IN CN. NAEVIUS we have something more than an individual: we have a man. He is the earliest Italian whom we feel we know as a human being. A greater contrast to his predecessor, the respectable but colourless Andronicus, can scarcely be imagined. In the whole of Latin literature we shall hardly find a more original figure.
He must have been born not much later than 260 B.C., if he was to take part in the First Punic War ( 264-241 B.C.). Perhaps he was by birth a Campanian. Aulus Gellius records the well-known epitaph, which he supposes to have been composed by Naevius himself:
If deities immortal their tears for men might shed, Our native Latin Muses would weep for Naevius dead; For since we laid our poet in Hades' treasure-store, The true old Latin language is heard in Rome no more.
This epitaph Gellius criticizes as 'full of Campanian' (or 'Capuan') 'pride'. Are we to understand from this remark that Gellius thought Naevius to have been by birth a Campanian, or is 'Campanian pride' merely a general, proverbial expression not intended to imply any connexion between Naevius and Campania? This second interpretation seems rather unnatural. My feeling is that Gellius intends us to understand that Naevius came not merely from Campania but from the proud city of Capua itself. We have no further reference to this matter, and we cannot tell from what source Gellius derived his information, or whether it was correct. He is probably mistaken in thinking that the epitaph was composed by Naevius; like that on Plautus which he quotes in the same passage, it is probably the work of some admiring reader -perhaps Varro himself, from whom Gellius derives so much of his information about Latin literature.
One thing is clear: Naevius either spoke Latin from his