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Lucius Accius (170 - c. 86 BC), or Lucius Attius, was a Roman tragic poet and literary scholar. The son of a freedman, Accius was born at Pisaurummarker in Umbria, in 170 BC. The year of his death is unknown, but he must have lived to a great age, since Cicero (born 106 BC, hence 64 years younger) speaks of having conversed with him on literary matters.

Literary works

He was a prolific writer and enjoyed a very high reputation. The titles and considerable fragments (about 700 lines) of some fifty plays have been preserved. Judging from the titles and fragments, scholars have surmised that most, if not all, of these poems were tragic in nature (although Pliny the Younger does rank him among the erotic poets).

Most of his poetical works were imitations or free translations of the Greek, especially Aeschylus. The earliest of these was most likely the Atreus, which was performed in 140 BC, but which is now lost. He also wrote on some Roman subjects, one of which, an examination of the tyranny of L. Tarquinius Suberbus and his expulsion by Lucius Junius Brutus, titled Brutus, and was probably written in honor of his patron D. Brutus. His favorite subjects were the legends of the Trojan War and the house of Pelops. While only fragments remain, the most important of which were preserved by Cicero, they seem sufficient to justify the terms of admiration in which Accius is spoken of by the ancient writers. He is particularly praised for the strength and vigor of his language and the sublimity of his thoughts,, and although the grandiloquence of his literary style was on occasion mocked by some of his peers, he continued to be cited by other writers long after his death.

Accius wrote other works of a literary character: Libri Didascalicon, a treatise in verse on the history of Greek and Roman poetry, and dramatic art in particular; also Libri Pragmaticon, Parerga, and Praxidica, of which no fragments remain; and a hexameter Annales containing the history of Rome, like that of Ennius.

As a grammarian

Accius also attempted to introduce innovations in Latin orthography and grammar, most of which were attempts to change written Latin to more faithfully reproduce its actual pronunciation. Few of these caught on, although his preference against giving Greek names Latin endings had quite a few supporters, particularly Varro, who dedicated his De ambiguitate litterarum to Accius.

A spelling convention of writing long vowels double (such as aa for long ā) is also associated with him, and is found in texts concurrent with his lifetime .

Politics and temperament

Accius was politically conservative, and generally noted for his dignity and reserve. He did however believe that one with literary gifts, such as himself, ought to be accorded more respect than someone who, through no effort of their own, was merely born to nobility. He was, by some accounts, a self-important man, and some writers expressed a wry amusement at the larger-than-life statues of himself he had erected in the temple of the Muses.

The line from the Accius' play called Atreus was often quoted as oderint dum metuant ("let them hate, as long as they fear"), later an infamous motto of Caligula.


  1. Cicero, Brutus, 28
  2. Horace, Epistles, ii.i, 56; Cicero, Pro Plancio, 24
  3. Pliny the Younger, Epistulae 5.6
  4. Cicero, Brutus 229
  5. Cicero De Legibus. ii.21, Pro Archia Poeta. 11
  6. Cicero pro Plancio 24, pro Sestio 56, &c.; Horace Epodes ii.1.56; Quintilian x.1. § 97; Aulus Gellius xiii. 2
  7. Porph. Hor. Serm. 1.10.53
  8. Varro, De lingua Latina 10.70
  9. Rhetorica ad Herennium 1.24
  10. Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia 34.19

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