by Fitch, reviewing Rose, "Hygini Fabulae" 1934:421.] , in a Beneventan script datable c. 900, formed the material for the first printed edition, negligently and uncritically [A. H. F. Griffin, "Hyginus, Fabula 89 (Laomedon)" "The Classical Quarterly" New Series, 36.2 (1986), p. 541 note.] transcribed by Jacob Micyllus, 1535, who may have supplied it with the title we know it by. In the course of printing, following the usual practice, by which the manuscripts printed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries have rarely survived their treatment at the printshop, the manuscript was pulled apart, and only two small fragments of it have turned up, significantly as stiffening in book bindings. [One was discovered at Regensburg in 1864, another in Munich, 1942. Both fragments are conserved in Munich. See M.D. Reeve on Hyginus, "Fabulae" in L.D. Reynolds, ed., "Texts and Transmission" (Oxford) 1983, pp 189f.] Another fragmentary text, dating from the fifth century is in the Vatican Library. (Major 2002)

"De Astronomia" was first published, with accompanying figures, by Erhard Ratdolt in Venice, 1482, under the title "Clarissimi uiri Hyginii Poeticon astronomicon opus utilissimum" This "Poetic astronomy by the most renowned Hyginus, a most useful work," lists the stars in each constellation, but chiefly tells the myths connected with the constellations, in versions that are chiefly based on "Catasterismi", a work that was traditionally attributed to Eratosthenes.

Both works are abridgments, and the style and level of Latin competence and the elementary mistakes (especially in the rendering of the Greek originals) are held to prove that they cannot have been the work of so distinguished a scholar as G. Julius Hyginus. It is suggested that these treatises are an abridgment made in the latter half of the second century of the "Genealogiae" of Hyginus by an unknown adapter, who added a complete treatise on mythology. [This paragraph almost literally from the 1911 Britannica article on Hyginus, which is unsigned. See [ this comparison] between the present text and that of a wikilinked version of the Britannica. ]


External links

* [ Online Text: Hyginus, "Fabulae" translated by Mary Grant]
* [ Online Text: Hyginus, "Astronomica" translated by Mary Grant]
* [ Online Text of Hyginus. complete] latin
* [ Review by Wilfred E. Major of P.K. Marshall, "Hyginus: Fabulae. Editio altera." 2002]


*P.K. Marshall, ed. "Hyginus: Fabulae" 1993; corrected ed. 2002.
*Rose, H. I. "Hygini Fabulae" (1934) 1963. The standard text, in Latin.

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