ROMAN TRAGEDY

This document was originally published in The Drama: Its History, Literature and Influence on Civilization, vol. 2. ed. Alfred Bates. London: Historical Publishing Company, 1906. pp. 130-131.

If to Roman comedy must be assigned a subordinate rank in the history of dramatic literature, still lower in the scale was the tragedy of the Latins. Little, as we have seen, has come down to us, except for a few plays of Seneca, with occasional fragments from less prominent writers. While the works of Horace and Virgil, of Ovid and Lucretius, still hold their own with the great Hellenic masters, Roman tragedy is practically extinct.

To Nævius, Ennius and the earlier tragic poets brief reference has already been made. Among the numerous imitators of the Greeks during the later republican era Marcus Pacuvius and Lucius Accius are worthy of special mention. Pacuvius, a native of Brundisium, removed to Rome in early youth and earned his livelihood by painting, turning his attention to tragedy when well advanced in years. His style was formed after that of his uncle, Ennius, and in literary circles he was regarded as a model of artistic and polished composition. Yet in the fragments that have reached us there is much to justify Cicero's censure of his language and Lucilius' condemnation of his style. More readable and adroit are the imitations of Greek tragedy by Lucius Accius, the son of a freedman of Pisaurum and a younger contemporary of Pacuvius.

At the opening of the Augustan age the condition and prospects of dramatic literature were simply lamentable. Both in tragedy and comedy all that possessed and trace of Roman nationality had become extinct. New pieces were no longer performed, but that they were expected is shown by the reproduction of old comedies under new titles and with other names for the dramatis personæ; for, as the managers said, it was better to see a good old play than a poor new one. There was, indeed, a certain productiveness among the Alexandrine school, but this was worse than none, for real dramatic composition Alexandrine literature never knew. Only a spurious drama, not intended for the stage, was introduced into Rome from the eastern capital, and this had so many readers and imitators that the writing of tragedy was regarded as one of the diseases of youth.

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