Sulpicia is believed by some to have been the author of six short poems (some 40 lines in all) published in the corpus of Albius Tibullus's poetry (poems 3.13-18). As such, she is one of the only female poets in Ancient Rome whose work still survives today. Sulpicia's poems have received critical attention; many scholars have argued that her poems are not the product of Sulpicia herself, but were instead written in her persona by another poet, presumably Tibullus.
If the identification is correct, Sulpicia lived in the reign of Augustus and was born around 40 BCE. She was the daughter of Servius Sulpicius Rufus and his wife Valeria; her uncle and guardian was Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus (64 B.C. - A.D. 8), an important patron of literature. Sulcipia's family were well-off citizens with connections to Emperor Augustus, since her uncle Messalla served as the commander for Augustus.
The poems consist of six short elegiac poems (3.13-18) addressed to a lover called 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.
For a long time many academics regarded Sulpicia as an amateur author, notable for nothing but her gender. 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.
Some critics have challenged the view that the poems attributed to Sulpicia were authored by a woman; Hubbard suggests the content of the poems is too risqué to have been penned by an aristocratic woman in Rome, while Habinek and Holzberg both suggest that the poems are too sophisticated to have been written by a woman. 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, 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 the amicus Sulpiciae (friend of Sulpicia).
- Thomas K. Hubbard (2004). "The Invention of Sulpicia". Classical Journal. 100 (2): 177–194. JSTOR 4132992.
- L.T. Pearcy, L.T., "Erasing Cerinthus: Sulpicia and her audience", Classical World 100 (Fall 2006), pp. 31-36.
- Santirocco, M. S. 1979. "Sulpicia Reconsidered," Classical Journal 74.3: 229-39.
- An overview of Sulpician criticism until 2006 can be found in Allison Keith, "Critical trends in Interpreting Sulpicia", Classical World, 100 (Fall, 2006), pp. 3-10
- Niklas Holzberg (1998). "Four Poets and a Poetess or a Portrait of the Poet as a Young Man? Thoughts on Book 3 of the Corpus Tibullanium". Classical Journal. 94 (2): 169–191. JSTOR 3298209.
- T. Habinek, The Politics of Latin Literature (Princeton 1998)
- Keith, "Critical trends"
- Hallett, J., "The eleven elegies of the Augustan Poet Sulpicia" in: Churchill, L.J., and Brown, P.R., Women writing Latin: From Roman Antiquity to Early Modern Europe, vol. 1 (New York, 2002), pp. 45-65.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sulpicia". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 69.
- Flaschenriem, Barbara L. (2005). "Sulpicia and the Rhetoric of Disclosure". Chapter 9 in Greene, Ellen (ed.) Women Poets in Ancient Greece and Rome. University of Oklahoma Press
- Merriam, Carol U. (2005). "Sulpicia and the Art of Literary Allusion: [Tibullus] 3.13". Chapter 8 in [Greene, Ellen (ed.) Women Poets in Ancient Greece and Rome. University of Oklahoma Press
- Stevenson, Jane (2005) Women Latin Poets. Language, Gender, and Authority, from Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 2005), especially ch. 1: "Classical Latin Women Poets" (31-48)
Poems of Sulpicia: