Alan Cameron (born 1938) is a classical scholar from the UK. In the late 1970s he moved to the US where he was Professor of Latin Language and Literature at Columbia University of New York until his retirement in 2008. He is the author of several books about the history of the ancient world, including the following:
* Claudian: Poetry and Propaganda at the Court of Honorius (1970)
The book about Claudian - reprinted by Oxbow Books in the UK and Powell Books in the US - has more than 500 pages. The main text is divided into fourteen chapters which cover different topics which are relevant for a study of Claudian. Here are some of the topics which are covered in the book:
** "Techniques of the Propagandist" (chapter III) ** "Techniques of the Poet" (chapter X)
** "The Pagan at a Christian Court" (chapter VIII) ** "Claudian's Audience" (chapter IX)
We do not know much about Claudian, but we know enough to provide a brief biography (where all dates are approximate):
He was born in Alexandria in Egypt in 370. His first language was Greek, but he also learned Latin. In 394 he moved to Italy where he became a professional poet who wrote poems in Latin. At first he lived in Rome, but later he moved to Milan. In 401 he was married and travelled to Libya for his honeymoon. When he returned to Italy in 402, he lived in Rome. He died in 404.
In his preface, Cameron says:
"For the decade between 395 and 404 Latin poetry became once more in the hands of Claudian what it had been in the Flavian age [AD 69-96]. It was never to be the same again, and it is arguable that Claudian not only revived [it] but killed it as well."
The works of Claudian, which are preserved until today, can be divided into four groups:
# 1: Praising someone (panegyrics)
# 2: Attacking someone (invectives)
# 3: War reports (epic poems)
# 4: Other poems
Most of these works are discussed and analysed in great detail by Cameron; and it is done very well: Cameron tells us not only what Claudian says and why; he also tells us what Claudian does not say and why.
Claudian was hired to write propaganda. This means we have to be very careful when we read his poems: he almost never lies. In most cases he tells the truth. But his truth is partial. He almost never tells the whole truth.
There are important omissions in his poems: he is careful not to say anything negative about his heroes, e.g. Honorius and Stilicho; he is equally careful not to say anything positive about his enemies, e.g. Rufinus and Eutropius.
"Claudian" is an academic work. Most quotations are given in the original language - Greek, Latin, and French - and most of them are not translated into English. The author assumes the reader has a basic knowledge of Roman and Byzantine history. Therefore this book is not recommended for the beginner.
If, on the other hand, you are already familiar with the history of the ancient world and you wish to learn more, then this could be the right book for you. When you read it, you will get a chance to see a meticulous and thorough scholar at work.
If you have any problems concerning the Latin poems of Claudian, there are two ways around it:
(1) Go to the Loeb Classical Library which has published a complete edition of Claudian's poems with the Latin original on the left page and an English translation on the right page. The two-volume set, translated by Maurice Platnauer, was published in 1928 and reprinted in 1989. Here is a link:
(2) Go online and visit "Claudian on Lacus Curtius" where the complete works of Claudian are available in Latin and in English. "Lacus Curtius" is a website established by the US scholar Bill Thayer.
What about illustrations? There is only one illustration in this book: a picture of a diptych issued in 396 is printed on the frontispiece (and the front cover of the dust jacket). The right section shows Stilicho, while the left section shows his wife Serena and his son Eucherius.
There is no picture of Claudian, because we do not know what he looks like. A bronze statue of the poet was erected in Trajan's Forum in Rome in AD 400, but the statue does not exist anymore. The statue base with a bilingual inscription (in Latin and in Greek) has been preserved (and today it is placed in the National Museum of Naples).
Cameron mentions the statue several times. On page 361 he says: "A bronze statue erected in the forum by the senate and emperors of Rome. Not bad for a Greek poet not yet 30." On page 490 he mentions a book, which includes a photo of the statue base with the inscription. While the reference is helpful, it would have been better if he had included a photo of the inscription in his book.
Cameron gives the official reference - CIL VI, 1710 (= ILS 2949) - and quotes a few words from it, but unfortunately he does not give the whole text.
As stated above, "Claudian" is an academic work. It is not an easy read. But if you persevere, you will learn a lot about the life and times of Claudian and get a chance to see how a modern scholar can analyse and interpret the words of an ancient poet.
PS # 1 - For a discussion about the birthplace of the poet, see the following: Peter G. Christiansen, "Claudian: A Greek or a Latin?" Scholia, ns, vol. 6, 1997, pp. 79-95, and Bret Mulligan, "The Poet from Egypt?" Philologus, vol. 151, no. 2, 2009, pp. 285-310.