Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

The satire of Seneca on the Apotheosis of Claudius commonly called the Apocolocyntosis; online

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Copyright, 1902,

Set up and electrotyped November, 1902.

J. 8. Cfushinjf & Co. — Berwick k Smith
Norwood Mass. U.S.A.


Undertaken with a view to one of the require-
ments for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at
Columbia University, this study of Seneca's Satire
has grown somewhat unexpectedly. Its brief ma-
terial, from the curiosity of its subject and the
natural search for parallel which it suggests, proved
capable of leading to a quite indefinite expansion ;
so that any scheme of exhaustive treatment, such
as the primary object of the work made appropri-
ate, had to yield for the most part to the pursuit
of more individual threads of interest.

For the text, I have followed in general that of
Biicheler's editio minor. The few changes which
I have ventured to make are of course particularly
explained in the notes, in which attention is called
also where any of the present readings differ from
others of importance. Of the translation which
follows the text, there is only to say that the
metrical parts were so rendered for the sake of
reproducing, at least in its effect upon the page,
the original form of the Menippean satire. The
metres of the Latin verses have been copied as
nearly as possible, even to the dactyls, whose




ponderous incongruity at certain points seems to
have been a part of the author's intention.

My debt to preceding commentators is naturally
unhmited. It is defined for particular acknowl-
edgment where this seems fitting, but much of the
material of comment has become common prop-
erty, an evident result of the useful offices of the
lexicon as a concordance of examples. My sin-
cerest thanks are offered to those who have helped
me by suggestions. Especially to Professor Harry
Thurston Peck, at whose proposal the making of
this edition of the Apocolocyntosis was begun and
whose personal interest and criticisms have been
as important to its completion as his lectures had
been inspiring to the motives of my work, I am
under the greatest indebtedness. I wish to add
special acknowledgments also to Professor James
Chidester Egbert, Jr., to whom I owe, as but one
of my obligations, appreciation of the evidences
afforded by Latin epigraphy on the historical side
of the present study.


College of the City of New York,
November, 1902.



Introduction :

I. Seneca's Satire as an Historical Document . i
II. The Question of Authorship and the Name

Apocolocyntosis 23

III. Menippean Satire and its Style ... 58

IV. Literary Parallels 74

V. Manuscripts 86

VI. Editions and Commentators .... 92

Bibliography 105

Senecae Apocolocyntosis, Text . . . .113

Translation 132

Notes 155

Index 247



When Claudius Caesar died, his official deifica-
tion was punctiliously secured by the prudent piety
of the wife and adopted son who had been inter-
ested in his taking off. Among the solemnities
preceding the sanctificatioy came the laiidatio fune-
briSy pronounced by the young Nero under the
tutelage of his mother and Seneca. Tacitus (^Amt,
xiii. 3) tells us this much of the occasion: Princeps
exorsiis est, dum antiqiiitatem ge7ierisy constilattis ac
triiimphos maioriim e^mmerabaty intentus ipse et
ceteri ; liberalmm qtwque artitim commemoratio et
nihil regente eo triste rei publicae ab externis acci-
disse pronis animis audita: postqiiam ad provident-
iam sapie^ttiamqtte flexit^ ne7no risui temperare^
quamqiiam oratio a Seneca composita nmlttmt cultus
praeferrety ut ftdt illi viro ingeninm amoemcnt et
temp oris eius aitribtcs adcommo datum.

It is regrettable that we have not this imperial
eulogy to read, though probably its absence is due


to no lack of care on the part of the young em-
peror's famous secretary. More significant, how-
ever, than the speech was the laughter with which
it was received ; and this, crystallized in literature
of quite another sort, we have among the works
of Seneca in the unique specimen of Menippean
satire variously known as the Ludus de Morte
Claiidii Caesaris, or the Apocolocyntosis,

But before the question of its origin or its liter-
ary classification, it claims our interest as a docu-
ment on the character of Claudius and his time.
It is a burlesque on the apotheosis of the defunct
emperor, a document most unofificial, but all the
more expressive, belonging as it does among the
signs of relieved amusement which immediately
succeeded Claudius's passage to anotheijworld. The
latest event of which it indicates knowledge is the
death of the freedman Narcissus, whose removal
followed close upon his master's own. Its con-
tribution of facts counts for less than the impres-
sion which it gives of the aspect Claudius bore to
people who knew him. Nothing that was written
of him so carries us back to the mood of a con-
temporary as does this skit composed when
Roman society was first appreciating Claudius,
the new divinity, and when a witty philosopher
could, if he chose, in a sufificiently enlightened
circle relieve his mind on the subject of a prince
who had managed to cause him several very dreary
and inconvenient years.


We do not look, then, for a presentment very-
heroic. The dramatic oddity in the picture of a
person with Claudius's idiosyncrasies limping up to
the heavenly gate and applying for admittance to
the most select society of Olympus needed but
to be pointed out, and the writer used obvious ma-
terial. Confirmation enough we find in the pro-
fessed historians, Tacitus {Afinales, xi. xii. etc.),
Dio Cassius (lib. Ix), and Suetonius ( Vit. Clatidii\
Theirs is the same Claudius, even if somewhat less
amusing and occasionally more pathetic.

It is one of the most curious and paradoxical
characters of his time whose picture we thus gather
piecemeal, the psychological interest of which has
been largely obscured bymis more spectacular suc-
cessor. If the working^ of poor Claudius's mind
could be revealed to us, it might prove more worth
looking at than Nero's ; but it never attained ex-
pression : we vainly look for anything like the epi-
grammatic wit with which the other emperor in
some degree maintains his character as an artist.
Nero, indeed, was a monumental stage-struck rascal,
as Caligula is the time-honored example of a head
turned by unlimited license ; Claudius was a com-
plex medley. He is entitled to a far more adequate
characterization than he ever got. Conspicuously
the victim of the "two men warring in his mem-
bers," he had good intentions enough certainly to
pave his way to Olympus ; but his weakness was
too plain, and the ancients were inclined simply to


pass contemptuously by such a morally pathological
case, with the broadest of generahzations.

Yet one can scarcely read certain chapters in
Suetonius and Tacitus without doubting whether [
Claudius was an incompetent meddler on the throne
or whether he was an enlightened statesman. In
fact, he was a little of each. The constant victim of
his timid dependence upon those whom he ought
simply to have employed, he yet displayed what
amounted to temerity, not only in attacking Augean
masses of detail which might well have dismayed a
stronger man, but also in running counter to estab-
lished prejudices by his projects of reform. The
most plodding and conscientious of magistrates, he
seems often on the bench to have shown a strange
caprice or even a freakish frivolity. Yet at least
one of the odd anecdotes told of him, of the way in
which he induced an obstinate woman to acknowl-
edge her son, suggests the ingenuity of a Solomon.
A scholar by temperament, he was noted for his
stupidity, and with a low physical vitality he had
appetites sensual to the point of grossness.

So far as it goes, the judgment of Diderot is
true enough. La vie privee de Claude^ he says,
montre ce que le mepris des parents second^ d'une
maiivaise Mucation^ pent sur V esprit et le caracthe
d'tin enfant valetudinaire, Claudius's childhood and
youth were spent in ill-health and repression. He
was a backward infant, whom his own mother called
a monstrosity. Throughout most of his early life


he was subject to frequent sickness, and "Fever''
appears in our satire attending him with direful
fidelity to the very entrance of heaven. Con-
temptuously kept in the background by his family,
he was found by the accident which put him on
the throne quite unprepared with experience of
public office. His career was too suddenly ex-
panded. The faithful laboriousness which might
have honored a petty position was here the reverse
of a qualification. He had no fit sense of propor-
tion, taking upon himself all kinds of business, big
and little. And while he administered them with
a dull conscientiousness alternating with capricious
whimsicality, his intermittent intelligence clouded
by indigestion, — for Claudius was the dyspeptic of
antiquity as well as one of the gluttons, — his ill-
starred merits naturally met with only a short-lived
appreciation. 1 In his genuinely intelligent com-
prehension of many of the aspects of his govern-
ment, and his honest desire to see the Roman
constitution adapt itself as smoothly as possible to
new conditions, Claudius was a theorizer rather
than an executive. As an early example of the
scholar in politics, he was manipulated by more
practical politicians. All his intellectual qualities,
however, good or bad, were stultified or gro-
tesquely distorted by the intrusive cravings of his
weak body ; as Dio Cassius says in his qualified
praise of him : ovk oXcya koI tcjp Beovrcov eirparrev
iCf. Suet. CI. 12.


oTTore e^co re tS>v TrpoeiprnxevcDV TraOcbv iyiyverOy koI
iavTOV eKpdrei. (Ix. 3.)

In the Ludiis we naturally find Claudius's physi-
cal vulnerabilities hit most easily. His halting
and irresolute gait comes first, as he Hmps off to
heaven non passibiis acquis (c. i), and at least
three times more, in pede^n dextrum trahere and
insolitum incessum (c. 5), and in the ironical praise
of his fleetness of foot in the nenia (c. 12). We
have fair descriptions of Claudius's personal appear-
ance in Suetonius, 30, and Dio, Ix. 2, to say nothing
of the extant portrait busts ; the general physical
grotesqueness implied in the terror which the novi
generis fades awoke in Hercules, is a sufficiently
palpable exaggeration. From all accounts it may
be concluded scientifically that Claudius was well
enough when quiescent, but that his nervous reac-
tions were rather uncouth, as was not strange with
a body that had been so preyed upon by disease
during its period of development. To this we can
refer the corpus eius dis iratis natunty of chapter
II, as well as the allusions to his shaking head
and trembling hands, and other signs of physical

In the same category perhaps we can put his
defective utterance. This is a favorite gibe. The
heavenly janitor (c. 5) reports him nescio quid
miftariy and to an inquiry respondisse nescio quid
peiturbato sono et voce confusa. Hercules notes with
alarm his vocem nullius terrestris anirnalis sed qualis


esse marinis beluis solet, raucam et implicatam, and
presently has occasion to demand with disgust,
Quid nunc profatic vocis incerto sonas ? When
(c. 7) Claudius is angry at some of Fever's revela-
tions, his utterance is reported only quantum intel-
ligi potuit, and Augustus as the crowning com-
plaint in his arraignment of Claudius's egregious
unfitness for divinity challenges him (c. 1 1 ), tria
verba cito dicat et servum me ducat. Augustus had
observed this defect in his grandnephew long be-
fore. In one of several letters (Suet. CI. 4) written
about the boy Claudius to his grandmother Livia,
he says, Peream nisi, mea Livia, admiror. Nam
qui tarn a(Ta(f)(o<; loquatur, qui possit quum declamat
aa(f>co(; dicere quae diccfida su?tt, non video. Else-
where (c. 30) Suetonius tells of Claudius's stam-
mering, with the imphcation that it was especially
when he was angry or excited, as he evidently is
in chapters 6 and 7 of the satire. Augustus's
observation to Livia fits curiously well with what
Tacitus {Ann. xiii. 3) says of Claudius's oratory:
Nee in Claudio, quoticfts meditata disereret, elegan-
tiam requireres.

The limitation here, however, must refer more
particularly to his intellect than to his tongue.
Claudius's mental traits were no less opportune
for the satirist than his bodily ones. Like some
other men who incline to pedantry in their intel-
lectual habits, he was notoriously absent-minded,
which in the practical world amounts to sheer


stupidity. Augustus had noted with disgust Clau-
dius's wool-gathering propensities as a boy (cf.
Suet. 4), and all the biographers of Claudius give
quaint and amazing instances of what Suetonius
(c. 21, 38. 39, 40) calls his oblivionem et inconside-
rantianiy vel tit Graece dicam, iierecDpiav et a^Xe-^Cav.
He was, as R. Y. Tyrrell ^ would translate fjuerecopo^,
distrait. Poor Claudius himself was aware that he
must have seemed dull at times, and took occasion
to explain that he had acted so as a matter of pru-
dence under his tyrannical predecessors. His apol-
ogy, though Dio repeats it for him, was evidently
unconvincing, for intra brevem tempus liber editus
\jst~\y cui index erat Mcopcov iTravdaracnf;, argiimen-
tum auteniy sttdtitiam neminem fingere (Suet. 38).
The loss of this book for our present purpose we
do not know how much to regret.

In the satirist's overhauling of Claudius's quali-
I fications for divine honors, the fxeretopia was natu-
rally not overlooked. Aut regent autfatimm nasci
oportere (c. i ), stolidae vitae (c. 4), and 7iec cor nee
caput habet (c. 8) are of reference passably direct, as
also the remark (in c. 12), Clauditis ut vidit funtis
suuniy intellexit se mortuum esse, an early instance,
by the way, in the series of witticisms on people too
stupid to know when they are done for. Tanttis

^ Ed. Cic. Ep. Vol. I (new ed.), p. 66. In this connection,
recall the flattering characterization in the Consol. ad Polyb. (xiv),
tenacissima memoria. The contrast, however, is more apparent
than real.


concentiis ut etiam Claudius audire posset (c. 12)
probably alludes to the same inadvertency. Clau-
dius's question when in Hades he met the crowd of
people whom from time to time his orders had sent
thither: Quomodo hue venistis vosf (c. 13) is an
example of oblivio sufficiently marked, and Augus-
tus's bitter taunt when Claudius denied knowledge
of having killed Messalina, Turpius est quod tie-
scisti quam quod oceidisti {c. 11), plainly recalls the
extraordinary instance in Suetonius, 39, where after
having sanctioned her death Claudius innocently
inquired at dinner eur Domina 71071 ve7iiret.

Not least notorious among Claudius's peculiari-
ties was his passion for holding court. lus et con-
sul et extra ho7iore77i laboriosissi77ie dixit (Suet. 14),
both in season and out of season. Chapter 7 of the
Ludus speaks of his sticking to the work through
the long days of July and August, the customary
vacation time ; though curiously enough he seems
to have allowed a respite at the opposite season (cf.
Suet. Galbay 14), following doubtless the calendar
of his own inclinations. Claudius's citation of these
labors appears to have moved Hercules to stand
sponsor for him. Otherwise the virtue of such
judicial industry was less appreciated in heaven
than the caprice and partiaHty which had often gone
with it. The bit of parody, ficopov TrXrjyri (c. 7),
speaks volumes of the whimsical irresponsibility of
the judge who did so many things 7iovo more, and
there must be some such reference as this in the


celestial irony of ^^iriicovpeio^ Oeo^ non potest esse,
\jiut\ ovT€ avTot; Trpay/ia e'xjei tl ovre SXXol^ Tra/^e^et
(c. 8). Claudius had furnished a deal of trouble in
his time. Die mikiy dive Claudi, demands Augustus
(c. lo), quare quemquam ex his, quos quasque occi-
disti, a7itequam de causa cognosceres, antequam au-
direSy damnasti ? hoc ubi fieri so let ? in caelo non fit.
Such expeditious methods of getting through the
docket furnish one of the themes of the mock glori-
fication in the nenia (c. 12), and the same besotted
assiduity suggested the punishment voted in the
Olympian senatusconsultum : nee illi reriim iudi-
candarum vacationem dari (c. 11).

Claudius's literary pretensions receive less ex-
tended attention from the satirist. There is
reflected light, however, in the remark on Her-
cules's greeting of the newcomer with a verse from
Homer : Claudius gaudet esse illic philologos homi-
nes ; sperat futurum aliquem historiis suis locum.
We need not suppose any pedantry in his Homeric
reply, nor in the iravra <f>i\(t)V TrXrjprjj with which
he recognized his acquaintances in Hades. Per-
haps it is a hit at his particular fondness for Greek
quotations. (Cf . Suet. 42 : Multum vero pro tribu-
nali etiam Homericis locutus est versibus, Cf . also
Dio, Ix. 16.) But the fashion was one common to the
time, and with which the satirist himself is quite
in accord. He does not, however, sympathize with
Claudius's good-natured interest in budding poets
(cf. Pliny, Ep. i. 13), judging from vosque poetae


lugete novi (c. 12), an obvious intimation of the
commoner attitude. In Diespiter's complimentary
speech, which appears to aim at Claudius's learn-
ing, cum divus Claudius . . . longeqiie omnes
mortales sapientia anteccllat, the whole thing leads
up to the more pointed hint at his gluttony, aliquem
qui cum Ro^nulo possit ^ferveiitia rapa vorare ' (c. 9).

The nenia closes with the anticlimax of a gibe at
Claudius's fondness for gambling. As to the justice
of this, one of his defenders has naively suggested
that he was so busy as a judge that he could not
have had much time for dice ; though we are told
that he managed to write a book on the subject.
But after his judicial incompetence has served for
his condemnation in heaven, this more trivial vice
determines his immediate disposition in hell.

Not to carry the noting of details quite to a sta-
tistical extent, we find that the satirist has dealt
perhaps as faithfully as he could with the familiar
fault of Claudius's whole reign. It is this into
which long afterward Ausonius condensed, in an
elegiac abstract for his son, the substance of Sue-
tonius's life of this Caesar :

Libertina tamen miptarum et cri7nina passus,
Non faciendo nocens set patiendo fuit ?■

Julian's satire on the Caesars^ introduces Claudius
only to mock the same passivity. It is dramatically

1 Ausonius, Teub. ed., p. 183.

2 See p. 78.


illustrated in Tacitus*s brilliant account of Narcis-
sus's assumption of authority to achieve Messalina's
downfall, of which we are reminded when in the
satire Narcissus comes to precede his master into
the lower world. The way in which Claudius was
hoodwinked and subjected by those about him
doubtless more than anything else earned for him
the general contempt. There must have been a
covert amusement intended in the suggestion made
to the senate by those who urged his marriage to
Agrippina, that the emperor should be liberated
from domestic cares in order to be free for the pubHc
business. The subject, however, is one which our
contemporary satirist had to treat with a certain
caution. The last and strongest of Claudius's wives
was still in power, and the writer contents himself
chiefly with the freedmen ; as in c. 6, putares, he
says, omnes illius esse libertos : adeo ilium nemo
curabat. As the piece advances we mark the
changes from the taunt at Claudius's subservience
to his freedmen, to bitter denunciations of the mur-
ders and high crimes that they committed in his
name, till at the end the portentous solemnity of
the indictment gives way to comic bathos in the
triviality of the punishments, each of which, how-
ever, has its point ; and finally there is a hasty but
conclusive application of a poetic justice which
leaves Claudius the slave of a freedman of the
infernal judge.

There is a judgmental aptness in it all. But the


sermon is perhaps too modern for even Seneca to
have intended. Solemn, moreover, as the gen-
eralization might be made to appear, the impartial
justice of the piece to its subject is by no means
to be assumed. The satire throws light on the
reign and character of Claudius at several points,
but the light is not undistorted. In regard to the
long list of victims who are enumerated in the
indictment, it is of course a poor apology to say
that the guilt if not the responsibility for these
murders should rest more heavily on others than
on Claudius; and true as it is, this is a judgment
in which the writer of the satire could scarcely be
expected to concur, in view of the tnrpius est of his
remark on the death of Messalina. But he treated
cavalierly matters in Claudius's career which are
really entitled to respect. It is a great pity that
we have not Claudius's own account of his life and
what he conceived to be his policy, the eight books
De Vita Sua (cf. Suet. 41). They may not have
contained the most enlightened self-analysis, but
so far as we can judge of Claudius's style it was
characterized by frankness rather than reserve
(cf. Tac. xi. 23-25, and Suet. 41, Correptus saepe, i.e.
in his historical revelations, et a matre et ab avia),
and these books would not have been less interest-
ing to us that they were written, as Suetonius says,
magis inepte quant ineleganter.

Claudius's scholarship, which is so depreciatingly
regarded, seems to have been substantial, even if


not of the most illuminated. Pliny the Elder
cites his histories frequently. The oration on the
admission of the Aeduans to the ius honorum^
indicates a varied knowledge of the origins of
Rome, with side-lights from Etruscan sources
which modern investigators of that enigmatical
people would well like to reach. Claudius's addi-
tions to the Latin alphabet, it is true, were accepted
more upon his imperial than his scholarly authority,
but little as they were practically worth, they indi-
cate a degree of phonetic and Hnguistic study
which involved more than bare erudition.^ In the
encouragement of other men's literary efforts, we
infer from Pliny's allusion, as well as the jest in
the nenia, that Claudius showed them a patient
attention as generous as it was exceptional. His
own literary work doubtless chiefly lacked that
element of style which comes from a vigorous
nervous organization, the want of which is more
likely than anything else to bring contemptuous

Of the great public works of Claudius's reign, the
credit may be largely due to his ministers, but is
by no means altogether so ; in regard to these the
satirist wisely has nothing to say.

^ In 48 A.D. Cf. Tac. xi. 24. On the bronze tables discovered at
Lyons in 1524, see CIL. xiii. 1668; de Boissieu, Inscr, de Lyon,
p. 133 seq.; Vallentin's Bulletin Apigraphique de la Gaule, ii.
p. 3, and planche I ; cf. Dessau, Inscr. Sel., p. 52.

2 See Fr. Biicheler, De Ti, Claudio Caesa?'e Grammatico, Elber
feld, 1856.


The policy of extending Roman citizenship to
the provincials is the butt of an effective jest, dum
hos paicctiloSy qui siiperstmt^ civitate donarety etc.
(c. 3), recalling the witty placard that was posted
in Rome in Julius Caesar's time, asking people not
to be forward in showing new-made senators the
way to the Curia. But the well-known speech of
Claudius on the admission of the Aeduans to office,
whether we read it in the imperfectly exact form
of the Lyons tablets or the more elegant outHne
given by Tacitus, really shows a progressive and
statesmanlike view of the true character of the
empire. The outcry against it, in face of which
Claudius's independence is especially to be noted —

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Online LibraryLucius Annaeus SenecaThe satire of Seneca on the Apotheosis of Claudius commonly called the Apocolocyntosis; → online text (page 1 of 18)