In the autumn of 167 BCE, the praetor Lucius Anicius Gallus returned to Rome in the wake of a glorious victory in the province of Illyria. Messengers and hostages had already reached the capital, and the general’s arrival alongside his lieutenant Octavius was a cause for national celebration.Footnote 1 A triumph was promptly voted by the Senate and referred to the popular assembly for formal ratification.Footnote 2 Anicius, however, was not content with this singular honour. He planned to crown the festivities with a theatrical extravaganza. A star-studded line-up of musicians, dancers and prize-fighters was specially brought over from Greece for the occasion and a massive wooden stage erected in a circus near the Tiber.The Greek historian Polybius witnessed the spectacle in person and recorded what he saw. His detailed account survives only thanks to its preservation in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae, a miscellaneous compendium of dinner-party trivia composed during the early third century CE. The passage reads as follows:
Λεύκιος δὲ Ἀνίκιος, καὶ αὐτὸς Ῥωμαίων στρατηγήσας, Ἰλλυριοὺς καταπολεμήσας καὶ αἰχμάλωτον ἀγαγὼν Γένθιον τὸν τῶν Ἰλλυριῶν βασιλέα σὺν τοῖς τέκνοις, ἀγῶνας ἐπιτελῶν τοὺς ἐπινικίους ἐν τῇ Ῥώμῃ παντὸς γέλωτος ἄξια πράγματα ἐποίησεν, ὡς Πολύβιος ἱστορεῖ ἐν τῇ τριακοστῇ. μεταπεμψάμενος γὰρ τοὺς ἐκ τῆς Ἑλλάδος ἐπιφανεστάτους τεχνίτας καὶ σκηνὴν κατασκευάσας μεγίστην ἐν τῷ κίρκῳ πρώτους εἰσῆγεν αὐλητὰς ἅμα πάντας. οὗτοι δ᾽ ἦσαν Θεόδωρος ὁ Βοιώτιος, Θεόπομπος, Ἕρμιππος, [ὁ] Λυσίμαχος, οἵτινες ἐπιφανέστατοι ἦσαν. τούτους οὖν στήσας ἐπὶ τὸ προσκήνιον μετὰ τοῦ χοροῦ αὐλεῖν ἐκέλευσεν ἅμα πάντας. τῶν δὲ διαπορευομένων τὰς κρούσεις μετὰ τῆς ἁρμοζούσης κινήσεως προσπέμψας οὐκ ἔφη καλῶς αὐτοὺς αὐλεῖν, ἀλλ᾽ ἀγωνίζεσθαι μᾶλλον ἐκέλευσεν. τῶν δὲ διαπορούντων ὑπέδειξέν τις τῶν ῥαβδούχων ἐπιστρέψαντας ἐπαγαγεῖν ἐφ᾽ αὑτοὺς καὶ ποιεῖν ὡσανεὶ μάχην. ταχὺ δὲ συννοήσαντες οἱ αὐληταὶ καὶ λαβόντες […] οἰκείαν ταῖς ἑαυτῶν ἀσελγείαις μεγάλην ἐποίησαν σύγχυσιν. συνεπιστρέψαντες δὲ τοὺς μέσους χοροὺς πρὸς τοὺς ἄκρους οἱ μὲν αὐληταὶ φυσῶντες ἀδιανόητα καὶ διαφέροντες τοὺς αὐλοὺς ἐπῆγον ἀνὰ μέρος ἐπ᾽ ἀλλήλους. ἅμα δὲ τούτοις ἐπικτυποῦντες οἱ χοροὶ καὶ συνεπεισιόντες τὴν σκηνὴν ἐπεφέροντο τοῖς ἐναντίοις καὶ πάλιν ἀνεχώρουν ἐκ μεταβολῆς. ὡς δὲ καὶ περιζωσάμενός τις τῶν χορευτῶν ἐκ τοῦ καιροῦ στραφεὶς ἦρε τὰς χεῖρας ἀπὸ πυγμῆς πρὸς τὸν ἐπιφερόμενον αὐλητήν, τότ᾽ ἤδη κρότος ἐξαίσιος ἐγένετο καὶ κραυγὴ τῶν θεωμένων. ἔτι δὲ τούτων ἐκ παρατάξεως ἀγωνιζομένων ὀρχησταὶ δύο εἰσήγοντο μετὰ συμφωνίας εἰς τὴν ὀρχήστραν, καὶ πύκται τέτταρες ἀνέβησαν ἐπὶ τὴν σκηνὴν μετὰ σαλπιγκτῶν καὶ βυκανιστῶν. ὁμοῦ δὲ τούτων πάντων ἀγωνιζομένων ἄλεκτον ἦν τὸ συμβαῖνον. περὶ δὲ τῶν τραγῳδῶν, φησὶν ὁ Πολύβιος, ὅ, τι ἂν ἐπιβάλωμαι λέγειν, δόξω τισὶ διαχλευάζειν.
After conquering the Illyrians and taking captive their king, Genthius, along with his children, the Roman general Lucius Anicius presented games (ludi) in Rome in celebration of his victory. He conducted proceedings in a completely ridiculous fashion, as Polybius reports in the Thirtieth Book [of his Histories]. For, having summoned the most celebrated performers from Greece and built an enormous stage in the circus, he first brought on all the pipe-players at once. These were Theodorus of Boeotia, Theopompus, Hermippus, and Lysimachus – the superstars of the day. He positioned them centre-stage and ordered them to accompany the chorus all together as an ensemble. While they were performing their routine in harmony with the choral dance, he interrupted to inform them that they were playing badly and instructed them to show a more competitive edge. They were confused as to his meaning, until one of the lictors explained that they should turn around and have a go at each other and make it look like they were fighting. The pipe-players quickly grasped what he meant and, after receiving [an order?] which suited their own proclivity for licentiousness, created utter pandemonium. They got the group of dancers in the middle to turn en masse and face those on the outside. Then, proceeding to blow meaningless and discordant notes on their instruments, they advanced towards each other in turn. The dancers responded to them and, mounting the stage all together, charged at the opposing group and then turned around and retreated in ranks. And when, right on cue, one of the dancers gathered up his robes, spun around and raised his fists in boxing-style against the piper who was advancing towards him, the spectators erupted in rapturous applause and shouting. While the performers were still competing in battle lines, two dancers were introduced into the orchestra accompanied by a band, and four boxers mounted the stage along with trumpeters and horn-players. The scene with all these people struggling together was unbearable. ‘As for the tragic actors’, says Polybius, ‘if I tried to describe them some people will think that I am joking.’
What are we to make of this bizarre charade? Polybius’ review is hardly flattering: the impresario Anicius is written off as a bumbling buffoon, arrogantly interrupting his headline artists in the middle of their set for no apparent reason; the hapless lictor attempts to restore order, but merely adds to the confusion; and the whole performance descends into an unruly fracas, with dancers, musicians and boxers all vying for the spectators’ attention. Modern verdicts have been similarly scathing. ‘A confused burlesque and near riot’; ‘an undignified masquerade’; a ‘clumsy’ and ‘tactless’ production which ‘backfired’: these are just some of the terms which scholars have used to describe Anicius’ games in recent decades.Footnote 3
However, as Erich Gruen pointed out nearly three decades ago, there is much more to Polybius’ narrative than meets the eye.Footnote 4 Why would a supposedly inept Roman general with little appreciation of the performing arts have gone to the trouble of procuring the services of the finest musicians that Greece had to offer – it is stated twice that they were ‘very famous’ (ἐπιφανέστατοι) – only then to let the performance be derailed by the whims of his audience? And why, at any rate, should we assume that this audience was on the verge of rioting, as has been suggested? The hooliganism of the Roman spectators may have appalled Polybius, but in the context of the dramatic head-to-head between the dancer and the piper, their clapping and cheering make much better sense as an expression of approval than of disdain. ‘Far from letting matters slip out of his hands, Anicius dictated them from start to finish’.Footnote 5 The show was no flop. It was designed to make an impact, and by all accounts it succeeded in doing so.
If we recognise that Anicius’ production had a logical design, this raises the question as to what that design was, and why the performance offended Polybius to the extent that it did. As Gruen underlines, we must be mindful of how Anicius exploited the national divide between his Greek hirelings on the one hand and his Roman compatriots on the other. ‘Exploitation’ is the operative word here. The spectacle functioned, in Gruen’s words, as ‘a stunning display of Roman power to exploit Hellenic culture’.Footnote 6 In particular, Gruen highlights how the degrading treatment suffered by the Greek musicians at the hands of the praetor engendered in the Roman audience a ‘sense of cultural superiority’ in the face of a common (Greek) enemy.Footnote 7 The whole thing was a ‘conscious parody’, intended to be read as such by all who saw it. It was thus bound to offend a patriotic Greek observer like Polybius, who was unfamiliar with the Roman theatre and was in any case naturally ill-disposed towards the Romans, having been taken hostage by them just a few months earlier following the defeat of the Macedonian king Perseus.
Gruen’s theory of ‘conscious parody’ has been developed more recently by George Fredric Franko in an article entitled ‘Anicius vortit barbare: The Scenic Games of L. Anicius Gallus and the Aesthetics of Greek and Roman Performance’. Franko’s central argument is that Anicius designed his show based on the tried-and-tested model of a Plautine comic drama. Like Plautus, he ‘twisted’ Greek culture to suit Roman tastes, transforming it into ‘raw material for Roman fun’ and thereby ‘triumphing through subversion and reconfiguration for a Roman audience’.Footnote 8 To support this argument, Franko draws attention to the fact that Anicius’ triumph took place during the Quirinalia festival.Footnote 9 The Quirinalia is associated by some ancient authors with the so-called Feast of Fools (feriae stultorum), which fell on the same date.Footnote 10 This festival served, in Franko’s view, as an atmospheric backdrop to the festivities in 167, inspiring and authorising the mayhem. Franko also reaffirms Gruen’s view that the show was scripted specifically to appeal to the ‘chauvinistic’ and ‘xenophobic’ tendencies of a Roman audience.Footnote 11 It is no surprise, then, that a proud Greek like Polybius failed to see the funny side.
Franko is surely right to emphasise the importance of mockery and subversion in Anicius’ games. Scholars such as Linda-Marie Günther have attempted to downplay the comedic aspects of the show, claiming that it represented not a ‘parody’ but a ‘parable’ of the Greeks’ political servility to Rome, acted out by the tame musicians.Footnote 12 However, this interpretation is unconvincing. It is telling that Athenaeus presents the episode in a section of the Deipnosophistae dealing specifically with the subject of joking and laughter. Anicius is introduced alongside several other political leaders who were unusually fond of jokes, including the Macedonian kings Demetrius Poliorcetes and Philip II, and the Roman dictator Sulla.Footnote 13 Perhaps most revealingly, the anecdote concludes with the banqueters all in hysterics (‘everyone burst out laughing at these Anician spectacles’, πάντων ἀνακαγχασάντων ἐπὶ ταῖς Ἀνικίοις ταύταις θέαις).Footnote 14 For Athenaeus and his readers, there was no question that this performance was supposed to make its audience laugh.
In my view, however, the Plautine model can only get us so far. Roman comedies were, of course, highly musical affairs, with sung cantica and the ever-present accompaniment of the pipe-player (tibicen). But the fact remains that the plays of Plautus and Terence originated as written texts; they derived their entertainment value from wordplay and dialogue as much as from music and dance. Anicius’ production, on the other hand, was predominantly non-verbal, at least as far as we can gauge from the surviving account (we hear of the involvement of tragic actors, but this seems to have followed later in the proceedings). At any rate, it is doubtful that the Feast of Fools had the general currency which Franko ascribes it. Ovid, in the Fasti, connects the feriae stultorum not with the Quirinalia, but with the Fornicalia, an obscure festival held in honour of Fornax, the goddess of the oven.Footnote 15 This hardly seems a likely pretext for the antics of a theatrical performance. In short, while Plautine comedy may provide a suitable framework for understanding certain aspects of what Anicius was doing, it is only one of several possible points of comparison.
Above all, what has been missing from the scholarship is a recognition of the peculiar musicality of Anicius’ spectacle. Polybius’ account is extraordinary precisely because it represents one of the few eyewitness descriptions of a musical performance to have survived from Roman antiquity. It therefore affords historians a rare opportunity to examine how a Roman politician and impresario manipulated sound and choreography to convey a particular message to a particular audience. That the musical soundtrack of Anicius’ games comes across so powerfully is no coincidence; it reflects a conscious emphasis on the part of both Anicius (as producer) and Polybius (as narrator). This raises two interrelated questions. First, what was Anicius trying to achieve through his innovative use of music and dance? And second, why did Polybius choose to foreground this musical episode in his Histories?
Before we can start to address these questions, however, there is a more fundamental issue that must be considered. As I noted at the start of this chapter, Polybius’ account of Anicius’ games survives only in the much later work of Athenaeus. It is unclear whether the account that has come down to us represents an accurate record of what Polybius actually wrote, as opposed to an adapted or abridged version. For example, is the phrase παντὸς γέλωτος ἄξια (literally ‘worthy of much laughter/ridicule’) Polybius’ or Athenaeus’? To be sure, Athenaeus was not interested in presenting his readers with a joined-up historical narrative, but selected excerpts primarily on the basis of their thematic content.Footnote 16 Moreover, he did not have access to a definitive ‘first edition’ of Polybius, but made use of later copies which doubtless varied from one to another.Footnote 17 Further alterations to the text could have been made by Athenaeus himself, or by a later copyist of the Deipnosophistae. Dominique Lenfant’s study of the Herodotean passages in the work has shown how Athenaeus is prone to changing, adding or removing certain words for reasons of dialect, syntax and context.Footnote 18 Christopher Pelling’s examination of the use of Xenophon has highlighted similar trends.Footnote 19 In most cases, however, Athenaeus’ alterations are cosmetic; very rarely do they deviate substantially from the ‘authoritative’ version of the text, insofar as it has been transmitted independently through the manuscript tradition. We have no such ‘authoritative’ text to rely on for the passage under consideration in this chapter. Nevertheless, it should be noted that Athenaeus credits his source on two occasions in the text: the first reference gives the exact book in Polybius’ Histories from which the passage has been excerpted (ὡς Πολύβιος ἱστορεῖ ἐν τῇ τριακοστῇ), while the second purports to be a verbatim citation (φησὶν ὁ Πολύβιος). Of course, these statements alone do not prove that the text is ‘authentically’ Polybian. But on the basis of the evidence presented above, it seems safest to conclude that Athenaeus has reproduced the main elements of Polybius’ narrative, albeit with the potential for slight linguistic or syntactic modifications here and there. It is also very likely that the criticism of Anicius, including in the phrase παντὸς γέλωτος ἄξια, comes from Polybius rather than from Athenaeus and/or his interlocutor.
The following discussion is divided into five sections. The first two sections focus on the spectacle itself. I begin by addressing a set of issues relating to the date and location of the games. Establishing where and when the event took place is important because it allows us to draw more informed inferences about Anicius’ intentions. It is also important to consider the political context of the games. By comparing Anicius’ show with other ludi staged during this period by victorious Roman generals (triumphatores), we can see how the praetor sought to engage in a competitive dialogue with his senatorial rivals – most notably, M. Fulvius Nobilior and L. Aemilius Paullus. In the second section, I dissect the various components of the spectacle, paying particular attention to the use of music and choreography. I argue that Anicius, in devising his ludi, subtly incorporated sounds and sights that were reminiscent of other militaristic ceremonies – especially the triumph – in order to amplify the sense of occasion that accompanied his Illyrian victory. In effect, Anicius blended the elements of a military procession with those of a theatrical performance, producing a memorably subversive spectacle that immortalised his achievements as a general.
The third section deals with the representation of the games in Polybius’ Histories. The question of why Polybius chose to foreground the musicality of Anicius’ ludi cannot be answered simply by reverting to the ‘culture shock’ argument made by Gruen and other scholars. A more productive line of enquiry, I suggest, is to examine the role of music in the Histories more broadly. The account of Anicius’ games is, in fact, one of several passages in which Polybius passes judgement on musical performances both past and present. Taken together, these passages highlight the importance of music in Polybius’ moralising narrative. The self-degradation of the Greek performers was offensive to the historian not simply because it upset his sense of national pride, but because it illustrated the moral degeneracy of contemporary music. I argue, moreover, that Polybius’ conservative stance on music was influenced by contemporary trends in Greek civic ideology and philosophical discourse.
The final two sections of the chapter situate Anicius’ games within the broader musical milieu of second-century Rome. Despite the paucity of evidence for Roman attitudes to music in this period, there is still much that can be gleaned from the extant sources. Firstly, we can draw comparisons between Anicius’ spectacle and the Greek-inspired musical performances put on by Aemilius Paullus and Fulvius Nobilior. Secondly, we can use Polybius’ critique of the games to shed light on the attacks on music made by Scipio Aemilianus and Cato the Elder. We can only imagine how the likes of Scipio and Cato might have responded to Anicius’ games. Yet there were at least some members of the Roman political establishment who objected vociferously to, and even legislated against, certain kinds of popular musical entertainment. The games of 167 may have been well-received by the general public, but that does not necessarily mean all Roman spectators approved.
Triumphal Politics and Spectacle Culture in Mid-Republican Rome
The date of Anicius’ games cannot be established with certainty. Since we do not know where exactly in Book 30 the episode was situated, we must resort to circumstantial details in Livy’s history in order to reconstruct a basic chronology. Livy informs us that Anicius’ triumph took place on the Quirinalia of 166 BCE.Footnote 20 This festival was held each year on 17 February.Footnote 21 However, the year 166 was intercalary, and so the Quirinalia will have fallen in the Julian calendar on 19 November 167, or, if 167 was also intercalary, on 11/12 December.Footnote 22 The renowned Polybian scholar F. W. Walbank asserts in his commentary on the Histories that Anicius’ games ‘were probably the result of a votum [that is, a vow to a deity made prior to or during the Illyrian campaign], and quite distinct from his triumph’.Footnote 23 But it seems difficult to explain the phrase ἀγῶνας … τοὺς ἐπινικίους as anything other than a direct allusion to the triumph on the Quirinalia: the opening reference to Anicius’ praetorian command (Ῥωμαίων στρατηγήσας) and the capture of Genthius and his children (αἰχμάλωτον ἀγαγὼν Γένθιον … σὺν τοῖς τέκνοις) makes the connection almost explicit.
The temporal relationship between the triumph and the games therefore requires elucidation. Walbank reached the conclusion that the games must have taken place several days or weeks after the triumph. Subsequent scholarship has generally concurred with this view. However, the assumption that the games served as a sequel to the triumph is problematic, for reasons which have not been sufficiently acknowledged. In presiding over the spectacle, Anicius was acting in the capacity of an imperator (a general invested with a formal command, or imperium). Not only did he appear as Genthius’ conqueror, but he also possessed lictors (τῶν ῥαβδούχων) in his retinue. The involvement of these officials would be extremely odd if the triumph had already taken place and Anicius had formally relinquished his command.Footnote 24 The most likely scenario, therefore, is that the games were either held on the same day as the triumph, while Anicius still retained imperium, or they were held beforehand, with the praetor’s army still encamped on the Campus Martius.Footnote 25
The fact that Anicius was acting as imperator would also have restricted the range of theatrical venues that were accessible to him. Polybius mentions the erection of a large stage ‘in the circus’ (ἐν τῷ κίρκῳ), without specifying which circus is meant.Footnote 26 Scholars have assumed that Polybius must be referring here to the Circus Maximus, the place where many of the city’s annual festivals were celebrated.Footnote 27 On the face of it, this seems a reasonable assumption; the racetrack would have afforded ample space for a scaena (stage), while the spectators could have watched from the available seats, just as they watched ludi scaenici on other occasions from the steps of temples.Footnote 28 However, the identification with the Circus Maximus is flawed in one key respect: the Circus Maximus lay inside the pomerium (the sacred boundary of the city) and so was effectively out-of-bounds for an incumbent imperator. Moreover, there is no reason to assume that Anicius had any intention to ‘accommodate the audience in tiered seats’, as Sander Goldberg claims.Footnote 29 The Greek word skene refers simply to a wooden ‘stage-building’ and need not imply the existence of a larger cavea (auditorium).Footnote 30 It is certainly possible that some spectators sat on benches, but this cannot be taken for granted: indeed, ancient authors indicate that it was not unusual in the mid-second century for Roman theatre-goers to stand rather than sit.Footnote 31
On this basis, we might postulate that Anicius’ games took place not in the Circus Maximus, but in Rome’s other circus, the Circus Flaminius, created by the censor C. Flaminius Nepos in 221 BCE.Footnote 32 As ‘a broad open space unencumbered by spina [a central barrier], carceres [starting barriers] or terraces of public seats’, the Circus Flaminius was more than capable of housing a large skene.Footnote 33 It also met the necessary criterion of being located beyond the pomerium, lying on the Campus Martius near to the river Tiber where Anicius’ troops would have disembarked. The Circus Flaminius would have been an appropriate choice of venue for several reasons. We know that it was used as the setting for the annual Plebeian Games, which included dramatic performances.Footnote 34 Furthermore, in 179, the consul M. Aemilius Lepidus commissioned an ‘auditorium and stage’ (theatrum et proscaenium) in front of the temple of Apollo in the Circus Flaminius. The appearance of this structure is unknown (in fact, it was probably never completed), but it seems to have been intended as a permanent venue for hosting the Ludi Apollinares.Footnote 35 The Circus Flaminius also served as a starting point for triumphal processions and as a place where triumphal spoils were deposited. Plutarch describes how, during the triumph of Aemilius Paullus in 167, ‘the people erected scaffolding in the horse-racing stadia, which the Romans call “circuses”’ (ὁ μὲν δῆμος ἔν τε τοῖς ἱππικοῖς θεάτροις, ἃ Κίρκους καλοῦσι … ἰκρία πηξάμενοι) in order to watch the procession – these ‘circuses’ were presumably the Circus Maximus and Circus Flaminius.Footnote 36 A year later (or shortly thereafter), Cn. Octavius built ‘a portico at the Circus Flaminius’ (porticus ad circum Flaminium) from the spoils of his naval triumph against the Macedonian king Perseus.Footnote 37 The Circus Flaminius therefore possessed strong links to both the ludi and the triumph. Accordingly, it would have been an opportune space for hosting a quasi-military performance of the kind witnessed by Polybius.The Illyrian triumph of 167 was the third such event to have taken place in Rome in the space of just three months. The naval triumph of Octavius was, by Livy’s estimate, something of a dull affair, lacking in both prisoners and spoils.Footnote 38 But the magnificent triumph of L. Aemilius Paullus over king Perseus had gone down in history as one of the finest spectacles the city had ever witnessed.Footnote 39 Subsequent triumphatores struggled to compete. Paullus’ conquest came at the cost of a long and hard-fought campaign. Anicius’ subjugation of Illyria, by contrast, was completed after barely a month of skirmishing.Footnote 40 The disparity between the two generals is astutely observed by Livy:
similia omnia magis visa hominibus quam paria; minor ipse imperator, et nobilitate Anicius cum Aemilio et iure imperii praetor cum consule conlatus; non Gentius Perseo, non Illyrii Macedonibus, non spolia spoliis, non pecunia pecuniae, non dona donis comparari poterant.
Men saw in each detail a resemblance, but no equality. The commander himself was the lesser, both in public esteem, as an Anicius compared with an Aemilius, and in rank of office, a praetor rather than a consul. Genthius could not be compared to Perseus, the Illyrians to the Macedonians, nor the spoils of the one to those of the other, nor the money, nor the gifts to the soldiers.
Not that there was anything inherently contemptible about Anicius’ triumph. As Livy points out: ‘The Illyrians were a nation formidable both by land and sea, who felt secure in their strong fortified positions, and Anicius had thoroughly subjugated them in a few days and captured their king and all his family’. Nor was the booty unimpressive. The problem, rather, was one of timing, for ‘the memory of the Macedonian triumph was still fresh not only in people’s minds but almost before their eyes’.Footnote 41
Livy’s comments provide a revealing insight into the competitive dynamics of Roman public spectacle during the second century BCE. As Rome gradually extended her hegemony over the Hellenistic East, there emerged a small but powerful clique of pre-eminent statesmen who vied with one another to win over the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens. As well as having to contend with the recent memory of Paullus’ triumph (and the less memorable, but not negligible, triumph of Octavius), Anicius could recall a string of triumphal honours conferred on victorious generals of the not-so-distant past: M. Fulvius Nobilior in 187, Cn. Manlius Vulso in 186, Ti. Sempronius Gracchus in 178, C. Claudius Pulcher in 177, M. Aemilius Lepidus in 175 and C. Cicerius in 172 – to name only a few.Footnote 42 Having a triumph to one’s name was all well and good, but in the crowded arena of Roman politics it was no longer a guaranteed route to immortality. Now, more than ever, the triumphator needed to put on a show.Footnote 43
Anicius was not the first Roman general to sponsor a theatrical performance involving Greek artists. In 186, following his conquest of Ambracia, the consul M. Fulvius Nobilior presented votive games in Rome, which, according to Livy, showcased ‘a large number of artists from Greece’ (multi artifices ex Graecia) and featured for the first time in Rome a contest of athletes and a wild-beast hunt.Footnote 44 In the same year, L. Scipio celebrated his victory in the Antiochene War by producing a spectacle which featured ‘artists gathered from all over Asia’ (congregatosque per Asiam artifices).Footnote 45 When Anicius sent for ‘the most distinguished performers from Greece’ (τοὺς ἐκ τῆς Ἑλλάδος ἐπιφανεστάτους τεχνίτας), he knew that he was following in the footsteps of political heavyweights.
The legacy of Fulvius Nobilior is worth considering more closely. Fulvius’ commitment to promoting Greek culture extended beyond the showcasing of Greek artists on the Roman stage; for he also dedicated a temple next to the Circus Flaminius in honour of Hercules and the Muses. This temple, known commonly as the Aedes Herculis Musarum, has generated a great deal of scholarly debate, mainly focusing on the date of the temple’s foundation (the communis opinio favours 187, the year of Fulvius’ triumph, but 189 and 179 have also been canvassed) and its connection with the Roman ‘guild of playwrights and actors‘ (collegium scribarum et histrionum), which is believed to have established its headquarters in the temple.Footnote 46 Nothing remains of the monument today, although its location is identifiable based on fragments of the Severan Marble Plan. We know from literary sources that the temple was adorned with cult statues depicting the nine Muses and Hercules playing the lyre, taken as spoils during the Ambracian campaign.Footnote 47 In the eyes of Cicero, these spoils were a testament to the fact that Roman generals, ‘while still virtually armed’, were concerned with ‘cultivating the name of poets and temples of the Muses’.Footnote 48 By transforming the Circus Flaminius into a monumental arena for his own philhellenic self-fashioning, Fulvius articulated a vision for Roman culture in which mousike (defined in the broad sense of music, poetry and drama) was to play a central role.
The games of Aemilius Paullus provide another illustration of the political importance of Greek culture to Roman generals in this period. In the aftermath of his stunning victory over king Perseus at the Battle of Pydna in 168, Paullus made the decision to postpone his return to Italy, and instead visited the city of Amphipolis, the cultural epicentre of northern Greece, where he presided over a great theatrical bonanza. Paullus replicated, with remarkable precision, the traditional format of a Greek agonistic festival, bringing together ‘a multitude of artists of every kind from all over the world’ (artificum omnis generis … ex toto orbe terrarum multitudo).Footnote 49 According to Livy, the fact that the consul had planned the games ‘a long time in advance’ (ex multo ante preparato) stood as a testament to his unrivalled prudentia, at a time when the Romans were still ‘inexperienced’ (rudes) in the theatrical arts.Footnote 50 In effect, Paullus’ achievement was to recognise and exploit the natural affinity between the roles of imperator and impresario; as he often professed, ‘the person who knows how to conquer in war also knows how to organise a banquet and to prepare games’.Footnote 51
Like his illustrious predecessors, Anicius understood the need to capitalise on his moment in the spotlight. He realised that there were political rewards to be reaped from sponsoring a Greek-inspired theatrical production on a lavish scale. However, he chose to target his games not at a Greek audience in a Greek city, as Paullus had done, but at a Roman audience in the city of Rome. He may have done so with the deliberate intention of overshadowing Paullus, as has been argued persuasively by Jonathan Edmondson.Footnote 52 After all, Rome was surely a much better place for an ambitious politician to make a splash than the far-flung city of Amphipolis. The games of Fulvius Nobilior provided a shining example in this regard. More importantly, Rome was also the place where the triumph took place and, if Livy’s comments are to be believed, the praetor had good reason to suspect that this event might otherwise have slipped under the radar. Anicius could not afford simply to imitate Paullus: he had to be bolder, more original, more creative. Introducing Greek performers to an ‘inexperienced’ audience might have been a gamble, but there is certainly no reason to assume that this gamble backfired.Footnote 53
Battle of the Bands: Anicius’ Martial Soundtrack
How, then, did Anicius create a show that eclipsed what Roman audiences had witnessed before? As I argued at the beginning of this chapter, the tendency to draw comparisons with Plautine comedy has led scholars to underestimate the novelty of Anicius’ production. A more helpful approach, I suggest, is to look at how Anicius incorporated musical influences from outside the theatre – most importantly, the triumph – in order to heighten the impact of his spectacle. In particular, I will contend that Anicius used musical effects to create an audible juncture between the games and the triumph. This strategy served as a way of amplifying the importance of his military victory and thus reinforcing his political prestige (auctoritas).
Those who attended the circus with Polybius would have been left in no doubt that they were witnessing a quasi-military display. The lictor initially orders the musicians and dancers ‘to simulate a battle’ (ποιεῖν ὡσανεὶ μάχην). As the choreography unfolds, the movements begin to resemble those of a battle line (παρατάξις) advancing and retreating in neat array. The musical accompaniment, ‘meaningless and discordant’ (ἀδιανόητα καὶ διαφέροντες), provides a fitting soundtrack to the chorus’ shenanigans. Then, at the last moment, four boxers (πύκται τέτταρες) enter the fray. They are accompanied by an unnumbered group of brass-players (σαλπιγκτῶν καὶ βυκανιστῶν, equivalent to tubicines and cornicines in Latin). The role of these musicians is not immediately apparent. In Rome, as in Greece, brass instruments were synonymous not with the theatre but with the army.Footnote 54 It is likely that the trumpeters would have completely drowned out the sound of the pipers, who seemingly kept on playing regardless.Footnote 55
Not all of Anicius’ audience will have experienced the din of battle (although there may have been large numbers of soldiers in attendance). But the vast majority will have witnessed a triumph, and it is likely that the sight and sound of the musicians would have prompted recollections of just such an occasion. The music of the tuba and cornu played an important role in reinforcing the martial atmosphere of the triumph (see Fig. 1.1).Footnote 56 Trumpeters were typically the first thing that spectators saw and heard during a triumphal procession. For example, they led the procession on the first day of Aemilius Paullus‘ triumph, ‘as they did in war’.Footnote 57 They appeared again on the third and final day, when, according to Plutarch, they played not a marching or processional fanfare, but a call to arms, ‘such as the Romans use to rouse themselves to battle’.Footnote 58 Musicians also feature in Appian’s account of the triumph of Scipio Africanus in 201 BCE.Footnote 59 As usual, trumpeters led the vanguard. Next came the general himself, followed by lictors clad in purple robes and a chorus of lyre-players and pipers (χορὸς κιθαριστῶν τε καὶ τιτυριστῶν), who marched ‘in regular order with song and dance’ (βαίνουσιν ἐν τάξει μετὰ ᾠδῆς καὶ μετ᾿ ὀρχήσεως).Footnote 60
Appian is the only ancient author who explicitly mentions the participation of lyre-players and pipe-players in a Roman triumph. This has prompted speculation about whether string instruments and tibiae featured routinely in triumphal processions or only on certain occasions. Censorinus indicates that tibicines took part in triumphs, but does not say how often or in what capacity.Footnote 61 On the other hand, Plutarch claims that the use of salpinktai instead of auletai was one of the features which distinguished the triumph from the ovation, its lesser counterpart, stating that ‘the aulos is an instrument of peace (εἰρήνης μέρος)’.Footnote 62 For example, we are told that Marcellus’ ovation in 211 BCE featured ‘a very large number of pipe-players’ (αὐλητῶν μάλα πολλῶν).Footnote 63 Moreover, a sculptural relief from Rome, dating from the first century BCE, shows a pair of tibicines, a fidicen (lyre-player) and a group of armed dancers involved in a procession (Fig. 1.2). An association with the ovation (or, less likely, the triumph) is suggested by the fact that the musicians wear crowns on their heads and are trailed by three captives with their arms tied behind their backs.Footnote 64 Thus, while the evidence precludes definitive conclusions, the logical inference is that tibicines and fidicines were involved occasionally in triumphs, but certainly not as a matter of course. The quintessential triumphal instruments were always the tuba and cornu.
In addition to its military soundtrack, the triumph was also noted for its choreography. Appian foregrounds the role of dance and mime in giving life to the spectacle and eliciting the laughter of spectators. During Scipio’s triumph, one member of the chorus, positioned ‘in the middle’ (ἐν μέσῷ) and decked out in a long purple cloak and gold jewellery, ‘caused laughter by making various gestures, as if he were dancing in triumph over the enemy’ (σχηματίζεται ποικίλως ἐς γέλωτα ὡς ἐπορχούμενος τοῖς πολεμίοις). According to Mary Beard, ‘the man’s actions here cast the celebration of victory as comic parody’.Footnote 65 Further comparisons can be drawn with the famous account of the Ludi Romani by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, derived from the third-century Roman historian Fabius Pictor. Dionysius begins by describing the war-dances which opened the games. The dancers who took part were equipped with weapons and armour, and were accompanied by an ensemble of pipe-players and lyre-players.Footnote 66 They were followed by a second chorus of dancers, who impersonated satyrs (in the manner of a Greek dance called the sicinnis) and ‘ridiculed and mimicked the serious movements of the others, turning them into laughter-provoking performances’ (κατέσκωπτόν τε καὶ κατεμιμοῦντο τὰς σπουδαίας κινήσεις ἐπὶ τὰ γελοιότερα μεταφέροντες).Footnote 67 After these choruses came ‘a multitude of lyre-players and many pipe-players’ (μετὰ δὲ τοὺς χοροὺς τούτους κιθαρισταί τ᾿ ἀθρόοι καὶ αὐληταὶ πολλοὶ).Footnote 68 Though not pertaining directly to the triumph, Dionysius’ account is helpful in highlighting the traditional role of music, dance and mimicry in Roman military celebrations.
The spectacles of the triumph and the Ludi Romani are reminiscent of Anicius’ games in several ways. Polybius’ narrative plays out in sequential episodes, each act appearing in turn as though part of a moving procession. Particularly significant is the inclusion of tubicines and cornicines, which recalls the military-style music heard during the pompa triumphalis. The martial choreography, intended to evoke the movements of a battle-line, also mirrors the role of mimetic dancing during the triumph. Furthermore, the triumph was associated with a particular kind of licence (licentia), whereby the normal rules and restrictions of public life were temporarily suspended. Appian comments that ‘in a triumph everybody is free and is allowed to say what he pleases’.Footnote 69 This freedom of speech was exemplified by the so-called carmina triumphalia, ribald songs sung by the parading soldiers in mockery of their general.Footnote 70 With its irreverent humour and subversive use of music, Anicius’ production seems to owe much to the licentia of the triumph.
The use of brass musicians in a military-style spectacle is also evocative of gladiatorial contests (or munera). Literary and iconographic sources highlight the rousing effect of music (especially brass instruments) on both the combatants and spectators in the arena.Footnote 71 Admittedly, these sources were produced at a time when gladiatorial munera had become a major industry and were housed in large purpose-built amphitheatres (the earliest evidence for the participation of musicians in gladiatorial contests dates from the end of the Republic). In Polybius’ day, gladiatorial displays were staged on a much more modest scale. However, there is no reason to doubt that music featured in earlier munera. Gladiators were first exhibited in the mid-third century BCE at the funerals of wealthy Roman aristocrats, and we have evidence for the involvement of musicians in Roman and Etruscan funerals from as early as the fifth century BCE.Footnote 72
Clearly, then, Anicius’ spectacle was no ordinary comedy. Breaking the rules at almost every turn, it challenged the very idea of what constituted public entertainment in a Roman setting. The praetor presented the semblance of normality only to confound his audience’s expectations in hilarious fashion. He was also able to play with the parameters of time and space in ways that the dramatists of the time could not. The custom of Roman ludi dictated that musical and dramatic performances should be kept separate in the running order from athletic and gladiatorial events. When Terence staged the premiere of his play The Mother-in-Law at the Ludi Megalenses of 165, the performance was cut short after the crowd’s attention was diverted to the boxers and tightrope-walkers who were due to perform later that day. Undeterred, Terence arranged for a second debut to coincide with the funeral of Aemilius Paullus in 160, but this too was disrupted when a rumour arose that a gladiatorial show was about to take place, at which point a crowd flocked in and started shouting and jostling for places.Footnote 73 Roman audiences could be tough to please. But where Terence had stumbled, Anicius sensed an opportunity. He employed the same medley of performers that had proven popular at previous festivals (musicians, dancers and fighters) and packaged them together in an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular. This was, in effect, a whole day’s entertainment rolled into one. We might estimate that by the end of the performance there were some forty or fifty individuals on stage. But Anicius did not stop there. Having distorted the temporal and spatial divisions between the acts, he also conflated the roles of the individual performers: musicians played the part of actors; dancers played the part of boxers; and boxers played the part of dancers. Polybius’ narrative breaks off before we have time to learn what happened next. But to judge from the closing sentence, the role of the tragic actors was anything but tragic (περὶ δὲ τῶν τραγῳδῶν, φησὶν ὁ Πολύβιος, ὅ τι ἂν ἐπιβάλωμαι λέγειν, δόξω τισὶ διαχλευάζειν).Footnote 74 And what better occasion to produce such an outlandish and uproarious spectacle than during a triumph, when, as Appian reminds us, ‘everybody is free and is allowed to say what he pleases’?
Music and Morality in Polybius’ Histories
In the thirty years since the publication of Gruen’s seminal monograph Culture and National Identity in Republican Rome, scholars have tended to frame Polybius’ reaction to Anicius’ games in terms of a clash between Greek and Roman national identities. In the words of Sander Goldberg, ‘Polybius, as a new and involuntary resident of Rome, was no dispassionate observer, and his own inexperience with Roman ways fed a natural but perhaps hasty indignation … It was certainly not a Greek show, which is why it offended Polybius, who came to it with inappropriate expectations’.Footnote 75 Franko makes a similar point: ‘Polybius was a hostile witness who likely came to the show with unsuitable expectations that significantly distorted his assessment.’Footnote 76 What Polybius expected to see, according to this argument, was a tasteful Roman rendition of a Greek musical contest, in keeping with the precedent set by Fulvius Nobilior and Aemilius Paullus; instead, what he actually saw was a tasteless parody, which made a mockery of the Greek cultural traditions he had fought to protect.
However, even if Polybius did come to the Roman circus with inappropriate expectations, this does not fully explain in my view why Anicius’ games are treated so prominently, and so negatively, in the Histories. The notion that Polybius underwent a culture shock is both reductive and misleading. It is important to note that Polybius often paints Roman customs in a favourable light. In general, his outlook on Roman culture is not that of a hostile and reluctant captive, but that of a curious and knowledgeable insider.Footnote 77 Indeed, as Craige Champion underlines in his book Cultural Politics in Polybius’ Histories, the representation of the Romans in Polybius’ work is ambiguous and does not map straightforwardly onto national or ethnic paradigms: ‘Polybius at times represents the Romans as a civilized people possessing Hellenic virtues … while in other passages he obliquely suggests the barbarism of the Romans’.Footnote 78
On a separate note, there is strong evidence to suggest that the theatrical cultures of Greece and Rome, far from being diametrically opposed, were in fact engaged in close dialogue with one another at the time Polybius was writing. Scholarship has highlighted how the institution of new civic festivals in parts of the Greek East provided a central mechanism of cultural and political exchange between local Greek communities and the Roman state. Much has been written about the introduction of ‘Roman games’ (Romaia) in places such as Chios, Delphi, Xanthos and Thebes.Footnote 79 The inscription pertaining to the games at Xanthos, set up by the Lycian League in 188 BCE, states that the crowns for each contest were ‘dedicated at the altar of [the goddess] Rome’. We are also given the name of a Roman victor in the chariot-races, Gaius Octavius Pollio, who identifies himself as a citizen of the Lycian town of Telmessos.Footnote 80 Particularly noteworthy is an inscription from Delos, dating from only a couple of years before Anicius’ games (169 BCE), which lists among the performers at a local festival ‘an actor of Latin comedies or mimes’ (ῥωμαϊστής). He performed alongside tragic and comic actors, aulodes, citharists and citharodes, dancers and even a magician (wonder-worker).Footnote 81 Thus, while it may be fair to say that Anicius’ show contained certain elements that were distinctive to the Roman theatre of the second century, the idea that it would have been completely alien to a Greek observer is unfounded.Footnote 82The Greek versus Roman polarity breaks down even further if we examine what Polybius has to say about music elsewhere in his history. Most significantly, in Book 31, the historian identifies ‘musical performances and drinking parties and the extravagance they involve’ (ἀκροάματα καὶ πότους καὶ τὴν ἐν τούτοις πολυτέλειαν) as the key factors which precipitated the moral decline of the Roman aristocracy in the aftermath of the Third Macedonian War. Acroamata is a rather nebulous term (it can refer to anything ‘heard’), but the context specifically calls to mind the musical entertainments of the symposium. The fact that Polybius goes on to describe these acromata as a vestige of ‘Greek immorality’ (τὴν τῶν Ἑλλήνων … εὐχέρειαν) strengthens this association.Footnote 83 In fact, Polybius refers to the private consumption of music several times throughout the Histories in order to cast certain characters in a negative light. In Book 14, for example, he attacks king Ptolemy Philadelphus (309/8–246 BCE) for bestowing excessive favours on female piper-players and mime-actresses.Footnote 84 Similarly, in Book 23, the Messenian leader Deinocrates is criticised for partaking in ‘love affairs, drinking deep from an early hour and listening to musicians (τοῖς ἀκροάμασι τὰς ἀκοὰς ἀνατεθεικώς)’, while carrying out a diplomatic mission to Rome in 184/3 BCE. In one episode, Deinocrates is reprimanded by the stern Roman general T. Quinctius Flamininus:
ἰδὼν γὰρ αὐτὸν παρὰ πότον ἐν μακροῖς ἱματίοις ὀρχούμενον, παρ᾿ αὐτὰ μὲν ἐσιώπησε, τῇ δ᾿ αὔριον ἐντυγχάνοντος αὐτοῦ καί τι περὶ τῆς πατρίδος ἀξιοῦντος “ἐγὼ μέν, ὦ Δεινοκράτη, πᾶν” ἔφη “ποιήσω τὸ δυνατόν· ἐπὶ δὲ σοῦ θαυμάζω πῶς δύνῃ παρὰ πότον ὀρχεῖσθαι, τηλικούτων πραγμάτων ἀρχὴν κεκινηκὼς ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησιν.”
For once when Flamininus saw him at a party dancing in a long robe, he remained silent at the time, but when Deinocrates came to see him the next day and made some request about Messene, he said, ‘I will do what I can, Deinocrates; but as for you I am amazed how you can dance at parties, after having set in motion matters of such importance for Greece.’
Deinocrates is portrayed in this vignette as the stereotypical debauchee, wallowing in music and donning effeminate costume. Flamininus, by contrast, is the ideal Roman philhellene – respectful of the Greeks’ cultural heritage and political autonomy, but impervious to the seductions of the symposium and its attendant luxury.Footnote 85Polybius’ aversion towards Greek sympotic music can also be seen in his portrayal of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In the summer of 166, Antiochus presided over a series of extravagant royal banquets in the suburb of Daphne in Syrian Antioch. These banquets provide the subject of a memorable set-piece narrative in Book 30:
Ὁ δὲ χειρισμὸς ἐγίνετο τῶν πραγμάτων δι᾿ αὐτοῦ τοῦ βασιλέως … καὶ περιπορευόμενος οὗ μὲν προσεκάθιζεν, οὗ δὲ προσανέπιπτε· καὶ ποτὲ μὲν ἀποθέμενος μεταξὺ τὸν ψωμόν, ποτὲ δὲ τὸ ποτήριον ἀνεπήδα καὶ μετανίστατο καὶ περιῄει τὸν πότον, προπόσεις λαμβάνων ὀρθὸς ἄλλοτε παρ᾿ ἄλλοις, ἅμα δὲ καὶ τοῖς ἀκροάμασι προσπαίζων. προϊούσης δ᾿ ἐπὶ πολὺ τῆς συνουσίας καὶ πολλῶν ἤδη κεχωρισμένων, ὑπὸ τῶν μίμων ὁ βασιλεὺς εἰσεφέρετο ὅλος κεκαλυμμένος καὶ εἰς τὴν γῆν ἐτίθετο ὡς εἷς ὢν δῆτα τῶν μίμων. καὶ τῆς συμφωνίας προκαλουμένης, ἀναπηδήσας ὠρχεῖτο καὶ ὑπεκρίνετο μετὰ τῶν γελωτοποιῶν, ὥστε πάντας αἰσχυνομένους φεύγειν.
The king handled all the details personally … He walked around and sat next to someone here, or lay down beside someone else there; and sometimes he set down a bit of food when he was in the middle of eating it, or a glass of wine, and leapt up, went off somewhere else, and circulated through the party, receiving toasts standing next to various people, while simultaneously laughing at the entertainment. When the party had gone on for a long time and many people had already left, the king was carried in by the mime-actors with his face entirely concealed, and was set on the ground as if he were actually one of them. When the band summoned him, he leapt up and began to dance and to act along with the comedic performers; everyone was so embarrassed that they tried to flee.
These banquets capped off a month of public games, gladiatorial shows and wild-beast fights in the Seleucid capital.Footnote 86 Antiochus went to great lengths to ensure that his festival matched the scale and grandeur of the games put on by Aemilius Paullus at Amphipolis a year earlier. What is more, he opened the celebrations with a spectacular military procession, which consciously emulated aspects of the Roman triumph (the procession was headed by a battalion of five thousand young men dressed in Roman armour).Footnote 87 Polybius was left in no doubt that Antiochus had fallen short of Paullus’ example: not only were the celebrations excessive, and the king’s involvement in them wholly inappropriate, but they had been funded through acts of theft and sacrilege.Footnote 88 Instead, Polybius seems to have lumped Antiochus with another Roman general, one who shared his taste for theatrics. If Walbank’s reconstruction of Book 30 is correct, the account of the games at Daphne was situated only three chapters before the account of Anicius’ games.Footnote 89 It is certainly tempting to read the two episodes together. Both spectacles feature a large cast of performers and deploy the same distinctive combination of music and mimicry. And in both spectacles the organisers play an unusually prominent role, cavorting with the performers while poking fun at members of the audience. Antiochus is the star of his own farce: he ‘jokes with the musicians’, ‘acts alongside the comedic performers’, and even plays the part of a mime-actor.Footnote 90 Like Anicius, he saves the big musical finale until the last minute (τῆς συμφωνίας προκαλουμένης), and it is at this point that the burlesque reaches its show-stopping climax: the horrified onlookers all head for the exit and the soiree comes to an abrupt end.Footnote 91
In Polybius’ Histories, therefore, music functions primarily as a way of pointing up the moral flaws of Greek, as well as Roman, leaders. The Romans, in developing their newfound taste for acroamata, are shown to have fallen victim to a pre-existing Greek vice – namely, poluteleia, ‘extravagance’ or ‘luxury’. This is not to suggest that Anicius’ games necessarily reminded Polybius of the entertainments of a Seleucid or Ptolemaic royal symposium, although I would not discount that possibility. Rather, the point that needs to be emphasised is that Polybius’ presentation of Anicius’ games cannot be understood simply through the lens of national identity. Indeed, if the point of the Anicius episode was to foreground the Roman abuse of Greek culture, it is hard to see why Polybius would have presented the Greek auletes who starred in the games in such an unsympathetic light. Although the musicians appear to be acting at the praetor’s behest, it is they who are ultimately blamed for causing the pandemonium (μεγάλην ἐποίησαν σύγχυσιν). Far from expressing reluctance or dismay, the performers readily acquiesce in the charade, taking a knowing role in the choreography and prompting the raucous behaviour of the spectators. Though the text is damaged, Polybius leaves us in no doubt about the dubious character of these men, stating that they were naturally ‘predisposed to acts of licentiousness’ (οἰκείαν ταῖς ἑαυτῶν ἀσελγείαις).Footnote 92To gain a better understanding of the relationship between music and morality in Polybius’ Histories, it is helpful to examine a famous passage from Book 4 in which Polybius gives an account of the Cynaethean people of Arcadia. Polybius makes much of the fact that the Cynaetheans were the first and only people in Arcadia to abandon the ancestral custom of musical education. As a result, their community gradually degenerated to a state of ‘savagery’ (ἀγριότης), ‘cruelty’ (ὠμότης) and ‘lawlessness’ (παρανομία), while the rest of Arcadia flourished thanks to the continued musical devotion of its inhabitants:
μουσικὴν γάρ, τήν γε ἀληθῶς μουσικήν, πᾶσι μὲν ἀνθρώποις ὄφελος ἀσκεῖν, Ἀρκάσι δὲ καὶ ἀναγκαῖον. οὐ γὰρ ἡγητέον μουσικήν, ὡς Ἔφορός φησιν ἐν τῷ προοιμίῳ τῆς ὅλης πραγματείας, οὐδαμῶς ἁρμόζοντα λόγον αὑτῷ ῥίψας, ἐπ᾿ ἀπάτῃ καὶ γοητείᾳ παρεισῆχθαι τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· οὐδὲ τοὺς παλαιοὺς Κρητῶν καὶ Λακεδαιμονίων αὐλὸν καὶ ῥυθμὸν εἰς τὸν πόλεμον ἀντὶ σάλπιγγος εἰκῇ νομιστέον εἰσαγαγεῖν, οὐδὲ τοὺς πρώτους Ἀρκάδων εἰς τὴν ὅλην πολιτείαν τὴν μουσικὴν παραλαβεῖν ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον ὥστε μὴ μόνον παισὶν οὖσιν ἀλλὰ καὶ νεανίσκοις γενομένοις ἕως τριάκοντ᾿ ἐτῶν κατ᾿ ἀνάγκην σύντροφον ποιεῖν αὐτήν, τἆλλα τοῖς βίοις ὄντας αὐστηροτάτους. ταῦτα γὰρ πᾶσίν ἐστι γνώριμα καὶ συνήθη, διότι σχεδὸν παρὰ μόνοις Ἀρκάσιν οἱ παῖδες ἐκ νηπίων ᾄδειν ἐθίζονται κατὰ νόμον τοὺς ὕμνους καὶ παιᾶνας, οἷς ἕκαστοι κατὰ τὰ πάτρια τοὺς ἐπιχωρίους ἥρωας καὶ θεοὺς ὑμνοῦσι. μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα τοὺς Τιμοθέου καὶ Φιλοξένου νόμους μανθάνοντες χορεύουσι κατ᾿ ἐνιαυτὸν τοῖς Διονυσιακοῖς αὐληταῖς ἐν τοῖς θεάτροις, οἱ μὲν οὖν παῖδες τοὺς παιδικοὺς ἀγῶνας, οἱ δὲ νεανίσκοι τοὺς τῶν ἀνδρῶν. καὶ παρ᾿ ὅλον δὲ τὸν βίον ἐν ταῖς συνουσίαις ταῖς κοιναῖς οὐχ <οὕτω ποιοῦνται τὰς ἀγωγὰς> διὰ τῶν ἐπεισάκτων ἀκροαμάτων ὡς δι᾿ αὑτῶν, ἀνὰ μέρος ᾄδειν ἀλλήλοις προστάττοντες. καὶ τῶν μὲν ἄλλων μαθημάτων ἀρνηθῆναί τι μὴ γινώσκειν οὐδὲν αἰσχρὸν ἡγοῦνται, τήν γε μὴν ᾠδὴν οὔτ᾿ ἀρνηθῆναι δύνανται διὰ τὸ κατ᾿ ἀνάγκην πάντας μανθάνειν, οὔθ᾿ ὁμολογοῦντες ἀποτρίβεσθαι διὰ τὸ τῶν αἰσχρῶν παρ᾿ αὐτοῖς νομίζεσθαι τοῦτο. καὶ μὴν ἐμβατήρια μετ᾿ αὐλοῦ καὶ τάξεως ἀσκοῦντες, ἔτι δὲ ὀρχήσεις ἐκπονοῦντες μετὰ κοινῆς ἐπιστροφῆς καὶ δαπάνης κατ᾿ ἐνιαυτὸν ἐν τοῖς θεάτροις ἐπιδείκνυνται.
Making music – genuine music, I mean – is beneficial for everyone, but for Arcadians it is a necessity. We should not regard music, as Ephorus suggests in his preface, in an untypically hasty assertion, as a human invention designed merely to beguile and charm. Nor should we think that there was no thought involved when the ancient Cretans and Spartans replaced the trumpet, as their time-keeping instrument in war, with the pipes. Nor should we suppose that the earliest Arcadians had no good reason for incorporating music into Arcadian life so thoroughly that not only children, but also young men up to the age of thirty, are required to make it their constant companion, even though in all other respects their lives are very harsh. It is a familiar and well-known fact that, almost uniquely, Arcadian children are taught from their earliest childhood to sing in the prescribed manner the traditional songs and paeans with which each community hymns its local heroes and gods. Later, they learn the measures of Philoxenus and Timotheus, and every year they put on a keenly contested dance competition in their theatres, accompanied by pipe-players supplied by the Guild of Dionysus. The contest has a junior section for boys, and a senior section for young men. Moreover, throughout their lives their entertainment in private social settings consists not of hired players, but of themselves, with each of them obliged, when his turn comes around, to sing to the others. It is no disgrace, in Arcadia, to deny knowledge of any other subject, but they cannot deny their musical abilities, since all of them have had to learn it. Nor is it acceptable for someone to give music up, because that is what is considered disgraceful there. The young men also drill to the accompaniment of rhythmically played pipes, and practise their dancing, in the public eye and at public expense, on display to their fellow citizens.
In many ways, the contrast between the festival of the Arcadians and the Roman games of 167 could not be starker.Footnote 93 The Arcadian festival has no ties to any particular sponsor but is organised expressly ‘as a matter of communal concern and public expense’ (μετὰ κοινῆς ἐπιστροφῆς καὶ δαπάνης); it serves to honour the gods, not a mortal benefactor. Its performers are native citizens of Arcadia rather than foreign luminaries. The Arcadians take pains to banish all extraneous influences, instilling music in their own young ‘from infancy’ (ἐκ νηπίων) and thereby perpetuating a venerable indigenous tradition of musical pedagogy. They do not pit the contestants against one another in an outlandish melee, but assign them a rightful place in the programme, with the children competing in ‘the junior contests’ (τοὺς παιδικοὺς ἀγῶνας) and the young men in ‘the senior contests’ (τοὺς τῶν ἀνδρῶν). There is no pretend fighting, no false impression of taxis; these war-dances are the real thing, conducted with the utmost solemnity as a corrective to ‘luxury and excess’ (τρυφῆς καὶ περιουσίας).Footnote 94 In short, the Arcadian festival epitomises what Polybius considers to be ‘genuine music’ – music designed not to ‘beguile and charm’, but to edify and benefit mankind.Footnote 95
Polybius was by no means alone among his contemporaries in voicing concerns about the direction in which musical culture was headed. As Andrew Barker explains, from the fourth century BCE onwards, Greek writers ‘seem to have recognised the real importance of music in earlier Greek culture, by contrast with the situation in their own time, when music outside strictly religious contexts was construed, for the most part, as nothing but a form of trivial entertainment’.Footnote 96 It is instructive to compare Polybius’ writings with those of his younger contemporary, Posidonius of Apamea. In one fragment from his Histories preserved by Athenaeus, Posidonius characterises his Syrian compatriots as a nation of debauched music-lovers. Enjoying a life of carefree luxury, they spent most of the day being ‘continually entertained by pipe-playing accompanied by the sound of the loud-twanging lyre, with the result that whole cities resounded with such noises’.Footnote 97 In another passage, Posidonius criticises the people of Apamea for taking with them on campaign ‘donkeys loaded with wine and food of all kinds, beside which lay flutes (φωτίγγια) and single pipes (μοναύλια), instruments of revelry rather than of war’.Footnote 98 Further parallels can be drawn between Polybius and two other Hellenistic writers on music history – namely, Artemon of Cassandreia and Phillis of Delos. Artemon wrote a treatise entitled On the Artists of Dionysus, in which he commented on the recent disappearance of certain ancient musical practices.Footnote 99 Similarly, a quotation attributed to Phillis of Delos discusses how the early citharodes produced ‘marching and dance steps’ (ἐμβατηρίους καὶ χορευτικάς) when they performed, recalling Polybius’ description of the military drills practised by the Arcadians (ἐμβατήρια μετ᾿ αὐλοῦ καὶ τάξεως ἀσκοῦντες).Footnote 100 Although the nature of Phillis’ work is obscure, it is very likely, as Timothy Power points out, that Phillis was ‘nostalgic for old-time music, and thus was likely biased against the “new” citharodes’.Footnote 101
The nostalgia for ‘old-time’ music among Polybius’ contemporaries is also well-documented in the epigraphic records of civic festivals during the late Hellenistic period. An honorific decree from Delphi, dating from 118 BCE, praises two visiting musicians for presenting the ‘measures of the old poets’ (ἀριθμοὺς τῶν ἀρχαίων ποιητᾶν) and commends them for contributing to the teaching of children (διδασκαλίαν τῶν παίδων) during their stay.Footnote 102 The Delphians’ interest in promoting traditional music is highlighted by two further decrees, both inscribed during the first half of the second century BCE: the first mentions a virtuoso citharodic rendition of Euripides’ Bacchae given by Satyros of Samos, while the second honours the citharodes Thrason and Socrates, brothers from Aegira, who presented concerts featuring ‘lyric compositions of ancient poets’ (τῶν λυρικῶν συστημάτων … [τ]ῶν ἀρχαίων πο[ητ]ᾶν).Footnote 103 A particularly popular composer was Timotheus of Miletus, the citharode and dithyrambic poet of the late Classical period.Footnote 104 The Nemean Games of 205 BCE featured an acclaimed performance of Timotheus’ Persians.Footnote 105 In around 170 BCE, a citharode from Teos served as a foreign ambassador to Crete and was honoured by his hosts for having performed a selection of Timotheus’ repertoire in the theatre, ‘as befits an educated man’ (ὡς προσῆκεν ἀνδρὶ πεπαιδευμένωι).Footnote 106 It is worth recalling here that Polybius names Timotheus along with Philoxenus as the composers most venerated by the Arcadians.
Polybius’ account of Anicius’ games can thus be better understood when situated in relation to other musical passages in the Histories, as well as in the context of contemporary Greek reflections on the proper uses of music. Music, for Polybius, was not some incidental fact of life, unaffected by the vicissitudes of history; on the contrary, it determined the very fate of humanity. In his work, the historian maps out an ideal vision for the state (politeia) in which mousike performs a prescribed social and political function. Not just any music will do, however. Only the right kind of music – ‘real music’ – can bring about the requisite conditions for a stable society. Centuries of Greek philosophising had built up a rich store of images and ideas from which Polybius was able to draw insights.Footnote 107 Plato, as is well known, placed great emphasis in his writings on the affective power of music. He argued that for a democratic society to function effectively, it needed to promote a simple, traditional kind of mousike, which instilled decent civilized values in those who performed and listened to it. Conversely, innovations in musical culture were to be avoided at all costs, since they risked disturbing the natural order and rupturing the fabric of civic life.Footnote 108 It is not hard to see why these ideas might have appealed to Polybius.Footnote 109 The abuses which Plato had diagnosed as the cause of Athens’ moral decline were, at least in their outward manifestation, not dissimilar to those which had reduced the once civilized Cynaetheans to their barbarian state and had turned powerful rulers like Antiochus IV into corrupt tyrants. Now, perhaps more than ever, it was necessary to hark back to the austere traditions of the past and do away with the over-the-top mimeticism and vulgar showmanship that had come to define musical theatre, both Greek and Roman, in the present day.
Scipio, Cato and the Roman Opposition to Greek Music
The question of how best to regulate the use of music within the civic community exercised the minds of Romans as well as Greeks. Our evidence for Roman attitudes to music in the second century BCE is exiguous, to say the least, but it is not devoid of insights. Most notably, the late-antique author Macrobius in his discussion of Roman dance preserves two crucial testimonies in the form of speeches given by Scipio Aemilius and Cato the Elder. While we should be wary of inferring a senatorial opposition to Anicius’ games on the basis of these testimonies alone, the texts nonetheless expose deep tensions and fault lines within Roman musical culture during this period. Negative attitudes towards certain types of Greek music can be detected during the early part of the second century and seem to have become increasingly trenchant over the following decades. By the end of the century, as we will see, the popularity of Greek-inspired musical entertainment was considered sufficiently dangerous by the Roman censors that it warranted direct legal intervention.The first of the two passages quoted by Macrobius comes from a speech given by Cato the Elder in 183 BCE. In the excerpt, Cato censures the plebeian tribune Marcus Caelius for engaging in unseemly theatrical antics, including singing and dancing:
descendit de cantherio, inde staticulos dare, ridicularia fundere … praeterea cantat ubi collibuit, interdum Graecos versus agit, iocos dicit, voces demutat, staticulos dat.
He dismounts from his nag, and right then and there strikes little poses and spouts jokes … Moreover he sings whenever he feels like it, and sometimes performs Greek verses, tells jokes, changes his voice and strikes little poses.
This fragment has often been adduced as evidence of Cato’s virulent opposition to Hellenism. The reference to ‘Greek verses’ (Graecos versus) is certainly consistent with this notion.Footnote 110 However, there is more at stake in Cato’s rhetoric than an opposition to Greek culture. Caelius is accused of indulging in undignified pursuits which are deemed incompatible with his status as a Roman magistrate. Singing, performing lewd dances, cracking jokes and impersonating characters are the stock trades of the professional entertainer.Footnote 111 According to Thomas Habinek, the phrase voces demutat implies speaking in a high-pitched (and thus effeminate) voice, while staticulos dat is evocative of cinaedic dancing. In Plautus’ Persa, for instance, the slave Sagaristio mocks the pimp Dordalus by calling on him to dance ‘a little pose’ (staticulum).Footnote 112
Despite Macrobius’ claim that Cato considered singing ‘unbecoming for a serious person’ (cantare non serii hominis), he was clearly not averse to music-making in principle. A fragment from Cato’s lost history, the Origines, makes reference to a type of Roman ‘banquet songs’ (carmina convivalia), the origins of which allegedly dated back to the earliest days of the Republic.Footnote 113 Cato describes the carmina as follows: ‘It was customary among our ancestors for banqueters to sing, one after another, of the merits and virtues of famous men to the accompaniment of the pipe.’Footnote 114 One must be careful not to assign too much credence to the historicity of these songs, especially given our limited knowledge of Cato’s oeuvre; we are dealing here with ideological constructs, not historical truths.Footnote 115 Rather, what should be emphasised is the way in which Cato’s idealistic vision of Rome’s musical heritage brings into sharper focus the negative exemplarity of Caelius’ behaviour. By harking back in the Origines to an age when Rome’s musical culture was pure and austere, Cato was articulating a vision not only of how things were in the past but also of how things ought to be in the present and future – just as Polybius, in recalling the historical customs of Arcadian mousike, was passing negative judgment on the musical practices of his own time. The carmina convivalia were, in essence, a moral corrective for those who, like Caelius, ‘sang whenever they felt like it’.The second passage quoted by Macrobius comes from a speech delivered by Scipio Aemilianus in 129 BCE against the judiciary law (lex iudiciaria) of Tiberius Gracchus.Footnote 116 In the speech, Scipio chastises members of the Roman upper classes for educating their children in the musical arts:
docentur praestigias inhonestas: cum cinaedulis et sambuca psalterioque eunt in ludum histrionum, discunt cantare, quae maiores nostri ingenuis probro ducier voluerunt: eunt, inquam, in ludum saltatorium inter cinaedos virgines puerique ingenui. haec cum mihi quisquam narrabat, non poteram animum inducere ea liberos suos homines nobiles docere: sed cum ductus sum in ludum saltatorium, plus medius fidius in eo ludo vidi pueris virginibusque quinquaginta, in his unum (quod me reipublicae maxime miseritum est) puerum bullatum, petitoris filium non minorem annis duodecim, cum crotalis saltare quam saltationem inpudicus servulus honeste saltare non posset.
They’re taught disreputable tricks, they go to acting school together with effeminate dancers toting this and that kind of harp, they learn to sing – things our ancestors wished to be considered disgraceful for freeborn children. They go to dancing school, I say, freeborn maidens and boys, in a crowd of effeminate dancers! When someone told me this, I could not believe that noble men were teaching their own children these things; but when I was taken to a dancing school, for goodness sake, I saw more than fifty boys and girls there, and among these – this above all made me grieve for our republic – one of them a boy wearing the amulet of the well-born, the son of an office-seeker, not less than twelve years old, doing a dance with castanets that it would disgrace a shameless little slave to dance.
According to Macrobius, this passage testifies to the fact that during the republican period ‘nobles’ sons and – disgraceful to say – unmarried daughters also counted learning to dance a worthwhile pursuit’.Footnote 117 However, we should be cautious about taking Scipio’s words at face value, reported as they are by an author writing some five centuries later. Even if Macrobius’ source is accurate, the polemical nature of the speech makes it very difficult to extract reliable historical information. The image of dancing schools at every street corner, filled to capacity with the sons and daughters of music-loving senators, is without doubt a rhetorical exaggeration. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to assume that Scipio’s invective is entirely divorced from reality, especially in light of his claim to be drawing on first-hand observations (cum ductus sum in ludum saltatorium … vidi). The high demand for foreign musicians in second-century Rome is taken for granted by Polybius (as discussed above in the section ‘Music and Morality in Polybius’ Histories’).Footnote 118 Livy, similarly, comments on the influx of female string-players (psaltriae sambucistriaeque) to Rome following the triumph of Cn. Manlius Vulso in 186 BCE – a detail which he may have derived from the second-century annalist L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi.Footnote 119 Furthermore, in Plautus’ Stichus, which was first performed in 200 BCE, one of the characters makes reference to female lyre-players, pipers and harpists (fidicinas, tibicinas, sambucas) as items found among the cargo of a trading ship.Footnote 120 It would be reasonable to infer from these passages that the rise of Rome as a centre of cultural and economic exchange resulted in a considerable increase in the number of elite Roman children who received a musical education, even if this practice never became ubiquitous, as Scipio’s comments suggest.
Scipio’s polemic hinges upon the association between music-making, social degradation and sexual deviance. The implication is that the future leaders of the Republic were partaking in trivial and demeaning activities that were practised by the salaried professional or, worse still, by lowly slaves. Scipio focuses his criticism especially on the cinaedi who frequented the dancing schools along with the sons and daughters of well-to-do senators (the use of the diminutive cinaeduli underscores his contempt). The term kinaidos originated in the Hellenistic period as a label for an effeminate dancer who performed lewd gestures while playing various percussion instruments.Footnote 121 In the comedies of Plautus, cinaedi are associated with the louche dance scenes that often feature at or near the end of the play.Footnote 122 Later on, the term came to refer more broadly to someone who performed illicit sexual acts or who played the passive role in intercourse.Footnote 123 The thought of a high-born Roman child being escorted around the city by a harp-wielding cinaedulus would therefore have horrified conservative elites, who saw the presence of such lowlifes in aristocratic society as a threat to traditional Roman mores.
The stigma which Scipio and his peers attached to musical expertise is further highlighted by an anecdote in Plutarch’s Moralia relating to the consular elections of 142 BCE.Footnote 124 Among the contenders for the consulship was a certain Quintus Pompeius. Pompeius was eminently well-qualified for the office in all respects but one: ‘He was rumoured to be the son of a pipe-player’ (ἐδόκει δὲ ὁ Πομπήιος υἱὸς αὐλητοῦ γεγονέναι). Initially, Pompeius had declared that he would not be campaigning, instead offering to lend his support to Scipio’s protégé Laelius. However, it later emerged that he had been going around town soliciting votes. Laelius was caught completely off-guard, but not Scipio. On hearing of Pompeius’ deception, he is said to have remarked: ‘It is our own stupidity that is to blame; for, just as if we were intending to call not upon men but upon gods, we have been wasting all this time waiting for a pipe-player!’ (ἀβελτερίᾳ γε … ἡμῶν, καθάπερ οὐκ ἀνθρώπους μέλλοντες ἀλλὰ θεοὺς παρακαλεῖν, πάλαι διατρίβομεν αὐλητὴν ἀναμένοντες). Innocuous though this remark may seem, it says much about the notoriety of professional musicians in Roman society. To a member of the senatorial elite, the notion of a pipe-player’s son ascending to the highest office of the Republic was completely unthinkable.Footnote 125
At a time when Greek learning (paideia) was becoming an increasingly valued commodity at Rome, we should not be surprised to find educated senators espousing ethical ideas about music in their speeches and writings. For all his anti-hellenic posturing, Cato was steeped in the teachings of Plato and Pythagoras.Footnote 126 He was also personally acquainted with Polybius, and, according to some scholars, shared with him a close intellectual affinity.Footnote 127 The same might be said of Scipio. When Polybius speaks of Roman noblemen being led astray by ‘musical performances and drinking parties’, he does so in order to throw light on the exemplary character of his protégé. The historian describes his relationship with Scipio as being like ‘that of father and son or near relations’ (πατρικὴν καὶ συγγενικὴν); indeed, we are told that ‘the young man never left Polybius’ side and preferred his company to anyone else’.Footnote 128 Of course, this claim should be taken with a pinch of salt: Polybius was understandably eager to stress his connection to the scion of a great republican dynasty, the son of the illustrious L. Aemilius Paullus and future nemesis of Carthage.Footnote 129 Nevertheless, Scipio’s concerns about the moral and pedagogical function of music resonate strongly with the issues voiced by Polybius and other Greek writers. Roman attitudes to Greek music did not emerge in a vacuum, therefore, but were probably influenced by long-standing Greek discourses on music.
Banning the Ludus Talarius: A Case of Roman Musical Censorship?For the most part, the senatorial opposition to music was confined to the spheres of literature and rhetoric. Rarely, it seems, did the Roman political authorities attempt to impose legal sanctions on musical culture. In 115 BCE, however, the Roman censors took the drastic measure of banning certain types of theatrical entertainment from the city, which they deemed inimical to the interests of the state. Our information comes from a short entry in a chronicle written by the sixth-century author Cassiodorus:
During the consulship of these men, the censors L. Metellus and Cn. Domitius excluded from the city the ars ludicra, with the exception of the Latin pipe-player and singer, and the ludus talarius.
This text raises major interpretative problems. There is uncertainty surrounding the significance of ars ludicra (a generic term for ‘the performing arts’), the contested reading of ludum talarium (a kind of theatrical entertainment) and the identity of the ‘Latin pipe-player’ (Latinus tibicen). The interpretation of ludus talarius presents perhaps the greatest difficulty. The manuscript reading ludum talanum makes little sense and is almost certainly corrupt. Mommsen’s emendation, ludus talarius, is to be preferred over the alternative ludus Atellanus. However, since the ludus talarius is mentioned by only a handful of ancient writers, there is very little that can be said about it with any confidence. The name talarius probably derives from tunica talaris, an ankle-length robe which was presumably worn by the actors who specialised in this kind of performance.
In an article published in 1995, John Jory makes a persuasive case for interpreting ars ludicra as a general term for ‘professional entertainment’ or ‘show business’, arguing that the censorial edict of 115 constituted ‘a restriction on the activities of professional performers in Rome’, the majority of whom hailed from the Greek East.Footnote 131 Jory proposes, moreover, that the ludus talarius originated as a form of Italian sub-dramatic performance and became an important forerunner to the imperial pantomime. The genre was exempted from the ban, according to Jory, because, like the Latinus tibicen cum cantore, it represented a home-grown Roman product: ‘what the censors were doing was banning from the stage full-scale professional dramatic entertainment, above all comedy and tragedy, the origins of which were not Roman but Greek’.Footnote 132
Attractive though this explanation may seem, it is based on very shaky evidence. The Roman character of the Latinus tibicen cum cantore is not difficult to discern, even if the precise significance of the adjective Latinus remains uncertain.Footnote 133 However, Jory’s notion of the ludus talarius as a Roman or Italian genre is contingent on a tenuous connection with the so-called planipedia, a type of Latin mime which is even more obscure than the ludus talarius.Footnote 134 The matter is complicated further by the ambiguous nature of Cassiodorus’ syntax. The words ludum talarium could be taken either in apposition with Latinum tibicinem cum cantore (as favoured by Jory) or as the direct object of removerunt (excluded). If we take ludum talarium with removerunt, as I believe we should, this would mean that the ludus talarius was in fact included in the censors’ ban along with the ars ludicra.Footnote 135 The case for the ludus talarius as a protected Italian theatrical genre thus becomes untenable.References to the ludus talarius in other sources support the idea that the ludus talarius was included in the ban on ars ludicra. Most significantly, the second-century CE author Fronto refers to a censorial ban relating specifically to the ludus talarius:
I praise the action of the censor, who banned ludi talarii, in view of the fact that he said that he found it difficult to maintain his dignity when he passed by a performance and not to keep step to the beat of the castanets or cymbals.
Fronto unfortunately does not specify when and by whom this ruling was enacted. If, as seems likely, he was thinking of the ban of 115, then we have clear evidence that the ludus talarius was prohibited in conjunction with the ars ludicra.Footnote 136 The notoriety of the ludus talarius is also emphasised strongly by Cicero and Quintilian. Cicero includes ‘dancers and the whole ludus talarius’ (saltatores totumque ludum talarium) in his list of ‘sordid trades’ (sordides artes) in the De Officiis.Footnote 137 This suggests that dancing was an integral part of the ludus talarius, and that the performers who took part in it were stigmatised on account of the fact that they received remuneration for their ars. Quintilian provides additional evidence for the musical accompaniments of the ludus talarius. He connects the genre with the deplorable ‘sing-song’ style of Asiatic oratory current in his day, stating that ‘if this [style] is held to be at all acceptable, there is no reason why we should not accompany the voice with the lyre, the pipes, or indeed – and this would be more suitable for such atrocities – the cymbals?’Footnote 138 The impression conveyed by Cicero and Quintilian is of a noisy and boisterous performance, not dissimilar to the kind of Greek-style musical entertainments singled out by Polybius and others as a new and unwelcome addition to Rome’s cultural scene.Footnote 139 The fact that ludi talarii were still being performed in Cicero’s and Quintilian’s day need not preclude the idea that the genre had been subject to an earlier ban which had since fallen into abeyance. It is certainly hard to see why the censors would have gone to the trouble of protecting a genre that would be so vehemently condemned by Roman moralists of later generations.
What, then, was the motivation behind the ban of 115? Jory speculates that the censors were motivated by ‘a desire to save money’.Footnote 140 Another possibility is that the censors viewed some types of theatrical performance as a threat to social order, fearing that the actors involved might voice statements that were politically controversial or inflammatory.Footnote 141 However, the most likely explanation in my view is the one given by Fronto. Fronto explicitly cites moral scruples about music as the reason for the ban: the percussive sounds of the castanets and cymbals (crotali aut cymbali) distracted the censor as he went about his official business and prevented him from walking at a stately pace (in Roman elite culture, the gait was considered a marker of dignitas, and dancing represented the antithesis of proper masculine comportment).Footnote 142 It could be argued that Fronto’s explanation does not accurately represent the intentions of the censor himself. But the important point is that, from Fronto’s perspective, the ludus talarius challenged Roman assumptions about what constituted appropriate music-making. Echoing the speeches of Scipio and Cato, his testimony highlights how Roman anxieties about music’s effect on mind and body influenced ideas about masculinity, social status and the uses of public space.
This chapter has examined the games of L. Anicius Gallus as a window onto the cultural politics of music in the second century BCE. Polybius’ account of this extraordinary spectacle repays close attention, since it affords a unique insight into how a musical performance in republican Rome looked and sounded to a foreign observer. However, while there has been no shortage of interest in this episode in recent decades, scholars have overlooked the particular importance of music in explaining both the intentionality behind Anicius’ spectacle and its presentation in Polybius’ Histories.
The games of 167 highlight how music could operate as an effective currency through which to articulate one’s claim to a place in the crowded and highly competitive staging of military glory. Faced with the embarrassing prospect of being upstaged by rival triumphatores, Anicius masterminded a performance which skilfully combined elements of a Plautine comedy, a triumph and a gladiatorial contest. The praetor assembled a veritable ‘who’s who’ of Greek artists; he paraded them in a venue with strong ties to the recent triumphal games of Fulvius Nobilior and Aemilius Paullus; and, on the eve (if not the day) of the Illyrian triumph, he made them take part in an uproarious mock battle replete with its own military-style musical accompaniment. The fact that the performance took place in conjunction with Anicius’ triumph on the Quirinalia would have created a strong temporal link between the two events. The triumphal connection was also underscored topographically by the use of the Circus Flaminius, a performance space with strong links to the triumph. The message of Graecia capta, of Greek culture being taken captive, was thus embedded in the very soundtrack of Anicius’ show.
Anicius’ games represented everything that Polybius detested about contemporary music. Whereas his Arcadian compatriots used music to inculcate moral decency and a respect for tradition, Anicius’ production was a mere charade – pleasing to the uneducated ear, perhaps, but devoid of the qualities that in Polybius’ view defined ‘real music’. The historian’s aversion to the spectacle, however, cannot be explained simply along national or ethnic lines. Rather, as I have sought to demonstrate, the Anicius episode has an exemplary function in reinforcing the association between music and morality in the Histories. The importance which Polybius assigns to music generally in his work reflects wider trends in the intellectual and civic culture of the Hellenistic world.
At the same time, the Anicius episode invites broader reflection on what we might call the ‘Hellenisation’ of Roman musical culture during the second century BCE. Egert Pöhlmann, a leading authority on ancient music, has spoken of ‘a process of mutual assimilation of Greek and Roman music, which began early in republican times’ and resulted in ‘a Greco-Roman musical idiom, a common musical language’.Footnote 143 On the face of it, the appearance of Greek pipe-players on the Roman stage in 167 would seem to represent a significant milestone in this process of musical acculturation. And yet, as I argue throughout this book, the tendency to portray the Romans as passive consumers of Greek music is deeply flawed. While it is certainly true that Greek musicians and music teachers were highly valued by the philhellenic Roman elite throughout the second century, their assimilation into Roman society was neither seamless nor inevitable. Anicius’ show can be seen as one stage in a series of Roman experimentations with Greek musical culture in this period, many of them instigated by successful generals who sought to convert the cultural capital of Hellenism into social and political capital at Rome. These experimentations undoubtedly succeeded in elevating the status of mousike at Rome. And yet, they also exposed a deep ideological rift within the upper classes. Scipio Aemilianus and Cato the Elder were outspoken in their dislike of certain types of Greek music and regarded the transfer of such cultural ‘booty’ as a threat to the integrity of Roman morals. Thus, rather than speaking of a single ‘Greco-Roman musical idiom’ in the second century, we might more accurately speak of a plurality of Greek and Roman musical idioms, which reflected the conflicting attitudes and priorities of different individuals, both in Rome itself and throughout the Mediterranean world.