Cnaeus Naevius Criticism - Essay

Leonhard Schmitz (essay date 1877)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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. …

W. Y. Sellar (essay date 1881)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Beginning of Roman Literature—Livius Andronicus—Cn. Naevius, b.c. 240-202” in The Roman Poets of the Republic, Clarendon Press, 1881, pp. 47-61.

[In the following excerpt, Sellar discusses the importance of Greek literature as the model for early Roman literature and praises Naevius’s Latin for its vigor and purity.]

The historical event which first brought the Romans into familiar contact with the Greeks, was the war with Pyrrhus and with Tarentum, the most powerful and flourishing among the famous Greek colonies in lower Italy. In earlier times, indeed, through their occasional communication with the Greeks of Cumae, and the other colonies in...

(The entire section is 4842 words.)

George Augustus Simcox (essay date 1883)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to A History of Latin Literature from Ennius to Boethius, Vol. 1, Harper & Brothers, 1883, pp. 1-21.

[In the following excerpt, Simcox ventures that “a superb and reckless character served [Naevius] instead of literary talent.”]

… The first Latin playwright, the first schoolmaster who taught Greek literature, was Titus Livius Andronicus. He was a native of Tarentum: he came to Rome as a slave, and employed himself after his emancipation as a schoolmaster and an actor. In the latter capacity he originated the curious division of labor whereby one actor, commonly himself, danced and acted, while another, whom the audience were not...

(The entire section is 736 words.)

Tenney Frank (essay date 1927)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Naevius and Free Speech,” American Journal of Philology, Vol. XLVIII, No. 2, 1927, pp. 105-10.

[In the following essay Frank offers his interpretation of Naevius’s most famous line, “Fato Metelli Romae fiunt consules,” and explains why it held a “double sting” for Metellus.]

The famous senarius of Naevius Fato Metelli Romae fiunt consules was preserved only by Pseudo-Asconius1 in commenting upon Cicero’s thrust at Metellus Creticus in the first Verrine oration, but it is clearly assumed as known by Caesius Bassus2 who quotes the answer of Metellus. Wissowa3 following Zumpt attempted to prove the line much...

(The entire section is 2291 words.)

Tenney Frank (essay date 1930)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Early Tragedy and Epic” in Life and Literature in the Roman Republic, University of California Press, 1930, pp. 30-64.

[In the following excerpt, Frank notes Naevius’s innovations in drama, which include disregarding time and place and increasing the use of musical accompaniment; he also discusses the role of Naevius and his fellow dramatists in the development and eventual failure of Roman tragedy.]

Browning has recalled the story of how Greek war captives taken at Syracuse in the Peloponnesian war earned their release by reciting snatches from the plays of Euripides. It was a century and a half after that seige that the Romans came to Sicily in the...

(The entire section is 9724 words.)

Thelma B. De Graff (essay date 1931)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Some Remarks on Naevius as Poet and as Man” in Naevian Studies: A Dissertation, W. F. Humphrey, 1931, pp. 58-66.

[In the following excerpt, De Graff explains why it is so difficult to evaluate Naevius’s merit as a writer and points out that many fragments of his work are extant solely because they were used as examples in grammar texts.]

There are certain great names in the world of letters which are immortal1 Upon them has been impressed the stamp omnium temporum et aetatum et locorum2, which marks them as classic. In the chorus of universal approval which greets them there is scarcely a discordant note. To estimate their...

(The entire section is 3357 words.)

Henry T. Rowell (essay date 1947)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Original Form of Naevius’s Bellum Punicum,American Journal of Philology, Vol. LXVIII, No. 1, January 1947, pp. 21-46.

[In the following essay Rowell contends that the common distribution and assignment of fragments of the Bellum Punicum is faulty and he offers suggestions for a different arrangement of particular segments.]

From statements of Suetonius and Santra, it is known that Cn. Naevius wrote his Bellum Punicum in the form of a single unbroken narrative which was later divided into seven books by C. Octavius Lampadio, probably in the second half of the second century b.c.1 That this edition of Lampadio was used...

(The entire section is 9567 words.)

Henry T. Rowell (essay date 1949)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The ‘Campanian’ Origin of C. Naevius and Its Literary Attestation” in Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Vol. XIX, Yale University Press, 1949, pp. 15-34.

[In the following essay, Rowell examines the earliest source material, particularly the efforts of Varro, for compiling biographical information concerning Naevius, with emphasis on the question of whether or not Naevius came from the city of Capua.]

The only indication which we have of the origin and nationality of the poet Naevius appears in a chapter of the Attic Nights in which Aulus Gellius records the epitaphs of Naevius, Plautus, and Pacuvius.1 In introducing the...

(The entire section is 7632 words.)

J. Wight Duff (essay date 1960)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Pioneers of Roman Poetry” in A Literary History of Rome: From the Origins to the Close of the Golden Age, Ernest Benn Limited, 1960, pp. 87-113.

[In the following excerpt, Duff examines some examples of what he considers inspired verses of Naevius.]

In Cn. Naevius (circ. 270-circ. 199) greater independence and originality are recognisable.1 He may be called home-born, and the native spirit is strong in him. Especially in the historical plays (fabulae praetextae or praetextatae) invented by him, and in his epic, he proves himself inspired by the greatness of the national life. His truly Latin genius is testified to...

(The entire section is 3179 words.)