Latin literature VI: Theater Posted by on Mar 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

The genre of theater in Rome had a double origin. On the one hand dramatic poetry was born in Greece in the heat of religious festivals in honor of Dionysus. On the other hand in the preliterate period there were a variety of theatrical performances of indigenous nature, as the fable atelana, mime, etc..

We do not retain more than traces of the drama of Italic origin , so basically the Latin theater is rooted in Greek.  The last Greek author that we retain complete theater play is Menander (340 – 290 BC.), he was an Athenian writer representative of the new comedy, and he was taken as examples by most Latin play writers: Plautus (255 – 184 BC.) and Terence (¿190? – 156 BC.) Plautus wrote 21 complete works and Terence  six, in the early decades of 2nd century BC. both adapted to the taste and the language of Rome the Greek theater tradition. These two Latin authors are the only representatives of comedies that we preserve.

The Latin comedy and Athenian new comedy, was a theater of archetypes, recurring always to the same characters that represented a type: the old miser, the scatterbrained boy, the parasite, etc. in a complicated situation resolved with a happy ending. The characters and places are Greek. This was fabula palliata, but accommodated to a popular and colloquial Latin full of puns that were the delight of the people of Rome.

Regarding the Latin tragedy (which was widely cultivated during the Archaic Period) it is almost completely lost, except some pieces by writers such as Ennio, Nevio or Pacuvius.
There only have been preserved for posterity ten works of Seneca the philosopher (1st century AD.), the last of which, Octavia, is of doubtful authorship and is the only Latin tragedy of non-mythological theme. In Seneca’s highbrow Latin tragedy he recovered mythological subjects which had been already treated in the classic Greek tragedy. So Oedipus of Seneca looks in the mirror of Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, like Medea in the homonymous play by Euripides.



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