CurculioNotes on Persius
by Michael Hendry

Sorted By: Order in Text  Λ   V  Date Posted  Λ   V  Length of Comment  Λ   V 


Prologus 6

Version 1
Uploaded Saturday
February 22nd, 2014
at 12:30 am

I suspect that more pages have been written on semipaganus than on any other single word in Persius. Not only is the meaning of paganus obscure – fellow-townsman? rustic? civilian? – it is far from obvious what the implied other half is. This is a problem with other semi- compounds. A semivir is obviously half a man, but whether the other half is a beast or a woman or a boy or an inanimate object depends on the context: Ovid might have called the Minotaur a semivir bos or a semibos vir or a semivir semibos (calling him semibovemque virum, semivirumque bovem in A.A. 2.24 was just overkill) but a simple semivir or semibos, without further clues in the context, would have left his readers scratching their heads.

I lean towards the (familiar) idea that the pagus of which Persius is a partial member is Poetopolis, and that he is claiming to be half a poet and (presumably) half a prosaic writer of philosophical diatribe. Satiric and choliambic verse are certainly prosier than most genres, and putting philosophy into verse, as Lucretius did, will also tend to prosify it. Did Persius think of himself as a Stoic Lucretius? Or perhaps a Semilucretius, omitting Stoic physics and writing only on ethics? He certainly sounds Lucretian in 1.1. However, this is a huge subject, best put off for another day.

In the mean time, whatever semipaganus means, it certainly implies that Persius is half one thing, and half something else. Given Persius’ intimate knowledge of all Horace’s works, and his thorough reworking of the Sermones, I wonder: can it possibly be coincidental that the only ‘Persius’ mentioned in any of Horace’s works is a hybrida, the pun-loving Clazomenian halfbreed of Sermones 1.7?(1)

What Gowers says about Horace’s Persius in her recent commentary on Satires I (CGLC, 2012) sounds rather like the Neronian satirist: “this rancid legal pickle of bitter flavours . . . The poem can be read as a literary-critical duel between two old kinds of satire, [Persius’] the Greek-influenced wit of Lucilius, sharp but uncontrolled, and [Rex’s] the rustic and vinegary humour of Italy” (250). Was Persius inspired by ‘Persius’? It seems likely to me. Some may also wish to associate Horace’s Rupilius Rex with Persius’ supposed Mida rex or even Nero, but I’m not sure I’m willing to go so far.

As it happens, Persius’ other model Lucilius also mentions only one ‘Persius’ in the surviving bits of his satires, in two passages of what seems to have been his first published poem. We know that Book XXVI was his first collection of satires, placed after the hexameter works by officious editors. If Warmington and Krenkel are right in putting lines 632-4 W (= 591-3 K = 595-6 Marx) in the first satire of Book XXVI, then Lucilius stakes out his poetical position in his very first satire as midway between the tastes of the overlearned Persius and the underlearned Manius Manilius:

                                                  <ab indoctissimis>
nec doctissimis <legi me>; Man<ium Manil>ium
Persiumve haec legere nolo, Iunium Congum volo.

Different editors print different supplements, but Persium is safely outside them, and the general sense seems clear. Again, he says (Fr. 635 W = 594 K = 593 M)

Persium non curo legere, Laelium Decumum volo.

(We know from Cicero, who quotes this line, that Persius was the overlearned reader.) Is Persius the satirist thinking of Lucilius’ Persius when he writes his snobbish rejections of the common herd and professes that he doesn’t care whether anyone reads him?

Of course, my second point is less compelling than my first. We have only a small percentage of Lucilius’ works, so he may have mentioned this Persius or others many times in passages now lost. My first point is much stronger. We have no reason to believe that Horace wrote any lost works except for juvenilia that he did not wish to survive. It seems likely that his single ‘Persius’ caught the satirist Persius’ eye and influenced his work.

(1) If no one (so far as I know) has noticed the connection between the satirist Persius and his Horatian forebear, that may be because Sermones 1.7 is everyone’s least favorite poem of Horace, except for possibly Iambi 8 and 12.

Satire 1

An Udderly Hypocritical Patron

Version 1
Uploaded Monday
March 3rd, 2014
at 11:55 pm

A rich patron fishes for compliments (1.53-55):

                        calidum scis ponere sumen,
scis comitem horridulum trita donare lacerna,
et ‘verum’ inquis ‘amo, verum mihi dicite de me.’        55

The two gifts offered as bait are oddly assorted. A worn cloak shows a suitably sordid mixture of generosity and parsimony, well worth having but far less valuable than a new one would have been. However, a hot sow’s udder is an unambiguous delicacy. Lee and Barr see the problem but try to wiggle out of it: “a popular and doubtless not over-expensive delicacy”. Kißel offers all the parallels one could wish to prove that sumen was “a choice delicacy” and hot “the ideal serving temperature”. It may have been popular in the sense that everyone liked it, but surely not in the sense that anyone but the rich could afford to eat it often, if at all. Jenkinson’s ‘caviar’ seems a legitimate translation into modern socio-economic terms.

The pairing of udder and cloak might be defended as combining gifts of approximately equal value - not that I feel qualified to calculate the value of either gift in first-century currency. When clothes were woven, cut, and sewn by hand, a new cloak would have been worth far more than a fresh-cooked sow’s udder - unlike today, when a brand new winter jacket from K-Mart may (experto credite) cost less than a lambburger with fries and imported Mexican Coca Cola at the hot new restaurant in town. Whether a used cloak would have been worth more or less than a fresh sow’s udder would presumably have depended on just how worn it was.

Nevertheless, this is satire, and I expect a foodstuff that is at least mildly sordid and degrading to go with the worn cloak: as I have suggested elsewhere, in satire and invective the rule is lectio foedior potior. I suggest therefore that Persius wrote gelidum (a polar error in more ways than one - tepidum would be less sordid and further from the paradosis). The patron serves his poor client a cold sow’s udder, presumably left over from dinner with rich cronies the night before. (At least he doesn’t invite the two classes of guests to the same feast to humiliate the poor ones, like Virro in Juvenal 5 or the anonymous villain of Pliny, Epistulae 2.6.) In the days before refrigerators, a day-old udder would have been none too fresh, though still edible. Like the contents of a doggy bag from a fine restaurant today, it would have been tastier than a lot of fresh foods, while still far less attractive than it had been when fresh.

Now the two gifts match: they’re both cold, though in slightly different ways, both are used or at least not fresh, both would have been more welcome if given new-made (fresh from the tailor or freshly-cooked), and both are still worth having, thus putting the client firmly in his place. Or perhaps the clients: we don’t know whether the recipients of udder and cloak are the same person, but identifying the two might add a bit of point. Anyone would rather have his cooked meat hot from the stove, but a man who’s shivering with cold would especially appreciate any kind of hot food or drink, just to help warm up.

On the other hand, the plural dicite shows that two or more clients are present. Does one get the udder, the udder other the cloak? Or is there a whole crowd of clients, and one gets the udder, one the cloak, while the rest are sent away cold and hungry, but still hoping to be among the lucky few next time? Either way, it looks like the patron is trying to elicit some competitive flattery.


Three Small Problems in Persius, Prologus 14
Prologus 14

Version 1
Uploaded Tuesday
March 11th, 2014
at 08:35 pm

1. I find Harvey’s argument for a question mark at the end of the poem compelling and do not understand why subsequent editors have not followed him. I’m tempted to quote his entire long paragraph (9), but these bits should suffice:

“A question-mark at the end of 14 looks to be correct, since this punctuation alone makes 8-14 meaningful. The full stop unanimously adopted by edd. causes chaos, reducing the second half of the poem to lameness and extreme obscurity. . . . 12-14 as a statement is unintelligible. It suggests that money turns a bad poet into a good one, while credas (14), ‘you would suppose’, is not merely otiose but positively intrusive.”

2. Kißel (98) comments on “die Kühnheit der Junktur cantare nectar”, and Harvey also calls it “bold and incongruous”. Others use harsher words: “cantare . . . nectar pro: ‘cantare carmen nectareum vel suave’ nemo dixit praeter P., neque exempla allata . . . usum insolitum defendunt” (van Wageningen), “insolenter dictum nouitatis cupiditate” (Bo). So far as I have seen, no one has noted that cantare and nectar are very nearly anagrammatic, and share an entire syllable: CaN-TAR-E ~ NEC-TAR. That seems an effective way of combining things that are closely related and at the same time very different. Was such jingling word-play typical of the contemporary bad poets that are his target? Is Persius providing an illustration of “the smooth mellifluous stuff so dear to the popular taste of [his] day” (Lee-Barr) in the very description of it? Such wordplay also seems Lucretian, which arguably provides a nice lead-in to 1.1. Or are the sounds supposed to be crowlike or magpielike? Except for the Ns, cantare . . . nectar sounds rather corvine to me.

3. Since Persius is at least as willing as other Roman satirists to wade into the filthy side of life, I wonder: if nectar here means ‘honey’ (and it does), and honey is a golden liquid excreted by animals,(1) might Pegaseium nectar imply a less pleasant golden liquid excreted from the other end of a much larger animal? In short, is there some hint that the bad poets’ works are no better than horse-piss? If that seems harsh, I will gladly grant that mythological-flying-horse-piss is a better class of piss than ordinary barnyard horse-piss.(2) I should say that I do not think this can be the primary meaning: if it were, it might make Harvey’s question mark unnecessary. Rather, I agree with Gildersleeve: “Nectar . . . combined with Pegaseium is sufficiently grandiloquent to be as absurd as it is intended to be.” A whiff of the barnyard would help make the grandiloquence even more absurd.

(1) I have not done a thorough investigation of what the ancients knew about how honey is made, but Persius’ contemporary the Elder Pliny knew that honey is bee vomit: ore enim eum vomunt (NH 11.12.31).

(2) Other poets (not Persius) are already drinking from a horse-pond in line 1, which is nasty enough. It is not surprising that some scribes misread prolui as pollui there.

Satire 1

Machinical Error?

Version 2
Uploaded Friday
March 14th, 2014
at 05:18 pm

A minor question of orthography:

ne mihi Polydamas et Troiades Labeonem

The name of the Trojan hero Πολυδάμας does not scan in hexameters: the first three syllables are short. Homer therefore lengthened the first syllable to make Πουλυδάμας. How that should be spelled in Latin is not entirely settled.

The latest editors of the three Augustan poems in which Πολυδάμας is mentioned all print forms of Pulydamas: Heyworth in Propertius 3.1.29, Knox in Ovid, Heroides 5.94, and Tarrant in Ovid, Metamorphoses 12.542. Propertius’ older manuscripts are divided, with N giving poli and the descendants of A (FLP, Heyworth’s Π) puli (both as separate words). But the older manuscripts of Ovid – quite a bit older than Propertius’ – give Poly- in both works. Nevertheless, none of the three editors argues the point, and neither Knox nor Tarrant even mentions it in his apparatus, printing accusative Pulydamanta in both texts without explanation. Nor do Heyworth or Knox argue the point in their commentaries. It seems to be the consensus of modern editors (perhaps only ‘Anglo-Saxon’ editors) that Pulydamas is the proper way to spell the name, at least in the higher genres of hexameter verse during the reign of Augustus.

Is that how Persius would have spelled it half a century or more later? His editors much prefer Polydamas: of those I have seen, only Valpy and Némethy print Pulydamas. However, only Gildersleeve and Kißel argue the point at all. I find their arguments unconvincing, and have therefore printed Pulydamas in my text. Kißel (116) adduces the preponderance of manuscripts in verse authors who name Polydamas, but does not explain why he would have preferred the Doric-Aeolic form. (Besides Propertius and Ovid, the sources are Ilias Latina 786 and Silius 12.212.) I am not so willing to trust scribes not to normalize the spelling of an unfamiliar name. Gildersleeve doesn’t argue so much as assert: “Some write Pulydamas, corresponding with the Homeric form, Πουλυδάμας; but Pōlydamas (Πωλυδάμας) is the Sicilian Doric, like pōlypus (πωλύπος).” He goes on to expound the allusion to the Iliad, which makes nonsense of the supposed Sicilian origin. It seems obvious to me that most Romans would have learned pōlypus at the fishmarket, where Sicilian dialect would have been likely enough, while those Romans who knew the name of the hero at all would have learned it from reading Homer. They would have had no more need to assimilate hero to mollusc than to assimilate the spellings of machina and mechanicus. Here, too, the less learned borrowing (machina from μαχανά) presumably came from personal contact with Dorian-speaking ‘rude mechanicals’, while the more learned (mechanicus from μηχανή) would have come from reading Attic-Ionic texts.


The Choliambi: Prologue, Epilogue, or . . . ?
Prologus 1-14

Version 1
Uploaded Friday
February 21st, 2014
at 06:17 pm

Most manuscripts (followed by most editors) place Persius’ fourteen choliambic lines before the six hexameter satires, but two of the three best (AB = α) place them after all six, while the third (P) omits them entirely. The lines themselves fall into two halves of seven lines each, with a very abrupt transition. Some have therefore argued that they are two separate poems, though this opinion is now out of fashion.(1) A bit of ring-composition – the first and last lines both contain allusions to Pegasus – makes it hard to separate them.

There is one other possible arrangement I think worth outlining, since, so far as I can tell, no one else has suggested it before. (If I am mistaken, please correct me in the comments.) I don’t believe it myself, but hope that it may prove a stimulus to further thought.

Is it conceivable that the choliambs are in fact Persius’ prologue and epilogue, that lines 1-7 should be placed before Satire 1 and lines 8-14 after Satire 6? That would explain their uncertain position in the manuscripts: faced with two bits of verse in the same non-hexameter meter, a scribe might well have been tempted to combine them in one place, and either end of the corpus would have done as well as the other. The lack of connection between lines 7 and 8 would obviously not be a problem if they originally had 660+ hexameters between them, and the Pegasean ring-composition would work just as well as a device to unite an entire book, rather than a single short poem.

The first half without the second would arguably work as a lead-in to Satire 1. It could almost be printed with a colon at the end: “I’m bringing a poetic offering to the Holy Rites:” . . . and here it is, in a new paragraph and a different meter. So far, so good. However, the second half doesn’t work for me at all as an epilogue. It starts out as an interesting new poem, but whether we punctuate the last line with a full stop (editors) or with a question mark (as Harvey suggests, ad loc.), it doesn’t seem to provide anything in the way of closure. That is why I do not believe my hypothesis. I could modify (and complicate) it by arguing that something is missing at the end of 8-14, but that would ruin the matching lengths of the hypothetical Prologue and Epilogue, so I’m not willing to go that far.

(1) Dessen (16 and n4) attributes it to F. Leo, “Zum text des Persius und Iuvenal”, Hermes 45 (1910) 48. I will look it up next time I’m in a research library, since Google Books refuses to tell me whether they have even scanned it, much less whether I can read it, no matter how carefully I tailor my search terms.

Satire 5

When Two Ets Are Two Too Many

Version 1
Uploaded Saturday
March 1st, 2014
at 11:10 pm

A concise animal allegory illustrates the difficulty of achieving true freedom (5.157-60):

nec tu, cum obstiteris semel instantique negaris
parere imperio, ‘rupi iam uincula’ dicas;
nam et luctata canis nodum abripit, et tamen illi,
cum fugit, a collo trahitur pars longa catenae.        160

                159 et tamen αVXRW : at tamen P : ast tamen GLN : tamen C

Braund translates the last two lines “Even when a bitch breaks the knot after a struggle, a long section of chain still trails from her neck”. I don’t quite see the “when” in the Latin, and it seems to me that ut for the first et in 159 would provide better sense at very small cost. Now the first clause means “even supposing a bitch breaks the knot after a struggle”: a hypothetical is good here. As the OLD notes (s.v. 35), this concessive use of ut is often matched with tamen in the main clause, and that is exactly what we have after the comma. It also requires the subjunctive, so we must alter abripit to abripiat and then delete the second et to save the meter. However, that actually removes another small problem: the variants listed in the apparatus, particularly the unmetrical reading of C, point to interpolation. Once abripiat had lost its second a, et and at and ast were variously inserted to mend the meter, while C or its ancestor left it unmended.

My final text:

nam ut luctata canis nodum abripiat, tamen illi,
cum fugit, a collo trahitur pars longa catenae.        160


A Bit of Nachleben
Prologus 10-11

Version 1
Uploaded Saturday
February 22nd, 2014
at 12:47 am

An amusing bit of Nachleben seems worth mentioning here. In his Südelbucher, G. C. Lichtenberg wrote (L 315):

Ein Stoß auf den Magen beraubt alles Bewußtseins nicht den Magen sondern den Kopf selbst. Überhaupt wird immer von Kopf und Herz geredet und viel zu wenig vom Magen, vermutlich, weil er in den Souterrains logiert ist, aber die Alten verstunden es besser. Persius kreierte ihn bekanntlich schon zum Magister Artium, und in den 1700 (?) Jahren kann er doch wohl etwas hinzu gelernt haben.

A punch in the stomach deprives of all consciousness not the stomach but the head itself. In general, people are always talking about head and heart, and far too little about the stomach, probably because it lodges in the basement, but the ancients understood it better. As is well known, Persius awarded it the Master of Arts, and in 1700 (?) years it may surely have become more learned.

Of course, Lichtenberg cheats a bit by taking Persius’ magister artis is if it were magister artium. I do not know what the parenthesized question mark after 1700 is supposed to mean. Lichtenberg was writing in 1796, which was 1734 years after the death of Persius, so 1700 is a good round figure for the number of years the stomach had had to for further education. Did Lichtenberg himself add the query because he was unsure of Persius' dates?