60hos ediscit1 et hos arto stipata theatro spectat Roma potens; habet hos numeratque poetas ad nostrum tempus Livi scriptoris ab aevo. Interdum volgus rectum videt, est ubi peccat. si veteres ita miratur laudatque poetas, 65ut nihil anteferat, nihil illis comparet, errat. si quaedam nimis antique, si pleraque dure dicere credit eos, ignave multa fatetur, et sapit et mecum facit et Iove iudicat aequo. non equidem insector delendave2 carmina Livi3 70esse reor, memini quae plagosum mihi parvo Orbilium dictare; sed emendata videri pulchraque et exactis minimum distantia miror. inter quae verbum emicuit si forte decorum, et4 si versus paulo concinnior unus et alter, 75iniuste totum ducit venditque poema. Indignor quicquam reprehendi, non quia crasse compositum illepideve putetur, sed quia nuper, nec veniam antiquis, sed honorem et5 praemia posci. recte necne6 crocum floresque perambulet7 Attae 80fabula si dubitem, clament periisse pudorem cuncti paene patres, ea cum reprehendere coner, quae gravis Aesopus, quae doctus Roscius egit; vel quia nil rectum, nisi quod placuit sibi, ducunt,8
mighty Rome learns by heart; these she views, when packed in her narrow theatre; these she counts as her muster-roll of poets from the days of Liviusa the writer to our own.88
At times the public see straight; sometimes they make mistakes. If they admire the ancient poets and cry them up so as to put nothing above them, nothing on their level, they are wrong. If they hold that sometimes their diction is too quaint, and ofttimes too harsh, if they admit that much of it is flat, then they have taste, they take my side, and give a verdict with Jove’s assent. Mark you! I am not crying down the poems of Livius—I would not doom to destruction verses which I remember Orbilius of the rod dictated to me as a boy: but that they should be held faultless, and beautiful, and well-nigh perfect, amazes me. Among them, it may be a pleasing phrase shines forth, or one or two lines are somewhat better turned—then these unfairly carry off and sell the whole poem.76
I am impatient that any work is censured, not because it is thought to be coarse or inelegant in style, but because it is modern, and that what is claimed for the ancients should be, not indulgence, but honour and rewards. If I were to question whether a play of Atta’s keeps its legsb or not amidst the saffron and flowers,c nearly all our elders would cry out that modesty is dead, when I attempt to blame what stately Aesopus and learned Roscius once acted; either because they think nothing can be right save what has pleased themselves, or
- aLivius Andronicus, earliest of Latin writers, brought out two plays, a tragedy and a comedy, in 240 b.c. He died in 204 b.c.
- bFor recte perambulat cf. recto stet fabula talo (1.176 below). The name Atta is said by Festus to have been a nickname meaning “one with a light, tripping step.”
- cThe stage was perfumed with saffron-water. In flores Porphyrio finds a reference to a play of Atta’s called Matertera, in which a great number of flowers were enumerated. Atta, a writer of togatae, died in 78 b.c. He was, therefore, not very ancient, though his fragments show many archaisms.