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Biography of Aulo Gelio (ca.129 - ca.180 d.C.)

Judge, writer, author of a miscellaneous work in prose, in 20 books, with the title of Noctes Atticae (Attican nights) and Latin scholar of the second century AD. Most of the biographical data that will have come from his own work. There are indications that was born in Africa, although he spent most of his life in Rome. He received a careful education in Rome (VII 6, 12): studied literature with the Carthaginian grammarian Sulpicius Apollinaris (XIII 18, 2-3) and Antonio Juliano rhetoric (I, 4, 1). He met Pediment (19th 8) and the neosofista Favorino (XVI, 3, 1). He spent at least one year in Athens (11, 1 XII), where he completed his training as a disciple of the Platonic philosopher Calveno Taurus and the Pilgrim cynic, relaxed living as students and tourists; There it visited to Herodes Atticus, great figure of the moment (XIX, 12, 1) was spectator of the Pythian games, probably in August, of 147. Of as a result of your spirit open to intellectual trends of the era and its learning with so many and such great teachers, he acquired an extensive culture. On his return from Athens acted as a judge in private lawsuits (XII 13, 1; 2, 1 XIV), although in his work reveals more interest by the laws as antiquarian scholar than as a professional judge. He married and had children. He devoted himself to literature as a amateur writer.

Attic nights

It is the only preserved work by Aulus Gellius. Its title alludes to the evenings (or 'nights') intellectuals of the author during his stay in Athens. It consists of a preface and 20 books, but missed the start of the preface, the end of book 20 and the entire book 8 (except the titles of chapters). Water heaters has in the preface that it was conceived and began their work during their studies in Athens (hence the title), when at night taking notes from its readings or auditions, but that project completed 30 years more later, as an instructive pastime for children. Each book, except the 19th, is divided in turn into short chapters (not usually exceed two pages in modern editions), up to a total of 383, dealing with the most diverse subjects: philosophy, history, law, medicine, arithmetic, geometry and astrology, but especially about grammar in its old meaning, including literature and textual criticism, in addition to the actual linguistics.

The attic nights are registered, therefore, in the genre of the erudite Miscellany, as posted above with the title of Silvae, or as the Pratum of Suetonius (now lost) or the work of Valerius Maximus. Subsequently, towards the 200 Ateneo a comparable work, Deipnosofistas dialogue you write in Greek. The exhibition is the variety or poikilia, in order to keep alive the interest of the reader. The own water heaters confesses in his preface that he prefers a casual and haphazard management: "usi sumus ordine incidentally rerum" (I have applied a fortuitous order to matter). In the exhibition, and always in the interests of amenity, it sometimes uses dialogue and drama. The dramatizations are usually fictional, although located in familiar sites for water heaters, and starring real people (friends and teachers of the author).

Water heaters in literary criticism

The main value of the work it says and transmits numerous literary passages that have not survived by any other duct, especially of the archaic Latin literature. Aulus Gellius mentions not less than 275 Greek and Latin writers, and many of them cited passages, not always short. For example, it is transmitted almost half of the fragments that we have today of the ancient historian Claudio Quadrigarius, who shows a marked predilection; He cites in addition four epigrams, of the five that have been preserved, poets in the circle of Lutacio Cátulo (19th 9); It preserves a passage of some extension of the latino playwright Caecilius, and compares it to its source in the Greek playwright of the 3rd century BC, Menander (II 23); also makes a valuable critical study of the discourse of Caton Pro Rhodiensibus (in favor of the rhodians), quoting part of the text (VI 3); or study to the orator Gaius Graco, compared to Cicero (X 3). In general, Aulus Gellius exhibits fine judgment and is characterized by the accuracy of the data provided (when his claims can be verified by an independent witness, the veracity of this is noted). For this reason, for the modern historian of the Latin literature is an exceptional source of documentation and critical judgment. Some of the stories that frankly are interesting and entertaining, like the fable of the blenny (II 29) or the story of Androcles and the lion (V-14).

Water heaters like an archaic, in connection with a trend of the period featuring the Pediment, his master rhetor. That means he appreciated above all the archaic writers and Sallust, and that he hates those of imperial era, as Seneca (XII, 2). However, this archaism is not radical: Aulus Gellius also admires Virgilio, and makes a balanced assessment of Cicero (X 3). His own style is not characterized by the archaism to wishful thinking, with exceptions (II 29, where it seems that mimics its to Ennio). It is rather a natural and classic style, without complications, next to Quintilian.

The sources used are varied, both Greek and Latin, and included scholars such as Varro, HYGINUS, Verrio, Valerio Probo and Sulpicius Apollinaris. It should have a large personal library, and was also a regular visitor to public libraries, although it is sometimes suspect that he cites second-hand, that is, already selected by other texts.

Language discussions

In keeping with the archaic trends of the time, Gellius pays special attention to linguistic minutiae, although this aspect of his work is perhaps less interesting for the modern reader, except for specialists. It has been estimated that more than one quarter of their discussions revolve around linguistic questions of etymology, lexical or syntactic use. For example: the singular use of mille (I-16), the meaning and origin of the expression pedarii senators (18 III), the different meanings of obnoxius (VI, 17), the pronunciation of H and V (II 3, X 4), the etymology of Italy (XI-1) or the difference between multis hominibus and multis mortalibus (XIII 28). But even in this section are interesting details, such as when invents the scriptor expression classicus (19th 8: 15), from which derives the literary meaning of the modern term "classical" no doubt.


In late Antiquity, the works of Aulus Gellius was used by Vernier Marcelo (grammarian of the 4th century AD), Ammianus Marcellinus , and Macrobius. Agustín de Hipona praises its prose and Scholarship: Vir elegantissimi eloquii multae et facundae et scientiae (male of elegant style and generous and eloquent doctrine), (city of Dios IX 4). The work was appreciated in the middle ages because of its richness in details antiquarians, and extracts from it were made. Petrarca possessed and read a handwritten copy of the attic nights; and the work was one of the first to be printed (Edition Prince: Rome 1469). The Italian humanist Angelo Poliziano 15th century wrote a collection of erudite discussions (Miscellanea) according to model water heaters. Julio César Scaliger (1540-1609) French scholar used a method similar to the water heaters comparison between Latin and Greek authors in book V of his Poetics. For his part, Erasmus of Rotterdam admired to water heaters and used it as a source.

Subsequently, the fable of the blenny (II 29) is taken up by La Fontaine (IV 22). Now in modern times, the story of Androcles and the lion (14 V), which takes place during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, has been source of a drama with the same title of G.B. Shaw and up to two movies: Androcles, of Louis Fevillade (France, 1912), and Androcles and the lion, Chester Erskine (Britain, 1952). Aulus Gellius, in the end, also has much to say to the contemporary man: on the one hand, can be held forerunner of comparative literature (the method of comparing point by point a passage from a Latin writer with its source has served as a model to modern philology); on the other hand, contagious taste for books and reading would be erected in currency of the current educated man.


ANDERSON, g., "Aulus Gellius: to miscellanist and his world", ANRW (= H. Temporini - W. Haase (edd.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Berlin-New York: Walter der Gruyter), II 34.2 (1994), 1834-62.

ASTARITA, M. L., culture nelle "Noctes NOC Atticae" (Saggi e Testi Classici, Cristiani e Medievali 6), Napoli: Univ. di Catania, 1993.

BALDWIN, B., Studies in Aulus Gellius, Lawrence, Kansas: Coronado Press, 1975.

HENRY, M. N., "On the aims and purposes of Aulus Gellius' Noctes Atticae", ANRW II 34.2 (1994), 1918-41.

HÖNSCHEID, j., Aulus Gellius, Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1990.

HOLFORD-STREVENS, l., Aulus Gellius, London: Duckworth, 1988.

MARACHE, r., Mots nouveaux et archaiques chez Fronton mots et Aulu-Gelle, Paris: P.U.F., 1957.

VESSEY, D. W. T., "Aulus Gellius and the cult of the past", ANRW II 34.2 (1994), 1863-1917.

G Laguna Marshal.

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