previous next


Quintus, the “father of Roman poetry,” was born at Rudiae in Calabria, B.C. 239. He served in the Second Punic War and held the post of centurion in Sardinia, whence he was brought to Rome by Cato , B.C. 204. We have no ground for attributing to Cato any appreciation of Ennius's poetical gifts; he was no doubt attracted by his vigour and practical capacity. Established at Rome, Ennius gained a livelihood by giving instruction in the Greek language and by translating Greek plays for the Roman stage. His talents soon brought him recognition. Among those who honoured him with their friendship was the great Africanus, beside whose tomb the poet's bust is said to have been placed. In B.C. 189, he accompanied the consul M. Fulvius Nobilior into his province of Aetolia, expressly to record his exploits. In grateful recollection of this service the

Supposed Bust of Ennius. (Tomb of the Scipios.)

son of Fulvius in B.C. 184, with the approval of the people, assigned him a lot among the triumviri coloniae deducendae, thus constituting him a Roman citizen. To this he alludes in the last book of his Annales with justifiable pride, Nos sumu' Romani, qui fuimus ante Rudini. His honours did not, however, bring him wealth. Cicero relates that his old age was passed in poverty, but he did not allow this to cloud his genial temper. He is said to have keenly enjoyed the pleasures of convivial intercourse, and died of an attack of the gout at the age of seventy (B.C. 169).

Ennius was a remarkably prolific writer, and left untouched few departments of poetical composition. He probably did not commence his literary career till middle life, and he certainly continued it till the time of his death (Cic. Brut. 78). In the absence of certain data for determining the chronological order of his writings, it will be best to enumerate them in the order of their importance. His chief work was the Annales, an epic chronicle of Roman history and legend from the time of Aeneas to his own day, in eighteen books, written in hexameter verse. The first twelve books formed a connected poem, and may have been published together B.C. 172 (cf. Aul. Gell. xvii.21.43), though Teuffel thinks the whole work was issued in successive parts of three books each. Of this renowned work, so justly celebrated in antiquity, which gained for its author the title of “the Roman Homer,” sufficient fragments still remain to enable us to appreciate the qualities of his genius, and to deplore the loss of historical and literary material which it contained. The first book seems to have been the most poetical, and is naturally the most often quoted. The longest passages we possess are the Dream of Hia and the Auspices of Romulus and Remus, about ten lines each. The second and third books continued the regal period to its close, but are almost entirely lost to us. In all these the poet made a free use of supernatural machinery. The fourth, fifth, and sixth books began the Annales proper and carried the history of the Republic down to the conquest of Italy and the war with Pyrrhus; of these we possess a few short but striking fragments. In the third triad the Punic Wars were described—the first briefly, as having been already treated by Naevius (for whose rude Saturnian verse Ennius shows much contempt); the second, in which he himself had been an actor, at greater length and not without mythological embellishment. The thirteenth book began with a fresh exordium, as also did the sixteenth, which headed the closing series and brought the history down to B.C. 181 at least, if not somewhat later. The poem gained immediate popularity. It is recorded that large crowds attended its public recitation, and Vergil is said to have “introduced many lines into the Aeneid with the view of pleasing a people devoted to Ennius” (populus Ennianus). Its high estimation continued far into the times of the Empire, as we know from abundant evidence. It is not until Macrobius that we find it falling into neglect.

Next in importance to the Annales come the tragedies. These were free imitations of Greek dramas, generally those of Euripides, though a few recall by their titles the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles. The list is thus given by Ribbeck: Achilles, Achilles (from Aristarchus), Aiax, Alcumena, Alexander, Andromaché Aechmalotis, Andromeda, Athamas, Cresphontes, Erechtheus, Eumenides, Hectoris Lutra (or Lustra), Hecuba, Iphigenia, Medea Atheniensis, Medea Exul, Menalippa, Nemea, Phoenix, Telamo, Telephus, Thyestes. Their composition extended over the whole period of his literary life, B.C. 204-169, in which latter year the Thyestes was written. It has been doubted whether Ennius used the chorus. If not, such a play as the Eumenides, where the chorus is the chief character, would have had to be entirely recast; and, besides, the criticisms of the Ars Poetica presuppose a Roman tragic chorus. The reservation of the orchestra for the senators' seats would, of course, make choral evolutions impossible; but with this exception the plays of Ennius were closely modelled on their Greek originals. The magniloquence of their style and their moral grandeur made them special favourites with the public. Cicero gives them high praise, and it is to him that we are indebted for the greater part of the scanty fragments that remain. A praetexta, entitled Sabinae (Rape of the Sabine Women), has been attributed to Ennius by Vahlen from a passage of Iulius Victor, and there is some ground for conjecturing that the Ambracia was a drama of the same class, celebrating the deeds of Fulvius.

There also remain, besides the titles, some insignificant traces of two comedies by him—Cupuncula and Pancratiastes. But his bent of mind was unsuited for comedy, and he is mentioned by Volcacius Sedigitus only antiquitatis causa!

Ennius was addicted to philosophical speculations. His convictions oscillated between the mystic doctrines of Pythagoras and the scepticism of Euhemerus. Both found expression in his works. In the Annales he mentioned that the soul of Homer migrated into his own. In the Epicharmus, a distant precursor of the De Rerum Natura, written in trochaic tetrameters, he explained the tenets of Pythagoreanism. In the Euhemerus (erroneously supposed by some to have been a prose work) he adopted the mythologic theory of that superficial writer. It is probable that both these works formed part of the four (or six) books of Saturae—i. e. miscellaneous poems in various metres. To these, also, belonged the Sota, mentioned by Varro; the Protrepticus, or “Art of Life”; the Hedyphagetica, a treatise on gastronomics, based on that of Archestratus of Gela; and a few epigrams, the most celebrated of which were the epitaphs on Africanus and on himself.

Ennius was filled with a proud and noble self-consciousness. He entered Rome

  • 1. as a missionary of culture and free-thought; and
  • 2. as a consecrator of ancient tradition.
He gave to Latin literature an impulse it never quite lost. In nearly every field he led the van. To him, more than to any one, it owes its predominant tone of sober directness and moral strength. In him Greek culture, grafted on an Oscan or Messapian stock, combined with Roman patriotism to form for the first time that special intellectual type, enthusiastic but disciplined, imitative yet independent, Hellenic in source but in development intensely national, which we can trace all through the subsequent course of Roman letters, and most conspicuously in their best and most illustrious representatives. In formal polish he was no doubt deficient; yet he is often imitated by later writers, and by none with happier effect than Vergil.


The earliest edition of his fragments was in the Fragm. Poët. Vet. Lat. a Rob. Stephano Congesta, etc. (Henr. Stephanus, Paris, 1564). Far more complete was the edition of Hieronymus Columna (Naples, 1590), reprinted with the emendations and commentaries of M. A. Debrius and G. I. Voss by F. Hesselius of Rotterdam (Amsterdam, 1707).

The best modern edition of the whole of Ennius is that of Vahlen (Leipzig, 1854). He is also included in Wordsworth's Fragments and Specimens of Early Latin (Oxford, 1874), and in L. Müller's Enn. Carm. Reliquiae, accedunt Cn. Naevi Belli Poenici quae supersunt (St. Petersburg, 1885).

In the year 1595, Paulus Merula published at Leyden an edition of the Annales, which, among other alterations, included additional fragments said to come from a MS. treatise De Continentia Vett. Poetarum ad Traianum Principem, by L. Calpurnius Piso. This MS. has never appeared, and its very existence is suspected. Merula's edition was reprinted with revisions by E. Spangenberg (Leipzig, 1825). Cf. Hoch, De Enn. Ann. Fr. a Paulo Merula Auctis (Bonn, 1839), and J. Lawicki, De Fraude P. Merulae (Bonn, 1852). Books VII.-IX. (Punic Wars) have been treated by T. Hug, Dissertatio Inaug. (Bonn, 1852); Book I. by H. Ilberg (Bonn, 1852).

The tragic fragments by M. A. Debrius, in his Syntagma Tragoediae Latinae I. (Antwerp, 1593), reprinted at Paris in 1607 and 1619; also in the Collectanea Vett. Tragg. of P. Scriverius (Leyden, 1620). The fragment of the Medea, including additions to those given by Hessel and Merula, with a dissertation on Roman tragedy, by H. Planck (Göttingen, 1807). Also in Analecta Crit. Poesis Rom. Sen. Relig. Illustrantia, by F. Osann (Berlin, 1816). A critical edition of his dramatic fragments, published by F. H. Bothe, in Poet. Scen. Lat. (Halberstadt, 1821- 1823; Leipzig, 1840). Also in Ribbeck's Scaenicae Rom. Poësis Fragmenta, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1852-55).

Other Ennian fragments are given in Enn. Carm. ed. P. Burmann; in the Anthol. Vett. Lat. Epigr. et Poem. (Amsterdam, 1759). Of this an enlarged edition was published by H. Meyer (Leipzig, 1835). The Hedyphagetica fragments were collected by C. Wernsdorf in the Poetae Lat. Minores, vols. i.-v. part i. (Altenburg, 1780-88); vol. v. 2, 3-5 (Helmstadt, 1791-99). The ancient authorities for the poet's life and writings are given by Hessel, Spangenberg, and Teuffel (Rom. Lit. vol. i.; Eng. edit. London, 1891). Special discussions in Vahlen, Die Annalen des Ennius (Berlin, 1886); H. Jordan, Quaest. Enn. (Königsberg, 1885). For general criticisms of his style and genius, see Patin, Études sur la Poésie Latine, vol. ii. (Paris, 1869); Sellar, R. Poets of Republic, vol. i. (Oxford, 1881).

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: