Roman pranks: Glueing a coin to the pavement, in Horace and Persius

While reading Horace at the weekend in the old Loeb edition, my eye fell upon a passage in Epistles I, XVI 63:[1]

Qui melior servo, qui liberior sit avarus, in triviis fixum cum se demittit ob assem, non video; nam qui cupiet, metuet quoque ; porro, qui metuens vivet, liber mihi non erit umquam.

How the miser is better than a slave, or is more free, when he stoops at the crossroads to pick up the copper fastened there,[a] I do not see: for he who covets will also have fears; further, he who lives in fear, will never, to my mind, be free.

The footnote indicated:

a. We are told that Roman boys would solder a coin to the pavement and then ridicule those who tried to pick it up (so scholiast on Persius, v. 111).

Persius imitates the lines from Horace in Satire 5, line 111.  So looking at Jahn’s 1843 edition of Persius and the scholia,[2] which is most likely the edition referenced, I find the scholion as follows:

111. Inque luto fixum, id est: Sordidum lucrum spernis; aut certe visum in luto nummum praetermittis, quia solent pueri, ut ridendi causam habeant, assem in silice plumbatum infigere, ut qui viderint, se ad colligendum inclinesit, nec tamen possint avellere, quo facto pueri etiam acclamare solent.

That is:

You spurn filthy cash; or at least, seeing a penny lying in the mud, you pass by, because boys, thinking it grounds for a laugh, used to fasten a coin on the stone with solder, so that when someone saw it and bent down to pick it up, and was unable to pull it of, when this happened, the boys commonly shout “[try] again”![3]

Human nature remains the same, even over a period of two thousand years.  For I remember this prank being practised a couple of decades ago on a television show that relied on this kind of embarrassment for its “humour”.  I have seen a coin affixed to the  ground in just this manner.

  1. [1]Tr. Rushton Fairclough, 1961. P.355-6 in the Loeb, volume 2.
  2. [2]Otto Jahn, Auli Persii Flacci Satirarum liber, 1843. Online at, here.  The page is 332, which is p.546 in the PDF, the scholia on Satire V.
  3. [3]Translation mine: corrected from comment by Alexander MacAulay – thank you!