CHAPTER VIII. THE MINOR DEPARTMENTS OF POETRY—THE ATELLANAE (POMPONIUS AND NOVIUS, CIRC. 90 B.C.) AND THE EPIGRAM (ENNIUS—CATULUS, 100 B.C.).
The last class of dramatic poets whom we shall mention in the first period are the writers of Atellanae. These entertainments originated at the little town of Atella, now St Arpino, between Capua and Naples in the Oscan territory, and were at first composed in the Oscan dialect. Their earliest cultivation at Rome seems to date not long after 360 B.C., in which year the Etruscan histriones were first imported into Rome. The novelty of this amusement attracted the Roman youths, and they began to imitate both the Etruscan dancers and the Oscan performers, who had introduced the Atellane fables into Rome. After the libellous freedom of speech in which they at first indulged had been restrained by law, the Atellanae seem to have established themselves as a privileged form of pleasantry, in which the young nobles could, without incurring the disgrace of removal from their tribe or incapacity for military service, indulge their readiness of speech and impromptu dramatic talent.  During rather more than two centuries this custom continued, the performance consisting of detached scenes without any particular connection, but full of jocularity, and employing a fixed set of characters. The language used may have been the Oscan, but, considering the fact that a knowledge of that dialect was not universal at Rome,  it was more probably the popular or plebeian Latin interspersed with Oscan elements. No progress towards a literary form is observable until the time of Sulla, but they continued to receive a countenance from the authorities that was not accorded to other forms of the drama. We find, for example, that when theatrical representations were interdicted, an exception was made in their favour.  Though coarse and often obscene, they were considered as consistent with gentlemanly behaviour; thus Cicero, in a well-known passage in one of his letters,  contrasts them with the Mimes, secundum Oenomaum Accii non, ut olim solebat, Atellanam, sed, ut nunc fit, mimum introduxisti; and Valerius Maximus implies that they did not carry their humour to extravagant lengths,  but tempered it with Italian severity. From the few fragments that remain to us we should be inclined to form a different opinion, and to suspect that national partiality in contrasting them with the Graecized form of the Mimi kept itself blind to their more glaring faults. The characters that oftenest reappear in them are Maccus, Bucco, and Pappus; the first of these is prefixed to the special title, e.g. Maccus miles, Maccus virgo. He seems to have been a personage with an immense head, who, corresponding to our clown or harlequin, came in for many hard knocks, but was a general favourite. Pappus took the place of pantaloon, and was the general butt.
NOVIUS (circ. 100 B.C.), whom Macrobius  calls probatissimus Atellanarum scriptor, was the first to reduce this species to the rules of art, giving it a plot and a written dialogue. Several fragments remain, but for many centuries they were taken for those of Naevius, whence great confusion ensued. A better known writer is L. POMPONIUS (90 B.C.) of Bononia, who flourished in the time of Sulla, and is said to have persuaded that cultured sensualist to compose Atellanae himself. Upwards of thirty of his plays are cited;  but although a good many lines are preserved, no fragments are long enough to give a good notion of his style. The commendations, however, with which Cicero, Seneca, Gellius, and Priscian load him, prove that he was classed with good writers. From the list given below, it will be seen that the subjects were mostly, though not always, from low life; some remind us of the regular comedies, as the Syri and Dotata. The old-fashioned ornaments of puns and alliteration abound in him, as well as extreme coarseness. The fables, which were generally represented after the regular play as an interlude or farce, are mentioned by Juvenal in two of his satires: 
“Urbicus exodio risum movet Atellanae Gestibus Autonoes;”
and in his pretty description of a rustic fete—
Festorum herboso colitur si quando theatro
Maiestas, tandemque redit ad pulpita notum
Exodium, cum personae pallentis hiatum
In gremio matris formidat rusticus infans;
Aequales habitus illic, similemque videbis
Orchestram et populum....”
They endured a while under the empire, when we hear of a composer named MUMMIUS, of some note, but in the general decline they became merged in the pantomime, into which all kinds of dramatic art gradually converged.
If the Atellanae were the most indigenous form of literature in which the young nobles indulged, the different kinds of love-poem were certainly the least in accordance with the Roman traditions of art. Nevertheless, unattainable as was the spontaneous grace of the Greek erotic muse, there were some who aspired to cultivate her.
Few kinds of verse more attracted the Roman amateurs than the Epigram. There was something congenial to the Roman spirit in the pithy distich or tetrastich which formed so considerable an element in the “elegant extracts” of Alexandria. The term epigram has altered its meaning with the lapse of ages. In Greek it signified merely an inscription commemorative of some work of art, person, or event; its virtue was to be short, and to be appropriate. The most perfect writer of epigrams in the Greek sense was Simonides,—nothing can exceed the exquisite simplicity that lends an undying charm to his effusions. The epigrams on Leonides and on Marathon are well known. The metre selected was the elegiac, on account of its natural pause at the close of the second line. The nearest approach to such simple epigrams are the epitaphs of Naevius, Ennius, and especially Pacuvius, already quoted. This natural grace, however, was, even in Greek poetry, superseded by a more artificial style. The sparkling epigram of Plato addressed to a fair boy has been often imitated, and most writers after him are not satisfied without playing on some fine thought, or turning some graceful point; so that the epigram by little and little approached the form which in its purest age the Italian sonnet possessed. In this guise it was cultivated with taste and brilliancy at Alexandria, Callimachus especially being a finished master of it. The first Roman epigrammatists imitate the Alexandrine models, and, making allowance for the uncouth hardness of their rhythm, achieve a fair success. Of the epigrams of Ennius, only the three already quoted remain.  Three authors are mentioned by Aulus Gellius  as having raised the Latin Epigram to a level with Anacreon in sweetness, point, and neatness. This is certainly far too high praise. Nor, even if it were so, can we forget that the poems he quotes (presumably the best he could find) are obvious imitations, if not translations, from the Greek. The first is by Q. LUTATIUS CATULUS, and dates about 100 B.C. It is entitled Ad Theotimum:
“Aufugit mi animus; credo, ut solet, ad Theotimum
Devenit: sic est: perfugium illud habet.
Quid si non interdixem ne illuc fugitivum
Mitteret ad se intro, sed magis eiiceret?
Ibimus quaesitum: verum ne ipsi teneamur
Formido: quid ago? Da, Venus, consilium.”
A more pleasing example of his style, and this time perhaps original, is given by Cicero.  It is on the actor Roscius, who, when a boy, was renowned for his beauty, and is favourably compared with the rising orb of day:
“Constiteram exorientem Auroram forte salutans,
Cum subito e laeva Roscius exoritur.
Pace mihi liceat, caelestes, dicere vestra:
Mortalis visust pulcrior esse deo.”
This piece, as may be supposed, has met with imitators both in French and Italian literature. A very similar jeu d'esprit of PORCIUS LICINUS is quoted:
“Custodes ovium, teneraeque propaginis agnum,
Quaeritis ignem? ite huc: Quaeritis? ignis homo est.
Si digito attigero, incendam silvam simul omnem,
Omne pecus: flamma est omnia quae video.”
This Porcius wrote also on the history of literature. Some rather ill- natured lines on Terence are preserved in Suetonius.  He there implies that the young poet, with all his talent, could not keep out of poverty, a taunt which we have good reason for disbelieving as well as disapproving. Two lines on the rise of poetry at Rome deserve quotation—
“Poenico bello secundo Musa pinnato gradu
Intulit se bellicosam Romuli in gentem feram.”
A certain POMPILIUS is mentioned by Varro as having epigrammatic tastes; one distich that is preserved gives us no high notion of his powers—
“Pacvi  discipulus dicor: porro is fuit Enni:
Ennius Musarum: Pompilius clueor.”
Lastly, VALERIUS AEDITUUS, who is only known by the short notices in Varro and Gellius, wrote similar short pieces, two of which are preserved.
“Dicere cum conor curam tibi, Pamphila, cordis,
Quid mi abs te quaeram? verba labris abeunt
Per pectus miserum manat subito mihi sudor.
Si tacitus, subidus: duplo ideo pereo.”
AD PUERUM PHILEROTA.
“Quid faculam praefers, Phileros, qua nil opus nobis?
Ibimus, hoc lucet pectore flamma satis.
Illam non potis est vis saeva exstinguere venti,
Aut imber caelo candidus praecipitans.
At contra, hunc ignem Veneris, si non Venus ipsa,
Nulla est quae possit vis alia opprimare.”
We have quoted these pieces, not from their intrinsic merit, for they have little or none, but to show the painful process by which Latin versification was elaborated. All these must be referred to a date at least sixty years after Ennius, and yet the rhythm is scarcely at all improved. The great number of second-rate poets who wrought in the same laboratory did good work, in so far that they made the technical part less wearisome for poets like Lucretius and Catullus. With mechanical dexterity taste also slowly improved by the competing effort of many ordinary minds; but it did not make those giant strides which nothing but genius can achieve. The later developments of the Epigram will be considered in a subsequent book.