Albius Tibullus Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Little is known about the life of Albius Tibullus (AL-bee-uhs tuh-BUHL-uhs), except for what he says about it in his poetry and from comments in the verses of the Roman poet Horace. In Augustan Rome, under the patronage of Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, Tibullus wrote two books of elegies, Delia (c. 26 b.c.e.) and Nemesis (c. 19 b.c.e.), both part of the Corpus Tibullianum (n.d.; English translation, 1913). The third and four books in this poetic corpus were very likely written by other poets in Messalla’s literary circle, including the female poet Sulpicia. Delia deals primarily with Tibullus’s love for a woman named Delia and a boy named Marathus and contains a celebration of Messalla’s birthday and military triumph over the Aquitanian tribes, as well as a number of his other foreign and domestic exploits. Nemesis contains poems about Tibullus’s love for another woman named Nemesis, a marvelous description of a country festival, and a celebration of the election of Messalla’s son Messalinus to the sacred priesthood, charged with taking care of and reading the Sibylline Books. Throughout his elegies, Tibullus presents himself (or his persona) as living quietly in the country and worrying passionately about a love affair—a theme continuously interwoven with others in an artistic structure, with occasional tributes to literary predecessors such as Homer’s Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.e.; English translation, 1616) and Vergil’s Aeneid (c. 29-19 b.c.e.; English translation, 1553).


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Tibullus was ranked among the four great Roman elegists (with Gallus, Sextus Propertius, and Ovid) and was eulogized by Ovid in Amores (c. 20 b.c.e.; English translation, 1597). Down through the centuries, poets have echoed or imitated him, especially the Italian poet Jacopo Sannazaro and the French poet André-Marie de Chénier.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Ball, Robert J. Tibullus the Elegist: A Critical Survey. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1983.

Bright, David F. Haec mihi fingebam: Tibullus in His World. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1978.

Cairns, Francis. Tibullus: A Hellenistic Poet at Rome. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Lee-Stecum, Parshia. Powerplay in Tibullus. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998.