Gnaeus Naevius

ancient Roman dramatist

Gnaeus Naevius (c. 270 – c. 201 BC) was a Roman epic poet and dramatist of the Old Latin period. He had a notable literary career at Rome until his satiric comments delivered in comedy angered the Metellus family, one of whom was consul. After a sojourn in prison he recanted and was set free by the tribunes (who had the tribunician power, in essence the power of habeas corpus). After a second offense he was exiled to Tunisia, where he wrote his own epitaph and committed suicide.

Quae ego in theatro hic meis probavi plausibus
Ea non audere quemquam regem rumpere
That which I have tested by the applause I get here in the theatre, no Grand Duke in the world dares to shatter
Novem Iovis concordes filiae sorores
You daughters nine of Jupiter, harmonious sisters
Dein pollens sagittis inclutus arquitenens
sanctusque Delphis prognatus Pythius Apollo
And then his son Pythian Apollo, the renowned archer mighty in his arrows, the god who is hallowed at Delphi

His comedies were in the genre of Palliata Comoedia, an adaptation of Greek New Comedy. A soldier in the Punic Wars, he was highly patriotic, inventing a new genre called Praetextae Fabulae, an extension of tragedy to Roman national figures or incidents, named after the Toga praetexta worn by high officials. Of his writings there survive only fragments of several poems preserved in the citations of late ancient grammarians (Charisius, Aelius Donatus, Sextus Pompeius Festus, Aulus Gellius, Isidorus Hispalensis, Macrobius, Nonius Marcellus, Priscian, Marcus Terentius Varro).

Quotes edit

Text and translation: E. H. Warmington, Remains of Old Latin, Vol. 2, L314 (1936)
  • Fato Metelli Romae fiunt consules.
    • It's fate that makes Metelli consuls at Rome.
      • Quoted by Pseudo-Asconius, on Cicero, In Verrem, I, 10, 29, with the angry answer of the consul Q. Caecilius Metellus:
        Dabunt malum Metelli Naevio poetae.
        The Metelli will make the poet Naevius rue it.
        Other translations:
        The Metelli are made consuls at Rome by Fate.
        The Metelli will give a whipping to Naevius the poet.
        —W. Beare, The Roman Stage, 3rd ed. (1964), p. 40

Fragments of the Bellum Poenicum edit

  • Novem Iovis concordes filiae sorores.
    • You daughters nine of Jupiter, harmonious sisters.
  • Postquam avem aspexit in templo Anchisa,
    sacra in mensa Penatium ordine ponuntur;
    immolabat auream victimam pulchram.
    • After Anchises had seen a bird within the range of view, hallowed offerings were set in a row on the table of the Household Gods; and he busied himself in sacrificing a beautiful golden victim.
      • Book I; quoted by Probus, on Virgil, Eclogues, VI, 31
        • Other translations:
          When my husband's father saw vultures gathering
          ominously in our quadrant of the sky, he set out
          our store of household goods upon a table and said his prayers,
          and he slaughtered for a last feast my heifer calf with the hide of gold.
          —Janet Lembke, "Plasmata: After Ennius, Naevius and Lucilius", Arion, vol. 6, no. 3 (1967), p. 376
  •     Amborum uxores
    noctu Troiad exibant capitibus opertis,
    flentes ambae, abeuntes lacrimis cum multis.
    • The wives of both were passing out from Troy by night; their heads were veiled, and both were weeping many tears, as they went away.
      • Book I; the wives of Aeneas and Anchises; quoted by Servius, on Aeneid, III, 10, litora cum patriae lacrimans portusque relinquo—"then with tears I quit my native shores and harbours"
        Other translations:
        The wives of both men were leaving Troy at night with their heads covered, both crying, departing with many tears.
        —Thomas Biggs, Poetics of the First Punic War (2020), Introduction, p. 11
  • Blande et docte percontat, Aenea[s] quo pacto
    Troiam urbem liquisset.
    • With charm and shrewdness asked he earnestly
      How Aeneas forsook the city Troy.
      • Book I; quoted by Nonius, 474, 5
  • Dein pollens sagittis inclutus arquitenens
    sanctusque Delphis prognatus Pythius Apollo.
    • And then his son Pythian Apollo, the renowned archer mighty in his arrows, the god who is hallowed at Delphi.
      • Book II; quoted by Macrobius, Saturnalia, VI, 5, 8
  • Transit Melitam Romanus insulam integram;
    urit populatur vast at, rem hostium concinnat.
    • The Roman crosses over to Malta, an island unimpaired; he lays it waste by fire and slaughter, and finishes the affairs of the enemy.
  • Sin illos deserant fortissimos virorum
    magnum stuprum populo fieri per gentes.
    • But if they should forsake those men, the bravest of the brave, great would be the disgrace to the people through all the world.
      • Unassigned fragment; quoted by Festus, 460, 21
  • Seseque i perire mavolunt ibidem
    quam cum stupro redire ad suos popularis.
    • They would rather that they perish then and there than return with disgrace to their fellow-countrymen.
      • Unassigned fragment; quoted by Festus, 460, 21

Dramatic Fragments edit

  • Semper pluris feci ego
    potioremque habui libertatem [multo] quam pecuniam.
    • I at any rate have always valued freedom at a much higher price than money, and have held freedom to be preferable.
      • Agitatoria; quoted by Charisius, 'Pluris'. Cf. Phaedrus, 3, 7, 27: Regnare noio, liber ut non sim mihi.—"I would not care to be a king to lose my liberty."
        • Other translations:
          I have always valued and preferred my liberty far beyond money.
          —W. F. H. King, Classical and Foreign Quotations, 3rd ed. (1904), no. 2388
          Ever have I valued and esteemed freedom of speech
          Far more than money.
          —Alan A. Stambusky, "Roman Comedy on Trial in the Republic", ETJ, vol. 29, no. 1 (1977), p. 30
  • Quasi pila
    in choro ludens datatim dat se et communem facit.
    Alii adnutat, alii adnictat, alium amat alium tenet.
    Alibi manus est occupata, alii pervellit pedem;
    anulum dat alii spectandum, a labris alium invoeat,
    cum alio cantat, at tamen alii suo dat digito litteras.
    • As though she were playing at ball, give-and-take in a ring, she makes herself common property to all men. To one she nods, at another she winks; one she caresses, another embraces. Now elsewhere a hand is kept busy; now she jerks another's foot. To one she gives her ring to look at, to another her lips blow a kiss that invites. She sings a song with one; but waves a message for another with her finger.
      • Tarentilla; quoted by Isidore, who goes on to quote in Latin Proverbs, VI, 13, annuit oculo, terit pede, digito loquitur.—"He winketh with the eyes, presseth with the foot, speaketh with the finger."
        • Other translations:
          She wanders like a shuttlecock, from side to side she flutters.
          She makes a lover with a wink, with every word she utters.
          She's welcomed by the younger folk, and flirtingly she stands,
          then sits and rouses someone else, toes wriggling, squeezing hands.
          She blows a kiss, she gazes round, she turns and shows her ring,
          to one she tips the sign of love, with one she stops to sing.
          Jack Lindsay, "The Girl from Tarentum", I Am a Roman (1934)
  • Cedo qui vestram rem publicam tantam amisistis tam cito?
    Proveniebant oratores novi, stulti adulescentuli.
    • (A) Tell me, how was it that you ruined such a mighty commonwealth as yours so quickly?
      (B) There came forward new-fangled orators, silly little youngsters.
  • Desubito famam tollunt si quam solam videre in via.
    • If men have seen some woman in the street
      Alone, straightway they raise a scandal.
      • Danae; quoted by Nonius, 305, 23
  • Laetus sum laudari me abs te, pater, a laudato viro.
    • Happy am I, my father, to be praised
      By you, a man whom others praise.
      • Hector proficiscens; quoted by Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, IV, 31, 67
        • Other translations:
          I am glad to be praised by thee, father, a man whom all men praise.
          W. F. H. King, Classical and Foreign Quotations, 3rd ed. (1904), no. 1235
          I am pleased to be praised by a man so praised as you, father.
          Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 624
          'Tis joy indeed to hear my praises sung
          By you, who are the theme of honour's tongue.
          W. H. Main, The Tusculan Disputations of Cicero, rev. ed. (1824), p. 212;
          Cf. Henry IV, Part 1, I, i, 80: "A son who is the theme of honour's tongue."
  • Oderunt di homines iniuros.
    • ... The gods do hate unrighteous mortals.
      • Lycurgus; quoted by Nonius, 258, 38
  • Odi summussos; proinde aperte dice quid sit quod times.
    • Mumblers I hate; so plainly speak your fear.
      • Unassigned fragment; quoted by Festus, 424, 27
  • Pati necesse est mult a mortales mala.
  • Quae ego in theatro hic meis probavi plausibus
    Ea non audere quemquam regem rumpere,
    quanto libertatem hanc hic superat servitus.
    • That which I have tested by the applause I get here in the theatre, no Grand Duke in the world dares to shatter—by what a lot does slavery here beat yonder freedom!
      • Tarentilla; quoted by Charisius, 'Quanti'
        • The reference is perhaps to Q. Caecilius Metellus
        • Other translations:
          What I in the theatre here have made good by the applause given to me, to think that any of these great people should now dare to interfere with! How much better thing is the slavery here (i.e. represented in this play), than the liberty we actually enjoy?
          —W. Y. Sellar, The Roman Poets of the Republic, 3rd ed. (1905), Ch. 3, p. 57: note 20
          What I have won approval for by plaudits here in the theatre,
          With that no ruler whatever shall dare to interfere.
          —Alan A. Stambusky, "Roman Comedy on Trial in the Republic", ETJ, vol. 29, no. 1 (1977), p. 30
  • Vos qui regalis corporis custodias
    agitatis, ite actutum in frundiferos locos
    ingenio arbusta ubi nata sunt non obsitu.
    • To be my royal bodyguard, go you
      Straightway into the leafy places, where
      Greenwoods have grown in nature's way and not
      From a man's sowing.
      • Lycurgus; quoted by Nonius, 322, 34
      • "A definition, more than 2000 years old, of the strange spell which lifts verse into poetry, which it would be difficult to improve.”
        • Other translations:
          You who stand as guards about the royal
          person, go at once into the leafy groves
          where trees have grown by nature, not design.
          —Sander M. Goldberg, Epic in Republican Rome (1995), p. 86
          You to whom protection of the royal body
          Falls, go at once to the leafy places
          Where trees have grown by nature, not by sowing.
          —A. J. Boyle, An introduction to Roman Tragedy (2006), p. 43
          Underwoods wherein the copse-wood is sown by natural process, not planted.
          —a definition, more than two thousand years old, of the strange spell which lifts verse into poetry which it would be difficult to improve.
          —F. Τ. Palgrave, Golden Treasury, 2nd series (1897), Preface
  •     Si quidem vis loqui,
    non perdocere multa longe promicando oratio est.
    • If you want just to tell me, and not to make a whole lesson of it by shooting crowds of words far and wide—you can speak.
      • Agrypnuntes; quoted by Nonius, 65, 4

His Own Epitaph edit

  • Immortales mortales si foret fas flere
    flerent divae Camenae Naevium poetam.
    Itaque postquam est Orchi traditus thesauro,
    obliti sunt Romae loquier lingua latina.
    • If it were right for the immortal ones
        To mourn for mortals,
      Then for the poet Naevius would mourn
        The Goddesses of Song.
      And so when unto Death's own treasure-house
        He was delivered,
      Romans no longer did remember how
        To speak the Latin tongue.
      • Epitaph; quoted by Gellius, I, 24, 2
        • Other translations:
          If it were right that goddesses for men should weep,
          Then would our native Muses weep for Naevius dead,
          For now their poet's locked in soundless Lethe's keep,
          Rome has forgotten Latin's grave majestic tread.
          —Geoffrey Johnson, in L. R. Lind, ed. Latin Poetry in Verse Translation (1957), p. 5
          If that immortals might for mortals weep,
          Then would divine Camenae weep for Naevius.
          For after he to Orcus as treasure was consigned,
          The Romans straight forgot to speak the Latin tongue.
          —John C. Rolfe, The Attic Nights of Aullus Gellius, Vol. 1, L195 (1927), p. 109

About edit

  • Naevius in manibus non est et mentibus haeret
    paene recens? adeo sanctum est vetus emne poema.
    • Is not Naevius in our hands, and clinging to our minds, almost as of yesterday? So holy a thing is every ancient poem.
  • Epigramma Naevi plenum superbiae Campanae, quod testimonium esse iustum potuisset, nisi ab ipso dictum esset.
    • The epitaph of Naevius, although full of Campanian​n arrogance, might have been regarded as a just estimate, if he had not written it himself.
  • Nævius seems to have been the last of the ancient line of poets. Ennius was the founder of a new dynasty. Nævius celebrated the First Punic War in Saturnian verse, the old national verse of Italy. Ennius sang the Second Punic War in numbers borrowed from the Iliad. The elder poet, in the epitaph which he wrote for himself, and which is a fine specimen of the early Roman diction and versification, plaintively boasted that the Latin language had died with him. Thus what to Horace appeared to be the first faint dawn of Roman literature, appeared to Nævius to be its hopeless setting. In truth, one literature was setting, and another dawning.

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