1902 Encyclopedia > Livius Andronicus

Livius Andronicus
(full name: Lucius Livius Andronicus
Graeco-Roman dramatist and epic poet
(c. 280/260 BC – c. 200 BC)

LIVIUS ANDRONICUS occupies the position of the oldest among the recognized poets of Rome. He determined the course which Roman literature followed for more than a century after his time. The imitation of Greek comedy, tragedy, and epic poetry, which produced great results in the hands of N'ivius, Plautus, Ennius, and their successors, received its first impulse from him. To judge, however, by the very insignificant remains of his writings, and by the testimonies of Cicero and Horace to his merits, lie can have had no pretension either to original genius or to artistic accomplishment. His real claim to distinction was that he was the first great schoolmaster of the Roman people, and the first acknowledged medium through which the genius of Greece acted on the Roman mind, and found for itself a rude expression in the Latin language. His name, in which the Greek Andronicus is combined with the gentile name of one of the great Roman houses, while indicative of his own position as a manumitted slave, is also significant of the influences by which Roman literature was fostered, - viz., the culture of men who were either Greeks or "semi-Gimei" by birth and education, and the protection and favour afforded to them by the more enlightened members of the Roman aristocracy. He is supposed to have been a native of Tarentum, and to have been brought while still a boy, after the capture of that town in 272 B.C., as a slave to Rome. He lived in the household of a member of the yens Livia, probably of that branch of it to which M. Livius Salinator, the colleague of C. Claudius Nero in the year of the battle of the Metaurus, belonged. We learn from Suetonius that, like Ennius after him, he obtained his living by teaching Greek and Latin ; and it was probably as a schoolbook, rather than as a work of literary pretension, that his translation of the Odyssey into Latin Saturnian verse was executed. This work was still used in schools' when Horace was taught at Rome by the famous grammarian and disciplinarian Orbilius. From the few fragments of the translation that have been preserved it may be inferred that it was owing to the conservatism of educational methods, rather than to its fitness to impart to boys in the Ciceronian age instruction either in Greek literature or in the Latin language, that it enjoyed this distinction. But at the time when it appeared it must have satisfied a real want. In the wars with Pyrrhus and Tarentum the Romans had for the first time come into close contact with the Greeks ; and during the First Punic War (from 261 to 241 a.c.), in which Sicily was the chief battleground of the combatants, this contact was much closer. The knowledge of Greek became essential to men in a high position, as a means of intercourse with Greeks ; and at the same time the new ideas and new interests of Greek literature began to exercise something of that stimulating and refining power over the minds of the leading men which it exercised in a later generation over Scipio Africanus, T. Quintius Flamininus, M. Fulvius Nobilior, and others like them. But the presence of the Roman armies in southern Italy and Sicily must have accustomed many who had no means of obtaining a literary education to the representations of the Greek tragic and comic poets. Although the great creative ago of the Athenian drama was passed, the passion for the representation of the old plays still continued, and was not confined to Athens. The number of theatres of which the remains are still seen in Sicily - as at Segesta, Syracuse, Catania, Taormina - indicate that, in the island in which Epicharmus had produced his old Dorian comedies, the representation of tragedy and comedy continued to be a most important element in the life of the people. But the Romans and Italians had an indigenous drama of their own, known by the name of Satura, which prepared them for the reception of the more regular Greek drama. The distinction between this Satura and the plays of Euripides or Menander was that it had no regular plot. This the Latin drama first received from Livius Andronicus ; but it did so at the cost of its originality. In the year 240, the year after the end of the First Punic War, he produced at Rome a translation of a Greek play (it is uncertain whether a comedy or tragedy), and this representation marks the beginning of Roman literature. In this translation he discarded the native Saturnian metre, and adopted the iambic, trochaic, and cretic metres, to which Latin more easily adapted itself than either to the hexameter or to the lyrical measures of a later time. He continued to produce plays for more than thirty years after this time. The titles of some of his tragedies are _Achilles, _,Eyisthus, Epics l'rojanus, Hermione, Tereus, - all suggestive of subjects which were treated by the later tragic poets of Rome. The titles of some of his comedies are Gladiolus, Ludius, In the year 207, when, if he was a captive after the taking of Tarentum, he must have been of a great age, he was appointed to compose the hymn of thanksgiving for the victory of the Metaurus. Another tribute of national recognition paid him was that, as a compliment to him, the "college" or "guild" of poets obtained a place of meeting in the temple of Minerva on the Aventine.

A good account of his remains is to be found. in Wordsworth's Fragments and Specimens of Early Latin. The fragments of his dramas are to be found in Ribbeck's Tragieorum Latinoriern quice, and Comicorum Latinorum PeliquiEe. (IV. Y. S.)

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