Chapter 1 – Ennius: Saturn and the Struggle for power

2000 Years of Latin Prose

·A 21st century Anthology of Latin Prose

A Latin anthology for the 21st century

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.


Chapter 1: Ennius


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Life and Works

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

(239–169 B.C.)

Ennius, from Raphael’s “The Parnassus”

Ennius, from Raphael’s “The Parnassus”

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.


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 Romes 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 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

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

Want more?

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

Click below to read and listen to this passage from Ennius' Euhemerus.

Video with English Subtitles


Audio of Latin text


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.

Can you think of something to add?

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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 second quid 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.

Euhemerus, 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)


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