|Born||c. 220 BC|
|Died||c. 166 BC|
A contemporary and intimate friend of Ennius, he was born in the territory of the Insubrian Gauls, probably in Mediolanum, and was probably taken as a prisoner to Rome (c. 200), during the great Gallic war. Originally a slave, he assumed the name of Caecilius from his patron, probably one of the Metelli. He supported himself by adapting Greek plays for the Roman stage from the New Comedy writers, especially Menander, a genre called Palliata Comoedia. If the statement in the life of Terence by Suetonius is correct and the reading sound, Caecilius's judgment was so esteemed that he was ordered to hear Terence's Andria (exhibited 166 BC) read and to pronounce an opinion upon it.
After several failures, Caecilius gained a high reputation. Volcatius Sedigitus, the dramatic critic, places him first amongst the comic poets; Varro credits him with pathos and skill in the construction of his plots; Horace (Epistles, ii. I. 59) contrasts his dignity with the art of Terence. Quintilian (Inst. Orat., x. I. 99) speaks somewhat disparagingly of him, and Cicero, although he admits with some hesitation that Caecilius may have been the chief of the comic poets (De Optimo Genere Oratorum, I), considers him inferior to Terence in style and Latinity (Ad Atticum vii. 3), as was only natural, considering his foreign extraction.
The fact that his plays could be referred to by name alone without any indication of the author (Cicero, De Finibus, ii. 7) is sufficient proof of their widespread popularity. Caecilius holds a place between Plautus and Terence in his treatment of the Greek originals; he did not, like Plautus, confound things Greek and Roman, nor, like Terence, eliminate everything that could not be romanized.
The fragments of his plays are chiefly preserved in Aulus Gellius, who cites several passages from Plocium (The Necklace) together with the original Greek of Menander, affording the only opportunity, apart from Plautus' Bacchides, to make a substantial comparison between a Roman comedy and its Greek model. Caecilius' version, diffuse and by no means close as a translation, does not reproduce the spirit of the original.
Surviving titles and fragments
Forty-two titles are known, about half based on Menander, and half on other Greek authors. Approximately 280 fragmentary verses survive. Plocium is the best preserved (45 verses). In addition to that, a large fragment of Obolostates was discovered not long ago among the paryri of Herculaneum; it is as yet unedited, but is estimated to contain fragments of 400-500 lines. Some preliminary information was published by the researcher, Knut Kleve, in 1996.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- D. Sider. The Books of the Villa of the Papyri. In: M. Zarmakoupi, ed., The Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, 2010, p. 126.
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