Ennius on War and (Dashed Hopes for) Peace

Quintus Ennius was one of ancient Rome’s greatest poets. He served as a soldier during the Second Punic War.

In his epic poem Annales (‘Yearbooks’), which survives in fragments, Ennius, far from being a pacifist himself (even in the fragments that are assembled below), commented on war and its effects numerous times.

Present conflicts across the globe invite a re-reading and silent reflection of some of the disiecti membra poetae, to use Horace‘s famous phrase (coined, in fact, for the very same Ennius), the limbs of a dismembered poet: a fragmented blog post, to express my perplexity.

When all hell breaks loose

(…) postquam Discordia taetra
belli ferratos postes portasque refregit (…)

(…) after gruesome Discord
had shattered open the iron posts and doors of war (…)

(Annales 225-6 S.)

What war causes in people

Pellitur e medio sapientia, vi geritur res,
spernitur orator bonus, horridus miles amatur.
haud doctis dictis certantes nec maledictis
miscent inter sese inimicitiam agitantes,
non ex iure manum consertum, sed magis ferro
rem repetunt regnumque petunt, vadunt solida vi.

Pushed away from the centre good sense, force rules the day,
despised the good orator, the horrid soldier cherished.
Fighting, not with learned words or curses,
they clash with one another, pushing hostilities,
laying hand onto one another not rightfully, but rather with the sword
they seek material gain and strive for power, advancing with brute force.

(Annales 247-53 S.)

What kind of person would seek armed conflict?

(…) stolidum genus Aeacidarum:
bellipotentes sunt magis quam sapientipotentes.

(…) That stupid family of the Aeacidae:
They are strong in battle rather than strong in their brain.

(Annales 197-8 S.)

Are there any alternatives to blind violence?

Nam vi depugnare sues stolidi soliti sunt:
astu non vi sum summam servare decet rem.

For seeking total victory with violence is what stupid boars usually do:
with wit, not violence – that is how it is becoming to save the highest good.

(Annales 96+97 S.)

* * *

So how can the gory beast that is Discordia be locked up and restrained again? How does one regain peace, and how can one find back to civilian life after armed conflict – a conflict potentially as big as the Second Punic War?

Sadly, Ennius does not tell us – at least he doesn’t in the surviving fragments. The one and only time the Latin term pax (‘peace, peace treaty’) features in the Annales, it does so in a moment of disappointment:

Orator sine pace redit regique refert rem.

The ambassador returns without peace and reports the matter to the king.

(Annales 202 S.)

Chances are that Ennius’ answer would have referred to the use of one’s brain, sapientia, as well as the means of debate and civic discourse, implicitly presented here as an alternative tools to solve conflicts – superior to the tool of violence, the tool of wild pigs.

 * * *

On a perhaps not altogether unrelated note, I greatly enjoyed reading Neville Morley’s blog post on Thucydides and Emotions and Atrocities.

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
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