Sulpicia Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Sulpicia (sewl-PIH-shee-ah) was the daughter of Servius Sulpicius Rufus and (probably) Valeria, the sister of her guardian, Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, the patron of the poet Albius Tibullus. Her six surviving elegiac poems are contained in the third book of the Corpus Tibullianum (n.d.; English translation, 1913), adjoined to the works of other writers of the circle of Messalla: the Panegyricus Messallae, six elegies by Lygdamus, and a collection of five poems on Sulpicia’s love affair, probably by Tibullus.

Sulpicia’s poems track the progress of her relationship with a young Roman nobleman she calls Cerinthus. Although her poems display a refreshing simplicity and naîveté (especially when compared with the labored and laborious Tibullus), there is a sense that the collection is too well organized. She traces too perfectly the course of the relationship—introduction, conflict, sickness—following the conventions established by Tibullus, Ovid, and Sextus Propertius. To her credit, however, the poems reflect genuine feelings and mercifully lack the extended mythological allusions that ultimately mar the works of Rome’s great elegists. Nothing is known of the eventual fate of Sulpicia or of the true identity of Cerinthus.

Further Reading:

Flaschenriem, Barbara L. “Sulpicia and the Rhetoric of Disclosure.” Classical Philology 94 (January, 1999): 36-54. The author uses detailed textual analysis to support her belief that Sulpicia was a woman in conflict with herself. Though the poet expresses her thoughts and feelings honestly, she makes...

(The entire section is 674 words.)