CHAPTER VII. ROMAN LITERATURE.
The Romans, however, produced no poetry worthy of notice until the Greek language and literature were introduced. It was not till the fall of Tarentum that we read of a Roman poet. Livius Andronicus, a Greek slave, B.C. 240, rudely translated the Odyssey into Latin, and was the author of various plays, all of which have perished, and none of which, according to Cicero, were worth a second perusal. Still he was the first to substitute the Greek drama for the old lyrical stage poetry. One year after the first Punic War, he exhibited the first Roman play. As the creator of the drama, he deserves historical notice, though he has no claim to originality, and like a schoolmaster as he was, pedantically labored to imitate the culture of the Greeks. And his plays formed the commencement of Roman translation-literature, and naturalized the Greek metres in Latium, even though they were curiosities rather than works of art. [Footnote: Mommsen, vol. ii. b. ii. ch. xiv.] Naevius, B.C. 235, produced a play at Rome, and wrote both epic and dramatic poetry, but so little has survived, that no judgment can be formed of his merits. He was banished for his invectives against the aristocracy, who did not relish severity of comedy. [Footnote: Horace, Ep. ii. 11, 53.] Mommsen regards Naevius as the first among the Romans who deserves to be ranked among the poets. He flourished about the year 550, and closely adhered to Andronicus in metres. His language is free from stiffness and affectation, and his verses have a graceful flow. Plautus was perhaps the first great poet whom the Romans produced, and his comedies are still admired by critics, as both original and fresh. He was born in Umbria, B.C. 257, and was contemporaneous with Publius and Cneius Scipio. He died B.C. 184.
The first development of Roman genius in the field of poetry, seems to have been the dramatic, in which the Greek authors were copied. Plautus might be mistaken for a Greek, were it not for the painting of Roman manners. His garb is essentially Greek. He wrote one hundred and thirty plays, not always for the stage, but for the reading public. He lived about the time of the second Punic War, before the theatre was fairly established at Rome. His characters, although founded on Greek models, act, speak, and joke like Romans. He enjoyed great popularity down to the latest times of the empire, while the purity of his language, as well as the felicity of his wit, was celebrated by the ancient critics. [Footnote: Quint., x. i. Section 99.] Cicero places his wit on a par with the old Attic comedy, [Footnote: Cicero, De Off., i. 29.] while Jerome spent much time in reading his comedies, even though they afterward cost him tears of bitter regret. Modern dramatists owe much to him. Moliere has imitated him in his "Avare," and Shakespeare in his "Comedy of Errors." Lessing pronounces the " Captivi" to be the finest comedy ever brought upon the stage. [Footnote: Smith, Dict. of Ant. art. Plaut.] He has translated this play into German. It has also been admirably translated into English. The great excellence of Plautus was the masterly handling of the language, and the adjusting the parts for dramatic effect. His humor, broad and fresh, produced irresistible comic effects. No one ever surpassed him in his vocabulary of nicknames, and his happy jokes. Hence he maintained his popularity in spite of his vulgarity. [Footnote: Mommsen, vol. ii. b. iii. ch. xiv.]