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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 51

The -litteratores- of the following century reckoned up as many as 130 such "Plautine pieces"; but of these a large portion at any rate were merely revised by Plautus or had no connection with him at all; the best of them are still extant. To form a proper judgment, however, regarding the poetical character of the editor is very difficult, if not impossible, since the originals have not been preserved.

That the editors reproduced good and bad pieces without selection; that they were subject and subordinate both to the police and to the public; that they were as indifferent to aesthetical requirements as their audience, and to please the latter, lowered the originals to a farcical and vulgar tone--are objections which apply rather to the whole manufacture of translations than to the individual remodeller.

On the other hand we may regard as characteristic of Plautus, the masterly handling of the language and of the varied rhythms, a rare skill in adjusting and working the situation for dramatic effect, the almost always clever and often excellent dialogue, and, above all, a broad and fresh humour, which produces an irresistible comic effect with its happy jokes, its rich vocabulary of nicknames, its whimsical coinage of words, its pungent, often mimic, descriptions and situations--excellences, in which we seem to recognize the former actor.

Undoubtedly the editor even in these respects retained what was successful in the originals rather than furnished contributions of his own. Those portions of the pieces which can with certainty be traced to the translator are, to say the least, mediocre; but they enable us to understand why Plautus became and remained the true popular poet of Rome and the true centre of the Roman stage, and why even after the passing away of the Roman world the theatre has repeatedly reverted to his plays.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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