Letter XIX: ad familiares 7.1
Rome, Oct., 55 B.C.
Cicero's friend, M. Marius, to whom Fam. 7.1-4 are addressed, was confined to his villa at Stabiae by an attack of the gout (Fam. 7.4), and was therefore unable to witness the games at Rome which Pompey gave in honor of the dedication of his theatre and the temple of Venus Victrix. This theatre, which was erected on the Campus Martius, and would accommodate 40,000 people (Plin. N. H. 36.115), was the first permanent theatre constructed in Rome, and its opening was celebrated by gorgeous pageants and by combats between men and wild beasts, in which, according to Pliny, 20 elephants and 500 lions were killed. The distaste which Cicero shows for the vulgar display, and the pity which the slaughter of the unfortunate beasts excited in him, honorably distinguish him from his contemporaries. These particular venationes were so bloodthirsty that even the Roman populace was moved to pity when the elephants, seeing their escape cut off, seemed to beg for mercy: amissa fugae spe, misericordiam vulgi inenarrabili habitu quaerentes supplicavere, quadam sese lamentatione complorantes, tanto populi dolore ut oblitus imperatoris ac munificentiae honori suo exquisitae flens universus consurgeret dirasque Pompeio poenas imprecaretur, Plin. N. H. 8.21.
Stabianum [gap in text] sinum: the Italians of the present day who have villas on the lakes or seashore, often cut down the trees in front of their houses, that they may obtain an unobstructed view across the water; so Marius would seem to have cut the trees down in a line through his Stabian estate (lit. <he bored through) to the shore, and thus brought the bay into view.
lectiunculis, by reading a bit here and a bit there.
mimos: the mimus, which was introduced into Rome from Tarentum in the third century B.C., was at the outset a character presentation by dancers, but, in the second century probably, dialogue and songs were introduced. Facial expression always played an important part in it, so that the performers did not wear masks. In Cicero's time mimi were put on the stage only as afterpieces (cf. Ep. LXI. 7). The degraded taste of imperial times, however, preferred them to the drama proper, so that they practically drove the latter from the stage. Cf. also Ribbeck, Rmische Dichtung, 1.217, 218.
semisomni : at this period dramatic performances began early in the day, and those for whom seats were not reserved found it necessary to be in their places several hours before the performance began. Physical fatigue, therefore, and the stupidity of the performances made the audience listless.
Sp. Maecius (Tarpa): he had charge of the plays. In Hor. Sat. 1.10.38 and A. P. 387 he is mentioned as an authorized critic.