Livius Andronicus

views updated May 09 2018

Livius Andronicus

c. 280 b.c.e.–c. 204 b.c.e.


The Originator of Latin Poetry.

Little is known about the early life of Livius Andronicus, who was born around 280 b.c.e. He likely came to Rome as a teacher of Greek and Latin sometime in the mid-third century b.c.e. in the household of one Livius Salinator, from whom he took the family name "Livius" after being freed. His exact region of origin is not known, though his last name "Andronicus" sounds Greek, and he may have been born in the Greek colony of Tarentum in southern Italy. This area was known to the early Romans as Magna Graecia or "Greater Greece," because it, as well as the island of Sicily, had been colonized by the Greeks since at least the eighth century b.c.e. He is credited as the first to create Latin poetry when he began translating Homer's Odyssey into Latin using a native Italic poetic meter. He also began producing plays for and acting on the Roman stage, influenced by the Greek theater in southern Italy, Greek-influenced Etruscan performances, and the early native forms of spectacle, like the Fescennine verses at harvest times, the Atellan farces of the Oscans in Campania, and the Italians' love of music, dance, and religious ritual.

Wrote in Both Genres.

His first production took place in 240 b.c.e., during an especially grand celebration of the annual Roman Games to celebrate Rome's victory over Carthage in the First Punic War (264–241 b.c.e.). Unlike Greek playwrights, who wrote in only one genre, Livius Andronicus wrote both tragedies and comedies in the Greek style, of which seven titles and fewer than seventy fragments have survived. His tragedies often centered around the events of the Trojan War, such as Achilles, Aegisthus, Ajax with a Whip, The Trojan Horse, and Hermione, but he wrote on other mythological stories as well, including Andromeda, Danae, and Tereus. One of the few comedies that survived to modern times is entitled The Little Sword. In 207 b.c.e., he received state honors for his work, the first time that the Romans honored literary achievement. In that same year, the professional actors' and scribes' union (the collegium scribarum histrionumque) was officially recognized, and space was provided for them in a temple on the Aventine Hill. Under the influence of Livius, and due to the popularity of his plays, the old Roman saturae (sketches accompanied by music that were originally performed) gradually became a purely literary genre in favor of the Greek-inspired drama Livius brought to his adopted city.


Gian Biagio 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 I (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959–1961).