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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 80

Metrical Annals - Naevius

The attempts at a metrical treatment of the national annals lay claim to greater poetical and historical importance. Here too it was Naevius who gave poetic form to so much of the legendary as well as of the contemporary history as admitted of connected narrative; and who, more especially, recorded in the half-prosaic Saturnian national metre the story of the first Punic war simply and distinctly, with a straightforward adherence to fact, without disdaining anything at all as unpoetical, and without at all, especially in the description of historical times, going in pursuit of poetical flights or embellishments--maintaining throughout his narrative the present tense.(55)

55. The following fragments will give some idea of its tone. Of Dido he says:

-Blande et docte percontat--Aeneas quo pacto Troiam urbem liquerit.-

Again of Amulius:

-Manusque susum ad caelum--sustulit suas rex Amulius; gratulatur--divis-.

Part of a speech where the indirect construction is remarkable:

-Sin illos deserant for--tissumos virorum
Magnum stuprum populo--fieri per gentis-.

With reference to the landing at Malta in 498:

-Transit Melitam Romanus--insuiam integram
Urit populatur vastat--rem hostium concinnat.-

Lastly, as to the peace which terminated the war concerning Sicily:

-Id quoque paciscunt moenia--sint Lutatium quae
Reconcilient; captivos--plurimos idem
Sicilienses paciscit--obsides ut reddant.-

What we have already said of the national drama of the same poet, applies substantially to the work of which we are now speaking. The epic, like the tragic, poetry of the Greeks lived and moved essentially in the heroic period; it was an altogether new and, at least in design, an enviably grand idea--to light up the present with the lustre of poetry. Although in point of execution the chronicle of Naevius may not have been much better than the rhyming chronicles of the middle ages, which are in various respects of kindred character, yet the poet was certainly justified in regarding this work of his with an altogether peculiar complacency.

It was no small achievement, in an age when there was absolutely no historical literature except official records, to have composed for his countrymen a connected account of the deeds of their own and the earlier time, and in addition to have placed before their eyes the noblest incidents of that history in a dramatic form.

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