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Latin Literature

Before entering upon any criticism of the comic authors, it will be well to make a few remarks on the general characteristics of the Roman theatre. Theatrical structures at Rome resembled on the whole those of Greece, from which they were derived at first through the medium of Etruria, [1] but afterwards directly from the great theatres which Magna Graecia possessed in abundance. Unlike the Greek theatres, however, those at Rome were of wood not of stone, and were mere temporary erections, taken down immediately after being used.

On the Acta Diurna and Acta Senatus.

NOTE I.—The Testamentum Porcelli.

As the Italian talent for impromptu buffoonery might perhaps have in time created a genuine native comedy, so the powerful and earnest rhetoric in which the deeper feelings of the Roman always found expression, might have assumed the tragic garb and woven itself into happy and original alliance with the dramatic instinct. But what actually happened was different.

As long as the drama was cultivated poetry had not ceased to be popular in its tone. But we have already mentioned that coincidentally with the rise of Sulla dramatic productiveness ceased. We hear, indeed, that J. CAESAR STRABO (about 90 B.C.) wrote tragedies, but they were probably never performed. Comedy, as hitherto practised, was almost equally mute.

We must now retrace our steps, and consider Ennius in the capacity of epic poet. It was in this light that he acquired his chief contemporary renown, that he accredits himself to posterity in his epitaph, and that he obtained that commanding influence over subsequent poetic literature, which, stereotyped in Virgil, was never afterwards lost. The merit of discerning the most favourable subject for a Roman epic belongs to Naevius; in this department Ennius did but borrow of him; it was in the form in which he cast his poem that his originality was shown.

NOTE I.—On the Use of Alliteration in Latin Poetry.

Quintilian's Account of the Roman Authors.

Satire, as every one knows, is the one branch of literature claimed by the Romans as their own. [1] It is, at any rate, the branch in which their excellence is most characteristically displayed. Nor is the excellence confined to the professed satirists; it was rather inherent in the genius of the nation. All their serious writings tended to assume at times a satirical spirit. Tragedy, so far as we can judge, rose to her clearest tones in branding with contempt the superstitions of the day. The epic verses of Ennius are not without traces of the same power.

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