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7 - The satires of Ennius and Lucilius

from PART II - EARLY REPUBLIC

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2008

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Summary

THE MINOR WORKS OF ENNIUS

Ennius was not only a major dramatist and the author of the most ambitious Roman epic. He also extended the range of Latin poetry in a series of compositions in the genus humile, the low key, some based on Greek models, and others original. In these the poet had a prominent part, sometimes as himself, more pervasively as arbiter, editor, and commentator. Ennius' aim was sometimes to instruct, sometimes to amuse, and most often to do both. Right from the start, ‘to tell the truth with a smile’ and ‘to mix the useful with the sweet’ were characteristics of what fifty years later in Lucilius emerged as an important and specially Roman genre, satire. Let us review the content and tone of these minor works.

Ennius' Sota was a Latin version of a bawdy poem by Sotades, an Alexandrian of the third century B.C. It was written in the species of ionic tetrameter named after Sotades, a rhythm intended to call to mind the salacious dance-style of cinaedi and fit for comic treatment (cf. Plautus, Pers. 826, Stick. 769ff.; Petronius, Sat. 23):

ille ictu' retro reccidit in natem supinus…

(Sota 5 V = ROL 5)

Knocked backwards, he fell square down on his bum…

This was a linguistic and metrical experiment on Ennius' part. Even the few fragments extant show that he admitted low language and themes carefully avoided in the palliata. Nates, ‘bum’, occurs only once in Plautus, in the mouth of a vulgarian (Pers. 847): and Ennius used dialect words, e.g. tangent ‘ they ken’ (ROL fr. 4) where the normal callent ‘they know’ would have done.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1982

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References

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