Encyclopedia

Gaius Julius Solinus

Gaius Julius Solinus, Latin grammarian and historian, lived in the first half of the third century. He compiled a work entitled De mirabilibus mundi ("The wonders of the world") or Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium ("Collection of Curiosities"), which contained a description of the ancient world; its reach included geography, geology, biology, zoology and anthropology. It was based on Pliny, Mela, and others. A greatly revised version of his original text was made, perhaps by Solinus himself. This version contains a letter that Solinus wrote as an introduction to the work, which gives the work the title Polyhistor ("multi-descriptive"). Both versions of the work circulated widely and eventually Polyhistor was taken for the author's name. It was popular in the Middle Ages, hexameter abridgments being current under the names of Theodericus and Petrus Diaconus.

Polyhistor is a encyclopedia on multiple subjects, somewhat like Pliny the Elder's Natural History or Isidore of Seville's Etymologies. However, the text of Solinus has a definite structure; it is based on geography. Solinus describes a place, its character, history and peoples, and then adds details about the animals, plants and stones to be found there. He has a particular interest in stones, but also writes of many animals, describing characteristics that made their way into the bestiaries, sometimes in distorted form. The influence of De mirabilibus mundi or Polyhistor on the medieval bestiary and encyclopedia writers is obvious.

Solinus also decribes the strange races of humans that were thought to live in various places. He is matter of fact in his treatment of them, clearly assuming they did exist.