The pestilence continued both for this and the following year, Caius Sulpicius Peticus and Caius Licinius Stolo being consuls.
During that year nothing worth recording took place, except that for the purpose of imploring the favour of the gods, there was a Lectisternium, the third time since the building of the city.
And when the violence of the disease was alleviated neither by human measures nor by divine interference, their minds being broken down by superstition, [p. 449]
among other means of appeasing the wrath of heaven, scenic plays also are said to have been instituted, a new thing to a warlike people (for hitherto there had been only the shows of the circus). But the matter was trivial, (as all beginnings generally are,) and even that itself from a foreign source.
Without any poetry, or gesticulating in imitation of such poetry, actors were sent for from Etruria, dancing to the measures of a musician, and exhibited, according to the Tuscan fashion, movements by no means ungraceful.
The young men afterwards began to imitate these, throwing out at the same time among each other jocular expressions in uncouth verses; nor were their gestures irrelevant to their language.
Wherefore the matter was received with approbation, and by frequent use was much improved. To the native performers the name of histriones
was given, because hister,
in the Tuscan vocabulary, was the name of an actor,
who did not, as formerly, throw out alternately artless and unpolished verses like the Fescennine at random, but represented medleys complete with metre, the music being regularly adjusted for the musician, and with appropriate gesticulation.
Livius, who several years after, giving up medleys, was the first who ventured to digest a story with a regular plot, (the same being, forsooth, as all were at that time, the actor of his own pieces,) after having broken his
voice from having been too repeatedly called on, and after having sought permission, is said to have placed a boy before the musician to chaunt, and to have performed the gesticulations with considerably freer movement, because the employment of his voice was no impediment to him.
Thence commenced the practice of chaunting to the actors according to their manual gesticulations, and the dialogues only were left to their voice.
When by this arrangement the business of the scenic performances was called away from laughter and intemperate mirth, and the amusement became gradually converted into an art, the young men, leaving to regular actors the performance of plays, began themselves, according to the ancient usage, to throw out ludicrous jests comprised in verses, which from that time were called exodia,
and were collected chiefly from the Atellan farces.
Which kind of amusement, received from the Osci, the young kept to themselves, nor did they suffer it to be debased by regular players. Hence it remains an established usage that the actors of the Atellan farces are neither degraded [p. 450]
from their tribe, and may serve in the army, as if having no connexion with the profession of the stage.
Among the trifling beginnings of other matters, it seemed to me that the first origin of plays also should be noticed; that it might appear how from a moderate commencement it has reached its present extravagance, scarcely to be supported by opulent kingdoms.