A History of Roman Literature - From the Earliest Period to the Death of Marcus Aurelius
by Charles Thomas Cruttwell
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Thus it is possible that even had Tiberius been less jealously repressive letters would still have stagnated. The severe strain of the Augustan age brought its inevitable reaction. The simultaneous appearance of so many writers of the first rank rendered necessary an interval during which their works were being digested and their spirit settling down into an integral constituent of the national mind. By the time thought reawakens, Virgil, Horace, and Livy are already household words, and their works the basis of all literary culture.

In reading the lives of the chief post-Augustan writers we are struck by the fact that many, if not most of them, held offices of state. The desire for peaceful retirement, characteristic of the early Augustans, the contentment with lettered leisure that signalises the poetry of the later Augustans, have both given place to a restless excitement, and to a determination to make the most of literature as an aid to a successful career. Hitherto we have observed two distinct classes of writers, and a corresponding double relation of politics and literature. The early poets, and again those of Augustus's era, were not men of affairs, they belonged to the exclusively literary class. The great prose writers on the contrary rose to political eminence by political conduct. Literature was with them a relaxation, and served no purpose of worldly aggrandisement. Now, however, an unhealthy confusion between the two provinces takes place. A man rises to office through his poems or rhetorical essays. The acquirements of a professor become a passport to public life. Seneca and Quintilian are striking and favourable instances of the school door opening into the senate:

"Si fortuna volet fies de rhetore consul." [8]

But nearly all the chief writers carried their declamatory principles into the serious business of life. This double aspect of their career produced two different types of talent, under one or other of which the great imperial writers may be ranged. Excluding men of the second rank, we have on the one side Lucan, Juvenal, and Tacitus, all whose minds have a strong political bias, the bias of old Rome, which makes them the most powerful though the most prejudiced exponents of their times. Of another kind are Persius, Seneca, and Pliny the elder. Their genius is contemplative and philosophical; and though two of them were much mixed in affairs, their spirit is cosmopolitan rather than national, and their wisdom, though drawn from varied sources, cannot be called political. These six are the representative minds of the period on which we are now entering, and between them reflect nearly all the best and worst features of their age. Quintilian, Statius, and Pliny the younger, represent a more restricted development; the first of them is the typical rhetorician, but of the better class; the second is the brilliant improvisatore and ingenious word-painter; the third the cultivated and amiable but vain, common-place, and dwarfed type of genius which under the Empire took the place of the "fine gentlemen" of the free Republic.

Writers of this last stamp cannot be expected to show any independent spirit. They are such as in every age would adopt the prevalent fashion, and theorise within the limits prescribed by respectability. While a bad emperor reigns they flatter him; when a good emperor succeeds they flatter him still more by abusing his predecessor; at the same time they are genial, sober, and sensible, adventuring neither the safety of their necks nor of their intellectual reputation.

Such an author comes before us in M. VELLEIUS PATERCULUS, the court historian of Tiberius. This well-intentioned but loquacious writer gained his loyalty from an experience of eight years' warfare under Tiberius in various parts of Europe, and the flattery of which he is so lavish was probably sincere. His birth may perhaps be referred to 18 B.C., since his first campaign, under M. Vinicius, to whose son he dedicated his work, took place in the year 1 B.C. Tiberius's sterling qualities as a soldier gained him the friendship of many of his legati, and Velleius was fortunate enough to secure that of Tiberius in return. By his influence he rose through the minor offices to the praetorship (14 A.D.), and soon after set himself to repair the deficiencies of a purely military education by systematic study. The fruit of this labour is the Abridgment of Roman History, in two books, a mere rapid survey of the early period, becoming more diffuse as it nears his own time, and treating the life of Tiberius and the events of which he was the centre with considerable fulness. The latter part is preserved entire; of the first book, which closes with the destruction of Carthage, a considerable portion has been lost. As, however, he is not likely to have followed in it any authorities inaccessible to us, the loss is unimportant. For his work generally the authorities he quotes are good—Cato's Origines, the Annales of Hortensius, and probably Atticus's abridgment; Cornelius Nepos, and Trogus for foreign, Livy and Sallust (of whom he was a great admirer) for national, history. As a recipient and expectant of court favour, he naturally echoed the language of the day. Brutus and Cassius are for him parricides; Caesar, the divine founder of an era which culminates in the divine Tiberius. [9] So full was he of his master's praises that he intended to write a separate book on the subject, but was prevented by his untimely death. This took place in 31 A.D., when the discovery of Sejanus's conspiracy caused many suspected to be put to death, and it seems that Velleius was among the number.

His blind partisanship naturally obscures his judgment; but, making allowance for a defect which he does not attempt to conceal, the reader may generally trust him for all matters of fact. His studies were not as a rule deep; but an exception must be made in the case of his account of the Greek colonies in Italy, the dates at which they were founded, and their early relations with Rome. These had never been so clearly treated by any writer, at least among those with whom we are familiar. His mind is not of a high order; he can neither sift evidence nor penetrate to causes; his talents lie in the biographical department, and he has considerable insight into character. His style is not unclassical so far as the vocabulary goes, but the equable moderation of the Golden Age is replaced by exaggeration, and like all who cultivate artificial brilliancy, he cannot maintain his ambitious level of poetical and pretentious ornament. The last year referred to in the book is 30 A.D. The dearth of other material gives him additional value. As a historian he takes a low rank; as an abridger he is better, but best of all as a rhetorical anecdotist and painter of character in action.

A better known writer (especially during the Middle Ages) is VALERIUS MAXIMUS, author of the Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, in nine books, addressed to Tiberius in a dedication of unexampled servility, [10] and compiled from few though good sources. The object of the work is stated in the preface. It was to save labour for those who desired to fortify their minds with examples of excellence, or increase their knowledge of things worth knowing. The methodical arrangement by subjects, e.g., religion, which is divided into religion observed and religion neglected, and instances of both given, first from Roman, then from foreign, history, and so on with all the other subjects, makes Teuffel's suggestion extremely probable, namely, that it was intended for the use of young declaimers, who were thus furnished with instances for all sorts of themes. The constant tendency in the imperial literature to exhaust a subject by a catalogue of every known instance may be traced to these pernicious rhetorical handbooks. If a writer praises temperance, he supplements it by a list of temperate Romans; if he describes a storm, he puts down all he knows about the winds. Uncritical as Valerius is, and void of all thought, he is nevertheless pleasant enough reading for a vacant hour, and if we were not obliged to rate him by a lofty standard, would pass muster very well. But he is no fit company for men of genius; our only wonder is he should have so long survived. His work was a favourite school-book for junior classes, and was epitomised or abridged by Julius Paris in the fourth or fifth century. At the time of this abridgment the so-called tenth book must have been added. Julius Paris's words in his preface to it are, Liber decimus de praenominibus et similibus: but various considerations make it certain that Valerius was not the author. [11] Many interesting details were given in it, taken chiefly from Varro; and it is much to be regretted that the entire treatise is not preserved. Besides Paris one Titius Probus retouched the work in a still later age, and a third abstract by Januarius Nepotianus is mentioned. This last writer cut out all the padding which Valerius had so largely used ("dum se ostentat sententiis, locis iactat, fundit excessibus"), and reduced the work to a bare skeleton of facts.

A much more important writer, one of whose treatises only has reached us, was A. CORNELIUS CELSUS. He stood in the first rank of Roman scientists, was quite encyclopaedic in his learning, and wrote, like Cato, on eloquence, law, farming, medicine, and tactics. There is no doubt that the work on medicine (extending over Books VI.-XIII. of his Encyclopaedia) which we possess, was the best of his writings, but the chapters on agriculture also are highly praised by Columella.

At this time, as Des Etangs remarks, nearly all the knowledge and practice of medicine was in the hands of Greek physicians, and these either freedmen or slaves. Roman practitioners seem to have inspired less confidence even when they were willing to study. Habits of scientific observation are hereditary; and for centuries the Greeks had studied the conditions of health and the theory of disease, as well as practised the empirical side of the art, and most Romans were well content to leave the whole in their hands.

Celsus tried to attract his countrymen to the pursuit of medicine by pointing out its value and dignity. He commences his work with a history of medical science since its first importation into Greece, and devotes the rest of Book I. to a consideration of dietetics and other prophylactics of disease; the second book treats of general pathology, the third and fourth of special illnesses, the fifth gives remedies and prescriptions, the sixth, seventh, and eighth—the most valuable part of the book—apply themselves chiefly to surgical questions. The value of his work consists in the clear, comprehensive grasp of his subject, and the systematic way in which he expounds its principles. The main points of his theory are still valid; very few essentials need to be rejected; it might still be taken as a popular handbook on the subject. He writes for Roman citizens, and is therefore careful to avoid abstruse terms where plain ones will do, and Greek words where Latin are to be had. The style is bare, but pure and classical. An excellent critic says [12]—"Quo saepius eum perlegebam, eo magis me detinuit cum dicendi nitor et brevitas tum perspicacitas iudicii sensusque vorax et ad agendum accommodatus, quibus omnibus genuinam repraesentat nobis civis Romani imaginem." The text as we have it depends on a single MS. and sadly needs a careful revision; it is interpolated with numerous glosses, both Greek and Latin, which a skilful editor would detect and remove. Among the other treatises in his Encyclopaedia, next to that on farming, those on rhetoric and tactics were most popular. The former, however, was superseded by Quintilian, the latter by Vegetius. In philosophy he did not so much criticise other schools as detail his own views with concise eloquence. These views were almost certainly Eclectic, though we know on Quintilian's authority that he followed the two Sextii in many important points. [13]

The other branches of prose composition were almost neglected in this reign. Even rhetoric sank to a low level; the splendid displays of men like Latro, Arellius, and Ovid gave place to the flimsy ostentation of REMMIUS PALAEMON. This dissolute man, who combined the professions of grammarian and rhetorician, possessed an extraordinary aptitude for fluent harangue, but soon confined his attention to grammatical studies, in which he rose to the position of an authority. Suetonius says he was born a slave, and that while conducting his young master to school he learnt something of literature, was liberated, and set up a school in Rome, where he rose to the top of his profession. Although infamous for his abandoned profligacy, and stigmatized by Tiberius and Claudius as utterly unfit to have charge of the young, he managed to secure a very large number of pupils by his persuasive manner, and the excellence of his tutorial method. His memory was prodigious, his eloquence seductive, and a power of extempore versification in the most difficult metres enhanced the charm of his conversation. He is referred to by Pliny, Quintilian, and Juvenal, and for a time superintended the studies of the young satirist Persius.

Oratory, as may easily be supposed, had well nigh ceased. VOTIENUS MONTANUS, MAMERCUS SCAURUS, and P. VITELLIUS, all held high positions in the state. Scaurus, in particular, was also of noble lineage, being the great-grandson of the celebrated chief of the senate. His oratory was almost confined to declamation, but was far above the general level of the time. Careless, and often full of faults, it yet carried his hearers away by its native power and dignity. [14] ASINIUS GALLUS, the son of Pollio, so far followed his father as to take a strong interest in politics, and with filial enthusiasm compared him favourably with Cicero. DOMITIUS AFER also is mentioned by Tacitus as an able but dissolute man, who under a better system might have been a good speaker. A writer of some mark was CREMUTIUS CORDUS, whose eloquent account of the rise of the Empire cost him his life: in direct defiance of the fashionable cant of the day he had called Cassius "the last of the Romans." The higher spirits seemed to take a gloomy pleasure in speaking out before the tyrant, even if it were only with their last breath; more than one striking instance of this is recorded by Tacitus; and though he questions the wisdom of relieving personal indignation by a vain invective, which must bring death and ruin on the speaker and all his family, and in the end only tighten the yoke it tries to shake, yet the intractable pride of these representatives of the old families has something about it to which, human as we are, we cannot refuse our sympathy. The only other prose-writer we need mention is AUFIDIUS BASSUS, who described the Civil Wars and the German expeditions, and is mentioned with great respect by Tacitus.

Poetry is represented by the fifth book of Manilius, by Phaedrus's Fables, and perhaps by the translation of Aratus ascribed to GERMANICUS, the nephew and adopted son of Tiberius. This translation, which is both elegant and faithful, and superior to Cicero's in poetical inspiration, has been claimed, but with less probability, for Domitian, who, as is well known, affected the title of Germanicus. [15] But the consent of the most ancient critics tends to restore Germanicus Drusus as the author, the title genitor applied to Tiberius not being proof positive the other way.

The only writer who mentions PHAEDRUS is Martial, [16] and he only in a single passage. The Aesopian beast-fable was a humble form of art peculiarly suited to a period of political and literary depression. Seneca in his Consolatio ad Polybium implies that that imperial favourite had cultivated it with success. Apparently he did not know of Phaedrus; and this fact agrees with the frequent complaints that Phaedrus makes to the effect that he is not appreciated. Of his life we know only what we can gather from his own book. He was born in Pieria, and became the slave of Augustus, who set him free, and seems to have given him his patronage. The poet was proud of his Greek birth, but was brought to Rome at so early an age as to belong almost equally to both nationalities. His poverty [17] did not secure him from persecution, Sejanus, ever suspicious and watchful, detected the political allusions veiled beneath the disguise of fable, and made the poet feel his auger. The duration of Phaedrus's career is uncertain. The first two books were all that he published in Tiberius's reign; the third, dedicated to Eutychus, and the fourth to Particulo, Claudius's favourite, clearly show that he continued to write over a considerable time. The date of Book V. is not mentioned, but it can hardly be earlier than the close of Claudius's reign. Thus we have a period of nearly thirty years during which these five short books were produced.

Like all who con over their own compositions, Phaedrus had an unreasonably high opinion of their merit. Literary reputation was his chief desire, and he thought himself secure of it. He echoes the boast so many greater men have made before him, that he is the first to import a form of Greek art; but he limits his imitation to the general scope, reserving to himself the right to vary the particular form in each fable as he thinks fit. [18] The careful way in which he defines at what point his obligations to Aesop cease and his own invention begins, shows him to have had something of the trifler and a great deal of the egotist. His love of condensation is natural, for a fabulist should be short, trenchant, and almost proverbial in his style; but Phaedrus carries these to the point of obscurity and enigma. It seems as if at times he did not see his drift himself. To this fault is akin the constant moralising tone which reflects rather than paints, enforces rather than elicits its lesson. He is himself a small sage, and all his animals are small sages too. They have not the life-like reality of those of Aesop; they are mere lay figures. His technical skill is very considerable; the iambic senarius becomes in his hands an extremely pleasing rhythm, though the occurrence of spondees in the second and fourth place savours of archaic usage. His diction is hardly varied enough to admit of clear reference to a standard, but on the whole it may be pronounced nearer to the silver than the golden Latinity, especially in the frequent use of abstract words. His confident predictions of immortality were nearly being falsified by the burning, by certain zealots, of an abbey in France, where alone the MS. existed (1561 A.D.); but Phaedrus, in common with many others, was rescued from the worthy Calvinists, and has since held a quiet corner to himself in the temple of fame.

A poet whose misfortunes were of service to his talent, was POMPONIUS SECUNDUS. His friendship with Aelius Gallus, son to Sejanus, caused him to be imprisoned during several years. While in this condition he devoted himself to literature, and wrote many tragedies which are spoken well of by Quintilian: "Eorum (tragic poets) quos viderim longe princeps Pomponius Secundus." [19] He was an acute rhetorician, and a purist in language. The extant names of his plays are Aeneas, and perhaps Armorum Judicium and Atreus, but these last two are uncertain. Tragedy was much cultivated during the imperial times; for it formed an outlet for feeling not otherwise safe to express, and it admitted all the ornaments of rhetoric. Those who regard the tragedies of Seneca as the work of the father, would refer them to this reign, to the end of which the old man's activity lasted, though his energies were more taken up with watching and guiding the careers of his children than with original composition. When Tiberius died (37 A.D.) literature could hardly have been at a lower ebb; but even then there were young men forming their minds and imbibing new canons of taste, who were destined before long—for almost all wrote early—to redeem the age from the charge of dulness, perhaps at too great a sacrifice.




We have grouped these three emperors under a single heading because the shortness of the reigns of the two former prevented the formation of any special school of literature. It is otherwise with the reign of Nero. To this belongs a constellation of some of the most brilliant authors that Rome ever produced. And they are characterised by some very special traits. Instead of the depression we noticed under Tiberius we now observe a forced vivacity and sprightliness, even in dealing with the most awful or serious subjects, which is unlike anything we have hitherto met with in Roman literature. It is quite different from the natural gaiety of Catullus; equally so from the witty frivolity of Ovid. It is not in the least meant to be frivolous; on the contrary it arises from an overstrained earnestness, and a desire to say everything in the most pointed and emphatic form in which it can be said. To whatever school the writers belong, this characteristic is always present. Persius shows it as much as Seneca; the historians as much as the rhetors. The only one who is not imbued with it is the professed wit Petronius. Probably he had exhausted it in conversation; perhaps he disapproved of it as a corrupt importation of the Senecas.

The emperors themselves were all literati. CALIGULA, it is true, did not publish, but he gave great attention to eloquence, and was even more vigorous as an extempore speaker than as a writer. His mental derangement affected his criticism. He thought at one time of burning all the copies of Homer that could be got at; at another of removing all the statues of Livy and Virgil, the one as unlearned and uncritical, the other as verbose and negligent. One is puzzled to know to which respectively these criticisms refer. We do not venture to assign them, but translate literally from Suetonius. [1]

CLAUDIUS had a brain as sluggish as Caligula's was over-excitable; nevertheless he prosecuted literature with care, and published several works. Among these was a history, beginning with the death of Julius Caesar, in forty-three volumes, [2] an autobiography in eight, [3] "magis inepte quam ineleganter scriptum;" a learned defence of Cicero against Asinius Gallus's invective, besides several Greek writings. His philological studies and the innovations he tried to introduce have been referred to in a former chapter. [4]

NERO, while a young man before his accession, tried his powers in nearly every department of letters. He approached philosophy, but his prudent mother deterred him from a study which might lead him to views "above his station as a prince." He next turned to the old orators, but here his preceptor Seneca intervened, Tacitus insinuates, with the motive of turning him from the best models to an admiration of his own more seductive style. Nero declaimed frequently in public, and his poetical effusions seem to have possessed some real merit. At the first celebration of the festival called Neroniana he was crowned with the wreath of victory. His most celebrated poem, the one that drew down on him the irony of Juvenal, was the Troica, in which perhaps occurred the Troiae Halosis which this madman recited in state over the burning ruins of Rome, and which is parodied with subtle mockery in Petronius. Other poems were of a lighter cast and intended to be sung to the accompaniment of the harp. These were the crowning scandal of his imperial vagaries in the eyes of patriotic Romans. "With our prince a fiddler," cries Juvenal, "what further disgrace remains?" King Lewis of Bavaria and some other great personages of our era would perhaps object to Juvenal's conclusion. With all these accomplishments, however, Nero either could not or would not speak. He had not the vigour of mind necessary for eloquence. Hence he usually employed Seneca to dress up speeches for him, a task which that polite minister was not sorry to undertake.

The earliest poet who comes before us is the unknown author of the panegyric on Calpurnius Piso. It is an elegant piece of versification with no particular merit or demerit. It takes pains to justify Piso for flute- playing in public, and as Nero's example is not alleged, the inference is natural that it was written before his time. There is no independence of style, merely a graceful reflection from that of the Augustan poets.

We must now examine the circumstances which surrounded or produced the splendid literature of Nero's reign. Such persons as from political hostility to the government, or from disgust at the flagitious conduct by which alone success was to be purchased, lived apart in a select circle, stern and defiant, unsullied by the degradation round them, though helpless to influence it for good. They consisted for the most part of virtuous noblemen such as Paetus Thrasea, Barea, Rubellius Plautus, above all, Helvidius Priscus, on whose uncompromising independence Tacitus loves to dwell; and of philosophers, moral teachers and literati, who sought after real excellence, not contemporary applause. The members of this society lived in intimate companionship, and many ladies contributed their share to its culture and virtuous aspirations. Such were Arria, the heroic wife of Paetus, Fannia, the wife of Helvidius, and Fulvia Sisenna, the mother of Persius. These held reunions for literary or philosophical discussions which were no mere conversational displays, but a serious preparation for the terrible issues which at any time they might be called upon to meet. It had long been the custom for wealthy Romans of liberal tastes to maintain a philosopher as part of their establishment. Laelius had shown hospitality both to Panaetius and Polybius; Cicero had offered a home to Diodotus for more than twenty years, and Catulus and Lucullus had both recognised the temporal needs of philosophy. Under the Empire the practice was still continued, and though liable to the abuse of charlatanism or pedantry, was certainly instrumental in familiarising patrician families (and especially their lady members) with the great thoughts and pure morality of the best thinkers of Greece. From scattered notices in Seneca and Quintilian, we should infer that the philosopher was employed as a repository of spiritual confidences—almost a father- confessor—at least as much as an intellectual teacher. When Kanus Julius was condemned to death, his philosopher went with him to the scaffold and uttered consoling words about the destiny of the soul; [5] and Seneca's own correspondence shows that he regarded this relation as the noblest philosophy could hold. Of such moral directors the most influential was ANNAEUS CORNUTUS, both from his varied learning and his consistent rectitude of life. Like all the higher spirits he was a Stoic, but a genial and wise one. He neither affected austerity nor encouraged rash attacks on power. His advice to his noble friends generally inclined towards the side of prudence. Nevertheless he could not so far control his own language as to avoid the jealousy of Nero. [6] He was banished, it is not certain in what year, and apparently ended his days in exile. He left several works, mostly written in Greek; some on philosophy, of which that on the nature of the gods has come down to us in an abridged form, some on rhetoric and grammar; besides these he is said to have composed satires, tragedies, [7] and a commentary on Virgil. But his most important work was his formation of the character of one of the three Roman satirists whose works have come down to us.

Few poets have been so differently treated by different critics as A. PERSIUS FLACCUS, for while some have pronounced him to be an excellent satirist and true poet, others have declared that his fame is solely owing to the trouble he gives us to read him. He was born at Volaterrae, 34 A.D., of noble parentage, brought to Rome as a child, and educated with the greatest care. His first preceptor was the grammarian Virginius Flavus, an eloquent man endued with strength of character, whose earnest moral lectures drew down the displeasure of Caligula. He next seems to have attended a course under Remmius Palaemon; but as soon as he put on the manly gown he attached himself to Cornutus, whose intimate friend he became, and of whose ideas he was the faithful exponent. The love of the pupil for his guide in philosophy is beautiful and touching; the verses in which it is expressed are the best in Persius: [8]

"Secreti loquimur: tibi nunc hortante Camena Excutienda damus praecordia: quantaque nostrae Pars tua sit Cornute animae, tibi, dulcis amice, Ostendisse iuvat ... Teneros tu suscipis annos Socratico Cornute sino. Tune fallere sollers Apposita intortos extendit regula mores, Et premitur ratione animus vincique laborat, Artificemque tuo ducit sub pollice vultum."

Moulded by the counsels of this good "doctor," Persius adopted philosophy with enthusiasm. In an age of licentiousness he preserved a maiden purity. Though possessing in a pre-eminent degree that gift of beauty which Juvenal declares to be fatal to innocence, Persius retained until his death a moral character without a stain. But he had a nobler example even than Cornutus by his side. He was tenderly loved by the great Thrasea, [9] whose righteous life and glorious death form perhaps the richest lesson that the whole imperial history affords. Thrasea was a Cato in justice, but more than a Cato in goodness, inasmuch as his lot was harder, and his spirit gentler and more human. Men like these clenched the theories of philosophy by that rare consistency which puts them into practice; and Persius, with all his literary faults, is the sole instance among Roman writers of a philosopher whose life was in accordance with the doctrines he professed.

Yet on opening his short book of satires, one is strongly tempted to ask, What made the boy write them? He neither knew nor cared to know anything of the world, and, we fear, cannot he credited with a philanthropic desire to reform it. The answer is given partly by himself, that he was full of petulant spleen, [10]—an honest confession,—partly is to be found in the custom then becoming general for those who wished to live well to write essays on serious subjects for private circulation among their friends, pointing out the dangers that lay around, and encouraging them to persevere in the right path. Of this kind are several of Seneca's treatises, and we have notices of many others in the biographers and historians. And though Persius may have intended to publish his book to the world, as is rendered probable by the prologue, this is not absolutely certain. At any rate it did not appear until after his death, when his friend Caesius Bassus [11] undertook to bring it out; so that we may fairly regard it as a collection of youthful reflections as to the advisability of publishing which the poet had not yet made up his mind, and perhaps had he lived would have suppressed.

Crabbed and loaded with obscure allusions as they are to a degree which makes most of them extremely unpleasant reading, they obtained a considerable and immediate reputation. Lucan is reported to have declared that his own works were bagatelles in comparison. [12] Quintilian says that he has gained much true glory in his single book; [13] Martial, that he is oftener quoted than Domitius Marsus in all his long Amazonis. [14] He is affirmed by his biographer to have written seldom and with difficulty. All his earlier attempts were, by the advice of Cornutus, destroyed. They consisted of a Praetexta, named Vescia, of one book of travels, and a few lines to the elder Arria. Among his predecessors his chief admiration was reserved for Horace, whom he imitates with exaggerated fidelity, recalling, but generally distorting, nearly a hundred well-known lines. The six poems we possess are not all, strictly speaking, satires. The first, with the prologue, may be so considered. It is devoted to an attack upon the literary style of the day. Persius sees that the decay of taste is intimately joined with the decay of morals, and the subtle connections he draws between the two constitute the chief merit of the effusion. Like Horace, but with even better reason, he bewails the antiquarian predilections of the majority of readers. Accius and Pacuvius still hold their ground, while Virgil and Horace are considered rough and lacking delicacy! [15] If this last be a true statement, it testifies to the depraved criticism of a luxurious age which alternates between meretricious softness and uncouth disproportion, just as in life the idle and effeminate, who shrink from manly labour, take pleasure in wild adventure and useless fatigue. In this satire, which is the most condensed of all, the literary defects of the author are at their height. His moral taste is not irreproachable; in his desire not to mince matters he offends needlessly against propriety. [16] The picture he draws of the fashionable rhetorician with languishing eyes and throat mellowed by a luscious gargle, warbling his drivelling ditties to an excited audience, is powerful and lifelike. From assemblies like these he did well to keep himself. We can imagine the effect upon their used-up emotions of a fresh and fiery spirit like that of Lucan, whose splendid presence and rich enthusiasm threw to the winds these tricks of the reciter's art.

The second, third, and fourth poems are declamatory exercises on the dogmas of stoicism, interspersed with dramatic scenes. The second has for its subject the proper use of prayer. The majority, says Persius, utter buying petitions (prece emaci), and by no means as a rule innocent ones. Few dare to acknowledge their prayers (aperto vivere voto). After sixty lines of indignant remonstrance, he closes with a noble apostrophe, in which some of the thoughts rise almost to a Christian height—"O souls bent to earth, empty of divine things! What boots it to import these morals of ours into the temples, and to imagine what is good in God's sight from the analogies of this sinful flesh?... Why do we not offer Him something which Messala's blear-eyed progeny with all his wealth cannot offer, a spirit at one with justice and right, holy in its inmost depths, and a heart steeped in nobleness and virtue? Let me but bring these to the altar, and a sacrifice of meal will be accepted!" In the third and fourth Satires he complains of the universal ignorance of our true interests, the ridicule which the world heaps on philosophy, and the hap-hazard way in which men prepare for hazardous duties. The contemptuous disgust of the brawny centurion at the (to him) unmeaning problems which philosophy starts, is vigorously delineated; [17] but some of his tableaux border on the ridiculous from their stilted concision and over-drawn sharpness of outline. The undeniable virtue of the poet irritates as much as it attracts, from its pert precocity and obtrusiveness. What he means for pathos mostly chills instead of warming: "Ut nemo in se curat descendere, nemo!" [18] The poet who penned this line must surely have been tiresome company. Persius is at his best when he forgets for a moment the icy peak to which as a philosopher he has climbed, and suns himself in the valley of natural human affections—a reason why the fifth and sixth Satires, which are more personal than the rest, have always been considered greatly superior to them. The last in particular runs for more than half its length in a smooth and tolerably graceful stream of verse, which shows that Persius had much of the poetic gift, had his warped taste allowed him to give it play.

We conclude with one or two instances of his language to justify our strictures upon it. Horace had used the expression naso suspendis adunco, a legitimate and intelligible metaphor; Persius imitates it, excusso populum suspendere naso, [19] thereby rendering it frigid and weak. Horace had said clament periisse pudorem Cuncti paene patres; [20] Persius caricatures him, exclamet Melicerta perisse Frontem de rebus. [21] Horace had said si vis me flere, dolendum est Primum ipsi tibi; [22] Persius distorts this into plorabit qui me volet incurvasse querela. [23] Other expressions more remotely modelled on him are iratum Eupoliden praegrandi cum sene palles, [24] and perhaps the very harsh use of the accusative, linguae quantum sitiat canis, [25] "as long a tongue as a thirsty dog hangs out."

Common sense is not to be looked for in the precepts of so immature a mind. Accordingly, we find the foolish maxim that a man not endowed with reason (i.e. stoicism) cannot do anything aright: [26] that every one should live up to his yearly income regardless of the risk arising from a bad season; [27] extravagant paradoxes reminding us of some of the less educated religious sects of the present day; with this difference, that in Rome it was the most educated who indulged in them. A good deal of the obscurity of these Satires was forced upon the poet by the necessity of avoiding everything that could be twisted into treason. We read in Suetonius that Nero is attacked in them; but so well is the battery masked that it is impossible to find it. Some have detected it in the prologue, others in the opening lines of the first Satire, others, relying on a story that Cornutus made him alter the line—

"Auriculas asini Mida rex habet,"

to quis non habet? have supposed that the satire lies there. But satire so veiled is worthless. The poems of Persius are valuable chiefly as showing a good naturel amid corrupt surroundings, and forming a striking comment on the change which had come over Latin letters.

Another Stoic philosopher, probably known to Persius, was C. MUSONIUS RUFUS, like him an Etruscan by birth, and a successful teacher of the young. Like almost all independent thinkers he was exiled, but recalled by Titus in his old age. The influence of such men must have extended far beyond their personal acquaintance; but they kept aloof from the court. This probably explains the conspicuous absence of any allusion to Seneca in Persius's writings. It is probable that his stern friends, Thrasea and Soranus disapproved of a courtier like Seneca professing stoicism, and would show him no countenance. He was not yet great enough to compel their notice, and at this time confined his influence to the circle of Nero, whose tutor he was, and to those young men, doubtless numerous enough, whom his position and seductive eloquence attracted by a double charm. Of these by far the most illustrious was his nephew Lucan.

M. ANNAEUS LUCANUS, the son of Annaeus Mela and Acilia, a Spanish lady of high birth, was born at Corduba, 39 A.D. His grandfather, therefore, was Seneca the elder, whose rhetorical bent he inherited. Legend tells of him, as of Hesiod, that in his infancy a swarm of bees settled upon the cradle in which he lay, giving an omen of his future poetic glory. Brought to Rome, and placed under the greatest masters, he soon surpassed all his young competitors in powers of declamation. He is said, while a boy, to have attracted large audiences, who listened with admiration to the ingenious eloquence that expressed itself with equal ease in Greek or Latin. His uncle soon introduced him to Nero; and he at once recognised in him a congenial spirit. They became friendly rivals. Lucan had the address to conceal his superior talent behind artful flattery, which Nero for a time believed sincere. But men, and especially young men of genius, cannot be always prudent. And if Lucan had not vaunted his success, Rome at least was sure to be less reticent. Nero saw that public opinion preferred the young Spaniard to himself. The mutual ill-feeling that had already long smouldered was kindled into flame by the result of a poetical contest, at which Lucan was declared victorious. [28] Nero, who was present, could not conceal his mortification. He left the hall in a rage, and forbade the poet to recite in public, or even to plead in his profession. Thus debarred from the successes which had so long flattered his self-love, Lucan gave his mind to worthier subjects. He composed, or at least finished, the Pharsalia in the following year (65 B.C.); but with the haste and want of secrecy which characterised him, not only libelled the emperor, but joined the conspiracy against him, of which Piso was the head. This gave Nero the opportunity he desired. In vain the unhappy young man abased himself to humble flattery, to piteous entreaty, even to the incrimination of his own mother, a base proceeding which he hoped might gain him the indulgence of a matricide prince. All was useless. Nero was determined that he should die, and he accordingly had his veins opened, and expired amid applauding friends, while reciting those verses of his epic which described the death of a brave centurion. [29]

The genius and sentiments of Lucan were formed under two different influences. Among the adherents of Caesarism, none were so devoted as those provincials or freedmen who owed to it their wealth and position. Lucan, as Seneca's nephew, naturally attached himself from the first to the court party. He knew of the Republic only as a name, and, like Ovid, had no reason to be dissatisfied with his own time. Fame, wealth, honours, all were open to him. We can imagine the feverish delight with which a youth of three and twenty found himself recognised as prince of Roman poets. But Lucan had a spirit of truthfulness in him that pined after better things. At the lectures of Cornutus, in the company of Persius, he caught a glimpse of this higher life. And so behind the showy splendours of his rhetoric there lurks a sadness which tells of a mind not altogether content, a brooding over man's life and its apparent uselessness, which makes us believe that had he lived till middle life he would have struck a lofty vein of noble and earnest song. At other times, at the banquet or in the courts, he must have met young men who lived in an altogether different world from his, a world not of intoxicating pleasures but of gloomy indignation and sullen regret; to whom the Empire, grounded on usurpation and maintained by injustice, was the quintessence of all that was odious; to whom Nero was an upstart tyrant, and Brutus and Cassius the watchwords of justice and right. Sentiments like these could not but be remembered by one so impressionable. As soon as the sunshine of favour was withdrawn, Lucan's ardent mind turned with enthusiasm towards them. The Pharsalia, and especially the closing books of it, show us Lucan as the poet of liberty, the mourner for the lost Republic. The expression of feeling may be exaggerated, and little consistent with the flattery with which the poem opens; yet even this flattery, when carefully read, seems fuller of satire than of praise: [30]

"Quod si non aliam venturo fata Neroni Invenere viam, magnoque aeterna parantur Regna deis, caelumque suo servire Tonanti Non nisi saevorum potuit post bella Gigantum; Iam nihil O superi querimur! Scelera ipsa nefasque Hac mercede placent!"

The Pharsalia, then, is the outcome of a prosperous rhetorical career on the one hand, and of a bitter disappointment which finds its solace in patriotic feeling on the other. It is difficult to see how such a poem could have failed to ruin him, even if he had not been doomed before. The loss of freedom is bewailed in words, which, if declamatory, are fatally courageous, and reflect perilous honour on him that used them: [31]

"Fugiens civile nefas redituraque nunquam Libertas ultra Tigrim Rhenumque [32] recessit, Ac toties nobis iugulo quaesita, vagatur, Germanum Scythicumque bonum, nec respicit ultra Ausoniam."

It is true that his love for freedom, like that of Virgil, was based on an idea, not a reality. But it none the less required a great soul to utter these stirring sentiments before the very face of Nero, the "vultus instantis tyranni" of which Horace had dreamed.

On the fitness or unfitness of his theme for epic treatment no more need be added here than was said in the chapter on Virgil. It is, however, difficult to see what subject was open to the epicist after Virgil except to narrate the actual account of what Virgil had painted in ideal colours. The calm march of government under divine guidance from Aeneas to Augustus was one side of the picture. The fierce struggles and remorseless ambition of the Civil Wars is the other. Which is the more true? It would be fairer to ask, which is the more poetical? It was Lucan's misfortune that the ideal side was already occupied; he had no power to choose. Few who have read the Pharsalia would wish it unwritten. Some critics have denied that it is poetry at all. [33] Poetry of the first order it certainly is not, but those who will forgive artistic defects for energy of thought and strength of feeling must always retain a strong admiration for its noble imperfections.

We shall offer a few critical remarks on the Pharsalia, referring our readers for an exhaustive catalogue of its defects to M. Nisard's second volume of the Poetes de la Decadence, and confining ourselves principally to such points as he has not dwelt upon. In the first place we observe a most unfortunate attitude towards the greatest problem that can exercise man's mind, his relation to the Superior Power. Lucan has neither the reverence of Virgil, the antagonism of Lucretius, nor the awful doubt of Greek tragedy. His attitude is one of pretentious rebellion and flippant accusation, except when Stoic doctrines raise him for a time above himself. He goes on every occasion quite out of his way to assail the popular ideas of providence. To Lucretius this is a necessity entailed upon him by his subject; to Lucan it is nothing but petulant rhetorical outburst. For instance, he calls Ptolemy Fortunae pudor crimenque deorum; [34] he arraigns the gods as caring more for vengeance than liberty; [35] he calls Septimius a disgrace to the gods, [36] the death of Pompey a tale at which heaven ought to blush; [37] he speaks of the expression on Pompey's venerable face as one of anger against the gods, [38] of the stone that marks his tomb as an indictment against heaven, [39] and hopes that it may soon be considered as false a witness of his death as Crete is to that of Jove; [40] he makes young Pompey, speaking of his father's death, say: "Whatever insult of fate has scattered his limbs to the winds, I forgive the gods that wrong, it is of what they have left that I complain;" [41] saddest of all, he gives us that tremendous epigram: [42]

"Victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa Catoni."

We recognise here a noble but misguided spirit, fretting at the dispensations it cannot approve, because it cannot understand them. Bitterly disgusted at the failure of the Empire to fulfil all its promise, the writers of this period waste their strength in unavailing upbraidings of the gods. There is a retrograde movement of thought since the Augustan age. Virgil and Horace take substantially the same view of the Empire as that which the philosophy of history has taught us is the true one; they call it a necessity, and express that belief by deifying its representative. Contrast the spirit of Horace in the third Ode of the third book:

"Hac arte Pollux hac vagus Hercules Enisus arces attigit igneas; Quos inter Augustus recumbens Purpureo bibit ore nectar,"

with the fierce irony of Lucan: [43]

"Mortalis nulli Sunt curata deo; cladis tamen huius habemus Vindictam, quantam terris dare numina fas est. Bella pares superis faciunt civilia divos; Fulminibus manes radiisque ornabit et astris, Inque Deum templis iurabit Roma per umbras."

Here is the satire of Cicero's second Philippic reappearing, but with added bitterness. [44] Being thus without belief in a divine providence, how does Lucan govern the world? By blind fate, or blinder caprice! Fortuna, whom Juvenal ridicules, [45] is the true deity of Lucan. As such she is directly mentioned ninety-one times, besides countless others where her agency is implied. A useful belief for a man like Caesar who fought his way to empire; a most unfortunate conception for an epic poet to build a great poem on.

Lucan's scepticism has this further disadvantage that it precludes him from the use of the supernatural. To introduce the council of Olympus as Virgil does would in him be sheer mockery, and he is far too honest to attempt it. But as no great poet can dispense with some reference to the unseen, Lucan is driven to its lower and less poetic spheres. Ghosts, witches, dreams, visions, and portents, fill with their grisly catalogue a disproportionate space of the poem. The sibyl is introduced as in Virgil, but instead of giving her oracle with solemn dignity, she first refuses to speak at all, then under threats of cruel punishment she submits to the influence of the god, but in the midst of the prophetic impulse, Apollo, for some unexplained reason, compels her to stop short and conceal the gist of her message. [46] Even more unpleasant is the description of Sextus Pompeius's consultation of the witch Erichtho; [47] horror upon horror is piled up until the blood curdles at the sickening details, which even Southey's Thalaba does not approach—and, after all, the feeling produced is not horror but disgust.

It is pleasant to turn from his irreligion to his philosophy. Here he appears as an uncertain but yet ardent disciple of the Porch. His uncertainty is shown by his inability to answer many grave doubts, as: Why is the future revealed by presages? [48] why are the oracles, once so vocal, now silent? [49] his enthusiasm by his portraiture of Cato, who was regarded by the Stoics as coming nearest of all men to their ideal Wise Man. Cato is to him a peg on which to hang the virtues and paradoxes of the school. But none the less is the sketch he gives a truly noble one: [50]

"Hi mores, haec duri immota Catonis Secta fuit, servare modum finemque tenere, Naturamque sequi, patriaeque impendere vitam, Nec sibi sed toti genitum se credere mundo."

Nothing in all Latin poetry reaches a higher pitch of ethical sublimity than Cato's reply to Labienus when entreated to consult the oracle of Jupiter Ammon: [51] "What would you have me ask? whether I ought to die rather than become a slave? whether life begins here or after death? whether evil can hurt the good man? whether it be enough to will what is good? whether virtue is made greater by success? All this I know already, and Hammon's voice will not make it more sure. We all depend on Heaven, and though oracles be silent we cannot act without the will of God. Deity needs no witness: once for all at our birth he has given us all needful knowledge, nor has he chosen barren sands accessible to few, or buried truth in a desert. Where earth, sea, sky, and virtue exist, there is God. Why seek we Heaven outside?" These, and similar other sentiments scattered throughout the poem, redeem it from the charge of wanton disbelief, and show a largeness of soul that only needed experience to make it truly great.

In discussing political and social questions Lucan shows considerable insight. He could not, any more than his contemporaries, understand that the old oligarchy was an anachronism; that the stubborn pride of its votaries needed the sword to break it. But the influence of individual genius is well pourtrayed by him, and he seizes character with a vigorous grasp. As a partisan of the senate, he felt bound to exalt Pompey; but if we judge by his own actions and his own words, not by the encomiums heaped on him by the poet, Lucan's Pompey comes very near the genuine historical man. So the Caesar sketched by Lucan, though meant to be a villain of the blackest dye—if we except some blood-thirsty speeches—stands out as a true giant of energy, neither meaner nor more unscrupulous than the Caesar of history. Domitius, Curio, and Lentulus, are vigorous though somewhat defective portraits. Cornelia is the only female character that calls for notice. She is drawn with breadth and sympathy, and bears all the traits of a great Roman matron. The degradation of the people is a constant theme of lamentation. It is wealth, luxury, and the effeminacy that comes with them that have softened the fibre of Rome, and made her willing to bear a master. This is indeed a common-place of the schools, but it is none the less a gloomy truth, and Lucan would have been no Roman had he omitted to complain of it. Equally characteristic is his contempt for the lower orders [52] and the influx of foreigners, of whom Rome had become the common sink. Juvenal, who evidently studied Lucan, drew from him the picture of the Tiber soiled by Orontes's foul stream, and of the Bithynian, Galatian, and Cappadocian knights. [53]

With regard to the artistic side of the poem the first and most obvious criticism is that it has no hero. But if this be a fault, it is one which it shares with the Divina Commedia and Paradise Lost. As Satan has been called the hero of the latter poem, so Caesar, if not the hero, is the protagonist of the Pharsalia. But Cato, Pompey, and the senate as a body, have all competed for this honour. The fact is this: that while the primitive epic is altogether personal, the poem whose interest is national or human cannot always find a single hero. It is after all a narrow criticism that confines the poet's art within such strict limits. A great poet can hardly avoid changing or at least modifying the existing canons of art, and Lucan should at least be judged with the same liberality as the old annalists who celebrated the wars of the Republic.

In description Lucan is excellent, both in action and still life, but more in brilliancy of detail than in broad effects. His defect lies in the tone of exaggeration which he has acquired in the schools, and thinks it right to employ in order not to fall below his subject. He has a true opinion of the importance of the Civil War, which he judges to be the final crisis of Rome's history, and its issues fraught with superhuman grandeur. The innate materialism of his mind, however, leads him to attach outward magnitude to all that is connected with it. Thus Nero, the offspring of its throes, is entreated by the poet to be careful, when he leaves earth to take his place among the immortals, not to seat himself in a quarter where his weight may disturb the just equilibrium of the globe! [54] And, similarly, all the incidents of the Civil War exceed the parallel incidents of every other war in terror and vastness. Do portents presage a combat? they are such as defy all power to conceive. Pindus mounts upon Olympus, [55] and others of a more ordinary but still amazing character follow. [56] Does a naval conflict take place? the horrors of all the elements combine to make it the most hideous that the mind can imagine. Fire and water vie with each other in devising new modes of death, and where these are inactive, it is only because a land-battle with all its carnage is being enacted on the closely-wedged ships. [57] Has the army to march across a desert? the entire race of venomous serpents conspires to torture and if possible extirpate the host! [58] This is a very inartistic mode of heightening effect, and, indeed, borders closely on that pursued in the modern sensation novel. It is beyond question the worst defect of the Pharsalia, and the extraordinary ingenuity with which it is done only intensifies the misconduct of the poet.

Over and above this habitual exaggeration, Lucan has a decided love for the ghastly and revolting. The instances to which allusion has already been made, viz. the Thessalian sorceress and the dreadful casualties of the sea-fight, show it very strikingly, but the account of the serpents in the Libyan desert, if possible, still more. The episode is of great length, over three hundred lines, and contains much mythological knowledge, as well as an appalling power of description. It begins with a discussion of the question, Why is Africa so full of these plagues? After giving various hypotheses he adopts the one which assigns their origin to Medusa's hairs which fell from Perseus's hand as he sailed through the air. In order not to lure people to certain death by appearing in an inhabited country, he chose the trackless wastes of Africa over which to wing his flight. The mythological disquisition ended, one on natural history follows. The peculiar properties of the venom of each species are minutely catalogued, first in abstract terms, then in the concrete by a description of their effects on some of Cato's soldiers. The first bitten was the standard-bearer Aulus, by a dipsas, which afflicted him with intolerable thirst; next Sabellus by a seps, a minute creature whose bite was followed by an instantaneous corruption of the whole body; [59] then Nasidius by a prester which caused his form to swell to an unrecognisable size, and so on through the list of serpents, each episode closing with a brilliant epigram which clenches the effect. [60] Trivialities like these would spoil the greatest poem ever penned. It need not be said that they spoil the Pharsalia.

Another subject on which Lucan rings the changes is death. The word mors has an unwholesome attraction to his ear. Death is to him the greatest gift of heaven; the only one it cannot take away. It is sad indeed to hear the young poet uttering sentiments like this: [61]

"Scire mori sors prima viris, sed proxima cogi,"

and again [62]—

"Victurosque dei celant, ut vivere durent, Felix esse mori."

So in cursing Crastinus, Caesar's fierce centurion, he wishes him not to die, but to retain sensibility after death, in other words to be immortal. The sentiment occurs, not once but a hundred times, that of all pleasures death is the greatest. He even plays upon the word, using it in senses which it will hardly bear. Libycae mortes are serpents; Accessit morti Libye, "Libya added to the mortality of the army;" nulla cruentae tantum mortis habet; "no other reptile causes a death so bloody." To one so unhealthily familiar with the idea, the reality, when it came, seems to have brought unusual terrors.

The learning of Lucan has been much extolled, and in some respects not without reason. It is complex, varied, and allusive, but its extreme obscurity makes us suspect even when we cannot prove, inaccuracy. He is proud of his manifold acquirements. Nothing pleases him more than to have an excuse for showing his information on some abstruse subject. The causes of the climate of Africa, the meteorological conditions of Spain, the theory of the globes, the geography of the southern part of our hemisphere, the wonders of Egypt and the views about the source of the Nile, are descanted on with diffuse erudition. But it is evidently impossible that so mere a youth could have had a deep knowledge of so many subjects, especially as his literary productiveness had already been very great. He had written an Iliacon according to Statius, [63] a book of Saturnalia, ten books of Silvae, a Catachthonion, an unfinished tragedy called Medea, fourteen Salticae fabulae (no doubt out of compliment to Nero), a prose essay against Octavius Sagitta, another in favour of him, a poem De Incendio Urbis, in which Nero was satirised, a katakausmos (which is perhaps different from the latter, but may be only the same under another title), a series of letters from Campania, and an address to his wife, Polla Argentaria.

A peculiar, and to us offensive, exhibition of learning consists in those tirades on common-place themes, embodying all the stock current of instances, of which the earliest example is found in the catalogue of the dead in Virgil's Culex. Lucan, as may be supposed, delights in dressing up these well-worn themes, painting them with novel splendour if they are descriptive, thundering in fiery epigrams, if they are moral. Of the former class are two of the most effective scenes in the poem. The first is Caesar's night voyage in a skiff over a stormy sea. The fisherman to whom he applies is unwilling to set sail. The night, he says, shows many threatening signs, and, by way of deterring Caesar, he enumerates the entire list of prognostics to be found in Aratus, Hesiod, and Virgil, with great piquancy of touch, but without the least reference to the propriety of the situation. [64] Nothing can be more amusing, or more out of place, than the old man's sudden erudition. The second is the death of Scaeva, who for a time defended Caesar's camp single-handed. The poet first remarks that valour in a bad cause is a crime, and then depicts that of Scaeva in such colossal proportions as almost pass the limits of burlesque. After describing him as pierced with so many spears that they served him as armour, he adds: [65]

"Nec quicquam nudis vitalibus obstat Iam, praeter stantes in summis ossibus hastas."

This is grotesque enough; the banquet of birds and beasts who feed on the skin of Pharsalia is even worse. [66] The details are too loathsome to quote. Suffice it to say that the list includes every carrion-feeder among flesh and fowl who assemble in immense flocks:

"Nunquam tanto se vulture caelum Induit, aut plures presserunt aethere pennae."

We have, however, dwelt too long on points like these. We must now notice a few features of his style which mark him as the representative of an epoch. First, his extreme cleverness. In splendid extravagance of expression no Latin author comes near him. The miniature painting of Statius, the point of Martial, are both feeble in comparison; for Lucan's language, though often tasteless, is always strong. Some of his lines embody a condensed trenchant vigour which has made them proverbs. Phrases like Trahimur sub nomine pacis—Momentumque fuit mutatus Curio rerum, recall the pen of Tacitus. Others are finer still Caesar's energy is rivalled by the line—

"Nil actum credens dum quid superesset agendum."

The duty of securing liberty, even at the cost of blood, was never more finely expressed than by the noble words:

"Ignoratque datos ne quisquam serviat enses."

Curio's treachery is pilloried in the epigram,

"Emere omnes, hic vendidit Urbem." [67]

The mingled cowardice and folly of servile obedience is nobly expressed by his reproach to the people:

"Usque adeone times, quem tu facis ipse timendum?" [68]

An author who could write like this had studied rhetoric to some purpose. Unhappily he is oftener diffuse than brief, and sometimes he becomes tedious to the last degree. His poetical art is totally deficient in variety. He knows of but one method of gaining effect, the use of strong language and plenty of it. If Persius was inflated with the vain desire to surpass Horace, Lucan seems to have been equally ambitious of excelling Virgil. He rarely imitates, but he frequently competes with him. Over and over again, he approaches the same or similar subjects. Virgil had described the victory of Hercules over Cacus, Lucan must celebrate his conflict with Antaeus; Virgil had mentioned the portents that followed Caesar's death, Lucan must repeat them with added improbabilities in a fresh context; his sibyl is but a tasteless counterpart of Virgil's; his catalogues of forces have Virgil's constantly in view; his deification of Nero is an exaggeration of that of Augustus, and even the celebrated simile in which Virgil admits his obligations to the Greek stage has its parallel in the Pharsalia. [69]

Nevertheless Lucan is of all Latin poets the most independent in relation to his predecessors. It needs a careful criticism to detect his knowledge and imitation of Virgil. As far as other poets go he might never have read their works. The impetuous course of the Pharsalia is interrupted by no literary reminiscences, no elaborate setting of antique gems. He was a stranger to that fond pleasure with which Virgil entwined his poetry round the spreading branches of the past, and wove himself a wreath out of flowers new and old. This lack of delicate feeling is no less evident in his rhythm. Instead of the inextricable harmonies of Virgil's cadence, we have a succession of rich, forcible, and polished monotonous lines, rushing on without a thought of change until the period closes. In formal skill Lucan was a proficient, but his ear was dull. The same caesuras recur again and again, [70] and the only merit of his rhythm is its undeniable originality. [71] The composition of the Pharsalia must, however, have been extremely hurried, judging both from the fact that three books only were finished the year before the poet's death, and from various indications of haste in the work itself. The tenth book is obviously unfinished, and in style is far more careless than the rest. Lucan's diction is tolerably classical, but he is lax in the employment of certain words, e.g. mors, fatum, pati (in the sense of vivere), and affects forced combinations from the desire to be terse, e.g., degener toga, [72] stimulis negare, [73] nutare regna, "to portend the advent of despotism;" [74] meditari Leucada, "to intend to bring about the catastrophe of Actium," [75] and so on. We observe also several innovations in syntax, especially the freer use of the infinitive (vivere durent) after verbs, or as a substantive, a defect he shares with Persius (scire tuum); and the employment of the future participle to state a possibility or a condition that might have been fulfilled, e.g., unumque caput tam magna iuventus Privatum factura timet velut ensibus ipse Imperet invito moturus milite bellum. [76] A strong depreciation of Lucan's genius has been for some time the rule of criticism. And in an age when little time is allowed for reading any but the best authors, it is perhaps undesirable that he should be rehabilitated. Yet throughout the Middle Ages and during more than one great epoch in French history, he was ranked among the highest epic poets. Even now there are many scholars who greatly admire him. The false metaphor and exaggerated tone may be condoned to a youth of twenty-six; the lofty pride and bold devotion to liberty could not have been acquired by an ignoble spirit. He is of value to science as a moderately accurate historian who supplements Caesar's narrative, and gives a faithful picture of the feeling general among the nobility of his day. He is also a prominent representative of that gifted Spanish family who, in various ways, exercised so immense an influence on subsequent Roman letters. His wife is said to have assisted in the composition of the poem, but in what part of it her talents fitted her to succeed we cannot even conjecture.

To Nero's reign are probably to be referred the seven eclogues of T. CALPURNIUS SICULUS, and the poem on Aetna, long attributed to Virgil. These may bear comparison in respect of their want of originality with the Satires of Persius, though both fall far short of them in talent and interest. The MSS. of Calpurnius contain, besides the seven genuine poems, four others by a later and much inferior writer, probably Nemesianus, the same who wrote a poem on the chase in the reign of Numerian. These are imitated from Calpurnius much as he imitates Virgil, except that the decline in metrical treatment is greater. The first eclogue of Calpurnius is devoted to the praises of a young emperor who is to regenerate the world, and exercise a wisdom, a clemency, and a patronage of the arts long unknown. He is celebrated again in Eclogue IV., the most pretentious of the series, and, in general, critics are agreed that Nero is intended. The second poem is the most successful of all, and a short account of it may be given here. Astacus and Idas, two beauteous youths, enter into a poetical contest at which Thyrsis acts as judge. Faunus, the satyrs, and nymphs, "Sicco Dryades pede Naides udo," are present. The rivers stay their course; the winds are hushed; the oxen forget their pasture; the bee steadies itself on poised wing to listen. An amoebean contest ensues, in which the rivals closely imitate those of Virgil's seventh eclogue, singing against one another in stanzas of four lines. Thyrsis declines to pronounce either conqueror:

"Este pares: et ab hoc concordes vivite: nam vos Et decor et cantus et amor sociavit et aetas."

The rhythm is pleasing; the style simple and flowing; and if we did not possess the model we might admire the copy. The tone of exaggeration which characterises all the poetry of Nero's time mars the reality of these pastoral scenes. The author professes great reverence for Virgil, but does not despair of being coupled with him (vi. 64):

"Magna petis Corydon, si Tityrus esse laboras."

And he begs his wealthy friend Meliboeus (perhaps Seneca) to introduce his poems to the emperor (Ecl. iv. 157), and so fulfil for him the office that he who led Tityrus to Rome did for the Mantuan bard. If his vanity is somewhat excessive we must allow him the merits of a correct and pretty versifier.

The didactic poem on Aetna is now generally attributed to LUCILIUS JUNIOR, the friend and correspondent of Seneca. Scaliger printed it with Virgil's works, and others have assigned Cornelius Severus as the author, but several considerations tend to fix our choice on Lucilius. First, the poem is beyond doubt much later than the Augustan age; the constant reproduction, often unconscious, of Virgil's form of expression, implies an interval of at least a generation; allusions to Manilius [77] may be detected, and perhaps to Petronius Arbiter, [78] but at the same time it seems to have been written before the great eruption of Vesuvius (69 A.D.), in which Pliny lost his life, since no mention is made of that event. All these conditions are fulfilled by Lucilius. Moreover, he is described by Seneca as a man who by severe and conscientious study had raised his position in life (which is quite what we should imagine from reading the poem), and whose literary attainments were greatly due to Seneca's advice and care. "Assero te mihi: meum opus es," he says in one of his epistles, [79] and in another he asks him for the long promised account of a voyage round Sicily which Lucilius had made. He goes on to say, "I hope you will describe Aetna, the theme of so many poets' song. Ovid was not deterred from attempting it though Virgil had occupied the ground, nor did the success of both of these deter Cornel. Severus. If I know you Aetna excites in you the desire to write; you wish to try some great work which shall equal the fame of your predecessors." [80] As the poem further shows some resemblances to an essay on Aetna, published by Seneca himself, the conclusion is almost irresistible that Lucilius is its author.

Though by no means equal to the reputation it once had, the poem is not without merit. The diction is much less stilted than Seneca's or Persius's; the thoughts mostly correct, though rather tame; and the descriptions accurate even to tediousness. The arrangement of his subject betrays a somewhat weak hand, though in this he is superior to Gratius Faliscus; but he has an earnest desire to make truth known, and a warm interest in his theme. The opening invocation is addressed to Apollo and the Muses, asking their aid along an unwonted road.

He denies that eruptions are the work of gods or Cyclopes, and laments over the errors that the genius of poetry has spread (74-92)—

"Plurima pars scaenae fallacia."

The scenes that poets paint are rarely true, and often very hurtful, but he is moved only with the desire to discover and communicate truth. He then begins to discuss the power of confined air when striving to force a passage, and the porous nature of the interior of the earth; and (after a fine digression on the thirst for knowledge), he examines the properties of fire, and specially its effect on the different minerals composing the soil of Aetna. A disproportionate amount (nearly 150 lines) is given to describing lava, after which his theory is thus concisely summarised—

"Haec operis forma est: sic nobilis uritur Aetna: Terra foraminibus vires trahit, urget in artum, Spiritus incendit: vivit per maxima saxa."

The poem concludes with an account of a former eruption, signalised by the miraculous preservation of two pious youths who ventured into the burning shower to carry their parents into a place of safety. The poem is throughout a model of propriety, but deficient in poetic inspiration; the technical parts, elaborate as they are, impress the reader less favourably than the digressions, where subjects of human interest are treated, and the Roman character comes out. Lucilius called himself an Epicurean, and is so far consistent as to condemn the "fallacia vatum" and the superstition that will not recognise the sufficiency of physical causes; but he (v. 537) accepts Heraclitus's doctrine about the universality of fire, and in other places shows Stoic leanings. He imitates Lucretius's transitions, and his appeals to the reader, e.g. 160: Falleris et nondum certo tibi lumine res est, and inserts many archaisms as ulli for ullius, opus governing an accus., cremant for cremantur, auras (gen. sing.) iubar (masc.) aureus. [81] His rhythm resembles Virgil, but even more that of Manilius.

We cannot conclude this chapter without some notice of the tragedies of Seneca. There can be no reasonable doubt that they are the work of the philosopher, nor is the testimony of antiquity really ambiguous on the point. [82] When he wrote them is uncertain; but they bear every mark of being an early exercise of his pen. Perhaps they were begun during his exile in Corsica, when enforced idleness must have tasked the resources of his busy mind, and continued after his return to Rome, when he found that Nero was addicted to the same pursuit. There are eight complete tragedies and one praetexta, the Octavia, which is generally supposed to be by a later hand, as well as considerable fragments from the Thebais and Phoenissae. The subjects are all from the well-worn repository of Greek legend, and are mostly drawn from Euripides. The titles of Medea, Hercules furens, Hippolytus and Troades at once proclaim their origin, but the Hercules Oetaeus, Oedipus Thyestes, and Agamemnon, are probably based on a comparison of the treatment by the several Attic masters. The tragedies of Seneca have as a rule been strongly censured for their rhetorical colouring, their false passion, and their total want of dramatic interest. They are to the Greek plays as gaslight to sunlight. But in estimating their poetic value it is fair to remember that the Roman ideas of art were neither so accurate nor so profound as ours. The deep analysis of Aristotle, which grouped all poets who wrote on a theme under the title rhetorical, and refused to Empedocles the name of poet at all, would not have been appreciated by the Romans. To them the form was what constituted a work poetical, not the creative idea that underlay it. To utilise fictitious situations as a vehicle for individual conviction or lofty declamation on ethical commonplace, was considered quite legitimate even in the Augustan age. And Seneca did but follow the example of Varius and Ovid in the tragedies now before us. It is to the genius of German criticism, so wonderfully similar in many ways to that of Greece, that we owe the re-establishment of the profound ideal canons of art over the artificial technical maxims which from Horace to Voltaire had been accepted in their stead. The present low estimate of Seneca is due to the reaction (a most healthy one it is true) that has replaced the extravagant admiration in which his poems were for more than two centuries held.

The worst technical fault in these tragedies is their violation of the decencies of the stage. Manto, the daughter of Tiresias and a great prophetess, investigates the entrails in public. Medea kills her children coram populo in defiance of Horace's maxim. These are inexcusable blemishes in a composition which is made according to a prescribed recipe. His "tragic mixture," as it may be called, is compounded of equal proportions of description, declamation, and philosophical aphorisms. Thus taken at intervals it formed an excellent tonic to assist towards an oratorical training. It was not an end in itself, but was a means for producing a finished rhetor. This is a degradation of the loftiest kind of poetry known to art, no doubt; but Seneca is not to blame for having begun it. He merely used the material which lay before him; nevertheless, he deserves censure for not having brought into it some of the purer thoughts which philosophy had, or ought to have, taught him. Instead of this, his moral conceptions fall far below those of his models. In the Phaedra of Greek tragedy we have that chastened and pathetic thought, which hangs like a burden on the Greek mind, a thought laden with sadness, but a sadness big with rich fruit of reflection; the thought of guilt unnatural, involuntary, imposed on the sufferer for some inscrutable reason by the mysterious dispensation of heaven. Helen, the queen of ancient song, is the offspring of this thought; Phaedra in another way is its offspring too. But as Virgil had degraded Helen, so Seneca degrades Phaedra. Her love for Hippolytus is the coarse sensual craving of a common-place adulteress. The language in which it is painted, stripped of its ornament, is revolting. As Dido dwells on the broad chest and shoulders of Aeneas, [83] so Phaedra dwells on the healthy glow of Hippolytus's cheek, his massive neck, his sinewy arms. The Roman ladies who bestowed their caresses on gladiators and slaves are here speaking through their courtly mouthpiece. The gross, the animal—it is scarcely even sensuous—predominates all through these tragedies. Truly the Greeks in teaching Rome to desire beauty had little conception of the fierceness of that robust passion for self-indulgence which they had taught to speak the language of aesthetic love!

A feature worth noticing in these dramas is the descriptive power and brilliant philosophy of the choruses. They are quite unconnected with the plot, and generally either celebrate the praises of some god, e.g., Bacchus in the Oedipus, or descant on some moral theme, as the advantage of an obscure lot, in the same play. The eclat of their style, and the pungency of their epigrams is startling. In sentiment and language they are the very counterpart of his other works. The doctrine of fate, preached by Lucan as well as by Seneca in other places, is here inculcated with every variety of point. [84] We quote a few lines from the Oedipus:

Fatis agimur: cedite fatis. Non sollicitae possunt curae Mutare rati stamina fusi Quicquid patimur, mortale genus, Quicquid facimus venit ex alto; Servatque suae decreta colus Lachesis, dura revoluta manu. Omnia certo tramite vadunt, Primusque dies dedit extremum. Non illa deo vertisse licet Quae nexa suis currunt causis. It cuique ratus, prece non ulla Mobilis, ordo.

Here we have in all its naked repulsiveness the Stoic theory of predestination. Prayer is useless; God is unable to influence events; Lachesis the wrinkled beldame, or fate, her blind symbol, has once for all settled the inevitable nexus of cause and effect.

The rhythm of these plays is extremely monotonous. The greater part of each is in the iambic trimeter; the choruses generally in anapaests, of which, however, he does not understand the structure. The synaphea peculiar to this metre is neglected by him, and the rule that each system should close with a paroemiac or dimeter catalectic is constantly violated.

With regard to the Octavia, it has been thought to be a product of some mediaeval imitator; but this is hardly likely. It cannot be Seneca's, since it alludes to the death of Nero. Besides its style is simpler and less bombastic and shows a much tenderer feeling; it is also infinitely less clever. Altogether it seems best to assign it to the conclusion of the first century.

The only other work of Seneca's which shows a poetical form is the Apokolokyntosis or "Pumpkinification" of the emperor Claudius, a bitter satire on the apotheosis of that heavy prince. Seneca had been compelled, much against the grain, to offer him the incense of flattery while he lived. He therefore revenged himself after Claudius's death by this sorry would-be satire. The only thing witty in it is the title; it is a mixture of prose and verse, and possesses just this interest for us, that it is the only example we possess of the Menippean satire, unless we refer the work of Petronius to this head.




Of all the imperial writers except Tacitus, Seneca is beyond comparison the most important. His position, talents, and influence make him a perfect representative of the age in which he lived. His career was long and chequered: his experience brought him into contact with nearly every phase of life. He was born at Cordova 3 A.D. and brought by his indulgent father as a boy to Rome. His early studies were devoted to rhetoric, of which he tells us he was an ardent learner. Every day he was the first at school, and generally the last to leave it. While still a young man he made so brilliant a name at the bar as to awaken Caligula's jealousy. By his father's advice he retired for a time, and, having nothing better to do, spent his days in philosophy. Seneca was one of those ardent natures the virgin soil of whose talent shows a luxurious richness unknown to the harassed brains of an old civilisation. His enthusiasm for philosophy exceeded all bounds. He first became a Stoic. But stoicism was not severe enough for his taste. He therefore turned Pythagorean, and abstained for several years from everything but herbs. His father, an old man of the world, saw that self-denial like this was no less perilous than his former triumphs. "Why do you not, my son," he said, "why do you not live as others live? There is a provocation in success, but there is a worse provocation in ostentatious abstinence. You might be taken for a Jew (he meant a Christian). Do not draw down the wrath of Jove." The young enthusiast was wise enough to take the hint. He at once dressed himself en mode, resumed a moderate diet, only indulging in the luxury of abstinence from wine, perfumes, warm baths, and made dishes! He was now 35 years of age; in due time Caligula died, and he resumed his pleadings at the bar. He was appointed Quaestor by Claudius, and soon opened a school for youths of quality, which was very numerously attended. His social successes were striking, and brought him into trouble. He was suspected of improper intimacy with Julia, the daughter of Germanicus, and in 41 A.D. was exiled to Corsica. This was the second blow to his career. But it was a most fortunate one for his genius. In the lonely solitudes of a barbarous island he meditated deeply over the truth of that philosophy to which his first devotion had been given, and no doubt struck out the germs of that mild and catholic form of it which has made his teaching, with all its imperfections, the purest and noblest of antiquity. While there he wrote many of the treatises that have come down to us, besides others that are lost. The earliest in all probability is the Consolatio ad Marciam, addressed to the daughter of Cremutius Cordus, which seems to have been written even before his exile. Next come two other Consolationes. The first is addressed to Polybius, the powerful freedman of Claudius. It is full of the most abject flattery, uttered in the hope of procuring his recall from banishment. That Seneca did not object to write to order is unhappily manifest from his panegyric on Claudius, delivered by Nero, which was so fulsome that, even while the emperor recited it, those who heard could not control their laughter. The second Consolation is to his mother Helvia, whom he tenderly loved; and this is one of the most pleasing of his works. Already he is beginning to assume the tone of a philosopher. His work De Ira must be referred to the commencement of this period, shortly after Caligula's death. It bears all the marks of inexperience, though its eloquence and brilliancy are remarkable. He enforces the Stoic thesis that anger is not an emotion, just in itself and often righteously indulged, but an evil passion which must be eradicated. This view which, if supported on grounds of mere expediency, has much to recommend it, is here defended on a priori principles without much real reflection, and was quite outgrown by him when taught by the experience of riper years. In the Constantio Sapientis he praises and holds up to imitation the absurd apathy recommended by Stilpo. In the De Animi Tranquillitate, addressed to Annaeus Serenus, the captain of Nero's body- guard, [1] he adopts the same line of thought, but shows signs of limiting its application by the necessities of circumstances. The person to whom this dialogue is addressed, though praised by Seneca, seems to have been but a poor philosopher. In complaisance to the emperor he went so far as to attract to himself the infamy which Nero incurred by his amours with a courtesan named Acte; and his end was that of a glutton rather than a sage. At a large banquet he and many of his guests were poisoned by eating toadstools! [2]

It was Messalina who had procured Seneca's exile. When Agrippina succeeded to her influence he was recalled. This ambitious woman, aware of his talents and pliant disposition, and perhaps, as Dio insinuates, captivated by his engaging person, contrived to get him appointed tutor to her son, the young Nero, now heir-apparent to the throne. This was a post of which he was not slow to appropriate the advantages. He rose to the praetorship (50 A.D.) and soon after to the consulship, and in the short space of four years amassed an enormous fortune. [3] This damaging circumstance gave occasion to his numerous enemies to accuse him before Nero; and though Seneca in his defence [4] attributed all his wealth to the unsought bounty of his prince, yet it is difficult to believe it was honestly come by, especially as he must have been well paid for the numerous violations of his conscience to which out of regard to Nero he submitted. Seneca is a lamentable instance of variance between precept and example. [5] The authentic bust which is preserved of him bears in its harassed expression unmistakable evidence of a mind ill at ease. And those who study his works cannot fail to find many indications of the same thing, though the very energy which results from such unhappiness gives his writings a deeper power.

The works written after his recall show a marked advance in his conceptions of life. He is no longer the abstract dogmatist, but the supple thinker who finds that there is room for the philosopher in the world, at court, even in the inner chamber of the palace. To this period are to be referred his three books De Clementia, which are addressed to Nero, and contain many beautiful and wholesome precepts; his De Vita Beata, addressed to his brother Novatus (the Gallio of the Acts of the Apostles), and perhaps the admirable essay De Beneficiis. This, however, more probably dates a few years later (60-62 A.D.). It is full of digressions and repetitions, a common fault of his style, but contains some very powerful thought. The animus that dictates it is thought by Charpentier to be the desire to release himself from all sense of obligation to Nero. It breathes protest throughout; it proves that a tyrant's benefits are not kindnesses. It gives what we may call a casuistry of gratitude. Other philosophical works now lost are the Exhortationes, the De Officiis, an essay on premature death, one on superstition, in which he derided the popular faith, one on friendship, some books on moral philosophy, on remedies for chance casualties, on poverty and compassion. He wrote also a biography of his father, many political speeches delivered by Nero, a panegyric on Messalina, and a collection of letters to Novatus.

The Stoics affected to despise physical studies, or at any rate to postpone them to morals. Seneca shared this edifying but far from scientific persuasion. But after his final withdrawal from court, as the wonders of nature forced themselves on his notice, he reconsidered his old prejudice, and entered with ardour on the contemplation of physical phenomena. Besides the Naturales Quaestiones, a great part of which still remain, he wrote a treatise De Motu Terrarum, begun in his youth but revised in his old age, and essays on the properties of stones and fishes, besides monographs on India and Egypt, and a short fragment on "the form of the universe." These, however, only occupied a portion of his time, the chief part was given to self-improvement and those beautiful letters to Lucilius which are the most important remains of his works. Since the death of Burrus, who had helped him to influence Nero for good, or at least to mitigate the atrocious tendencies of his disposition, Seneca had known that his position was insecure. A prince who had killed first his cousin and then his mother, would not be likely to spare his preceptor. Seneca determined to forestall the danger. He presented himself at the palace, and entreated Nero to receive back the wealth he had so generously bestowed. Instead of complying, Nero, in a speech full of specious respect, but instinct with latent malignity, refused to accept the proffered gift. The ex-minister knew that his doom was sealed. He at once relinquished all the state in which he had lived, gave no more banquets, held no more levees, but abandoned himself to a voluntary poverty, writing and reading, and practising the asceticism of his school. But this submission did not at all satisfy Nero's vengeance. He made an insidious attempt to poison his old friend. This was revealed to Seneca, who henceforth ate nothing but herbs which he gathered with his own hand, and drank only from a spring that rose in his garden. Soon afterwards occurred the conspiracy of Piso, and this gave his enemies a convenient excuse for accusing him. It is impossible to believe that he was guilty. Nero's thirst for his blood is a sufficient motive for his condemnation. He was bidden to prepare for death, which he accordingly did with alacrity and firmness. In the fifteenth book of the Annals of Tacitus is related with that wondrous power which is peculiar to its author, the dramatic scene which closed the sage's life. The best testimony to his domestic virtue is the deep affection of his young wife Paulina. Refusing all entreaty, she resolutely determined to die with her husband. They opened their veins together; she fainted away, and was removed by her friends and with difficulty restored to life; he, after suffering excruciating agony, which he endured with cheerfulness, discoursing to his friends on the glorious realities to which he was about to pass, was at length suffocated by the vapour of a stove. Thus perished one of the weakest and one of the most amiable of men; one who, had he had the courage to abjure public life, would have been reverenced by posterity in the same degree that his talent has been admired. As it is, he has always found severe judges. Dio Cassius soon after his death wrote a biography, in which all his acts received a malignant interpretation. Quintilian disliked him, and harshly criticised his literary defects. The pedant Fronto did the same. Tacitus, with a larger heart, made allowance for his temptations, and while never glossing over his unworthy actions, has yet shown his love for the man in spite of all by the splendid tribute he pays to the constancy of his death.

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