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FESCENNI´NA

FESCENNI´NA scil. carmina, one of the earliest kinds of Italian poetry, which consisted of rude and jocose verses, or rather dialogues in extempore verses (Liv. 7.2), in which the merry country folks assailed and ridiculed one another. (Hor. Ep. 2.1, 145.) This amusement seems originally to have been peculiar to country people, but it was also introduced into the towns of Italy and at Rome, where we find it mentioned as one of those in which young people indulged at weddings. (Serv. ad Aen. 7.695; Seneca, Controv. 21, Med. 113; Plin. Nat. 15.22.) We have rather feeble specimens of these in the four poems by Claudian “in nuptias Honorii Aug. et Mariae.” The fescennina were one of the popular amusements at various festivals, and on many other occasions, but especially after the harvest was over. Munro (on Catullus, pp. 76 ff.) has well shown how they were employed to avert the evil eye or the envy of the gods on great occasions of good fortune, such as marriages or triumphs. After their introduction into the towns they seem to have lost much of their original rustic character, and perhaps were modified by the influence of Greek refinement (see Verg. G. 2.385, &c. ; Tib. 2.1, 55; Catull. 61.127); they remained, however, in so far the same, as they were at all times irregular, and mostly extempore doggerel verses usually in the Saturnian metre, though the specimens which are preserved are in trochaics, and the cretic is called pes Fescenninus by Diomedes, p. 479 k. Sometimes, however, versus fescennini were also written as satires upon persons. (Macrob. Saturn. 2.4, 21.) That these railleries had no malicious character, and were not intended to hurt or injure, may be inferred from the circumstance that one person often called upon another to answer and retort in a similar strain. The fescennina are asserted by Festus (s. v.) to have been introduced among the Romans from Etruria, and to have derived their name from Fescennia, a town of that country. But, in the first place, Fescennia was not an Etruscan but a Faliscan town (Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome, i. p. 136), and, in the second, this kind of amusement was at all times so popular in Italy, that it can scarcely be considered as peculiar to any particular place. The derivation of a name of this kind from that of some particular place was formerly a favourite custom, as may be seen in the derivation of caerimonia from Caere. Festus gives an alternative derivation from fascinum, either because they were thought to be a protection against sorcerers and witches, or because fascinum (phallus), the symbol of fertility, had in early times, or in rural districts, been connected with the amusements of the fescennina. This etymology is far more probable. Teuffel (Rom. Lit. § 5) needlessly attempts to combine the two, suggesting that Fescennia may have derived its name from fascinum. Nettleship (Journ. Phil. 11.190) plausibly assumes a substantive fescennus, “a charmer,” from fas, “saying” : hence fescennini would be “the verses used by charmers.” Ellis in Catull. 61.127 prefers the form Fascennina locutio; the latter reading being, however, clearly inferior to jocatio.

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