The Common People of Ancient Rome eBook

Frank Frost Abbott
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 203 pages of information about The Common People of Ancient Rome.
great variety of verse.  By the fifth and sixth centuries, a melange of verse or a combination of prose and verse is very common, as one can see in the writings of Martianus Capella, Sidonius Apollinaris, Ennodius, and Boethius.  It recurs again in modern times, for instance in Dante’s La Vita Nuova, in Boccaccio, Aucassin et Nicolette, the Heptameron, the Celtic Ballads, the Arabian Nights, and in Alice in Wonderland.

A little thought suggests that the prose-poetic form is a natural medium of expression.  A change from prose to verse, or from one form of verse to another, suggests a change in the emotional condition of a speaker or writer.  We see that clearly enough illustrated in tragedy or comedy.  In the thrilling scene in the Captives of Plautus, for example, where Tyndarus is in mortal terror lest the trick which he has played on his master, Hegio, may be discovered, and he be consigned to work in chains in the quarries, the verse is the trochaic septenarius.  As soon as the suspense is over, it drops to the iambic senarius.  If we should arrange the commoner Latin verses in a sequence according to the emotional effects which they produce, at the bottom of the series would stand the iambic senarius.  Above that would come trochaic verse, and we should rise to higher planes of exaltation as we read the anapaestic, or cretic, or bacchiac.  The greater part of life is commonplace.  Consequently the common medium for conversation or for the narrative in a composition like comedy made up entirely of verse is the senarius.  Now this form of verse in its simple, almost natural, quantitative arrangement is very close to prose, and it would be a short step to substitute prose for it as the basis of the story, interspersing verse here and there to secure variety, or when the emotions were called into play, just as lyric verses are interpolated in the iambic narrative.  In this way the combination of different kinds of verse in the drama, and the prosimetrum of the Menippean satire and of Petronius, may be explained, and we see a possible line of descent from comedy and this form of satire to the Satirae.

These various theories of the origin of the romance of Petronius—­that it may be related to the epic, to the serious heroic romance, to the bourgeois story of adventure developed out of the rhetorical exercise, to the Milesian tale, to the prologue of comedy, to the verse-melange of comedy or the mime, or to the prose-poetical Menippean satire—­are not, of necessity, it seems to me, mutually exclusive.  His novel may well be thought of as a parody of the serious romance, with frequent reminiscences of the epic, a parody suggested to him by comedy and its prologue, by the mime, or by the short cynical Milesian tale, and cast in the form of the Menippean satire; or, so far as subject-matter and realistic treatment are concerned, the suggestion may have come directly from

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The Common People of Ancient Rome from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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