olden times



Quintus Ennius (239 - 169 BC) was a writer during the period of the Roman Republic, and is often considered the father of Roman poetry. He was of Greek descent. Although only fragments of his works survive, his influence in Latin literature was significant.


Ennius was born at Rudiae in Salento, a town where the Greek, Oscan and Latin languages were in contact with one another. (But see also a remark under Messapian language.)

Ennius' more famous works include: the Epicharmus, the Euhemerus, the Hedyphagetica, Saturae, and the Annals (Annales in Latin).

The Epicharmus presented an account of the gods and the physical operations of the universe. In it, the poet dreamed he had been transported after death to some place of heavenly enlightenment.

The Euhemerus presented a theological doctrine of a vastly different type in a mock-simple prose style modelled on the Greek of Euhemerus of Messene and several other theological writers. According to this doctrine, the gods of Olympus were not supernatural powers still actively intervening in the affairs of men, but great generals, statesmen and inventors of olden times commemorated after death in extraordinary ways.

The Hedyphagetica took much of its substance from the gastronomical epic of Archestratus of Gela. The eleven extant hexameters have prosodical features avoided in the more serious Annales.

The remains of six books of Saturae show a considerable variety of metres. There are signs that Ennius varied the metre sometimes even within a composition. A frequent theme was the social life of Ennius himself and his upper-class Roman friends and their intellectual conversation.

The Annals was an epic poem in fifteen books, later expanded to eighteen, covering Roman history from the fall of Troy in 1184 BC down to the censorship of Cato the Elder in 184 BC. It was the first Latin poem to adopt the dactylic hexameter metre used in Greek epic and didactic, leading it to become the standard metre for these genres in Latin poetry. The Annals became a school text for Roman schoolchildren, eventually supplanted by Virgil's Aeneid. About 600 lines survive.

"The idle mind knows not what it wants." - Ennius

"Amicus certus in re incerta cernitur." - Ennius (quoted by Cicero, Laelius 17.64) Translation: "A sure friend shows himself in an unsure time"

Further reading

  • R. A. Brooks, Ennius and Roman Tragedy (1981)
  • R.L.S. Evans, Ennius in The Dictionary of Literary Biography: Latin Writers. Ed.Ward Briggs. Vol. 211, 1999.
  • H. D. Jocelyn, The Tragedies of Ennius (1967)
  • O. Skutsch, The Annals of Quintus Ennius (1985)

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