Classics Maximianus
Benjamin Goldlust
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 April 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0376


The poet commonly known as Maximianus is quite a mystery. While he is most generally dated to the 6th century and considered to be a contemporary of Boethius, dates as late as the 9th century have also been proposed. What little we know about him comes mainly from his own work. But in his elegies, although they present themselves as autobiographical, the part of truth is undoubtedly much lower than the part of fiction. The only element that, apparently, presents a form of historicity is the evocation of an embassy in the East in the first verse of piece 5. The circumstances and the dating of this embassy are debated, however. Attempts to attribute the Elegies to other, sometimes fanciful, poets have been proposed. The most famous case remains that of an attribution of Maximianus’s verses to Gallus, the great elegiac poet of the classical period whose work had been lost. Maximianus’s corpus is of limited volume. We have six elegies of his, for a set of 686 lines, very unevenly distributed from one piece to another. The first piece (292 verses) combines a biographical account of the poet’s youth, a lamentation on old age, and a call to death. The more traditional Elegy 2 (74 verses) analyzes a one-off episode, the poet’s amorous breakup with Lycoris, who now spurns him in favor of younger lovers. The third elegy (94 verses) is an analytical account of the poet’s feelings for another puella, Aquilina, whom Boethius advises him to possess. Piece 4 (60 verses) deals with the poet’s mad love for an artist, dancer, singer, and musician named Candida. The fifth elegy deals with the story of Maximianus’ adventure, during a diplomatic mission in the East, with a Graia puella, who seduces him and with whom Maximianus is the victim of a sexual fiasco (for which Maximianus imitates Ovid, Amores 3, 7). This situation leads the Graia puella to pronounce the funeral eulogy of his failing virility. Thus, it would be futile to want to give a univocal image of this strange corpus, which unites the lamentation on old age and the burlesque pastiche, and which, in general, considerably extends the limits of classical elegy.

General Overviews

Following the traditional interpretation, Ramirez de Verger 1986, Fo 1996–1997, Consolino 1997, and Gärtner 2004 consider the Elegies as one of the last expressions of the Latin elegy, both close to the classical tradition, as Consolino 1999 explains, and preparing for the early Middle Ages, as shown by Meyers 1995. Wasyl 2007 and Wasyl 2011 pay particular attention to the question of literary genre and the redefinition of the elegy in the work of Maximianus.

  • Consolino, Franca Ela. 1997. Massimiano e le sorti dell’elegia latina. In Mutatio rerum: Letteratura, filosofia, scienza tra tardo antico e altomedioevo. Edited by Maria Luisa Silvestre and Marisa Squillante, 363–400. Naples: La Città del Sole.

    A global study on the Elegies, with a critique of the dating proposed by Ratkowitsch 1986 (cited under Life).

  • Consolino, Franca Ela. 1999. L’eredità dei classici nella poesia del VI secolo. In Prospettive sul tardoantico. Edited by Giancarlo Mazzoli and Fabio Gasti, 69–90. Como, Italy: New Press.

    A very useful study of the Elegies in relation to classical poetry.

  • Fo, Alessandro. 1996–1997. Una lettura del corpus massimianeo. Atti e memorie dell’Arcadia 8:91–128.

    A thorough study of the whole corpus.

  • Gärtner, Thomas. 2004. Der letzte klassiche Elegiker? Zur Deutung der erotischen Dichtungen Maximians. Göttinger Forum für Altertumswissenschaft 7:119–161.

    An accurate article about the love poetry.

  • Meyers, Jean. 1995. La poésie latine du Haut Moyen Âge. Lalies 15:159–179.

    One of the most useful articles on Maximianus, summarizing the most important questions. An excellent introduction to the poet.

  • Ramirez de Verger, Antonio. 1986. Las Elegías de Maximiano: Tradición y originalidad en un poeta de ultima ora. Habis 17:185–193.

    A nice study, with an attempt to show the different statuses of the Elegies.

  • Wasyl, Anna Maria. 2007. Maximianus and the late antique reading of classical literary genres. Classica Cracoviensia 11:349–377.

    An introduction to the question of the elegiac genre.

  • Wasyl, Anna Maria. 2011. Genres rediscovered: Studies in Latin miniature epic, love elegy, and epigram of the Romano-Barbaric Age. Kraków: Jagellonian Univ. Press.

    An interesting study—though at times debatable—of the transformation of the elegiac genre in Maximianus’s poems. For Maximianus, see 113–161.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.