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Published in Vergilius 41 (1995), pp. 35-48. Copyright © 1995 The Vergilian Society, Inc.


The Ciris, a Latin epyllion of uncertain date and authorship, exemplifies the late-antique fascination with Vergilian imitation, as explored most thoroughly in the commentary by R. O. A. M. Lyne (1978). Verse by verse, Lyne indicates what he feels are direct verbal borrowings of verses, half-verses, and phrases from Vergil. Yet for all the care Lyne dedicates to this task, for the most part he limits himself to the verbal dimension of the borrowings. The borrowings have other dimensions as well, and it is the purpose of this paper to examine these allusions from a thematic perspective. The focus will be on explicating the factors that led the Ciris poet to imitate the particular passages that he did, and the use to which he put these imitations in order to enhance his own poem. In the second half of this paper, the insights gained from the exploration of the methods and aims of the poet will be used to support my identification of a previously-unobserved imitation of a famous passage in Vergil's Aeneid.

The Ciris tells the story of Scylla and Nisus, best known to us from book 8 of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Nisus was the king of Megara, a city under siege by King Minos of Crete. The city was secure so long as the tuft of purple hair growing on the top of the head of Nisus remained unshorn. However Scylla, the daughter of Nisus, fell in love with Minos and, as a token of that love, betrayed her father and her city by cutting the lock of hair while Nisus slept. Instead of receiving a reward for her treason, she was repulsed by Minos, who dragged her through the sea behind his ship until Amphitrite took pity upon her and changed her into a sea bird, the ciris. Jupiter then transformed her father into a sea eagle so that he could avenge himself through continual attacks upon the smaller bird.

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