One of the earliest kinds of Italian poetry, which
consisted of rude and jocose verses, or rather dialogues in extempore verses (Livy, vii. 2
), in which the merry country folks assailed and ridiculed
one another (Epist.
ii. 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 it is found mentioned as one of those in which young people indulged at weddings
vii. 695; Seneca, Controv.
; Plin. H. N. xv.
). There are rather feeble specimens of these in the four poems by Claudian De
Nuptiis Honorii Augusti 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.
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
Georg. ii. 385
, etc.; Tibull. ii. 1, 55; Catull. lxi. 127
); they remained, however, in so far the same as to be 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
by Diomedes, p. 479 (Keil). Sometimes, however, versus
were also written as satires upon persons (Macrob.
Sat. ii. 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. h. 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, 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 Caeré. Festus gives an alternative derivation from
, 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.
attempts to combine the two, suggesting that fescennia may have derived its name from fascinum.
Nettleship (Journ. Phil.
xi. 190) plausibly assumes
a substantive fescennus
, “a charmer,” from fas
, “saying”; hence fescennini
would be “the verses used by charmers.” See Müller, Die
, ii. 296; Zell, Ferienschriften
, ii. 121; Broman,
De Versibus Fescenninis (Upsala, 1852)
; Corssen, Origines
, etc., 124; Rossbach, Die römische Ehe
; Nettleship, Lectures and Essays
, pp. 60 foll. (Oxford,
; and the articles Matrimonium