1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dracontius, Blossius Aemilius

DRACONTIUS, BLOSSIUS AEMILIUS, of Carthage (according to the early tradition, of Spanish origin), Christian poet, flourished in the latter part of the 5th century A.D. He belonged to a family of landed proprietors, and practised as an advocate in his native place. After the conquest of the country by the Vandals, Dracontius was at first allowed to retain possession of his estates, but was subsequently deprived of his property and thrown into prison by the Vandal king, whose triumphs he had omitted to celebrate, while he had written a panegyric on a foreign and hostile ruler. He subsequently addressed an elegiac poem to the king, asking pardon and pleading for release. The result is not known, but it is supposed that Dracontius obtained his liberty and migrated to northern Italy in search of peace and quietness. This is consistent with the discovery at Bobbio of a 15th-century MS., now in the Museo Borbonico at Naples, containing a number of poems by Dracontius (the Carmina minora). The most important of his works is the De laudibus Dei or De Deo in three books, wrongly attributed by MS. tradition to St Augustine. The account of the creation, which occupies the greater part of the first book, was at an early date edited separately under the title of Hexaëmeron, and it was not till 1791 that the three books were edited by Cardinal Arevalo. The apology (Satisfactio) consists of 158 elegiac couplets; it is generally supposed that the king addressed is Gunthamund (484–496). The Carmina minora, nearly all in hexameter verse, consist of school exercises and rhetorical declamations, amongst others the fable of Hylas, with a preface to his tutor, the grammarian Felicianus; the rape of Helen; the story of Medea; two epithalamia. It is also probable that Dracontius was the author of the Orestis tragoedia, a poem of some 1000 hexameters, which in language, metre and general treatment of the subject exhibits a striking resemblance to the other works of Dracontius. Opinions differ as to his poetical merits, but, when due allowance is made for rhetorical exaggeration and consequent want of lucidity, his works show considerable vigour of expression, and a remarkable knowledge of the Bible and of Roman classical literature.

Editions.De Deo and Satisfactio, ed. Arevalo, reprinted in Migne’s Patrologiae cursus, lx.; Carmina minora, ed. F. de Duhn (1873). On Dracontius generally, see A. Ebert, Allgemeine Geschichte der Lit. des Mittelalters im Abendlande, i. (1874); C. Rossberg, In D. Carmina minora (1878); H. Mailfait, De Dracontii poëtae lingua (1902). On the Orestis tragoedia, see editions by R. Peiper (1875) and C. Giarratino (Milan, 1906); pamphlets by C. Rossberg (1880, on the authorship; 1888, materials for a commentary).