Gaius Julius Hyginus
Gaius Julius Hyginus was a Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 author, a pupil of the famous Cornelius Alexander Polyhistor, and a freedman of Caesar Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

. He was by Augustus elected superintendent of the Palatine library according to Suetonius' De Grammaticis, 20. It is not clear whether Hyginus was a native of Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 or of Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...


Suetonius remarks that he fell into great poverty in his old age, and was supported by the historian Clodius Licinus. Hyginus was a voluminous author: his works included topographical and biographical treatises, commentaries on Helvius Cinna
Helvius Cinna
Gaius Helvius Cinna was an influential neoteric poet of the late Roman Republic, a little older than the generation of Catullus and Calvus.His magnum opus Zmyrna established his literary fame; a mythological epic poem focused on the incestuous love of Smyrna for her father Cinyras, treated after...

 and the poems of Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

, and disquisitions on agriculture and bee-keeping
An apiary is a place where beehives of honey bees are kept. Traditionally beekeepers paid land rent in honey for the use of small parcels. Some farmers will provide free apiary sites, because they need pollination, and farmers who need many hives often pay for them to be moved to the crops when...

. All these are lost.

Under the name of Hyginus there are extant what are probably two sets of school notes abbreviating his treatises on mythology; one is a collection of Fabulae ("stories"), the other a "Poetical Astronomy".

The lunar crater Hyginus
Hyginus (crater)
Hyginus is a small lunar caldera located at the east end of the Sinus Medii. Its rim is split by a long, linear rille Rima Hyginus that branches to the northwest and to the east-southeast for a total length of 220 kilometers. The crater is deeper than the rille, and lies at the bend where they...

 and the minor planet 12155 Hyginus
12155 Hyginus
12155 Hyginus is a main-belt minor planet. It was discovered by Cornelis Johannes van Houten, Ingrid van Houten-Groeneveld, and Tom Gehrels at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, on March 26, 1971. It is named after Gaius Julius Hyginus, a Roman author.-External links:*...

 are named after him.


Fabulae consists of some three hundred very brief and plainly, even crudely told myths and celestial genealogies, made by an author who was characterized by his modern editor, H. J. Rose
H. J. Rose
Herbert Jennings Rose is remembered as the author of A Handbook of Greek Mythology, originally published in 1928, which for many years became the standard student reference book on the subject, reaching a sixth edition by 1958...

. as adulescentem imperitum, semidoctum, stultum—"an ignorant youth, semi-learned, stupid"—but valuable for the use made of works of Greek writers of tragedy that are now lost. Arthur L. Keith, reviewing H. J. Rose's edition (1934) of Hygini Fabulae for the Loeb Classical Library
Loeb Classical Library
The Loeb Classical Library is a series of books, today published by Harvard University Press, which presents important works of ancient Greek and Latin Literature in a way designed to make the text accessible to the broadest possible audience, by presenting the original Greek or Latin text on each...

 wondered "at the caprices of Fortune who has allowed many of the plays of an Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

, the larger portion of Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

's histories, and other priceless treasures to perish, while this school-boy's exercise has survived to become the pabulum of scholarly effort." Hyginus' compilation represents in primitive form what every educated Roman in the age of the Antonines was expected to know of Greek myth, at the simplest level. The Fabulae are a mine of information today, when so many more nuanced versions of the myths have been lost.

In fact the text of Fabulae was all but lost: a single surviving manuscript from the abbey of Freising
Freising is a town in Bavaria, Germany, and capital of the district Freising. Total population 48,500.The city is located north of Munich at the Isar river, near the Munich International Airport...

, in a Beneventan script
Beneventan script
Beneventan script was a medieval script, so called because it originated in the Duchy of Benevento in southern Italy. It was also called Langobarda, Longobarda, Longobardisca , or sometimes Gothica; it was first called Beneventan by palaeographer E. A...

 datable c. 900, formed the material for the first printed edition, negligently and uncritically transcribed by Jacob Micyllus
Jacob Micyllus
Jacob Micyllus, was a German Renaissance humanist and teacher, who conducted the city's Latin school in Frankfurt and held a chair at the University of Heidelberg, during times of great cultural stress in Germany....

, 1535, who may have supplied it with the title we know it by. In the course of printing, following the usual practice, by which the manuscripts printed in the 15th and 16th centuries have rarely survived their treatment at the printshop, the manuscript was pulled apart: only two small fragments of it have turned up, significantly as stiffening in book bindings. Another fragmentary text, dating from the 5th century is in the Vatican Library. (Major 2002)

Among Hyginus' sources are the scholia on Apollonius of Rhodes
Apollonius of Rhodes
Apollonius Rhodius, also known as Apollonius of Rhodes , early 3rd century BCE – after 246 BCE, was a poet, and a librarian at the Library of Alexandria...

' Argonautica, which were dated to about the time of Tiberius
Tiberius , was Roman Emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD. Tiberius was by birth a Claudian, son of Tiberius Claudius Nero and Livia Drusilla. His mother divorced Nero and married Augustus in 39 BC, making him a step-son of Octavian...

 by Apollonius' editor R. Merkel, in the preface to his edition of Apollonius (Leipzig, 1854).

De Astronomia or Poeticon astronomicon

De Astronomia was first published, with accompanying figures, by Erhard Ratdolt
Erhard Ratdolt
Erhard Ratdolt was an early German printer. From Augsburg, he was active printing in Venice, where he worked from 1476 to 1486.There he produced a Kalendario for Regiomontanus, and editions of the Historia Romana of Appianus , and Euclid's Elements , solving the problem of reproducing...

 in Venice, 1482, under the title Clarissimi uiri Hyginii Poeticon astronomicon opus utilissimum
Poeticon astronomicon
Poeticon astronomicon is a star atlas and book of stories whose text is attributed to "Hyginus", though the true authorship is disputed. During the Renaissance, the work was attributed to the Roman historian Gaius Julius Hyginus who lived during the 1st century BC However, the fact that the book...

This "Poetic astronomy by the most renowned Hyginus, a most useful work," chiefly tells us the myths connected with the constellations, in versions that are chiefly based on Catasterismi
Catasterismi is an Alexandrian prose retelling of the mythic origins of stars and constellations, as they were interpreted in Hellenistic culture...

, a work that was traditionally attributed to Eratosthenes
Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a Greek mathematician, poet, athlete, geographer, astronomer, and music theorist.He was the first person to use the word "geography" and invented the discipline of geography as we understand it...


Like the Fabulae the Astronomia is a collection of abridgements, and the style and level of Latin competence and the elementary mistakes (especially in the rendering of the Greek originals) were held by the anonymous contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th ed., 1911, to prove that they cannot have been the work of "so distinguished" a scholar as G. Julius Hyginus. It was further suggested that these treatises are an abridgment made in the latter half of the 2nd century of the Genealogiae of Hyginus by an unknown adapter, who added a complete treatise on mythology. The star lists in the Astronomia are in exactly the same order as in Ptolemy
Claudius Ptolemy , was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the...

's Almagest
The Almagest is a 2nd-century mathematical and astronomical treatise on the apparent motions of the stars and planetary paths. Written in Greek by Claudius Ptolemy, a Roman era scholar of Egypt,...

reinforcing the idea of a 2nd century compilation.

External links

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