In ancient Rome, a balatro was a professional jester or buffoon. Balatrones were paid for their jests, and the tables of the wealthy were generally open to them for the sake of the amusement they afforded.
In Horace Balatro is used as a proper name — Servilius Balatro. An old scholiast, in commenting on this word, derives the common word from the proper names; buffoons being called balatrones, because Servilius Balatro was a buffoon: but this is opposed to the natural inference from the former passage, and was said to get rid of a difficulty. Festus derives the word from blatea, and supposes buffoons to have been called balatrones, because they were dirty fellows, and were covered with spots of mud (blateae) with which they got spattered in walking; but this is opposed to sound etymology and common sense. Another writer has derived it from barathrum, and supposes buffoons to have been called balatrones, because they, so to speak, carried their jesting to market, even into the very depth (barathrum) of the shambles (barathrum macelli) Perhaps balatro may be connected with balare (to bleat like a sheep, and hence) to speak sillily. It is probably connected with blatero, a busy-body.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Alexander Allen (1870). "Balatro". In Smith, William (ed.). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray. p. 183.