Baconians argue that the model for Hall’s ‘Labeo’ was Marcus Antistius Labeo, a celebrated Roman lawyer who lost favour with the Emperor Augustine for opposing his views. This Labeo fits nicely with their candidate because Bacon was a lawyer who lost favour with the Queen.
A Bad Poet?
But a more obvious referent was the Roman poet Attius Labeo, whose Latin translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were so dreadful that his name became a by-word for bad verse. Hall, after all, urges his Labeo to ‘write better… or write none’.
Alexander Waugh has proposed Quintus Fabius Labeo, a Consul of the Roman Republic, who was linked to the African-slave-turned-Roman-playwright Publius Terence. Terence was regarded, even in his lifetime, as having help from another writer or writers, or even being their ‘front’. Terence did not deny it. The prologue to The Adelphi says
… For this,
Which malice tells that certain noble persons
Assist the bard, and write in concert with him,
That which they deem a heavy slander, he
Esteems his greatest praise: that he can please
Those who in war, in peace, as counsellors,
Have rendered you the dearest services,
And ever borne their faculties so meekly.
Though it is often considered that Terence’s plays may have originated with Scipio or Laelius, ancient biographer Santra proposed Quintus Fabius Labeo as one of three more likely sources of Terence’s plays. The name Labeo therefore potentially references another case of author concealment not unlike Hall’s ‘crafty cuttle’.
Which is it?
The lawyer Labeo can be reasonably discarded, as there is nothing within the text to support it (given we have established that ‘mediocria firma‘ is not a reference to the Bacon family motto). But either of the others (the bad poet, or the concealed author) fit with Hall’s attack on Labeo, and he may have known of both Labeos. From a sample of currently digitised texts on EEBO, it seems the first (the archetypal bad poet) was better known than the second (proposed by Santra and quoted in Suetonius’s Life of Terence). I have also seen it argued that the name Labeo is taken from the word ‘Labeon’ which means ‘argumentative’ and ‘blubber-lipped’. But given the amount of space and energy that Hall expends on attacking Labeo’s works, my money is still with ‘bad poet’.
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