Livy, History of Rome 7

LCL 172: 360-361

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a.u.c. 390exposcendae causa tertio tum post conditam urbem 3lectisternium fuit. Et cum vis morbi nec humanis consiliis nec ope divina levaretur, victis superstitione animis ludi quoque scenici, nova res bellicoso populo—nam circi modo spectaculum fuerat,—inter alia caelestis irae placamina instituti dicuntur; 4ceterum parva quoque,1 ut ferme principia omnia, et ea ipsa peregrina res fuit. Sine carmine ullo, sine imitandorum carminum actu, ludiones ex Etruria acciti ad tibicinis modos saltantes haud indecoros 5motus more Tusco dabant. Imitari deinde eos iuventus, simul inconditis inter se iocularia fundentes versibus, coepere; nec absoni a voce motus erant. 6Accepta itaque res saepiusque usurpando excitata. Vernaculis artificibus, quia ister Tusco verbo ludio vocabatur, nomen histrionibus inditum; qui non, 7sicut ante, Fescennino versu similem incompositum2 temere ac rudem alternis iaciebant, sed impletas modis saturas descripto iam ad tibicinem cantu motuque congruenti peragebant.

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Book VII

object of appeasing the divine displeasure they made b.c. 364a leclisternium, or banquet to the gods, being the third in the history of the City;1 and when neither human wisdom nor the help of Heaven was found to mitigate the scourge, men gave way to superstitious fears, and, amongst other efforts to disarm the wrath of the gods, are said also to have instituted scenic entertainments. This was a new departure for a warlike people, whose only exhibitions had been those of the circus; but indeed it began in a small way, as most things do, and even so was imported from abroad.2 Without any singing, without imitating the action of singers, players who had been brought in from Etruria danced to the strains of the flautist and performed not ungraceful evolutions in the Tuscan fashion. Next the young Romans began to imitate them, at the same time exchanging jests in uncouth verses, and bringing their movements into a certain harmony with the words. And so the amusement was adopted, and frequent use kept it alive. The native professional actors were called histriones, from ister, the Tuscan word for player; they no longer—as before—alternately threw off rude lines hastily improvised, like the Fescennines,3 but performed medleys, full of musical measures, to melodies which were now written out to go with the flute, and with appropriate gesticulation.

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.livy-history_rome_7.1924