Ennius starts the process of naturalizing Greek culture in Italy.


Quintus Ennius (239 - 169 BC), regarded as the father of Latin poetry, was born of Greek parentage in Rudiae, Calabria, the “toe” of Italy. As well as Greek, he spoke Latin and the local Oscan dialect. As a Roman subject he served in Sardinia in the Second Punic War. He was still in Sardinia, presumably as a member of a garrison, in 204 BC, for there he met Cato, then praetor, who took him back to Rome. Ennius lived frugally, writing and earning a living by teaching the sons of the nobility. He was granted Roman citizenship in 184 BC.

Backstage at the theatre

Backstage theatrical scene with (left) two members of the chorus and flute-player, (below) tragic masks of a woman and old man, and (far right) of a man in his prime. (VRoma: House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii: Barbara McManus)

Ennius wrote over twenty stage tragedies, mainly on Greek themes, as well as some comedies and occasional verses. His main work, on which he was engaged for the last twenty years of his life, was a massive verse history of Rome in eighteen books. For this he abandoned the rough and barely perceptible rhythms of earlier Latin poets for the stately and musical measures of the hexameter, which he forged into the epic medium later used by Virgil. We have only fragments of his work, totalling some six hundred lines, which may not be his best, but he was often quoted by later writers.

Examples of Ennius' hexameters:

1. sparsis hastis longis campus splendet et horret

2. introducuntur legati Minturnenses

and the famous one about Q.Fabius Maximus quoted by Virgil

3. unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem



1. The battlefield gleamed and bristled with a pattern of long spears. Mocked because it has no caesura, and is mostly spondees, but a vivid picture none the less.

2. The delegates from Minturnae are brought in.

A very heavy line - three long words and all spondees. Does it suggest the pomposity of these local dignitaries?

3. One man by delaying restored our state to us.

Refers to Fabius's tactics against Hannibal - Virgil avoided a monosyllable at the end of a line (as rem) - but by quoting it, he admits the effectiveness of it here.