Printer Friendly

The hellebore in Persius' Satires.

The hellebore is a plant with a significant presence in Persius' Satires. Its use for the treatment of mental disorders as well as for the artificial stimulation of thought (1) makes it essential that the references to the plant in the satirist's work be examined both in terms of his moral teaching and his literary programme. In this article I shall attempt to comment on the verbal choices Persius selects in order to refer to the particular plant, with special emphasis on the word veratrum at 1.51.

References to the hellebore can also be found in the hexametric poetry of Horace, who, as is well known, is Persius' main model (2). Horace refers to the plant either by the Greek word elleborus (< [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), or by the metonymic use of the word Anticyra, as the city of Anticyra in Phocis was renowned for its production of hellebore (3). The intimation to the plant's qualities as a cure for mental disorders is evident in all the references. In satire 2.3, where by means of a dialogue between the poet and the Stoic philosopher Damasippus the former parodies the famous Stoic paradox that only the sapiens is mentally sound, while every fool is insane (4), the hellebore is considered to be an antidote for passions such as avaritia, ambitio and audacia; cf. Hor. sat. 2.3.82-83: danda est ellebori multo pars maxima avaris: / nescio an Anticyram ratio illis destinet omnem and 2.3.164-166: non est periurus neque sordidus: inmolet aequis / hic porcum Laribus; verum ambitiosus et audax: / naviget Anticyram. Similarly at Hor. epist. 2.2.136-137: hic ubi cognatorum opibus curisque refectus / expulit elleboro morbum bilemque meraco the hellebore is presented as capable of curing mental disorder and the melancholy that is associated with it. Finally, at ars 299-301: nanciscetur enim pretium nomenque poetae, / si tribus Anticyris caput insanabile numquam / tonsori Licino conmiserit the reference to the plant is connected to the notion of furor poeticus and Horace's attempt to present as insani those poets who rely solely on ingenium and reject the value of ars (5).

Well aware of Horace's precedent, Persius refers to the hellebore four times. At 3.63-65 he highlights the need for the timely treatment of the disease, as, once it has been allowed to progress, any attempts at treatment are futile; in such a case, neither the hellebore, nor an expensive doctor can help:
   elleborum frustra, cum iam cutis aegra tumebit,
   poscentes videas: venienti occurrite morbo,
   et quid opus Cratero magnos promittere montes? (6)

At 5.100-101 it is the value of knowledge that is highlighted and the poet claims that the successful treatment of the disease requires that one knows the exact dosage of hellebore required:
   diluis elleborum, certo compescere puncto
   nescius examen: vetat hoc natura medendi.

In both these cases the references to the hellebore are consistent with the frequent occurrence in Stoic thought of medical imagery, where the sapiens is the doctor, while all the rest are mentally ill (7). As according to the Stoic paradox the moral disease is equated with insanity, to many people the hellebore presents a rational solution. Persius, however, implies that the real solution lies in the knowledge of what is right and in a life founded on sound philosophical principles.

At 4.14-16 Alcibiades is called on to renounce his premature and erotic political relationship with the people and drink hellebore:
   quin tu igitur, summa nequiquam pelle decorus,
   ante diem blando caudam iactare popello
   desinis, Anticyras melior sorbere meracas?

In this instance the reference to the plant implies that Alcibiades, not yet having true knowledge, is no different from the insane and thus requires appropriate treatment. In the interpretation of this example too there is an undercurrent of Stoic thought. The choice of the metonymic use of the word Anticyras follows Horace's example on the one hand, while, on the other, it is consistent with the Greek (Athenian) setting predominant at the beginning of the fourth satire.

Whereas in the aforementioned instances Persius chooses words which are also found in Horace, in lines 1.50-51 he refers to the hellebore with the Latin word veratrum, a choice which cannot be attributed to his predecessor's influence (8):
   quid non intus habet? non hic est Ilias Atti
   ebria veratro?

In his first satire, which is programmatic, Persius criticises the popular poetry of his day and rejects the praise of his contemporaries. In the above passage, Attius' Ilias is presented as a typical example of this poetry and is described as drunk with hellebore. In all probability, here Persius is implying that the particular work is the result of artificial inspiration (9) and that it belongs to irrational poetry (10). The possibility, however, that the poet's choice is also serving another purpose must not be ruled out.

It goes without saying that sexual imagery predominates in the entire first satire (11). Persius considers the poetry of his day effeminate and, according to the proverb talis hominibus fuit oratio qualis vita (12), also presents the poets as such. By choosing the word veratrum instead of elleborus, the poet appears to be continuing his efforts. The word veratrum easily brings to mind veretrum, a way of describing the genitals (13). In spite of the difference in prosody (veretrum / veratrum), the phonetic similarity between the two words is striking, while it is worth mentioning that veratrum is one of the numerous different forms which the word veretrum has in vulgar texts (14). Thus in a cryptic way the poet succeeds in leading many readers to the thought that Ilias Atti which he is criticising is effeminate, as are most of the poems of his day. It should not be forgotten that from the very first lines of the satire Persius attacks Labeo, who has been identified with the Attius of line 1.50 by the Scholia (15), highlighting Labeo's popularity in Polydamas and Trojan Women and hinting at the effeminacy (16) of his readers: ne mihi Polydamas et Troiades Labeonem /praetulerint? (1.4-5).

Hinting and associating through phonetic similarities are amongst Persius' literary practices (17). Undoubtedly, the poet chooses his vocabulary very carefully and likes to condense multiple notions to fit into a few words all potentially moving in different directions. Consequently, it seems reasonable that the careful choice of the term veratrum here aims to function on a second level by implicitly evoking thoughts associated with the sexual imagery predominant in the first satire.

This interpretation is corroborated by the very choice of the word ebria that qualifies Ilias Atti. In addition to the obvious connection between drink and sex, it should be mentioned that the use of the particular adjective to serve sexual connotations is well attested in Latin literature. The case of Catull. 45.11: dulcis pueri ebrios ocellos, where the poet presents a boy's eyes as drunk with love (as in Anacreon 17D: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) (18), is a characteristic example; cf. also Heges. 1.32.2: sed quamvis libidine ebrius, somno gravis, in hac tamen parte resipuit Antonius, ut tales viros et potentissimos reges, pro imperio petulantissimae mulieris exstringuere detrectaret as well as the similar imagery at Verg. Aen. 1.748-749: nec non et vario noctem sermone trahebat / infelix Dido longumque bibebat amorem.

Other passages that could be useful here are those at Sen. epist. 19.9: Est ergo tanti ulla potentia ut sit tibi tam ebrius sermo? Ingeniosus ille vir fuit, magnum exemplum Romanae eloquentiae daturus nisi illum enervasset felicitas, immo castrasset; 114.4: Quomodo Maecenas vixerit notius est quam ut narrari nunc debeat quomodo ambulaverit, quam delicatus fuerit, quam cupierit videri, quam vitia sua latere noluerit. Quid ergo? non oratio eius aeque soluta est quam ipse discinctus? non tam insignita illius verba sunt quam cultus, quam comitatus, quam domus, quam uxor? Magni vir ingenii fuerat si illud egisset via rectiore, si non vitasset intellegi, si non etiam in oratione difflueret. Videbis itaque eloquentiam ebrii hominis involutam et errantem et licentiae plenam; 114.22: Hoc a magno animi malo oritur: quomodo in vino non ante lingua titubat quam mens cessit oneri et inclinata vel prodita est, ita ista orationis quid aliud quam ebrietas nulli molesta est nisi animus labat. Ideo ille curetur: ab illo sensus, ab illo verba exeunt, ab illo nobis est habitus, vultus, incessus. Illo sano ac valente oratio quoque robusta, fortis, virilis est: si ille procubuit, et cetera ruinam sequuntur, where the style of the effeminate Maecenas is compared to drunkenness (ebrietas) (19). It is worth noting that Persius' first satire and Seneca's epistle 114 bear many similarities, as has already been noted by scholars (20), and thus Seneca's parallels could strengthen the possibility of a similar sexual interpretation in Persius of the adjective ebrius with allusions to effeminacy.

The above possible interpretation of ebria veratro is further reinforced by the poet's very name. Due to the phonetic similarity, the form Atti recalls the wellknown mythological figure of Attis, the lover of Cybele, who castrated himself and therefore became a symbol of effeminacy (21). It is worth noting that Persius explicitly refers twice to Attis (1.93: Berecyntius Attis and 1.104-106: summa delumbe saliva / hoc natat in labris, et in udo est Maenas et Attis, / nec pluteum caedit nec demorsos sapit ungues) criticising his contemporaries' devotion to working themes associated with him into their poetry and, by extension, criticising their own effeminacy. We could therefore claim that by referring to Ilias Atti, the poet skilfully prepares for his transition to the theme of Attis.

By employing sexual connotations in his phrase, Persius directs us to one of the main reasons for his overall opposition to the epic poetry of his day. As is known, although in a traditional epic such as Vergil's Aeneid the love-affair (amor) is not incompatible with the martial theme (arma), the former appears as a threat to the latter and thus "[t]he elegiac intrusion here should end in favour of the domination of the heroic epic"; however, from Ovid's day on, Roman epic incorporated a great number of elegiac themes with erotic and emotional intimations which decreased the distance between the two genres, heroic epic and erotic elegy (22). In his first satire Persius opposes this trend of the epic of his day and more generally the dominant role amatory themes of elegiac nature play in his contemporary poetry (cf. e.g. 1.34: Phyllidas, Hypsipylas, vatum etplorabile siquid; 1.69-70: ecce modo heroas sensus adferre docemus / nugari solitos Graece, 1.92-106, where the examples that Persius cites are accused of effeminacy). Consequently, it could be argued that through the sexual overtones in his reference to Ilias Atti the satirist seems to hint at the mixture of genres in the epic poetry of his time and, by extension, at the adoption of an unmanly poetic stance that recalls that of erotic elegy but appears inappropriate in a heroic epic as well as in other genres.

When criticising the neo-neoteric poetry of his day, Persius frequently draws attention to its adherence to Greek models and, more generally, to its Graecisised style (23). By choosing the Greek word elleborus, instead of the Latin veratrum, in line 1.51, Persius could have better castigated Attius' Iliad, a work which was considered to be a slavish translation of the Homeric original (24). Thus it appears that he chose the equivalent Latin word because it offered him a more advantageous position from whence to promote his literary polemics.


University of Cyprus

* Recebido em 28-11-2013; aceite para publicacao em 24-03-2014.

(1) For the hellebore as a treatment of mental disorder, cf. e.g. Hp. Ep. 18: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; Sen. benef. 2.35.2: insanire omnes dicimus, nec omnes curamus elleboro; Porph. Hor. epist. 2.2.53: Quod tandem, inquit, helleborum satis erit, ut expurget insaniam simque iam sanus? Cicutam autem pro elleboro posuit; Porph. Hor. ars 300: Locus est in Achaia Anticyra, ubi elleborum nascitur, quo sumpto dementes sanantur. For its use for the artificial stimulation of thought, cf. e.g. Val. Max. 8.7ext.5: idem (sc. Carneades) cum Chrysippo disputaturus elleboro se ante purgabat ad expromendum ingenium suum adtentius et illius refellendum acrius; Plin. nat. 25.51: ut plerique studiorum gratia, ad pervidenda acrius quae commentabantur, saepius sum&lt;p&gt;titaverint; Gell. Pr.17.15: Quod Carneades Academicus elleboro stomachum purgavit scripturus adversus Zenonis Stoici decreta. For more details, see for instance A. FOUCAUD, "Sur lellebore des Anciens", Revue d'histoire de la pharmacie, 48, 1960, 328-330; C. O. BRINK, Horace on Poetry: The Ars Poetica, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1971, pp. 331-333; W. KISSEL, Aules Persius Flaccus: Satiren, Heidelberg, Winter, 1990, pp. 176-178.

(2) See recently S. TZOUNAKAS, "Persius' Re-reading of Horace: The Case of Some Proper Names", C&M, 59, 2008, 123-137, with relevant bibliography (pp. 123-124, n. 1).

(3) Cf. e.g. Porph. Hor. ars 300; Scholia in Pers. 4.16 (KISSEL & ZETZEL); C. O. BRINK, op. cit., p. 332; W. KISSEL, op. cit., p. 519.

(4) Cf. e.g. the treatment of this paradox ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) by Cicero at Cic. parad. 4.

(5) For Horace's thought here and his stance towards Democritus' view as to the inspiration in poetry and the superiority of ingenium, see e.g. C. O. BRINK, op. cit., pp. 328-333; R. S. KILPATRICK, The Poetry of Criticism: Horace, Epistles II and Ars Poetica, Edmonton, University of Alberta Press, 1986, pp. 45-46; N. RUDD, Horace, Epistles, Book II and the Epistle to the Pisones (Ars Poetica), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989 (Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics), pp. 199-201.

(6) The Latin text of Persius is that of W. KISSEL, A. Persius Flaccus, Saturarum Liber, Berlin / New York, Walter de Gruyter, 2007 for Teubner.

(7) For the Stoic sapiens as doctor, see e.g. F. H. SANDBACH, The Stoics, 2nd edition, London, Bristol Classical Press, 1989, pp. 63, 136, 147; on this comparison here, cf. also, among others, K. J. RECKFORD, Recognizing Persius, Princeton / Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2009, p. 89. More generally, for the frequent use of medical imagery in Stoic thought, cf. e.g. K.-H. ROLKE, Die bildhaften Vergleiche in den Fragmenten der Stoiker von Zenon bis Panaitios, Hildesheim / New York, Olms, 1975 (Spudasmata 32), pp. 76-79, 315-326, 484-485; R. G. M. NISBET & M. HUBBARD, A Commentary on Horace, Odes, Book II, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 44-45, with relevant bibliography; R. J. HANKINSON, "Stoicism and Medicine", in B. Inwood (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 295-309.

(8) This word is rare in Latin literature. In the poetry before Persius it occurs only at Lucr. 4.640: praeterea nobis veratrum est acre venenum. It mainly occurs in scientific writers such as Cato, Celsus, Scribonius Largus, Columella and Pliny the Elder. Probably, by choosing this word, Persius presents his remark with the authority of a scientist or a doctor who reaches a diagnosis.

(9) Cf. J. CONINGTON & H. NETTLESHIP, Persius, Satires, London, Bristol Classical Press, 1998 (1st ed. Oxford, 1874) (BCP Classic Commentaries on Latin and Greek Texts), p. 13; E. V. MARMORALE, Persio, 2nd edition, Florence, La Nuova Italia, 1956 (Biblioteca di cultura, 18), p. 188, n. 2; G. LEE & W. BARR, The Satires of Persius, Liverpool, F. Cairns, 1987 (Latin and Greek Texts, 4), p. 74; J. G. F. POWELL, "Persius' First Satire: A Re-examination", in T. Woodman & J. Powell (edd.), Author and Audience in Latin Literature, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 156.

(10) For the literary connotations of ebria here, see S. TZOUNAKAS, "The Reference to Archaic Roman Tragedy in Persius' First Satire", AC, 77, 2008, 99-100.

(11) Cf., for instance, K. J. RECKFORD, "Studies in Persius", Hermes, 90, 1962, 476-504, esp. 484-487, 490; C. S. DESSEN, The Satires of Persius: Iunctura Callidus Acri, 2nd edition, London, Bristol Classical Press, 1996, esp. pp. 12, 24-26, 32-37, 62-63, 66-70, 95; J. C. BRAMBLE, Persius and the Programmatic Satire: A Study in Form and Imagery, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1974, esp. pp. 41-45 and 67-155 passim; J. R. JENKINSON, Persius: The Satires, Warminster, Aris & Phillips, 1980, esp. pp. 108-111; A. RICHLIN, The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor, New Haven / London, Yale University Press, 1983, pp. 185-190; W T. WEHRLE, The Satiric Voice: Program, Form and Meaning in Persius and Juvenal, Hildesheim / Zurich / New York, Olms-Weidmann, 1992 (Altertumswissenschaftliche Texte und Studien, 23), esp. pp. 15-19, 45-51, 92-97; C. WASER, "Frau-Erotik-Sexualitat: Zur Prasenz des Weiblichen beim Satiriker Persius", GB, 20, 1994, 161-163.

(12) For the central role of this proverb in Persius' first satire and the relevant bibliography, see, for instance, S. TZOUNAKAS, "Persius on his Predecessors: A Re-examination", CQ, n.s. 55, 2005, 565 with n. 53.

(13) Cf. Varro Men. fr. 282: dein immittit virile veretrum. ut flumen offendit buccam / Volumnio; Phaedr. 4.15.1-2: <tum materia eadem usus formavit recens> a fictione veretri linguam mulieris. / affmitatem traxit inde obscenitas (the presumable sense of this fragmentary fable is given by E. OLIENSIS, Freud's Rome: Psychoanalysis and Latin Poetry, Cambridge / New York, Cambridge University Press, 2009 (Roman Literature and its Context), p. 85: "when Prometheus was fashioning humankind, he made the woman's tongue right after (or from?) the man's genitals ... Hence the innate obscenity of female speech: the woman who plies her tongue usurps the man's part"); Suet. Tib. 62.2: excogitaverat autem inter genera cruciatus etiam, ut larga meri potione per fallaciam oneratos, repente veretris deligatis, fidicularum simul urinaeque tormento distenderei; Larg. 234: Ad veretri tumorem lentis ex aqua cocta et trita rosaceo oleo mixta prodest and see J. N. Adams, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary, London, Duckworth, 1982, pp. 52-53 and 227-228.

(14) See J. N. ADAMS, op. cit., p. 53, citing CGL II.206.32.

(15) Scholia in Pers. 1.4 (KISSEL & ZETZEL): Labeonem quia Labeo transtulit Iliaden et Odissian verbum ex verbo ridiculose satis, quod verba potius quam sensum secutus est. eius est ille versus: 'crudum manduces Priamum Priamique pisinnos'; cf. also Scholia in Pers. 1.50 (KISSEL & ZETZEL): Attius Labeo poeta indoctus temporum illorum qui Iliadem Homeri versibus foedissime composuit ita ut nec ipse se postea intellexisset nisi elleboro purgaretur. Contrary to the information of the Scholia, V. FERRARO, "Accio Labeone: una creatura degli scoliasti di Persio", SIFC, 43, 1971, 79-100 believes that the Labeo at Pers. 1.4 is a reminiscence of Hor. sat. 1.3.82.

(16) For the insinuation of effeminacy in the phrase Polydamas et Troiades, see e.g. J. C. BRAMBLE, op. cit., p. 69.

(17) K. FREUDENBURG, Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp. 125-208 has highlighted a number of such instances. For example, commenting (pp. 158-159) on the phrase a, si fas dicere in line 1.8, which he believes to be preparation for the use of the word asini in line 1.121: auriculas asini quis non habet?, he characteristically mentions: "Persius challenges us to read deeply, to find meaning hidden inside his words, half-expressed, less in what we read, than in the ways of our reading".

(18) See K. QUINN, Catullus: The Poems, Edited with Introduction, Revised Text and Commentary, 2nd edition, London, Macmillan, 1973, repr. Bristol, Bristol Classical Press, 1996, p. 225; R. ELLIS, A Commentary on Catullus, 2nd edition, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1889, repr. Hildesheim / Zurich / New York, Olms, 1998, p. 160; cf. also C. J. FORDYCE, Catullus: A Commentary, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 206: "they are ebrii because they have drunk love and are swimming, natantes et quadam voluptate suffusi (Quint. xi. 3. 76)"; J. GODWIN, Catullus: The Shorter Poems, Edited with Introduction, Translation and Commentary, Warminster, Aris & Phillips, 1999, p. 165, who, for the connection of drink and sex, cites J. GRIFFIN, Latin Poets and Roman Life, London, Duckworth, 1985 (Classical Life and Letters), pp. 65-87. On this use of ebrius at Catull. 45.11, see also C. T. LEWIS & C. SHORT, A Latin Dictionary, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995 (18791), s.v. ebrius II; OLD, s.v. ebrius 2. On the topos of being drunk with love in literature, see also E. ANAGNOSTOU-LAOUTIDES, Eros and Ritual in Ancient Literature: Singing of Atalanta, Daphnis and Orpheus, Piscataway, N.J., Gorgias Press, 2005 (Gorgias Dissertations 11. Classics 3), p. 469; E. ANAGNOSTOU-LAOUTIDES & D. KONSTAN, "Daphnis and Aphrodite: A Love Affair in Theocritus Idyll 1", AJPh, 129, 2008, 510-511.

(19) On Maecenas' style as presented in Seneca's epistle 114, see e.g. M. GRAVER, "The Manhandling of Maecenas: Senecan Abstractions of Masculinity", AJPh, 119, 1998, 607-632 and more recently R. DEGL'INNOCENTI PIERINI, "Seneca, Mecenate e il 'ritratto in movimento' (a proposito dellepistola 114)", in F. GASTI (ed.), Seneca e la letteratura greca e latina. Per i settant'anni di Giancarlo Mazzoli. Atti della IX Giornata Ghisleriana di Filologia classica (Pavia, 22 ottobre 2010), Pavia, Pavia University Press, 2013, pp. 45-65, with extensive bibliography.

(20) See e.g. J. C. BRAMBLE, op. cit., pp. 16-25, who also notes the use of the imagery of drunkenness as a literary-critical metaphor related to style (pp. 48-50).

(21) Cf., for instance, Ov. Ib. 455: Deque viro fias nec femina nec vir, ut Attis; Suid. A 3822 ADLER: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. For the myth of Attis in Latin literature, see e.g. Catull. 63 and Ov. fast. 4.221-244.

(22) See e.g. S. TZOUNAKAS, "Further Programmatic Implications of Valerius Flaccus' Description of the Construction of the Argo (1.121-9)", SO, 86, 2012, 162 and 170-171.

(23) See especially S. TZOUNAKAS, "The Rejection of Graecisms in Persius 1. 92-106: From Form to Culture", GB, 26, 2008, 1-30.

(24) For this view, which appears in the Scholia, see above, n. 15.

I would like to thank the Editorial Board of Euphrosyne and the anonymous referees for their valuable comments and suggestions.
COPYRIGHT 2014 Universidade de Lisboa. Centro de Estudos Classicos da Faculdade de Letras
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2014 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Tzounakas, Spyridon
Publication:Euphrosyne. Revista de Filologia Classica
Date:Jan 1, 2014
Previous Article:A proposito de [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] en la cuarta oda istmica de pindaro.
Next Article:Traducciones ibericas de la obra retorica de Apuleyo.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters