Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

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

. (page 5 of 18)
Online LibraryLucius Annaeus SenecaThe satire of Seneca on the Apotheosis of Claudius commonly called the Apocolocyntosis; → online text (page 5 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

one actor, though hardly a monologue. According
to his mood he mounts the bema and declaims, or
abruptly comes down and indulges in a grimace.

There are frequent bits of dialogue introduced
into the story, but the way in which it is done

1 CoUignon, &tude sur Petrone^ p. 227.


shares more or less in the prevaiHng looseness of
structure. Thus in nimis rustice^ etc. (c. 2), the
manuscripts, at least, leave us to wonder whether
the narrator is talking to himself, or whether some
one else is interrupting him. In chapter 5, what
of the heavenly janitor whose service is implied
in mintiatur and se qiiaesissef And the implied
dispute among the divinities in chapter 8 is so
vaguely disposed that even if we knew the per-
sons, we should find it difficult to assign the objec-
tions which are repeated by the speaker.

The informality is quite maintained in the writer's
fashion of deahng with the gods. His Hercules,
amiable but minime vafer, is a sample of what
his easy urbanity could do for the purpose of the
moment. Up to the beginning of chapter 10, the
whole affair, excepting the long poem on Nero's
destiny, is pure comedy. Hercules, Father Janus,
Diespiter, a little of the comic side of Jupiter, and
some very human wrangling compose the heavenly
milieu into which Claudius seeks admission. But
with Augustus comes the serious indictment of the
absurd candidate for divine honors. The amusing
old imbecile becomes a criminal laden with a long
series of evil deeds. The odium which lay behind
the ridicule now takes the front place, and the
action hurries along with too obvious bitterness to
the end.

In the nenia of chapter 12, something of the
same transition is shown on a reduced scale. The


anapaests begin in a style of burlesque eulogy,
chiefly praising Claudius for the very qualities
which he notoriously lacked. But the ironic praise
for the expeditiousness of his judicial performances
(roughly suggesting Horace's verse-maker who
could make two hundred verses an hour while
standing on one foot)^ leads easily to unpleasant
intimations of offensive facts, which interfere with
the burlesque.

In parts of the satire this transition threatens to
wreck the literary qualities of the piece as a whole.
Augustus's grievances are most of them not comic
at all. The tragedy of the indictment is an intru-
sion, and the ridiculous threatens to give way to
the intolerable. But if the author for a moment
seems to forget himself in his recollections, or
rather his art in his purpose, he recovers himself
before the end and closes with a desperately comic

There are signs that the unstudied style of the
Apocolocyntosis is not merely a manner assumed
to suit the type of composition, but that the piece
actually was somewhat hasily composed, — a fact
which might help to account for the application
of an offhand psychological and apparently irrele-
vant title. For instance, in chapter 3 Clotho pro-
poses to send Augurinus and Baba on to Hades
ahead of Claudius, " all three within a year," when
the supposition at the beginning is that Claudius
1 Hor. S, i, 4, 9.


is already in the throes of dissolution. In chap-
ter 6, ceteros omnes deos Romae reliqueraty yet pres-
ently they appear to be all in heaven. In the
same chapter occurs the remark, Put ares omiies
illins esse libertos^ while only two other persons
are mentioned as present, Hercules and Fever;
though of course it is true the impersonal indi-
vidual implied in the mintiatur and se qiiaesisse
of the preceding chapter may have returned. At
the beginning of the ninth chapter Claudius is ex-
pelled from the senate house, and yet Augustus
is soon addressing him as if he were present, a
very apparent oversight. Such minor infelicities
as the repetition of the word carpcbat in the first
metrical passage seem also best to be accounted
for by the same cause, the lack of revision.

One of the characteristic features of the Menip-
pean satire was the familiar use of popular prov-
erbs. One or two we find indicated as such ;
more are simply informally pressed into service.
Among them are aiU regent atit fatuum nasci
oportere (c. i), Galium in siio sterqtiilino phirimum
posse (c. 7), ferrum stmm in igne esse, nianus
manum lavat (c. 9), corpus dis iratis natnm, tarn
siniilem sibi qtiam ovo ovum (c. 1 1 ). Very likely
the same, or possibly coined by Seneca himself,
are such as, facilius inter philosopJios quam i7iter
horologia conve^iiet (c. 2), nemo felicitatis suae
obliviscitur (c. 5), ubi mures ferrum rodunt (c. 7),
and mures w,olas lingunt (c. 8).


Equally redolent of the jocularities of popular
phraseology are such expressions as, dicam quod
mihi in buccam venerit^ nihil nee offensae nee
gratiae dabitur, seio me liberum faetum^ velit nolit,
ita ilium salvum et felicem habeam (c. i), nemo
enim ttnquam ilium natum. putavit, in semen relin-
qui (c. 3), si qui a me notorem petisset (c. 7), dim
. . . magna res erat deum fieri: iam famam fecistis (c. 9), semper m.eum negotium agOy
non posse videtur muscam excitare, tam facile —
quam. canis adsidit \excidit\ (c. 10), servum me
ducat (c. 11).

Aulus Gellius, in his remarks upon Seneca^s
style {Noct. Attic, xii. 2), doubtless had other
matters than these in mind, but the impression
which he says was made upon some critics by Sen-
eca's oratio . . . vulgaris . . . et protrita and eru-
ditio . . . vernacula et plebeia nihilque ex veterum
scriptis habens neque gratiae neque dignitatis ^ has a
superficial aptness here.

Of expressions like haec ita vera, verbis conceptis
(c. I ), ego tibi dico, quod tibi narrOy mera mendacia
narrat (c. 6), no do hue modo illuc (c. 9), there is
really nothing to be said; but it is hard to avoid
the impression that in chapter 6, for instance.
Fever is addressing Hercules much as she might
an anachronistic " Bowery boy," who threatens
Claudius in a way very much in character, ne tibi
alogias excutiam (c. 7). They are evidently collo-
quial; similar phraseology can be accumulated


from Petronius, Martial, the comedians, and Cice-
ro's letters. Parallels of this kind are, of course,
not to be taken as traces of mutual indebtedness.
They simply mean that different authors borrowed
phrases from the same streets.

From a similar source is the suggestion of uncul-
tured tautology in such statements as incipit patro-
nus velle respondere and placuit novum poeftam
constitici debere (c. 14), which in an overreaching
effort after extreme precision seem to have lost
their special meaning altogether. Desiit vivere
videri (c. 4), though apparently similar, is really
exact and altogether to the point. Another spe-
cies of characteristic plebeian redundancy is in-
genti fie^ydXcp ')(opLicQ> (c. 12).

The attitude of the satirist has naturally affected
his vocabulary as well as his phraseology ; and in
single words the plebeian element is perhaps more
easily definable. We find of course the colloquial
sane{c. 5, 13) and bene{c. 5) in the same sense, like
its derivatives in the Romance languages. Such
terms as biicca (c. i), miilio (c. 6), 7totor (c. 7),
maintain the same tone. Of the vulgarism of
vapulare (c. 9, 15), "to get a licking," there is no
doubt at all. Greek words like duo (c. 7) and cola-
pkus{c, 15), while frequent in the comedians, came
into the language through the back door, so to
say; alogia (c. 7) is of the same sort, and rarer.
Similar in character are the hybrid forms concacavi
(c. 3) diVid praeptitmm (c. 8 ; from prae and iroadiov).


Among plebeian diminutive formations are par-
ticularly to be noted numfnulariolus (c. 9), derived
from nummularius^ which is itself of plebeian type,
and civitatulas (c. 9). The more familiar pauculos
(c. 3) is of the same quality, whence we have gra-
dations through auriculam and Graeculo to forms
quite classical. Other vulgar derivatives are la-
turam (c. 14) and presumably Saturnalicius (c. 8),
while of analogous formation but more or less in-
ducted into good literary usage are perpetuarius
(c. 6), compendiaria (c. 13), and the adjectives /^j//-
vissimam (c. 8), cordatus (c. 12), and podagricus
(c. 13), "gouty.'*

No less characteristic than vulgar word forma-
tion is the use of words with altered sense, such as
generally furnishes slang. The Punic word mapa-
Ha (c. 9), " shanties," thus becomes the type of un-
considered rubbish. Animam ebulliit (c. 4), *' goes
up the flume," is an admirable specimen. The
verb imposuerat {Herculi, c. 6) in its modern sense
of "impose upon," tibi recipio{c, 6) in the sense of
" I take the responsibility," " I warrant you," a fa-
vorite expression in Cicero's letters, decollare (c. 6),
" to take off (a burden) from the neck," here mean-
ing " to behead," /^/^^n (c. 7), " to talk nonsense,"
instead of like an oracle, and apparently stude (c. 8),
in the sense of "stop and think," — all have the
colloquial ring.

The title itself, if the disputed Ludtis were ac-
cepted, would furnish an example of this kind.


Ludus, in the sense of a satire upon something,
would be perhaps, as Biicheler implies, mediaeval
Latin ; ^ but for this the popular speech is well
known to have furnished many of the elements.
The use of the word in the sense of '* mockery," or
"a joke," is so common in the comic writers, to say
nothing of Persius's ingenuo ciilpam defigere liido
{Sat. V. 16), that it is by no means impossible to
imagine our Menippean crystallizing the word in
this sense into a title.

The syntax of the Apocolocyntosis shows few
peculiarities, but has the same plebeian tendency.
There is the common colloquial parataxis, as in si
dixero, mensis erat October (c. 2), die mihi . . .
quare . . . damnasti (c. 10), and videris . , . an
, . . si aeeiis fjitiiriis es (c. 10); and in the last
instance the looseness of structure is emphasized
by a redundant particle. In piito magis intellegi
(c. 2), the use of the present infinitive instead of the
future, as correlative to the future perfect indica-
tive dixero^ is peculiar, and perhaps to be noted
also is the confusion of tense in quid sibi velit . . .
mim fufiHS esset {c, 12). Erat a balneo {c. 13) re-
calls the still worse trick of plebeian syntax in
Petronius's Cena (c. ^2\fiii infumis.

As for the use of cases, vae me (c. 4) is one of the
few instances of the accusative with this particle.
It is found in Plautus, and appears to be an inten-

^ Du Cange {Glossarium, etc.), however, cites no instance of
its use in this sense.


tional vulgarism. The use of the ablative in tot
minis vixi and ^nultis annis regnavit (c. 6) is the
same as the annis . . . mensibiis . . . diebus . . .
vixit^ so common on plebeian tombstones.

The word celerius(c, 13), in the sense of "hurry
up/* appears to be an instance of the comparative
colloquially used till it has lost its special force.
The conversational tendency to clip phrases is illus-
trated in the repeated use of ex quo (c. i, etc.) for
ex quo temporey and the similar ex eo (c. 4), though
this is a usage not uncommon in poetry.

It would be an interesting matter if we could
know how far the introduction of "plebeian'' ele-
ments into the satire is an affectation, and how far
it simply reflects the conversational habits of the
cultivated classes to which Seneca belonged. Apart
from external comparison, there is a hint, perhaps,
in the distribution of these elements in the satire
itself. They seem to be grouped where they are
wanted with a certain dramatic consistency. Whole
paragraphs pass with little or nothing of the sort.
Then enter the comic Hercules and the disputatious
Fever, and diction of the most breezily colloquial
character becomes abundant. Better, however, is
the instance in chapter 9, where the gods in council
are made to talk in a vernacular quite untrammelled
by convention. Mera mapalia, mimum^ and vapu-
lare serve as punctuating words, and the string of
diminutives, nummularioluSy civitatulas, and auricu-
laniy is interesting for the peculiarity of its collo-


cation. Of the seven diminutives used in the
ApocolocyntosiSy six are in two groups of three each,
these three within as many lines, and three in chap-
ter 3 hardly more widely separated. It appears as
if Seneca occasionally got to thinking in diminutives
for the moment, an affectation so quickly becomes
automatic. Augustus, in his speech, is discreetly
treated in a sufficiently different style ; and at the
end of the debate we are quite brought around to
the seriousness of the occasion with the formal
parliamentary statement of the division of the
house, pedibiis in hanc saitentimn itiini est.

In the verses, the tone, for the most part, is quite
the reverse of colloquial, and the syntax offers no
great peculiarity. There are two or three instances
of what may be called shifted agreement, a form of
attraction perhaps, an adjective agreeing with the
object instead of more logically with the subject,
with adverbial effect: fcssas habenas (c. 2) and
primes . . . axes (c. 4), both of which certain crit-
ics have sought to avoid by emendation. Me-
diicni . . . diviserat orbeni (c. 2) is probably to be
explained on a similar principle.

The versification of the metrical passages de-
mands little comment. Of the six pieces of verse
(other than quoted fragments), four are in dactylic
hexameter; one, where Hercules, qiio terribilior
essety tragictis fity is in the usual iambic senaritis of
the drama, and the dirge of chapter 12 is in anapestic
dimeter {quater7iaritcs\ familiar as a choral meas-


ure in Seneca's tragedies. The hexameters are of
Seneca's accustomed regularity. The senarii con-
form to the Greek limitations of iambic trimeter,
with a rather high proportion of anapests, — seven
in the fourteen Hnes, five of them being in the fifth
place. The proceletismaticus occurs once, in line
II. The anapestic nenia is written with more
laxity, the substitution of the dactyl being very
frequent, as is common elsewhere in this measure.


That we have only fragments of Varro's Me-
nippean satires and none of those of Menippus
for comparison with Seneca's, has already been
deplored. At a later day, however, the Greek
satirists, Lucian and the Emperor JuHan, offer
some striking points of likeness. It is not to be
shown that Lucian in his dialogues or Julian in
his saturnaHan tale of Romulus's banquet to the
gods and Caesars is an imitator of the Apocolocyn-
tosisy but it is hard to persuade ourselves that
Lucian at least did not have this in mind in
developing some of his ideas. He himself is one
of the literary successors of Menippus, though his
satires are cast in a somewhat different mould
from those of the collateral branch which we have
been studying. His obligations to Menippus he
perhaps intended delicately to acknowledge by in-
troducing him so frequently in the Dialogues of


the Dead, and with an almost unique considera-
tion never putting him into compromising situations.
The Gadarene cynic is with him always the amia-
ble imperturbable inquirer, just the man indeed to
have expressed himself in the calm and careless
mixture of prose and verse which bears his name.
Even Charon finds him respectable, and allows
him alone of all the passengers to bring some of
his equipment aboard the boat that crosses the
Styx. So in fact we find Seneca complimenting
his model, Varro, by having him quoted as an
authority in the senate of heaven.

In the Dialogues of the Gods, Lucian habitually
dealt with mythology in a way that was far from
conventional. But the work that particularly con-
cerns us is the %^<^v ^^KK\7]aiay and the Decree
which supplements it. This is a special assembly
of Olympus called to consider means of redress
for the crowding of heaven by unworthy claimants
to divine honors, — the very question raised in the
heavenly senate by Claudius's application in the
ApocolocyntosiSy and discussed by Momus in much
the same spirit as by Father Janus. In general,
Lucian's Council of the Gods reads strikingly like
a regular amplification of the idea suggested by
the similar incident in our earlier satire. It may
be said possibly that this kind of idea was to some
extent common property. Literary archaeologists
are certainly over prone to please themselves by
precisely defining the indebtedness of an author's


fancies, and we know how quickly ideas come to
be communistically held. No doubt the humor-
ous possibilities created by some of the imperial
apotheoses and other extensions of the catholic
pagan pantheon were beginning to be appreciated
by an enlarged Roman public. But Seneca's
meeting of the celestial senate to debate over the
admission of divus Claudius is so curiously paral-
leled by the cosmopolitan Greek's assembly of the
gods to consider precisely the same sort of ques-
tion, that it leaves us with at least a reasonable sus-
picion. There is indeed the difference, that in
the Apocolocyntosis the virulence of the political
pamphleteer rather runs away with the artistic
effect : Augustus's speech is both long and sober,
and overloaded with serious personalities; while
Lucian carries through the idea undistorted. But
apart from this there are both general and particu-
lar resemblances.

The very beginning of the ^YiKKXriaia recalls the
opening of chapter 9 of the Apocolocyntosis, where
Jupiter admonishes the assembled gods to stop
wrangling and come to order. In both accounts
there is a tinge of mutual jealousy among the
deities. Momus as chief spokesman is a fair par-
allel for both the clever Janus and the nummtila-
riolus Diespiter, and the irregularities in the habits
of Jove to which the first gives such liberal atten-
tion are at least hinted at in the innuendoes of
chapter 8 in the Apocolocyntosis, Particularly


interesting is Lucian's Decree, which goes in
several respects farther than either of the three
in the Apocolocyntosis, but is decidedly similar in
tone to the first one, and, like the last, concludes
with the sentence that one who could not produce
proofs of divinity should be expelled summarily
from heaven, even if he were worshipped on
earth, — as we are told at the end of chapter 8
(Apoc.) Claudius was by the Britons.

There is abundant evidence in the ®€cbv ^^kkXt]-
aCa that the religious conditions Lucian had espe-
cially in mind were Roman. Not to cite the
introduction of Egyptian gods,^ of whom Momus
makes so much fun, and those of the Orient, all
of which would apply equally well to the Greek
world, there are distinctively the abstract gods.
Virtue, Destiny, Fortune, and others who were
very good deities at Rome but unsatisfactory as
citizens of Olympus ; and the numerous references
to men ambitious of divinity seem to point to the
explanation of the whole dialogue as an indirect
satire — as direct as would be safe, perhaps, for
a Greek — upon the easy immortalization of the

Another of Lucian's dialogues, that between
Menecrates and Musonius, on Nero, is cited in the
notes to chapter 4. At the end of it Nero's death
is announced, and after Menecrates's congratula-
tory ev 76, & 6eoC^ the last speech of Musonius has

^ QL Seneca's allusion in evp-ZiKa/JLev (rvyxcLipcajj^v, Apoc, c. 13.


a certain interest: 'AXXa /^^ l'iT&)')(6i\ie6a' liri
r^ap ToU KeLfxevoL^ ov (t)aaL Selv. If Lucian did have
the Apocolocyntosis in mind, we have here his judg-
ment upon one aspect of it.

The Emperor Julian, in writing his Katb-a/je?,
probably had Lucian's style as his model, and
whether he had ever read the Apocolocyntosis we
have no means of judging. His work is by no
means so amusing. As Vavasseur quaintly com-
pares it in his De Ludicra Dictione^ Mihi quidem
Caesar is iiniis Senecae propemodiim pluris est, quam
cuftcti Caesares ipsius Cae saris luliani, Julian's
gods are, as we should expect, somewhat rehabili-
tated in respectability, but there is an analogy to
the theme of the Apocolocyntosis in the idea of
introducing the Caesars one by one for Silenus
jocosely to pass judgment upon them. His recep-
tion of Claudius,^ too, is pertinent. Beginning in
mock politeness to recite, from Aristophanes's
Knights, the description of the stupid and choleric
old man Demos, he turns then to Quirinus to re-
proach him for having brought Claudius without
the freedmen who had charge of his soul. The
Katira/oe? also is Menippean in the sense of being
a mixture of prose and verse, though the pro-
portion of the latter is small. The character,
however, is the same.

This can hardly be said of another late work
that has been cited among the Menippeans, the

1 In c. 6.


De Niiptiis Philologiae et Mercuriiy which forms
the first two books of the Satiricon of Martianus
Capella, so extensively used as a school-book in
the Middle Ages. It appears to be an imitation
of Varro in many points ; but its intentions are so
obviously serious that it is a species of Menippean
satire with the satire left out. The title is the
most humorous thing about it. Still further re-
moved, in the same category, is the Mythologicon
of Fulgentius Planciades, a pedantic and obscure
book which has been thought to be an imitation of
Petronius's Satiricon,

Coming to the time of the Renaissance, we find
two confessed attempts at a revival of the Menip-
pean satire. They are Jtisti Lipsi Satyra Menip-
pea^ Sont7iiiifn {Lies us in nostri Aevi Criticos\ and
Petri Ciinaei Sardi Venules ^ Satyra Menippea ;
in huius saeculi homines plerosque inepte eruditos.
The titles are borrowed, one apparently from Cicero
and the other from Varro, of whose satire called
Sardi Venales^ a single fragment is preserved in
Nonius, or perhaps directly from the familiar
proverb, given by Cicero {^Ep. ad Fam. vii. 24,^?^.),
Sardi Venales alius alio nequior ; but both of them
begin in obvious imitation of Seneca's Ludus^ prac-
tically their only Latin model, in fact.

It was while the brilliant Lipsius was a professor
of history at Leyden (i 579-1 590) that he published

^ For the original incident to which Varro*s use of the title was
due, see Aur. Vict. ( Vir, Illtistr. c. Ivii) : aliero consulatu [ Tib,


his Somniumy \jatyra] apta ad ritum prisci Sena-
tus, as one of the subtitles explains it. It is dedi-
cated to Joseph Scaliger, and with the estimable
double purpose \ut\ te delectet^ Uiventiiteni doceat :
cui etiam remissiones nostras vohimus servire. The
high-bred wit of this parody might well have served
for more frequent reading to many of the text
critics at whose methods its irony is directed.

It begins in the very beat and measure of the
Apocolocyntosis : Quid hoc anno Romae in Senatii
dictum, actum, cautum. sit, volo m^emoriae prodere.
Frustra me respicis cum sublato digito, Sigalion ;
non debet silentio perire res tarn, magna. Dicam
quae vidi, quae audivi, quibus interfui. quis vetat ?
Ego scio coactores abisse, et niveam libertatem re-
disse. Si vera dicam, agnoscite : si falsa, ignoscite,
etc. Beginning chapter 2, the hour is described :

Desierant latrare canes, urbesque silebant,
Omnia noctis erant placida coinposta quiet e,

vel, ut cum Varrone clarius dicam, iam noctis meri-
dies erat: cum tetigit me virga valentiore Dius
somnus, Autumni teinpus erat, etc. The first man
he meets in his dream, an old friend, addresses him
with the Homeric line, Tt9 iroOev eh avhpcov^ ttoOl
TOL ttoXl^ ^'8e TOKTje^ ; and he replies, " Itaque ergo
excidit tibi Lipsius tuus ? " inquam, " an notorem me
dare vis .^ "

Sempronius Gracchus] Sardiniam domuit, tantumque captivorum
adduxit, ut lofiga venditione res in proverbium veniret, Sardi


Not to go on citing details, — and Lipsius's bor-
rowings, in true Menippean tradition, are from
everywhere, though his special obligation to the
Apocolocyntosis is most constantly in evidence, —
the meeting of the senate to which his dream ad-
mits him is one in which the classical Latin writers
are gathered to discuss means of redress against
the modern critics who by emendations and conjec-
tures have been pulling ancient literature to pieces,
— a sufficiently vital question, one would think, if
the classical authors have ever been inclined to
turn in their graves. The attendance at the meet-
ing seems to be large and enthusiastic. We find

1 2 3 5 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 5 of 18)