Naevius, the Metelli and Saturnian Verse

Kuznetsov Alexandr E.

The reply of the Metelli to the insolent verse of Naevius is considered to be the most important evidence of social impact on the literary history of Republican Rome. The evidence is not, however, infallible. The story is founded on scholia of Pseudo-Asconius (In Verr. I 29), a document of dubious reliability, which is the only extant source of the Naevian iambic verse «fato Metelli...», while the Saturnian reply «dabunt malum Metelli...» is attested by several metrical writers (Pseudo-Bassus, Aphthonius, Sacerdos, Atilius Fortunatianus, Terentianus Maurus). In this paper the author tries to demonstrate that (1) the text of Pseudo-Asconius is incoherent; (2) Pseudo-Asconius had at his disposal some metrical theory of the Saturnian that differed entirely from the theory used by those metricians who quoted «dabunt malum Metelli...»; (3) Pseudo-Asconius picked «fato Metelli...» out of some old Commentary to Cicero’s speeches; (4) the metricians like Aphthonius knew nothing about «fato Metelli...». All this implies that Pseudo-Asconius merged two different sources, one providing «fato Metelli...» in order to explain the witty dictum of Cicero, and the other putting «dabunt malum Metelli...» forward as an example of the Saturnian meter. Thus the exchange of vituperative verses between the poet and the Metelli had no foundation in grammatical or historical tradition; this exchange was an accidental result of confusion made by a 5th century scholiast (Pseudo-Asconius). Two verses involved in the story require different approach. The iambic «fato Metelli...» no doubt came from some drama. The joke about Metellus’ consulate in Cic. Verr. I. 29 does not definitely presuppose that «fato Metelli...» had some invective sense. In fact, various invective interpretations of the utterance «fato fieri» meet with considerable difficulties. Marmorale argued with good reason that the verse had a laudatory sense and connected it with L. Caecilius Metellus (cos. 251, 247 A.D.). However the verse originated from fabula praetexta, not from Bellum Punicum as Marmorale conjectured. The verse «dabunt malum Metelli...» was a fiction of an antiquarian (probably republican), who sought to demonstrate the ideal form of the Saturnian. This ideal example was incorporated in a quasi-historical narrative about Naevius and the Metelli. The author of the anecdote thought that like ancient Greek iambography the original Saturnian had been an invective poetry. This reconstruction causes a problem, since the extant Roman sources do not treat Saturnan as an invective. Only Dionysius of Halicarnassus can provide some help, if we read (with Post and Carry) in his description of triumph (Ant. VII 72, 11) αjμεvτροις (α{μα τοι`ς ms.) and understand this word as a hint at a rough rhythm of the Saturnian verse.

Keywords: ancient Rome, literature, poetry, Roman Republic