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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Vol. XX

Oppian (Gr.: Ὀππιᾶνος), the name of the authors of two (or three) didactic poems in Greek hexameters, formerly identified, but now generally regarded as two different persons.

(1) Oppian of Corycus (or Anazarbus) in Cilicia, who flourished in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (emperor A.D. 161‑180). According to an anonymous biographer, his father, having incurred the displeasure of Lucius Verus, the colleague of Marcus Aurelius, by neglecting to pay his respects to him when he visited the town, was banished to Malta.a Oppian, who had accompanied his father into exile, returned after the death of Verus (169) and went on a visit to Rome. Here he presented his poems to Marcus Aurelius, who was so pleased with them that he gave the author a piece of gold for each line, took him into favour and pardoned his father. Oppian subsequently returned to his native country, but died of the plague shortly afterwards, at the early age of thirty. His contemporaries erected a statue in his honor, with an inscription which is still extant, containing a lament for his premature death and a eulogy of his precocious genius. His poem on fishing (Halieutica), of about 3500 lines, dedicated to Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, is still extant.

(2) Oppian of Apamea (or Pella) in Syria. His extant poem on hunting (Cynegetica) is dedicated to the emperor Caracalla, so that it must have been written after 211. It consists of about 2150 lines, and is divided into four books, the last of which seems incomplete. The author evidently knew the Halieutica, and perhaps intended his poem as a supplement. Like his namesake, he shows considerable knowledge of his subject and close observation of nature; but in style and poetical merit he is inferior to him. His versification also is less correct. The improbability of there having been two poets of the same name, writing on subjects so closely akin and such near contemporaries, may perhaps be explained by assuming that the real name of the author of the Cynegetica was not Oppian, but that he has been confounded with his predecessor. In any case, it seems clear that the two were not identical.

A third poem on bird-catching (Ixeutica, from ἰξός, bird-lime), also formerly attributed to an Oppian, is lost; a paraphrase in Greek prose by a certain Eutecnius is extant. The author is probably one Dionysius, who is mentioned by Suidas as the author of a treatise on stones (Lithiaca).

The chief modern editions are J. G. Schneider (1776); F. S. Lehrs (1846); U. C. Bussemaker (Scholia, 1849); (Cynegetica) P. Boudreaux (1908). The anonymous biography referred to above will be found in A. Westermann's Biographi Graeci (1845). On the subject generally see A. Martin, Études sur la vie et les oeuvres d'Oppien de Cilicie (1863); A. Ausfeld, De Oppiano et scriptis sub ejus nomine traditis (1876). There are translations of the Halieutica, in English by Diaper and Jones (1722), and in French by E. J. Bourquin (1877).b

Thayer's Notes:

a Not necessarily Malta. The island was Melite, but there were at least two by that name, and there is reason to think that it was the other one: see Mair's introduction, p. xv.

b Since 1911, further translations have been published, among them the English translation of the Cynegetica and the Halieutica by A. W. Mair (Loeb Classical Library), onsite; the exhaustive introduction to which investigates the uncertainties as to the identity of the two Oppians.

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