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9 - The new direction in poetry


Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

W. V. Clausen
Harvard University
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The New Poets, as they are conventionally and conveniently called, were so called by an older poet who disliked them, at least some of them. Cicero, Orat. 161 (46–45 B.C.), observes that the suppression of final s was, at one time, a characteristic of refined speech but that now it seems somewhat countrified, subrusticum; and the new poets now shun it, nunc fugiunt poetae noui. ‘We used to talk like this’, he adds, quoting from Ennius’ Annals and Lucilius. A year or so later, Tusc. disp. 3.45 (45–44 B.C.), he again refers to these poets while extolling the virtues of Ennius. O poetam egregium.! quamquam ab his cantoribus Euphorionis nunc contemnitur ‘What an outstanding poet! although he is despised by these choristers of Euphorion.’ Who were these poets, cantores Euphorionis? Not Catullus certainly, who had been dead for nearly a decade. Probably his friend Cinna, a sedulous imitator of Euphorion, and contemporary poetasters who imitated Cinna; possibly Cornelius Gallus, now in his mid twenties, who ‘ translated’ Euphorion.

It is a mistake, often made, to speak of ‘Cicero's poetry’ as if it were a body of work in which a consistent development might be traced from beginning to end. Cicero was serious about poetry, whenever the mood seized him. To an exceptional degree, and at a very early age, he mastered poetic form, and produced, in his youthful version of Aratus' Phaenomena, the first elegant hexameters written in Latin.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1982

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