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NANI

NANI dwarfs, kept as an amusement in rich Roman houses. According to Gellius, 16.7, 19.13, the word nanus was an introduction of Laberius, and the older word for dwarf was pumilio: both words afterwards existed together and in the same writers. The fashion of keeping dwarfs may have come from Syria and Egypt (cf. Stat. Silv. 5.5, 66); for they do not seem to have been a feature in households of Greece proper before the Roman conquest (cf. Plut. de Curios. 10, ἐν Ῥώμῃ τινές. . .), or it may have started in Italy: they are mentioned as kept at Sybaris (Athen. 12.518 e), where they were called σκωπαῖοι and στίλπωνες. It is probable that the former name is not, as Liddell and Scott say, from σκώπτω, but rather from σκώψ, because of the misshapen head and short neck, and the latter name from their baldness, since their heads were shaven (see Lucian, Conviv. 18, and Mayor's note on Juv. 5.171). As to their appearance in later Greek banquets, see Lucian, l.c. At Rome great ladies especially delighted in them, as Livia (D. C. 48.44), Seneca's wife (Sen. Ep. 50); and the prevalence of the fashion at Rome is marked by Suetonius, when he mentions particularly (Aug. 83) that Augustus did not care for them.

There is no clear distinction between nanus or pumilio or pumilus, “the dwarf,” and morio (γελωτοποιός), “the jester,” since the jesters seem to have been selected for their absurd appearance as well as for that power, often found in the half-witted, of making comical remarks, for which the mediaeval jesters were in demand. So the morio in Mart. 6.39 is “acuto capite et auribus longis;” and in 14.212, “si solum spectes hominis caput, Hectora credas, si stantem videas Astyanacta putes.” The nanus at Tiberius's banquet is a privileged jester (Suet. Tib. 61; cf. Dom. 4): that they were half-witted if not absolute cretins is shown by Mart. 8.13, which passage also gives a notion of their price, “morio dictus erat, viginti milibus emi: redde mihi numos, Gargiliane, sapit.” Misshapen limbs as well as small stature added to their price (Plut. l.c.; Quintil. Inst. 2.5, 11; Decl. 298); and the most revolting part of the fashion was that the deformity was sometimes caused by artificial means, the children being kept in a case or frame (γλωττόκομον) which would stunt and distort their growth (Longin. de Sublim. 44, 5). The Romans kept female as well as male dwarfs and jesters (nanae, fatuae, Lamprid. Alex. Sev. 34; Sen. Ep. 50). For more authorities, see Becker-Göll, Gallus, 2.148 if.; Marquardt, Privatleben, 152; Mayor on Juv. 8.32.

[G.E.M]

hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 61
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 16.7
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 19.13
    • Statius, Silvae, 5.5
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 6.39
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.13
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