Francesco Filelfo, Letter to Lorenzo Medici (Part 11)
“And what else does Cicero call popular and forensic speech except that which was vulgar and common to all? Before it had been degraded, learned and unlearned alike used it and it was called Latin.
Why then do we say that the people came together to the theater so that they could see, not so that they could hear and understand?
It appears that it was otherwise from the poet Terence, in the prologue to his Andria, when he writes, ‘Favor us, attend with a fair mind, and learn what’s going on here, so that you can see what hope is left: whether the new comedies which he writes are to be seen or driven off.’
He also says in the prologue of The Eunuch, ‘Therefore it is fair for you to recognize and pardon it if new poets do the things which the ancients did. Apply yourselves, and attend in silence, so that you can see what the Eunuch is about!’
Again, in the Adelphoe, that is The Brothers, ‘We are about to act it anew. Decide whether theft has been committed, or whether we have reprised something which was overlooked by negligence.
And finally, Terence in his Hecyra, by which stepfather is meant, left us this: ‘Hecyra is the name of this play. When this was given as a new play, a new fault and calamity intervened, so that it could neither be seen nor understood.’
Then, a bit later, ‘You’re acquainted with his other plays – please get a load of this one!’
He perhaps did not say said that comic poets are easier to understand because their writings do not differ much from prose: there is hardly a controversy about verse, but about Latinity, which I affirm (when it has not been corrupted) to have been both in common use and understood by everyone.
And so tragic verses are brought into the middle so that it appears that the people came to the theater not just to see, but far more to hear and to understand.”
Et quam aliam appellat Cicero orationem popularem et forensem, praeter eam quae et vulgaris erat et omnibus communis? Hac vero non depravata aeque docti indoctique utebantur, vocabaturque latina.
Quid ergo dicimus convenisse populum in theatrum ut spectaret, non ut audiret atque intelligeret?
Nam id secus esse patet ex Terentio poeta, in Andriae comoediae prologo, cum ait: “Favete, adeste aequo animo et rem cognoscite, Ut pernoscatis ecquid spei sit reliquum, Posthac quas faciet de integro comoedias, Spectandae an exigendae sint vobis prius”.
Et idem in Eunuchi prologo: “Qua re aequum est vos cognoscere atque ignoscere Quae veteres factitarunt si faciunt novi. Date operam, et cum silentio animadvertite Ut pernoscatis quid sibi Eunuchus velit”.
Terentius rursus in Adelphois, Adelphoes, hoc est fratribus: “Eam nos acturi sumus novam: pernoscite Furtumne factum existimetis an locum Reprehensum qui praeteritus negligentia est”.
Et ad postremum idem Terentius in Hekura, Ecyra, quo nomine socrus significatur, ita reliquit scriptum: “Ecyra est huic nomen fabulae. Haec cum data est Nova, novum intervenit vitium et calamitas Ut neque spectari neque cognosci potuerit”.
Et rursus paulo post: “Alias cognostis eius: quaeso hanc cognoscite”.
Et neque fortasse dixerit comicos poetas iccirco esse facilis intellectu, quod eorum scripta non multum discrepent a soluta oratione: haud de versu nobis est controversia, sed de latinitate, quam affirmo, ubi depravata non fuerit, et vulgarem extitisse et ab omnibus intellectam.
Itaque afferantur in medium versus etiam tragici, ut appareat convenisse populum in theatra non solum ut spectaret, verum multo magis quo et audiret et intelligeret.