This paper is motivated by the notion that maxims have a powerful aura owing to their
incompleteness (Elias 2004), and the observation that attitudes voiced by characters in an
author’s work are often taken as that author’s opinions (Garber 2003). I develop the suggestion
that the work, now only book-fragments, of the Roman Republican author Gaius Lucilius,
inventor of Latin verse satire, was always intended to be experienced in fragmentary form
(Henderson 1989). Lucilian poetry possessed an improvisatory air, labelled by the poet a
schedium, or, as Horace would call his Satires, as sermones.
I focus on the metapoetic potential of breakage in Lucilius, starting from the fact that the first
official court reporters, Cicero’s clerks, invented shorthand long after Lucilius’ death (Plutarch
Cato 23.3). Lucilius’ gossipy trial reportage of the Book 2 arraignment of Mucius Scaevola by
Albucius includes, among examples of lower-than-expected register, a comparison of Albucius’
speaking style to a worm-like mosaic (84-5 Marx). I adduce Cicero and 266 Marx to show how
Lucilius plays with incomplete patterning.
Likewise, Lucilius exploited the notion of incompleteness: I discuss 189-90 Marx, from a letter
comparing the inconstancy of a writer’s body to ambiguously true statements. So too, in Lucilius’
appropriation of the voice of Granius the auctioneer, whom Cicero judges quite the historian of
the banquet (Brut. 160), we find the assertion that a Marsian could make snakes burst by singing
I finish with two more explicit fragments in Lucilius’ remains: the claim that an interlocutor can
kill chunks (fragmenta) of bread both hard and soft (1157 Marx), and the pottery shard (testam,
280 Marx) with which a man threatens to castrate himself in retaliation for an old woman’s
treachery. These two relate to invective contexts, and therefore to the streetwise satire in which
they are found.
Fragments from Theory to Practice