1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Livius Andronicus

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LIVIUS ANDRONĪCUS (c. 284–204 B.C.), the founder of Roman epic poetry and drama. His name, in which the Greek Ἀνδρόνικος is combined with the gentile name of one of the great Roman houses, while indicative of his own position as a manumitted slave, is also significant of the influences by which Roman literature was fostered, viz. the culture of men who were either Greeks or “semi-Graeci” by birth and education, and the protection and favour bestowed upon them by the more enlightened members of the Roman aristocracy. He is supposed to have been a native of Tarentum, and to have been brought, while still a boy, after the capture of that town in 272, as a slave to Rome. He lived in the household of a member of the gens Livia, probably M. Livius Salinator. He determined the course which Roman literature followed for more than a century after his time. The imitation of Greek comedy, tragedy and epic poetry, which produced great results in the hands of Naevius, Plautus, Ennius and their successors, received its first impulse from him. To judge, however, from the insignificant remains of his writings, and from the opinions of Cicero and Horace, he can have had no pretension either to original genius or to artistic accomplishment. His real claim to distinction was that he was the first great schoolmaster of the Roman people. We learn from Suetonius that, like Ennius after him, he obtained his living by teaching Greek and Latin; and it was probably as a school-book, rather than as a work of literary pretension, that his translation of the Odyssey into Latin Saturnian verse was executed. This work was still used in schools in the time of Horace (Epp. ii. 1., 69), and, although faultily executed, satisfied a real want by introducing the Romans to a knowledge of Greek. Such knowledge became essential to men in a high position as a means of intercourse with Greeks, while Greek literature stimulated the minds of leading Romans. Moreover, southern Italy and Sicily afforded many opportunities for witnessing representations of Greek comedies and tragedies. The Romans and Italians had an indigenous drama of their own, known by the name of Satura, which prepared them for the reception of the more regular Greek drama. The distinction between this Satura and the plays of Euripides or Menander was that it had no regular plot. This the Latin drama first received from Livius Andronicus; but it did so at the cost of its originality. In 240, the year after the end of the first Punic War, he produced at the ludi Romani a translation of a Greek play (it is uncertain whether a comedy or tragedy or both), and this representation marks the beginning of Roman literature (Livy vii. 2). Livius himself took part in his plays, and in order to spare his voice he introduced the custom of having the solos (cantica) sung by a boy, while he himself represented the action of the song by dumb show. In his translation he discarded the native Saturnian metre, and adopted the iambic, trochaic and cretic metres, to which Latin more easily adapted itself than either to the hexameter or to the lyrical measures of a later time. He continued to produce plays for more than thirty years after this time. The titles of his tragedies—Achilles, Aegisthus, Equus Trojanus, Hermione, Tereus—are all suggestive of subjects which were treated by the later tragic poets of Rome. In the year 207, when he must have been of a great age, he was appointed to compose a hymn of thanksgiving, sung by maidens, for the victory of the Metaurus and an intercessory hymn to the Aventine Juno. As a further tribute of national recognition the “college” or “gild” of poets and actors was granted a place of meeting in the temple of Minerva on the Aventine.

See fragments in L. Müller, Livi Andronici et Cn. Naevi Fabularum Reliquiae (1885); also J. Wordsworth, Fragments and Specimens of Early Latin (1874); Mommsen, Hist. of Rome, bk. iii. ch. 14.