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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
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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


III. From the Union of Italy to the Subjugation of Carthage and the Greek States

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 XIV - Literature and Art


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Page 110

The very name given to the poet was foreign; even Ennius emphatically calls himself a -poeta-(70).

70. See the lines already quoted at III. II. The War on the Coasts of Sicily and Sardinia.

The formation of the name -poeta- from the vulgar Greek --poetes-- instead of --poietes-- --as --epoesen-- was in use among the Attic potters--is characteristic. We may add that -poeta- technically denotes only the author of epic or recitative poems, not the composer for the stage, who at this time was styled -scriba- (Cf. III. XIV. Audience; Festus, s. v., p. 333 M.).

But not only was this poetry foreign; it was also liable to all those defects which are found to occur where schoolmasters become authors and the great multitude forms the public. We have shown how comedy was artistically debased by a regard to the multitude, and in fact sank into vulgar coarseness; we have further shown that two of the most influential Roman authors were schoolmasters in the first instance and only became poets in the sequel, and that, while the Greek philology which only sprang up after the decline of the national literature experimented merely on the dead body, in Latium grammar and literature had their foundations laid simultaneously and went hand in hand, almost as in the case of modern missions to the heathen.

In fact, if we view with an unprejudiced eye this Hellenistic literature of the sixth century--that poetry followed out professionally and destitute of all productiveness of its own, that uniform imitation of the very shallowest forms of foreign art, that repertoire of translations, that changeling of epos--we are tempted to reckon it simply one of the diseased symptoms of the epoch before us.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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