literature yields little more material in dramatic criticism
and theory than Greek. There is but one complete treatise extant
-- the Ars Poetica of Horace
-- and that is far from satisfactory as a unified and clear statement
of the aims or achievements of the Latin drama. From the beginnings
of Latin literary criticism with Cicero, to the time of Horace,
there is practically nothing relating to the subject. Cicero
himself, in his Letters, Orations, and various treatises,
evolves interesting ideas on the drama, but nowhere sums up any
sort of complete theory of body of doctrine. If the works of
Varro and Lucilius had been preserved, it is doubtful whether
Horace would have occupied his present position of solitary grandeur
and importance, but in the absence of anything but fragments
from these authors and from the numerous other critics of his
time and anterior to him, we must assign to him a place of the
first magnitude. Mention ought perhaps be made of a few paragraphs
on the rise of comedy in Livy's history, Ab urbe condita Libri
(vii, ii, iv, and following), written about the time of Christ.
Not until Quintilian is there anything approaching a systematic
study of dramatists, while Quintilian himself--in the Institutiones
Oratoriae, Books VI and X--adopts an historical rather than
theoretical method, and passes brief judgments on Greek and Latin
authors. The Noctes Atticae of Aulus Gellius is the last
of the Latin writings with any pretension to originality concerned
with our subject.
A careful study of Henry Nettleship's second
series of Lectures and Essays -- chapter on Latin Criticism
--, and of Saintsbury's History of Criticism -- first
volume -- will enlighten the student as to the details of the
subject, but he will find little other than fragments and titles
of lost works if he goes to original sources.
This article was originally
published in European Theories of the Drama. Barrett H.
Clark. Cincinnati: Stewart & Kidd Company, 1918.