Sander M. Goldberg Constructing Literature in the Roman Republic Poetry and Its Reception 2005

262  Download (0)

Full text


How the Romans came to have a literature, how that literature reflected native and foreign impulses, and how it formed a legacy for subsequent generations have become central questions in the cultural history of the Republic.Constructing Literature in the Roman Republicexamines the problem of Rome’s literary development by shifting attention from Rome’s writers to its readers. The literature we traditionally call “early” is seen to be a product less of the mid-Republic, when poetic texts began to circulate, than of the late Republic, when they were systematically collected, canonized, and put to new social and artistic uses. Imposing on texts the name and function of literature was thus often a retrospective activity. This book explores the development of this literary sensibility from the Romans’ early interest in epic and drama, through the invention of satire and the eventual enshrining of books in the public collections that became so important to Horace and Ovid.


Literature in the

Roman Republic



cambridge university press

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, S˜ao Paulo

Cambridge University Press

40West20th Street, New York,ny 10011-4211,usa

Information on this title:


Cambridge University Press2005

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,

no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published2005

Printed in the United States of America

A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Goldberg, Sander M.

Constructing literature in the Roman Republic : poetry and its reception / Sander M. Goldberg. p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references.

isbn 0-521-85461-x(hardcover)

1. Latin poetry – History and criticism. 2. Rome – History – Republic,510–265 b.c. 3. Nationalism and literature – Rome. 4. Poetry – Appreciation – Rome.

5. Authors and readers – Rome. 6. Books and reading – Rome.

7. Rome – In literature. I. Title.

pa6047.g65 2005 871′.0109358– dc22 2005013006

isbn-13 978-0-521-85461-0hardback

isbn-10 0-521-85461-xhardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy ofurls for external or third-party Internet Web sites referred to in this publication


Preface pageix

Introduction . . . .1

1. The Muse Arrives . . . . 20

2. Constructing Literature . . . .52

3. Comedy at Work . . . .87

4. Dido’s Furies . . . .115

5. Enter Satire . . . .144

6. Roman Helicon . . . .178

Retrospective . . . .204

Bibliography 213

Index of Passages Discussed 241

General Index 244


this study developed from the nagging sense, increasingly common among students of the Roman world, that the traditional story told of Roman literature’s origin and early development is deeply unsat-isfactory. Challenges to the old verities have become too numerous, too insistent, and too convincing to keep the old story in place, but many of the alternatives now being proposed seem to me to be grounded too deeply in modern ideology and not deeply enough in ancient evi-dence. Like most New Historicists, I want to speak with the dead, but I am more eager to hear what they have to say than to tell them what I think it means. The following pages therefore set the primary evidence above the debates being waged over it. Scholarly opinions come and go (and sometimes come again), but the evidence endures. My presentation reflects that priority, quoting and discussing Roman sources in the text and being as clear as possible about why I read them as I do, but relegating the majority of my scholarly debts, disagreements, and suggestions to the notes. Yet this is not a strictly empirical study. It owes much to theorists, in particular to Stanley Fish for its definition of literature and to Pierre Bourdieu for its understanding of literature’s role in society, and its way of reading Latin poetry is inevitably influenced by the work of Giorgio Pasquali and his successors. Though I am obviously not one to unpack and interrogate when I can analyze and ask, this inquiry remains in all significant respects, by choice and not just by necessity, a product of its time.

Its approach to literary history is nevertheless a little unconventional, and its findings occasionally run counter to one or another commonly held view. A new perspective may compel even familiar landmarks to reveal unfamiliar aspects. I shall be arguing here that Romans of the late Republic had both the concept of and a word for “literature,” but that



imposing this name and function on certain works was often a retro-spective activity. The Republican literature we traditionally call “early” could be as much a product of the late Republic, when texts were first systematically collected and put to new social and artistic uses, as of the mid-Republic, when works were first composed with writing in mind. The literary history that follows therefore pays rather more attention to readers than is often the case. Cicero, the most fully documented of Roman readers, will loom especially large. Horace will acquire his great-est significance as a reader of earlier poetry, and what remains in purpose and in essence a study of Republican literature will nevertheless draw its final argument from the most notorious of Augustan exiles, who found all too much time to reflect from a distance on the literary life of Rome. One other oddity deserves mention. The process of reading and recep-tion in antiquity was of course continuous, but the evidence left of those activities is only intermittent. The following chapters focus on what sur-vives, centering on those points in the process that prove most congenial to investigation. One consequence of this decision is a privileging of poetry over prose. Cicero’s sense oflitterae no doubt embraced prose as well as verse, and even Cato’sOrigines, a pioneering prose work of the 150s, was keenly aware of it own cultural significance. Yet the debts of later Romans to early poetry are, with a few notable exceptions, much easier to trace than their debts to early prose, and the reception of poetry thus claims priority here. The nature of the evidence also explains why, though I have stressed continuities from one chapter to the next, there are obvious disjunctions as well. I can only build with the material at hand.

A continuous argument, vaguely chronological despite its avowed dis-trust of chronology, runs through these chapters, but the need for back-reference and recollection allows them to be read separately. Since the argument can be complex, a little repetition and an occasional appeal to the familiar seem a small price to pay for clarity. Ancient authors are gen-erally cited from their Oxford editions, the significant exceptions being Horace and Ovid, who are quoted from the most recent Teubner texts of Shackleton Bailey (1985) and Hall (1995) respectively, and Cicero’s correspondence, cited from the Loeb editions of D. R. Shackleton Bailey, though I have maintained the traditional numbering. The sources for fragmentary texts are indicated in the notes. Translations are my own. As inevitable with a project of this scale, my debts to individuals and institutions are considerable, and they are a pleasure to recall. The inves-tigation began in1998during a term of relative calm as a visitor to the


School of Classics at the University of Leeds, which provided a congenial base for what became an extensive operation. Aspects of its argument have over the years excited – the verb is deliberately ambiguous – audiences from St. Andrews and Exeter to Dunedin and Hobart, Freiburg and Pisa to Charlottesville and Seattle, and I have learned a great deal, though perhaps not always enough, from the resulting exchanges. It is equally pleasant to acknowledge the fellowship support of the University of California’s Office of the President, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities for providing leave for writ-ing, and UCLA’s own Council on Research for a timely series of research grants. Finally, there are the many debts to individuals whose advice and encouragement, suggestions and objections, have not just made this study possible, but even made it fun. The two readers for Cambridge University Press will recognize my debt to them, as will Beatrice Rehl, as demanding and yet supportive an editor as any author could wish. I also owe much to John Barsby, Elaine Fantham, Rolando Ferri, Bob Kaster, J ¨org R ¨upke, and especially Erich Gruen, whose support over the years has meant far more than a mere dedication can adequately express.

Sander M. Goldberg Los Angeles



An English schoolmaster is shipwrecked on the West African coast. Carried inland by slave traders, he makes himself useful to the most powerful chief of Ife. There his old skills as scholar and teacher come to the fore, and, almost by accident, he launches one of the world’s great literatures when he translatesParadise Lostinto Yoruba and adapts the plays of Dryden for a local festival.


ho can imagine such a thing? prospero did not recast his books in Caliban’s language or subject them to Caliban’s service. Yet the Romans believed that something nearly this surprising actually happened in Italy in the third century B.C. when an educated Greek named Andronicus came to Rome as a slave, was taken in by the pow-erful family of the Livii Salinatores, and gave the Romans a literature by translating the Odyssey into Saturnian verse and staging the first Latin versions of Greek plays at the ludi Romani of 240.1 This account has been so often repeated, and the conscious use of Greek models is so characteristic a feature of subsequent Latin literature, that even now the full oddity of the story rarely attracts the attention it deserves. Was the Romans’ first literature really poetry of such foreign origin, the gift of freedmen like Andronicus and then Terence and of ambitious provincials


Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

like Naevius, Plautus, and Ennius? And, questions of historicity aside, why would Romans be willing to accept and to transmit so peculiar a story of their cultural heritage?

Alternatives should have been possible. The story that seized the Romans’ attention emphasizes differences at the expense of equally com-pelling similarities, and if other choices had been made by the tellers, a somewhat different story might well have developed in its place. In privileging the world of poetry over the world of prose, for exam-ple, the traditional account sets the mercenary work of Rome’s lower classes apart from the personally engaged products of its elite. The social gap between these two worlds of endeavor was considerable. Though Andronicus may have been a client of the Livii and the beneficiary of senatorial largesse, the first Roman to write a history in prose was him-self a Fabius and a senator, and the first to write one in Latin, Cato, was a consul and censor and a public figure for half a century.2 Nor was history the only prose genre to gain prominence among the elite. The oratory of senate and assembly was increasingly preserved in writ-ing and thus available for that range of uses that, as we shall see, began turning texts into “literature” in the second century. Cicero’sBrutusitself makes a powerful argument for the literary status of oratory and is thus increasingly appreciated by modern scholars as a serious work of literary history.3

Still more significant is the fact that prose and poetry were not as discrete in their practices and in their achievements as an emphasis on social distinctions might suggest and not only because poets and aris-tocrats sometimes met as patrons and clients. Prose, like poetry, could also be inspired and informed by Greek examples, and its development was closely intertwined with the poets’ achievements. The prologues of Terence, to cite one of our less problematic cases, exploit not just the stance but the very language of contemporary oratory, and the com-plexity of Terence’s style in turn prefigures the growing capabilities of Latin prose. Cato’sOrigines, to take a more ideologically charged exam-ple, appears to embrace in the150s an approach to Roman history that

2 Q. Fabius Pictor, the Senate’s emissary to Delphi after the defeat at Cannae in216, was apparently fluent in Greek and used it for his history (Liv.22.57.4–5,23.11.1–6; Plut.Fab.18.3; AppianHann.27), though his motives for doing so are much debated. See Gruen1984: 253–55, Momigliano1990: 88–108, Dillery2002, with extensive bibliography in Suerbaum2002:359–66.



can be traced back to Ennius’ Annales.4 The traditional story, however convenient, clearly comes at the expense of significant nuance and detail. Then again, nobody was ever fully at ease with it. Even Cicero, whose excursions into literary history did most to popularize the traditional account, knew perfectly well that the beginning of the evidence was not necessarily the beginning of the story. Greek poets, as he notes atBrutus

71, existed before Homer. The Roman situation was surely no different. There must have been poetry before Andronicus, too, and Cicero’s regret over its loss has become important testimony for the fact of its prior existence.

Atque utinam exstarent illa carmina, quae multis saeculis ante suam aetatem in epulis esse cantitata a singulis convivis de clarorum virorum laudibus in Originibus scriptum reliquit Cato!

If only those songs survived in which, according to Cato in hisOrigines, banqueters many generations before his own time sang in turn the

praises of famous men! (Brut.75)

A reference in the Tusculan Disputationsto the same report implies that Cicero understood these archaic songs to have employed traditional melodies rather than to have been improvised anew for each occasion.5

Gravissimus auctor in Originibus dixit Cato morem apud maiores hunc epularum fuisse, ut deinceps qui accubarent canerent ad tibiam clarorum virorum laudes atque virtutes: ex quo perspicuum est et cantus tum fuisse discriptos vocum sonis et carmina.

That highly esteemed authority Cato said in his Origines that it had been the custom among our ancestors for those gathered around the table to sing in turn to the pipe the praises and deeds of famous men. It is thus clear that there were then tunes assigned for the sounds of voices as well as lyrics.

4 For Terence, Goldberg1986:3160,170202, and for Cato’s debt to Ennius, Goldberg 2006and Sciarrino2006, important even if we do not accept the argument of Cardinali 1988that Cato’s work began with a hexameter echo.


Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

Varro, probably also drawing on Cato’s testimony, imagines a formal tradition of praise poetry that was performed in the context of banquets.6

<sic aderant etiam> in conviviis pueri modesti ut cantarent carmina antiqua, in quibus laudes erant maiorum, et assa voce et cum tibicine.

Respectable boys<were present> at banquets to sing both unaccom-panied and to the pipe ancient songs containing the praises of our ancestors.

These songs, evidently too antique a practice for even Cato’s direct expe-rience, are the so-calledcarmina convivaliaon which, in the early nine-teenth century, the historian B. G. Niebuhr based his famous theory of heroic lays. Niebuhr found in this testimony hints of a lost tradition of ballads, which passed from citizen to citizen, generation to generation as “the common property of the nation” and could help explain the sur-vival of archaic legends in the Roman historical tradition. Thecarminaas he understood them therefore represented a valuable element of popular tradition in a record otherwise dominated by patrician annals.7

Niebuhr’s theory, controversial from the outset, today finds few sup-porters. Greek parallels suggest a lyric rather than narrative character for the kind of banquet song Cato recalls, and historians have found more satisfactory ways to explain the survival of Rome’s earliest traditions.8Yet thecarmina convivaliaremain of interest. Their mere existence has never

6 Var. ap. Non.1078(

De vita pop. Rom. fr.84Riposati). Peruzzi1998:145–46claims, I think unconvincingly, thatpueri modestimeans specifically “musikalische Knaben.” The testimony of Cicero and Varro is now generally read as complementary rather than contradictory. See Riposati1939:187–92and Zorzetti1990b:292–93. The context of Cato’s remark is unknown. It is commonly assigned to book7, but his preface is a likely inference from the verbal echo at Cic.Planc.66: “Etenim M. Catonis illud quod in principio scripsit Originum suarum semper magnificum et praeclarum putavi, clarorum hominum atque magnorum non minus otii quam negotii rationem exstare oportere.” See Cugusi1994for further arguments along this line.


Niebuhr1828:209–10: “Die G¨aste selbst sangen der Reihe nach; also ward erwartet dass die Lieder, als Gemeingut der Nation, keinem freyen B¨urger unbekannt w¨aren.” A century later, Schanz-Hosius was still fixing Niebuhr’s idea in Roman literary history: “Ueber den Inhalt der Lieder sind uns keine genaueren Mitteilungen ¨uberliefert. Aber die r ¨omische Geschichte bietet uns eine Reihe der sch ¨onsten Sagen dar; diese m ¨ussen doch einmal von Dichtern geschaffen worden sein. Wir werden nicht irren, wenn wir annehmen, daß sie mit den Tischliedern zusammenh¨angen” (1927:23). For the theory’s appeal to students of GermanHeldensage, see von See1971:61–95. 8 Decisive refutation from the historiographic side came from Momigliano1957. Cf.


been questioned: that poetry preceded history as a record ofres gestaeand that dinner parties provide congenial occasions for poetic performance have been commonplace assumptions since antiquity.9The focus of atten-tion, however, has been shifting. An expanding knowledge of early Italy’s material culture has returned thecarminato prominence by changing the complexion of what was once largely a philological debate over their place in literary history. Some of the evidence being used is incontro-vertible. A wine trade, for example, is now well attested for Latium in the seventh century, and imported drinking vessels dated to the later eighth century have been discovered in domestic contexts in Etruria.10The sig-nificance of this information, however, is not equally clear. Whether such facts mean that early Romans had a specifically “sympotic” culture and that the lostcarminawere performed at symposia organized in the Greek style remain problematic inferences. Archaeological evidence also seems to confirm that Italians did not initially recline on couches and did not segregate the sexes in the Greek manner.11 Nor are the social connota-tions of the Greek symposium entirely clear even in Greek contexts. To claim both that Italians had that same institution and that it meant the same thing to them as it did to the Greeks requires a bolder argument than everyone is prepared to accept.12

A significant level of literacy is nevertheless traceable to at least the sixth century B.C., and linguistic evidence has gradually strengthened the case for an oral poetics in archaic times that could have shaped important

9 Thus Tac.Ger.2: “Celebrant [Germani] carminibus antiquis, quod unum apud illos memoriae et annalium genus est . . . ” Cf. Serv. ad Aen. 1.641, 7.206. Momigliano 1957: 109–11thought the carminamentioned by Cato may have survived into the fourth century.


Gras1985: 367–70, Rathje1990, and more broadly Cornell1986:64–68, Horsfall 1993a:791–8, and Zorzetti1991:312–15. Zaccaria Ruggiu2003, clearly an important study, appeared too late for consideration here.


Rathje1990:284–85, confirming the testimony of Ov.Fast.6.305–6, V. Max.2.1.2, and vit. p. r.29–30 (Riposati). Cf. the skepticism of Holloway 1994:191– 92. The picture is further complicated by testimony of early Roman actions to curb drinking by women: V. Max.2.1.5b,6.3.9, Plin.Nat.14.89.90, Gell.10.23.3, with Gras1985:386–90.



Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

elements of what eventually became the Roman literary heritage.13Add to this the unambiguous ancient testimony for hymns and dances in ritual contexts, and it becomes clear that verbal art, along with opportunities to perform it and means to preserve it, was deeply rooted in Roman culture for generations before Livius Andronicus.14 Nevio Zorzetti must be right in claiming that “the old idea of the typical Roman character, practical and unpoetic, is simply inadequate, besides being unhistorical” (1990b:295).

In truth, though, that “old idea” was never so widely held. Niebuhr, lecturing on Roman literature in the mid-1820s, had already made some-thing much like Zorzetti’s claim:15

Let no one imagine that the Romans were barbarians, before they adopted the civilisation of the Greeks: their works of art and their build-ings prove the contrary. That people . . . must assuredly have attained to a high degree of intellectual culture, and cannot be conceived to have been without some kind of literature, though, of course, different from that of the Greeks.

What did change profoundly in the generations between Niebuhr and Zorzetti were the attitude toward Greek culture’s influence on the Romans and the direction of the scholarly gaze. For Niebuhr, deeply influenced by J.G. Herder, the earliest Roman traditions had of necessity to be Italic. Beneath that confident “of course” in the last sentence of Niebuhr’s declaration lies Herder’s insistence that a viable literature was rooted in the experience of the people. Anything else was necessarily insubstantial (Luftblase).16To endure, even an aristocratic literature could

13 On literacy: Cornell1991:2432, Poucet1989, and more generally Horsfall1994. For the contributions of historical linguistics to the Romans’ literary prehistory, see Costa2000:66–79.


So Cic.Tusc.4.3,de Or.3.197,Lg.2.22, though Zorzetti1991:312–18goes too far in adducing “a unified culture ofcarmina” from such evidence and identifying it with Greek influence. The conclusion atde Or.3.197, “maxime autem a Graecia vetere celebrata” implies a significant difference at least of degree between Greek and Roman practice.


Niebuhr1870:14. These lectures, delivered from1826–29, were published posthu-mously from students’ notes. The English edition of Schmitz quoted here is an inde-pendent, fuller witness, not a translation of theVortr¨age ¨uber r¨omische Geschichtepublished by M. Isler in1848.



neither precede nor ignore popular tradition. This was why Niebuhr would go on in his lectures to praise Theocritus – the idylls “grew out of popular song, and hence his poems have a genuineness, truth, and nationality” – while disparaging the Eclogues for creating “something which could not prosper in a Roman soil.”17This is now, to say the least, a very old-fashioned style of argument. Roman literary achievements are no longer thought to stand or fall on their perceived independence from Greek models. Modern scholarship is so much more appreciative of Vergil, not to mention of Plautus and Terence, in part because it is willing to posit a deeper and earlier penetration of Greek culture into Italy than Niebuhr ever envisioned and to accept, even to admire, the consequences of its influence.

Scholarship is also more ready to focus on the actions of Rome’s elite and to treat literary activity as an aristocratic phenomenon. Thus the con-vivial poetry that Niebuhr saw as a manifestation of popular tradition and the “Gemeingut der Nation” becomes for Zorzetti “the direct expression of aristocratic wisdom.”18 The possibility that Roman aristocrats had a rich cultural life from quite early times and were so receptive to Greek influences in the crucial third century because they hadlongbeen recep-tive to them is today neither an improbable nor an undesirable idea to contemplate. Whatever Andronicus actually did for the Senate and the Roman people in240B.C., it was surely not to create a literature out of nothing.

What really happened in the third century is not, however, the focus of this book, nor will it add to the stock of conjecture about Rome’s preliterary culture. Ancient truths may yet be recovered as new archaeo-logical evidence and new theoretical perspectives join with philoarchaeo-logical rigor in pursuit of that distant past, but their progress is not likely to be quick. Consider Livy’s famous digression on the origin of the ludi scaenici, which may stand as a sobering example of the difficulties such

(Herder1982:286). For the concepts ofVolkandNationin Herder, see Barnard1965: 73–76.


Niebuhr 1870: 661. Cf. Lessing1962 (1766) 96–97, contrasting the artificiality of Aeneas’ shield (“ein fremdes B¨achlein”) and the naturalness of Achilles’ (“Zuwachs des eigenen fruchtbaren Bodens”). Then again, Horace too had some hesitation about theEcloguesor at least about the preciosity they might encourage. See Zetzel2002. 18


Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

inquiries face. Livy’s account undoubtedly contains important evidence for the history of Roman drama, but it has defied a century and more of intense scrutiny.19 Nothing about the passage is clear. Its association of the earlyludiwith an outbreak of plague in364B.C. is unusual, perhaps unhistorical, and almost certainly colored by Livy’s own antitheatrical bias.20 The central role he assigns the Roman iuventus for motivating change is vague and problematic, while the story of Andronicus mim-ingcantica when his voice failed is scarcely credible.21 New finds from Etruria or Latium may someday cast light on the Etruscanludionesat the center of these developments, and a better understanding of what Livy called musical medleys (“impletae modis saturae”) may yet help us explain how Andronicus could find actors in third-century Rome equal to the task of performing his new Latin scripts, but good luck and great effort will be needed to produce what may even then be only a small gain in knowledge.

More yielding to immediate inquiry, and equally relevant to the prob-lem of Rome’s literary origins, is the reception of archaic traditions by the later Romans who first constructed a literary history – and indeed, defined a literature – out of the earlier remains. Because the literary his-tory of the Republic as we tell it today is largely a first-century shis-tory, it is worth paying more attention than is customary to how and why first-century Romans told it as they did. This means understanding Romans of the late Republic as both users and shapers of their literary heritage. That is itself a complex task since the textual evidence of early times inevitably comes wrapped in the arguments of later ones, and not every source of later distortion is as easily recognized as Livy’s bias against theludi(“ab sano initio . . . in hanc vix opulentis regnis tolerabilem insaniam”). We work with secondhand and synthetic evidence and must constantly be aware that the more we build upon it, the more likely we are to magnify


Liv.7.2.3–13. Important recent discussions include Bernstein1998:119–29, Feldherr 1998: 178–87, and Oakley 1998: 40–58, with extensive bibliography provided by Suerbaum2002:51–57.


Liv. 7.2.3 says only “dicuntur,” followed a little later by “dicitur.” Feldherr 1998: 183–85notes the inefficacy of theludias a response to plague. Livy’s source is widely, though not universally, thought to be Varro, an uncertainty that makes his integration of the antiquarian excursus and historical narrative especially problematic.



its inherent distortions.22 The resulting dilemma is well known to soci-ologists, as Pierre Bourdieu observes (1990b:102):

However far one goes back in a scholarly tradition, there is nothing that can be treated as a pure document for ethnology . . . It’s well known that the corpus which the ethnologist constitutes, merely by virtue of the fact that it is systematically recorded, totalized and synchronized . . . is already, in itself, an artefact: no native masters as such the complete sys-tem of relations that the interpreter has to constitute for the purposes of decipherment. But that is even truer of the recording carried out by the story told in a literate culture, not to mention those sociologically monstrous corpora that are constituted by drawing on works from alto-gether different periods. The temporal gap is not the only thing at stake: indeed, one may have to deal, in one and the same work, with semantic strata from different ages and levels, which the text synchronizes even though they correspond to different generations and different usages of the original material.

The carmina convivalia become precisely such a “sociologically mon-strous corpus” when their reconstruction fails to distinguish sufficiently between the content and the context of the testimony used and to con-sider how the context influences its content. The methodological issue is important and worth a closer look, since no evidence of Rome’s early cultural heritage comes to us independent of later filters. A famous scrap of testimony illustrates the point quite well. It comes, as so often in matters of early literary history, from Cicero.

First-century Romans accepted as a matter of fact that the Greeks’ literary achievement had long outstripped their own. That concession followed comfortably, as Cicero says in his introduction to theTusculan Disputations, from the belief that early Romans, with so many other achievements to their credit, had never tried to rival the Greeks in this area.23There was therefore no serious poetry at Rome until the time of


Contrast the quality of the evidence available to Zorzetti1990b with what is available to Ford2002:24–45 in discussing the Greek symposium and its cultural impact. A Roman equivalent to Ford’s kind of analysis thus seems beyond our capabilities. 23


Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

Andronicus, and even then it was not valued highly, as Cato is once more called upon to witness:

Sero igitur a nostris poetae vel cogniti vel recepti. quamquam est in Originibussolitos esse in epulis canere convivas ad tibicinem de clarorum hominum virtutibus, honorem tamen huic generi non fuisse declarat oratio Catonis, in qua obiecit ut probrum M. Nobiliori, quod is in provinciam poetas duxisset; duxerat autem consul ille in Aetoliam, ut scimus, Ennium. quo minus igitur honoris erat poetis, eo minora studia fuerunt, nec tamen, si qui magnis ingeniis in eo genere exstiterunt, non satis Graecorum gloriae responderunt.

Poets thus received late recognition or welcome from our country-men. Although we find in the Origines that guests around the table were accustomed to sing to the pipe about the deeds of famous men, Cato’s speech in which he criticized M. Nobilior for taking poets to his province (the consul had in fact, as we know, taken Ennius to Aetolia) nevertheless declares that there was no honor in this sort of activity. And so the less poets were honored, the less attention was paid to them, although those whose great talent enabled them to stand out in that activity nevertheless matched the glory of the Greeks. (Tusc.1.3) Although ostensibly straightforward, Cicero’s argument here – and it is an argument, not an exposition – actually conflates and distorts three distinct levels of witness. There is the state of poetry in early Rome, what Cato in the second century said in hisOriginesabout banquet songs and what he said in a speech attacking Fulvius Nobilior, and finally there is Cicero’s combination of Cato’s statements for his own purpose a century and more after their original articulation. Though some of the words in the passage are certainly Cato’s, the association of ideas is Cicero’s, which means that these relics of second-century polemic are preserved in a matrix of first-century argument. They are all too well integrated into that argument, which means that as evidence of earlier times, Cicero’s account is seriously jumbled and unhistorical. This becomes obvious as soon as we begin separating its levels of testimony.

Cicero himself certainly has Ennius’Annales in mind when thinking here about poetry: the activity in question seems to embrace both the archaiccarminaand the epic. It was a natural association for Cicero.24The



more detailed version on this argument about literary progress atBrutus

71–76, for example, explicitly evokes the archaiccarminaof Cato’sOrigines

as the first step in epic’s rise, and Cicero knew perfectly well thatAnnales

15celebrated Nobilior’s Aetolian campaign and climaxed the first edition of the poem with his restoration of the Aedes Herculis Musarum using Ambracian spoils. It was therefore logical for him to assume that Cato, whose hostility to Fulvius was well known, objected on these grounds to his patronage of Ennius. The problem with this line of association is that the encomiastic tendencies ofAnnales15were probably not at issue in Cato’s speech attacking Fulvius Nobilior. Cato did not scruple there to recall the contested Aetolian triumph of187, but his immediate target was Fulvius’ censorship of179.25 The speech is therefore dated to178. The Annales project probably began about 184, after the poet’s return from Ambracia, but it was never the sole claim to his attention. Ennius continued to write plays and satires into the170s, as well as a hexameter poem about fish (the Hedyphagetica). He also had to research some five hundred years of Roman history and develop a technique for creating viable epic hexameters in Latin. If, as seems likely, Ennius wrote his epic in chronological sequence, with a significant break after Book6, Book 15, which marked the end of the sequence, probably did not circulate until the late170s. If this is right, the action that aroused Cato’s disdain in 178was not the writing of an epic poem glorifying Fulvius Nobilior.26

The provocation more likely came from the production of a play, Ennius’ praetextadrama Ambracia, which was staged either in conjunc-tion with Fulvius’ triumph or at the votive games he held the following year. TheScipioin honor of Africanus had already presented an unsettling precedent for Latin encomiastic verse, and early books of theAnnalesmay have further raised Ennius’ profile and stoked the fires of Cato’s indigna-tion, but the play would have attracted his particular attention because of its conspicuous public role in the controversy of 187.27 He would have

25 So Malcovati1953:57and now widely accepted, though the possibility of an earlier speech attacking the consulship and/or triumph of Fulvius cannot be excluded. See Astin1978:110n.22, Sblendorio Cugusi1982:294–96.

26 The dating of

Annales1–15is problematic, with dates of composition well into the 170s most commonly favored, since it is difficult to imagine fifteen hexameter books researched, written, and circulated in little more than five years. Gell.17.21.43reports that Ennius wrote Book12in his sixty-seventh year (i.e.,173), but the information is not necessarily reliable. See Suerbaum1968:114–20and Skutsch1985:2–5. 27


Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

thought it a particularly outrageous and unprecedented display of parti-sanship, an artistic intervention in what was still in the170s one of the most notoriously contested triumphs of the age. “Who has seen anyone granted a victor’s crown,” he asked in that same speech against Fulvius, “when a city had not been captured or an enemy camp not burned?”28 The suborning of Ennius to tip the balance of public opinion in Nobilior’s favor, the kind of ploy better suited to a Hellenistic dynast than a Roman consul, must have been particularly galling since Ennius probably suc-ceeded in this effort: when Cicero eventually hailed the dedication of the Aedes Herculis Musarum with the remark that Nobilior “did not hesitate to dedicate Mars’ spoils to the Muses” he may be echoing not just the sentiment but even the words of Ennius’Ambracia.29 Whatever Cato’s motives, however, a partisan debate of the170s will not provide reliable evidence for literary history.

Though Cicero’s conflation of epic and play, speech and history may be an unreliable guide to second-century attitudes, its implicit contrast between the songs of banqueters and the works of poets may nevertheless go back to Cato, though not to his statement in theOrigines. Other ref-erences to that passage make clear that Cato had understood thecarmina

to be a custom of the distant past, not a fact of his own second-century culture.30More explicit testimony about the status of poets in the second century has been culled from another work, where he declared in lan-guage quite similar to what Cicero reports that the poets’ art originally received no honor and its practitioners were dismissed as flatterers. Both

almost certainly later than187but predates theAnnales. See the judicious discussion by Courtney1993:26–30.

28 Cato148M: “iam principio quis vidit corona dari quemquam, cum oppidum captum non esset aut castra hostium non incensa essent?” The story of the triumph and its resentments is told at Liv.38.43–44,39.4–6.

29 Cic.

Arch. 27: “iam vero ille qui cum Aetolis Ennio comite bellavit Fulvius non dubitavit Martis manubias Musis consecrare.” For the possible echo here of Ennius’ play (scansion precludes an epic origin), see Manuwald2001:162–63. Cato would not have considered what Fulvius took from Ambracia legitimate “Martis manubias.” Gildenhard2003:110notes the Hellenistic precedent for Fulvius’ use of Ennius. 30

Cic.Brut.75(“multis saeculis ante suam aetatem”) is explicit, confirmed by “apud maiores” at Tusc. 4.3. The teleological argument atBrutus 75 required this more meticulous chronology. Plut.Cat.25.4(


the text and the context of that statement remain problematic, although it is reasonably clear that Cato did not have heroic verse in mind.

The immediate source for it is Aulus Gellius, who illustrates the mean-ing ofelegansby quoting from a work he calls Cato’sCarmen de moribus. He then continues in his rambling way with some further, seemingly random excerpts from that book (11.2.5-6):

Praeterea ex eodem libro Catonis haec etiam sparsim et intercise commeminimus: “Vestiri” inquit “in foro honeste mos erat, domi quod satis erat. equos carius quam coquos emebant. poeticae artis honos non erat. siquis in ea re studebat aut sese ad convivia adplicabat, ‘grassator’ vocabatur.”

I recall these other sayings random and piecemeal from the same book by Cato: “It used to be the custom,” he says, “to dress becomingly in public, modestly at home. They paid more for horses than for cooks. Poetic art was not respected. Anyone who applied himself to that activ-ity or attached himself to parties was called a ‘grassator’.”

Grassator, ‘vagabond’ or ‘bandit’ in common usage, is often given a more specific sense here with the help of Festus, who glossesgrassari, the verb behind the noun, as ‘to flatter.’ This would suggest that in Cato’s view poetry was at some point in Rome’s past considered little better than flattery and poets therefore little more than fawners or parasites.31 How should we understand such a remark, and what may have been its basis in fact?

Context may, despite appearances, provide a clue. The Carmen de moribus, known only from this one chapter in Gellius, was probably not an original work at all but a collection of dicta drawn from other sources, acarmenin the sense of a ‘prescription’ or a ‘refrain’.32 This particular set

31 Fest.86L: “grassari antiqui ponebant pro adulari. grassari autem dicuntur latrones vias obsidentes; gradi siquidem ambulare est, unde tractum grassari, videlicet ab impetu gradiendi.” Thus R ¨upke2001:57, “nicht als ‘Wegelagerer,’ sondern als ‘Schmeich-ler.’ ” Peruzzi1998:159–60prefers a specific sense, “(poeta) itinerante,” which seems like special pleading. Festus’autemclearly acknowledges the more usual meaning, but ‘mugger’ (so Habinek1998: 37–38) makes little sense in Cato’s context and would not motivate Festus’ comment, though Habinek, following Zorzetti 1990b:294, is probably right to equate Cato’s “poetica ars” with Greektechne. Gruen1992:71–72 suggests, less probably, that Cato’s distinction is between types of poetry.



Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

of dicta presents three subjects (dress, food, entertainment) united by a common theme: archaic austerity is implicitly compared with something else, no doubt with modern extravagance. The moral values and the style of presentation are familiar from Cato’s many speeches and pronounce-ments concerning the conspicuous consumption of his contemporaries. He was an active participant in the sumptuary debates of the day, famous for complaining, among other things, that it was hard to save a city where a fish cost more than an ox (ap. Plut.Cat. mai.8.2).

That sort of complaint was hardly new. Demea made it in Terence’s

Adelphoe, and the calls toconviviain Plautine comedy often suggest invita-tions to license and immorality.33 The causes of Cato’s particular annoy-ance are recorded by Polybius in a moralizing passage of his own con-cerning the extravagant banqueting customs that came into vogue among Roman aristocrats after Pydna. The young Scipio, he says, found it rela-tively easy to win a reputation for moderation () because there were so few rivals among his peers. Of these,34

some gave themselves up to affairs with boys, others to hetairai, and many to musical entertainments, drinking parties and the

extrava-gance they involve (ε

!ε), since they had quickly become infected in the course of the war with Perseus with Greek license in these things. In fact the incontinence that had broken out among the young men grew so great that many paid a talent for a favored boy and many paid three hundred drachmas for a jar of preserved fish from Pontus. Marcus Cato became so indignant at this that he said in a public speech that he recognized in these matter the surest sign of decline in the state when pretty boys sold for more than fields and jars of preserved fish for more than plowmen.35

preclude thea prioriassumption of (most recently) Zorzetti1991:313–15thatcarmen in archaic contexts must refer to poetry.


Ter.Ad.60–63. Plaut.Most.933–4alludes to this sort of party, whileStich.707suggests singing in Greek.


Polyb.31.25.5, with another version at D.S.37.3.5–6. Cf. Cato’s attack on M. Lepidus (fr.96M) for erecting statues to two Greek cooks (worth four talents each, according to Diodorus) and his own claim to modest living in the speechDe sumptu suo(fr.174M). For his role in the sumptuary debates of the day, see Astin1978:91–97and Gruen 1992: 69–72. The dubious morality associated with aristocratic banquets lingers in Livy’s description of Sex. Tarquinius’ ill-fated dinner party at1.57.6–9.



Such comparisons eventually become a commonplace of Roman moral discourse: Sallust’s Marius will sound much the same note – no doubt by design – when he proudly acknowledges that his dinner parties were austere and his cook less expensive than his bailiff.36 The obvious infer-ence to be drawn from the moral litany Gellius quotes is that in Cato’s present the suppressed counter to each statement was true. Poetry, we must conclude,wasreceiving respect and poets werenotcalled flatterers. Cato may have liked that state of affairs no more than he liked the price of fish from Pontus, but the confirmation of Cicero’s argument that poetry came late to the maiores also confirms its status in Cato’s time. Thus Ennius won the respect and benefited from the approval of a very wide range of prominent Romans, as Cicero himself had acknowledged when defending Archias nearly twenty years before:37

Omnes denique illi Maximi, Marcelli, Fulvii non sine communi omnium nostrum laude decorantur. ergo illum qui haec fecerat, Rud-inum hominem, maiores nostri in civitatem receperunt.

And so all those Maximi, Marcelli, and Fulvii were honored with a praise that encompassed us all. Therefore our ancestors bestowed citi-zenship on him who did those things, the man from Rudiae.

We must conclude that neither poetry in general nor Ennius in partic-ular was the target of Cato’s speech of178. The attack was on Fulvius’ wealth, the praise his wealth could secure, and the image he sought to cultivate. It was good politics to be sure but therefore a dubious witness to contemporary attitudes and an even less reliable source for the cultural practices of still earlier generations.

This brief excursion into source criticism confirms an inconvenient but inescapable fact. Ancient sources sometimes say more than they actu-ally know and have a strong tendency to tailor whatever they say to their particular requirements.38 What Cato and then Cicero after him knew,

36 Sall.Iurg.85.39: “sordidum me et incultis moribus aiunt, quia parum scite convivium exorno neque histrionem illum neque pluris preti coquom quam vilicum habeo.” 37

Cic.Arch.22.Brut.79claims that Ennius received Roman citizenship in184through the sponsorship of Nobilior’s son, Quintus, but the chronology is problematic (Badian 1972:183–85). Ennius’ attested association with various Cornelii, Fulvii, Sulpicii, and Caecilii in any case transcends the partisan politics of the early second century. See Badian1972and Gruen1990:106–16.


Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

thought he knew, or is now thought to have known about the archaic

carmina convivaliaare not necessarily all the same thing. Their testimony may not be coherent, nor can the philological analysis that advances understanding of our informants and their world overcome the limits of their own knowledge. The archaic phenomenon may easily have involved more, less, or simply something different from what the sources preserve, and until we are able to add to those sources, the historical reality behind the banquet songs is likely to remain, like the details of Livy’s “dramatic satura,” at a distance. We must in any case resist the temptation to read our limited sources synoptically, as if they all understood the same phe-nomenon the same way and all had the same purpose in recalling it. Before constructing one of Bourdieu’s “monstrous corpora,” we need to take the evidence to pieces and evaluate its constituent parts separately. Only then can we assess their cumulative value for reconstructing archaic practice.39

Happily for the present inquiry, however, the secondary and tertiary sources that provide such problematic evidence for archaic practice are themselves primary evidence for the first-century attitudes toward early Roman literature and its reception that are the subject of this book. That does not necessarily mean that they are any more straightforward. Cicero’s fixation on theAnnales, for example, when calling up the mem-ory of Cato’s remarks on poetry recalls an important fact of literary his-tory. The epic poem dominates Cicero’s thinking as if the playAmbracia

did not exist, and in an important sense this was probably the case. Not that the genre was unimportant. Plays on Roman themes, the so-called

fabulae praetextae, were said to be Naevius’ invention, and in the course of the second century, great moments of history, legend, and cult were reenacted on the stage at the regularludi scaenici, as well as at individual temple dedications and triumphs. About a dozen such Republican plays are known. There may have been dozens more. Naevius, Ennius, Pacu-vius, and Accius all wrotepraetextae, and such pageants may have played a significant role in disseminating the facts of Roman history, developing the Romans’ sense of community, and enlivening the political discourse



of the time. As late as the Floralia of57, a revival of Accius’Brutus, a play ostensibly about the last Tarquin, caused a major commotion when the actor Aesopus gave the line “Tullius, who secured the citizens’ liberty” a contemporary spin in Cicero’s direction.40

The genre actually outlived the Republic.41 Plays on Roman themes continued to be written under the emperors – our one complete example, theOctavia, survives in the Senecan corpus – but Republican praetextae

are known only from very meager fragments that are preserved almost entirely in grammatical rather than literary contexts. Only once does Cicero, generally so fond of illustrating literary or philosophical points with quotations from tragedy or epic, cite apraetexta for its content.42 More typical in their path to survival are our four lines of Ambracia, each cited for a lexical oddity by the fourth-century antiquarian Nonius Marcellus. As a topical exercise without the cachet of a Greek pedigree, the fabula praetexta evidently lacked the status of other genres and was less likely to figure in later literary discussions. Thus, when Cicero thinks about Ennius, his memory of the praetextaeasily becomes a casualty of theAnnales’ greater prominence and the prestige that poem eventually bestowed on the epic genre.

This eclipse of the play introduces a final point of significance, which is the definition of “literature.” In emphasizing what authors do in produc-ing texts, traditional accounts of Roman literary history pay considerably less attention to the fact that literature requires readers as well as writers. It is not just the creation and collection of certain texts but an attitude toward those texts that mark them as literature. One of the safer inferences from our all-too-problematic story about Livius Andronicus is that something


Cic.Sest.123: “Tullius, qui libertatem civibus stabiliverat.” For the definition of the praetexta, see Ussani 1968 and Manuwald2001: 14–52, and for its putative role in disseminating Roman traditions, Zorzetti 1980: 53–73, Wiseman1994: 1–22, and 1998: 1–16. Flower1995 and Kragelund2002: 17–27review the occasions for its performance in the Republic.


The continuity of the genre is well argued by Kragelund2002, though Accius may have introduced a significant turn toward tragedy that eventually made the imperial praetextaesignificantly different from their Republican predecessors. See Zorzetti1980: 93–107.


Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

happened in connection with theludi Romaniin or about the year 240 that both defined what later generations would call their literature and diminished their interest in whatever had preceded it. Seen this way, the focus of literary history starts to shift from matters of who wrote what and when and under whose influence to points of connection between authors and audiences: how and when did the Romans come to value what Andronicus and his successors created, so that scripts for second-century actors became part of greater Rome’s cultural heritage? Why would one genre – epic is the most obvious example – quickly become a cultural benchmark while another, for example,praetextadrama, would eventually hold only the grammarians’ interest? I shall be arguing here that when Cicero refers tolitterae, he often means “literature” in some-thing very like the modern sense of texts marked with a certain social status, whose “literary” quality denotes not simply an inherent aesthetic value but a value accorded them and the work they do by the society that receives them.43Literature is thus the result not just of creation, but of reception.

Distinguishing the creation of literature from the creation of texts, valuing the work of readers along with the work of writers, has impor-tant advantages. It becomes much easier to understand how the traditional “history” of early Roman literature took shape through a process of hind-sight and back projection as men like Varro and Cicero sought among third- and second-century texts what they required to meet their own first-century needs. By reading the story they created for Roman litera-ture from the inside out rather than forward from its putative beginning in the conventional chronological sequence, the inevitable first-century distortions become part of the story rather than obstacles to its telling. The changing role of drama on the cultural scene becomes more apparent and a little easier to understand, as does the range of influences drama exerted on later literary and social discourse. So too does the impetus to create the new genre of satire. And above all, it becomes possible to see more clearly how Romans, writers and readers alike, came to use literary texts as they did, and why they found it advantageous to do so.

What follows here is therefore not a traditional literary history, though it is certainly an exercise in the history of literature. It begins with epic as the genre that first aroused literary sensibilities at Rome but puts less


chapter one



certain fabius, who affected the imposing cognomen Ululitremulus (‘Owl-quaker’), ran a cleaning establishment at Pompeii just off the street we know as the Via dell’ Abbondanza. He must have made some claim to education and experience. On the right doorpost of his shop was a large picture of a meticulously patrician Aeneas in high-laced boots and cuirass leading Anchises and Ascanius out from Troy, and opposite it was a similarly dressed Romulus, with the firstspolia opima on his left shoulder. These paintings were not original creations: they recall the statues of Aeneas and Romulus that faced each other from two large exedrae in the Forum of Augustus at Rome. As such, the paintings are a nice example of Augustan iconography and of its enduring appeal even beyond the city.1 Yet Fabius’ grandeur also set him up for a tease. Among the graffiti scrawled beneath the pictures is a hexameter verse, “Fullones ululamque cano, non arma virumque” (‘I sing of cleaners and owls, not arms and the man’).2 That joke at the expense of Fabius’ pretensions is an equally nice reminder of how deeply theAeneidrooted itself in the Roman consciousness and became inseparable in the Roman


Thefullonicaof Fabius is Reg. IX ins.13.5. The pictures are reproduced as Fig.156 in Zanker1988:202, who implies a connection with the Forum Augusti. This must be right. The Pompeian figures, somewhat illogically, faced away from each other, but these poses in the Forum, where the two heroes were reversed, would have them both looking toward the Temple of Mars. See also Galinsky 1996: 204–6 on the iconography. A parody of the Aeneas pose – the figures are monkeys – was also found at Pompeii. See Fuchs1973:57and Galinsky1969:30–32.



mind from Augustus’ renovation of the Roman material and literary heritage.3

Vergil’s success, however, should not obscure another fact of literary history, which is the surprise his poem first generated among his peers. Roman poets of the 20s had learned to keep epic at a distance. Some earlier epic projects were stillborn. Others, like the poems on Caesar’s Gallic campaigns by Varro of Atax and Furius Bibaculus had brought Republican epic to the brink of panegyric. The common responses to the resulting crisis in taste were either to withdraw, like Catullus and Cinna, to the library or to make the very refusal to write epic a literary topos.4 The discovery that Vergil, the model poet who had himself once gracefully declined to write of kings and battles, was at work on an epic therefore caused a considerable stir.5Propertius bears witness to the shock (2.34.61–66):

Actia Vergilium custodis litora Phoebi, Caesaris et fortis dicere posse ratis, qui nunc Aeneae Troiani suscitat arma

iactaque Lavinis moenia litoribus. cedite Romani scriptores, cedite Grai!

nescio quid maius nascitur Iliade.

The Actian shore in Phoebus’ charge and Caesar’s brave fleet – Vergil can tell of these,

who now calls up the arms of Trojan Aeneas and the walls he built on the Lavinian shore. Give way, Roman writers! Give way, Greeks!

A thing greater than theIliadis being born.

The Vergilian echoes in Troiani, arma, andLavinis litoribus suggest that Propertius has heard at least the opening of the emerging poem, but he


So at Oxyrhynchus by the late first century a scribe practiced his letter forms by copying over lines of theAeneid: see Cockle1979. The text is now P. Oxy.50.3554. For Vergil’s rapid dissemination throughout the Roman world, see Horsfall 1995: 249–55.


On the so-calledrecusatio, see Williams1968:102–3, Nisbet and Hubbard1970:81– 83 and1978:179–83, and Lyne1995: 31–39. Cic.Q. fr. 3.7.6mentions an epicad Caesaremthat was never released (Allen1955);Att.1.16.15reports his (waning) hopes for a poem by Archias.



Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

has of course gotten quite a lot wrong. The Aeneid will have little to say about Actium or, at least directly, about any contemporary event.6 Propertius reveals less about the poem Vergil was writing than about what he himself expected a contemporary epic to contain. And with reason. The success of Ennius’Annaleshad so codified and canonized the early history of Rome and established history as the subject of Latin epic that later poets could imagine little more than a continuation of its story. By seizing upon the relatively obscure story of Aeneas in Italy, Vergil was able to solve one of the great literary problems of the day. His combination of mythological and historical tendencies proved both artistically valid and ideologically respectable and thus restored epic to a prominence it would not again soon lose.7

Yet even when the practice of epic was at its lowest ebb, theideaof epic never lost its status. It was always the most prestigious, however under-achieving, poetic genre of Roman antiquity and by a kind of scholarly metonymy became the very symbol of literature itself. Some writers even worked from the assumption that Rome did not have a literature at all until it had epic. The earliest surviving fragment of a Roman literary his-tory, remnants of a didactic poem in trochaic septenarii by an aristocrat named Porcius Licinus, makes precisely that claim:8

Poenico bello secundo Musa pinnato gradu intulit se bellicosam in Romuli gentem feram.

6 For the Battle of Actium on Aeneas’ shield (

Aen.8.671–713), see Gurval1995:230–40, and for the association of the heroic parade that endsAeneid6with the images of the Forum Augusti, see Degrassi1945and Zanker1988:210–15. Servius thus had good reason to think that Vergil’s intention was “to praise Augustus through his ancestors,” though he was not necessarily right in thinking so. How much of the poem Propertius heard and his thoughts on hearing it remain matters of debate. See Tr¨ankle1971and the rejoinder of Stahl1985:350–52, and for Vergil’s recitation of his work in progress, see Horsfall1995:19. He was said to have been a very effective reader: the poet Julius Montanus envied his voice and delivery (Vit. Verg.29=Suet.Rhet. fr.3).


So Horsfall1995:249: “The Aeneas-legend . . . was, prior to Virgil, a political plaything of the Iulii Caesares. It was theAeneidwhich transformed it into a truly national story.” For the development of that story, see Gruen1992: 6–51and for Aeneas’ eventual prominence in Augustan art, see Zanker1988:201–10. Thomas2001:34–54traces the (posthumous) development of this “Augustan” Vergil. On Aeneas in earlier Roman epic, see also Goldberg1995:54–55(Naevius),95–101(Ennius). Thus Serv. adAen. 1.273: “Naevius et Ennius Aeneae ex filia nepotem Romulum conditorem urbis tradunt.”


At the time of the Second Punic War, the Muse with winged step introduced her warlike self to Romulus’ savage race.

The Muse that reveals herself to bebellicosamust be the epic Muse: Licinus is thus associating the beginning of Latin poetry with the rise of epic. His point of inception, the Second Punic War, was the time of Naevius, and so the probability is that he identified the introduction of epic specifically with the appearance of Naevius’Bellum Punicum.9

Lucretius reveals a similar sense of epic’s importance, though by his reckoning it was not Naevius but Ennius, “who first brought the ever-green crown from pleasant Helicon” (‘qui primus amoeno/detulit ex Helicone perenni fronde coronam’,1.117–18). Horace, perhaps echoing Porcius Licinus, famously agreed (Ep.2.1.156–59):

Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio. sic horridus ille defluxit numerus Saturnius, et grave virus munditiae pepulere.

Captive Greece captured the savage victor and brought the arts to rude Latium. Thus that crude Saturnian verse drained away, and refinement drove off

the fetid smell.

As hexameter poets themselves, Lucretius and Horace naturally see Ennius’ metrical innovation as the decisive step in the history of Latin verse: the new, flexible hexameter not just enhanced the technical and aesthetic possibilities of Latin epic but helped it escape the echoes of rit-ual and superstition that inevitably clung to the old Saturnian cadence.10 The sentiments and the very language of their claim nevertheless look back to Porcius Licinus.11

9 Licinus’ “Poenico bello” may play on the title. The epic dealt with the First Punic War (264–241B.C.), in which Naevius had himself served (Varr. ap. Gell.17.21.45), but as a work of his old age (Cic.Sen.50), it is dated to the last years of the century. Schwindt 2002: 67–69revives the old idea that Licinus’ reference is to Ennius, who came to Rome in204, but his epic was then some twenty years in the future. Courtney1993: 84–85makes a more convincing case for Naevius (and for the agreement of Licinus’ bellicosamwithse).

10 Cf. Cic.Div.1.114, quoting Ennius’ famous line about the meter of “Faunei vatesque.” Not that the Saturnian was entirely forgotten. Catullus’ deliberate recollection of Saturnian cola in his hymn to Diana (c.34) suggests the abiding potency and ritual connotation of its rhythms even in the mid-first century.



Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

Even Cicero, whose famous digression in theBrutusreflects the anti-quarians’ tendency to trace Roman literary history back to the third-centuryludi scaenici, reveals a similar emphasis. The passage from which we extract that chronology does not itself begin chronologically with Andronicus’ production in240 B.C. butin medias resby paraphrasing – and praising – Ennius’ claim to preeminence in poetry. Just as Homer eclipsed the work of his predecessors, says Cicero, so Ennius left all rivals far behind:12

“nec doctis dictis studiosus quisquam erat ante hunc” ait ipse de se nec mentitur in gloriando: sic enim sese res habet.

“Nor was anyone careful over educated speech before him” He says that about himself, nor does he lie in his pride: that is how it was.

The emphasis is significant. By beginning his discussion with Ennius, Cicero not just avoids a purely chronological approach to literary history but obscures that history’s origin in theludi scaenici, which is what a strict chronology would emphasize. The Ennius of this passage is specifically the poet of theAnnales, not the tragic dramatist, and the argument soon makes clear that Cicero’s measure of the Roman achievement in poetry is its accomplishment in epic. Consular years and the staging ofludi scaenici

provide dates for poetic careers and gave his friends Atticus and Varro ample grist for their antiquarian mills,13 but the poems Cicero values most here in theBrutusare Naevius’Bellum Punicumand theAnnales.

Their prominence seems natural, even self-evident, but things could have turned out otherwise. Porcius Licinus, Lucretius, Cicero, and Horace had these texts to think about not because they were in continuous cir-culation from their first appearance on the cultural scene on into the Augustan age, but because the first Romans to take the editing and

(an Etruscan import) a “res nova bellicoso populo.” A century later, Suet.Gram.1.1 represents literary study as something brought to a “rudis scilicet ac bellicosa etiamtum civitas.”


Cic. Brut. 71, cf. Or. 171. From this testimony Skutsch1985: 373restores exempli gratia, “nec dicti studiosus fuit Romanus homo ante hunc” (209). For the cultural significance of the phrase “dicti studiosus” (=philologos), see Skutsch1968:6–7and Barchiesi1993:119–20.

13 Cic.Brut


dissemination of poetry seriously also looked first to epic. When Sue-tonius, over two centuries after the fact, surveyed the history of literary exegesis at Rome, he located the first signs of professional activity – the legacy, however indirect, of a famous visit by the great Pergamene scholar Crates of Mallos around167– in the treatment of epic texts. According to Suetonius, the poems of Naevius and Ennius were falling increasingly into obscurity until they were rescued for a new generation of readers by a combination of popularization and education. C. Octavius Lampadio, whose efforts made him famous, read and explicated theBellum Punicum

and even gave the poem a new look by dividing it into books.14 A little later, Q. Vargunteius performed a similar service for the Annales

through attention that included readings before large, appreciative audi-ences. What these men found as obscure works (“carmina parum adhuc divulgata”) they thus set on their way to becoming the classics of Horace’s generation, eventually earning for themselves the authority he would so famously lament (“adeo sanctum est omne vetus poema,”Ep.2.1.54).

The limited circulation of Naevius’ epic by the later second century surprises nobody – Ennius may himself have hastened its decline – but it is harder to grasp the implications of Suetonius’ report that the great-est poem of the Republic also had to be rescued from relative obscurity by a grammatically minded dilettante. Reception of theAnnales is not generally thought so problematic. It surely enjoyed an immediate suc-cess. Ennius praised the great men of Rome and earned their praise in turn (Cic. Arch. 22), and the three books he added to the origi-nal poem in old age surely responded to the demands of contemporary acclaim. The confidence with which Ennius assumed Homer’s mantle and replaced the Saturnian cadence with the Muses’ foot aroused an admiration in later generations that is easily read back not just into his

14 Suet.


Construc ting Literature in the Roman Republic

own time but continuously thereafter. TheAnnales’ path to fame, how-ever, was probably not so direct because there were also inherent limits to its appeal. Its innovations were certainly resisted in some quarters. The

Bellum Punicumcontinued to attract readers into Horace’s lifetime, and resentment of Ennius’ Hellenizing efforts in diction and meter may linger in the claim that after Naevius’ death the Romans forgot how to speak Latin.15Enough reactionary bravado endured into the post-Ennian world to produce the so-calledCarmen Priami, which appealed not to Ennius’ Muses but to the “veteres Casmenas” in what purports to be Saturnian verse.16 In the 130s, Decimus Brutus Callaicus dedicated a grand new temple to Mars, which featured a monumental statue by Scopas and a dedicatory inscription by the famous Accius – in Saturnians. Trochaic rather than dactylic rhythms remained common in didactic poetry.17 Countertendencies like these suggest that Ennius’ replacement of the old aesthetic was neither complete nor immediate among readers with a literary turn.

Less technically committed readers would also have had a quite practical reason to lose interest in the poem: its content was quickly overtaken by events. Memory of the Hannibalic war dimmed with the years and with the fading reputation of the Scipios.18 The poem’s conclusion was even less appealing. The chastisement of Aetolians and Istrians, which theAnnalescelebrated so earnestly, soon paled before Aemilius Paullus’ victory in Maecedonia, which opened a new chapter in the political and cultural life of Rome by securing Roman dominance in the east, while vastly increasing the westward flow of Greek material and literary culture. The developments that Ennius in the170s saw as the pinnacle of Roman achievement thus turned out to be little more than its prelude. Glorification of what so quickly became old news could easily have meant

15 So Norden1915:145, citing the Naevian epitaph of Gell.1.24, “obliti sunt Romae loquier lingua Latina.” Cf. Hor.Ep.2.1.53–54: “Naevius in manibus non est et men-tibus haeret/ paene recens?”

16 Its single surviving line is quoted by Var.L.7.28: “veteres Casmenas cascam rem volo profarei.” The false archaism ofCasmenaand the lack of word boundary after the fifth syllable (the so-calledcaesura Korschiana) indicate a late imitation of the old epic style. See Cole1969:19–21, Timpanaro1978.

17 Porcius Licinus’ literary history and Accius’Pragmaticawere trochaic poems. So was Ennius’ ownScipio, though it probably predates theAnnales. For Brutus’ temple, Plin. Nat.36.26, Cic.Arch.27with Schol. Bob. (Stangl1912:179), Val. Max.8.14.2. 18 Ennius’Scipiono doubt enhanced Africanus’ original reputation, but the Scipionic




Scan QR code by 1PDF app
for download now

Install 1PDF app in