Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History

  Compton, Todd M. 2006. Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History. Hellenic Studies Series 11. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 21. Naevius: Dabunt malum Metelli Naevio poetae

We find the theme of the exiled Roman poet first in the life of Naevius (ca. 270–199 BC), Rome’s first writer of plays with Roman subjects, and writer of the first Roman epic with Roman subject matter, The Punic War. The scant details of his life, with their story of satirical freedom and political repression, have been thoroughly debated. [1] I tend to place some credence in the historicity of the traditions, though if they are not historical, they have an equal interest, if a different meaning.

So we have such familiar themes as conflict of satirist with political leaders; imprisonment of poet; his exile. The death in exile adds a piquant touch to the story.

But even if the story of Naevius’s punishment and exile were entirely fictitious, it would be valuable as an example of how it was felt desirable to fit satirical poets into the mold of the victim—imprisoned and exiled. If it is historical, of course, it shows once again how the satirical poet can become a victim in history as well as myth.

Thus Naevius, the satirist, exiled by a powerful political faction for his poetry, was a soldier and wrote on martial themes.


[ back ] 1. The most important testimonia on Naevius’ life are conveniently collected in Jocelyn 1969. For his poetry, see Büchner 1982:20–40, and Marmorale 1950.

[ back ] 2. Gellius 17.21.44.

[ back ] 3. See also Marmorale 1950:226, 99; Jocelyn 1969:38–39; Cicero On Oratory 2.249.

[ back ] 4. Gellius 3.3.15 (Jocelyn 1969:37) The full passage, part of which is translated and discussed below: Sicuti de Naevio quoque accepimus fabulas eum in carcere duas scripsisse, Hariolum et Leontem, cum ob assiduam maledicentiam et probra in principes civitatis de Graecorum poetarum more dicta in vincula Romae a triumviris coniectus esset. Unde post a tribunis plebis exemptus est, cum in his quas supra dixi fabulis delicta sua et petulantias dictorum quibus multos ante laeserat diluisset. For Naevius’ “wounding,” cf. Horace Epistle 2.1.150–151.

[ back ] 5. “Asconius” ad Cicero Verrines 1.10.29 (Marmorale 1950:254, 66; Jocelyn 1969:42). For interpretation of the ambiguous fato ‘chance’ (Frank) or ‘evil’ (Frank) or the Stoic ‘fatal necessity’ (Wissowa, Zumpf) or ‘oracular prediction’ (Marx), see Frank 1927:105–106. Frank believes that Naevius’ fato combined an ablatival sense, ‘by fate’ and a double dative: ‘for an evil’, with intentional ambiguity (108).

[ back ] 6. Elliott 1960:123, 122–129. For naming in poetry, see below, ch. 22 (Cicero); ch. 23 (Ovid); ch. 26 (Juvenal); above, ch. 17 (on Dub’s “sea-spell”; on the glám dicenn as satire/spell).

[ back ] 7. Keil 1857 6.266 (Jocelyn 1969:42), my trans. Sed ex omnibus istis qui sunt asperrimi … optumus est quem Metelli proposuerunt de Naevio, aliquotiens ab eo uersu lacessiti: ‘malum … etc.

[ back ] 8. “Asconius.” Cf. references in Warmington 1936:154; Frank 1927.

[ back ] 9. Keil 1857 6.266. Cf. Jocelyn 1969:43n106.

[ back ] 10. Gellius 3.3.15. See Marmorale 1950:104–105.

[ back ] 11. Probably from a Greek standpoint.

[ back ] 12. Nam os columnatum poetae esse indaudiui barbaro, / Quoi bini custodes semper totis horis occubant. See Marmorale 1950:112ff.; Jocelyn 1969:34–37. For the os columnatum, see Jocelyn 1969:36.

[ back ] 13. Frank 1927:110n17.

[ back ] 14. Jocelyn 1969:34, cf. 33n15 (Gellius 1.24.2); Rose 1960b:26n29; Duff 1960:93n5, with further references. See also Marmorale 1950:21–26.

[ back ] 15. Frank 1927:109.

[ back ] 16. Jocelyn 1969.

[ back ] 17. Gellius 3.3.15, my trans.; Jocelyn 1969:37; Marmorale 1950:124–134.

[ back ] 18. pulsus Roma factione nobilium ac praecipue Metelli. Jerome Chronological Tables, year 1816 (from Abraham) = 201 BC; Jocelyn 1969:41; Marmorale 1950:132.

[ back ] 19. See Jerome, ibid.; Marmorale 1950:31; Duff 1960:94.

[ back ] 20. Momigliano 1942. As do Lewis and Crawford 1996:679.

[ back ] 21. Varro ap. Gellius 17.21.45 (Marmorale 1950:233): “Naevius, according to … M. Varro … served as a soldier in the first Punic War and asserts that very fact himself in the Song which he wrote on that war” (M. Varro … stipendia fecisse ait (Naevium) bello Poenico primo, idque ipsum Naevium dicere in eo Carmine quod de eodem bello scripset). An introduction to this epic can be found in Feeney 1991:108–112.

[ back ] 22. Nagy 1979:127–141, 213–221, 309–316; Hunt 1981:31–32; and above, ch. 17 (poets Aithirne and Laidchenn as causes of strife and war). Cf. the importance of Mōmos ‘Blame’ in the mythological beginnings of the Trojan War (Cypria fr. 1, in Allen 1919 5:117; West 2003b:80): “For they say that the earth, burdened by an overabundance of men, and since there was no piety among men, asked Zeus to be relieved of the weight. Zeus with no delay first brought about the Theban war, through which he dispatched very many men. Later, once again, he took Momos as his advisor, whom Homer calls the plan of Zeus, since Zeus was prepared at that time to destroy all men by thunderbolts and cataclysms. Momos hindered this, but suggested to him Thetis’ marriage to a mortal and the begetting of a fair daughter [Helen], from both of which war came about for the Hellenes and barbarians” (φασὶ γὰρ τὴν γῆν βαρουμένην ὑπ’ ἀνθρώπων πολυπληθίας, μηδεμιᾶς ἀνθρώπων οὔσης εὐσεβείας, αἰτῆσαι τὸν Δία κουφισθῆναι τοῦ ἄχθους· τὸν δὲ Δία πρῶτον μὲν εὐθὺς ποιῆσαι Θηβαικὸν πόλεμον, δι’ οὗ πολλοὺς πάνυ ἀπώλεσεν· ὕστερον δὲ πάλιν συμβούλῳ τῷ Μώμῳ χρησάμενος, ἣν Διὸς βουλὴν Ὅμηρός φησιν, ἐπειδὴ οἷός τε ἦν κεραυνοῖς ἢ κατακλυσμοῖς πάντας διαφθείρειν. ὅπερ τοῦ Μώμου κωλύσαντος, ὑποθεμένου δὲ αὐτῷ τὴν Θέτιδος θνητογαμίαν καὶ θυγατέρος καλῆς γένναν, ἐξ ὧν ἀμφοτέρων πόλεμος Ἕλλησι τε καὶ βαρβάροις ἐγένετο). For mōmos as blame diction, in fact, “blame” in binary opposition to “praise” (epaineō), see Nagy 1979:223–224. For the overburdened earth as an IndoEuropean mythical theme, see Dumézil 1968:31–257; De Jong 1985:397–400. For the personified “Strife” (Eris) as cause of the Trojan War, bringing about the Judgment of Paris from an otherwise peaceful marriage feast, see Proclus Chrestomathy 1, in Allen 1919 5:102; Apollodorus Library, Epitome 3.3 (with further references in Frazer 1921); Nagy 1979:218–219. For satire and the beginnings of war, cf. Aristophanes Acharnians 509–556 on the beginnings of the Peloponnesian war.

[ back ] 23. See e.g. Duff 1960:97–98; Warmington 1936:xvii; Luck 1983; Terzaghi 1929; Wigodsky 1972. Ennius was also influenced by Naevius’ poem, Cicero Brutus 75–76.

[ back ] 24. Varro On the Latin Language 7.107; 9.78; Jocelyn 1969:34; Duff 1960:95; Marmorale 1950:202.

[ back ] 25. See on Pindar in ch. 3 (Archilochus).

[ back ] 26. Gellius 1.24.2 = Marmorale 1950:261, my trans. Earlier, Naevius had addressed the Muses in the beginning of his epic: “You daughters nine of Jupiter, harmonious sisters,” Novem Iovis concordes filiae sorores.” (Caesius Bassus ap. Keil 1857 6.265.10; Marmorale 1950:233). Cf. the beginning of Livius’ Odyssey (Gellius 18.9.5): “Tell me, Muse, of the cunning man …” (Virum mihi, Camena, insece versutum). See also Latacz 1976. See above, ch. 16, the Muses lamenting Achilles’ death.