Biography of Quinto Curcio Rufo (s. I d.C.)

Imperial period Latin historian, author of a famous story of Alejandro Magno.


Has it been discussed widely over the time he/she lived. In the absence of ancient testimonies about this author, critics have been forced to infer data from some indications present in his work. It is certain that Curcio lived at the time of the Principality, as in his work he/she alludes to an emperor ('a Prince') with these words: "the Roman people recognizes it because a Prince that lit up the night that seemed to be the last as a new star of salvation" (X 9: 5). It has been dated, however, a very broad chronological fork, ranging from the time of Augustus (31 BC-14 ad) to Theodosius (4th century A.d.), while the most plausible and commonly accepted is that he/she wrote in the 1st century AD, in the times of the Emperor Claudio (41-54 ad) or Vespasian (69-79 A.d.). Accept dating at time of Claudio, could identify you with a Rufo Curcio mentioned by Tacitus (in annals XI 20-21) and by Pliny (VII 27, 1-3): this Curcio Rufo is known, despite his humble origins (says that he/she was the son of a Gladiator), managed to develop an important public career and became sufecto consul in 43 A.d.a legacy of the Roman army in the upper Rhine and, finally, proconsul in Africa. If, on the other hand, prefer dating at time of Vespasian, then perhaps could be identified to the historian with a Rufo Curcio cited as return by Suetonius (De grammaticis et rhetoricis in XXXIII).

Content of work

The only work attributed to this author, the story of Alejandro Magno (Historiae Alexandri Magni Macedonis), consisted of ten books. Have not survived the first two; 3, 5, 6 and 10 books have some gaps in the text. Preserved books include the story of the exploits of Alejandro Magno, from 333 BC until the 323 (date is last of the death of the King and the subsequent division of his empire among his generals: the so-called Diadochi). The distribution of matter is as follows:

In Book III main episodes are the Persian Darius troops count, the story of Philip (doctor of the King) and the battle of Iso (333 BC), in which Alejandro defeats the Persian King Darío III.Book IV is engaged in the siege of tyre, consult the Oracle of Ammon and the battle of Gaugamelas (330).The 5th book narrates the final period of the life of Darío III, died the year 330.El Book VI refers to events in the same year 330, Hecatompilos mutiny, the encounter with the Amazons on Hicarnia and the conspiracy of Filotas.El Book VII continues with the trial of Amyntas and the assassination of Parmenion (both involved in the conspiracy of Filotas). The following describes the March through the wilderness of the Sogdiana (328).Key episodes of Book VIII are the murder of Cleitus, general Alejandro, as a result of a given fight with the King in the course of a feast; the conspiracy of the pages; and the battle of the Hydaspes River (326).In the 9th book tells the mutiny of the troop in the Hipasis River, Alejandro heroism in the assault on the fortress of the sudracas (where is seriously injured) and the March through the desert of Gedrosia (325).Finally, book X contains the death of Alejandro (June 323) and derived from the same events: particularly the dispute between his generals and the division of the Empire between them.

Literary genre: the fictionalized story

The work is more a fictionalized than a story. Thus, many critics have argued that the author's intention was merely to amuse and entertain its readers, more in the line of a novelist than a real historian. Indeed, Curcio selected relatively few episodes of the life of Alejandro for dramatic effect. The result is a pleasant, romantic, moralizing narrative and rhetoric. Insert numerous speeches, and the story is punctuated with moral comments and arbitrary nature of reasons. In reality, Curcio wrote his work, rather than historiographic tradition, in a dual tradition: rhetoric and romantic. On the one hand, Alejandro was a trite in the academies of rhetoric as paradigm (for purposes of proclamations) virtues and vices; It used to be present as an example of suffering, violent, clemency, friendship, pride and, above all, lust for power. It has been postulated that Curcio was intended to make to that rhetorical line treatment large-scale Alejandro character. On the other hand, Curcio is following a literary tradition of Hellenistic culture, which had made a kind of romantic hero of the Macedonian King and who liked the story of his adventures and conquests by the exotic lands of East, in a fabulous atmosphere. Hellenistic Greek historians already novelaron the life of Alejandro Magno at these coordinates: for them, the life of Alejandro was a pretext to tell fictional episodes, describe exotic landscapes and present drama-laden scenes. In conclusion, Curcio echoes the double tradition, rhetorical and romantic.

Historical and literary value

As a historiographical work, the story of Alejandro Magno presents numerous shortcomings. Already the author himself admits that he/she has copied its sources more than he/she himself thought true (IX. 1, 34). On the other hand, Curcio not recounts all the events, but they prefer to select the material that you are interested in, with a view to its fictionalized narrative. Geographic data are numerous factual errors. There are many historical inaccuracies. The work lacks organizational plan: scenes and episodes occur randomly, juxtaposed without any compositional design. The description of the battles tends to be confusing, when not incomprehensible. From a historical point of view, Curtius seems to ignore the global sense of the career of Alejandro, his historical importance as architect of the expansion of Hellenism; on the other hand, is a mythical presentation of Alejandro, more as a hero of legend than as a historical actor. In addition, reveals a flagrant contradiction between the negative judgments that abound in the body of the work (for example, 2, 1-4 VI or VI 6, 1-11) and hyperbolic (X 5, 26-36) final commendation on Alejandro.

Along with these flaws, there's no denying that the work has interest, both historical and literary. Given the loss almost total Greek Hellenistic period about Alejandro historiography, Curcio sometimes preserves precious information and explains some issues that are not covered in any other preserved source (especially apropos of Persian motives and actions). Occasionally, it offers picturesque descriptions of curiosities of nature, or of foreign customs. Literally, it is the first Latin work in prose that is about non-Roma events, and an outsider hero. The story is entertaining, the author recreates in the sensational and spectacular, and shows special skill to develop strong emotional character scenes. The literary style is vivid and colorful, with numerous sententious phrases and syntactic structure varied (with a preference for short and brief sentences). Draw attention to the speeches, which sometimes arise in a couple, to characterize the contrasting attitudes of two characters. According to the purpose of Curcio Rufo, that is mainly of interest to the reader and excite your imagination, the character of Alejandro Magno is painted as a mixture of cruelty and generosity, virtue and corruption. From the moral and philosophical point of view, is presented to Alejandro as a paradigm of a moral that could be summarized thus: the success and power lead to moral corruption, and this, in turn, is a source of misfortune. Thus, the King begins as a young cabal, but later becomes corrupt, spoiled by an auspicious fortune, until he/she incurs the moral degradation of copying the customs of the Oriental peoples who has conquered. Thus we read in VI 2, 1-4:

"But as soon as the spirit of Alejandro was free from the threat of the concerns (his spirit bore better the plight of the militia to rest and leisure), fell victim to the pleasures, and that had not been able to fold weapons of the Persians, defeated it its own vices: banquets initiated before the usual time"both drinking and all-night immoderate pleasure, games and troops of concubines. Everything on it slipped towards the foreign customs; emulating them as if they were better than their own, so offended the spirits and, at the same time, the view of his countrymen, many of his friends judged it traitor to his homeland. [...] This gave rise to frequent plots against his life." (Translation by F. Pejenaute).


The sources that Curcio used to document his story are basically Greek historians about Alejandro of Hellenistic, and especially Clitarco, Timagenes , and Ptolemy I. Clitarco (whose work has been lost) is the main reference following Curcio, although possibly through an intermediate Latin source. In its history, Curcio very freely uses these fonts: sometimes mix them, or indiscriminately switch from one to another; Sometimes he/she joins them in a confusing hodgepodge.


At the same time, the work of Curcio would enjoy great favor as popular reading during the middle ages. That is why it have retained more than 100 medieval manuscripts, which can be dated from the 9th century to the 15th. Main cultural significance in the history of Curcio Rufo has been to be a source, along with the novel of the Alejandro written in latin by Julio Valerio in the 4th century AD (adaptation for its part of a Greek work of Pseudo-Callisthenes), of the Alejandreida of Gautier de Châtillon, medieval epic in 10 books composed towards 1180 in dactilicos hexametros (this in turn is source of French Roman d'Alexandre and the Spanish book of Alexandre). The first printed edition of the Latin text of the work appeared in Venice in 1470. Be published early translations into European languages, which testifies to the success of the work: the Italian (1478), Spanish (1481), German (1491) and French (1540). Since then, and until our days, editions and translations have proliferated.


ATKINSON, J.E.: A commentary on Q. Curtius Rufus' history Alexandri Magni. Books 3-4. Amsterdam: Gieben, 1980.

PEJENAUTE RUBIO, f., fifth Curtius Rufus. History of Alejandro Magno. Madrid: Gredos (96 classical library), 1986. Spanish translation, with full introduction on pp. 7-70.

RUTZ, w.: "Zur Erzählungskunst des Q. Curtius Rufus", in H. Temporini-H. Haase (ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II 32.4. Berlin-New York: Walter der Gruyter, 1986, 2329-57.

G Laguna Marshal