ROME-ARTS AND LEARNING.
a Hellene-was Livius ANDRONICUS, who flourished in the latter half of the third
century B. C. Having acquired a mastery of the Latin language, and being in
sympathy with the Roman people, he began to adapt and translate into Saturnian
verse the comedies and tragedies of the Greeks. In this line of literary work he
achieved considerable success, and paved the way for the first native author of
repute, who was Cneius Naevius, of Campania. The latter, like his predecessor,
cultivated dramatic poetry, and to this he added the epic. He asserted his
freedom and originality by selecting purely Roman subjects for some of his
dramas. One was founded upon the rearing of Romulus and Remus, and another upon
the battle of Clastidium. In the way of an epic, he composed a long poem entitled
the Punic War. In this production he employed the old Saturnian verse, which,
having no regular meter, depended wholly for its harmony upon the rise and fall
of the tone in which it was chanted.
The father of Roman poetry-that is, of the epic-was Quintus Ennius, who
flourished between B. C. 240 and 169. He was a friend and companion of the
Scipios. He was thoroughly educated in Greek, and imbued with the spirit of the
new culture. He had much of the true genius of a poet, arid by his mastery of the
Latin tongue, contributed much to improve and perfect its poetical elements. His
greatest work was an epic on Rome, the first part of which was written in the
Saturnian verse, while in the book on the Punic War Latin hexameters were for the
first time successfully employed.
After Ennius came his nephew, the tragic poet Pacuvius, who from being a
successful painter became a more successful man of letters. His chief work
consisted in translations of Greek dramas, in which his office of interpreter was
supplemented with no small store of original genius. The excellence of his works
did much to disseminate a taste for dramatic literature among the Romans, as well
as to establish his own fame as an author. Like him was his younger friend,
Lucius Attius, who flourished from B. C. 160 to 87. By these dates he was carried
forward into the next period of Roman literature; but in spirit and character his
works belong to the epoch of Ennius and Pacuvius.
Though the works produced by the authors just enumerated long continued to be
read and admired by the Roman people, it does not appear that they were the
source of any genuine enthusiasm. The Latin race, indeed, had little of the
tragic sentiment. The heroic passions and emotions, which so agitated the Greek
nature that it swayed back and forth as a stalk shaken by the winds, were wanting
in the Romans, who for the most part regarded life as an affair of business. It
was only with that class of people who, like the Patricians, had wealth and
leisure, and who from a study of Greek literature had acquired a taste for what
they did not naturally possess, that the early tragedy was popular. The civic
masses took little interest in that with which they felt no sympathy. The tragedy
of the Republic remained a work of literature-in many cases a mere exercise in
translation-rather than an active force swaying the hearts and sentiments of the
people. It is believed that the tragedies attributed to Seneca were produced as
rhetorical school dramas rather than with a view to stage representation.
While it is true, however, that the early Romans had little taste for tragic
passion, their aptitude for comedy was of the highest order. They possessed in an
unusual degree the gifts of satirical humor, and the people of the streets were
peculiarly delighted with burlesque and buffoonery. It appears that, even before
the direct influences of Greek culture were felt in Central Italy, a certain
taste for farcical representations had sprung up among the people; so that the
introduction of comedy chimed in with sentiments already attuned to Thalia's
sports. From very early times the rustic populace of Latium had been accustomed,
at village festivals and gatherings of the vintage, to improvise in an inartistic
way comic representations of those aspects of life with which they were familiar.
From this a quaint form of comedy grew up, in which such characters as the
soothsayer, tax gatherer, and doctor were introduced and made ridiculous for the
amusement of the crowd.