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CHAPTER V. ROMAN TRAGEDY (ENNIUS—ACCIUS, 239-94 B.C.).

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. Tragedy, as well as comedy, took its subjects from the Greek; but though comedy had the advantage of a far greater popularity, and also of a partially native origin, there is reason to believe that tragedy came the nearer of the two to a really national form of art. In the fullest and noblest sense of the word Rome had indeed no national drama; for a drama, to be truly representative, must be based on the deepest chords of patriotic and even religious feeling. And that golden age of a people's history when Patriotism and Religion are still wedded together, seeming but varying reflections from the mirror of national life, is the most favourable of all to the birth of dramatic art. In Greece this was pre- eminently the case. The spirit of patriotism is ever present—rarely, indeed, suggesting, as in the Persae of Aeschylus, the subject of the play, but always supplying a rich background of common sympathy where poet and people can feel and rejoice together. Still more, if possible, is the religious spirit present, as the animating influence which gives the drama its interest and its vitality. The great moral and spiritual questions which occupy the soul of man, in each play or series of plays, try to work out their own solution by the natural human action of the characters, and by those reflections on the part of the chorus to which the action naturally gives rise. But with the transplanted tragedy of the Romans this could no longer be the case. The religious ideas which spoke straight to the Athenian's heart, spoke only to the acquired learning of the Roman. The idea of man, himself free, struggling with a destiny which he could not comprehend or avert, is foreign to the Roman conception of life. As Schlegel has observed, a truly Roman tragic drama would have found an altogether different basis. The binding force of “Religio,” constraining the individual to surrender himself for the good of the Supreme State, and realising itself in acts of patriotic self-devotion; such would have been the shape we should have expected Roman tragedy to take, and if it failed to do this, we should not expect it in other respects to be a great success.

The strong appreciation which, notwithstanding its initial defects, tragedy did meet with and retain for many generations, is a striking testimony to the worth and talent of the men who introduced it. Their position as elevators of the popular taste was not the less real because they themselves were men of provincial birth, and only partially polished minds. Both in the selection of their models and in the freedom of treating them they showed that good sense which was characteristic of the nation. As a rule, instead of trying to familiarise the people with Aeschylus and Sophocles, poets who are essentially Athenian, they generally chose the freethinking and cosmopolitan Euripides, who was easily intelligible, and whose beauties did not seem so entirely to defy imitation. What Euripides was to Greek tragedy Menander was to comedy. Both denationalised their respective fields of poetry; both thereby acquired a vast ascendancy over the Roman mind, ready as it was to be taught, and only awaiting a teacher whose views it could understand. Now although Livius actually introduced, and Naevius continued, the translation of tragedies from the Greek, it was Ennius who first rendered them with a definitely conceived purpose. This purpose was—to raise the aesthetic sense of his countrymen, to set before them examples of heroic virtue, and, above all, to enlighten their minds with what he considered rational views on subjects of morals and and religion; though, after all, the fatal facility with which the sceptical theories of Euripides were disseminated and embraced was hardly atoned for by the gain to culture which undoubtedly resulted from the tragedian's labours. Mommsen says with truth that the stage is in its essence anti-Roman, just as culture itself is anti-Roman; the one because it consumes time and interest on things that interfere with the serious business of life, the other because it creates degrees of intellectual position where the constitution intended that all should be alike. But amid the vast change that came over the Roman habits of thought, which men like Cato saw, resisted, and bewailed, it mattered little whether old traditions were violated. The stage at once became a powerful engine of popular education; and it rested with the poet to decide whether it should elevate or degrade. Political interests, it is true, were carefully guarded. The police system, with which senatorial narrowness environed the stage as it did all corporations or voluntary societies, rigidly repressed and made penal anything like liberty of speech. But it was none the less possible to inculcate the stern Roman virtues beneath the mask of an Ajax or Ulysses; and Sellar has brought out with singular clearness in his work on the poets of the Republic the national features which are stamped on this early tragedy, making it in spite of its imperfections worthy of the great Republic.

The oratorical mould in which all Latin poetry except satire and comedy is to a great extent cast, is visible from the beginning in tragedy. Weighty sentences follow one another until the moral effect is reached, or the description fully turned. The rhythm seems to have been much more often trochaic [1] than iambic, at least than trimeter iambic, for the tetrameter is more frequently employed. This is not to be wondered at, since even in comedy, where such high-flown cadences are out of place, the people liked to hear them, measuring excellence by stateliness of march rather than propriety of diction.

The popular demand for grandiloquence ENNIUS (209-169 B.C.) was well able to satisfy, for he had a decided leaning to it himself, and great skill in attaining it. Moreover he had a vivid power of reproducing the original emotion of another. That reflected fervour which draws passion, not direct from nature, but from nature as mirrored in a great work of art, stamps Ennius as a genuine Roman in talent, while it removes him from the list of creative poets. The chief sphere of his influence was epic poetry, but in tragedy he founded a school which only closed when the drama itself was silenced by the bloody massacres of the civil wars. Born at Rudiae in Calabria, and so half Greek, half Oscan, he served while a young man in Sardinia, where he rose to the rank of centurion, and was soon after brought to Rome by Cato. There is something striking in the stern reactionist thus introducing to Rome the man who was more instrumental than any other in overthrowing his hopes and fixing the new culture beyond possibility of recall. When settled at Rome, Ennius gained a living by teaching Greek, and translating plays for the stage. He also wrote miscellaneous poems, and among them a panegyric on Scipio which brought him into favourable notice. His fame must have been established before B.C. 189, for in that year Fulvius Nobilior took him into Aetolia to celebrate his deeds a proceeding which Cato strongly but ineffectually impugned. In 184 B.C., the Roman citizenship was conferred on him. He alluded to this with pride in his annals—

  “Nos sumus Romani qui fuvimus ante Rudini.”

During the last twenty years of his life his friendship with Scipio and Fulvius must have ensured him respect and sympathy as well as freedom from distasteful labour. But he was never in affluent circumstances; [2] partly through his own fault, for he was a free liver, as Horace tells us [3]—

  “Ennius ipse pater nunquam nisi potus ad arma 
  Prosiluit dicenda;”

and he himself alludes to his lazy habits, saying that he never wrote poetry unless confined to the house by gout. [4] He died in the seventieth year of his age and was buried in the tomb of the Scipios, where a marble statue of him stood between those of P. and L. Scipio.

Ennius is not merely “the Father of Roman Poetry;” he held also as a man a peculiar and influential position, which we cannot appreciate, without connecting him with his patron and friend, the great Scipio Africanus. Nearly of an age, united by common tastes and a common spiritual enthusiasm, these two distinguished men wrought together for a common object. Their familiarity with Greek culture and knowledge of Greek religious ideas seem to have filled both with a high sense of their position as teachers of their countrymen. Scipio drew around him a circle of aristocratic liberals. Ennius appealed rather to the people at large. The policy of the elder Scipio was continued by his adopted son with far less breadth of view, but with more refined taste, and more concentrated effort. Where Africanus would have sought his inspiration from the poetry, Aemilianus went rather to the philosophy, of Greece; he was altogether of a colder temperament, just as his literary friends Terence and Lucilius were by nature less ardent than Ennius. Between them they laid the foundation of that broader conception of civilisation which is expressed by the significant word humanitas, and which had borne its intellectual fruit when the whole people raised a shout of applause at the line in the Hautontimorumenos

  “Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.”

This conception, trite as it seems to us, was by no means so when it was thus proclaimed: if philosophers had understood it (apas anthropos anthropo oikeion kai philon.—Ar. Eth. N. lib. 9), they had never made it a principle of action; and the teachers who had caused even the uneducated Roman populace to recognise its speculative truth must be allowed to have achieved something great. Some historians of Rome have seen in this attitude a decline from old Roman exclusiveness, almost a treasonable conspiracy against the Roman idea of the State. Hence they have regarded Ennius with something of that disfavour which Cato in his patriotic zeal evinced for him. The justification of the poet's course, if it is to be sustained at all, must be sought in the necessity for an expansion of national views to meet the exigences of an increasing foreign empire. External coercion might for a time suffice to keep divergent nationalities together; but the only durable power would be one founded on sympathy with the subject peoples on the broad ground of a common humanity. And for this the poet and his patron bore witness with a consistent and solemn, though often irreverent, earnestness. Ennius had early in life shown a tendency towards the mystic speculations of Pythagoreanism: traces of it are seen in his assertion that the soul of Homer had migrated into him through a peacock, [5] and that he had three souls because he knew three languages; [6] while the satirical notice of Horace seems to imply that he, like Scipio, regarded himself as specially favoured of heaven—

            “Leviter curare videtur 
  Quo promissa caadant et somnia Pythagorea.” [7]

At the same time he studied the Epicurean system, and in particular, the doctrines of Euhemerus, whose work on the origin of the gods he translated. His denial of Divine Providence is well known [8]—

  “Ego deum genus esse dixi et dicam semper caelitum: 
  Sed eos non curare opinor quid agat humanum genus. 
  Nam si curent, bene bonis sit, male malis, quod nunc abest.”

Of these two inconsistent points of view, the second, as we should expect in a nature so little mystical, finally prevailed, so that Ennius may well be considered the preacher of scepticism or the bold impugner of popular superstition according to the point of view which we assume. In addition to these philosophic aspirations he had a strong desire to reach artistic perfection, and to be the herald of a new literary epoch. Conscious of his success and proud of the power he wielded over the minds of the people, he alludes more than once to his performances in a self-congratulatory strain—

  “Enni poeta salve, qui mortalibus 
  Versus propinas flammeos medullitus.”

“Hail! poet Ennius, who pledgest mankind in verses fiery to the heart's core.” And with even higher confidence in his epitaph—

  “Aspicite, o cives, senis Enni imagini' formam: 
    Hic vostrum panxit maxima faeta patrum. 
  Nemo me lacrimis decoret nec funera fletu 
    Faxit. Cur? volito vivu' per ora virum.”

We shall illustrate the above remarks by quoting one or two passages from the fragments of his tragedies, which, it is true, are now easily accessible to the general reader, but nevertheless will not be out of place in a manual like the present, which is intended to lead the student to study historically for himself the progress of the literature. The first is a dialogue between Hecuba and Cassandra, from the Alexander. Cassandra feels the prophetic impulse coming over her, the symptoms of which her mother notices with alarm:

                     “HEC. 
  “Sed quid oculis rabere visa es derepente ar dentibus? 
  Ubi tua illa paulo ante sapiens virginali' modestia?

                     CAS. 
  Mater optumarum multo mulier melior mulierum, 
  Missa sum superstitiosis ariolationibus. 
  Namque Apollo fatis fandis dementem invitam ciret: 
  Virgines aequales vereor, patris mei meum factmn pudet, 
  Optimi viri. Mea mater, tui me miseret, me piget: 
  Optumam progeniem Priamo peperisti extra me: hoc dolet: 
  Men obesse, illos prodesse, me obstare, illos obsequi!”

She then sees the vision—

       * * * * * 
  “Adest adest fax obvoluta sanguine atque incendio! 
  Multos annos latuit: cives ferte opem et restinguite! 
    Iamque mari magno classis cita 
    Texitur: exitium examen rapit: 
    Advenit, et fera velivolantibus 
    Navibus complebit manus litora.”

This is noble poetry. Another passage from the Telamo is as follows:—

  “Sed superstitiosi vates impudentesque arioli, 
  Aut inertes aut insani aut quibus egestas imperat, 
  Qui sibi semitam non sapiunt, alteri monstrant viam, 
  Quibus divitias pollicentur, ab eis drachumam ipsi petunt. 
  De his divitiis sibi deducant drachumam, reddant cetera.”

Here he shows, like so many of his countrymen, a strong vein of satire. The metre is trochaic, scanned, like these of Plautus and Terence, by accent as much as by quantity, and noticeable for the careless way in which whole syllables are slurred over. In the former fragment the fourth line must be scanned—

                     _ 
  “Virgi | nes ae | quales | vercor | patris mei | meum fac | tum pudet.”

Horace mentions the ponderous weight of his iambic lines, which were loaded with spondees. The anapaestic measure, of which he was a master, has an impetuous swing that carries the reader away, and, while producing a different effect from its Greek equivalent, in capacity is not much inferior to it. Many of his phrases and metrical terms are imitated in Virgil, though such imitation is much more frequently drawn from his hexameter poems. He wrote one Praetexta and several comedies, but these latter were uncongenial to his temperament, and by no means successful. He had little or no humour. His poetical genius was earnest rather than powerful; probably he had less than either Naevius or Plautus; but his higher cultivation, his serious view of his art, and the consistent pursuit of a well-conceived aim, placed him on a dramatic level nearly as high as Plautus in the opinion of the Ciceronian critics. His literary influence will be more fully discussed under his epic poems.

His sister's son PACUVIUS (220-132 B.C.), next claims our attention. This celebrated tragedian, on whom the complimentary epithet doctus [9] was by general consent bestowed, was brought up at Brundisium, where amid congenial influences he practised with success the art of a painter. At what time he came to Rome is not known, but he gained great renown there by his paintings before attaining the position of chief tragic poet. Pliny tells us of a picture in the Temple of Hercules in the Forum Boarium, which was considered as only second to that of Fabius Pictor. With the enthusiasm of the poet he united that genial breadth of temper which among artists seems peculiarly the painter's gift. Happy in his twofold career (for he continued to paint as well as to write), [10] free from jealousy as from want, successful as a poet and as a man, he lived at Rome until his eightieth year, the friend of Laelius and of his younger rival Accius, and retired soon after to his native city where he received the visits of younger writers, and died at the great age of eighty-eight (132 B.C.). His long career was not productive of a large number of works. We know of but twelve tragedies and one praetexta by him. The latter was called Paullus, and had for its hero the conqueror of Perseus, King of Macedonia, but no fragments of it survive. The great authority which the name of Pacuvius possessed was due to the care with which he elaborated his writings. Thirteen plays and a few saturae in a period of at least thirty years [11] seems but a small result; but the admirable way in which he sustained the dramatic situations made every one of them popular with the nation. There were two, however, that stood decidedly above the rest— the Antiopa and the Dulorestes. Of the latter Cicero tells the anecdote that the people rose as one man to applaud the noble passage in which Pylades and Orestes contend for the honour of dying for one another. [12] Of the former he speaks in the highest terms, though it is possible that in his admiration for the severe and truly Roman sentiments it inculcated, he may have been indulgent to its artistic defects. The few lines that have come down to us resemble that ridiculed by Persius [13] for its turgid mannerisms. A good instance of the excellences which a Roman critic looked for in tragedy is afforded by the praise Cicero bestows on the Niptra, a play imitated from Sophocles. The passage is so interesting that it may well be added here. [14] Cicero's words are—

“The wise Greek (Ulysses) when severely wounded does not lament overmuch; he curbs the expression of his pain. 'Forward gently,' he says, 'and with quiet effort, lest by jolting me you increase the pangs of my wound.' Now, in this Pacuvius excels Sophocles, who makes Ulysses give way to cries and tears. And yet those who are carrying him, out of consideration for the majesty of him they bear, do not hesitate to rebuke even this moderate lamentation. 'We see indeed, Ulysses, that you have suffered grievous hurt, but methinks for one who has passed his life in arms, you show too soft a spirit.' The skilful poet knows that habit is a good teacher how to bear pain. And so Ulysses, though in extreme agony, still keeps command over his words. 'Stop! hold, I say! the ulcer has got the better of me. Strip off my clothes. O, woe is me! I am in torture.' Here he begins to give way; but in a moment he stops—'Cover me; depart, now leave me in peace; for by handling me and jolting me you increase the cruel pain.' Do you observe how it is not the cessation of bodily anguish, but the necessity of chastening the expression of it that keeps him silent? And so, at the close of the play, while himself dying, he has so far conquered himself that he can reprove others in words like these,—'It is meet to complain of adverse fortune, but not to bewail it. That is the part of a man; but weeping is granted to the nature of woman.' The softer feelings here obey the other part of the mind, as a dutiful soldier obeys a stern commander.”

We can go with Cicero in admiring the manly spirit that breathes through these lines, and feel that the poet was justified in so far leaving the original as without prejudice to the dramatic effect to inculcate a higher moral lesson.

As to the treatment of his models we may say, generally, that Pacuvius used more freedom than Ennius. He was more of an adapter and less of a translator. Nevertheless this dependence on his own resources for description appears to have cramped rather than freed his style. The early Latin writers seem to move more easily when rendering the familiar Greek originals than when essaying to steer their own path. He also committed the mistake of generally imitating Sophocles, the untransplantable child of Athens, instead of Euripides, to whom he could do better justice, as the success of his Euripidean plays prove. [15] His style, though emphatic, was wanting in naturalness. The author of the treatise to Herennius contrasts the sententiae of Ennius with the periodi of Pacuvius; and Lucilius speaks of a word “contorto aliquo ex Pacuviano exordio.”

Quintilian [16] notices the inelegance of his compounds, and makes the just remark that the old writers attempted to reproduce Greek analogies without sufficient regard for the capacities of their language; thus while the word kyrtauchaen is elegant and natural, its Latin equivalent incurvicervicus, borders on the ludicrous. [17] Some of his fragments show the same sceptical tendencies that are prominent in Ennius. One of them contains a comprehensive survey of the different philosophic systems, and decides in favour of blind chance (temeritas) as the ruling power, on the ground of sudden changes in fortune like that of Orestes, who in one day was metamorphosed from a king into a beggar. Pacuvius either improved his later style, or else confined its worst points to his tragedies, for nothing can be more classical and elegant than his epitaph, which is couched in diction as refined as that of Terence—

  Adulescens, tametsi properas, te hoc saxum vocat 
  Ut sese aspicias, delude quod scriptumst legas. 
  Hic sunt poetae Pacuvi Marci sita 
  Ossa. Hoc volebam nescius ne esses. Vale.

When Pacuvius retired to Brundisium he left a worthy successor in L. ATTIUS or ACCIUS (170-94 B.C.), whom, as before observed, he had assisted with his advice, showing kindly interest as a fellow-workman rather than jealousy as a rival. Accius's parents belonged to the class of libertini; they settled at Pisaurum. The poet began his dramatic career at the age of thirty with the Atreus, and continued to exhibit until his death. He forms the link between the ante-classical and Ciceronian epochs; for Cicero when a boy [18] conversed with him, and retained always a strong admiration for his works. [19] He had a high notion of the dignity of his calling. There is a story told of his refusing to rise to Caesar when he entered the Collegium Poetarum; but if by this Julius be meant, the chronology makes the occurrence impossible. Besides thirty-seven tragedies, he wrote Annales (apparently mythological histories in hexameters, something of the character of Ovid's Fasti), Didascalia, or a history of Greek and Roman poetry, and other kindred works, as well as two Praetextae.

The fragments that have reached us are tolerably numerous, and enable us to select certain prominent characteristics of his style. The loftiness for which he is celebrated seems to be of expression rather than of thought, e.g.

  “Quid? quod videbis laetum in Parnasi iugo 
  Bicipi inter pinos tripudiantem in circulis 
  Concutere thyrsos ludo, taedis fulgere;”

but sometimes a noble sentiment is simply and emphatically expressed—

  “Non genus virum ornat, generi vir fortis loco.” [20]

He was a careful chooser of words, e.g.

  “Tu pertinaciam esse, Antiloche, hanc praedicas, 
  Ego pervicaciam aio et ea me uti volo: 
  Haec fortis sequitur, illam indocti possident.... 
  Nam pervicacem dici me esse et vincere 
  Perfacile patior, pertinaciam nil moror.” [21]

These distinctions, obvious as they are to us, were by no means so to the early Romans. Close resemblance in sound seemed irresistibly to imply some connexion more than that of mere accident; and that turning over the properties of words, which in philosophy as well as poetry seems to us to have something childish in it, had its legitimate place in the development of each language. Accius paints action with vigour. We have the following spirited fragment—

  “Constituit, cognovit, sensit, conlocat sese in locum 
  Celsum: hinc manibus rapere raudus saxeum et grave.”

and again—

  “Heus vigiles properate, expergite, 
  Pectora tarda, sopore exsurgite!”

He was conspicuous among tragedians for a power of reasoned eloquence of the forensic type; and delighted in making two rival pleaders state their case, some of his most successful scenes being of this kind. His opinions resembled those of Ennius, but were less irreverent. He acknowledges the interest of the gods in human things—

  “Nam non facile sine deum opera humana propria [22] sunt bona,”

and in a fragment of the Brutus he enforces the doctrine that dreams are often heaven-sent warnings, full of meaning to those that will understand them. Nevertheless his contempt for augury was equal to that of his master—

  “Nil credo auguribus qui auris verbis divitant 
  Alienas, suas ut auro locupletent domos.”

The often-quoted maxim of the tyrant oderint dum metuant is first found in him. Altogether, he was a powerful writer, with less strength perhaps, but more polish than Ennius; and while manipulating words with greater dexterity, losing but little of that stern grandeur which comes from the plain utterance of conviction. His general characteristics place him altogether within the archaic age. In point of time little anterior to Cicero, in style he is almost a contemporary of Ennius. The very slight increase of linguistic polish during the century and a quarter which comprises the tragic art of Rome, is somewhat remarkable. The old- fashioned ornaments of assonance, alliteration, and plays upon words are as frequent in Accius as in Livius, or rather more so; and the number of archaic forms is scarcely smaller. We see words likenoxitudo, honestitudo, sanctescat, topper, domuitio, redhostire, and wonder that they could have only preceded by a few years the Latin of Cicero, and were contemporary with that of Gracchus. Accius, like so many Romans, was a grammarian; he introduced certain changes into the received spelling, e.g. he wrote aa, ee, etc. when the vowel was long, reserving the single a, e, etc. for the short quantity. It was in acknowledgment of the interest taken by him in these studies that Varro dedicated to him one of his many philological treatises. The date of his death is not quite certain; but it may be safely assigned to about 90 B.C. With him died tragic writing at Rome: scarcely a generation after we find tragedy has donned the form of the closet drama, written only for recitation. Cicero and his brother assiduously cultivated this rhetorical art. When writing failed, however, acting rose, and the admirable performances of Aesopus and Roscius did much to keep alive an interest in the old works. Varius and Pollio seem for a moment to have revived the tragic muse under Augustus, but their works had probably nothing in common with this early but interesting drama; and in Imperial times tragedy became more and more confused with rhetoric, until delineation of character ceased to be an object, and declamatory force or fine point was the chief end pursued.