Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

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

. (page 4 of 18)
Online LibraryLucius Annaeus SenecaThe satire of Seneca on the Apotheosis of Claudius commonly called the Apocolocyntosis; → online text (page 4 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

heaven him whom they had carried out from
dinner. This was the occasion of a very clever
witticism by L. Junius Gallio, Seneca's brother.
Seneca had composed a piece named aTroKoXoKvv-
Tcocn^;, after the analogy of aTraOavdnai^^ but his

1 Claud, 38.

2 Dio Cassius, Ix. 35 : * Ay pLiririva d^ Kal 6 N^/owv irevdeiv trpocre'
TTOLovvTO 6v dw €KT 6 Pea aVf es re rbv o^pavhv av/jyayov 6v iK rod cvfi-
irociov <l)opdd7}v i^€V7}v6x€<Tav, 6dev irep Aoijklos 'IoIjvlos TaWiuv 6
Tov Sej'^/ca d8e\(pbs affreLbrarbv tl direcpdiy^aTo • crvv^drjKe ixkv ydp
Kal 6 "Zev^Kas (T^yypafifxa diroKoXoKTuvTiaaiv avrb wcnrep tlvcl diradavd-
TLO-iv dvofjidcas, iKCivos 8^ iv ^paxyrdrcp iroWd eiirojv d'iroixv'rjixove{fe-
rai. iireidi] ydp roifs iv r$ 8e(Tix(aT't)pi(fi OavaTovpiivovs dyKlcrrpois
tl(tI pieydXoLS oi di^p.LOL es re rrjv dyopdv dveTXKOv, Kavravd is rhv
TTorapibv €(Tvpov, ccprj rhv KXai55io^ dyKlo-rpip is rhv ovpavhv dvevex^V'
yai. Kal 6 N^pwv 5^ oi5k dTrd^tov pLV^pirjs iiros KariXtire. rot's ydp
p.ijK7}ras deQv ^pQfia eXeyev ehai • Sri Kal iKeivos did roO /jl^ktjtos
debs iyeydvcL,


brother expressed a great deal in a very few words.
Recalling how the bodies of those who are executed
in prison are dragged off by the executioners, with
great hooks, to the Forum and thence to the river,
he said Claudius had been dragged up to heaven
with a hook. Nero's joke, too, is worth recording.
He said that mushrooms [/xu/cT^re?, boleW] must be
food for the gods,^ since by eating them Claudius
was made a god.

It is obviously natural to suppose that this men-
tion of a satire by Seneca on the apotheosis of
Claudius refers to the one we have. Since the
time of Hadrianus Junius, who was the first com-
mentator to affix the name Apocolocyntosis to the
published satire, this has been commonly done.
The great difficulty is that not only do none of the
manuscripts give it, but in the piece as we have it
there is no visible point to which the title can attach
itself. The objectors say, too, that the present
satire is not at all the one which would be expected
from the rest of Dio's statement. The other witti-
cisms which he quotes relate to the manner of
Claudius's taking off, and therefore, say Riese^
and Stahr,^ Seneca's also must have been based
upon this. They even offer to sketch what the
true Apocolocyntosis^ must have contained, keine
keftigen Angriffe, as Riese says, wederaiif Claiiditts

1 Cf. Suet. Nero, 33. « pp. 341-343-

2 pp. 321-322. * See also Birt.


noch aiif Nero, . . . but with some intimation of the
manner of Claudius's death.

The inference, while plausible, is hardly convinc-
ing. Both of the other two reported witticisms hint,
it is true, at Claudius's assisted demise, but they
really depend upon the essential ridiculousness of
his deification. As to the method of his departure,
those other jests may easily have been of later date
than Seneca's, when frankness would have been less
imprudent than immediately after the event. There
is, however, more nearly a parallel than I have seen
pointed out between our satire and both Gallio's and
Nero's jokes over Claudius's entrance into Olym-
pus. Granting merely the initial difference, that
Nero and Gallio based their wit upon the true story,
and Seneca upon the official story, of Claudius's
death, we find Gallio remarking that the defunct
emperor was dragged to heaven with an execution-
er's hook, and Nero that mushrooms sent him there;
while Seneca gives us the picture of Claudius limp-
ing up with Fever to attend him, — quae fano sico
relicto sola cum illo venerat : ceteros omnes deos
Romae reliquerat, — certainly not a dignified man-
ner of introduction, and, in its way, quite analogous
to the others.

The problem of the applicability of the title
mentioned by Dio to the work which we have, re-
quires more attention. The word airoKoXoKvvTCDai^
must mean transformation into a gourd, "pump-
kinification," as it is anachronistically rendered.


Attempts have been made to give it the contrary-
sense. Baillard, among others, in a note to his
translation, calls it a mot forg^ qui veut dire : apo-
the OS e d'une citrotiille, et iion pas Metamorphose {de
Claude) en citrouille, com^ne on Vinterprdtait jicsqiH
ici, contrairement au rdcit de Vaiiteur. It is, indeed,
contrary to the narrative in our satire; but there
can be no doubt of the word in itself, on the analogy
of airadavcLTKn^^ immortalization, or apotheosis, dei-
fication, or any of the series of similar words.

Some of the commentators have sought in the
word KoXoKvvrr] (Lat. cucurbita) a reference to the
vegetables by which Claudius perished ; but this
is really out of the question. There is no confusing
of boleti with the common gourd. Still less to be
thought of is the idea of the physician, H. Junius,
that it was a playful allusion to Claudius's death,
quasi pharmaco purgatorio, quod dim frequens e
colocynthide concijinabatur. The point of the name
lies wholly, so far as any evidence we have, in the
fact that the koXokvvttj among the Greeks and the
cucurbita among the Romans, like the cabbage-head
among us, was a type of stupidity.^ In this sense
of it, compare Apuleius, Metam. i. 15, Nos cucur-
bitae caput fion habemus tct pro te moriamur. Cf.
Petron. 39, i7i aquario \jiascuntur'\ copones et cucur-
bitae. Biicheler, following a suggestion of Hein-
sius, quotes also Juv. xiv. 58, coupling the ventosa
cucurbita (cupping glass ?) with the vacuum cerebro

1 Compare also the French, bete comme choux.


. . . caput. B. Schmidt^ says that in modern Greek
e%€t Ke^aki fcoXoKvvOeviov or KoXoKwdevto is pro-
verbial for a stupid person.

" Immortalization as a cabbage-head '' is then
intelligible enough in itself, and funny enough as
applied to Claudius, but how does it apply to the
satire that we have, which bears no sign of the
title, and in which there is no trace of such a trans-
formation ? It is conceivable that Seneca may have
written two humorous pamphlets on the apotheosis
of Claudius,^ of which the other, the av^^paiiiia
with the title ' KiroicoXoKvvTaxn^y is now lost. But
this way of disposing of the difficulty is more
simple than satisfactory.

There is always, of course, the extra chance that
the joke depended for its contemporary appreciation
upon some slang meaning now wholly lost. Cucicr-
bita may have had some special application which
would have given the compound title the force of a
local hit, as is perhaps the case in Petronius*s copo-
nes et cucurbitae, Friedlander renders the latter
sckropfkopfe, " cupping glasses " (cf. Juv. xiv. 58),
meaning persons who bleed or fleece one. We can
imagine occasions when the word might have been
jestingly applied to the original servitor a cog7ii-
tionibus. This, however, is a long reach after an
elusive possibility.

Practically two suppositions remain with which

1 Rh. Mus. N. F. 33, p. 637.

2 Birt inclines to this theory.


we can reasonably deal, (i) The name Apocolo-
cyntosis was perhaps intended to have merely a
suggestive and symbolic application like the titles
of some modern novels ; or (2) it may have been
explained by something in the text now lost, either
in the undoubted lacuna before chapter 8 or at
the end.

According to the first supposition the author
presumably desired to hint at an appropriate dis-
posal of Claudius's imbecility which would have
involved going too far for even the writer of the
Ltidiis to express plainly ; Claudius, though unre-
vered, was still the officially deified emperor. Such
a discreet bit of indirection would be well suited to
an author in Seneca's position. The Greek title
might easily be an alternative designation, such as
several of Varro's satires had. We have not, of
course, the data for saying of any one of these
groups of fragments that its title is not more
literally applicable to its contents than is aTro/co-
\0KvvT(O(n<i to the Liidus ; but in such a title as
^Ktafiax^'a or TpioSm/? TpcTrvXco^;^ or the Greek
proverbs which are so frequent, we seem to get a
hint of something in the same manner.

The theory that the title given by Dio found its ex-
planation in a part of the text now lost has had va-
rious supporters. It is generally assumed that the
evident break between chapters 7 and 8 marks
the loss of a leaf from the archetype manuscript
from which all the existing copies are either directly


or indirectly derived. Can the explanation lie here ?
In the interval it appears that Claudius so far won
over Hercules that he got himself led into the
council of the gods with that doughty champion
as his sponsor. It is conceivable that in this con-
nection was enacted some horse-play suggestive of
the name ; but it is difficult to see how it could be
plausibly done.

A suggestion made at least as early as by Box-
horn (1636), and recently urged by Wachsmuth
and Friedlander,^ is that there was also a leaf lost
from the end of the archetype manuscript. Fried-
lander is quite categorical : Der Schluss des Pas-
quills ist verloren, Wachsmuth notes particularly
the abruptness of the concluding sentences of what
we have, and the hasty and apparently unconsid-
ered disposition of Claudius at the end. He had
been condemned to one thing in heaven and to
another by Aeacus ; then comes Gains Caesar and
overthrows that judgment, and Claudius is ignomin-
iously passed on to Menander, with whom he is left
in the capacity of a clerk. Wachsmuth suggests
that through Menander, der gross e Menschenkenner^
Claudius's stupidity may have been brought to its
final expressive disposition by transformation into
an actual koXokvvtt], the cabbage-head, so to say,
being thus at last completely evolved.

This is a logical solution ; but apart from a wish
to account for Dio's title there is not to my mind

1 But not Birt or Biicheler.


any apparent incompleteness in the sudden and
summary way in which Claudius, after having been
sentenced for the failures of his prosperity, is re-
minded of his earlier buffetings and thus contume-
liously disposed of. Perhaps the account would be
still more amusing if Claudius's destiny handed him
successively down till his vegetating intelligence
found final lodgement in the most characteristic of
vegetables. But the actual close of the satire does
not suggest the requirement or lack of any such
denouement. The abruptness with which Claudius
is both saved from even the parody of an heroic
punishment, and finally dropped in a properly
ignominious manner, seems to mark a conscious
anticHmax. It indicates, perhaps, a weary haste
to be rid of the subject, or perhaps a studied hint
that in the disposition of an accidental potentate
they had all along been on the wrong track ; that
there was really only one thing to do with him, —
relegate him to the servile subjection of his youth.
One might even see in the conciseness of the few
closing sentences some intimation of the style which
has been elsewhere noted as a brand of Seneca's

Biicheler cites against the theory that the end of
the satire is lost, the fact of the subscription at the
end of the St. Gall manuscript. This also some-
what affects the probability, though as the loss, if
any, occurred before the existing manuscripts were
made, it appears that the subscription could have


been easily supplied. We are left, on the whole,
to our doubts.

There is still another possibility which I have
not seen suggested. Of Dio's inaccuracy we have
already had one apparent example in his reference
to what Seneca wrote while in exile. Speaking ^ in
terms which point to the Consolatio ad Polybiuniy
he alludes to its flatteries of ** Messalina and Clau-
dius's freedmen," which, except in the case of
Polybius himself, do not occur in the work as we
have it. Now possibly the statement in the last
paragraph of Dio's book on Claudius may have
arisen in a fashion something like this. Seneca had
written the little book ^ on Claudius's apotheosis, /^r
saturaniy and then he or some one else made a re-
mark to the effect that the thing, instead of being
called Deification, ought to have been called Pump-
kinification. The joke may easily, in that age of
limited circulation, have become more known than
the book that occasioned it. Brevity is not only
the soul of wit, but also its feet and wings. So
Dio, writing many years later of a work then prob-
ably so little read that very likely he had no more
than heard of it, may, in mentioning the witticisms
on Claudius's death, have called the book Apocolo-
cyntosis from a loose recollection of a mere conver-
sational epithet. Si ciii haec coniectura insolens
videtur, sciat ille alios longe alieniora excogitasse^

1 Dio, Ixi, lo. This is, however, Xiphilinus.

2 See p. 66 on evidences of its hasty composition.


as said one of the early commentators in defending
a favorite emendation.

In this case, however, the question of the regular
title which Seneca gave to his published work re-
mains as doubtful as ever.

The name under which it appears in most of the
manuscripts and early editions, Ludiis de Morte
Claudii Caesaris^ is met with objections. Biicheler
condemns the word Indus in the sense in which it
evidently serves here, as only to have been used
by some ignorant writer of the mediaeval period.
It is certainly not ordinary classical usage, but for
that matter, it is even farther removed from ordi-
nary mediaeval usage. It could only be defended
as ancient of course on the theory that it was a
special adaptation from the common use of the
term for joking and raillery. The objection made
by various critics, that the phrase de morte makes
this title a misnomer, seems on the whole of Httle
weight. The satire is, it is true, only in small part
strictly upon the death of Claudius, but it is wholly
upon the occasion of it. After all, however, this
name reads rather Hke a designation by some one
else than a title applied by the author. As Scheffer
says, in an apparently vague remark, Simplicior is
titulus videtur qtiatn ut conveniat operi tarn f also et
acuto. It seems not sufficiently specific ; more like
a general category.

The title given by the one best manuscript ap-
pears to be open to somewhat the same criticism,


though it may be nearer the original th?.n the
other: Divi Claudii Apotheosis Annaei Senecae
per saturam} This has at least the advantage that
it could more easily have resulted in its present
form from a copyist's misunderstanding of the
incomprehensible Apocolocyntosis, if that be the


The chief purely literary interest of the Apocolo-
cyntosis lies in the fact that it is practically the
only existing specimen in classical Latin of the
Satura Menippea, the claim of Petronius's Satiricon
to the name being at least debatable.^ Menip-
pean satire is a type for the definition of which it
is needless to go into the vexed question of the
beginnings of Latin satire in general.^ Whether
the name satura originated with the sort of thing
that Ennius wrote, or whether it dates back to an
earlier prototype according to the account in Livy,
vii. 2, we have in hand a work to which it is most
satisfactory to apply the term in its primitive Latin
sense; for it is obviously a medley. We may
have been tempted to go even farther and, quot-
ing Diomedes's definition,^ cite the Apocolocyntosis

1 See p. 87. 2 See p. 62.

3 See Hendrickson, in Am, Jour, of Phil. xv. 29; Nettleship
The Ro7nan Satura^ p. 35; Leo, in Hermes^ xxiv. 67; etc.

* Keil, G. L.y i. p. 486, "... Sive a quodam genere farciminis
quod . . . multis rebus refertum saturam dicit Varro vocitatum." Cf.
Festus, s. V. Satura^ p. 314 (Ed. M.).


among the writings of Seneca as a kind of sausage
among the more ambrosial viands of his moral

It is at any rate a real satire according to almost
any definition that could be framed. Notably it is
a satire in precisely the modern sense. Most of
the classical satires are something else. Petro-
nius's novel, indeed, may be nearer our idea of the
matter, but its intention is more or less vague and
involved in the interest of fiction. But in the
Apocolocyntosis the author's ani7nus is never in
doubt, unless perhaps in the lines about Nero,
where the doubt is really as to the absence of the
satirical intention. Assuming the genus, then,
what is the differentia of the species }

As a literary form the Sattira Menippea is sup-
posed to have been a type already made to Seneca's
hand, defined technically as a medley of prose and
verse. The works of the cynic of Gadara from
whom it got its name we know only by tradition.
The satires of Varro, who introduced the form into
Roman literature, afford us only fragmentary evi-
dence of the character of this sort of composition.
We know that they were '* Menippean " satires that
he wrote, for that was the name that he gave them,
and we have nothing earlier of the same sort with
which to control the definition. Both in form and
substance they seem to have differed much from the
Lucilian satires and to have been more in the spirit
of those of Ennius, of which, however, we know


even less than we do of Varro's own. If we accept
the convincingly simple etymological explanation
of the primitive character of Latin satura, Varro's
satires seem like a reversion^ to the type, which
through Ennius and Lucilius had been succeeded
by the narrower, more special thing that was to
culminate rhetorically in Juvenal. Varro is doubt-
less to be credited with so much of invention as
was involved in the adapting of the Greek model
to his genial requirements. We have the state-
ment which Cicero makes him give, in the Aca-
demica (i. 2, 8), to the character of his work : Et
tamen in illis veteribtis nostris quae Menippum
imitati, non interpretati^ quadam hilaritate con-
spersimusy etc. There is also the statement of
Macrobius {Sat. i. ii, 42; also in Gellius, ii. 18),
Menippus . . . cuius libros M, Varro in satiris
aemulatus est, quas alii * cynicas,' ipse appellat * Me-
nippeas' These are our evidences for Varro's obli-
gation to Menippus. Seneca's obligations to Varro
are more a matter of inference.

Biicheler ^ has argued to show that in the Apoco-
locyntosis we have an example of the very kind of
thing Varro did. He recites the evident facts: that
Varro was the one Roman literary model for the
special kind of satire that Seneca was writing, the
loosely composed skit in a mixture of prose and
verse ; that Varro at least once wrote such a satire

1 See Quintil. Inst, x. i, 95.

2 Rh, Mus. xiv.


on a political subject, the TpcKcipavo^, on the first
Triumvirate ; that many of his satires have double
titles, one part Greek and the other Latin; that
the scene of the Apocolocyntosis is in heaven, while
the scenes of Varro's satires are various (and so,
apparently, might include heaven); that there is
the same tendency to introduce popular saws and
moral reflections; that there is in both the imago
antiquae et vernaciilae festivitatis ; the frequent
expressions inadmissible by urbanitas (such as
have even caused the genuine antiquity of the
Apocolocyntosis to be doubted, the whole thing
being ascribed to a modern Frenchman) ; the fre-
quency of quotations from the Greek, and the
general patchwork of literary allusions.

There are certainly these important points of
likeness between the Apocolocyntosis and Varro's
satires. It seems, however, hardly necessary to
go so far with Biicheler as to infer from Seneca's
satire the average length of Varro's and their pre-
vailing tone. As to the relative proportion of
prose and verse in Varro, the inferences that have
been made from the Apocolocyntosis can be worth
very little. And even in their general character,
so far as we can judge, Varro's saturae were rather
good-natured, humorous exhibitions of homely
philosophy meant to be popular and helpful, very
different from this direct and bitter portrayal of
the ridiculous side of a dead incompetent potentate
against whom the writer had a grudge. Besides,


much of the quahty which the Apocolocyntosis
shares with Varro's satires, it must have derived
from a common source, — the vigorous wit of the
racy popular speech, such as is also found in the
earlier satirists. While Seneca's satire is a sample
of its kind, the satitra Menippea^ if anything, must
be supposed to have been a sufficiently flexible
style to have allowed individual variation within
the limits of the tradition ; so that it is injudicious,
as it is unnecessary, to make any very detailed
inferences as to the characteristics of other lost
works of the type.

In the definition of Menippean satire, however,
the statement that it is a mixture of prose and
verse seems to require a certain quahfication. It
is not enough that verse should be introduced into
the prose, — this is true of Petronius's novel — as
by way of quotation or dialogue it may be in many
sorts of composition. We find here the writer
himself, speaking in his own person, turning from
one style of expression to another, without any
visible excuse except his colloquial mood. The
essence of the Menippean was that it was unre-
strained and varied in its gait, walking, running, or
hobbling, or indulging now and then in a rhetorical
hop-skip-and-jump. This is quite what we find in
the Apocolocyntosis, The narrator gives the date
of his story in poetry, then explains it in prose ;
indulges in another versified performance on the
subject of the hour, then descends to the most



colloquial of dialogue. For the more pretentious
account of the spinning of destiny, the writer turns
to metre again. A little farther on, Hercules
declaims like a tragedian in iambic trimeter, on
top of some forcible remarks in by no means
elegant prose. At the end of the story Claudius's
futile efforts with the broken dice-box are de-
scribed in hexameters for which the only excuse
seems to be their heroic inappropriateness.

And so it is with the shorter bits of quoted
verse. A touching line from a lost tragedy of
Euripides is wrenched from its connection and
capped with a piece of slang. Lines from Homer
supply Hercules and Claudius with their mutual
salutation, and the author with his sarcastic com-
ment. The informaHty with which the quotations
are introduced is evidently a feature of the move-
ment. Of them all, only four are given with the
names of their authors : Homer (c. 5), Varro (c. 8),
Messala Corvinus (c. 10), and Horace (c. 13). The
colloquial use of bits of Greek needs no comment.
Tyrrell's suggestion that this in Latin corre-
sponded to our use of French, quite expresses its
effect. Such a phrase as non passibtis acquis ^ was
of course familiar, as we say, to every Roman
schoolboy, and the too hackneyed facilis descensus
Averjto'^ seems to be recalled in Seneca's descrip-
tion of the same journey (c. 13), omnia proclivia
sunt. Augustus's regretful words, legibus urbem

^ Aen. ii. 724. * Aen. vi. 126.


fundavi{c, lo), seem also to be a reminiscence of
the prophecy in the Aeneid, vi. 8io.

As a French writer ^ says, in speaking of Petro-
nius, C'etait une des traditions de la Menipp^e de
pas ticker des morceatix c^l^bres et d'imiter la ma-
nihe des ^crivains en vue. The element of parody,
however, does not appear here chiefly in the imita-
tion of any particular author. Seneca is evidently
mocking the prevailing tendency of the poetasters
of his day when, as he introduces his hexameter
lines on the midday hour, he explains to himself
how omnes poetae non contenti orsus et occasiis de-
scribere . . . etiam medium diem, inqidetent : tu sic
transibis horam, tam, bonam ? And in the verses
just before he seems to have been posing for the
express purpose of gently poking fun at poetical
bombast in general: Ptito magis intelligi — if I
give the date in plain words. There is the same
implication in the tragicus Jit, with which he sets
off Hercules in his minatory declamation in chap-
ter 7. It is characteristic of the mental attitude
by which the style of the whole satire is deter-
mined. Until the author gets well into the narra-
tive, the piece promises almost to be a play with

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryLucius Annaeus SenecaThe satire of Seneca on the Apotheosis of Claudius commonly called the Apocolocyntosis; → online text (page 4 of 18)