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Caecilius of Calacte

CAECILIUS OF CALACTE (first century C.E.), literary critic, rhetorician, and historian. Born in Calacte, Sicily, he was active in Rome in the days of Augustus. He wrote in Greek various works on rhetoric and on literary criticism, among them treatises on such themes as the characteristics of the ten greatest Attic orators, a comparison between Demosthenes and Cicero, the sublime style, and others. Together with Dionysius of Halicarnassus he was a proponent of the clear, concise style of expression known as Atticism and a bitter opponent of the flowery style of Asianism. One of his works deals with the difference between the two styles. He is particularly noteworthy for his skill in exposing works falsely attributed to orators. In historiography he was renowned as the author of an account of the slave wars in Sicily and of a theoretical treatise on history.

According to his biography contained in the tenth-century lexicon of Suidas, Caecilius, originally called Archagathus, was born a slave, and was a Jew by religion. There is no reason to doubt this statement – he was presumably the son of a man sold into slavery in Sicily who, when freed, adopted his patron's Roman name. Since only a few fragments of Caecilius' works have been preserved, it is not known whether his Judaism found expression in his writings. Interesting in this connection is the enthusiastic praise given by the author of a work of literary criticism, De Sublimitate (commonly referred to as "Pseudo-Longinus"), to the words of the "Jewish lawgiver" (Moses) which is a paraphrase of "And God said: 'Let there be light.' And there was light" (Gen. 1:3; cf. De Sublimitate 9:9). Since it is known that the work of Pseudo-Longinus was written in consequence of Caecilius' treatise on the same subject, it has been suggested that he learned of this biblical verse from that source, but the possibility of his having acquired the information through other channels cannot be ruled out. Plutarch, in his Life of Cicero, tells of a joke by the Roman orator directed against the Jewishness of his contemporary, the quaestor Caecilius. As it is highly improbable that the latter was in fact a Jew, some scholars see in this account a confusion between the quaestor Caecilius and the Jewish writer of the same name. Caecilius was the first known European Jewish author who did not write on Jewish subjects. He is, moreover, a pioneer in the field of comparative literature. He was severely criticized by Plutarch, who undoubtedly owed much to him.


M. Rothstein, in: Hermes, 23 (Ger., 1888), 1–20; H. Reinach, in: REJ, 26 (1893), 36–46; Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (1904), 629–33; Mutschmann, ibid., 52 (1917), 194ff.; Coulter, in: Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies, 5 (1964), 197ff.; W. von Christ, Geschichte der griechischen Literatur, 2 pt. 1 (1920), 462–6; E. Ofenloch, Caecilii Calactini Fragmenta (1907), fragments of Caecilius' works; F. Jacoby, Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, 2 (1929), 911 no. 183; H. Leon, Jews of Ancient Rome (1960), 15–16.