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Please note that Mommsen uses the AUC chronology (Ab Urbe Condita), i.e. from the founding of the City of Rome. You can use this reference table to have the B.C. dates


II. From the Abolition of the Monarchy in Rome to the Union of Italy

From: The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson

The History of Old Rome

CHAPTER IX - Art and Science


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Page 4

Ballad Singers, -Satura- -- Censure of Art

There was no want of such poets in Latium. Latin "strolling minstrels" or "ballad-singers" (-grassatores-, -spatiatores-) went from town to town and from house to house, and recited their chants (-saturae-(4)), gesticulating and dancing to the accompaniment of the flute. The measure was of course the only one that then existed, the so-called Saturnian.(5)

4. Cf. I. II. Art

5. Cf. I. XV. Metre

No distinct plot lay at the basis of the chants, and as little do they appear to have been in the form of dialogue. We must conceive of them as resembling those monotonous --sometimes improvised, sometimes recited--ballads and -tarantelle-, such as one may still hear in the Roman hostelries. Songs of this sort accordingly early came upon the public stage, and certainly formed the first nucleus of the Roman theatre. But not only were these beginnings of the drama in Rome, as everywhere, modest and humble; they were, in a remarkable manner, accounted from the very outset disreputable.

The Twelve Tables denounced evil and worthless song-singing, imposing severe penalties not only upon incantations but even on lampoons composed against a fellow-citizen or recited before his door, and forbidding the employment of wailing-women at funerals. But far more severely, than by such legal restrictions, the incipient exercise of art was affected by the moral anathema, which was denounced against these frivolous and paid trades by the narrowminded earnestness of the Roman character. "The trade of a poet," says Cato, "in former times was not respected; if any one occupied himself with it or was a hanger-on at banquets, he was called an idler." But now any one who practised dancing, music, or ballad-singing for money was visited with a double stigma, in consequence of the more and more confirmed disapproval of gaining a livelihood by services rendered for remuneration.

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