The Roman Stage: A Short History of Latin Drama in the Time of the Republic

By W. Beare | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
NATIVE COMEDY: THE FABULA TOGATA

THE ROMANS had at all times an instinct for social and political satire. It was natural that this instinct should seek expression in their drama. Naevius, the first native-born Italian dramatist, though like Andronicus basing his comedies (so far as we know) on Greek originals, introduced a strong native flavour by references to such topical themes as the habits of guests from Praeneste and Lanuvium, or the picture of the Lares painted for the 'festival of the cross-roads' by the imported artist Theodotus. Naevius' tendency to introduce political themes and his attacks on certain nobles brought him to disaster, and future Latin dramatists took care not to offend in this way; but in Plautus we still find a strong Roman flavour of social satire and topical allusion. After Plautus' day there is a change; perhaps it was introduced by Caecilius, but by the time of Terence at latest the palliata seems to have renounced its old freedom to introduce topical allusions. Aesthetic questions were now being vigorously discussed, as the prologues of Terence indicate; fidelity in translation was felt to be important. It may be that the incongruity between a Greek setting and Roman allusions came to be regarded as objectionable. But in renouncing Roman topics the palliata left the field open for the rise of a new, native type of comedy, which would try to invent its own plots and find its characters in Italian life.

The known writers of the fabula togata or 'comedy in native dress' are Titinius, Afranius and Atta. Titinius is usually supposed to have been the pioneer. His date is not precisely known; he may have been a contemporary of Plautus, he may have been a successor of Terence. Afranius certainly wrote after the time of Terence, for whose loss he expresses regret; Velleius, in different passages, speaks of him as a contemporary of Pacuvius, Caecilius, Terence and Accius. Atta is said to have died in 77 B.C. When we compare

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