Cornelii Nepotis Excellentium Imperatorum: cum Versione Anglica, in qua Verbum de Verbo, Quantum Fieri Potuit, Redditur

From Wythepedia: The George Wythe Encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

by Cornelius Nepos

Nepos's Lives of the Excellent Commanders
George Wythe bookplate.jpg
Title not held by The Wolf Law Library
at the College of William & Mary.
Author Cornelius Nepos
Published Edinburgh:
Date 1744 (Probable edition)
Volumes volume set

Cornelius Nepos (c. 110 – 24 BCE) is the earliest extant Latin biographer. He was born in Cisalpine Gaul, on the Roman side of the Alps. By 65 BCE, he had moved to Rome and established himself in the literary circles of the time. His work On Famous Men grouped and chronicled the lives of about 400 men, both Roman and non-Roman, who he recognized as significant and important men. The only surviving remains of On Famous Men are "On Eminent Foreign Generals" and, from his section on Roman Historians, writings on the lives of Porcius Cato and Atticus.[1]

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Nepos was largely discounted as a sub-par researcher and writer due to his basic linguistic structures and error-ridden historical accounts.[2] According to one historian, "the accidents of survival and Nepos' [sic] primacy as the first extant Latin biographer are what make him worthy of study. The biographer’s methods, themes, philosophies and political views are secondary to his position on the generic timeline and are not inherently interesting in themselves."[3] In more recent years, however, ancient historians and biographers have been looked upon in a kinder light with an emphasis on the moral tone and purpose of the author:

A biography's historicity, moreover, is often subordinated to its moral agenda. Thus, a biographer might deliberately employ a flexible chronology or prefer anecdotal evidence to harder, grander "facts" and deeds in order to underscore some of his subject's traits, such as loyalty, generosity, restraint—or the lack thereof.[4]

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

Listed in the Jefferson Inventory of Wythe's Library as Cornelius Nepos. Lat. Eng. By Arrol. 8vo. and given by Thomas Jefferson to his nephew John Wayles Eppes. The precise edition owned by Wythe is unknown. George Wythe's Library[5] on LibraryThing suggests the 1744 edition translated by Robert Arrol and published in Edinburgh while also noting "Probable edition. A pirated edition, also in octavo, was published at Dublin in 1753." The Brown Bibliography[6] also lists the 1744 edition and comments that Jefferson doesn't seem to have ever owned this edition himself.

One of Wythe's students, Littleton Waller Tazewell, mentions reading a copy of "the lives of Cornelius Nepos" in his Account and History of the Tazewell Family (1823) — specifically the life of Eumenes.

See also


  1. John Roberts, ed. "Nēpos, Cornēlius" in Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  2. Molly M. Pryzwansky, "Cornelius Nepos: Key Issues and Critical Approaches," The Classical Journal 105, no 2 (Dec. 2009): 97.
  3. Ibid., 98.
  4. Ibid., 100.
  5. LibraryThing, s.v. "Member: George Wythe," accessed on September 11, 2023.
  6. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at: