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Theoi.com avers that

The poor quality of [Hyginus's] works lead most to believe they are either wrongly attributed to this distinguished scholar or are a later abridgement of his works composed by a C2nd grammarian. In spite of the poor writing style and numerous errors, the works do preserve many myths and alternative versions of myths not found elsewhere.

Wikipedia offers these evaluations:

Arthur L. Keith, reviewing H. J. Rose's edition (1934) of Hygini Fabulae, wondered "at the caprices of Fortune who has allowed many of the plays of an Aeschylus, the larger portion of Livy's histories, and other priceless treasures to perish, while this school-boy's exercise has survived to become the pabulum of scholarly effort."

and

Like the Fabulae, the Astronomia is a collection of abridgements, and the style and level of Latin competence and the elementary mistakes (especially in the rendering of the Greek originals) were held by the anonymous contributor to the Encyclopædia Britannica (11th edition, 1911), to prove that they cannot have been the work of "so distinguished" a scholar as G. Julius Hyginus. It was further suggested that these treatises are an abridgment made in the latter half of the 2nd century of the Genealogiae of Hyginus by an unknown adapter, who added a complete treatise on mythology. The star lists in the Astronomia are in exactly the same order as in Ptolemy's Almagest, reinforcing the idea of a 2nd-century compilation.

Hyginus's tales are certainly brief and unnuanced. But I'm interested in Latin style, and my Latin isn't advanced enough that I can tell the difference between Hyginus's "bad" Latin and somebody else's "good" Latin. What are some examples in Hyginus of "bad" style, and how might they be rendered better?

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H. J. Rose points to two characteristics of Hyginus's Latin that are considered substandard:

  • "Overworked" relative pronouns
  • Poor translations from Greek

Rose gives one example of the "monotonous use" of relative pronouns, from chapter 55 of Fabulae, though he remarks that such use can be found in "almost any passage" of Hyginus:

qui cum conatus esset a Ioue fulmine est interfectus. qui nouem iugeribus ad inferos exporrectus iacere dicitur, et serpens ei appositus est qui iecur eius exesset, quod cum luna recrescit.

Rose also provides several examples of Hyginus's mistranslations in Greek, pulling them with some English commentary from Werth's De Hygini Fabularum indole, (beginning on page 11). One "famous blunder" relates to a misunderstanding of the Greek word for "captive" in the title of the play Melanippe Captive:

Melanippen Desmontis filiam, siue Aeoli ut alii poetae dicunt, and several other mentions of this mysterious Desmontes, who owes his existence to a misunderstanding of δεσμωτις in the title of Euripides' play.

With such deficiencies, Rose offers Hyginus no mercy:

Hyginus' style is poor and jejune, with no very outstanding characteristics save its very feebleness and clumsiness

we must remember two characteristics of Hyginus—his gross carelessness and his atrocious mistakes in translating the simplest Greek.

I know of no other Latin author at once so likely to have Latinized a compendium or paraphrase of Homer and so capable of distorting the sense thereof as Hyginus.


Rose, An Unrecognized Fragment of Hyginus, Fabvlae. The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Apr., 1929), pp. 96–99.

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    Thank you so much! I'm glad to see my instincts weren't off-base. – Joel Derfner Mar 21 '16 at 17:46
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Well, as I read more of Hyginus, I'm beginning to get a sense of at least some places where the Latin feels inelegant. For example, in "Parerga [Herculis]," he writes

[Achelous] cum Hercule propter Dejaniræ conjugium cum pugnaret, in taurum se convertit, cui Hercules cornu detraxit, quod cornu Hesperidibus sive Nymphis donavit, quod deæ pomis replerunt et cornu copiæ appellarunt.

The string of relatives (cui . . . quod . . . quod) seems awkward enough to lead me to want to rewrite it ("Hercules cornu detractum Hesperidibus donavit, quod deæ. . . .", maybe?).

The repetition of cum in the same clause also feels weird. Perhaps a more elegant writer would have replaced the first one with contra?

That said, this is just a feeling, so if anybody knows better, or has other examples, I'd still love to see them!

  • For what it's worth, my sense agrees with yours here. I doubt you'd find such a cumbersome string of relative clauses in any of the more canonical Classical prose writers. – TKR Mar 18 '16 at 18:16

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