Invectives

The Gaulish Bards, wielding their lyres, 'eulogize some, but abuse others'.113 The poet with the skill to praise and bless has also the skill to denounce and mock and curse, if his enmity is aroused, and woe betide the one who arouses it, because the hostile song can exercise a magical force and bring him to perdition. This is at any rate the belief in ancient Ireland, illustrated by many stories, for example of an inimical poet whose song brought a king's face out in boils, or made his land sterile. Similar properties are ascribed in Norse saga to 'hate stanzas', nidvisur.

Some have argued that this dual potency of the northern bard should be regarded as a feature of the Indo-European poet.114 They can cite the stories of how the Greek iambographers Archilochus and Hipponax drove their victims to suicide with their invectives; the stories are no doubt apocryphal, and seem to be somehow grounded in a ritual institution,115 but it is possible none the less that they are echoes of a serious belief in the harmful powers of satire. Certainly it is a very ancient notion that a malevolent poem has a dangerous potency. The old Roman Laws of the Twelve Tables prescribed penalties for anyone qui malum carmen occentassit. This probably referred

111 Tain (I) 2754-97, 2835-58, 3017-80, (L) 1413-28, 1433-60, 2638-714, 3187-222, 3386-413; Rowland (1990), 461 f./506 f., 463 f./507 f. See further Winternitz (1959), 89 f. with literature; R. Ambrosini, Bollettino del Centro di Studi Filologici e Linguistici Siciliani 11 (1970), 53-87; Watkins (1995), 141-4.

112 RV 1. 179; 10. 10, 95; Sappho fr. 137; Rhesa (1825), 268-70; West (1997), 530 f.

113 Diodorus 5. 31. 2 (Posidonius F 169 Theiler).

114 Dum├ęzil (1943), 235-8; D. Ward, JIES 1 (1973), 127-44; Campanile-Orlandi-Sani (1974), 237 f.; questioned by Campanile (1990b), 79.

115 M. L. West, Studies in Greek Elegy and Iambus (Berlin-New York 1974), 22-39.

to injurious spells and incantations of all kinds, obtainable from mountebanks and unsavoury old women. But there may have been a time when they belonged in the province of the professional poet, the master of words, and when it was not a private piece of hocus-pocus that was feared so much as a public verbal assault.

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