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Naevius, Gnaeus

Gnaeus Naevius

c. 270 b.c.e.–c. 200 b.c.e.


First Roman Playwright.

Naevius was most likely born in Rome around 280 b.c.e., despite a later reference to his possible Campanian origins. His family name is known from historical records as a plebeian rather than noble name and he was certainly a Roman citizen, not a freedman like his contemporary Livius Andronicus. He served in the Roman army during the first Punic War (264–241 b.c.e.) and began writing for the stage afterward, with his first production in Rome in 235 b.c.e. He did not act in his own plays like Livius, but he did originate a uniquely Roman form of drama: the fabula praetexta, historical tragedies about Roman subjects rather than Greek mythology. One, called Clastidium, recounted a Roman victory in that city in 222 b.c.e.; another, Romulus, told the story of Rome's legendary founder. He also wrote comedies, based on Greek originals (called fabula palliata after the Greek pallium, or outer garment) and Roman originals (togata after Roman clothing). In a style that harked back to Greek Old Comedy and very much contrary to New Comic practice, Naevius often attacked famous Romans, like Scipio Africanus and the noble Caecilius Metellus family. He was even jailed for a time because of his assaults on the upper class, which Plautus alludes to in one of his comedies. He may have been best known for his epic poem "The Punic War," the first real Roman epic in native Italic meter. This sweeping national poem, which went back to Rome's connection to the Trojan Aeneas, was a powerful influence on later writers of Roman epic like Ennius and Vergil. Naevius' younger contemporaries Pacuvius and Accius continued to write in the genres Naevius established or developed, but Roman tragedy as a dramatic form did not endure past Naevius' time. Plautus and Terence carried on writing comedies "in Greek dress," and in the first century c.e., Seneca wrote tragedies based on or inspired by Greek originals.


Gian Conte, Latin Literature: A History (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

M. C. Howatson, ed., The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).

E. J. Kenney, ed., The Cambridge History of Classical Literature II: Latin Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).

E. H. Warmington, ed., The Remains of Old Latin, Volume II (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959–1961).

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