Leonhard Schmitz (essay date 1877)
SOURCE: “Cn. Naevius” in A History of Latin Literature, William Collins, Sons, & Company, 1877, pp. 24-5.
[In the following excerpt, Schmitz provides a brief summary of Naevius’s life and importance.]
… Cn. Nævius was a native of Campania, but probably a Latin, though not a Roman citizen, as in this case he could hardly have been treated by his enemies with the severity he had to submit to. He produced his first plays on the Roman stage in b.c. 235. He had served as a soldier in the first Punic war. As a poet he followed, on the whole, the example of Livius Andronicus, but preferred comedy to tragedy; and as a Campanian he seems to have been of a somewhat fiery and independent disposition, and unconcerned as to whom he might offend by the sallies of his wit. He thus drew upon himself the enmity of the proud Roman aristocrats, especially of the Metelli, whom he offended by the line—
“Fato Metelli Romai fiunt consules.”
In consequence of this he was thrown into prison and afterwards sent into exile. He died at Utica, in Africa, about b.c. 199, or, according to Cicero, somewhat earlier.
Nævius was a man animated by a truly national spirit, and introduced into dramatic literature the kind of comedy known by the name prœtextatœ or togatœ, that is, comedies in which the chief characters were Romans, in short national characters, as opposed to palliatœ, i.e., comedies of which the characters were Greek, and which were either translations or adaptations from the Greek. This national spirit of the poet gained for his works a popularity which lasted several centuries, and which, if we may judge from the few fragments that have reached our time, was well deserved. We know the titles of about seven tragedies and of about thirty-six comedies that are ascribed to him.
In his later years, Nævius wrote an epic poem on the first Punic war, in the old Saturnian metre, which was subsequently divided by grammarians into seven books; the first two contained the early history of Rome, and the remaining five gave an account of the Punic war. The style of the work was plain and simple, somewhat resembling that of our rhyming chronicles. …