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Quote of the day: Poppaea died from a casual outburst of r
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History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita) by Livy
Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VII Chapter 2: Scenic Representations first introduced.[364 BC]
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The pestilence lasted into the following year. The new consuls were Gaius Sulpicius Peticus and Gaius Licinius Stolo. Nothing worth mentioning took place, except that in order to secure the peace of the gods a lectisternium was instituted, the third since the foundation of the City (1). But the violence of the epidemic was not alleviated by any aid from either men or gods, and it is asserted that as men's minds were completely overcome by superstitious terrors they introduced, amongst other attempts to placate the wrath of heaven, scenic representations (2), a novelty to a nation of warriors who had hitherto only had the games of the Circus. They began, however, in a small way, as nearly everything does, and small as they were, they were borrowed from abroad. The players were sent for from Etruria; there were no words, no mimetic action; they danced to the measures of the flute and practised graceful movements in Tuscan fashion. Afterwards the young men began to imitate them, exercising their wit on each other in burlesque verses and suiting their action to their words. This became an established diversion, and was kept up by frequent practice. The Tuscan word for an actor is istrio, and so the native performers were called histriones. These did not, as in former times, throw out rough extempore effusions like the Fescennine verse but they chanted satyrical verses quite metrically arranged and adapted to the notes of the flute, and these they accompanied with appropriate movements. Several years later Livius for the first time abandoned the loose satyrical verses and ventured to compose a play with a coherent plot. Like all his contemporaries, he acted in his own plays, and it is said that when he had worn out his voice by repeated recalls he begged leave to place a second player in front of the flutist to sing the monologue while he did the acting, with all the more energy because his voice no longer embarrassed him. Then the practice commenced of the chanter following the movements of the actors, the dialogue alone being left to their voices. When, by adopting this method in the presentation of pieces, the old farce and loose jesting was given up and the play became a work of art, the young people left the regular acting to the professional players and began to improvise comic verses. These were subsequently known as exodia ( after-pieces), and were mostly worked up into the " Atellane Plays." These farces were of Oscan origin, and were kept by the young men in their own hands; they would not allow them to be polluted by the regular actors. Hence it is a standing rule that those who take part in the Atellanae are not deprived of their civic standing, and serve in the army as being in no way connected with the regular acting. Amongst the things which have arisen from small beginnings, the origin of the stage ought to be put foremost, seeing that what was at first healthy and innocent has grown into a mad extravagance that even wealthy kingdoms can hardly support.

(1): The second is not mentioned.

(2): On the subject of Scenic Representations in earlier ages of the Republic consult Mommsen, I. pp. 224 and 452.

Events: Pestilence of 365 BC, Start of theatre in Rome

Et hoc et insequenti anno C. Sulpicio Petico C. Licinio Stolone consulibus pestilentia fuit. Eo nihil dignum memoria actum, nisi quod pacis deum exposcendae causa tertio tum post conditam urbem lectisternium fuit. Et cum uis morbi nec humanis consiliis nec ope diuina leuaretur, uictis superstitione animis ludi quoque scenici, noua res bellicoso populo—nam circi modo spectaculum fuerat—inter alia caelestis irae placamina instituti dicuntur; ceterum parua quoque, 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 motus more Tusco dabant. Imitari deinde eos iuuentus, simul inconditis inter se iocularia fundentes uersibus, coepere; nec absoni a uoce motus erant. Accepta itaque res saepiusque usurpando excitata. Vernaculis artificibus, quia ister Tusco uerbo ludio uocabatur, nomen histrionibus inditum; qui non, sicut ante, Fescennino uersu similem incompositum temere ac rudem alternis iaciebant sed impletas modis saturas descripto iam ad tibicinem cantu motuque congruenti peragebant. Liuius post aliquot annis, qui ab saturis ausus est primus argumento fabulam serere, idem scilicet—id quod omnes tum erant—suorum carminum actor, dicitur, cum saepius reuocatus uocem obtudisset, uenia petita puerum ad canendum ante tibicinem cum statuisset, canticum egisse aliquanto magis uigente motu quia nihil uocis usus impediebat. Inde ad manum cantari histrionibus coeptum diuerbiaque tantum ipsorum uoci relicta. Postquam lege hac fabularum ab risu ac soluto ioco res auocabatur et ludus in artem paulatim uerterat, iuuentus histrionibus fabellarum actu relicto ipsa inter se more antiquo ridicula intexta uersibus iactitare coepit; unde exorta quae exodia postea appellata consertaque fabellis potissimum Atellanis sunt; quod genus ludorum ab Oscis acceptum tenuit iuuentus nec ab histrionibus pollui passa est; eo institutum manet, ut actores Atellanarum nec tribu moueantur et stipendia, tamquam expertes artis ludicrae, faciant. Inter aliarum parua principia rerum ludorum quoque prima origo ponenda uisa est, ut appareret quam ab sano initio res in hanc uix opulentis regnis tolerabilem insaniam uenerit.