previous next

Laberius, Decĭmus

A Roman knight of good family, born about B.C. 107. He was famed for his talent in writing mimes, in the composition of which productions he occasionally amused himself. He was at length requested by Iulius Caesar, in B.C. 45, to appear on the stage and act the mimes which he had written (Macrob. Sat. ii. 7). Laberius was sixty years of age when this occurrence took place. Aware that the entreaties of a dictator were equivalent to commands, he complied; but, in the prologue to the first piece which he acted, he complained bitterly to the audience of the degradation to which he had been subjected. The whole prologue, consisting of twenty-nine lines, which have been preserved by Macrobius, is written in a lofty vein and with all the high spirit of a Roman citizen. He is said to have represented the feigned character with inimitable grace and spirit; yet in the course of the performance he could not refrain from expressing strong sentiments of freedom and detestation of tyranny. In one of the scenes he personated a Syrian slave; and, while escaping from the lash of his master, he exclaimed,
“Porro, Quirites, libertatem perdidimus;”

and shortly after he added,
“Necesse est multos timeat quem multi timent,”

on which the whole audience turned their eyes towards Caesar, who was present in the theatre (Macrob. l. c.). It was not merely to entertain the people, who would have been as well amused with the representation of any other actor; nor to wound the private feeling of Laberius that Caesar forced him on the stage. His sole object was to degrade the Roman knighthood, to subdue their spirit of independence, and to strike the people with a sense of his unlimited sway. This policy formed part of the same system which afterwards led him to persuade a senator to fight in the ranks of the gladiators. Though Laberius complied with the wishes of Caesar in exhibiting himself on the stage, and acquitted himself with ability as a mimetic actor, it would appear that the dictator had been hurt and offended by the freedoms which he used in the course of the representation, and, either on this or some subsequent occasion, bestowed the dramatic crown on Publilius Syrus in preference to the Roman knight. Laberius submitted with good grace to this fresh humiliation; he pretended to regard it merely as the ordinary chance of theatric competition. He did not long survive, however, this double mortification, but retired from Rome, and died at Puteoli about ten months after the assassination of Caesar. The titles and fragments of forty-three of the mimes of Laberius are still extant; but, excepting the prologue already cited, none is important. They will be found collected in Ribbeck's Comicorum Romanorum Fragmenta, pp. 279-302 (Leipzig, 1873).

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: