Caecilius Statius is a second-century writer of pallatiae, though beyond that, there are some problems concerning the traditions of his life. The fourth century chronicler Jerome lists his hometown as Mediolanum (mod. Milan) in Insubrian Gaul, turning him into a Celt. He adds that he was a contubernalis of Ennius, that his floruit was 179 BCE, and that he died in 168, a year after Ennius. To this, Aulus Gellius adds that he was a slave, freed by one of the Caecilii from whom he adopted his nomen. Modern scholars deduced that he must have been taken to Rome after the battle of Clastidium in 222. The opinion that he was born then and came to Rome around 200 does not have any evidence in its favor.
His name, however, is not Celtic but Sabine, leading some commentators to challenge this narrative in favor of a Sabine ally of Rome granted citizenship after being discovered. That would also solve the problem of how a Celt would not only be able to read Greek and Latin, but also be familiar with Greek comedy and Roman comedic conventions.
The friendship with Ennius is uncontroversial. Ennius dabbled in comedy, but was primarily penned tragedies for the stage. Friendship could also plausibly explain the refinement in Caecilius’ craft. His early career floundered, but around 180 he was the most successful comic playwright in Rome, and was even accorded the title of iudex (judge) of plays.
Suetonius reports that Caecilius saw Terence’s Andria, which was first performed in 166 BCE, but Jerome dates his death one year after Ennius in 168. The earlier date is probably the more accurate, and the date was fabricated to create a direct line from Plautus to Caecilius Statius to Terence.
Forty-two titles are known by name. Of these, the Plocium held the most significance, since a sizable chunk of the play was preserved through Aulus Gellius, who quoted it for a comparison with the original Plokion by Menander. The great differences show that, like Plautus, Caecilius freely adapts his materials, rather than strictly translates it.
More recently, around 300 lines of Obolostates (including the heading sive Faenerator) has been discovered at the Villa of the Papyri of Mysteries in Pompeii.
Caecilius’ skill earned him high praise from antiquity. Cicero ranks him foremost among the comic poets, hesitating (“fortasse Caecilius”, de Opt. Orat. 1) only partly to his poor Latinitas (Ad Att. 6.3) and the quality of competition from Plautus and Terence.
Although his Latin was not the best, it was his plots (as praised by Varro) and dignitas (as praised by Horace, who contrasted it with the artfulness of Terence) for which he was most admired. Consequently, Quintilian was not impressed (Inst. Orat. 10.1.99), but the literary critics hardly made a dent in his popularity. As late as the first century CE, Caecilius’ plays could still draw a crowd.
- “Tum in senectute hoc deputo misserimum
Sentire ea aetate eumpse esse odiosum alteri.”
“Then this is what I think is the most wretched thing in old age:
That one feels that in that age he himself is an object of loathing to others.”
This is especially noteworthy for its elision. The second line, when read aloud, would be pronounced like sentireaetateumpsessodioalteri — as if it were one word!
Latin: PHI Latin Texts
- Gesine Manuwald 2011. Roman Republican Theatre. Cambridge.