Because Gnaeus Naevius fought in the First Punic War (264-241 b.c.e.), he could not have been born much later than 260 b.c.e. The second century c.e. commentator Aulus Gellius, in Noctes Atticae (c. 180 c.e.; Attic Nights, 1927), records Naevius’s prideful and possibly self-composed epitaph, in which he declares that the Muses themselves weep for him, if deities ever mourn for human beings, for his death signals the end of the true Latin language in Rome. Gellius remarks that the epitaph is filled with Campanian pride, and this remark has been used to support the traditionally held view that Naevius’s birthplace was in Campania. It consequently seems reasonable to assume that Naevius came from that region’s principal town, Capua, which prided itself on its ancient origins. There is no firm evidence that the epitaph was self-composed, however, and Gellius’s comment simply follows the tradition, firmly established even in his own time, that Campania was Naevius’s birthplace.
It is clear, however, that Naevius became proficient in the Latin language relatively early in his life and that he came to see himself as an urbane man whose personal interests were identifiable with those of Rome itself. His literary output indicates his special interest in Roman historical and political affairs, and from his own testimony in his Bellum Punicum it is clear that he fought in the First Punic War.
The Punic War took Naevius to Sicily, called Magna Graecia by the Romans because of its extensive Greek settlements, and it was there that he was able to see Greek life at first hand, as well as the...
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