A Roman child prodigy
, Quintus Sulpicius Maximus won an imperial poetry contest at the age of 11, and died mysteriously a short time thereafter.
On September 14
, 95 A.D., Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus, know as Domitian
, called for a third ludi Capitolini
, a Roman competition that included gymnastics, equestrian sports, music, and poetry. Over fifty competitors were present for the poetry contest
, and were charged with composing on this subject:
The words which Jupiter made use of in reproving Apollo for having trusted his chariot to Phaeton.
Eleven-year-old Q. Sulpicius Maximus composed forty-three verses and won the competition. Quintus, whose first language was Latin
, had probably learned Greek by reading Homer
. Composing a full 43 verses in strict hexameter
s was amazing in itself, let alone besting fifty-odd mature poet
s. Although Roman history names Q. Sulpicius Maximus an "improvisatori
", it is unknown whether he spoke his verses extemporaneously, or whether he and his fifty-one colleagues were given the opportunity to consider the subject. Regardless, the emperor crowned Q. Sulpicius Maximus with the Capitoline laurels
; analogous to being named the champion of the world. Unfortunately, he did not live to enjoy is his victory
, as he died soon after games. The circumstances of his death
To the Departed Spirits; For Quintus Sulpicius, son of Quintus, of the tribe Maximus, who was born at Rome and lived eleven years, five months and twelve days This boy, at the third Capitoline Games, plainly excited favor in a competition of fifty two Greek poets because of his young age, and he excited admiration by his skill and departed with honor. Verses that he composed extemporaneously are inscribed below lest his parents seem to be exaggerating because of their affection. Quintus Sulpicius Eugrammus and Licinia Ianuaria, his parents, made this for their unfortunate and pious son and for themselves and their descendents.
The above was engraved on the tomb of Q. Sulpicius Maximus
, which was unearthed in 1871, from beneath the ruins of the Porta Salaria
. His parents went to the great expense of having he and his words
preserved in stone in order that the knowledge of his achievement would follow the boy into the Lower World
. The tomb has been moved from it's original location, and resides today in the Palazzo dei Conservatori
, a museum in Rome