1902 Encyclopedia > Pacuvius

Marcus Pacuvius
Roman dramatist
(219-129 BC)




PACUVIUS, MARCUS (219-129 B.c.), was the second in order of time of the three tragic poets who wrote for the Roman stage in the 2d century B.C. His life was so long that he might be described as a contemporary of all the writers who flourished during the first period of Roman literature. He was born in 219 B.C., when Livius Andronicas and Nasvius were introducing their imitations of the Greek tragic and comic drama to Roman audiences ; he was recognized as the chief tragic poet about the time when Cmcilius, and after him Terence, were the flourishing authors of Latin comedy ; he continued to produce his tragedies till the advent of the younger poet Accius, who lived on till the youth of Cicero ; and he died in the year (129 u.c.) when Lucilius first appeared as an author. He stood in the relation of nephew as well as pupil to Ennius, by whom Roman tragedy was first raised to a position of influence and dignity. In the interval between the death of Ennius (169) and the advent of Accius, the youngest and most productive of the tragic poets, he alone maintained the continuity of the serious drama, and perpetuated the character first imparted to it by Ennius. Like Ennius he probably belonged to the Oscan stock, and was born at Brundisium, which had become a Roman colony in 244 B.c. To this origin may be attributed the fact that he never attained to that perfect idiomatic purity of style which was the special glory of the early writers of comedy, Naivius and Plautus.' The fame of his uncle Ennius may probably have drawn him to Rome, and may have induced him to devote himself to the composition of tragedy. But he obtained distinction also as a painter ; and the elder Pliny mentions a work of his which in his time was still to be seen in the temple of Hercules in the forum boarium. His relationship to the friend of the great Scipio would naturally recommend him to the consideration of the eminent men of the next generation, who fostered the new literature in his spirit ; and thus Cicero, in the De Amicitia, represents C. Lielius as speaking of him as " hospitis et amici mei." He was less productive as a poet than either Ennius or Accius ; and we hear of only about twelve of his plays, founded on Greek subjects (among them the Antiope, Teucer, A rnzorum, Judicium, Dulorestes, Chryses, X(ptra, Se., most of them on subjects connected with the Trojan cycle), and one " Prtexta," Paulus, written in connexion with the triumph of L. Amilius Paulus, for his victory at Pydna, celebrated in the year 167 B.C., as the Clastidium of Ntevius and the Anthracia of Ennius were written in commemoration of great military successes in their time. He continued to write tragedies till the age of eighty, when he exhibited a play in the same year as Accius, who was then thirty years of age. He retired to Tarentum for the last years of his life, and a story is told by Gellius of his being visited there by Accius on his way to Asia, who read to him one of his plays, which was famous in after times, the Atreus. The story is probably, like that of the visit of the young Terence to the veteran Cacilius, due to the invention of later grammarians ; but it is invented in accordance with the traditionary criticism of the distinction between the two poets, the older being characterized rather by cultivated accomplishment, the younger by vigour and animation.

He died at the age of ninety, having lived through the long period from the beginning of the Second Punic War till after the first outbreak of the revolutionary forces, in the tribunate of Tilt. Gracchus, which led ultimately to the overthrow of the republic. l pis epitaph, said to have been composed by himself, is quoted by Aulus Genius, with a tribute of admiration to its "modesty, simplicity, and tine serious spirit."

llic cunt ports l'acuvi ilarci sita Ossa. Iloc volebam nescius ne esses. Vale."'

Cicero, who frequently quotes passages from him, with great admiration, appears to rank him first among the Roman tragic poets, as &mills among the epic, and Crecilius among the comic poets (Cie., De Opt. Got. Or., 1). If a rough parallel might be drawn between the three great original Greek tragic poets and their three Roman imitators, we might perhaps recognize in the imaginative mysticism and soldierly spirit of Ennius an affinity to Aeschylus, in the mellow wisdom of Pacuvius to Sophocles, and in the oratorical talent and power of moving the passions attributed to Accius a nearer approach to the genius of Euripides. The office performed by the Roman tragic poets to Roman culture was not only to familiarize their countrymen with the creations of Greek genius, and the heroes and heroines of Greek legend, but to be the moral teachers and moral philosophers of a time before the introduction of definite ethical speculation. The fragments of Paeuvius quoted by Cicero in illustration or enforcement of his own ethical teaching appeal, by the fortitude, dignity, and magnanimity of the sentiment expressed in them, to what was noblest in the Roman temperament. They are inspired also by that fervid and steadfast glow of spirit which underlay the strong self-control of the Roman character, and which was the most powerful element in Roman oratory. They reveal also a gentleness and humanity of sentiment which it was the highest office of the new drama to blend with the severe gravity of the original Roman character. So far too as the Romans were capable of taking interest in speculative questions, the tragic poets contributed to stimulate curiosity on such subjects, and they anticipated Lucretius in using the conclusions of speculative philosophy as well as of common sense to assail some of the prevailing forms of superstition. Among the passages quoted from Pacuvius are several which indicate a taste both for physical and ethical speculation, and others which expose the pretensions of religions imposture, e.g.- These poets aided also in developing that capacity which the Roman language subsequently displayed of being an organ of oratory, history, and moral disquisition. The literary language of Rome was in process of formation during the 2d century B.C., and it was in the latter part of this century that the series of great Roman orators, with whose spirit Roman tragedy has a strong affinity, begins. But the new creative effort in language was accompanied by considerable crudeness of execution, and the novel wood-formations and varieties of inflexion introduced by Pacnvins exposed him to the ridicule of the satirist Lucilius, and, long afterwards, to that of his imitator Persius. But, notwithstanding the attempt to introduce an alien clement into the Roman language, which proved incompatible with its natural genius, and his own failure to attain the idiomatic purity of Nrevius, Plan-tug, or Terence, the fragments of his dramas are_ sufficient to prove the service which he rendered to the formation of the literary language of Rome, as well as to the culture and character of his contemporaries.

The best account of Pacuvius Is to be found in the Romische Tragodie of 0. Ribbeck, and the best collection of his " Fragments " in the Tragicorum Latinorum Reliquite of the same author. (NV. Y. S.)







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