Gnaeus Naevius Essay - Critical Essays


Although little of his work actually survives, it is clear that Gnaeus Naevius was a prolific dramatist. Nearly forty titles have been attributed to him, and assuming that they were all his, this would mean that he wrote more than one play each year during his theatrical career. If one can judge reliably based on the meager fragments, independence and free speech were his recurring themes. Several of his comedies, given their outrageous titles (Cataract, A Play About Testicles, Triphallus) no doubt brought unconventional subject matter to the stage, and the very number of his comedies, when considered against a mere seven tragedies, implies that he found in comedy a greater opportunity for innovation. The tragedies, no matter what innovations Naevius might have introduced in meter or detail, were essentially adaptations, translations based on Greek originals. It is logical that his ingenuity and patriotism would lead him to create his historical dramas in Roman dress, and though only two of these titles remain, they likely constituted the most significant dramatic contribution he made to Roman drama.

Stylistically, his plays had the strong bias toward rhetorical effects which Romans would continue to admire in the works of Quintus Ennius. Both Cicero and Seneca quote a heavily alliterated line from Hector’s Departure drawn from Hector’s farewell to his father Priam. Although it is difficult to be certain on the basis of one line, Naevius’s Hector appears to have an almost consular nobility in this scene, fighting for...

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