Giovanni Piccolo

Giovanni Piccolo (PhD in Classics & Archaeology, 2022), ‘The Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium by Gaius Julius Solinus: A Roman Geography for a Changing World’

The Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium is a collection of wondrous facts from various areas of natural science presented within the geographical framework of a description of the known world. Little is known of its author Gaius Julius Solinus, possibly a grammaticus who lived between the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth century [CE]. Despite being today largely neglected within the field of Latin literature, the text played a significant role in the transmission of classical geographical and scientific knowledge to Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Since the publication of Theodor Mommsen’s critical edition of the text in the late nineteenth century, studies on Solinus’s work have largely focused on philological issues concerning the author’s sources and the authenticity of the second redaction of the text. Such approach stemmed from the general view that the text was a mere epitome of its main source, Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, and has not offered a comprehensive assessment as to why and for whom the Collectanea was written. This thesis aims to fill this gap in the research and to answer the question of what the ultimate purpose of this text was. Specifically, the following aspects of the issue are investigated: the cultural, social, and historical reasons that prompted Solinus’s reorganisation of Pliny’s knowledge; the world view that emerges from the prominent space reserved to Rome within the text; and the role of mirabilia, and, in particular, animal paradoxography, in providing the author with the epistemological support to the world order that his text upholds.
The methodology here adopted follows a text-based approach, by analysing those passages of the Collectanea in which Solinus’s tone, choice of words, and deviation from source material can be read as indicative of his authorial autonomy, and thus the reflection of a clear political project. This thesis concludes that a date of composition at the reign of Constantine I (or at least between the end of the third and the first few decades of the fourth century) is consistent with the author’s need to reaffirm the cultural primacy of the city of Rome, at a time in which it was losing its political relevance. It also suggests that the view of Nature that emerges from Solinus’ use of animal paradoxography (and mirabilia in general) is indicative of a ‘deterministic’ Weltanschauung, and is used as the moral justification of a providentially arranged world order with Rome at its centre. This thesis ultimately argues that Solinus’ Collectanea should be read independently from its sources, and that its importance lies in its being one of the most significant reflections of the cultural eclecticism of its time.
Supervisors: Professor Tim Parkin, Professor Frederik Vervaet