a Roman eques, and a distinguished writer of mimes.
He was born about B. C. 107, and died in January 43 (Hieron. in Euseb. Chron.
Olymp. 184. 2), at Puteoli, in Campania. At Caesar's triumphal games in October, B. C. 45, P. Syrus, a professional mimus, seems to have challenged all his craft to a trial of wit in extemporaneous farce; and Caesar, to whom Laberius may have been known through his friend Cn. Matius, himself a mimiambic poet, offered him 500,000 sesterces to appear on the stage. Laberius was sixty years old, and the profession of a mimus was infamous, but the wish of the dictator was equivalent to a command, and he reluctantly complied. Whether, by this somewhat wanton exercise of power, the usually indulgent Caesar meant to disgrace Laberius personally, or the equestrian order generally, or merely to procure for the spectators of the games an unusual spectacle, is uncertain. Laberius, however, had revenge in his power, and took it. His prologue awakened compassion, and perhaps indignation : and during the performance he adroitly availed himself of his various characters to point his wit at his oppressor.
In the person of a beaten Syrian slave he cried out,--
Marry ! Quirites, but we lose our freedom,
and all eyes were turned upon the dictator; and in another mime he uttered the pregnant maxim
Needs must he fear, who makes all else adread.
Caesar, impartially or vindictively, awarded the prize to Syrus, saying to Laberius
Though I favoured you, Laberius, Syrus bears the palm away.
He returned to him, however, his equestrian ring, and permitted him to resume his seat among the equites. As Laberius was passing by the senatorian benches to the equestrian, Cicero called to him, " Were we not so crowded here, Laberius, I would make room for you,"--a double allusion to the degradation of the histrionic eques and to the number of low-born and foreign senators created by Caesar. But Laberius parried the hit by replying, " I marvel, Cicero, you
should be crowded, who usually sit on two stools,"-- Cicero being at the time unjustly suspected of wavering in his politics. As Laberius was leaving the stage at the conclusion of a mime Syrus said to him,
Whom upon the stage you strove with, from the benches now applaud.
In the next mime, Laberius, alluding at once to Syrus' victory, and to Caesar's station, responded in graver tone,--
None the first place for ever can retain--
But, ever as the topmost round you gain,
Painful your station there and swift your fall.
I fell -- the next who wins with equal pain
The slippery height, falls too -- pride lifts, and lowers all.
; Cic. Fam. 7.11
; Hor. Sat.
1.10, 6; Suet. Jul. 39
; Sen. de Ira,
3.18; comp. Ziegler, de Mim. Roman.
Götting. 1788; Fabric. Bibl. Lat.
If the prologue of Laberius, the longest fragment of his works (Macr. 2.7
), may be taken as a specimen of his style, he would rank above Terence, and second only to Plautus, in dramatic vigour, and Horace's depreciation of him (Sat.
1.10, 6) might stand beside Pope's sneer at Chaucer, and " such writing as is never read."
But there is reason to infer that the diction of Laberius abounded in unauthorised words (Gel. 16.7
) and in antitheses and verbal jokes (Sen. Contr.
18), allowable in a farce-writer, but beneath the dignity of comedy.
He was, however, evidently an original thinker, and made great impression on his contemporaries. (Niebuhr, Lectures on Rom. Hist.
vol. ii. p. 169.)
The fragments of Laberius are collected by Bothe, Poet. Scen. Latin. vol. v. pp. 202-218. A revised text of the prologue has been published, with a new fragment by Schneidewin, in the Rheinisches Museum for 1843, p. 632, &c.
Laberius in Martial
A writer of verses, named Laberius, is mentioned by Martial (Mart. 6.14