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Arachnion n. 2.1, May 1996

Two Small Thoughts on 'Cilnius Maecenas'[*]

di CHRIS J. SIMPSON (Wilfrid Laurier/McMaster Universities, Canada)

My first thought: although apparently overlooked by White, it is well-known that in a letter Augustus addressed his friend Maecenas as Cilniorum smaragde[1]. Cilnius is also the nomen given by Tacitus (Ann. VI, 11, 3) Cilnium Maecenatem equestris ordinis[2]. A long-standing and convincing argument, however, has been made against Cilnius as patronym. No freedman of the literary patron carried the name on his gravestone but Maecenas as nomen appears for example in the name of C. Maecenas Melissus, librarian in the Porticus Octaviae[3]. According to Schulz, Etruscan family names terminating in - nate appear in Latin gentilicia ending in -nas, -natius. Maecenas is an example of such a family name[4]. Varro specifies, furthermore, that the name Maecenas is a nomen based on origin like Lesas, Ufenas, and Carrinas[5]

Richardson-Cadoux and others explain the references in Tacitus and Macrobius by suggesting that Cilnius may have been Maecenas' matronymic - his mother's nomen[6]. It is justifiably claimed, furthermore, that Augustus was "less impressed" than contemporary poets with Maecenas' heritage and - as I think, less justifiably - that he also referred to the distaff side of Maecenas' well-known Etruscan ancestry[7]

This is a much rehearsed explanation but one that should not be so readily accepted. It is, after all, e silentio. Maecenas' mother may or may not have been a Cilnia - without a direct reference to her, we have absolutely no way of knowing. In any case, the argument that the matronymic was an acceptable element in the formulae of Maecenas' nomenclature seems to demand that a freedman of the man could have been named Cilnius[8]. We have no evidence of this. Moreover, reference to a matronymic as formal gentilicium does not seem all that common and possibly implies abnormal family circumstances: illegitimacy, divorce with the mother as guardian parent, abandonment by the father before the child comes of age, the mother re-married but the child bearing the previous husband's nomen, etc. There is no indication of any such circumstance for Maecenas. In the event, it is quite clear that the salutation recorded by Macrobius had less to do with Maecenas' family circumstances than it was a contrived reference to the literary patron's well-known effeminacy and penchant for wearing jewellery[9].

There is no real reason to accept the common suggestion that Cilnius was the great literary patron's matronymic. The Cilnii, to be sure, are epigraphically represented as a family in the region of Arezzo in northern Etruria, where Maecenas hailed from[10]. In addition, they may be considered to have been one of the great families of the area. Had Maecenas a direct relationship with the Cilnii, then, I suspect that it would have been evident in the literary sources. The most reasonable understanding of the reference to Maecenas as Cilniorum smaragde, to my mind, is that Augustus has used the name of a great and well-known Etruscan family to recall generally Maecenas' Etruscan ancestry. In this letter, then, Augustus has not referred directly to Maecenas' specific family background[11].

The suggestion, that Augustus did not directly refer to Maecenas qua Cilnius family member, runs counter to the evidence supplied by Tacitus. In Ann. VI, 11, 3 the historian names Augustus' adviser as Cilnium Maecenatem equestris ordinis. [12]However, I think that this is what Tacitus thought had happened. Probably having access to the same letter quoted by Macrobius centuries later, the historian mistakenly thought Cilnius was a patronym and that "C. Maecenas unterdrückte sein nomen gentile[13]". Thus, for Tacitus, Maecenas could have followed a late Republican aristocratic fashion adopted by his closest associates Agrippa and Augustus.

M. Vipsanius Agrippa's suppressed his own nomen; Augustus radically altered his nomenclature (becoming Imperator Caesar Diui f. Augustus)[14]. We find also that L. Munatius Plancus, the very proposer of Augustus' semi-divine cognomen, was merely L. Plancus in a dedication at Rome in 42/1 B.C[15]. The suppression of one's gentilicium, therefore, was fashionable and a style that was adopted by the more intimate members of Augustus' coterie[16].

Thus Tacitus likely thought that Maecenas "imitating the practice of aristocrats" suppressed his nomen, with the name Maecenas in the part of cognomen[17]. As was mentioned above, however, the name Maecenas is a quite acceptable gentilicium (cf. the name of Maecenas' libertine C. Maecenas Melissus). To my mind, it can only be that the historian erroneously restored Cilnius[18].

My second and related thought: there is nothing in the contemporary literary record to confirm a belief that Maecenas was linked by familial ties to the Cilnii, maternal or otherwise. For example, in the Odes of his most famous literary protégé Horace, even though Maecenas' Etruscan ancestry and 'royal' heritage are made much of, the patron's name is used with apparent reticence[19]. Also, in the Odes, there is a consciousness of the man's equestrian status which is not coupled directly with his name.

It seems likely to me that Horace had Maecenas specifically as eques in mind when he wrote Car. III, 1, 40 post equitem sedet atra cura[20]. The same words atra cura turn up in Car. IV, 11, 35-36 minuentur atrae/carmina curae - a carefully crafted birthday invitation to Maecaenas whose name only appears here in the fourth book of the Odes (Car. IV, 11, 19). The word cura also occurs significantly at Car. III, 8, 17 mitte ciuilis super urbe curas and at Car. III, 29, 25-26 tu ciuitatem quis deceat status/curas et urbi sollicitus times. The latter two cases again refer directly to Maecenas. Although the word is used elsewhere, cura in these contexts is Horatian jargon for Maecenas' somewhat extra-constitutional "altruistic worries." What is not made enough of, however, is that the word probably reflected Maecenas' avowedly anomalous position as a Roman knight[21].

The word cura - the atrae curae of Maecenas the eques - does not figure in Tacitus' description but the consciousness of Maecenas' equestrian status does appear as a new sense of snobbery. Here, in the passage of Tacitus, Maecenas is described specifically as equestris ordinis. Tacitus evidently was concerned at this point with Maecenas' status - with the image of a Roman knight (not even a senator never mind a consular) being set in charge of everything in Rome and Italy. Indeed, this quality of being a Roman knight in a properly senatorial position was deemed worthy of mention elsewhere by the consular[22]. There is a 'class consciousness' evident in the senatorial historian's pointing to a man's equestrian status or heritage but not alluding in similar fashion to an 'aristocratic' background[23].

Could there be further irony in the phrase Cilnium Maecenatem equestris ordinis - an irony that is quite opaque to us today ? Whatever the answer may be, even if it seems that the historian has erred, it is quite clear that Tacitus has attempted to show his erudition and give his readers little-known information about Maecenas. He has given this information with typical 'Tacitean' economy (Syme's corrective "hint")[24].

In sum: my suspicion is that scholars have perhaps been misled by the Augustan reference in Macrobius Sat. II, 12, 4 into thinking that Tacitus could not have been altogether wrong. First, they have accepted the tidy but, in my view, unnecessary suggestion that Cilnius was Maecenas' matronymic rather than a gentilicium used 'generically' by Augustus but 'specifically' and erroneously by Tacitus. Second, Horace has appeared to have employed the word cura to refer to Maecenas the eques' unusual position of authority super urbe, and Tacitus the consular snob appears to have been slightly 'put out' by its exercise in Rome and Italy bellis ciuilibus[25].

[*] The following note is forthcoming in «Latomus» and was written in late Summer, 1992.

[1]P. White, Maecenas' Retirement in «Classical Philology» 86, 1991, p. 130-38, at 134: Tacitus did this "against the witness of inscriptions and all other literary sources, in which he bears only the nomen 'Maecenas' and no cognomen." White did not mention Macrobius Sat. II, 4, 12: uale mi ebenum Medulliae, ebur ex Etruria, lasar Arretinum, adamas Supernas, Tiberinum margaritum, Cilniorum smaragde, iaspi Iguuinorum, berulle Porsenae, carbunculum Hadriae.... J. Willis, Leipzig, 1970. See the note directly below.

[2]The scholarship around the little problem of Maecenas' name has been fairly large. Cf. also R. Syme, Tacitus, I, Oxford, 1958, p. 378 and, among many others, A. Kappelmacher, Maecenas. 6 in RE XIV.1, 1928, col. 207-29, at 207f.; H. FURNEAUX, The Annals of Tacitus2, I, Oxford, 1896, p. 609; E. Koestermann, Cornelius Tacitus. Annalen, II, Heidelberg, 1965, p. 266. For an accessible and relatively brief account in English of Maecenas' influence and power, see also K.J. Reckford, Horace and Maecenas in «Transactions of the American Philological Association» 90, 1959, p. 195-208. The complex relationship between Horace and Maecenas is not apposite to this brief note. See n. 21. For Tacitus, see below n. 12.

[3]R.G. Nisbet-M. Hubbard, A Commentary on Horace: Odes Book 1, Oxford, 1970, p. 3-4. For Melissus, see Wessner, RE XV.1, 1931, col. 532-34. For some reason, White, Maecenas [n. 1], p. 134 refers to the fact that Maecenas' slaves were not named Cilnius. Nor, however, would they have been named Maecenas.

[4]W. Schultz, Zur Geschichte lateinischer Eigennamen, Berlin, 1904, p. 529-530 & 529, n. 10.

[5]Varro De Lingua Latina VIII, 84: Hinc quoque illa nomina Lesas, Ufenas, Carrinas, Maecenas, quae cum essent ab loco ut urbinas, et tamen Urbin<i>us, ab his debuerunt dici ad nostrorum nominum <similitudinem Lesius Ufenius Carrinius Maecenius>.... R.G. Kent, London & Cambridge, Mass., 1938. My thanks to L. Curchin for this reference and other comments.

[6]G.W. Richardson-T.J. Cadoux, Oxford Classical Dictionary2, Oxford, 1971, p. 636; cf. Furneaux, Annals of Tacitus [n. 2], ad loc.

[7]Nisbet-Hubbard, Horace. Odes 1 [n. 3], p. 4. See above, n. 1.

[8]R. Syme, The Augustan Aristocracy, Oxford, 1986, p. 391. "Usage admits the maternal line" in the last decades of the Republic.

[9] Augustus would probably have claimed this concatenation to be jocular. J. Griffin, Augustan Poetry and the Life of Luxury in «Journal of Roman Studies», 66, 1976, p. 87-104, at 94 and 100. Another example of Maecenas' luxuria may be that he perhaps had a variety of grape named after him: Pliny Hist. Nat. XIV, 67.

[10]Indeed, "Cilnio" is an element in the name of the modern museum in Arezzo. For the Cilnii, see F. Munzer, Cilnius in RE III.2, 1899, col. 2545-46.

[11]Maecenas was of the tribe Pomptina, from the environs of Arezzo, ILS 7848.

[12]Tacitus Ann. VI, 11, 3: ceterum Augustus bellis ciuilibus Cilnium Maecenatem equestris ordinis cunctis apud Romam atque Italiam praeposuit: .... C.D. Fisher, Oxford, 1906.

[13]R. Hanslik, M. Vipsanius Agrippa. 2 in RE III.9.1, 1961, col. 1226-75, at 1227.

[14]For Agrippa, Suetonius Gaius XXIII, 1; Seneca the Elder Controversiae II, 4, 13; J.-M. Roddaz, Marcus Agrippa, BEFAR 253, Rome, 1984, p. 19-21. For the well-known case of Augustus, see latterly, Syme, Augustan Aristocracy [n. 8], p. 39, n. 39; id. Imperator Caesar. A Study in Nomenclature in Historia 7, 1958, p. 172-188.

[15]Velleius Paterculus II, 91, 1. Plancus: ILS 41.

[16]But not followed by the astutely compliant eques C. Sallustius Crispus, great-nephew of the historian and another of Augustus' advisers ? Horace Car. II, 2, 3; Tacitus Ann. III, 30, 2-3.

[17]Syme, Augustan Aristocracy [n. 8], p. 44; 391. The reference, of course, is to Agrippa.

[18]But it can hardly be that Tacitus was confused by the initial C of the praenomen (Caius/Cilnius) (?)

[19]Horace Car. I, 1, 1; III, 29, 1, etc.

[20]Cf. Hor. Car. II, 16, 21-22 scandit aeratas uitiosa nauis/cura nec turmas equitum relinquit. Pompeius Grosphus, the Sicilian land-owner to whom this poem was addressed, was also an eques Romanus; Cic. In Verrem II, 3, 56. OLD, s.v. cura, p. 473-74, especially 7 & 9, p. 474. For Horace Car. III, 1, 40, see, for example, A. Kiessling-R. Heinze, Q. Horatius Flaccus. Oden und Epoden, Berlin, 1955, p. 255; below n. 21.

[21]Tac. Ann. VI, 11, 3 ... cunctis apud Romam atque Italiam. G. Williams, The Third Book of Horace's Odes, Oxford, 1969, p. 148. Extra-constitutional, perhaps, but nonetheless real. Cf. E. Lefèvre, Horaz und Maecenas in ANRW II, 31, 3, 1981, p. 1987-2029, at 2007; Kiessling-Heinze, Horatius [n. 20], p. 300 & 398. For cura used elsewhere, see D. Bo, Lexicon Horatianum, I, Hildesheim, 1965, p. 108.

[22]Cf., for example, Tacitus Ann. III, 30, 2, C. Sallustius Crispus, equestri ortum loco. Not really an anomaly at the time Tacitus was writing. Cf. P.A. Brunt, Princeps and Equites in Journal of Roman Studies 73, 1983, p. 42- 75.

[23]Syme, Tacitus [n. 2], p. 612. Whatever Tacitus' heritage may be, however, the historian's senatorial sentiment and snobbery is evident. Cf. Tacitus Ann. I, 7, 1, At Romae ruere in seruitium consules, patres, eques; III, 37, 1, Considius Aequus and Caelius Cursor, equites Romani; VI, 8, 1, M. Terentius, eques Romanus; VI, 18, 2, the father of Pompeia Macrina, inlustris eques Romanus. SYME takes note also of Rubellius Blandus' heritage and thus suggests a reason for his marriage to Julia, daughter of Drusus. "Men recalled that his grandfather had been a Roman knight from Tibur." R. Syme, Tacitus: Some Sources of his Information in Journal of Roman Studies 72, 1982, p. 68-82, at 81. Cf. SYME, Augustan Aristocracy [n. 8], p. 51; 363; Tacitus Ann. XII, 60.

[24]Syme, Tacitus [n. 2], p. 378.

[25] The "Augustan period is peripheral to the argument of the Annals, and in recursions to it Tacitus appears to have made at least one slip precisely in regard to Maecenas." White's statements, however, are carefully worded and essentially unobjectionable. Cf. Syme, Tacitus [n. 2], p. 378: "Not having investigated properly the annals of Augustan Rome, Tacitus could sometimes be taken in by a conventional opinion." White, Maecenas [n. 1], p. 134, n. 14.

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