TIBULLUS

ca. 55-19 B.C.

Roman poet

Albius Tibullus was a Roman poet known chiefly for two books of poetry. His works, mostly love poems and elegies*, are notable for their elegant style and simplicity of language. The Roman writer and teacher of rhetoric* Quintilian called Tibullus the most refined and elegant of Roman elegists.

Born to an upper-class rural family, Tibullus grew up in the countryside around Rome. The aristocrat* Valerius Messalla Corvinus became his patron*, and Tibullus accompanied him on military campaigns. An anonymous biographer suggests that Tibullus won military honors during these campaigns. But Tibullus soon left the military life to pursue his writing. He lived and worked quietly on his country estate, becoming a friend of the poet Horace and an acquaintance of the poet Ovid.

* elegy song or poem that expresses sorrow for one who has died

* rhetoric art of using words effectively in speaking or writing

* aristocrat person of the highest social class

Tibullus’s two books of poetry deal primarily with his love for two idealized women, Delia and Nemesis, and for a boy named Marathus. They also contain poems in praise of his patron, Messalla. Many of the poems emphasize a love of rural life, in contrast to the works of his contemporaries Catullus and Propertius, who celebrated city life. The poems also express the contradictions Tibullus felt between city and country, peace and war, and love and war.

A third collection of poetry from the period contains works by poets who were friendly with Messalla. Several poems in this work may have been written by Tibullus. (See also Literature, Roman; Patronage; Poetry, Roman.)

* patron special guardian, protector or supporter

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