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Sharon Marshall

on 3 March 2016

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Transcript of Persius: IRONY AND TRUTH

Ah the obsessions of men! Ah, what an empty word...:
A verbatim quotation of a line of Lucilius.
Polydamas and Trojans ladies:
From Homer’s
22.100; Hector fears their criticism.
the faulty tongue:
the pointer on a pair of scales.
Berecyntian Attis:
A possible reference to Nero’s Attis, performed at his Juvenalia? Attis was a Prygian shephered adored by the goddess Cybele, but unfaithful to her. She drove him to castrate himself and he was then turned into a pine tree.
“The dolphin slicing his way through dark blue Nereus”, and to “We stole a rib from the long spine of the Apennines.”
We have no idea where these lines are from!
The Bassarid carrying the head torn from a frisky calf and the Maenad ready to guide the lynx with reins of ivy cry Euhoe! Euhoe!
Bassarid and Maenad both female celebrants of wine-god Bacchus. Euhoe is the cry with which Bacchus is invoked.
Persius: Obscuring the truth
Satire 1
Summary of key points:
Writing under Neronian repression
Moving in Stoic circles (Stoic moderation as resistance to tyranny)
Extraordinarily precarious time for poets
Draws heavily on Horace but replaces conversational style with dense, obscure, grotesque style (which this lecture aims to unpack)
Claims truth whilst also denying possibility of speaking truth under Nero
Emphasis on solitariness and pressure to stay silent
Potential criticism of Nero (especially his patronage of literary scene; love of all things Trojan and his own performance at Juvenalia)

A programmatic piece of literary criticism
Highly critical of Roman literary taste
Creators of literature and their audience are similar in their perversion, hypocrisy and lack of critical nous
Satirist has innate and overwhelming desire to write
Attacks literary pretension
Takes form of dialogue with imaginary opponent whose argument Persius dismantles
my skin’s not that tough:
P. acknowledges that his Stoic freedom from emotion does not entirely free him from the desire for praise, but it does moderate it.
Attius Labeo, the apparently poor translator of Homeric epic into Latin
dotty with hellebore:
hellebore taken as both cure for madness and intellectual stimulant (fine line?).
no stork pecking you from behind, no wagging hands that mimic long white ears:
gesture made behind the back (exactly the same as modern gestures).
in regular metre, or else foot-loose:
i.e. in verse or prose.
A birthday gem:
Is it the poet’s birthday? (a nod to Nero’s Juvenalia?).
scratch the secret passage:
poetry as arousal that incites an itch cf. Cat. 16.
Don’t you hear the rolling r of an angry dog?
The rolled letter r sounds like a dog growling; Persius and Lucilius both use it in reference to the snarling nature of satire.
You erect a notice which says ‘Refrain from shitting.’ Paint two holy snakes: ‘This is sacred ground, my lads; find somewhere else to piss.’
Reference to the signs painted by shopkeepers to protect their property. Persius feigns to accept the warning to refrain from satire.
Lupus and Mucius:
Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Lupus and Publius Mucius Scaevola both important political figures from mid-second century BC attacked by Lucilius.
Phyllis or Hypsipyle:
Typical jilted heroines (Phyllis jilted by Demophon, son of Theseus; Hypsipyle by Jason). Stand for sentimental poetry.
to utter words that called for cedar oil, and to leave behind pages that feared neither mackerel nor incense:
Good literature is preserved with cedar oil; the parchment of poor literature is re-used as wrapping paper for fish or incense.
as if stretching a cord with one eye shut:
a reference to the plumbline used by a builder.
the hay smoking on Pales’ holiday:
festival of Pales (god of shepherds) held 21st April to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of Rome; participants at the festival leaped over a fire of hay.
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus called from his farm to become dictator at Rome in 458 BC.

Cratinus, Eupolis and the Grand Old Man:
Cratinus, Eupolis and Aristophanes considered the three greatest writers of Old Comedy. Social commentary and invective of their works seen by Roman satirists as precursory to their own genre.
An aedile had various responsibilities including roads, waterways, weights and measures etc.
Either a prostitute who starts work at the ninth hour of the day or a slave girl enjoying her holiday on the Nones (7th) of July.
Accius the old Bacchanal, [...] Pacuvius and his warty Antiopa:
Lucius Accius famous for tragedies, including a
; Marcus Pacuvius composed tragedy on Antiope. Both criticised by Lucilius for their wordiness.
Pedius weighs the charges in trim antitheses and is praised for his clever figures:
even the style of pleading in the courts has become affected (59 AD Pedius Blaesus successfully prosecuted for temple robbing).
If a shipwrecked mariner sang would I give him a penny? Do you sing as you tote on your shoulders a picture of you in the flotsam?
The point is that ‘singing’ and truth don’t go together.
that frothy yeast, that fig-tree:
Both stand as metaphors for poet’s innate passion to produce poetry. Fig-tree proverbial for power of its roots to shatter rocks as it grows.
Isn’t it something to be set as a text for a mob of long-haired schoolboys?
Certain authors (e.g. Virgil) found their way into classrooms as material for study and recitation. For some this is a claim to fame, for Persius it’s a disgrace.
the Roman elite with well-filled stomach are inquiring over the port:
Clearly un-Stoic imagery of excess (satirist as physician).
Full transcript