1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Corippus, Flavius Cresconius

CORIPPUS, FLAVIUS CRESCONIUS, Roman epic poet of the 6th century A.D. He was a native of Africa, and in one of the MSS. is called grammaticus (teacher). He has been identified, but on insufficient grounds, with Cresconius, an African bishop (7th century), author of a Concordia Canonum, or collection of the laws of the church. Nothing is known of Corippus beyond what is contained in his own poems. He appears to have held the office of tribune or notary (scriniarius) under Anastasius, imperial treasurer and chamberlain of Justinian, at the end of whose reign he left Africa for Constantinople, in consequence of having lost his property during the Moorish and Vandal wars. He was the author of two poems, of considerable importance for the history of the times, one of which was not discovered till the beginning of the 19th century. The latter poem, dedicated to the nobles of Carthage, which comes first in point of time, is called Johannis or De bellis Libycis, and relates the overthrow of the Moors by a certain Johannes, magister militum in 546; it is in eight books (the last is unfinished) and contains about 5000 hexameters. The narrative commences with the despatch of Johannes to the theatre of war by Justinian, and ends with the decisive victory near Carthage (548). The other poem (In laudem Justini minoris), in four books, contains the death of Justinian, the coronation of his successor Justin II. (14th of November 565), and the early events of his reign. It is preceded by a preface, and a short and fulsome panegyric on Anastasius, the poet’s patron. The Laus was published at Antwerp in 1581 by Michael Ruyz Azagra, secretary to the emperor Rudolf II., from a 9th or 10th century MS. The preface contains a reference to a previous work by the author on the wars in Africa, and although Johannes Cuspinianus (1473–1529) in his De Caesaribus et Imperatoribus professed to have seen a MS. of it in the library at Buda (destroyed by Suleiman II. in 1527), it was not till 1814 that it was discovered at Milan by Cardinal Mazzucchelli, librarian of the Ambrosian library, from the codex Trivultianus (in the library of the marquis Trivulzi), the only MS. of the Johannis still extant.

The Johannis is of great value, not only from a purely historical point of view, but also as giving a description of the land and people of Africa, which conscientiously records the impressions of an intelligent native observer; many of his statements as to manners and customs are confirmed both by independent ancient authorities (such as Procopius) and by our knowledge of the modern Berbers. Virgil, Lucan, and Claudian were the poet’s chief models. The Laus, which was written when he was advanced in years, although marred by Byzantine servility and gross flattery of a by no means worthy object, throws much light upon Byzantine court ceremony, as in the account of the accession of Justin and the reception of the embassy of the Avars. On the whole the language and metre of Corippus, considering the age in which he lived and the fact that he was not a native Italian, is remarkably pure. That he was a Christian is rendered probable by negative indications, such as the absence of all the usual mythological accessories of an epic poem, positive allusions to texts of Scripture, and the highly orthodox passage Laus iv. 294 ff.

The editions of the Johannis by P. Mazzucchelli (1820) and of the Laus by P. F. Foggini (1777) are still valuable for their commentaries. They are both included in the 28th volume of the Bonn Corpus scriptorum historiae Byzantinae. The best modern editions are by J. Partsch (in Monumenta Germaniae historica, 1879), with very valuable prolegomena, and M. Petschenig (Berliner Studien für klassische Philologie, iv., 1886); see also Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. xlv.