General Bardic Studies for Liturgists, #3

Compare and contrast examples from the work of two poets of the same historical era from two different cultural traditions. (minimum 300 words of the student’s original essay material beyond the verses provided at least two poems per poet)

Gnaeus Naevius was a notable Roman epic poet from 270-201 B.C., who had a very good literary career until he made some satiracle comments about a well known Roman family which landed him in prison.  He was noted for his poem on the first Punic war and his adaption of Greek tragedies for the Roman stage, but his main notability was his comedy work. Eventually he was exiled to Tunisia where he commit suicide.  But not before he wrote his own epitaph below:

Immortales mortales si foret fas flere,
flerent diuae Camenae Naeuium poetam.
itaque, postquam est Orchi traditus thesauro,
obliti sunt Romani loquier lingua Latina.

English Translation:
If immortals were allowed to weep for mortals,
the divine Muses would weep for the poet Naevius.
And so after he was delivered to the strongbox of Orc[h]us,
Romans forgot how to speak the Latin language.

One of his epic poems, Bellum Punicum, is said to have created the Roman form of epic poetry (Gnaeus Naevius) in the style of metrical chronicle.  This is the piece where he started chronicling the first Punic war with a mix of history and mythology.  His satirical nature, influential writing, and clearly arrogant thought process from his own epitaph show him as a very strong and eccentric writer.  His style is very much the storyteller, and often in third person.

Aratus is a Greek poet from around 315 to 240 B.C., roughly the same time frame as Naevius.  He is well known for a hexameter poem called “Phaenomena” which is about the constellations and various things celestial.  He was influential in regards to greek astronomy in both Greek and Roman culture.

English Translation:
Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring …

— Phaenomena 1–5

Further in the Phaenomena, as translated by G. R. Mair:

[724] Let Ophiuchus setting from both feet even to his knees be a sign of the rising of the Twins in the East. Then no longer is aught of Cetus beneath the verge, but thou shalt see him all. Then, too, can the sailor on the open sea mark the first bend of the River rising from the deep, as he watches for Orion himself to see if he might give him any hint of the measure of the night or of his voyage. For on every hand signs in multitude to the gods reveal to man.

Aratus, to me, writes with more of a poetic passion than Naevius.  Less arrogant, maybe even somewhat flighty while mixing fact and fiction in his stories. Even Virgil is said to have borrowed considerably from Aratus (Full Text).  The Apostle Paul even quotes Aratus in the book of Acts, just to show an even broader range of Aratus’s subtle influence with his Diosemeia.

In the Diosemeia, he writes as translated by J Lamb:

 And as the skies above, the waves below
Signs of the rising wind and tempest show
When the long hollow rolling billows roar,
Breaking in froth upon the echoing shore ;
And through the rugged rock and craggy steep
Whispers a murmuring sound, not loud but deep.

In comparison to Naevius, they both write in a metrical style, both wrote in third person, and both were fairly respected in their society.  Greek and Roman culture were, as we know, very similar in both culture and beliefs.  It makes sense that their style of poetry would be similar if not influential on one another.  Aratus was influential across both cultures, and the stories from Naevius lead to satirical versions of some of our more well known epic Greek tales.  His adapted tragedy, “Aegisthus” spoke of Aegithus and his involvement in exiling Agamemnon and Menelaus to Sparta, where the king gave two of his daughters, one of which happened to be named Helen.  This is another example of a cross-over of tales from Greek to Roman culture.

(Word Count: 522)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *