An Atypical Poet

Aulus Persius Flaccus (a.d. 34-62) wrote six satires in the manner of Horace hut in a much sharper vein. The following short poem is generally regarded as a prologue to them.

Nec fonte labra prolui caballino nec in bicipiti somniasse Parnaso memini, ut repente sic poeta prodirem.

Heliconidasque pallidamque Pirenen illis remitto quorum imagines lambunt 5

hederae sequaces; ipse semipaganus ad sacra vatum carmen adfero nostrum.

text A. Persi Flacci et D Iuni Iuvenalis Saturae, ed. W. V. Clausen

(Oxford Classical Texts, 1992) meter limping iambic [§m 10]

nec fon|te lab|ra || pro|lui | cabal|lino nec In | bicipl|ti || s6m|nias|se Par|naso iff. Persius mocks conventional expressions taken from the traditions of Greek poetry: A poet was supposed to gain inspiration by drinking from the Muses' spring or by sleeping on Mt. Parnassus. Nec ... nec ...neither... nor...; fonte ... caballino abl. of place where [§038] in the nag's spring—a derogatory translation of the Greek name Hippocrene (lit., horse's fountain), a spring on Mt. Helicon in Boeotia created by the hoof of the flying horse Pegasus; it was frequented by the Muses and was supposed to inspire poets; caballlnus adj. of caballus -I m., a disparaging term for a horse, comparable to English nag; labrum -1 n. lip; proluo -ere wash thoroughly, douse; in bicipiti... Parnaso on twin-peaked (biceps (bicipi-tis)) Parnassus (Parnasus -I m.)—Parnassus, the mountain behind Apollo's oracle at Delphi, was associated with poetic inspiration because of the god's own patronage of poets; take somniasse (= somniavisse; somnid -are dream) with memini; ut introduces an adverbial clause of result [§g84], trans, so that I should suddenly (repente) come forth (prodeo -Ire) in this way [as] a poet.

4 Helicdnidas Greek acc, pi. of Heliconides the daughters of Mt. Helicon, i.e., the Muses, who were supposed to live there; Pirenen Greek acc. of Plrene, a fountain in Corinth also associated with poetic inspiration and supposed to have been created by Pegasus—it is called pallida (pale) because poets were supposed to be somewhat anemic and colorless.

5 illis (dat.) is the antecedent of quorum; remitto (-ere leave) governs the two accusatives of 1. 4; imagines (imago imaginis f. image) is accusative after lambunt (lambo -ere wreathe)—the imagines would have been portraits or busts in libraries.

6f. Trans, hederae (subject of lambunt; hedera -ae f. ivy) by sg.—ivy was associated with poets; sequax (sequacis) pliant; ipse agrees with the understood subject of adfero, viz I; semipaganus -I m. half-peasant—a paganus (peasant) be-

quis expedivit psittaco suum "chaere" picamque docuit nostra verba conari? magister artis ingenique largitor 10

venter, negatas artifex sequi voces, quod si dolosi spes refulserit nummi, corvos poetas et poetridas picas cantare credas Pegaseium nectar.

<s Persius prologue longed to a pagus (country community) that held a festival, the paganalia (pagana-lium n.pl.), with contributions from each member; by way of humorous self-deprecation, Persius describes his contribution to a supposed festival (sacra) of poets as that of one who is only half-qualified; vates vatis m. a poetic word for poet, trans, bard; adfero -ferre bring—Persius is bringing his poem (carmen) as a peasant would bring his contribution; nostrum pi. for sg. [§053], trans, my.

8 expedio -Ire make easy; psittaco dat. of psittacus -I m. parrot; suum "chaere" (its "hello") is accusative after expedivit—parrots and other birds were kept and taught to speak; chaere is the sg. pres. imp. of the Greek verb xocipoi—there was a fashion to teach birds to say this.

9 pica -ae f. magpie (a common European bird); nostra verba our words, i.e., human speech,

1 of. The two lines give the answer to the questions of 11. 8 and 9; magister artis teacher of skill; ingenl alternative gen. of ingenium -(i)l n. talent; largitor largltoris m. bestower; venter (ventris m. stomach) is in apposition [§g5a] to magister and largitor, and artifex (artificis m. expert) is in apposition to venter—Persius uses venter to represent greed as the motivation to write poetry (cf. 1.12); negatas ... voces forbidden words—forbidden because it is not in the nature of birds to talk; take sequi (pres. inf.) with artifex, trans, expert in imitating (lit., following). 12ff. quod si moreover if; dolosus deceitful; refidgeo -ere shine, gleam, here appear; nummus -1 m, money, here called deceitful because it motivates poets to make their audiences think that they are really inspired; in each of the phrases corvos poetas (raven (corvus -I m.) poets) and poetridas picas (magpie poetesses (Greek poetris poetridos f.)), two nouns are juxtaposed as in English—Persius is implying that poets of both sexes resemble mimicking birds in their willingness to perform for material gain; cantare (canto -are sing) is part of the acc.+inf. construction [§g 10] after credas (the accusative is the nouns in 1.13); the subjunctive is used in the si clause (refulserit) and the main clause (credas) [§G94], trans, if the hope ... has appeared, you would believe ...; Pegaseium nectar Pegasean nectar, acc. after can-tare—nectar (nectaris n.) was normally the drink of the gods, but here Pegaseium (adj. of Pegasus) shows that the waters of the Hippocrene (see note to 1.1), the drink of the Muses, are meant; to sing Pegasean nectar means to write poetry as though inspired by the very drink of the Muses.

l68 seneca

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