Sulpicia was the author, in the first century BCE, of six short poems (some 40 lines in all) written in Latin which were published as part of the corpus of Albius Tibullus's poetry (poems 3.13-18). She is one of the few female poets of ancient Rome whose work survives.
Sulpicia lived in the reign of Augustus and was born around 40 BCE. She was the daughter of Servius Sulpicius Rufus and probably his wife Valeria; her uncle the brother of Valeria, Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, an important patron of literature who also launched the career of Ovid. Sulpicia's family were well-off citizens with connections to Emperor Augustus, since her uncle Messalla served as the commander for Augustus.
Sulpicia's surviving work consists of six short elegiac poems (3.13–18), which have been preserved as part of a collection of poetry, book 3 of the Corpus Tibullianum, initially attributed to Tibullus. The poems are addressed to Cerinthus.
Cerinthus was most likely a pseudonym, in the style of the day (like Catullus's Lesbia and Propertius's Cynthia). Cerinthus has sometimes been thought to refer to the Cornutus addressed by Tibullus in two of his Elegies, probably an aristocratic Caecilius Cornutus. The similarity in consonants and the resemblance between the Greek keras ("horn") and Latin cornu (also "horn") are among arguments cited in favour of this identification. Recent criticism, however, has tended away from attempting to identify Cerinthus with an historical figure in favour of noting the literary implications of the pseudonym.
Some critics have challenged the view that the Sulpicia poems were authored by a woman; Thomas Hubbard, Thomas Habinek and Niklas Holzberg have rejected Sulpicia's female authorship by appealing to a purported lack of a female literary culture in ancient Rome. In an overview of Sulpician criticism, Alison Keith described the logic of Hubbard's article as "tortuous" and also highlights problems in Holzberg and Habinek's attempts to efface female authorship. In contrast, Judith P. Hallett argues for increasing the numbers of poems attributed to Sulpicia to include poems 8-12 from the Corpus Tibullianum, which had previously been attributed to an amicus Sulpiciae (friend of Sulpicia).
While academics traditionally regarded Sulpicia as an amateur author, this view was challenged by Santirocco in an article published in 1979, and subsequently the literary merit of this collection of poems has been more fully explored.
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