Canidia is featured in three of Horace's poems (Satire 1. 8, Epodes 5 and 17) and receives passing mention in three others (Satire 2.1.48, Satire 2.2.95, Epode 3.8). If his commentator, Pomponius Porphyrion (3rd century CE), is to be believed, her real life model was Gratidia, a perfume woman (unguentaria) from Naples, although this definition is far from certain. For Horace, however, Canidia was a woman who engaged in magical rites of questionable morality, a kind of saga or maga who symbolized the dark side of religion and power that was the very antithesis of the ethical ideals Augustus was promoting. Practitioners of magic were perceived as a mortal threat in Rome, as demonstrated by extant curse tablets and the second expulsion of magicians from Rome in 33 BCE by the city aedile Marcus Agrippa, Octavian's lieutenant (see Cassius Dio, Roman History 49.43.5). While Canidia is portrayed variously as an old woman, a fearsome witch, and a poisoner, in Epode 17 she challenges the poet Horace to a battle of carmina, setting herself up as the representative of an alternative dark poetics. In Satire I. 8 the reader meets her through the disapproving eyes of Priapus, a rather comic ithyphallic deity, who narrates his encounter with her in shocked tones and mock epic style. Canidia is seen to invade the public Gardens of Maecenas on the Esquiline Hill, where Priapus stands as a guardian statue. Once a cemetery, the area was being reclaimed for communal use by the wealthy statesman Maecenas as part of the renovation of the public face of Rome undertaken by Augustus. In the gardens she and her accomplice Sagana engage in night-time secret rituals that combine elements of divination, love magic and other rituals to form a pastiche of magical malevolence that must have seemed laughable to Horace's audience: a pit excavated for animal blood sacrifice, immolation of magic figurines, invocation to underworld divinities, collection and burial of esoteric organic items, and self-binding with cloth armbands. Priapus views the actions of the witches as wholly inappropriate, anti-social and inhuman. Full of terror and aware of his own uncharacteristic impotence, he fearfully describes what he sees: the grotesque physicality of Canidia and Sagana, their animal behavior and their rejection of proper divinities. The tone of his narrative moves swiftly from gothic horror to comic farce in the poem's final five lines, leaving Priapus the accidental hero and the threatening witches nothing more than old women—toothless, without hair, and fleeing in fright from the insubstantial air. The meter is dactylic hexameter.
hunc vexare locum curae sint atque labori,
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