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Cinna, Gaius Helvius

CINNA, GAIUS HELVIUS, Roman poet of the later Ciceronian age. Practically nothing is known of his life except that he was the friend of Catullus, whom he accompanied to Bithynia in the suite of the praetor Memmius. The circumstances of his death have given rise to some discussion. Suetonius, Valerius Maximus, Appian and Dio Cassius all state that, at Caesar's funeral, a certain Helvius Cinna was killed by mistake for Cornelius Cinna, the conspirator. The last three writers mentioned above add that he was a tribune of the people, while Plutarch, referring to the affair, gives the further information that the Cinna who was killed by the mob was a poet. This points to the identity of Helvius Cinna the tribune with Helvius Cinna the poet. The chief objection to this view is based upon two lines in the 9th eclogue of Virgil, supposed to have been written 41 or 40 B.C. Here reference is made to a certain Cinna, a poet of such importance that Virgil deprecates comparison with him; it is argued that the manner in which this Cinna, who could hardly have been any one but Helvius Cinna, is spoken of implies that he was then alive; if so, he could not have been killed in 44. But such an interpretation of the Virgilian passage is by no means absolutely necessary; the terms used do not preclude a reference to a contemporary no longer alive. It has been suggested that it was really Cornelius, not Helvius Cinna, who was slain at Caesar's funeral, but this is not borne out by the authorities. Cinna's chief work was a mythological epic poem called Smyrna, the subject of which was the incestuous love of Smyrna (or Myrrha) for her father Cinyras, treated after the manner of the Alexandrian poets. It is said to have taken nine years to finish. A Propempticon Pollionis, a send-off to [Asinius] Pollio, is also attributed to him. In both these poems, the language of which was so obscure that they required special commentaries, his model appears to have been Parthenius of Nicaea.

See A. Weichert, Poëtarum Latinorum Vitae (1830); L. Müller's edition of Catullus (1870), where the remains of Cinna's poems are printed; A. Kiessling, "De C. Helvio Cinna Poëta" in Commentationes Philologicae in honorem T. Mommsen (1878); O. Ribbeck, Geschichte der römischen Dichtung, i. (1887); Teuffel-Schwabe, Hist. of Roman Lit. (Eng. tr. 213, 2-5); Plessis, Poésie latine (1909).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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