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Hecale in Verona

John D. Morgan

   The Attic deme Hecale was named after the poor old woman who in her modest hut hosted Theseus on his way from Athens to capture the Marathonian bull.  This previously obscure mythological tale was the subject of the epic poem Hecale by Callimachus of Cyrene, the most influential poet in Hellenistic Alexandria.  Two centuries later, in the 50’s BCE one of the leading Latin translators and imitators of Callimachus' poetry was the Veronese poet C. Valerius Catullus, whose own epic on the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (Carm. 64), with its extended ekphrasis on Ariadne’s abandonment by Theseus after he had slain the Minotaur, contains several echoes of Callimachus' Hecale (A.S. Hollis, Callimachus, Hecale (Oxford, 1990), 32).

   Since the Romans frequently gave their slaves Greek mythological names, it is noteworthy that of the eight attestations of the rare name (H)ecale on the Latin inscriptions in Manfred Clauss’s epigraphical databank, two occur on long-neglected fragmentary Veronese grave monuments (CIL V 3813 and 3814) with the following texts:

 Valeriae C(ai) l(ibertae) / Hecale matri

 Valeria / )(mulieris) l(iberta) Hecale / sibi et / Ennycho / v(iva) f(ecit)

The first Valeria Hecale was the freedwoman of a C. Valerius, with the same praenomen and nomen gentilicium as the Veronese poet Catullus, and the second was the freedwoman of another woman with the gentilicium Valeria. The abbreviation of liberta with L instead of LIB suggests these inscriptions are probably not later than the first century of our era, an estimate supported by the absence of D(is) M(anibus) and the lettering of the latter stone (the former is now lost). 

   Furthermore, the rare name Ennychus on the latter inscription is based on the Greek adjective ennych(i)os (`in the night’), which appears over 50 times in the works of archaic, classical, and Hellenistic poets (Homer, Hesiod, Empedocles, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Eupolis, Numenius, Aratus, Callimachus, Apollonius, Euphorion, Lycophron, Maeistas, and Meleager), but never in prose works of these periods, and thereafter only very rarely in Greek prose of the Roman imperial period. Hence whoever gave Ennychus his name apparently was intimately familiar with refined Greek poetry.

   This onomastic evidence suggests that Ennychus and these two freedwomen named Valeria Hecale belonged to the familia of C. Valerius Catullus or his slightly later descendents. These two grave monuments provide the first tangible evidence for the continued presence of the poet’s family in Verona in the early imperial period, and thereby lend support to the contention of T.P. Wiseman (Roman Studies (1987), 307-370) and Marilyn Skinner (Catullus in Verona (2003), passim, with a summary on pp. 181-183) that after composing his short poems mostly in Rome in the mid-50’s BCE, Catullus returned to his native city, where he married and fathered offspring whose descendents eventually became Roman consuls.  

Session/Panel Title

On the Boundaries of Latin Poetry

Session/Paper Number


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