The Literature of the Romans

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The Literature of the Romans

Postby Marcus Pomponius Lupus on Mon Dec 23, 2002 8:10 pm

Salvete,

A while ago, Q.P. Atticus and I started working on giving an adequate view of Roman literature. Due to time-robbing circumstances we couldn't work any further on it so we decided to put it in the freezer for some time, until now.

I'll be reposting what we have written so far and then continue working on it, I hope you can enjoy it.

Valete bene
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The Literature of the Romans - part I

Postby Marcus Pomponius Lupus on Mon Dec 23, 2002 8:13 pm

CHAPTER 1 : LITERATURE OF THE 3rd and 2nd CENTURY B.C.

1.0 General

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.]

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The Literature of the Romans - part II

Postby Marcus Pomponius Lupus on Mon Dec 23, 2002 8:16 pm

1.1 The Ancient Roman Drama

1.1.1 Structure

As a token of respect for Livius Andronicus, who had calmed Juno's wrath by writing a religious hymn, the Collegium scribarum histrionumque was founded in Rome in 207 BC. Under the protection of Minerva, this institution didn't have as much influence as its Greek counterparts and plays were mostly organised between the writer and the one paying for it. At that time Romans could only enjoy the performances during religious festivals and because theatre had such a temporarily character, wooden structures were used to play on. That way, they could easily be broken down after the show, because there simply was no need for a permanent structure. Not until 55 BC, when Rome saw its first theatre, built in stone.

1.1.2 Metrical systems

For Roman tragedy and comedy of old times, the metrical systems of the Greeks were used, with these two being the most important :

X -- | ^ -- | X -- | ^ -- | X -- | ^ -- |

As for the clarification : everything between two vertical stripes is known as a foot, -- means a long syllable, ^ means a short syllable and X means either a short one or a long one. In this system feet 2, 4 and 6 had to be "pure" (which means that no matter what, this foot had to be as described in the system, in this case : short - long) while the others could either be short - long as well or long - long. This was known as the Greek iambic trimeter

In Roman literature, however, only the sixth foot had to be pure, so we have the following structure :

X -- | X -- | X -- | X -- | X -- | ^ -- |

The second system was the "Greek catalectic trochaic terameter" :

-- ^ | -- X | -- ^ | -- X | -- ^ | -- X | -- ^ | -- |

Everyone probably understands now what all these symbols mean, so let's have a look at how the Romans used this one :

-- X | -- X | -- X | -- X | -- X | -- X | -- ^ | -- |

Again we see the change, where the Greeks had a "pure" foot on places 1, 3, 5 and 7, the Romans only pose this demand for the seventh foot. There were of course other systems as well for smaller genres at that time but that would take us too far in the thrilling world of Roman metrical systems ;-)

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The Literature of the Romans - part III

Postby Marcus Pomponius Lupus on Mon Dec 23, 2002 8:22 pm

1.1.3 The problem of the fragments

Of Ancient Roman tragedy, as with of other writings of Antiquity, only fragments are left. When an ancient text comes to us in bits and pieces, this can mean only two things : either parts of the texts have been lost (as with Tacitus’ Annales and Historiae of which entire books are missing), either –as with Roman tragedy- we only find quotes of the texts with later authors, especially grammarians, who want to illustrate a grammatical phenomenon with a quote, but also other authors who especially appreciate a fragment or use it in an argumentation. As philologists often know the mythological plot a play is based on, a reconstruction of a play is usually made but this sort of conjectures naturally demand a critical attitude.

1.1.4 Tragedy

1.1.4.1 Livius Andronicus

Few is left of Andronicus’ tragic plays : 9 titles and about 40 lines of verse, pointing at the influence of Sophocles and Euripides. The artistic value of his pieces must’ve been abominable, for even Cicero, otherwise a great admirer of ancient Roman tragedy notes : “Livianae fabulae non satis dignae quae iterum legantur” (Br. 71)

1.1.4.2 Cn. Naevius

According to the tradition, Naevius was a Campanian, having participated in the first Punic war. In 235 BCE, 5 years over Andronicus’ first-born, his first play was staged. His witticism however, got him in trouble with the mighty clan of the Metelli, causing him to leave Rome in 204. He died in exile in Utica (North Africa) in 201.

Of his plays too, few is left : 7 titles and about 60 lines of verse. With him, we see the beginning of a tendency that would later be adopted by Ennius, Plautus and Statius : replacing spoken parts by canticum (sung text).

Also important is that Naevius was the first to stage historical drama, drawing from Rome’s own national history. These plays were called fabulae praetextatae (“toga-pieces”), while plays with subjects drawn from Greek mythology were called fabulae crepidatae, after the peculiar ‘theatre-boots’ Greek actors were used to wear.

Remarkable is that both subjects from the far past (“Romulus”) and from recent history (e.g. “Clastidium”, where in 222 BCE M. Claudius Marcellus defeated the Gallic headman Viridomarus) were used.

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The Literature of the Romans - part IV

Postby Marcus Pomponius Lupus on Mon Dec 23, 2002 8:25 pm

1.1.4.3 Q. Ennius

It is with this Ennius that, according to Horatius, Roman tragedy truly begins. Born in 239 in the area of Calabria, he was very proud of the fact he could speak three languages, Latin, Greek and Oscan. Overflowing with talent he was quickly noticed by Rome's finest, Cato Censorius took him along on a war in Sardinia, Marcus Fulvius Nobilior took him along to his province and his son, Quintus gave him Roman citizenship. Rumour has it that the statue of Ennius was placed in the tomb of the Scipiones.

From his works, we have about twenty titles left and 400 lines of text. The tragedy part of his writing (for he wrote works in every existing style) is mainly based on Euripides (12) and Aeschylus (3). Using a lot of pathos he tends to search for all sorts of retorical tricks, which made Cicero one of his big fans. Fully aware of his talents he even wrote that Homeros appeared to him in a vision and revealed to him that, after a short stay in the body of a peacock, he had chosen to reincarnate in the body of Ennius. According to Cicero this is what Ennius wrote with the intention of letting it be put on his grave :

"Nemo me lacrimis decoret nec funera fletu faxit
Cur ? Volito vivus per ora virum"

"Let no one honour me with tears or carry me crying to my grave
Why ? I fly around humans from mouth to mouth alive"

1.1.4.4 M. Pacuvius

But Ennius was mainly active in the field of epic literature and the two most famous tragedy-writers of Rome were Pacuvius and L. Accius. Pacuvius, a nephew of Ennius, was born in 220, in Brundisium. Thirteen titles are still known to us and it seems that he was the first author to write nothing but tragedy. Though he lived to be 90 years old, he didn't write much and for some, the reason for this is that he was painter as well. What we do know about his works is that he uses a strong sense of pathos and famous for it is the opening of the Iliona where the murdered Deiphilus begs his mother not to leav his corpse in the fields, without a proper funeral :

"Mater, te apello, tu quae curam somno suspensam leves
neque te mei miseret: surge et sepeli natum tuum."

"Mother, I call to you, you who cures the worries with sleep
and who does not pity me: arise and burrie your son"

These where lines "qui totis theatris maestitiam inferant" (that filled the entire theatre with sadness - Cicero -) even though it went a little wrong once. The actor Rufius, who played the part of the mother, was drunk and fell asleep on the scene, and kept on snorring even when the entire theatre was shouting "Mater, te apello !"

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