Bk 1. xxxiii 4-5 solecism (conc)

Who is the ‘Lucilius’ that Isidore imagines a grammarian? Where is that ‘list of a hundred solecisms’ and why is the name Lucilius absent (as  grammarian) from our histories of Latin grammar? Is it just confusion on Isidore’s part? There was more than one Roman ‘Lucilius’.  Smith, for example, lists:

  • Sextus Lucilius (1) – one of  Sulla’s adherents [who paid for his political preference by being thrown off the Tarpeian Rock by his successor who –  as you might guess – belonged to the opposite party].
  • Sextus Lucilius (2) – a military tribune who died in battle at Mt. Amasus c.50 BC.
  • L. Lucilius, a naval chap, and probably the one Cicero mentions as commanding Dolabella’s fleet in Cilicia.
  • C. Lucilius, a close friend of Cicero.
  • [?] Lucilius, who because he impersonated his friend in an unsuccessful effort to save him from Mark Antony after a battle, became one of Mark Antony’s most respected friends.
  • Gaius Lucilius.

The common character of most is military, and this adds point what follows in our description of  how Gaius Lucilius, as a  ‘hobelar’ whose sword was his tongue, was forgiven his barbarisms and soloecisms, and his limping verse, because his satires were perceived as unadorned outbursts of savage and uniquely ‘Roman’ virtue.  That ethos is  well illustrated by a letter  which Seneca composed,  addressing it ‘To Lucilius’ – possibly some other –  and in which Seneca first rails against, and then laments, the way some Romans enjoy life in a sea-side town.  (Ep.51.12)

Do you think that Cato would ever have lived in such a place so that he might count the adulterous women sailing by, the many kinds of boats painted in all sorts of colors, a rose floating on the lake, or that he might hear the loud nocturnal noises from serenaders? Would that great man have preferred to hunker down in a palisade, which he had built with his own hands to serve for a single night? Would not anyone who was a true man prefer to have his sleep interrupted by a military trumpet over a chorus of serenaders?

Cato, another of Gaius Lucilius’ friends, is on record as considering ‘gross misconduct’ any singing in the street. (De Officiis I.40). Such were the men who admired and/or imitated Gaius Lucilius, men who did not see it as ridiculous to feel incensed that little boats should not conform to a single design.

  • Recommended: Shadi BartschAlessandro Schiesaro, The Cambridge Companion to Seneca (2015)


This idea of the ‘good Roman’ as a savage but Spartan man of war, albeit living among a fastidious and  urban elite,  goes far towards explaining why the satirist Gaius Lucilius – partly court jester, partly proto-Danton –  survived a succession of patrons who succumbed to the erratic and uncertain political climate.  Granted the same immunity traditionally given the ‘wise fool’, this Lucilius’ unrestrained attacks were supposed aimed at defending ‘Roman virtues’ (including the fastidious gourmand’s).    Warmington makes the point:

It wasn’t necessarily guilt which caused the object’s  heartstrings to sweat.   In Rome of that time a life might descend overnight from security to death on the basis of nothing more than a snide remark passed around a dinner-table, or a moment’s inattention.

How swiftly and arbitrarily one’s life might be ruined in Rome is so often demonstrated in the histories that any number of examples might serve, but the case of the grammarian Servius, whose commentary on the Aeneid is still quoted today, is an example particularly apt. In its irrationality and bathos, it is a perfect cameo of the Roman vita.

Now, in republican and in imperial Rome, a grammatist such as Servius had held a position of greater weight and authority in matters of poetry and even of prose than did the author of any composition.  The grammatist’s work was not unlike that of the critic and the editing publisher combined.  The composition was submitted, and the grammatist commented and himself added corrections and emendations (emendatio).  Such was his authority that one modern author has expressed doubt about whether any classical Latin verse has come down to us in the form originally written.

Thus, poor Servius, as a notable grammarian and the composer’s son-in-law had perhaps done no more than presume a right to act as ’emender’ only to find, overnight, that he had lost his place in society, his home, possessions and personal good name.  But such is the pattern of much Roman biography.  In that atmosphere, and when a host’s providing larger eggs rather than smaller ones could lead to a ‘satire’ from Lucilius, little wonder that a public attack could ‘make the heartstrings sweat’.

 Whether Lucilius’ knowledge of grammar was ever substantial is debatable; what remains to us are only quoted fragments preserved because the ‘the grammarians’ (who do not cite him as an authority on grammar) use his verses to illustrate peculiar grammatical constructions and curious (even ‘barbarous’) vocabulary.  Tyrrell puts it more kindly:

Unlike many others, Tyrrell names several among ‘ the grammarians’ including Nonius, Pomponius and Porphyrio, Cato, Quintilian and Priscian.
  • Robert Yelverton Tyrrell, ‘Horace and Lucilius’, Hermathena, Vol. 2, No. 4 (1876), pp. 355-376 (p.357).

Later in the same paper, however, he also says:

Looking for such ‘books after books’ by Lucilius is an exercise in futility; the relevant fragments are chiefly in ‘Book 9’. and consist of such items as:

Another instance of what the grammarians would consider error.  Isidore himself allows a poet certain latitude, but by the seventeenth century, the principle had developed that the principle of  ‘English-as-she-is-spoke’ – applied to Latin – was the right principle, with grammarians relegated to the same outer darkness as practitioners of all other of the arts and sciences in an extended rant by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, published in 1675. He doesn’t consider Lucilius a grammarian, either, but a poet and while deriding the grammatists’ criticisms at least repeats its gist ‘the Rustickness of his hobling [i.e hobbling] verse.’

Lucilius’ comments on orthography, according to later writers, do appear to show some knowledge of etymology.  The difficulty here, of course, is that Lucilius had not been entirely free of criticism during his lifetime, and what modern interpreters read at face value may have been Lucilius’ expert parody of precisely those niceties in which a grammarian had previously attempted to instruct him.  Mimicry is also satire.

In short, the ‘100 solecisms’ are those cited by others in regard to Lucilius’ verses.  Fay says well when he says “Lucilius, the satirist, hitched the orthography into verse, by way of protest against the spelling rules of the tragedian, Accius” and this point of orthography is the nearest one comes to any such topic of academic investigation and debate with reference to Lucilius’ Book 9.  During the earlier part of the twentieth century Fay first expounded on Lucilius’ opinions, and then debated with some energy a couple of opposing interpretations.    To cut that story short, I’ve added a last paragraph in which a summary is given.


  • E.H.Warmington, Remains of Old Latin; newly edited and translated (1935) internet archive. (Vol III contains Satires Bk 9)
  • David C. Urban, ‘The Use of Exempla from Cicero to Pliny the Younger’, Dissertation – (PhD. University of Pennsylvania, 2011). PDF.
  • Jason Linn, ‘The Dark Side of Rome: A Social History of Nighttime in Ancient Rome’, Dissertation (D.Phil.) University of California, Santa Barbara (2014) [PDF]
  • Lucilius     in Early English Books Online [HERE
  • W. Sidney Allen, Vox Latina: a Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Latin  internet archive[PDF]
  • Hubert Petersmann, ‘The Language of Early Roman Satire: its function and characteristics’. Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol.93 pp. 289-310 [PDF]
  • James Clackson (ed.), A Companion to the Latin Language [includes the interesting comment that Lucilius is the first known writer in Latin to use the word soloecism]. re fragment 1100 Marx.
  • Fantham, Roman Literary Culture: From Plautus to Macrobius.
  • Jennifer L. Ferriss-Hill Roman Satire and the Old Comic Tradition
  • Stanley Bonner, Education in Ancient Rome: From the Elder Cato to the Younger Pliny
  • Daniel Hooley,  Roman Satire.
  • Kirk Freudenburg (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Roman Satire
  • William J. Dominik, William T. Wehrle, Roman Verse Satire: Lucilius to Juvenal. A selection with Introduction, Text, Translation and Notes (1999).
  • –  reviewed by Catherine Keane for the Bryn Mawr Classical Review 23rd April 2000. [HERE]
  • Edwin W. Fay, ‘The Elogium Duilianum’, Classical PhilologyVol. 15, No. 2 (Apr. 1920), pp176‑183. online courtesy Thayer, University of Chicago.

Roland Grubb Kent, ‘Lucilius on EI and I’, The American Journal of Philology, January 1st., 1911 (pp.272-293)  internet archive copy courtesy of JSTOR

(Vincent Hunink has recently produced a Dutch translation of the Satires.

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