The Literature of the Romans, an introduction
by: Q. Pomponius Atticus & M. Pomponius Lupus
Traditionally, the history of Latin literature begins with Livius Andronicus, a freedman of Greek origin, who, in the year 240 B.C., was the first to direct a play, a so called fabula in the city of Rome, which had already grown to a considerable power at that time. It had finished its conquest of Italy, including the regions inhabited by Greeks (Magna Graecia) and was fully engaged in establishing its supremacy over the Mediterranean area. Carthage had just lost the first Punic war and Sicily had been annexed as the first oversees territory.
That the history of Latin literature should begin with a Greek is not at all by chance, but is almost symbolic : every literary genre Romans practised was of Hellenic origin. Yet still, a Roman literature could not have taken off without any primitive literary ‘germs’ in Roman society itself. We have reports of ancient Roman carmina, a general term, used to denominate any linguistic utterance in ‘stylised’ language. Also, the Romans had an indigenous quantitative verse, the Saturninus.
Some Latin authors, among them Cicero, mention archaic practices in which we could see a root of Roman literary production :
In Originibus dixit Cato morem apud maiores hunc epularum fuisse ut deinceps qui accubarent: canerent ad tibiam clarorum virorum laudes atque virtutes.(Tusculanae, IV, II)
In his ‘Origines’, Cato says our ancestors had the custom that when they were having a banquet, they would each in turn sing the glorious exploits of illustrious men, accompanied by a flute.