2000 Years of Latin Prose | History and Literature

Chapter 1 – Ennius: Saturn and the Struggle for Power

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.

Two thou­sand years of Latin Prose is a dig­i­tal anthol­o­gy of Latin Prose. Here you will be able to find texts from two mil­len­nia of gems in Latin. In this chap­ter, the very first of many to come, we will go back to about 200 years B.C. and learn about, and read from, Ennius’ work Euhe­merus.

If you want to learn more about the anthol­o­gy, you will find the pref­ace here.

You can down­load a pdf here Get a print-ready PDF ver­sion of this chap­ter: 2000 Years of Latin Prose: Chap­ter 1. Ennius.

Ennius: Life and Works

In this sec­tion you will learn about the author’s life and works.

(239–169 B.C.)


Ennius was a writer and a poet born in Rudi­ae in south­ern Italy in 239 B.C. and is by many con­sid­ered the father of Roman poet­ry. Sad­ly though, we only have frag­ments left of his writings.

Life of Ennius

We know a few details about Ennius, but very lit­tle that is certain.

In him sev­er­al cul­tures crossed; his home­town, Rudi­ae, was sit­u­at­ed in a high­ly Greek-influ­enced region and he spoke not only Latin and Greek, but also Oscan, a now extinct Indo-Euro­pean lan­guage native of south­ern Italy. Knowl­edge of these three lan­guages made him, accord­ing to Roman author Aulus Gel­lius (c. 125–128–180 A.D.) say that he had three hearts:

“Quin­tus Ennius tria cor­da habere sese dicebat,quod loqui Graece et Osce et Latine sciret. ”

— Aulus Gel­lius, 17.17.1

Ennius most like­ly had a very good edu­ca­tion, like­ly in rhetoric and phi­los­o­phy and was well acquaint­ed with Greek dra­ma due to the the­atri­cal, very Greek town Tar­en­tum (mod­ern Taran­to on the heel of south­ern Italy) that was close to his home­town. He would lat­er Roman­ise and excel in this genre.

He served in the Roman army, either as a mer­ce­nary or a cen­tu­ri­on (or per­haps both), and met, dur­ing his ser­vice, the man we shall speak of in chap­ter two of 2000 years of Latin Prose; Cato Maior. This turned out to be a turn­ing point for Roman lit­er­a­ture as Cato Maior, or Cato the Elder as he is called in the Anglo-Sax­on tongue, in 204 B.C. brought Ennius with him to Rome.

In Rome, he made a liv­ing as a teacher and by adapt­ing Greek plays. He is said to have lived quite humbly, with only one ser­vant, but at the same time became close with many men from the Roman nobility.

One of these men was Mar­cus Ful­vius Nobil­ior, a Roman gen­er­al with an enthu­si­as­tic inter­est in Greek art and cul­ture, and thus an inter­est in, and a lik­ing for, Ennius. It was Ful­vius’ son Quin­tus Nobil­ior who, accord­ing to Cicero (Bru­tus, 79), ensured Ennius’ Roman cit­i­zen­ship in 184 B.C.

Anoth­er, very impor­tant and notable, friend­ship Ennius formed was with one of Rome’s great­est gen­er­als (some­times said to be one of the great­est gen­er­als of all time) and con­sul Sci­pio Africanus Maior. So great was his friend­ship with Sci­pio and his fam­i­ly that when he died in 169 B.C. and his ash­es tak­en home to Rudi­ae, a memo­r­i­al was sup­pos­ed­ly placed in the tomb of the Scipios.

Ennius’ Works

Ennius is, and was, famous for his tragedies, his poet­ic works, and espe­cial­ly for his Annales; an epic poem stretch­ing over 18 books start­ing with the fall of Troy in 1184 B.C. and Aeneas, the Roman hero and fore­fa­ther of the founder of Rome, lead­ing up to Ennius’ own time and the cen­sor­ship of Cato Maior in 184 B.C.

“Aeneas fleeing from Troy” by Pompeo Batoni.
“Aeneas flee­ing from Troy” by Pom­peo Batoni, c:a 1750.

Annales is one of the most impor­tant works in Roman lit­er­a­ture as it is the first epic poem in Latin to use dactylic hexa­m­e­ter, the metre so com­mon in Greek epic poet­ry. Using hexa­m­e­ter in Latin poet­ry for the epic genre became stan­dard after Ennius; just look at one of the most notable and famous works in Roman his­to­ry – the Aeneid by Vergilius, or Vir­gil, (70–19 B.C.), which was very much inspired by Ennius’ Annales.

It is quite fit­ting that the Latin poem is writ­ten with Greek metre, not only because of Ennius’ three hearts that we men­tioned ear­li­er but also because of a dream that Ennius shares with his Annales-read­ers. In this dream Home­rus, or Homer, the author of the most famous Greek epics, the Illi­ad and the Odyssey, appears before Ennius to inform him that his own soul had been reborn in the lat­er poet.

Annales has­n’t just been rec­og­nized as an impor­tant work in mod­ern times, but was already con­sid­ered so in Roman times. They held it in such high regards that it became a school text­book dur­ing the late Republic.

Today, only about 600 lines survive.

Apart from his epic Annales, Ennius wrote, as men­tioned, a lot of tragedies, two come­dies, a par­o­dy as well as satire. What is left of his Sat­u­rae, i.e. about 30 lines, is the first – so far – exam­ple of Roman satire. In these few lines, we get to know a lit­tle bit about Ennius him­self, as he uses him­self as a char­ac­ter in the text.

For instance, we get to know that he most like­ly suf­fered from gout:

“Numquam poe­t­or nisi [si] podager”

— Ennius, Sat. 64

“I nev­er poe­t­ize except when I’m gouty.“

This line has giv­en rise to rumours that Ennius died from his gout. This, how­ev­er, is pure speculation.

Ennius also wrote a work called Euhe­merus, in prose, a the­o­log­i­cal doc­trine based on the Sacred Scrip­ture of Euhe­merus of Messene (late 4th, ear­ly 3rd cent. B.C.) that spoke about the human ori­gins of the Gods. Ennius’ work, or rather the parts that remain, has been called the first exam­ple of artis­tic Latin prose and deals main­ly with the geneal­o­gy and life of Jupiter.

It is to Euhe­merus we will turn to in this very first chap­ter of 2000 years of Latin Prose and read a pas­sage con­cern­ing Sat­urn and his broth­er Titan and how they fought over a king­dom. To get the throne, Sat­urn promised Titan not to bring up any male heirs so that Titan would stay first in line. Well, Sat­urn lied.

The frag­ments from Euhe­merus come from the ear­ly Chris­t­ian author Lac­tan­tius (c. 250–c. 325 A.D.) and his Divini­ae Insti­tu­tiones. Lac­tan­tius might have altered Ennius’ orig­i­nal, but accord­ing to schol­ars (see: An Anthol­o­gy of infor­mal Latin, by J.N. Adams) much points to large parts of them being authentic.

Writ­ten by Amelie Rosengren

Further resources and reading

If you want to learn more about Ennius, check out the video we made about him. You can find it here.

If you want to read more about Ennius, his works, and his style, we warm­ly rec­om­mend you turn to Michael von Albrecht’s excel­lent work A His­to­ry of Roman Lit­er­a­ture: From Livius Andron­i­cus to Boethius.

If you’re curi­ous about Ennius’ dream about Homer, you can find an arti­cle about it here: Peter Aich­er “Ennius’ Dream of Homer” The Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Philol­o­gy, vol. 110, no 2 (Sum­mer, 1989).

We can also rec­om­mend An Anthol­o­gy of infor­mal Latin; 200 BC-900 AD (2016), by J.N. Adams.

Audio & Video

Video in Latin

Click below to read and lis­ten to this pas­sage from Ennius’ Euhe­merus. Note! Eng­lish sub­ti­tles are available.

Latin audio

Lis­ten to the audio here or in your pod­cast app.

Latin Text

Below you will find the orig­i­nal text of the pas­sage in Latin.

Euhe­merus, Ap. Lac. Div. Inst. 1.14.1–7, 10–12.

Haec Enniī ver­ba sunt: ”Exim Sātur­nus uxōrem dūx­it Opem. Tītān, quī maior nātū erat, pos­tu­lat ut ipse rēgnāret. Ibi Ves­ta, māter eōrum, et sorōrēs: Cerēs atque Ops, suā­dent Sāturnō, utī dē rēgnō nē con­cē­dat frātrī. Ibi Tītān, quī faciē dēte­ri­or esset quam Sātur­nus, idcir­cō et quod vidē­bat mātrem atque sorōrēs suās oper­am dare utī Sātur­nus rēgnāret, con­ces­sit eī ut is rēgnāret. 

Itaque pactus est cum Sāturnō, utī, sī quid līberum virīle secus eī nātum esset, nē quid ēducāret. Id eius reī causā fēc­it, utī ad suōs gnātōs rēgnum redīret. Tum Sāturnō fīlius quī prī­mus nātus est, eum necāvērunt. 

Deinde pos­terius nātī sunt gem­inī, Iup­piter atque Iūnō. Tum Iūnōnem Sāturnō in cōn­spec­tum dedēre atque Iouem clam abscon­dunt dan­tque eum Ves­tae ēdu­can­dum cēlan­tēs Sāturnum. 

Item Nep­tūnum clam Sāturnō Ops par­it eumque clan­cu­lum abscon­dit. Ad eun­dem mod­um ter­tiō partū Ops par­it gem­inōs, Plūtōnem et Glau­cam. (”Plūtō” Latīnē est ”Dīs pater”, aliī ”Orcum” vocant.) Ibi fīliam Glau­cam Sāturnō osten­dunt, at fīli­um Plūtōnem cēlant atque abscon­dunt. Deinde Glau­ca par­va ēmoritur.” 


”Deinde Tītān, postquam rescīvit Sāturnō fīliōs prōcreātōs, atque ēducātōs esse clam, sēdūc­it sēcum fīliōs suōs quī Tītānī vocan­tur, frātremque suum Sātur­num, atque Opem com­pre­hen­dit, eōsque mūrō cir­cum­ēgit, et cūstō­di­am hīs appōnit.”


Reli­qua his­to­ria sīc con­tex­i­tur: Iovem adul­tum, cum audīs­set patrem atque mātrem cūstōdiīs cir­cum­saep­tōs atque in vin­cu­la coniec­tōs, vēnisse cum mag­nā Crētēn­si­um mul­ti­tū­dine Tītānumque ac fīliōs eius pugnā vīcisse, par­en­tēs vin­culīs exēmisse, patrī rēgnum red­didisse atque ita in Crē­tam remeāsse. Post haec deinde Sāturnō sortem datam, ut cavēret nē fīlius eum rēgnō expelleret; illum ēle­van­dae sor­tis atque effugien­dī perīculī grātiā īnsid­iā­tum Iovī, ut eum necāret; Iovem cog­nitīs īnsid­iīs rēgnum sibi dēnuō vin­dicāsse, ac fugāsse Sātur­num. Quī cum iac­tā­tus esset per omnēs ter­rās perse­quen­tibus armātīs, quōs ad eum con­pre­hen­den­dum vel necan­dum Iup­piter mīser­at, vix in Ital­iā locum in quō latēret invēnit.

You can down­load a pdf here Get a print-ready PDF ver­sion of this chap­ter: 2000 Years of Latin Prose: Chap­ter 1. Ennius.

Keywords & Commentary

Below you will find some key­words and com­ments on the text.


These fol­low­ing words are key to under­stand­ing the text, if you already know them — great! — if not, make a men­tal note of them.

exim: Then, after­wards (Occurs prin­ci­pal­ly in ear­ly Latin and in lat­er high-style texts.)

ibi (tem­po­ral): then (ibi tem­po­rale rel. com­mon in com­e­dy, occurs in poet­ry, less so in prose authors.)

idcir­co: for that reason

clan­cu­lum (adv., dim. of clam): secret­ly

clam (prep. +abl./acc.) with out the knowl­edge of

ele­vo: dimin­ish, lessen

exi­mo: take off, remove

gratiā: (+gen. gen­er­al­ly post­po­si­tion­al): for the sake of, in order to…

rescis­co: to learn, find out (that which was hidden)

vir­ile secus: of male gender


pos­tu­lat ut reg­naret: There is some fluc­tu­a­tion in tense use across the pas­sage. Here pos­tu­lat can be tak­en as sec­ondary tense, here present per­fect, equi­v­i­va­lent to pos­tulav­it. We read the imper­fect sub­junc­tive reg­naret because sec­ondary tens­es (perf., imp., pluf., and present per­fect) are reg­u­lar­ly fol­lowed by the imper­fect subjunctive.

uti de reg­no ne con­ce­dat fratri: ut(i) ne instead of ne is old.In Clas­si­cal Latin the usu­al final neg­a­tive of clas­si­cal Latin is ne alone.

idcir­co et quod: These words may be inter­pret­ed in var­i­ous man­ners. Either resump­tive, refer­ring to the causal qui-clause (“since he was…for that rea­son, and because”)or it might look ahead to quod (‘and (also) for this rea­son, because …’) with a dis­place­ment of et. (Adams 2016:10–11)

uti si quid liberum uir­ile secus ei natum esset, ne quid edu­caret: quid is pronom­i­nal, and the sub­ject with uir­ile secus as appo­si­tion. The expres­sion Vir­ile (muliebre) secus is neuter, indec­lin­able, and used often appo­si­tion­al­ly. It func­tions as  a gen­i­tive of qual­i­ty, not unlike expres­sions such as id genus (”of that kind”). The sec­ondquid is some­what redun­dant pick­ing up the first si quid.

tum Sat­urno fil­ius qui primus natus est, eum necauerunt: Here fil­ius (nom­i­na­tive) is in the same case as the rel­a­tive pro­noun (qui), rather than the case it would have had in the main clause (accusative). Adams (2016) writes: In this type of con­struc­tion (usu­al­ly called ‘attrac­tio inver­sa’) the rel­a­tive clause, pre­ced­ed by the antecedent (here fil­ius), comes before the main clause, and there tends to be a resump­tive pro­noun (or noun) in the main clause. A more reg­u­lar ver­sion of the sen­tence would be: Tum fil­i­um qui Sat­urno primus natus est necaverunt.

Reli­qua his­to­ria sīc con­tex­i­tur: This intro­duces the sec­ond part of the sto­ry in which Ennius gives in Latin a text from sacred writ­ings. In anoth­er part of the frag­ment it reads: “this, as is writ­ten, is the ori­gin and kin­ship of Jupiter and his broth­ers: in this way it has been hand­ed down to us from the Sacred Writ­ing”. Note that part of the pas­sage is entire­ly in indi­rect speech.

English Translation

Below you will find an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of the text.

UHEMERUS, AP. LAC. DIV. INST. 1.14.1–7, 10–12.

These are the words of Ennius: ”After­wards Sat­urn mar­ried Ops. Titan, who was old­er than Sat­urn, demands the king­dom for him­self. Upon this their moth­er Ves­ta, and their sis­ters Ceres and Ops, advise Sat­urn not to give up the king­dom to his broth­er. Then Titan, who was infe­ri­or in per­son to Sat­urn, on that account, and because he saw that his moth­er and sis­ters were using their endeav­ours that Sat­urn might reign, yield­ed the king­dom to him.” 

”He there­fore made an agree­ment with Sat­urn, that if any male chil­dren should be born to him, he would not bring them up. He did so for this pur­pose, that the king­dom might return to his own sons. Then, when a son was first born to Sat­urn, they slew him.” 

”After­wards twins were born, Jupiter and Juno. Upon this they present Juno to the sight of Sat­urn, and secret­ly hide Jupiter, and give him to Ves­ta to be brought up, con­ceal­ing him from Sat­urn. Ops also brings forth Nep­tune with­out the knowl­edge of Sat­urn, and secret­ly hides him. In the same man­ner Ops brings forth twins by a third birth, Plu­to and Glau­ca. (”Plu­to” in Latin is ”Dis­pa­ter”; oth­ers call him ”Orcus”.)”

”Upon this they show to Sat­urn the daugh­ter Glau­ca, and con­ceal and hide the son Plu­to. Then Glau­ca dies while yet young.” 


”Then Titan, when he learned that sons were born to Sat­urn, and secret­ly brought up, secret­ly takes with him his sons, who are called Titans, and seizes his broth­er Sat­urn and Ops, and enclos­es them with­in a wall, and places over them a guard.”


The remain­der of the His­to­ry is com­posed as fol­lows: that the grown-up Jupiter, when he had heard that his father and moth­er had been sur­round­ed by guards and thrown in fet­ters, came with a great num­ber of Cre­tans and defeat­ed Titan and his sons in bat­tle, freed his par­ents from the fet­ters, returned the king­dom to his father, and so returned to Crete. Then, after that, an ora­cle was giv­en to Sat­urn that he should beware that his son not dri­ve him out of the king­dom; in order to thwart the ora­cle and avoid the dan­ger, he ambushed Jupiter in order to kill him; Jupiter, hav­ing rec­og­nized the ambush, once again claimed the king­dom for him­self and put Sat­urn to flight. When he had been dri­ven about over all lands by armed pur­suers, whom Jupiter had sent to seize or kill him, he bare­ly found a place in Italy where he could hide. 

Trans­lat­ed by William Fletch­er (1886)

Amelie Rosengren

Amelie Rosengren

Amelie Rosengren, M.A. and co-founder of Latinitium, is a published author, illustrator and historian. She specializes in daily life, has a soft spot for historic curiosities, and works as a museum educator at the world’s oldest open air museum, Skansen.
Written by Amelie Rosengren

Written by Amelie Rosengren

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