Nonnus of Panopolis

The Greek epic poet Nonnus (Greek "Nonnos", ), a native of Panopolis (Akhmim) in the Egyptian Thebaid, probably lived at the end of the 4th or the beginning of the 5th century AD.

He produced the Dionysiaca, an epic tale of the god Dionysus, a paraphrase of the Gospel of John, and two poems which are lost: the Battle of the Giants and the Bassarica.


Nonnus' principal work is the Dionysiaca, an epic in forty-eight books, the main subject of which is the expedition of Dionysus to India and his return. The earlier portions treat of the rape of Europa, the battle of the giants, the mythical history of Thebes, and it is not until the eighth book that the birth of the god is described. Other poets had already treated the subject, and since the time of Alexander it had gained popularity from the favourite comparison of the king with the god and of his enemies with the giants.

In its vast and formless luxuriance, its beautiful but artificial versification, its delineation of action and passion to the entire neglect of character, the poem resembles the epics of India. Like his countryman Claudian, Nonnus is a writer of copious learning and still more copious fancy, whose faults are those of the age in which he lived. His chief merit consists in the systematic perfection to which he brought the Homeric hexameter. But the very correctness of the versification renders it monotonous. His influence on the vocabulary of his successors was likewise very considerable.

We also possess under his name a paraphrase of the Gospel of John, which is chiefly interesting as apparently indicating that Nonnus in his later years converted to Christianity. The style is not inferior to that of his epic, but since it embellishes further the already embellished narrative of the evangelist, it produces an impression of extreme bombast and want of taste.

At least two other works by Nonnus are lost. Only four lines of the Bassarica (also on the subject of Dionysus) have been preserved in a commentary by Stephanus of Byzantium, and according to an epigram in the Palatine Anthology (ix. 198), Nonnus was the author of a work titled the Battle of the Giants.


  • Editio Princeps (1569);
  • Hermann August Theodor Köchly ("Teubner" series, with critical introduction and full index of names, 1858);
  • the most generally useful edition is that by the comte de Marcellus (1856), with notes and prolegomena, and a French prose translation.

On the metre,

  • J.G. Hermann, Orphica (1805), p. 690; A. Ludwich, Beitrage zur Kritik des Nonnus (1873), critical, grammatical and metrical; C. Lehrs, Quaestiones epicae (1837), pp. 255-302, chiefly on metrical questions.

On the sources, see

  • R. Kohler, Uber die Dionysiaka des Nonnus (1853), a short and connected analysis of the poem, with a comparison of the earlier and later myths;
  • I. Negrisoli, Studio critico ... Nonnus Panopolita, with short bibliography (1903).

The paraphrase on St John (editio princeps, c. 1505) is edited by F. Passow (1834) and A. Scheindler (1881), with complete index.werwer

Fear of Sex in Nonnus' Dionysiaca

See also

Kalamos and Karpos


This article incorporates text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, which is in the public domain.

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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