whom the Romans ever regarded with a sort of filial reverence as the parent of their literature--noster Ennius,
our own Ennius, as he is styled with fond familiarity--was born in the consulship of C. Mamilius Turrinus and C. Valerius Falto, B. C. 239, the year immediately following that in which the first regular drama had been exhibited on the Roman stage by Livius Andronicus.
The place of his nativity was Rudiae, a Calabrian village among the hills near Brundusium.
He claimed descent from the ancient lords of Messapia; and after he had become a convert to the Pythagorean doctrines, was wont to boast that the spirit which had once animated the body of the immortal Homer, after passing through many tenements, after residing among others in a peacock, and in the sage of Crotona, had eventually passed into his own frame. Of his early history we know nothing, except, if we can trust the loose poetical testimony of Silius and Claudian, that he served with credit as a soldier, and rose to the rank of a centurion. When M. Porcius Cato, who had filled the office of quaestor under Scipio in the African war, was returning home, he found Ennius in Sardinia, became acquainted with his high powers, and brought him in his train to Rome, our poet being at that time about the age of thirty-eight.
But his military ardour was not yet quenched; for twelve years afterwards he accompanied M. Fulvius Nobilior during the Aetolian campaign, and shared his triumph.
It is recorded that the victorious general, at the instigation probably of his literary friend, consecrated the spoils captured from the enemy to the Muses, and subsequently, when Censor, dedicated a joint temple to Hercules and the Nine. Through the son of Nobilior, Ennius, when fir advanced in life, obtained the rights of a citizen, a privilege which at that epoch was guarded with watchful jealousy, and very rarely granted to an alien. From the period, however, when he quitted Sardinia, he seems to have made Rome his chief abode; for there his great poetical talents, and an amount of learning which must have been considered marvellous in those days, since he was master of three languages,--Oscan, Latin, and Greek,--gained for him the respect and favour of all who valued such attainments ; and, in particular, he lived upon terms of the closest intimacy with the conqueror of Hannibal and other members of that distinguished family. Dwelling in a humble mansion on the Aventine, attended by a single female slave, he maintained himself in honourable poverty by acting as a preceptor to patrician youths; and having lived on happily to a good age, was carried off by a disease of the joints, probably gout, when seventy years old, soon after the completion of his great undertaking, which he closes by comparing himself to a race-horse, in these prophetic lines :--
Like some brave steed, who in his latest race
Hath won the Olympic wreath; the contest o'er,
Sinks to repose, worn out by age and toil.
At the desire of Africanus, his remains were deposited in the sepulchre of the Scipios, and his bust allowed a place among the effigies of that noble house. His epitaph, penned by himself in the undoubting anticipation of immortal fame, has been preserved, and may be literally rendered thus :--
Romans, behold old Ennius! whose lays
Built up on high your mighty fathers' praise!
Pour not the wail of mourning o'er my bier,
Nor pay to me the tribute of a tear:
Still, still I live ! from mouth to mouth I fly !
Never forgotten never shall I die !
The works of Ennius are believed to have existed entire so late as the thirteenth century (A. G. Cramer, Hauschronick,
p. 223), but they have long since disappeared as an independent whole, and nothing now remains but fragments collected from other ancient writers.
These amount in all to many hundred lines; but a large proportion being quotations cited by grammarians for the purpose of illustrating some rare form, or determining the signification of sonic obsolete word, are mere scraps, possessing little interest for any one but a philologist. Some extracts of a longer and more satisfactory character are to be found in Cicero, who gives us from the annals,--the dream of Hia (18 lines); the conflicting auspices observed by Romulus and Remus (20 lines); and the speech of Pyrrhus with regard to ransoming the prisoners (8 lines) : besides these, a passage from the Andromache (18 lines); a curious invective against itinerant fortune-tellers, probably from the Satires ; and a few others of less importance. Aulus Gellius has saved eighteen consecutive verses, in which the duties and bearing of a humble friend towards his superior are bodied forth in very spirited phraseology, forming a picture which it was believed that the poet intended for a portrait of hiself, while Macrobius presents us with a battlepiece (8 lines), where a tribune is described as gallantly resisting the attack of a crowd of foes.
Although under these circumstances it is extremely difficult to form any accurate judgment with regard to his absolute merits as a poet, we are at least certain that his success was triumphant. For a long series of years his strains were read aloud to applauding multitudes, both in the metropolis and in the provinces; and a class of men arose who, in imitation of the Homeristae, devoted themselves exclusively to the study and recitation of his works, receiving the appellation of Ennianistae.
In the time of Cicero he was still considered the prince of Roman song (Ennium summum Epicum poetam--de Opt. G. O. 1. Summus poeta noster--pro Balb.
22); Virgil was not ashamed to borrow many of his thoughts, and not a few of his expressions; and even the splendour of the Augustan age failed to throw him into the shade. And well did he merit the gratitude of his adopted countrymen; for not only did he lay the basis of their literature, but actually constructed their language.
He found the Latin tongue a rough, meagre, uncultivated dialect, made up of ill-cemented fragments, gathered at random from a number of different sources, subject to no rules which might secure its stability, and destitute of any regular system of verification.
He softened its asperities, he enlarged its vocabulary, he regulated its grammatical combinations, he amalgamated into one harmonious whole its various conflicting elements, and he introduced the heroic hexameter, and various other metres, long carefully elaborated by Grecian skill. Even in the disjointed and mutilated remains which have been transmitted to us, we observe a vigour of imagination, a national boldness of tone, and an energy of expression which amply justify the praises so liberally launched on his genius by the ancients; and although we are perhaps at first repelled by the coarseness, clumsiness, and antique fashion of the garb in which his high thoughts are invested, we cannot but feel that what was afterwards gained in smoothness and refinement is a poor compensation for the loss of that freshness and strength which breathe the hearty spirit of the brave old days of Roman simplicity and freedom.
The criticism of Ovid," Ennius ingenio maximus arte rudis," is fair, and happily worded ; but the fine simile of Quintilian, " Ennium sicut sacros vetustate lucos adoremus, in quibus grandia et antiqua robora, jam non tantam habent speciem, quantam religionem," more fully embodies our sentiments.
We subjoin a catalogue of the works of Ennius, in so far as their titles can be ascertained.
Annalium Libri XVIII
, the most important of all his productions, was a history of Rome in dactylic hexameters, commeneing with the loves of Mars and Rhea, and reaching down to his own times.
The subject was selected with great judgment.
The picturesque fables, romantic legends, and chivalrous exploits with which it abounded, afforded full scope for the exercises of his poetical powers; he was enabled to testify gratitude towards his personal friends, and to propitiate the nobles as a body, by extolling their own lofty deeds and the glories of their sires; and perhaps no theme could have been chosen so well calculated to awaken the enthusiasm of all ranks among a proud, warlike, and as yet unlettered people. His faney was cramped by none of those fetters imposed by a series of well ascertained facts; he was left to work his will upon the rude ballads of the vulgar, the wild traditions of the old patrician clans, and the meagre chronicles of the priests. Niebuhr conjectures that the beautiful history of the kings in Livy may have been taken from Ennius. No great space, however, was allotted to the earlier records, for the contest with Hannibal, which was evidently described with great minuteness, commenced with the seventh book, the first Punic war being passed over altogether, as we are told by Cicero. (Brut.
The fame of Ennius as a dramatist, was little inferior to his reputation as an epic bard. His pieces, which were very numerous, appear to have been all translations or adaptations from the Greek, the metres of the originals being in most cases closely imitated.
Fragments have been preserved of the following tragedies : Achilles
, Achilles (Aristarchi)
, Hectoris Lytra
or Melanippus Nemea
We have titles of the following comedies, belonging to the class of palliatae
(name very doubtful), Pancratiastes,
For full information as to the sources from whence these were derived, consult the editions of Hesselius
, together with the dissertations of Osann referred to at the end of this article.
In four (Porphyr. ad Hor. Sal.
1.10), or according to others (Donat. ad Terent. Phorm.
2.2. 25) in six books, of which less tham twenty-five scattered lines are extant, but from these it is evident that the Satirae
were composed in a great variety of metres, and from this circumstance, in all probability, received their appellation.
A panegyric upon the public career of his friend and patron, Africanus.
The measure adopted seems to have been the trochaic tetrameter catalectic, although a line quoted, possibly by mistake, in Macrobius (Macr. 6.4
) is a dactylic hexameter.
The five verses and a half which we possess of this piece do not enable us to decide whether Valerius Maximus was entitled to term it (8.14) rude et impolitum praceouium.
(Suidas, s. v. Ἔννιος
; Schol. vet. ad Hor. Sat.
2.1. 16.) Some scholars have supposed that the Scipio
was in reality a drama belonging to the class of the praeteatatae.
Varro and Festus when examining into the meaning of certain uncommon words, quote from " Ennius in Asoto," or as Scaliger, very erroneously, insists " in Sotadico."
The subject and nature of this piece are totally unknown. Many believe it to have been a comedy.
From a few remnants, amounting altogether to little more than twenty lines, we gather that this must have been a philosophical didactic poem in which the nature of the gods, the human mind and its phaenomena, the physical structure of the universe and various kindred topics, were discussed. From the title we conclude, that it was translated or imitated from Epicharmus the comic poet, who was a disciple of Pythagoras and is known to have written De Rerum Natura.
These and many other titles have been assigned to a work upon edible fishes, which Ennius may perhaps have translated from Archestratus. [ARCHESTRATUS.] Eleven lines in dactylic hexameters have been preserved by Apuleius exhibiting a mere catalogue of names and localities. They are given, with some preliminary remarks, in Wernsdorf's Poet. Lat. Min.
vol. i. pp. 157 and 1187.
See also Apuleius, Apolog.
p. 299 ed. Elmenh.; P. Pithoeus, Epigramm. vet.
iv. fin.; Parrhas. Epist.
65 ; Trillerus, Observatt. crit.
1.14; Scaliger Catalect. vel. poet.
p. 215; Turneb. Advers.
21.21; Salmas. ad Solin.
p. 794, ed. Traj.; Burmann, Anthol. Lat.
3.135; Fabric. Bibl. Lat.
Under this head we have two short epitaphs upon Scipio Africanus, and one upon Ennius himself, the whole in elegiac verse, extending collectively to ten lines.
The title seems to indicate that this was a collection of precepts exhorting the reader to the practice of virtue. We cannot, however, tell much about it nor even discover whether it was written in prose or verse, since one word only is known to us, namely pannibus
quoted by Charisius.
Very probably the same with the preceding. From the remains of three lines in Priscian we conclude that it was composed in iambic trimeters.
Angelo Mai in a note on Cic. De Rep.
2.8, gives a few words in prose from " Ennius in Sabinis" without informing us where he found them. Columna has pointed out that in Macrobius, Macr. 6.5
, we ought to read " Ennius in libro Satirarum
quarto " instead of Sabinarum
as it stands in the received text.
a translation into Latin prose of the ἵερα ἀναγράφη
of Euhemerus [EUHEMERUS.] Several short extracts are contained in Lactantius, and a single word in the De Re Rustic of Varro.
Censorinus (100.19) tells us, that according to Ennius the year consisted of 366 days, and hence it has been conjectured that he was the author of some astronomical treatise.
But an expression of this sort may have been dropped incidentally, and is not sufficient to justify such a supposition without further evidence.
The first general collection of the fragments of Ennius is that contained in the " Fragmenta veterum Poetarum Latinorum " by Robert and Henry Stephens, Paris, 8vo. 1564.
It is exceedingly imperfect and does not include any portion of the Euhemerus, which being in prose was excluded from the plan.
Much more complete and accurate are Q. Ennii poetae vetustissimi, quae supersunt, fragmenta, collected, arranged, and expounded
, by Hieronymus Columna, Neapol. 4to. 1590, reprinted with considerable additions, comprising the commentaries of Delrio and G. J. Voss, by Hesselius, professor of history and eloquence at Rotterdam, Amstel. 4to. 1707.
This must be considered as the best edition of the collected fragments which has yet appeared.
Five years after Columna's edition a new edition of the Annales was published at Leyden (4to. 1595) by Paullus Merula
, a Dutch lawyer, who professed not only to have greatly purified the text, and to have introduced many important corrections in the arrangement and distribution of the different portions, but to have made considerable additions to the relics previously discovered.
The new verses were gathered chiefly from a work by L. Calpurnius Piso, a contemporary of the younger Pliny, bearing the title De Continentia Veterum Poetarum ad Trajanum Principem,
a MS. of which Merula tells us that he examined hastily in the library of St. Victor at Paris, accompanying this statement with an inexplicable and most suspicious remark, that he was afraid the volume would be stolen.
It is certain that this codex. if it ever existed, has long since disappeared, and the lines in question are regarded with well-merited suspicion.1
from the text of Merula were reprinted, but not very accurately, with some trifling additions, and with the fragments of the Punic war of Naevius, by E. S. (Ernst Spangenberg), 8vo. Lips. 1825
The fragments of the tragedies were carefully collected and examined by M. A. Delrio in his Syntagma Tragoediae Latinae, vol., i. Antv. 4to, 1593; reprinted at Paris in 1607 and 1619
: they will be found also in the Collectanea veterum Tragicorum of Scriverius
, to which are appended the emendations and notes of G. J. Vossius, Lug. Bat. 8vo, 1620
The fragments of both the tragedies and comedies are contained in Bothe, Poetarum Lutii scenicorum fragmenta, Halberst. 8vo. 1823
. The fragments of the Medea, with a dissertation on the origin and nature of Roman tragedy, were published by H. Planck, Götting. 4to. 1806
, and the fragments of the Medea and of the Hecuba, compared with the plays of Euripides bearing the same names, are contained in the Analecta Critica Poesis Romanorum scenicae reliquias illustrantia of Osann, Berolin. 8vo. 1816
Sources and further information
See the prefaces and prolegomena to the editions of the collected fragments by Hesselius, and of the annals by E. S. where the whole of the ancient authorities for the biography of Ennius are quoted at full length; Caspar Sagittarius, Commentatio de vita et scriptis Livii Andronici, Naevii, Ennii, Caevilii Statii, &c., Altenburg. 8vo. 1672
; G. F. de Franckenau, Dissertatio de Morbo Q. Ennii, Witt. 4to. 1694
; Domen. d'Angelis, della patria d'Ennio dissertazione, Rom. 8vo. 1701, Nap. 8vo. 1712
; Henningius Forelius, De Ennio diatribe, Upsal. 8vo. 1707
; W. F. Kreidmamulls, de Q. Ennio Oratio, Jen. 4to 1754
; Cr. Cramerus, Dissertatio sistens Horatii de Ennio effatum, Jen. 4to. 1755
; C. G. Kuecstner Chrestomathia juris Enniani, &c., Lips. 8vo. 1762