Native name
Νόννος ὁ Πανοπολίτης
BornPanopolis (contemporary Egypt)
OccupationEpic poet
LanguageHomeric Greek
Years active5th century CE
Notable worksDionysiaca

Nonnus of Panopolis (Greek: Νόννος ὁ Πανοπολίτης, Nónnos ho Panopolítēs, fl. 5th century CE) was the most notable Greek epic poet of the Imperial Roman era.[1] He was a native of Panopolis (Akhmim) in the Egyptian Thebaid and probably lived in the 5th century CE. He is known as the composer of the Dionysiaca, an epic tale of the god Dionysus, and of the Metabole, a paraphrase of the Gospel of John. The epic Dionysiaca describes the life of Dionysus, his expedition to India, and his triumphant return. It was written in Homeric Greek and in dactylic hexameter, and it consists of 48 books at 20,426 lines.


There is almost no evidence for the life of Nonnus. It is known that he was a native of Panopolis (Akhmim) in Upper Egypt from his naming in manuscripts and the reference in epigram 9.198 of the Palatine Anthology.[a] Scholars have generally dated him from the end of the 4th to the central years of the 5th century CE. He must have lived after the composition of Claudian's Greek Gigantomachy (i.e., after 394–397) as he appears to be familiar with that work. Agathias Scholasticus seems to have followed him, with a mid-6th-century reference to him as a "recent author".[3][4]

He is sometimes conflated with St Nonnus from the hagiographies of St Pelagia and with Nonnus, the bishop of Edessa who attended the Council of Chalcedon, both of whom seem to have been roughly contemporary, but these associations are probably mistaken.[5]

The Dionysiaca

Main article: Dionysiaca

Mosaic of Dionysus from Antioch

Nonnus' principal work is the 48-book epic Dionysiaca, the longest surviving poem from classical antiquity.[6] It has 20,426 lines composed in Homeric Greek and dactylic hexameters, the main subject of which is the life of Dionysus, his expedition to India, and his triumphant return. The poem is to be dated to the 5th century. It used to be considered of poor literary quality, but a mass of recent writing (most notably in the Budé edition and commentary on the poem in 18 volumes) has demonstrated that it shows consummate literary skill, even if its distinctly baroque extravagance is an acquired taste for a modern reader. His versification invites attention: writing in hexameters he uses a higher proportion of dactyls and less elision than earlier poets; this plus his subtle use of alliteration and assonance gives his verse a unique musicality. An error to be corrected is that he must have been a pagan when writing the poem: but the treatment of myth as agreeable fiction had been common since the Hellenistic period, and Nonnos ignores pagan ritual, which was the essence of authentic paganism.

The Paraphrase of John

His Paraphrase of John (Metabolḕ toû katà Iōánnēn Euaggelíou) also survives. Its timing is a debated point: textual analysis seems to suggest that it preceded the Dionysiaca while some scholars feel it unlikely that a converted Christian would have gone on to devote so much work to the Dionysiaca’s pagan themes.[7][8]


A complete and updated bibliography of Nonnus scholarship may be found at Hellenistic Bibliography's page at Google Sites.[9]

Editions and translations of the Dionysiaca include:

Editions and translations of the Paraphrase include:

A team of (mainly Italian) scholars are now re-editing the text, book by book, with ample introductions and notes. Published so far:

See also


  1. ^ On the references to Egypt in the poem, see D. Gigli Piccardi (1998), “Nonno e l’Egitto”, Prometheus 24, 61-82 and 161-81. Enrico Livrea has proposed the identification of the poet with the Syrian bishop of Edessa of the same name.[2]


  1. ^ "Nonnus | Greek poet". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-10-06. Nonnus, (flourished 5th century CE, b. Panopolis, Egypt), the most notable Greek epic poet of the Roman period.
  2. ^ E. Livrea (1987), “Il poeta e il vescovo: la questione nonniana e la storia”, Prometheus 13, 97-123
  3. ^ Agathias Scholasticus, Hist. 4.23. (530 x 580)
  4. ^ Fornaro, S. s.v. Nonnus in Brill's New Pauly vol. 9 (ed. Canick & Schneider) (Leiden, 2006) col.812–815
  5. ^ Cameron (2016), pp. 85 ff.
  6. ^ Hopkinson, N. Studies in the Dionysiaca of Nonnus (Cambridge, 1994) pp.1–4.
  7. ^ Vian, Francis. '"Mârtus" chez Nonnos de Panopolis. Étude de sémantique et de chronologie.' REG 110, 1997, 143-60. Reprinted in: L'Épopée posthomérique. Recueil d'études. Ed. Domenico Accorinti. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2005 (Hellenica 17), 565-84
  8. ^ Cameron (2016).
  9. ^ "Nonnus", Hellenistic Bibliography, Google Sites.


Further reading