BMCR 2020.01.56

Pomponio Secondo: profilo di un poeta tragico ‘minore’. Testi e manuali per l’insegnamento universitario del latino, 144

Rita Degl'Innocenti Pierini, Pomponio Secondo: profilo di un poeta tragico ‘minore’. Testi e manuali per l'insegnamento universitario del latino, 144. Bologna: Pàtron, 2019. 164. ISBN 9788855534413 €18,00.

After having published on many different authors and genres of Latin literature, Degl’Innocenti Pierini returns to her first field of research: fragmentary tragedy. The aims of this book include paving the way for further studies on Pomponius Secundus, a distinguished statesman and poet of the first century C.E., and raising his profile for a wider audience, as well as drawing attention to other Roman theatrical fragments.

Some reflections arise from a 2017 seminar held at the University of Palermo, organized by Alfredo Casamento ( Sulle tracce del teatro latino. Riflessioni e prospettive di ricerca), where the author presented a paper entitled “Pomponio Secondo: alla ricerca del ‘rivale’ perduto”.

In the course of reading, it becomes clear that Pomponius Secundus deserves much more attention and consideration than has been generally accorded to him.1 Thanks to the profile delineated by the author, the poet emerges as an influential intellectual who engages with other litterati at the Neronian court. The fragments incorporated and discussed in this book give us a suggestive picture of the political climate in which Pomponius Secundus wrote. His tragedies are richly allusive texts which engage with the Augustan poets and Seneca’s tragedies on levels far beyond the superficial; potentially, they could have been a model for Statius’ works, as Degl’Innocenti Pierini demonstrates in the fifth chapter.

A preface opens the volume, which is organized into two parts: “Studi su Pomponio” and “Studi su poesia tragica in frammenti”. Part 1, consisting of six chapters, explores the figure of Pomponius Secundus by discussing fragments attributed to him.

In the first chapter , which takes the form of an introduction, the author draws a portrait of Pomponius Secundus by analyzing passages from the authors who refer to Pomponius: Quintilian ( Inst. 10.1.98) praises Pomponius Secundus for his nitor and eruditio, Pliny the Younger ( Epist. 7.17.11) for his literary ideas. Pliny’s judgment is likely influenced by his uncle who describes Pomponius Secundus as vatem civemque clarissimum ( Nat. hist. 13.83). The analysis of references does not follow a chronological order, but the passages are discussed according to relevance. In the second part of the chapter, the author reconstructs Pomponius’ biography, political and military career, and public engagement.

Chapter 2 deals with Seneca’s mention of Pomponius Secundus in Epist. 3.6. For a long time, scholars discussed whether Seneca refers to Pomponius Secondus, the author of tragedies, or to the homonymous author of Atellanae. The various arguments proposed by Degl’Innocenti Pierini are clear and demonstrate that there are few doubts that the Pomponius to whom Seneca refers must be identified as the tragedian instead of the author of Atellanae (as suggested by Ribbeck). Seneca also provides rare evidence for Pompeius’ prose work Ad Thraseam, which, as the author lucidly demonstrates, had an epistolary structure and was important enough to be quoted by the grammarians Charisius, Diomedes and Priscian.

Chapter 3 concerns a fragment reported in a lemma of Nonius Marcellus. Through an extensive reflection on the verbs evolvo and notifico, the author convincingly proposes that the fragment belongs to Pomponius’ Atreus. Degl’Innocenti Pierini suggests that notifico can be explained as a reference to Atreus’ recognition of Aerope. A similar use is found in Met. 1.760-761, when Phaethon addressed his mother Clymene and demanded proof of the identity of his father. This use of notifico also explains obsecro which, according to the author, may indicate Atreus’ prayer to Aerope to tell him the truth.

Chapter 4 examines a fragment from Pomponius’ Aeneas reported in Charisius and sheds light on a tragedy which, according to Degl’Innocenti Pierini, should be considered as a praetexta. This tragedy was probably set in Latium and staged the decisive battle between Aeneas and Turnus. In this fragment, the opposition between humilis and rex, which evokes the social climbing exemplified in Roman history by Servius Tullius, recalls on the one hand the Horatian humilis / potens ( Carm. 3.30.12), on the other the Senecan miser / potens ( Thy. 35). These multiple allusions demonstrate Pomponius’ dexterity in engaging with imperial authors, a skill that Degl’Innocenti Pierini often highlights.

Chapter 5 examines fragment 8-11 R 2-3 [= fr. 3 Schauer] reported by Terentianus Maurus in De metris and by Marius Victorinus in his Ars grammatica. Both attribute it to Pomponius Secondus. The same fragment is attested in Augustine’s De musica 4, 31, without indication of author. By comparison with Seneca’s Agamemnon, Degl’Innocenti Pierini suggests that the fragments should be dated to the first years of the Neronian age, and the person who plays the dulcis chelys should be identified as Apollo, instead of Orpheus. The pair of jussive subjunctives pendeat and edat can be explained in the context of an invocation of Apollo in the role of citharode who plays the lyre in a locus amoenus. This identification also relies on iconographic evidence. Although Degl’Innocenti Pierini points out that it is very challenging to identify the amnis quoted in Terentianus, she agrees with Miller who proposed the Xanthus/Scamander.2 Particularly noteworthy is the suggestion of reading an allusion to Nero, the enthusiastic citharode, behind the presence of Apollo.

The closing chapter of part 1 (ch. 6) expands upon the fifth chapter by discussing the other three fragments quoted by Terentianus: Pomp. 5-7 R. 2-3 [= 5-7 Schauer]. All the fragments have a common setting: Troy, as the reference to Rhoeteus in the first fragment implies. By pointing out a complex net of allusions and similarities with Seneca’s Agamemnon and Troades, the author cogently suggests that the fragments belong to a chorus of Trojan women.

Part 2 collects three chapters previously published; they have been opportunely updated. Chapter 7 analyses a fragment about Tantalus (110 R. 2-3 [= 60 Schauer]) in Cicero’s Tusculanae (4.35) and, by comparison with Lucretius (3.980-984) ‘che vede nel sasso di Tantalo un’ipostasi mitica della superstitio che incombe sugli infelici mortali come il masso sul mitico dannato’ (p. 99), suggests that the fragment comes from a tragedy staging the story of Pelops, whose descent from Tantalus is a constant Leitmotiv, as seen in the prologue of Seneca’s Thyestes, to explain the wickedness of his own ancestry.

Chapter 8 starts with Cicero ( Ad Att. 16. 5.1), who refers to the presence of a tragedy entitled Tereus as a substitute for Brutus, and explores the affinity between Accius’ Brutus and Brutus’ Tereus, both characterized as anti-tyrannical. Degl’Innocenti Pierini underlines that the two myths, coupled in Ovid’s Fast. 2.851ff., are profoundly related: Accius celebrated the legend of Lucretia, whose silence would have been aroused by psychological violence analogous to the glossectomy perpetrated by Tereus.

Concluding the volume, chapter 9 examines another quotation in Cicero’s Tusculanae (2.36). For three reasons the author rejects the hypothesis that TRF inc. inc. 205-208 R. 2-3 3 may come from Accius’ Meleager : (1) Cicero never quotes this tragedy; (2) the theme of eugenics is not related to de tolerando dolore, the main argument of Book 2 of Cicero’s Tusculanae; (3) the fragment reports the physical exercise of Spartans in opposition to the fertilitas barbara, although but in the myth of Atalanta, there is no element which indicates an opposition between Greeks and barbarians. Instead, she persuasively argues that the fragment is derived from Ennius’ Andromache, considering the relevance of this drama in the Tusculanae and relying on the fact that physical exercises by Spartan women are always mentioned in contexts related to Helen.

Pomponio Secondo: profilo di un poeta tragico ‘minore’ opens a path for further discovery, including the study of fragmentary texts, literary strategies such as intertextuality, reception of topoi and contamination from other genres. The scope, the reception, the intertextual engagement and chronology have been satisfactorily pinned down. We ought to remember the programmatic statements of the author: Degl’Innocenti Pierini’s explicit concern was to shed light on a ‘minor’ author who has been neglected by scholarship. In this, the book undoubtedly achieves its aims, but the volume also supplies a guide of how we should work on fragmentary texts. Caution and originality go hand in hand in this book. Overall, the organization of the volume works very well, as the two parts perfectly harmonize. At the end, the author also supplies an index of relevant passages. As a whole, the book maintains coherence and succeeds in outlining a vivid portrait of Pomponius Secundus and in displaying an excellent methodology for the study of tragic fragmentary texts.


1. A. J. Boyle, Roman Tragedy London & New York 2016, 186-184: “it is clearly impossible to gain any real sense of the politics of Pomponius’ works”. The only studies on Pomponius are T. Eckinger, P. Pomponius Secundus, Étude philologique annexée au rapport du Gymnase de la Chaux-de-Fonds 1906-1907, 1-20; A. Della Casa, Pomponio Secondo tragediografo, Dioniso 35, 1961, 58-75; A. Galimberti, & I. Ramelli, L’Octavia e il suo autore: P. Pomponio Secondo?, Aevum 75, 2001, 79-99; A. Galimberti, L’autore dell’Octavia, in: L. Castagna, & G. Vogt-Spira (eds.), Pervertere: Ästhetik der Verkehrung. Literatur und Kultur neronischer Zeit und ihre Rezeption München & Leipzig 2002, 71-73.

2. J. F. Miller, Apollo, Augustus, and the Poets, Cambridge 2009, 292.

3. M. Schauer (ed.), Tragicorum Romanorum Fragmenta, Vol. 1: Livius Andronicus; Naevius; Tragici minores; Fragmenta adespota, Göttingen 2012.