Gnaeus Naevius

Gnaeus Naevius

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Gnaeus Naevius was a Roman epic poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

 and dramatist of the Old Latin
Old Latin
Old Latin refers to the Latin language in the period before the age of Classical Latin; that is, all Latin before 75 BC...

 period. He had a notable literary career at Rome until his satiric comments delivered in comedy angered the Metelli family, one of whom was consul. After a sojourn in prison he recanted and was set free by the tribunes (who had the tribunician power, in essence the power of habeas corpus
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

). After a second offense he was exiled to Tunisia, where he wrote his own epitaph and committed suicide. His comedies were in the genre of Palliata Comoedia
Fabula palliata
Fabula palliata or Palliata are names assigned by the Romans to a genre of comedy that reworked in Latin the themes of Greek New Comedy. The genre began with the comedies of Livius Andronicus, who also initiated Roman literature and Roman drama...

, an adaptation of Greek New Comedy. A soldier in the Punic Wars
Punic Wars
The Punic Wars were a series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 B.C.E. to 146 B.C.E. At the time, they were probably the largest wars that had ever taken place...

, he was highly patriotic, inventing a new genre called Praetextae Fabulae
Praetexta
A Praetexta or Praetexta Fabula was a new genre of Roman tragedy innovated by Gnaeus Naevius, which dealt with the themes of historical Roman figures, instead of the conventional Greek myths. Subsequent writers of praetextae included Ennius, Pacuvius and Lucius Accius. The name refers to the toga...

, an extension of tragedy to Roman national figures or incidents, named after the Toga praetexta worn by high officials. Only fragments of several poems survive.

Biography


There is great uncertainty in regard to his life. From the expression of Gellius
Aulus Gellius
Aulus Gellius , was a Latin author and grammarian, who was probably born and certainly brought up in Rome. He was educated in Athens, after which he returned to Rome, where he held a judicial office...

, characterizing his epitaph as written in a vein of Campanian arrogance, it has been inferred that he was born in one of the Latin communities settled in Campania
Campania
Campania is a region in southern Italy. The region has a population of around 5.8 million people, making it the second-most-populous region of Italy; its total area of 13,590 km² makes it the most densely populated region in the country...

. But the phrase 'Campanian arrogance' seems to have been used proverbially for boastfulness; and, as there was a plebeian gens
Gens
In ancient Rome, a gens , plural gentes, referred to a family, consisting of all those individuals who shared the same nomen and claimed descent from a common ancestor. A branch of a gens was called a stirps . The gens was an important social structure at Rome and throughout Italy during the...

 Naevia in Rome
Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, it is quite as probable that he was by birth a Roman citizen. He served either in the Roman army or among the socii in the First Punic War
First Punic War
The First Punic War was the first of three wars fought between Ancient Carthage and the Roman Republic. For 23 years, the two powers struggled for supremacy in the western Mediterranean Sea, primarily on the Mediterranean island of Sicily and its surrounding waters but also to a lesser extent in...

, and thus must have reached manhood before 241.

His career as a dramatic author began with the exhibition of a drama in or about the year 235, and continued for thirty years. Towards the close he incurred the hostility of some of the nobility, especially, it is said, of the Metelli, by the attacks which he made upon them on the stage, and at their insistence he was imprisoned. After writing two plays during his imprisonment, in which he is said to have apologized for his former rudeness, he was liberated through the interference of the tribunes of the commons; but he had shortly afterwards to retire from Rome (in or about 204) to Utica
Utica, Tunisia
Utica is an ancient city northwest of Carthage near the outflow of the Medjerda River into the Mediterranean Sea, traditionally considered to be the first colony founded by the Phoenicians in North Africa...

. It may have been during his exile, when withdrawn from his active career as a dramatist, that he composed or completed his poem on the First Punic War. Probably his latest composition was his own epitaph, written in saturnian verse
Saturnian (poetry)
Saturnian meter or verse is an old Latin and Italic poetic form, of which the principles of versification have become obscure. Only 132 complete uncontroversial verses survive. 95 literary verses and partial fragments have been preserved as quotations in later grammatical writings, as well as 37...

:

Immortales mortales si foret fas flere,

flerent diuae Camenae Naeuium poetam.

itaque, postquam est Orchi traditus thesauro,

obliti sunt Romani loquier lingua Latina.




If immortals were allowed to weep for mortals,

the divine Muses would weep for the poet Naevius.

And so after he was delivered to the strongbox of Orc[h]us,

Romans forgot how to speak the Latin language.



If these lines were dictated by a jealousy of the growing ascendancy of Ennius
Ennius
Quintus Ennius was a writer during the period of the Roman Republic, and is often considered the father of Roman poetry. He was of Calabrian descent...

, the life of Naevius must have been prolonged considerably beyond 204, the year in which Ennius began his career as an author in Rome. As distinguished from Livius Andronicus
Livius Andronicus
Lucius Livius Andronicus , not to be confused with the later historian Livy, was a Greco-Roman dramatist and epic poet of the Old Latin period. He began as an educator in the service of a noble family at Rome by translating Greek works into Latin, including Homer’s Odyssey. They were meant at...

, Naevius was a native Italian, not a Greek; he was also an original writer, not a mere adapter or translator. If it is due to Livius that the forms of Latin literature were, from the first, molded on those of Greek literature, it is due to Naevius that much of its spirit and substance was of native growth.

Works


Like Livius, Naevius professed to adapt Greek tragedies and comedies to the Roman stage. Among the titles of his tragedies are Aegisthus, Lycurgus, Andromache or Hector Proficiscens, Equus Troianus, the last named being performed at the opening of Pompey
Pompey
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey or Pompey the Great , was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic...

's theatre (55 BC). The national cast of his genius and temper was shown by his deviating from his Greek originals, and producing at least two specimens of the fabula praetexta
Praetexta
A Praetexta or Praetexta Fabula was a new genre of Roman tragedy innovated by Gnaeus Naevius, which dealt with the themes of historical Roman figures, instead of the conventional Greek myths. Subsequent writers of praetextae included Ennius, Pacuvius and Lucius Accius. The name refers to the toga...

(national drama), one founded on the childhood of Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus are Rome's twin founders in its traditional foundation myth, although the former is sometimes said to be the sole founder...

 (Lupus or Alimonium Romuli et Remi), the other called Clastidium, which celebrated the victory of Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Marcus Claudius Marcellus , five times elected as consul of the Roman Republic, was an important Roman military leader during the Gallic War of 225 BC and the Second Punic War...

 over the Celts (222 BC).
But it was as a writer of comedy that he was most famous, most productive and most original. While he is never ranked as a writer of tragedy
Tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

 with Ennius, Pacuvius
Pacuvius
Marcus Pacuvius was the greatest of the tragic poets of ancient Rome prior to Lucius Accius.He was the nephew and pupil of Ennius, by whom Roman tragedy was first raised to a position of influence and dignity...

, or Accius
Lucius Accius
Lucius Accius , or Lucius Attius, was a Roman tragic poet and literary scholar. The son of a freedman, Accius was born at Pisaurum in Umbria, in 170 BC...

, he is placed in the canon of the grammar
Grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

ian Volcacius Sedigitus third (immediately after Caecilius
Caecilius Statius
Statius Caecilius, also known as Caecilius Statius was a Roman comic poet.A contemporary and intimate friend of Ennius, he was born in the territory of the Insubrian Gauls, probably in Mediolanum, and was probably taken as a prisoner to Rome , during the great Gallic war...

 and Plautus
Plautus
Titus Maccius Plautus , commonly known as "Plautus", was a Roman playwright of the Old Latin period. His comedies are the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature. He wrote Palliata comoedia, the genre devised by the innovator of Latin literature, Livius Andronicus...

) in the rank of Roman comic authors. He is there characterized as ardent and impetuous in character and style. He is also appealed to, with Plautus and Ennius, as a master of his art in one of the prologues of Terence
Terence
Publius Terentius Afer , better known in English as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on,...

. His comedy, like that of Plautus, seems to have been rather a free adaptation of his originals than a rude copy of them, as those of Livius probably were, or an artistic copy like those of Terence. The titles of most of them, like those of Plautus, and unlike those of Caecilius and Terence, are Latin, not Greek. He drew from the writers of the old political comedy of Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

, as well as from the new comedy of manners, and he attempted to make the stage at Rome, as it had been at Athens, an arena of political and personal warfare. A strong spirit of partisanship is recognized in more than one of the fragments; and this spirit is thoroughly popular and adverse to the senatorial ascendancy which became more and more confirmed with the progress of the second Punic war
Second Punic War
The Second Punic War, also referred to as The Hannibalic War and The War Against Hannibal, lasted from 218 to 201 BC and involved combatants in the western and eastern Mediterranean. This was the second major war between Carthage and the Roman Republic, with the participation of the Berbers on...

. Besides his attack on the Metelli and other members of the aristocracy, the great Scipio
Scipio Africanus
Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus , also known as Scipio Africanus and Scipio the Elder, was a general in the Second Punic War and statesman of the Roman Republic...

 is the object of a censorious criticism on account of a youthful escapade attributed to him. Among the few lines still remaining from his lost comedies, we seem to recognize the idiomatic force and rapidity of movement characteristic of the style of Plautus. There is also found that love of alliteration
Alliteration
In language, alliteration refers to the repetition of a particular sound in the first syllables of Three or more words or phrases. Alliteration has historically developed largely through poetry, in which it more narrowly refers to the repetition of a consonant in any syllables that, according to...

 which is a marked feature in all the older Latin poets down even to Lucretius
Lucretius
Titus Lucretius Carus was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is an epic philosophical poem laying out the beliefs of Epicureanism, De rerum natura, translated into English as On the Nature of Things or "On the Nature of the Universe".Virtually no details have come down concerning...

.

He was not only the oldest native dramatist, but the first author of an epic poem (Bellum Punicum) which, by combining the representation of actual contemporary history with a mythical background, may be said to have created the Roman type of epic poetry
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

. The poem was one continuous work, but was divided into seven books by a grammarian of a later age. The earlier part of it treated of the mythical adventures of Aeneas
Aeneas
Aeneas , in Greco-Roman mythology, was a Trojan hero, the son of the prince Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite. His father was the second cousin of King Priam of Troy, making Aeneas Priam's second cousin, once removed. The journey of Aeneas from Troy , which led to the founding a hamlet south of...

 in Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, Carthage
Carthage
Carthage , implying it was a 'new Tyre') is a major urban centre that has existed for nearly 3,000 years on the Gulf of Tunis, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC...

, and Italy, and borrowed from the interview of Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 and Thetis
Thetis
Silver-footed Thetis , disposer or "placer" , is encountered in Greek mythology mostly as a sea nymph or known as the goddess of water, one of the fifty Nereids, daughters of the ancient one of the seas with shape-shifting abilities who survives in the historical vestiges of most later Greek myths...

 in the first book of the Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

the idea of the interview of Jupiter and Venus
Venus (mythology)
Venus is a Roman goddess principally associated with love, beauty, sex,sexual seduction and fertility, who played a key role in many Roman religious festivals and myths...

; which Virgil
Virgil
Publius Vergilius Maro, usually called Virgil or Vergil in English , was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. He is known for three major works of Latin literature, the Eclogues , the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid...

 has made one of the cardinal passages in the Aeneid
Aeneid
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter...

. The later part treated of the events of the First Punic War in the style of a metrical chronicle. An important influence in Roman literature and belief, which had its origin in Sicily, first appeared in this poem: the recognition of the mythical connection of Aeneas and his Trojans
Troy
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

 with the foundation of Rome. The few remaining fragments produce the impression of vivid and rapid narrative, to which the flow of the native Saturnian verse
Saturnian (poetry)
Saturnian meter or verse is an old Latin and Italic poetic form, of which the principles of versification have become obscure. Only 132 complete uncontroversial verses survive. 95 literary verses and partial fragments have been preserved as quotations in later grammatical writings, as well as 37...

, in contradistinction to the weighty and complex structure of the hexameter
Hexameter
Hexameter is a metrical line of verse consisting of six feet. It was the standard epic metre in classical Greek and Latin literature, such as in the Iliad and Aeneid. Its use in other genres of composition include Horace's satires, and Ovid's Metamorphoses. According to Greek mythology, hexameter...

, was naturally adapted.

The impression we get of the man is that, whether or not he actually enjoyed the full rights of Roman citizenship, he was a vigorous representative of the bold combative spirit of the ancient Roman commons. He was one of those who made the Latin language into a great organ of literature. The phrases still quoted from him have nothing of an antiquated sound, though they have a genuinely idiomatic ring. As a dramatist he worked more in the spirit of Plautus than of Ennius, Pacuvius, Accius, or Terence
Terence
Publius Terentius Afer , better known in English as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on,...

; but the great Umbria
Umbria
Umbria is a region of modern central Italy. It is one of the smallest Italian regions and the only peninsular region that is landlocked.Its capital is Perugia.Assisi and Norcia are historical towns associated with St. Francis of Assisi, and St...

n humorist is separated from his older contemporary, not only by his breadth of comic power, but by his general attitude of moral and political indifference. The power of Naevius was the more genuine Italian gift, the power of satiric criticism which was employed in making men ridiculous; not, like that of Plautus, in extracting amusement from the humours, follies and eccentricities of life. Although our means of forming a fair estimate of Naevius are scanty, all that we do know of him leads to the conclusion that he was far from being the least among the makers of Roman literature, and that with the loss of his writings there was lost a vein of national feeling and genius which rarely reappears.

Surviving Titles And Fragments

  • Acontizomenos (a comedy)
  • Aesiona (a tragedy)
  • Agitatoria (a comedy)
  • Agrypnuntes (a comedy)
  • Appella (a comedy)
  • Astiologa (a comedy)
  • Clastidium (a fabula praetexta)
  • Colax ("The Flatterer," a comedy)
  • Corollaria ("The Garlands," a comedy)
  • Danae (a tragedy)
  • Dementes ("Crazy People," a comedy)
  • Dolus ("The Trick," a comedy)
  • Figulus ("The Potter," a comedy)
  • Glaucoma ("The Cataract," a comedy)
  • Hariolus ("The Fortune-Teller," comedy)
  • Hector Proficiscens ("Hector Setting Forth," tragedy)
  • Leo ("The Lion," a comedy)
  • Lycurgus (a tragedy)
  • Nautae ("Sailors", a comedy)
  • Paelex ("The Concubine," or "Mistress", comedy)
  • Personata ("Lady Wearing a Mask," comedy)
  • Projectus (a comedy)
  • Quadrigemini ("The Quadruplets," a comedy)
  • Romulus, or Alimonium Romuli et Remi ("The Nourishing of Romulus and Remus", a fabula praetexta)
  • Stalagmus (a comedy)
  • Stigmatias (a comedy)
  • Tarentilla (a comedy)
  • Triphallus (a comedy)

  • See also


    • Old Latin
      Old Latin
      Old Latin refers to the Latin language in the period before the age of Classical Latin; that is, all Latin before 75 BC...

    • Saturnian (poetry)
      Saturnian (poetry)
      Saturnian meter or verse is an old Latin and Italic poetic form, of which the principles of versification have become obscure. Only 132 complete uncontroversial verses survive. 95 literary verses and partial fragments have been preserved as quotations in later grammatical writings, as well as 37...

    • Theatre of ancient Rome
      Theatre of ancient Rome
      The theatre of ancient Rome was a thriving and diverse art form, ranging from festival performances of street theatre, nude dancing, and acrobatics, to the staging of Plautus's broadly appealing situation comedies, to the high-style, verbally elaborate tragedies of Seneca...


    Editions

    • M. Barchiesi. "Nevi epico; storia, interpretazione, edizione critica dei frammenti del primo epos latino", Padova, 1962
    • Fragments (dramas) in Lucian Müller
      Lucian Müller
      Lucian Müller was a German classical scholar.-Biography:Müller was born in Merseburg in the Province of Saxony. After graduating from Humboldt University, Berlin and the University of Halle, he lived for five years in the Netherlands, working on his Geschichte der klassischen Philologie in den...

      , Livi Andronici et Gn. Naevi Fabularum Reliquiae (1885), and (Bellum Punicum) in his edition of Ennius (1884).
    • E.H. Warmington, Remains of old Latin, vol. II, Livius Andronicus, Naevius, Pacuvius, Accius, 1936.
    • Naeuius Poeta. Introduzione bibliografica. Testo dei frammenti e commento, éd. E. V. Marmorale, Florence, 2e éd. 1950.
    • Alfred Klotz, Scaenicorum Romanorum fragmenta, vol. I, Tragicorum fragmenta, München, 1953.

    Monographs

    • M. J. Berchem (1861).
    • D. de Moor (1877).
    • Mommsen
      Theodor Mommsen
      Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen was a German classical scholar, historian, jurist, journalist, politician, archaeologist, and writer generally regarded as the greatest classicist of the 19th century. His work regarding Roman history is still of fundamental importance for contemporary research...

      , History of Rome, bk. iii, ch. 24.
    • V. Crivellari, Quae praecipue hausit Vergilius ex Naevio et Ennio (1889). (On Virgil's indebtedness to Naevius and Ennius.)
    • Thelma B. De Graff, Naevian Studies, New York, 1931.
    • M. Barchiesi. Nevio epico, Padua, 1962.
    • M. Barchiesi. La Tarentilla revisitata : studi su Nevio comico, Pisa, 1978.

    External links