Canidia And Erictho

The Epodes and Satires are Horace's earliest books of poems. Both were complete by 30 B.C. Within these a cycle is devoted to the horrid witch Canidia and her colleagues. Passing mentions of her in poems beyond those printed here use her name as a byword for poisoning: Epodes 3, where Horace compares garlic to her poisons; Satires 2.1.48, where Canidia threatens people she does not like with the poison of Albucius; and Satires 2.8.95, where Fundanius runs from an elaborate feast as if Canidia had breathed over it. Many of the commonplace themes attributed to Canidia and to Lucan's Erictho are tabulated at the beginning of the next section.

91 Canidia and Sagana perform necromancy and erotic magic

Ca. 30 B.C. Horace Satires 1.8 Latin

I used to be a fig-tree stump, a useless bit of wood. The carpenter did not know whether to make me into a bench or a Priapus, but decided I would be better as the god. Hence, a god I am, the greatest terror to thieves and birds. My right hand wards off the robbers, as does the red stake that sticks out from my rude groin. The reed fixed into my head frightens off the pesky birds and prevents them from settling in the new gardens. In former times, when corpses were thrown out of their narrow cells, a fellow slave would pay someone to carry them here in a cheap box. This place was a common tomb to the unfortunate masses, for Pantolabus the jester, and for Nomentanus the spendthrift. An inscription gave it a thousand feet against the road, and a width of three hundred feet, and stipulated that it should not be handed down to an heir. One can live on the salubrious Esquiline now and go for walks on the sunny rampart, whereas until recently one could only look gloomily on a field disfigured by white bones. It is not so much the thieves and the wild animals accustomed to disturb the place that concern and bother me, so much as the women who try to twist human minds about with spells and poisons [venena]. I just cannot put an end to these women or stop them collecting bones and destructive herbs, once the wandering moon brings out her comely face.

I myself have seen Canidia coming with her black dress girt up, feet bare and hair unbound, howling together with the elder Sagana. One shuddered to look at either of them, because of their pallor. They began to dig up the earth with their fingernails and tear apart a dark lamb with their teeth. The blood was poured into a pit, so that they could call forth from it ghosts from the underworld to give them answers. There was a woolen doll, and another one made from wax. The woolen one was larger, so that it could restrain the smaller one with punish ments. The wax doll held the pose of a suppliant, as if it were about to be executed in slave fashion. One of the women called on Hecate, the other on cruel Tisi-phone. You could see snakes and underworld dogs wandering about and the moon blushing red and hiding behind the great tombs, lest she witness these things. If I tell a lie, may crows drop their white crap on my head, may Julius come to piss and shit on me, and so too the feeble Pedatia and the thief Voranus. Why should I go through all the details? Why should I tell you how the ghosts held a conversation with Sagana, making mournful, shrill noises; how they secretly hid a wolf's beard together with a tooth from a variegated snake in the ground; how the fire flared up higher because of the wax image, and how I shuddered at the voices and actions of the two Furies, although this witness did not go unavenged? For I split my fig-wood buttocks and farted as loud as an exploding bladder. They ran off to the city. You could have seen Canidia's teeth, Sagana's tall wig, and their herbs and enchanted bonds fall from their arms. You would have laughed long and hard.

A WOODEN STATUE OF THE ITHYPHALLIC god Priapus speaks. He stands in the Esquiline gardens, which are laid out over the former paupers' cemetery. This mass of bones, inadequately buried, offered a rich fund of ghosts ripe for magical exploitation and was a magnet for witches; compare 113. The presence of the bodies or their ghosts is also seen to encourage the growth of herbs with magical powers.

The rites performed blend evocation necromancy and erotic-attraction magic. It is unclear how coherent and unified the women's activities are intended to be; if they are intended to cohere, then we must assume that they call up the ghosts in order to instruct them to carry out the erotic spell. Evocation necromancy and erotic-attraction magic are loosely associated also in the work of Lucian's Hyperborean mage (244).

Elsewhere in ancient literature necromantic pits are dug with a sword and sheep are sacrificed with the same object (see 144). It is a mark of their bestiality that the women use their bare hands for both activities; as we see from 92, Canidia keeps her thumbnail untrimmed. The conversation with the dead is made up of familiar noises: howling on the part of the witches, shrill screeching from the ghosts. Like the ghosts with which they converse, the women are pallid. As usual, the witches invoke their underworld patron Hecate (for whom see 275), and, as often, she is accompanied by Tisiphone, one of the Furies (Erinyes). Witches are often portrayed as "unbound" to a greater or lesser extent in the performance of magical rites; here Canidia's hair is said to be loose; see 67.

The use of doll-pairs was common in erotic-attraction magic (e.g., 90). Sometimes their configuration could express the act of coercion, as here and as in 239, and sometimes it could express the desired result with the two dolls bound together in a tight embrace, a configuration known as a sym-plegma or "entwined group." A number of examples of these symplegmata have been found. Wax dolls are commonly mentioned and often symbolically melted, as here (see 89-90, 236). Wax dolls and woolen dolls are mentioned together (albeit not as pairs) by Ovid too (99), perhaps in tribute to this poem. The "enchanted bonds" dropped by the departing witches are evidently materials for binding magic. In having the moon dip behind tombstones for shame Horace indirectly alludes to the topos familiar in the con text of witches and erotic magic, that of the drawing-down of the moon (see 214-23).

The attempts of both women to perform erotic magic are revealed as pathetic or even distasteful in the final lines, where we learn that they are old hags. Canidia ("Gray-hair") leaves her false teeth behind, Sagana (her name an extended form of saga, "wise woman" or "witch") an old-fashioned wig; as we seem to learn from the following poem, 92, she kept her real hair short to accommodate it (see Mankin 1995 ad loc.).

92 Canidia, Sagana, Veia, and Folia murder a boy to make a love potion

Ca. 30 B.C. Horace Epodes 5 Latin

"Oh gods, whichever of you rule the earth and the human race from the sky! What is this uproar? Why are all your murderous faces turned upon me? By your children, if Lucina came to help your honest birth when called, by this glorious but useless purple robe, I beg you, by Jupiter who is bound to condemn all this, why do you look at me like a stepmother or a beast I have struck with iron?" The boy made this complaint with trembling lips and stood there, his distinguished clothes snatched away, a youthful body, of the sort that could have softened the impious hearts of the Thracians. Canidia, small vipers entwined in the unkempt hair on her head, ordered wild fig trees, torn up from graves, funereal cypresses, eggs pasted with the blood of the foul frog, a feather of the nocturnal screech owl, herbs which lolcus and Iberia, fertile in poisons, export, and bones snatched from the mouth of a ravening dog to be burned in Colchian flames. Sagana, dressed for action, sprinkled waters of Avernus all over the house. Her hair bristled, like a sea urchin with its spikes, or a Laurentian boar. Veia, impeded in no way by conscience, scooped out the earth with a hard mattock, grunting at the toil, so that the boy, buried in it, might die at the sight of a feast changed twice or three times over the long day, pushing his face toward it and resembling swimmers who seem to hang their bodies from the surface of the water by their chin. This was so that his moistureless marrow and dried liver could form a love-potion, when once his pupils had melted away, fixed on the forbidden food. Folia of Ariminum, with her masculine sex drive, was there too, or so idle Naples believed, and every town round about. She enchants the stars with Thessalian voice and snatches the moon down from the sky. Here, Canidia, gnawing at her untrimmed thumbnail with blue tooth—what did she say, or what keep silent? "Entirely faithful witnesses to my actions, Night, and Diana, who rule the silence when my secret rites are performed, come to our aid now, now, now turn your anger and power upon enemy houses. While wild animals lie hidden in the frightening woods, weary with sweet sleep, let the dogs of the Subura bark at the old adulterer, so that all may laugh at him. He is soaked in nard better than any made by my hands. What goes on? Why do the dread poisons of barbarian Medea have no effect, the poisons with which she avenged herself on her haughty rival, the daughter of great Creon, before fleeing, when the dress, a gift steeped in corruption, carried the new bride away in a blaze? And yet no herb, no root lying hidden in rough places has escaped me. Does he lie on a drugged bed and forget all my rivals? Ah! He walks abroad, delivered by the spell of a more knowledgeable witch [venefica]. I will not use the familiar potions. Varus, you will weep at length and run back to me. Your mind will not return to me summoned merely by Marsian spells. I am preparing something stronger. I shall administer a stronger drink to you in your haughtiness. The sky will settle down beneath the sea, with the earth stretched out atop both of them, before you can avoid burning with love for me like pitch with its black fire." In response the boy no longer tried, as before, to placate the impious women with gentle words. He hesitated as to how he should break the silence, before unleashing Thyestian imprecations: "Enchantments have the power to throw righteousness and wickedness into turmoil, but they cannot change human destiny. I will chase you with Furies. A dreadful curse is expiated by no sacrificial victim. Indeed, when you order me to die and I expire, I shall rush upon you in the night, as frenzy itself. A ghost, I shall attack your face with curving nails—ghosts have this power—and sitting on your restless hearts I will deprive you of sleep by terror. A crowd will pelt you with rocks from all sides and from street to street, and smash you to pulp, you disgusting crones. After that wolves will scatter your unburied limbs, as will the birds of the Esquiline. This is a sight that will meet my parents, destined as they are, alas, to survive me."

THE FOUR WITCHES HAVE TAKEN A rich boy captive and are killing him to manufacture ingredients for a love potion, erotic magic once again being the hags' concern. In the secrecy of an inner court he is buried, naked, up to his neck and starved to death while food is wafted before him just out of reach of his lips. The notion is to imbue his innards, notably his liver and bone marrow, with an intense sense of longing as he dies. This feeling of longing will transfer itself, in an erotic register, to the object of Canidia's love, Varus, when, rendered cannibal, he consumes this material. For child sacrifice in magic see 93, 136-8. For love potions more generally see 76-81. Canidia expresses the wish that Varus, the object of her love, should "forget" her rivals, as common in erotic magic (see 75, 104, 207). For the notion that women performing the magic of erotic seduction are "structurally male," see 89, with commentary. As usual, the desire to be instilled in the beloved is compared to burning fire. Canidia is shown to project her enemies and rivals as sorcerers themselves: compare 13-4, 94. For magic at war with magic, see 269-70.

Canidia presides over an elaborate series of sacrifices of outlandish magical ingredients. For similar lists of ingredients, compare 69, 155-6. Those deprived of burial were said to be cast out for the dogs (or, in Canidia's own case, the wolves) and the birds; bones snatched from the mouth of a ravening dog are therefore strongly marked as unburied, and they constitute a particularly effective mechanism for the exploitation of the restless ghosts; see 108, 110, 112.

The curse of a dying person was held to be especially fearful, for it would be directly and vigorously enacted by the released ghost (as well as any Furies acting for it). Hence the terrible effect of the curse Dido lays upon Aeneas as she commits suicide (Virgil Aeneid 4.504-21, 607-65). Canidia and her colleagues therefore have much to fear from the boy's words. We are not, however, explicitly told that the boy dies.

Underworld imagery abounds. For the waters of Avernus and its ghosts see 153-4; the water, than which none could be more impure, is sprinkled for purification in a magical inversion. The vipers that adorn Canidia's hair give her the appearance of a Fury.

The Marsi were supposedly one of Italy's own magical races. They claimed descent from Circe and Odysseus, and specialized in snake-charming (compare 9) and divination; see Pliny Natural History 7.15 and Aulus Gellius 16.11.1.

93 Epitaph of a child snatched by witches lucundus, the slave of Livia the wife of Drusus Caesar, son of Gryphus and Vitalis. As I grew towards my fourth year I was seized and killed, when I had the potential to be sweet for my mother and father. I was snatched by a witch's hand [saga manus], ever cruel so long as it remains on the earth and does harm with its craft. Parents, guard your children well, lest grief of this magnitude should implant itself in your breast.


Livia JULIA, THAT IS LIVILLA, MARRIED Drusus the son of Tiberius before 18 A.D. and died in 31 A.D. This inscription is taken as independent testimony that the sort of practice described by Horace did or at any rate was believed to take place, but one wonders how familiar Livilla would have been with the work of the previous emperor's poet. Livilla was herself put to death for supposedly having poisoned her husband, in 23 A.D. (Suetonius Tiberius 62, etc.).

Ca. 30 B.C. Horace Epodes 17 Latin

94 Canidia scorns Horace's recantation Horace: Now at last do I yield before your science, which works after all. As a suppliant I implore you, by the kingdom of Persephone, by the unutterable names of Diana, and by your books of powerful spells, to dislodge the stars from the sky and call them down. Canidia, at long last put an end to your sacred incantations and spin, spin your swift wheel backward. Telephus prevailed upon the grandson of Nereus [Achilles], against whom he had arrogantly arrayed his columns of Mysians and against whom he had hurled sharp weapons. The Trojan matrons were able to give due mourning to Hector, the killer, after he had been given over to the wild birds and dogs, after King Priam left the city walls and went forth, alas, to the feet of willful Achilles. Odysseus's rowers, subject as they were to so much toil, sloughed off their bristly limbs from their hardened skins, with Circe's assent. Then their minds and their voices slipped back, as did their familiar dignity to their faces. I have paid sufficient penalty and indeed more to you, who are loved so much by sailors and pedlars. My youth is gone, as is my bashful complexion. I am left as just bones clothed in yellow skin. My hair is white because of your scents. No rest I take relieves me from toil. Night presses the day hard, and day night, and I cannot relax my tight-drawn lungs to draw breath. I am beaten, so I now believe, in my unfortunate condition, what I had previously denied, that Sabine spells burn the breast and that heads are burst apart by Marsian incantations. What more do you want? Oh, sea and earth, I burn more than Hercules did when he was steeped in the black gore of Nessus and than the seething yellow flame in Etna in Sicily. Does your workshop glow hot with poisons [venena] until the point at which I am carried on the noxious winds as dry ash? What end do you have in store for me, or what price to pay? Tell me. I will pay the penalty in good faith, and I am ready to expiate myself, whether you demand this be done with a hundred bullocks, or whether you will want to be celebrated by my lying lyre: "You chaste woman, you honest woman, you will walk through the stars, a golden star yourself." Castor was upset when Helen was defamed, as was the brother of great Castor. But they were persuaded by prayer to restore to the poet [Stesichorus] the eyes of which they had deprived him. You too, for you have the power, deliver me from my madness. You are not a shabby person from squalid parents, nor are you a crone who knows how to scatter nine-day-old dust on poor men's tombs. You have a welcoming heart and clean hands. Pactumeius was the fruit of your womb, and it was your blood the midwife washed from the reddened sheets, however brave you were to leap out of bed for a woman in labor.

Canidia: Why do you pour prayers upon bolted ears? Winter Neptune does not pound with his white swell rocks that are more deaf to sailors stripped of their ships. Are you to have publicized and mocked, scot-free, the rites of Cotytto, the sacred practice of free love? Are you, the high priest of Esquiline sorcery [venefi-cium] to have filled the city with my name, with impunity? Of what benefit was it that Paelignian crones grew rich or mixed a faster poison? But death awaits you, a slower one than that for which you will pray. Your thankless, wretched life is to be extended to this end, so that you may continue to be available for torture. The father of treacherous Pelops longs for peace, so too Tantalus, ever deprived of the generous feast, and Prometheus, whose crimes devoted him to the bird. Sisyphus longs to rest his rock on the mountaintop. The laws of Jupiter forbid it. At one point you will wish to jump down from high towers, at another to open up your breast with a Noric sword. In vain will you tie a noose round your neck in your misery at grinding agony. Then I shall ride as a horseman on your enemy shoulders, and the crowd will yield to my arrogance. Or am I, who can animate wax effigies, as you yourself know from interfering, I, who can snatch the moon down from the sky by my incantations, I, who can raise up the cremated dead, I, who can blend love potions, am I to weep for my craft not encompassing your death?

HORACE SINGS A PALINODE OR RECANTATION for his former abuse of Canidia, just as Stesichorus had sung a palinode for his abuse of Helen. He presents himself specifically as having cast doubt on Canidia's magical abilities in the context of this abuse (such doubts are not evident in his other Canidia poems). One can reconstruct the other terms of the abuse Horace had supposedly cast against Canidia by reading his ironic compliments to her backward. One of his accusations had been that her "son" was a changeling. The victim now of her erotic magic (always Canidia's chief concern in the major poems), Horace begs for pardon and concedes her abilities. Canidia remains implacable, and resolved to torture him to death.

Horace's description of the state of his distress seems to express the experience of one suffering under a binding spell: notably, his lungs are "tight-drawn" (compare 184); he also suffers from the burning, sleeplessness, and madness that erotic binding spells typically inflict (see 200, 204, 207-9, 224, 230-2, 239-40, 244). The comparison of the burning of desire with that of the burning of Heracles emphasizes the proximity of Nessus's blood to an erotic charm (76). Horace does not explicitly say for whom he feels this desire, but Canidia is not shown elsewhere to work her erotic magic in anyone's interest but her own. For Canidia's use of wax dolls for erotic magic, see 91; for the animation of voodoo dolls, see 244.

Canidia projects her enemy Horace as a competing sorcerer; again we note that sorcery is, as so often, the attribute of one's rivals; see 13, 269-70. The attribution of spell-books to a female professional is noteworthy. For the Sabine Marsi, see 92, with commentary; the Paelignians are perhaps magical through association with them. Cotytto (or Cotys) was a Thracian goddess of love and war.

An ancient commentary on this text is given at 227.

95 Canidia as the Neopolitan Gratidia On Satires 1.8.24: "Canidia" stands for Gratidia the

Neapolitan perfume-seller, whom Horace is always harassing as a witch [venefica].

ACRO'S COMMENTARY ON epodes 3.8 and 5.1 carries similar material, as does Porphyrio's on Epodes 3.7 and 5.43 and Satires 1.8.13. Acro defines Canidia

Pseudo-Acro on Horace

Satires 1.8.24

Latin also as malefica and a maga. The device alluded to is the one familiar from amatory poetry, whereby the name of the "real" subject is replaced with one that is metrically equivalent (hence Catullus's poems to Clodia as "Lesbia"). Whether there ever was any such Gratidia remains doubtful.

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  • Aaron
    How to pronounce erictho?
    8 years ago

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