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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 67

The tragic drama of the Romans is far less known to us than the comic: on the whole the same features, which have been noticed in the case of comedy, are presented by tragedy also. The dramatic stock, in like manner, was mainly formed by translations of Greek pieces. The preference was given to subjects derived from the siege of Troy and the legends immediately connected with it, evidently because this cycle of myths alone was familiar to the Roman public through instruction at school; by their side incidents of striking horror predominate, such as matricide or infanticide in the -Eumenides-, the -Alcmaeon-, the -Cresphontes-, the -Melanippe-, the -Medea-, and the immolation of virgins in the -Polyxena-, the -Erechthides-, the -Andromeda-, the -Iphigenia- --we cannot avoid recalling the fact, that the public for which these tragedies were prepared was in the habit of witnessing gladiatorial games.

The female characters and ghosts appear to have made the deepest impression. In addition to the rejection of masks, the most remarkable deviation of the Roman edition from the original related to the chorus. The Roman theatre, fitted up doubtless in the first instance for comic plays without chorus, had not the special dancing-stage (-orchestra-) with the altar in the middle, on which the Greek chorus performed its part, or, to speak more correctly, the space thus appropriated among the Greeks served with the Romans as a sort of pit; accordingly the choral dance at least, with its artistic alternations and intermixture of music and declamation, must have been omitted in Rome, and, even if the chorus was retained, it had but little importance.

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