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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 8

The Stage under Greek Influence

To this defect was added a second. We have already described the multiplication of the amusements of the Roman people. The stage had long played an important part in these recreations; the chariot-races formed strictly the principal amusement in all of them, but these races uniformly took place only on one, viz. the concluding, day, while the earlier days were substantially devoted to stage- entertainments. But for long these stage-representations consisted chiefly of dances and jugglers' feats; the improvised chants, which were produced on these occasions, had neither dialogue nor plot.(5) It was only now that the Romans looked around them for a real drama.

5. Cf. II. IX. Ballad-Singers

The Roman popular festivals were throughout under the influence of the Greeks, whose talent for amusing and for killing time naturally rendered them purveyors of pleasure for the Romans. Now no national amusement was a greater favourite in Greece, and none was more varied, than the theatre; it could not but speedily attract the attention of those who provided the Roman festivals and their staff of assistants.

The earlier Roman stage-chant contained within it a dramatic germ capable perhaps of development; but to develop the drama from that germ required on the part of the poet and the public a genial power of giving and receiving, such as was not to be found among the Romans at all, and least of all at this period; and, had it been possible to find it, the impatience of those entrusted with the amusement of the multitude would hardly have allowed to the noble fruit peace and leisure to ripen. In this case too there was an outward want, which the nation was unable to satisfy; the Romans desired a theatre, but the pieces were wanting.

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