Latin tragedy

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Varro (116 bc — 127 ad) Roman scholar and satirist


Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 bc — 65 ad) Roman statesman, philosopher, and dramatist


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Varro and Pomponius Atticus dated the first performance of a Latin tragedy to 240 bc at the Ludi Romani. Performances continued at this and other public festivals down to the end of the 1st cent. bc. Celebrations of temple dedications and funerals of aristocrats also provided occasions of performance. In 240 new plays were still being staged at the Athenian festivals of Dionysus (see dionysia; lenaea), but the practice had grown up of reviving each year a number of old ones. At Rome adaptations of the better‐known Attic works were offered at first under the names of the original authors. The makers of the adaptations sometimes took part in the performance of their own works.

Roman theatres probably never had much space in front of the stage platform for elaborate choral dancing. The Greek choral odes did not disappear, but the volume of singing and dancing assigned to the chorus was sharply reduced. The speeches of the heroic personages on the other hand were given much more musical accompaniment.

Themes from Roman legend and history were taken up by the 3rd cent. and developed within the dramatic structure which had arisen from the fusion of Attic text and local theatrical tradition. Accius presented Tarquinius Superbus (see rex) talking with his councillors, much as Aeschylus had dramatized the dialogue between Darius I's Queen Atossa and the chorus in Persians.

The 3rd‐ and 2nd‐cent. plays remained popular at public festivals. The Thyestes composed by Varius Rufus for performance at the festival celebrating Octavian's victory at Actium (see augustus) pleased the young, and Ovid won praise for his Medea.

Composing for public festivals continued in the 1st cent. ad. Some men preferred, however, to compose poems they called tragedies for recitation to small groups in private. The eight extant plays of Seneca (2) the Younger are each divided into five units separated by choral odes. Argument rages as to what kind of audience he sought.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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