I distinctly remember from a class at some point a disparaging remark by a Latin poet about other less accomplished poets who churned out "a million hexameters a year", obviously implying terrible quality. Unfortunately, I only remember the general sentiment, but none of the Latin words or an exact translation.

I thought the quote I'm looking for was in either an epigram or a satire, but I already searched for such a passage years ago and never found it. I wanted to use the argument that writing technically correct hexameters wasn't the hardest thing in the world, and that the elite naturally preferred quality over quantity.

Does this ring a bell with anyone?

  • Oh, I feel like I know this passage also...but can't quite place it! This is going to irritate me now...
    – Draconis
    Apr 28, 2017 at 15:02
  • I know the feeling very well, I looked for it for hours when I needed it, because it could really have strengthened and diversified the argument I was trying to make. 7 years later, and still no dice :)
    – blagae
    May 2, 2017 at 20:46
  • @Draconis: was Penelope's answer also the one you were looking for ?
    – blagae
    Jun 20, 2017 at 10:21
  • I believe so! Upvoted.
    – Draconis
    Jun 20, 2017 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


Could it be Catullus 95? I quote the whole thing because it is a sustained attack on prolix poetry (unlike his own small, polished nuggets of verse) but it might be line 3 that you're thinking of. The text has gaps but most translators supply "year" after uno and assume quingenta lines.

Zmyrna mei Cinnae, nonam post denique messem
quam coeptast nonamque edita post hiemem,
milia cum interea quingenta Hortensius uno < … >
Zmyrna cavas Satrachi penitus mittetur ad undas,
Zmyrnam cana diu saecula pervoluent.
at Volusi annales Paduam morientur ad ipsam
et laxas scombris saepe dabunt tunicas.
parva mei mihi cordi monumenta ,
at populus tumido gaudeat Antimacho.

Elsewhere, Catullus calls Volusius' voluminous works cacata charta (poem 36)!


I can't answer this as fully as you would like, but Ovid gives a clear idea of his own facility for writing verse, at Tristia IV, X, 25-26:

sponte sua carmen numeros veniebat ad aptos
et quod temptabam scribere versus erat.

The whole of this passage provides a clearer insight, and is well known to enthusiasts for Ovid. It's often quoted in biographies of the poet. I'm not surprised that you can't track down the critic for whom you are looking, but my guess is someone (Juvenal, maybe?) with a jaundiced view of life was being sarcastic about another poet — who may very well have been Ovid.

I hope that this helps you to make the argument that your question refers to.

  • That passage was part of the same argument I was trying to make at the time, so I was already aware of it. Juvenalis is indeed a likely candidate, I'll see if I can reread some of his works.
    – blagae
    Apr 28, 2017 at 11:47
  • @blagae It might help your search if you remember that the Roman way of exaggerating was to use sescenti where in English we say 'millions'. Sescentiens monui ne nimium augeas.
    – Tom Cotton
    Apr 28, 2017 at 15:53

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