War Corrupts Public Discourse

Ennius, Annales book 8, 262-8

“After [the details of] the battles are well-known
Wisdom is publicly rejected, affairs are pursued with force,
A good speaker is spurned, and the wretched warrior is loved.
Men strive not with educated speeches but instead with insults
attack one another and enter into mutual enmity.
They seize property suddenly not by the right of law but with swords
As they seek sovereignty and wander with the power of the mob.

Pellitur e medio sapientia, vi geritur res,               263
Spernitur orator bonus, horridus miles amatur.
Haut doctis dictis certantes sed maledictis
Miscent inter sese inimicitiam agitantes.
Non ex iure manu consertum sed magis ferro
Rem repetunt, regnumque petunt, vadunt solida vi.

Romulus and Remus

The Annales of Quintus Ennius are available only in fragmentary form. They told the tale of Roman history in epic form from the story of Romulus and Remus down to his own time period (2nd Century BCE; Ennius served in the Second Punic War). While there are many fragments, only a handful are longer than a line or two.

It is difficult to evaluate from the short lines the quality of Ennius (his reputation is pretty good). From what we have, however, it seems that he was well-versed in the Homeric epics. One thing to note about the style from a Latin perspective, is how short the sense-units are in comparison to those of a later epic poet like Vergil (the slightly earlier Lucretius seems to be closer to Ennius in allowing most of his lines to make sense on their own).

Indeed, the ringing and repetition of the last line above (Rem repetunt, regnumque petunt, vadunt solida vi) seems much more akin to Lucretian style and some oral Greek traditions, perhaps…

2 thoughts on “War Corrupts Public Discourse

  1. “It is difficult to evaluate from the short lines the quality of Ennius (his reputation is pretty good).”

    I have long wondered about exactly what reputation Ennius had in antiquity. The only reference which readily springs to mind regarding the *quality* of his works is the note in Donatus’ Life of Vergil about plucking gold from the shitheap of Ennius:
    “Quom Ennium in manu haberet rogareturque quidnam faceret, respondit se aurum colligere de stercore Ennii.”

    Yet, he is often mentioned with a sort of reverence. This may be attributable to the old principle of gloria primis, in conjunction with the peculiarly patriotic nature of his poem. From what we have, I gather that Ennius coined some striking and interesting lines which were perhaps lacking in metrical refinement. I suppose, though, that this should be expected from a pioneering effort in Latin versification.

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