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Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus

Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus (64 BC - AD 8) was a Roman general, author and patron of literature and art.

He was educated partly at Athens, together with Horace and the younger Cicero. In early life he became attached to republican principles, which he never abandoned, although he avoided offending Augustus by too open an expression of them. He, moved that the title of pater patriae should be bestowed upon Augustus, and yet resigned the appointment of praefect of the city after six days’ tenure of office, because it was opposed to his ideas of constitutionalism. In 43 BC he was proscribed, but managed to escape to the camp of Brutus and Cassius. After the battle of Philippi (42) he went over to Antony, but subsequently transferred his support to Octavian. In 31 Messalla was appointed consul in place of Antony, and took part in the battle of Actium. He subsequently held commands in the East, and suppressed the revolted Aquitanians; for this latter feat he celebrated a triumph in 27.

Messalla restored the road between Tusculum and Alba, and many handsome buildings were due to his initiative. His influence on literature, which he encouraged after the manner of Maecenas, was considerable, and the group of literary persons whom he gathered round him--including Tibullus, Lygdamus and the poet Sulpicia--has been called "the Messalla circle." With Horace and Tibullus he was on intimate terms, and Ovid expresses his gratitude to him as the first to notice and encourage his work.’ The two panegyrics by unknown authors (one printed among the poems of Tibullus as iv. 1; the other included in the Catalepton, the collection of small poems attributed to Virgil) indicate the esteem in which he was held.

Messalla was himself the author of various works, all of which are lost. They included Memoirs of the civil wars after the death of Caesar, used by Suetonius and Plutarch; bucolic poems in Greek; translations of Greek speeches; occasional satirical and erotic verses; essays on the minutiae of grammar. As an orator, be followed Cicero instead of the Atticizing school, but his style was affected and artificial. Later critics considered him superior to Cicero, and Tiberius adopted him as a model. Late in life he wrote a work on the great Roman families, wrongly identified with an extant poem De pro genie Augusti Caesaris bearing the name of Messalla, but really a 12th-century production.

Monographs by L Wiese (Berlin, 1829), JM Valeton (Groningen, 5874), L Fontaine (Versailles, 1878); H Schulz, De MV aetate (1886); "Messalla in Aquitania" by JP Postgate in Classical Review, March 1903; WY Sellar, Roman Poets of the Augusian Age. Horace and the Elegiac Poets (Oxford, 1892), pp. 213 and 221 to 258; the spurious poem ed. by R Mecenatë (1820).

Two other members of this distinguished family of the Valerian germ may be mentioned: Marcus Valerius Messalla and Manius Valerius Maximus Corvinus Messalla.

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