Gaius Valerius Flaccus

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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Virtually nothing certain is known about Gaius Valerius Flaccus (GAY-uhs vuh-LIHR-ee-uhs FLAK-uhs) except that he was the author of the Argonautica (first century c.e.; English translation, 1863), an epic poem on the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece. It is not certain that he was a quindecimvir (member of a college of the Roman priesthood), a claim based mainly on a few lines in the proem to the Argonautica. Whether his Argonautica was composed during the reign of Domitian and one or two of the other Flavian emperors (Vespasian, Titus) is also difficult to say, but he may have commenced writing it around 80/81 c.e. Valerius is indebted most heavily in his treatment to the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius and in his style to Vergil. The narrative breaks off midway through the eighth book, in which Jason, who has fled from Colchis with Medea, is contemplating returning her. It is uncertain whether the incomplete state of the Argonautica is the result of the second half of this book being lost in transmission or is caused by Valerius’s having died before he finished it, which is more likely the case.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Valerius not only reshaped the famous story of the Argonauts to make it relevant to the contemporary world of the Roman Empire but also explored issues relevant to human society at large, including heroic achievement and human emotions.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Hershkowitz, Debra. Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica: Abbreviated Voyages in Silver Latin Epic. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1998.

McGuire, Donald T. Acts of Silence: Civil War, Tyranny, and Suicide in the Flavian Epics. New York: Olms-Weidmann, 1997.