who, as a forensic speaker, was considered by his countrymen generally as not unworthy of being ranked with Caesar, Brutus, Pollio, and Messalla, while by some he was thought to rival even Cicero himself, and who as a poet is commonly placed side by side with Catullus, was born on the 28th of May, B. C. 82, on the same day with M. Coelius Rufus. (Plin. Nat. 7.50.) He was the son of C. Licinius Macer, a man of praetorian dignity, who, when impeached (B. C. 66) of extortion by Cicero, finding that the verdict was against him, forthwith committed suicide before the formalities of the trial
The inconsiderable fragments which have been preserved of the above speeches are not of such a description as to enable us to form any estimate of the powers of Calvus; but we gather from the testimony of Cicero, Quintilian, and the author of the dialogue on the decline of eloquence, that his compositions were carefully moulded after the models of the Attic school, and were remarkable for the accuracy, tact, and deep research which they displayed, but were so elaborately polished as to appear deficient in ease, vigour, and freshness; and thus, while they were listened to with delight and admiration by men of education, they fell comparatively dead and cold upon an uncultivated audience. (Cic. Fam. 15.21; Quint. Inst. 10.1.111. 10.2.25, 12.10.11.; Dial. de Orat. 17, 21, 25 ; Senec. Controv. 1. c.)
As a poet, he was the author of many short fugitive pieces, which, although of a light and sportive character (jcca) and somewhat loose in tone, still bore the stamp of high genius--of elegies whose beauty and tenderness, especially of that on the untimely death of his mistress Quintilia, have been warmly extolled by Catullus, Propertius, and Ovid --and of fierce lampoons (famosa epigrammata) upon Pompey, Caesar, and their satellites, the bitterness of which has been commemorated by Suetonius. We have reason to believe, from the criticisms of Pliny (Plin. Ep. 1.16) and Aulus Gellius (19.9), that the poems of Calvus, like the lighter effusions of Catullus with which they are so often classed, were full of wit and grace, but were nevertheless marked by a certain harshness of expression and versification which offended the fastidious ears of those habituated to the unbroken smoothness of the poets of the Augustan court. They were undoubtedly much read, so that even Horace, whose contemptuous sneer (Sat. 1.10. 16) was probably in some degree prompted by jealousy, cannot avoid indirectly acknowledging and paying tribute to their popularity. As to their real merits, we must depend entirely upon the judgment of others, for the scraps transmitted to us are so few and trifling, none extending beyond two lines, that they do not enable us to form any opinion for ourselves. We hear of an Epithalamium (Priscian, 5.8. p. 196, ed. Krehl); of an Io, in hexameter verse (Serv. ad Virg. Ecl. 6.47, 8.4); and of a Hipponacteum praeconium, levelled against the notorious Hermogenes Tigellius (Schol. Cruq. ad Hor. Sat. 1.3. 3 ; Cic. Fam. 7.24); but with these exceptions, the very names of his pieces are lost. (Plin. Ep. 4.14.9, 4.27.3, 5.3; Catull. xcvi.; Propert. 2.19, 40, 2.25, 89; Ov. Am. 3.9. 61 ; Senec. Controv. l.c.; Sueton. Jul. Caes. 49, 73.)
Calvus was remarkable for the shortness of his stature, and hence the vehement action in which he indulged while at the bar, leaping over the benches, and rushing violently towards the seats of his opponents, was in such ludicrous contrast with his stunted and insignificant person, that even his friend Catullus has not been able to resist a joke, and has presented him to us as the " Salaputium disertum," "the eloquent Tom Thumb." (Catull. liv.; Senec. Controv. l.c.)
With regard to his name, he is usually styled C. Licinius Calvus; but we find him called by Cicero (ad Q. Fr. 2.4) Macer Licinius, probably after his father; and hence his full designation would be that which we have placed at the head of this article.
The most complete account of Licinius Calvus is given in the essay of Weichert "De C. Licinio-Calvo poeta" (Fragm. Poet. Latin. Lips. 1830) ; but it is so full of digressions that it is not very readable. See also Levesque de Burigny in the Memoirs of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Lettres, vol. xxxi.[W.R]