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LIVIUS ANDRONICUS

The following biography is reprinted from Encyclopædia Americana. Ed. Francis Lieber. Boston: B.B. Mussey & Co., 1851.

LIVIUS ANDRONICUS, the father of Roman poetry, by birth a Greek of Tarentum, first went to Rome at the commencement of the sixth century from the foundation of the city, as instructor to the children of Livius Salinator. He introduced upon the Roman stage, dramas after the Grecian model, and, besides several epic poems, wrote a translation of the Odyssey, in the old Saturnine verse. We have only a few fragments of his writings, which may be found in the Comici Latini, and the Corpus Poëtarum.

The following article is reprinted from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. Ed. William Smith. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1870.

It was 123 years after the first introduction of scenic performances [in Rome] before the improvement was introduced of having a regular plot. This advance was made by Livius Andronicus, a native of Magna Graecia, in B.C. 240. His pieces, which were both tragedies and comedies, were merely adaptations of Greek dramas. His popularity increasing, a building on the Aventine hill was assigned to him for his use, which served partly as a theatre, partly as a residence for a troop of players, for whom Livius wrote his pieces. The representation of regular plays of this sort was now left to those who were histriones by profession, and who were very commonly either foreigners or slaves; the free-born youth of Rome confined their own scenic performances to the older, irregular farces, which long maintained their ground, and were subsequently called exodia. Livius, as was common at that time, was himself an actor in his own pieces. His Latin adaptations of Greek plays, though they had no chorus, were interspersed with monodies, which were more lyrical in their metrical form, and more impassioned in their tone than the ordinary dialogue parts. In the musical recitation of these Livius seems to have been very successful, and was frequently encored. The exertion being too much for his voice, he introduced the practice in these monodies, or cantica, of placing a slave beside the flute player to recite or chant the words, while he himself went through the appropriate gesticulation. This became the usual practice from that time, so that in the cantica the histriones did nothing but gesticulate, the only parts where they used their voice being the dialogues (diverbia). Livy's account has been absurdly misunderstood as implying that the introduction of this slave to chant the cantica led to the use of dialogue in the Roman dramas, as though there had been no dialogue before; in which case, as there was certainly no chorus, Livius must have adapted Greek dramas so as to admit of being represented in a series of monologues, a supposition which is confuted by its own absurdity. It is perfectly clear that the plays of Livius were an improvement on the old scenic saturae, which consisted of dialogue, and that the improvement was simply that of adapting the dialogue to a regular plot.

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