Gaius Valerius Flaccus (Setinus Balbus) (in English: /ˈflækəs/; died c. AD 90) was a Roman poet who flourished in the "Silver Age" under the emperors Vespasian and Titus and wrote a Latin Argonautica that owes a great deal to Apollonius of Rhodes' more famous epic.
He has been identified on insufficient grounds with a poet friend of Martial (1.61.76), a native of Padua, and in needy circumstances; but as he was a member of the College of Fifteen, who had charge of the Sibylline books (1.5), he must have been well off. The subscription of the Vatican manuscript, which adds the name Setinus Balbus, points to his having been a native of Setia in Latium. The only ancient writer who mentions him is Quintilian (10.1.90), who laments his recent death as a great loss; as Quintilian's work was finished about 90 AD, this gives a limit for the death of Flaccus.
His only surviving work, the Argonautica, dedicated to Vespasian on his setting out for Britain, was written during the siege, or shortly after the capture, of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD. As the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD is alluded to, its composition must have occupied him a long time. The Argonautica is an epic poem probably intended to be in eight books (though intended totals of ten and twelve books, the latter corresponding to Virgil's Aeneid, an important poetic model, have also been proposed) written in traditional dactylic hexameters, which recounts Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. The poem's text, as it has survived, is in a very corrupt state; it ends so abruptly with the request of Medea to accompany Jason on his homeward voyage, that it is assumed by most modern scholars that it was never finished. It is a free imitation and in parts a translation of the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, "to whom he is superior in arrangement, vividness, and description of character" (Loeb Classical Library). The familiar subject had already been treated in Latin verse in the popular version of Varro Atacinus. The object of the work has been described as the glorification of Vespasian's achievements in securing Roman rule in Britain and opening up the ocean to navigation (as the Euxine was opened up by the Argo).
In 1911, the compilers of the Encyclopaedia Britannica remarked,
Various estimates have been formed of the genius of Flaccus, and some critics have ranked him above his original, to whom he certainly is superior in liveliness of description and delineation of character. His diction is pure, his style correct, his versification smooth though monotonous. On the other hand, he is wholly without originality, and his poetry, though free from glaring defects, is artificial and elaborately dull. His model in language was Virgil, to whom he is far inferior in taste and lucidity. His tiresome display of learning, rhetorical exaggeration and ornamentations make him difficult to read, which no doubt accounts for his unpopularity in ancient times.
- Older editions
- Editio princeps, Bologna 1474
- Giovanni Battista Pio, Bologna 1519 (with commentary and continuation of the poem: remainder of book 8, book 9, book 10])
- Aldine edition, Venice 1523
- Louis Carrion, Antwerp 1565 (2nd ed. 1566) (Plantin edition)
- Nicolaas Heinius, Leiden 1680 (2nd ed. Utrecht 1702 [by Pieter Burman], 3rd ed. Padua 1720 [by Giuseppe Comino]
- Pieter Burman, Leiden 1724 (variorum edition)
- Bipontine edition, Zweibrücken 1786
- J.A. Wagner, Göttingen 1805 (with commentary)
- Modern editions
- G. Thilo, Halle 1863
- C. Schenkl, Berlin 1871
- E. Baehrens, Leipzig 1875 (Bibliotheca Teubneriana)
- P. Langen, Berlin 1896-7
- J.B. Bury, London 1900 (in Postgate's Corpus Poetarum Latinorum)
- C. Giarratano, Palermo 1904
- O. Kramer, Leipzig 1913 (Bibliotheca Teubneriana)
- J.H. Mozley, London & Cambridge, MA, 1934 (Loeb Classical Library)
- E. Courtney, Leipzig 1970 (Bibliotheca Teubneriana)
- W.W. Ehlers, Stuttgart 1980 (Bibliotheca Teubneriana)
- G. Liberman, Paris 1997 (Collection Budé) - Books 1-4
- F. Caviglia, Milan 1999 (Biblioteca Universale Rizzoli [BUR])
- G. Liberman, Paris 2002 (Collection Budé) - Books 5-8