Classics Ennius
Sandro La Barbera
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0172


Quintus Ennius was an author of Latin poetry and prose who lived and wrote between the second half of the 3rd century and the first half of the 2nd century BCE (apparently 239–169 BCE). He was born in the trilingual Messapian city of Rudiae, where Latin, Greek, and Oscan were spoken concurrently (as apparently did Ennius himself: cf. Gellius, Attic Nights 17.17). Tradition has Ennius follow Cato the Elder to Rome in 204 BCE, after meeting him in Sardinia while serving in the army during the Second Punic War. In Rome, Ennius distinguished himself for his literary and scholarly production in Latin, in which he mastered a cultural and linguistic fusion between the Greek tradition and the fledgling Roman literature. All of Ennius’s works have been lost and only fragments of them have been preserved, all indirectly transmitted within the corpora of other authors’ works; we also have references by other authors to works of which we do not have any fragments at all. His first major achievements seem to have come with the public staging of his tragedies, mostly set in Greece and having original Greek tragedies as models (these were called fabulae cothurnatae). He also wrote praetextae, that is, tragedies of Roman setting and subject, but we have fewer fragments for these than we have for the cothurnatae, and only two titles—Ambracia and Sabinae. Even less is known about his comedies, which do not seem to have been held in high consideration (cf. Volcacius Sedigitus’s canon of comedy), and about whose titles and contents very little information has been preserved. Most of the information we still possess regards Ennius’s last and longest work, the Annals, an eighteen-book epic poem that covered the national history of Rome and its wars from the mythological founding of the city until the contemporary reality of the Punic Wars, with the title Annals (Lat. Annales) possibly alluding to the year-by-year approach of the ancient tradition of Roman annalists. Ennius was the first author to choose hexameter, the Greek meter of epic, to compose a Latin epic poem (the former traditional meter being Saturnian), and for this reason was considered the “father” of Latin epic poetry, thus influencing all following authors (Lucretius, Cicero, Virgil, etc.) by whom he was either praised and taken as a model, or more or less fiercely rejected for his “archaic” language and taste in favor of a more modern style. Apart from plays and epic, Ennius also cultivated many other genres in works that are traditionally referred to as Minor Works.

Reference Works

Many books and articles have been written about Ennius’s life, works, and (not only literary) beliefs. In this section, readers may find works of different kinds (encyclopedias, lexika, handbooks, etc.) that provide an overall treatment of Ennius. Skutsch 1905, Jocelyn 1972, Suerbaum 1997, and Jocelyn and Manuwald 2016 are lemmata on Ennius within encyclopedic works on classical Antiquity. Cuyper’s Ennius entry registers works published on Hellenistic literature that also deals with Roman poetry. Von Albrecht 1996 and Conte 1999 are handbooks of Latin literature that present a thorough and interesting treatment of Ennius’s literary career. The introductions to two major critical editions, that of the tragedies (Jocelyn 1967) and that of the Annals (Skutsch 1985) contain all the most important information on topics both general and specific about the two genres of tragedy and epic.

  • Conte, Gian Biagio. 1999. Latin literature: A history. Translated by Joseph B. Solodow. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    Conte’s history of Latin literature (originally in Italian) is one of the most acclaimed handbooks on the subject. Its entries are very clearly written and summarize information and scholarship on both historical or biographical information and authors’ literary production and poetics. See “Ennius,” pp. 73–84. Revised by Don Fowler and Glenn W. Most.

  • Cuypers, Martine. Ennius. In A Hellenistic Bibliography.

    A constantly updated database on Hellenistic poetry, including Roman poets who were influenced by it, such as Ennius.

  • Jocelyn, Henry David. 1972. The poems of Quintus Ennius. In Von den Anfängen Roms bis zum Ausgang der Republik: Part 2, Recht, Religion, Sprache und Literatur (bis zum Ende des 2. Jahrhunderts v. Chr.). Vol. 1.2 of Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt. Edited by Hildegard Temporini, 987–1026. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

    The Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt (ANRW) volumes are known for their reliability and thoroughness. This article in English by one of the major Ennianists of the 20th century is a thorough encyclopedic introduction to Ennius and his literary activity.

  • Jocelyn, Henry David, and Gesine Manuwald. 2016. Ennius. In The Oxford classical dictionary. Edited by Sander Goldberg. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Digital edition. Presents a quick introduction to Ennius by two of the most important scholars of Ennian and Archaic Latin studies (in the previous editions it was only Jocelyn’s work, Manuwald has now revised it). Originally published in 2012, in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, edited by Simon Hornblower, Anthony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, 525b–526b, 4th ed. (Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press).

  • Jocelyn, Henry David, ed. 1967. The tragedies of Ennius: The fragments. By Quintus Ennius. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Jocelyn’s introduction (pp. 3–63) to his own edition of Ennius’s tragedies (see Jocelyn 1967, cited under Plays) serves as a general discussion on how Ennius fits in the history of both Greek and Roman drama, and provides information on his literary activity and poetics.

  • Mariotti, Scevola. 1967. Q. Ennius. In Der Kleine Pauly. Vol. 2. Edited by Konrat Ziegler, Walther Sontheimer, and Hans Gärtner, 270–276. Munich: Druckenmüller.

    Mariotti updated the entry on Ennius for the new concise edition of the bigger Pauly-Wissowa encyclopedia, where the corresponding entry was written by Franz Skutsch (Skutsch 1905).

  • Skutsch, Franz. 1905. Ennius. In Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Vol. 5. Edited by August Friedrich Pauly and Georg Wissowa, 2589–2628. Stuttgart: Metzler.

    The first modern encyclopedic entry (in German) on Ennius, it is very thorough but is based on scholarship that has been largely updated afterward. Also referred to as Pauly-Wissowa or RE.

  • Skutsch, Otto, ed. 1985. The Annals of Quintus Ennius. By Quintus Ennius. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    The reference edition for Ennius’s Annals (see Skutsch 1985 cited under Annals), it has a thorough introduction (pp. 1–69) that covers biographical, literary, and linguistic questions both general and specific about Ennius. It is certainly a good place to start and a necessary reading. Includes introduction and commentary.

  • Suerbaum, Werner. 1997. Q. Ennius. In Der Neue Pauly. Vol. 3. Edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider, 1040–1046. Stuttgart: Metzler.

    Agile yet thorough introduction to Ennius and Ennian scholarship by a leading Ennius scholar within the more recent and “simplified” edition of the Pauly-Wissowa. While this printed edition is in German, the online version can be accessed by subscription in both German and English via Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopaedia of the Ancient World.

  • von Albrecht, Michael. 1996. Ennius. In A history of Roman literature: From Livius Andronicus to Boethius, with special regard to its influence on world literature. Vol. 1. By Michael von Albrecht, 129–146. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: Brill.

    Von Albrecht’s history of Latin literature is a reference handbook that can be used for both intermediate and advanced levels. Besides a “standard” handbook presentation, it also provides sections on literary “Ideas” and “Influence,” as well as a selective bibliography pertinent to the presentation adopted. The original German edition was published in 1992.

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