A History of Roman Literature - From the Earliest Period to the Death of Marcus Aurelius
by Charles Thomas Cruttwell
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

It only remains very shortly to mention his poetry. He himself knew that he had not the poetic afflatus, but his immense facility of style which made it as easy for him to write in verse as in prose, and his desire to rival the Greeks in every department of composition, tempted him to essay his wings in various flights of song. We have mentioned his poem on Marius and those on his consulship and times, which pleased himself best and drew forth from others the greatest ridicule. He wrote also versions from the Iliad, of which he quotes several in various works; heroic poems called Halcyone and Cimon, an elegy called Tamelastis, [82] a Libellus iocularis, about which we have no certain information, and various epigrams to Tiro, Caninius, and others. It will he necessary to refer to some of these works on a future page. We shall therefore pass them by here, and conclude the chapter with a short notice of the principal orators who were younger contemporaries of Cicero.

COELIUS, with whom Cicero was often brought into relations, was a quick, polished, and sometimes lofty speaker; [83] CALIDIUS a delicate and harmonious one. On one occasion when Calidius was accusing a man of conspiring against his life, he pleaded with such smoothness and languor, that Cicero, who was for the defence, at once gained his cause by the argumentum ad hominem. Tu istuc M. Calidi nisi fingeres sic ageres? praesertim cum ista eloquentia alienorum hominum pericula defendere acerrime soleas, tuum negligeres? Ubi dolor? ubi ardor animi, qui etiam ex infantium ingeniis elicere voces et querelas solet? Nulla perturbatio animi, nulla corporis: frons non percussa, non femur; pedis, quod minimum est, nulla supplosio. Itaque tantum abfuit ut imflammares animos nostros, somnum isto loco vix tenebamus. [84] CURIO he describes as bold and flowing; CALVUS from affectation of Attic purity, as cold, cautious, and jejune. His dry, sententious style, to which BRUTUS also inclined, was a reaction from the splendour of Cicero, a splendour which men like these could never hope to reach; and perhaps it was better that they should reject all ornament rather than misapply it. It seems that after Cicero oratory had lost the fountain of its life; he responded so perfectly to the exigencies of the popular taste and the possibilities of the time, that after him no new theory of eloquence could be produced, while to improve upon his practice was evidently hopeless. Thus the reaction that comes after literary perfection conspired with the dawn of freedom to make Cicero the last as well as the greatest of those who deserved the name of orator; and we acknowledge the justice of the poet's epigram, [85] questioned as it was at the time.


Poetry of Cicero.

The poems of Cicero are of considerable importance to the student of Latin versification. His great facility and formal polish made him successful in producing a much more finished and harmonious cadence than had before been attained. Coming between Ennius and Lucretius, and evidently studied by the latter, he is an important link in metrical development. We propose in this note merely to give some examples of his versification that the student may judge for himself, and compare them with those of Lucretius, Catullus, and Virgil. They are quoted from the edition of Orelli (vol. iv. p. 0112 sqq.).

From the Marius (Cic. de Legg. I. i. S 2):

"Hic lovis altisoni subito pinnata satelles Arboris e trunco serpentis saucia morsu Subrigit, ipsa feris transfigens unguibus, anguem Semianimum et varia graviter cervice micantem, Quem se intorquentem lanians rostroque cruentans, Iam saltata animos, iam duros ulta dolores, Abiecit ceflantem et laceratum adfligit in unda, Seque obitu a solis nitidos convertit ad ortus. Hanc ubi praepetibus pennis lapsuque vo antem Conspexit Marius, divini miminis augur, Faustaque signa suae laudis reditusque notavit, Partibus intonuit caeli pater ipse sinistris. Sic aquilae clarum firmavit Iuppiter omen."

Praises of himself, from the poem on his consulship (Div. I. ii. S 17 sqq.):

"Haec tardata diu species multumque morata Consulet tandem celsa est in sede locata, Atque una tixi ac signati temporis hora, Iuppiter excelsa clarabat sceptra columna; Et clades patriae flamma ferroque parata Vocibus Allobrogum patribus populoque patebat. Rite igitur veteres quorum monumenta tenetis, Qui populos urbisque modo ac virtute regebant, Ritectiam vestri quorum pietasque fidesque Praestitit ac longe vicit sapientia cunctos Praecipue coluere vigenti numine divos. Haec adeo penitus cura videri sagaci Otia qui studiis laeti tenuere decoris, Inque Academia umbrifera nitidoque Lyceo Fuderunt claras fecundi pectoris artis: E quibus ereptum primo iam a flore in ventae, Te patria in media virtuttum mole locavit. Tu tamen auxiferas curas requiete relaxans Quod patriae vacat id studiis nobisque dedisti."

We append some verses by Quintus Cicero, who the orator declared would make a better poet than himself. They are on the twelve constellations, a well-worn but apparently attractive subject:

"Flumina verna cient obscuro lumine Pisces, Curriculumque Aries aequat noctisque dieque, Cornua quem comunt florum praenuntia Tauri, Aridaque aestatis Gemini primordia pandunt, Longaque iam minuit praeclarus lumina Cancer, Languiticusque Leo proflat ferus ore calores. Post modicum quatiens Virgo fugat orta vaporem. Autumnni reserat porfas aequatque diurna Tempora nocturnis disperse sidere Libra, Et fetos ramos denudat flamma Nepai. Pigra sagittipotens iaculatur frigora terris. Bruma gelu glacians iubare spirat Capricorni: Quam sequitur nebulas rorans liquor altus Aquari: Tanta supra circaque vigent ubi flumina. Mundi At dextra laevaque cict rota fulgida Solis Mobile curriculum, et Lunae simulacra feruntur. Squama sub aeterno conspectu torta Draconis Eminet: hanc inter fulgentem sidera septem Magna quatit stellans, quam serrans serus in alia Conditur Oceani ripa cum luce Bootes."

This is poor stuff; two epigrams are more interesting:


"Crede ratem ventis, animum ne crede puellis: Namque est feminea tutior unda fide."


"Femina nulla bona est, et, si bona contigit ulla, Nescio quo fato res mala facta bona."

We observe the entire lack of inspiration, combined with considerable smoothness, but both, in a feebler degree, which are characteristic of his brother's poems.



It is well known that Cicero felt strongly tempted to write a history of Rome. Considering the stirring events among which he lived, the grandeur of Rome's past, and the exhaustless literary resources which he himself possessed, we are not surprised either at his conceiving the idea or at his friends encouraging it. Nevertheless it is fortunate for his literary fame that he abandoned the proposal, [1] for he would have failed in history almost more signally than he did in poetry. His mind was not adapted for the kind of research required, nor his judgment for weighing historic evidence. When Lucceius announced his intention of writing a history which should include the Catilinarian conspiracy, Cicero did not scruple to beg him to enlarge a little on the truth. "You must grant something to our friendship; let me pray you to delineate my exploits in a way that shall reflect the greatest possible glory on myself." [2] A lax conception of historical responsibility, which is not peculiar to Cicero. He is but an exaggerated type of his nation in this respect. No Roman author, unless it be Tacitus, has been able fully to grasp the extreme complexity as well as difficulty of the historian's task. Even the sage Quintilian maintains the popular misconception when he says, "History is closely akin to poetry, and is written for purposes of narration not of proof; being composed with the motive of transmitting our fame to posterity, it avoids the dulness of continuous narrative by the use of rarer words and freer periphrases." [3] We may conclude that this criticism is based on a careful study of the greatest recognised models. This false opinion arose no doubt from the narrowness of view which persisted in regarding all kinds of literature as merely exercises in style. For instance accuracy of statements was not regarded as the goal and object of the writer's labours, but rather as a useful means of obtaining clearness of arrangement; abundant information helped towards condensation; original observation towards vivacity; personal experience of the events towards pathos or eloquence.

So unfortunately prevalent was this view that a writer was not called a historian unless he had considerable pretensions to style. Thus, men who could write, and had written, in an informal way, excellent historical accounts, were not studied by their countrymen as historians. Their writings were relegated to the limbo of antiquarian remains. The habit of writing notes of their campaigns, memoranda of their public conduct, copies of their speeches, &c. had for some time been usual among the abler or more ambitious nobles. Often these were kept by them, laid by for future elaboration: oftener still they were published, or sent in the form of letters to the author's friends. The letters of Cicero and his numerous correspondents present such a series of raw material for history; and in reading any of the antiquarian writers of Rome we are struck by the large number of monographs, essays, pamphlets, rough notes, commentaries, and the like, attributed to public men, to which they had access.

It is quite clear that for many years these documents had existed, and equally clear that, unless their author was celebrated or their style elegant, the majority of readers entirely neglected them. Nevertheless they formed a rich material for the diligent and capable historian. In using them, however, we could not expect him to show the same critical acumen, the same impartiality, as a modern writer trained in scientific criticism and the broad culture of international ideas; to expect this would be to expect an impossibility. To look at events from a national instead of a party point of view was hard; to look at them from a human point of view, as Polybius had done, was still harder. Thus we cannot expect from Republican Rome any historical work of the same scope and depth as those of Herodotus and Thucydides; neither the dramatic genius of the one nor the philosophic insight of the other was to be gained there. All we can look for is a clear comprehensive narrative, without flagrant misrepresentation, of some of the leading episodes, and such we fortunately possess in the memoirs of Caesar and the biographical essays of Sallust.

The immediate object of the Commentaries of JULIUS CAESAR (100-44 B.C.), was no doubt to furnish the senate with an authentic military report on the Gallic and Civil Wars. But they had also an ulterior purpose. They aspired to justify their author in the eyes of Rome and of posterity in his attitude of hostility to the constitution.

Pompey was perhaps quite as desirous of supreme power as Caesar, and was equally ready to make all patriotic motives subordinate to self-interest. Nevertheless he gained, by his connexion with the senate, the reputation of defender of the constitution, and thought fit to appropriate the language of patriotism. Caesar, in his Commentaries—which, though both unfinished and, historically speaking, unconnected with one another, reveal the deeper connexion of successive products of the same creative policy—labours throughout to show that he acted in accordance with the forms of the constitution and for the general good of Rome. This he does not as a rule attempt to prove by argument. Occasionally he does so, as when any serious accusation was brought against the legitimacy of his acts; and these are among the most important and interesting chapters in his work. [4] But his habitual method of exculpating himself is by his persuasive moderation of statement, and his masterly collocation of events. In reading the narrative of the Civil War it is hard to resist the conviction that he was unfairly treated. Without any terms of reprobation, with scarcely any harsh language, with merely that wondrous skill in manipulating the series of facts which genius possesses, he has made his readers, even against their prepossession, disapprove of Pompey's attitude and condemn the bitter hostility of the senate. So, too, in the report of the Gallic War, where diplomatic caution was less required, the same apparent candour, the same perfect statement of his case, appears. In every instance of aggressive and ambitious war, there is some equitable proposal refused, some act of injustice not acknowledged, some infringement of the dignity of the Roman people committed, which makes it seem only natural that Caesar should exact reprisals by the sword. On two or three occasions he betrays how little regard he had for good faith when barbarians were in consideration, and how completely absent was that generous clemency in the case of a vanquished foreign prince, which when exercised towards his own countrymen procured him such enviable renown. [5] His treacherous conduct towards the Usipetes and Tenchteri, which he relates with perfect sang froid, [6] is such as to shock us beyond description; his brutal vengeance upon the Atuatici and Veneti, [7] all whose leading men he murdered, and sold the rest, to the number of 53,000, by auction; his cruel detention of the noble Vercingetorix, who, after acting like an honourable foe in the field, voluntarily gave himself up to appease the conqueror's wrath; [8] these are blots in Caesar's scutcheon, which, if they do not place him below the recognised standard of action of the time, prevent him from being placed in any way above it. The theory that good faith is unnecessary with an uncivilised foe, is but the other side of the doctrine that it is merely a thing of expediency in the case of a civilised one. And neither Rome herself, nor many of her greatest generals, can free themselves from the grievous stain of perfidious dealing with those whom they found themselves powerful enough so to treat.

But if we can neither approve the want of principle, nor accept the ex parte statements which are embodied in Caesar's Commentaries, we can admire to the utmost the incredible and almost superhuman activity which, more than any other quality, enabled him to overcome his enemies. This is evidently the means on which he himself most relied. The prominence he has given to it in his writings makes it almost equivalent to a precept. The burden of his achievements is the continual repetition of quam celerrime contendendum ratus,—maximis citissimisque itineribus profectus,—and other phrases describing the rapidity of his movements. By this he so terrified the Pompeians that, hearing he was en route for Rome, they fled in such dismay as not even to take the money they had amassed for the war, but to leave it a prey to Caesar. And by the want of this, as he sarcastically observes, the Pompeians lost their only chance of crushing him, when, driven from Dyrrhachium, with his army seriously crippled and provisions almost exhausted, he must have succumbed to the numerous and well-fed forces opposed to him. [9] He himself would never have committed such a mistake. The after-work of his victories was frequently more decisive than the victories themselves. He always pursued his enemies into their camp, by storming which he not only broke their spirit, but made it difficult for them to retain their unity of action. No man ever knew so well the truth of the adage "nothing succeeds like success;" and his Commentaries from first to last are instinct with a triumphant consciousness of his knowledge and of his having invariably acted upon it.

A feature which strikes every reader of Caesar is the admiration and respect he has for his soldiers. Though unsparing of their lives when occasion demanded, he never speaks of them as "food for powder." Once, when his men clamoured for battle, but he thought he could gain his point without shedding blood, he refused to fight, though the discontent became alarming: "Cur, etiam secundo praelio, aliquas ex suis amitteret? Cur vulnerari pateretur optime meritos de se milites? cur denique fortunam periclitaretur, praesertim cum non minus esset imperatoris consilio superare quam gladio?" This consideration for the lives of his soldiers, when the storm was over, won him gratitude; and it was no single instance. Everywhere they are mentioned with high praise, and no small portion of the victory is ascribed to them. Stories of individual valour are inserted, and several centurions singled out for special commendation. Caesar lingers with delight over the exploits of his tenth legion. Officers and men are all fondly remembered. The heroic conduct of Pulfio and Varenus, who challenge each other to a display of valour, and by each saving the other's life are reconciled to a friendly instead of a hostile rivalry; [10] the intrepidity of the veterans at Lissus, whose self- reliant bravery calls forth one of the finest descriptions in the whole book; [11] and the loyal devotion of all when he announces his critical position, and asks if they will stand by him, [12] are related with glowing pride. Numerous other merely incidental notices, scattered through both works, confirm the pleasing impression that commander and commanded had full confidence in each other; and he relates [13] with pardonable exultation the speaking fact that among all the hardships they endured (hardships so terrible that Pompey, seeing the roots on which they subsisted, declared he had beasts to fight with and not men) not a soldier except Labienus and two Gaulish officers ever deserted his cause, though thousands came over to him from the opposite side. It is the greatest proof of his power over men, and thereby, of his military capacity, that perhaps it is possible to show.

Besides their clear description of military manoeuvres, of engineering, bridge-making, and all kinds of operations, in which they may be compared with the despatches of the great generals of modern times, Caesar's Commentaries contain much useful information regarding the countries he visited. There is a wonderful freshness and versatility about his mind. While primarily considering a country, as he was forced to do, from its strategical features, or its capacity for furnishing contingents or tribute, he was nevertheless keenly alive to all objects of interest, whether in nature or in human customs. The inquiring curiosity with which Lucan upbraids him during his visit to Egypt, if it were not on that occasion assumed, as some think, to hide his real projects, was one of the chief characteristics of his mind. As soon as he thought Gaul was quiet he hurried to Illyria, [14] animated by the desire to see those nations, and to observe their customs for himself. His journey into Britain, though by Suetonius attributed to avarice, which had been kindled by the report of enormous pearls of fine quality to be found on our coasts, is by himself attributed to his desire to see so strange a country, and to be the first to conquer it. [15] His account of our island, though imperfect, is extremely interesting. He mentions many of our products. The existence of lead and iron ore was known to him; he does not allude to tin, but its occurrence can hardly have been unknown to him. He remarks that the beech and pine do not grow in the south of England, which is probably an inaccuracy; [16] and he falls into the mistake of supposing that the north of Scotland enjoys in winter a period of thirty days total darkness. His account of Gaul, and, to a certain extent, of Germany, is more explicit. He gives a fine description of the Druids and their mysterious religion, noticing in particular the firm belief in the immortality of the soul, which begot indifference to death, and was a great incentive to bravery. [17] The effects of this belief are dwelt on by Lucan in one of his most effective passages, [18] which is greatly borrowed from Caesar. Their knowledge of letters, and their jealous restriction of it to themselves and express prohibition of any written literature, he attributes partly to their desire to keep the people ignorant, the common feeling of a powerful priesthood, and partly to a conviction that writing injures the memory, which among men of action should be kept in constant exercise. His acquaintance with German civilization is more superficial, and shows that incapacity for scientific criticism which was common to all antiquity. [19] His testimony to the chastity of the German race, confirmed afterwards by Tacitus, is interesting as showing one of the causes which have contributed to its greatness. He relates, with apparent belief, the existence of several extraordinary quadrupeds in the vast Hercynian forest, such as the unicorn of heraldry, which here first appears; the elk, which has no joints to its legs, and cannot lie down, whose bulk he depreciates as much as he exaggerates that of the urus or wild bull, which he describes as hardly inferior to the elephant in size. To have slain one of these gigantic animals, and carried off its horns as a trophy, was almost as great a glory as the possession of the grizzly bear's claws among the Indians of the Rocky Mountains. Some of his remarks on the temper of the Gauls might be applied almost without change to their modern representatives. The French elan is done ample justice to, as well as the instability and self-esteem of that great people. "Ut ad bella suscipienda Gallorum alacer et promptus est animus, sic mollis ac minime resistens ad calamitates perferendas mens eorum est." [20] And again, "quod sunt in capessendis consiliis mobiles et novis plerumque rebus student." [21] He notices the tall stature of both Gauls and Germans, which was at first the cause of some terror to his soldiers, and some contemptuousness on their part. [22] "Plerisque hominibus Gallis prae magnitudine corporum suorum brevitas nostra contemptui est."

Caesar himself was of commanding presence, great bodily endurance, and heroic personal daring. These were qualities which his enemies knew how to respect. On one occasion, when his legions were blockaded in Germany, he penetrated at night to his camp disguised as a Gaul; and in more than one battle he turned the fortune of the day by his extraordinary personal courage, fighting on foot before his wavering troops, or snatching the standard from the centurion's timid grasp. He took the greatest pains to collect accurate information, and frequently he tells us who his informants were. [23] Where there was no reason for the suppression or misrepresentation of truth, Caesar's statements may be implicitly relied on. No man knew human nature better, or how to decide between conflicting assertions. He rarely indulges in conjecture, but in investigating the motives of his adversaries he is penetrating and unmerciful. At the commencement of the treatise on the civil war he gives his opinion as to the considerations that weighed with Lentulus, Cato, Scipio, and Pompey; and it is characteristic of the man that of all he deals most hardly with Cato, whose pretensions annoyed him, and in whose virtue he did not believe. To the bravest of his Gallic enemies he is not unjust. The Nervii in particular, by their courage and self-devotion, excite his warm admiration, [24] and while he felt it necessary to exterminate them, they seem to have been among the very few that moved his pity.

As to the style of these two great works, no better criticism can be given than that of Cicero in the Brutus; [25] "They are worthy of all praise: they are unadorned, straightforward, and elegant, every ornament being stripped off as it were a garment. While he desired to give others the material out of which to create a history; he may perhaps have done a kindness to conceited writers who wish to trick them out with meretricious graces; [26] but he has deterred all men of sound taste from touching them. For in history a pure and brilliant conciseness of style is the highest attainable beauty." Condensed as they are, and often almost bald, they have that matchless clearness which marks the mind that is master of its entire subject. We have only to compare them with the excellent but immeasurably inferior commentaries of Hirtius to estimate their value in this respect. Precision, arrangement, method, are qualities that never leave them from beginning to end. It is much to be regretted that they are so imperfect and that the text is not in a better state. In the Civil War particularly, gaps frequently occur, and both the beginning and the end are lost. They were written during the campaign, though no doubt cast into their present form in the intervals of winter leisure. Hirtius, who, at Caesar's request, appended an eighth book to the Gallic War, tells us in a letter to Balbus, how rapidly he wrote. "I wish that those who will read my book could know how unwillingly I took it in hand, that I might acquit myself of folly and arrogance in completing what Caesar had begun. For all agree; that the elegance of these commentaries surpasses the most laborious efforts of other writers. They were edited to prevent historians being ignorant of matters of such high importance. But so highly are they approved by the universal verdict that the power of amplifying them has been rather taken away than bestowed by their publication. [27] And yet I have a right to marvel at this even more than others. For while others know how faultlessly they are written, I know with what ease and rapidity he dashed them off. For Caesar, besides the highest conceivable literary gift, possessed the most perfect skill in explaining his designs." This testimony of his most intimate friend is confirmed by a careful perusal of the works, the elaboration of which, though very great, consists, not in the execution of details, but in the carefully meditated design. The Commentaries have always been a favourite book with soldiers as with scholars. Their Latinity is not more pure than their tactics are instructive. Nor are the loftier graces of composition wanting. The speeches of Curio rise into eloquence. [28] Petreius's despair at the impending desertion of his army [29] is powerfully drawn, and the contrast, brief but effective, between the Pompeians' luxury and his own army's want of common necessaries, assumes all the grandeur of a moral warning. [30]

The example of their general and their own devotion induced other distinguished men to complete his work. A. Hirtius (consul 43 B.C.), who served with him in the Gallic and Civil Wars, as we have seen, added at his request an eighth book to the history of the former; and in the judgment of the best critics the Alexandrine War is also by his hand. From these two treatises, which are written in careful imitation of Caesar's manner, we form a high conception of the literary standard among men of education. For Hirtius, though a good soldier and an efficient consul, was a literary man only by accident. It was Caesar who ordered him to write, first a reply to Cicero's panegyric on Cato, and then the Gallic Commentary. Nevertheless, his two books show no inferiority in taste or diction to those of his illustrious chief. They of course lack his genius; but there is the same purity of style, the same perfect moderation of language.

Nothing is more striking than the admirable taste of the highest conversational language at Rome in the seventh century of the Republic. Not only Hirtius, but Matius, Balbus, Sulpicius, Brutus, Cassius and other correspondents of Cicero, write to him in a dialect as pure as his own. It is true they have not his grace, his inimitable freedom and copiousness. Most of them are somewhat laboured, and give us the impression of having acquired with difficulty the control of their inflexible material. But the intimate study of the noble language in which they wrote compels us to admit that it was fully equal to the clear exposition of the severest thought and the most subtle diplomatic reasoning. But its prime was already passing. Even men of the noblest family could not without long discipline attain the lofty standard of the best conversational requirements. Sextus Pompeius is said to have been sermone barbarus. [31] On this Niebuhr well remarks: "It is remarkable to see how at that time men who did not receive a thorough education neglected their mother- tongue, and spoke a corrupt form of it. The urbanitas, or perfection of the language, easily degenerated unless it were kept up by careful study. Cicero [32] speaks of the sermo urbanus in the time of Laelius, and observes that the ladies of that age spoke exquisitely. But in Caesar's time it had begun to decay." Caesar, in one of his writings, tells his reader to shun like a rock every unusual form of speech. [33] And this admirable counsel he has himself generally followed—but few provincialisms or archaisms can be detected in his pages. [34] In respect of style he stands far at the head of all the Latin historians. The authorship of the African War is doubtful; it seems best, with Niebuhr, to assign it to Oppius. The Spanish War is obviously written by a person of a different sort. It may either be, as Niebuhr thinks, the work of a centurion or military tribune in the common rank of life, or, as we incline to think, of a provincial, perhaps a Spaniard, who was well read in the older literature of Rome, but could not seize the complex and delicate idiom of the beau monde of his day. With vulgarisms like bene magni, in opere distenti, [35] and inaccuracies like ad ignoscendum for ad se excusandum, [36] quam opimam for quam optimam, [37] he combines quotations from Ennius, e.g. hic pes pede premitur, armis teruntur arma, [38] and rhetorical constructions, e.g. alteri alteris non solum mortem morti exaggerabant, sed tumulos tumulis exaequabant. [39] He quotes the words of Caesar in a form of which we can hardly believe the dictator to have been guilty: "Caesar gives conditions: he never receives them:" [40] and again, "I am Caesar: I keep my faith." [41] Points like these, to which we may add his fondness for dwelling on horrid details [42] (always omitted by Caesar), and for showy descriptions, as that of the single combat between Turpio and Niger, [43] seem to mark him out as in mind if not in race a Spaniard. These are the very features we find recurring in Lucan and Seneca, which, joined to undoubted talent, brought a most pernicious element into the Latin style.

To us Caesar's literary power is shown in the sphere of history. But to his contemporaries he was even more distinguished in other fields. As an orator he was second, and only second, to Cicero. [44] His vigorous sense, close argument, brilliant wit, and perfect command of language, made him, from his first appearance as accuser of Dolabella at the age of 22, one of the foremost orators of Rome. And he possessed also, though he kept in check, that greatest weapon of eloquence, the power to stir the passions. But with him eloquence was a means, not an end. He spoke to gain his point, not to acquire fame; and thus thought less of enriching than of enforcing his arguments. One ornament of speech, however, he pursued with the greatest zeal, namely, good taste and refinement; [45] and in this, according to Cicero, he stood above all his rivals. Unhappily, not a single speech remains; only a few characteristics fragments, from which we can but feel the more how much we have lost. [46]

Besides speeches, which were part of his public life, he showed a deep interest in science. He wrote a treatise on grammar, de Analogia, for which he found time in the midst of one of his busiest campaigns [47] and dedicated to Cicero, [48] much to the orator's delight. In the dedication occur these generous words, "If many by study and practice have laboured to express their thoughts in noble language, of which art I consider you to be almost the author and originator, it is our duty to regard you as one who has well deserved of the name and dignity of the Roman people." The treatise was intended as an introduction to philosophy and eloquence, and was itself founded on philosophical principles; [49] and beyond doubt it brought to bear on the subject that luminous arrangement which was inseparable from Caesar's mind. Some of his conclusions are curious; he lays down that the genitive of dies is die; [50] the genitive plural of panis, pars; panum, partum; [51] the accusative of turbo, turbonem; [52] the perfect of mordeo and the like, memordi not momordi; [53] the genitive of Pompeius, Pompeiii. [54] The forms maximus, optimus, municipium, [55] &c. which he introduced, seem to have been accepted on his authority, and to have established themselves finally in the language.

As chief pontifex he interested himself with a digest of the Auspices, which he carried as far as sixteen books. [56] The Auguralia, which are mentioned by Priscian, are perhaps a second part of the same treatise. He also wrote an essay on Divination, like that of Cicero. In this he probably disclosed his real opinions, which we know from other sources were those of the extremest scepticism. There seemed no incongruity in a man who disbelieved the popular religion holding the sacred office of pontifex. The persuasion that religion was merely a department of the civil order was considered, even by Cicero, to absolve men from any conscientious allegiance to it. After his elevation to the perpetual dictatorship he turned his mind to astronomy, owing to the necessities of the calendar; and composed, or at least published, several books which were thought by no means unscientific, and are frequently quoted. [57] Of his poems we shall speak in another place. The only remaining works are his two pamphlets against Cato, to which Juvenal refers: [58]

"Maiorem quam sunt duo Caesaris Anticatones."

These were intended as a reply to Cicero's laudatory essay, but though written with the greatest ability, were deeply prejudiced and did not carry the people with them. [59] The witty or proverbial sayings of Caesar were collected either during his life, or after his death, and formed an interesting collection. Some of them attest his pride, as "My word is law;" [60] "I am not king, but Caesar;" [61] others his clemency, as, "Spare the citizens;" [62] others his greatness of soul, as, "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion." [63]

Several of his letters are preserved; they are in admirable taste, but do not present any special points for criticism. With Caesar ends the collection of genuine letter-writers, who wrote in conversational style, without reference to publicity. In after times we have indeed numerous so- called letters, but they are no longer the same class of composition as these, nor have any recent letters the vigour, grace, and freedom of those of Cicero and Caesar.

A friend of many great men, and especially of Atticus, CORNELIUS NEPOS (74?-24 B.C.) owes his fame to the kindness of fortune more than to his own achievements. Had we possessed only the account of him given by his friends, we should have bewailed the loss of a learned and eloquent author. [64] Fortunately we have the means of judging of his talent by a short fragment of his work On Illustrious Men, which, though it relegates him to the second rank in intellect, does credit to his character and heart. [65] It consists of the lives of several Greek generals and statesmen, written in a compendious and popular style, adapted especially for school reading, where it has always been in great request. Besides these there are short accounts of Hamilcar and Hannibal, and of the Romans, Cato and Atticus. The last-mentioned biography is an extract from a lost work, De Historicis Latinis, among whom friendship prompts him to class the good-natured and cultivated banker. The series of illustrious men extended over sixteen books, and was divided under the headings of kings, generals, lawyers, orators, poets, historians, philosophers, and grammarians. To each of these two books were devoted, one of Greek, and one of Latin examples. [66] Of those we possess the life of Atticus is the only one of any historical value, the rest being mere superficial compilations, and not always from the best authorities. Besides the older generation, he had friends also among the younger. Catullus, who like him came from Gallia Cisalpina, pays in his first poem the tribute of gratitude, due probably to his timely patronage. The work mentioned there as that on which the fame of Nepos rested was called Chronica. It seems to have been a laborious attempt to form a comparative chronology of Greek and Roman History, and to have contained three books. Subsequently, he preferred biographical studies, in which field, besides his chief work, he edited a series of Exempla, or patterns for imitation, of the character of our modern Self Help, and intended to wean youthful minds from the corrupt fashions of their time. A Life of Cicero would probably be of great use to us, had fortune spared it; for Nepos knew Cicero well, and had access through Atticus to all his correspondence. At Atticus's request he wrote also a biography of Cato at greater length than the short one which we possess. It has been observed by Merivale [67] that the Romans were specially fitted for biographical writing. The rhetorical cast of their minds and the disposition to reverence commanding merit made them admirable panygerists; and few would celebrate where they did not mean to praise. Of his general character as a historian Mr. Oscar Browning in his useful edition says: "He is most untrustworthy. It is often difficult to disentangle the wilful complications of his chronology; and he tries to enhance the value of what he is relating by a foolish exaggeration which is only too transparent to deceive." His style is clear, a merit attributable to the age in which he lived, and, as a rule, elegant, though verging here and there to prettiness. Though of the same age as Caesar he adopts a more modern Latinity. We miss the quarried marble which polish hardens but does not wear away. Nepos's language is a softer substance, and becomes thin beneath the file. He is occasionally inaccurate. In the Phocion [68] we have a sentence incomplete; in the Chabrias [69] we have an accusative (Agesilaum) with nothing to govern it; we have ante se for ante eum, a fault, by the way, into which almost every Latin writer is apt to fall, since the rules on which the true practice is built are among the subtlest in any language. [70] We have poetical constructions, as tollere consilia iniit; popular ones, as infitias it, dum with the perfect tense, and colloquialisms like impraesentiarum; we have Graecizing words like deuteretur, automatias, and curious inflexions such as Thuynis, Coti, Datami, genitives of Thuys, Cotys, [71] and Datames, respectively. We see in Nepos, as in Xenophon, the first signs of a coming change. He forms a link between the exclusively prosaic style of Cicero and Caesar, and prose softened and coloured with poetic beauties, which was brought to such perfection by Livy.

After the life of Hannibal, in the MS., occurred an epigram by the grammarian Aemilius Probus inscribing the work to Theodosius. By this scholars were long misled. It was Lambinus who first proved that the pure Latinity of the lives could not, except by magic, be the product of the Theodosian age; and as ancient testimony amply justified the assignment of the life of Atticus to Nepos, and he was known also to have been the author of just such a book as came out under Probus's name, the great scholar boldly drew the conclusion that the series of biographies we possess were the veritable work of Nepos. For a time controversy raged. A via media was discovered which regarded them as an abridgment in Theodosius's time of the fuller original work. But even this, which was but a concession to prejudice, is now generally abandoned, and few would care to dispute the accuracy of Lambinus's penetrating criticism. [72]

The first artistic historian of Rome is C. SALLUSTIUS CRISPUS (86-34 B.C.). This great writer was born at Amiternum in the year in which Marius died, and, as we know from himself, he came to Rome burning with ambition to ennoble his name, and studied with that purpose the various arts of popularity. He rose steadily through the quaestorship to the tribuneship of the plebs (52 B.C.), and so became a member of the senate. From this position he was degraded (50 B.C.) on the plea of adultery, committed some years before with the wife of Annius Milo, a disgrace he seems to have deeply felt, although it was probably instigated by political and not moral disapprobation. For Sallust was a warm admirer and partisan of Caesar, who in time (47 B.C.) made him praetor, thus restoring his rank; and assigned him (46 B.C.) the province of Numidia, from which he carried an enormous fortune, for the most part, we fear, unrighteously obtained. On his return (45 B.C.), content with his success, he sank into private life; and to the leisure and study of his later years we owe the works that have made him famous. He employed his wealth in ministering to his comfort. His favourite retreats were a villa at Tibur which had once been Caesar's, and a magnificent palace which he built in the suburbs of Rome, surrounded by pleasure-grounds, afterwards well-known as the "Gardens of Sallust," and as the residence of successive emperors. The preacher of ancient virtue was an adept in modern luxury. Augustus chose the historian's dwelling as the scene of his most sumptuous entertainments; Vespasian preferred it to the palace of the Caesars; Nerva and Aurelian, stern as they were, made it their constant abode. [73] And yet Sallust was not a happy man. The inconsistency of conduct and the whirlwind of political passion in which most men then lived seems to have sapped the springs of life and worn out body and mind before their time. Caesar's activity had at his death begun to make him old; [74] Sallust lived only to the age of 52; Lucretius and Catullus were even younger when they died. And the views of life presented in their works are far from hopeful. Sallust, indeed, praises virtue; but it is an ideal of the past, colossal but extinct, on which his gloomy eloquence is exhausted. Among his contemporaries he finds no vestige of ancient goodness; honour has become a traffic, ambition has turned to avarice, and envy has taken the place of public spirit. From this scene of turpitude he selects two men who in diverse ways recall the strong features of antiquity. These are Caesar and Cato; the one the idol of the people, whom with real persuasion they adored as a god; [75] the other the idol of the senate, whom the Pompeian poet exalts even above the gods. [76] The contrast and balancing of the virtues of these two great men is one of the most effective passages in Sallust. [77]

From his position in public life and from his intimacy with Caesar, he had gained excellent opportunities of acquiring correct information. The desire to write history seems to have come on him in later life. Success had no more illusions for him. The bitterness with which he touches on his early misfortunes [78] shows that their memory still rankled within him. And the pains with which he justifies his historical pursuits indicate a stifled anxiety to enter once more the race for honours, which yet experience tells him is but vanity. The profligacy of his youth, grossly overdrawn by malice, [79] was yet no doubt a ground of remorse; and though the severity of his opening chapters is somewhat ostentatious, there is no intrinsic mark of insincerity about them. They are, it is true, quite superfluous. Iugurtha's trickery can be understood without a preliminary discourse on the immortality of the soul; and Catiline's character is not such as to suggest a preface on the dignity of writing history. But with all their inappropriateness, these introductions are valuable specimens of the writer's best thoughts and concentrated vigour of language. In the Catiline, his earliest work, he announces his attention of subjecting certain episodes of Roman history [80] to a thorough treatment, omitting those parts which had been done justice to by former writers. Thus it is improbable that Sallust touched the period of Sulla, [81] both from the high opinion he formed of Sisenna's account, and from the words neque alio loco de Sullae rebus dicturi sumus; [82] nevertheless, some of the events he selected doubtless fell within Sulla's lifetime, and this may have given rise to the opinion that he wrote a history of the dictator. Though Sallust's Historiae are generally described as a consecutive work from the premature movements of Lepidus on Sulla's death [83] (78 B.C.) to the end of the Mithridatic war (63 B.C.); this cannot be proved. It is equally possible that his series of independent historical cameos may have been published together, arranged in chronological order, and under the common title of Historiae. The Iugurtha and Catilina, however, are separate works; they are always quoted as such, and formed a kind of commencement and finish to the intermediate studies.

Of the histories (in five books dedicated to the younger Lucullus), we have but a few fragments, mostly speeches, of which the style seems a little fuller than usual: our judgment of the writer must be based upon the two essays that have reached us entire, that on the war with Iugurtha, and that on the Catilinarian conspiracy. Sallust takes credit to himself, in words that Tacitus has almost adopted, [84] for a strict impartiality. Compared with his predecessors he probably was impartial, and considering the closeness of the events to his own time it is doubtful whether any one could have been more so. For he wisely confined himself to periods neither too remote for the testimony of eye-witnesses, nor too recent for the disentanglement of truth. When Catiline fell (63 B.C.) the historian was twenty-two years old, and this is the latest point to which his studies reach. As a friend of Caesar he was an enemy of Cicero, and two declamations are extant, the productions of the reign of Claudius, [85] in which these two great men vituperate one another. But no vituperation is found in Sallust's works. There is, indeed, a coldness and reserve, a disinclination to praise the conduct and even the oratory of the consul which bespeaks a mind less noble than Cicero's, [86] But facts are not perverted, nor is the odium of an unconstitutional act thrown on Cicero alone, as we know it was thrown by Caesar's more unscrupulous partisans, and connived at by Caesar himself. The veneration of Sallust for his great chief is conspicuous. Caesar is brought into steady prominence; his influence is everywhere implied. But Sallust, however clearly he betrays the ascendancy of Caesar over himself, [87] does not on all points follow his lead. While, with Caesar, he believes fortune, or more properly chance, to rule human affairs, he retains his belief in virtue and immortality, [88] both of which Caesar rejected. He can not only admit, but glorify the virtues of Cato, which Caesar ridiculed and denied. But he is anxious to set the democratic policy in the most favourable light. Hence he depicts Cato rather than Cicero as the senatorial champion, because his impracticable views seemed to justify Caesar's opposition; [89] he throws into fierce relief the vices of Scaurus who was princeps Senatus; [90] and misrepresents the conduct of Turpilius through a desire to screen Marius. [91] As to his authorities, we find that he gave way to the prevailing tendency to manipulate them. The speeches of Caesar and Cato in the senate, which he surely might have transcribed, he prefers to remodel according to his own ideas, eloquently no doubt, but the originals would have been in better place, and entitled him to our gratitude. The same may be said of the speech of Marius. That of Memmius [92] he professes to give intact; but its genuineness is doubtful. The letter of Catiline to Catulus, that of Lentulus and his message to Catiline, may be accepted as original documents. [93] In the sifting of less accessible authorities he is culpably careless. His account of the early history of Africa is almost worthless, though he speaks of having drawn it from the books of King Hiempsal, and taken pains to insert what was generally thought worthy of credit. It is in the delineation of character that Sallust's penetration is unmistakably shown. Besides the instances already given, we may mention the admirable sketch of Sulla, [94] and the no less admirable ones of Catiline [95] and Iugurtha. [96] His power of depicting the terrors of conscience is tremendous. No language can surpass in condensed but lifelike intensity the terms in which he paints the guilty noble carrying remorse on his countenance and driven by inward agony to acts of desperation. [97]

His style is peculiar. He himself evidently imitated, and was thought by Quintilian to rival, Thucydides. [98] But the resemblance is in language only. The deep insight of the Athenian into the connexion of events is far removed from the popular rhetoric in which the Roman deplores the decline of virtue. And the brevity, by which both are characterised, while in the one it is nothing but the incapacity of the hand to keep pace with the rush of thought, in the other forms the artistic result of a careful process of excision and compression. While the one kindles reflection, the other baulks it. Nevertheless the style of Sallust has a special charm and will always find admirers to give it the palm among Latin histories. The archaisms which adorn or deface it, the poetical constructions which tinge its classicality, the rough periods without particles of connexion which impart to it a masculine hardness, are so fused together into a harmonious fabric that after the first reading most students recur to it with genuine pleasure. [99] On the whole it is more modern than that of Nepos, and resembles more than any other that of Tacitus. Its brevity rarely falls into obscurity, though it sometimes borders on affectation. There is an appearance as if he was never satisfied, but always straining after an excellence beyond his powers. It is emphatically a cultured style, and, as such often recalls older authors. Now it is a reminiscence of Homer: aliud clausum in pectore, aliud in lingua promptum habere; [100] now of a Latin tragedian: secundae res sapientium animos fatigant. Much allowance must be made for Sallust's defects, when we remember that no model of historical writing yet existed at Rome. Some of the aphorisms which are scattered in his book are wonderfully condensed, and have passed into proverbs. Concordia parvae res crescunt from the Iugurtha; and idem velle, idem nolle, ea demum firma amicitia est, from the Catiline, are instances familiar to all. The prose of Sallust differs from that of Cicero in being less rhythmical; the hexametrical ending which the orator rightly rejects, is in him not infrequent. It is probably a concession to Greek habit. [101] Sallust did good service in pointing out what historical writing should be, and his example was of such service to Livy that, had it not been for him, it is possible the great master- history would never have been designed.

It does not appear that this period was fruitful in historians. Tubero (49-47 B.C.) is the only other whose works are mentioned; the convulsions of the state, the short but sullen repose, broken by Caesar's death (44 B.C.), the bloodthirsty sway of the triumvirs, and the contests which ended in the final overthrow at Actium (31 B.C.), were not favourable to historical enterprise. But private notes were carefully kept, and men's memories were strengthened by silence, so that circumstances naturally inculcated waiting in patience until the time for speaking out should have arrived. [102]


On the Acta Diurna and Acta Senatus.

It is well known that there was a sort of journal at Rome analogous, perhaps, to our Gazette, but its nature and origin are somewhat uncertain. Suetonius (Caes. 20) has this account: "Inito honore, primus omnium instituit, ut tam Senatus quam populi diurna acta conficerentur et publicarentur," which seems naturally to imply that the people's acta had been published every day before Caesar's consulship, and that he did the same thing for the acta of the senate. Before investigating these we must distinguish them from certain other acta:—(1) Civilia, containing a register of births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, called apographai by Polybius, and alluded to by Cicero (ad Fam. viii. 7) and others. These were at first intrusted to the care of the censors, afterwards to the praefecti aerarii. (2) Forensia, comprising lists of laws, plebiscites, elections of aediles, tribunes, &c. like the daemosia grammata at Athens, placed among the archives annexed to various temples, especially that of Saturn. (3) Iudiciaria, the legal reports, often called gesta, kept in a special tabularium, under the charge of military men discharged from active service. (4) Militaria, which contained reports of all the men employed in war, their height, age, conduct, accomplishments, &c. These were entrusted to an officer called librarius legionis (Veg. ii. 19), or sometimes tabularius castrensis, but so only in the later Latin. Other less strictly formal documents, as lists of cases, precedents, &c. seem to have been also called acta, but the above are the regular kinds.

The Acta Senatus or deliberations of the senate were not published until Caesar. They were kept jealously secret, as is proved by a quaint story by Cato, quoted in Aulus Gellius (i. 23). At all important deliberations a senator, usually the praetor as being one of the junior members, acted as secretary. In the imperial times this functionary was always a confidant of the emperor. The acta were sometimes inscribed on tabulae publicae (Cic. pro Sull. 14, 15), but only on occasions when it was held expedient to make them known. As a rule the publication of the resolution (Senatus Consultum) was the first intimation the people had of the decisions of their rulers. In the times of the emperors there were also acta of each emperor, apparently the memoranda of state councils held by him, and communicated to the senate for them to act upon. There appears also to have been acta of private families when the estates were large enough to make it worth while to keep them. These are alluded to in Petronius Arbiter (ch. 53). We are now come to the Acta Diurna, Populi, Urbana or Publica, by all which names the same thing is meant. The earliest allusion to them is in a passage of Sempronius Asellio, who distinguishes the annals from the diaria, which the Greeks call ephaemeris (ap. A. Gell. V. 18). When about the year 131 B.C. the Annales were redacted into a complete form, the acta probably begun. When Servius (ad. Aen. i. 373) says that the Annales registered each day all noteworthy events that had occurred, he is apparently confounding them with the acta, which seem to have quietly taken their place. During the time that Cicero was absent in Cilicia (62 B.C.) he received the news of town from his friend. Coelius (Cic. Fam. viii. 1, 8, 12, &c.). These news comprised all the topics which we should find now-a-days in a daily paper. Asconius Pedianus, a commentator on Cicero of the time of Claudius, in his notes on the Milo (p. 47, ed. Orell. 1833), quotes several passages from the acta, on the authority of which he bases some of his arguments. Among them are analyses of forensic orations, political and judicial; and it is therefore probable that these formed a regular portion of the daily journal in the latest age of the Republic. When Antony offered Caesar a crown on the feast of the Lupercalia, Caesar ordered it to be noted in the acta (Dio xliv. 11); Antony, as we know from Cicero, even entered the fact in the Fasti, or religious calendar. Augustus continued the publication of the Acta Populi, under certain limitations, analogous to the control exercised over journalism by the governments of modern Europe; but he interdicted that of the Acta Senatus (Suet. Aug. 36). Later emperors abridged even this liberty. A portico in Rome having been in danger of falling and shored up by a skilful architect, Tiberius forbade the publication of his name (Dio lvii. 21). Nero relaxed the supervision of the press, but it was afterwards re-established. For the genuine fragments of the Acta, see the treatise by Vict. Le Clerc, sur les journaux chez les Romains, from which this notice is taken.



As long as the drama was cultivated poetry had not ceased to be popular in its tone. But we have already mentioned that coincidentally with the rise of Sulla dramatic productiveness ceased. We hear, indeed, that J. CAESAR STRABO (about 90 B.C.) wrote tragedies, but they were probably never performed. Comedy, as hitherto practised, was almost equally mute. The only forms that lingered on were the Atellanae, and those few plebeian types of comedy known as Togata and Tabernaria. But even these had now withered. The present epoch brings before us a fresh type of composition in the Mime, which now first took a literary shape. Mimes had indeed existed in some sort from a very early period, but no art had been applied to their cultivation, and they had held a position much inferior to that of the national farce. But several circumstances now conspired to bring them into greater prominence. First, the great increase of luxury and show, and with it the appetite for the gaudy trappings of the spectacle; secondly, the failure of legitimate drama, and the fact that the Atellanae, with their patrician surroundings, were only half popular; and lastly, the familiarity with the different offshoots of Greek comedy, thrown out in rank profusion at Alexandria, and capable of assimilation with the plastic materials of the Mimus. These worthless products, issued under the names of Rhinthon, Sopater, Sciras, and Timon, were conspicuous for the entire absence of restraint with which they treated serious subjects, as well as for a merry-andrew style of humour easily naturalised, if it were not already present, among the huge concourse of idlers who came to sate their appetite for indecency without altogether sacrificing the pretence of a dramatic spectacle. Two things marked off the Mimus from the Atellana or national farce; the players appeared without masks, [1] and women were allowed to act. This opened the gates to licentiousness. We find from Cicero that Mimae bore a disreputable character, [2] but from their personal charms and accomplishments often became the chosen companions of the profligate nobles of the day. Under the Empire this was still more the case. Kingsley, in his Hypatia, has given a lifelike sketch of one of these elegant but dissolute females. To these seductive innovations the Mime added some conservative features. It absorbed many characteristics of legitimate comedy. The actors were not necessarily planipedes in fact, though they remained so in name; [3] they might wear the soccus [4] and the Greek dress [5] of the higher comedy. The Mimes seem to have formed at this time interludes between the acts of a regular drama. Hence they were at once simple and short, seasoned with as many coarse jests as could be crowded into a limited compass, with plenty of music, dancing, and expressive gesture-language. Their plot was always the same, and never failed to please; it struck the key-note of all decaying societies, the discomfiture of the husband by the wife. [6] Nevertheless, popular as was the Mime, it was, even in Caesar's time, obliged to share the palm of attractiveness with bear-fights, boxing matches, processions of strange beasts, foreign treasures, captives of uncouth aspect, and other curiosities, which passed sometimes for hours across the stage, feeding the gaze of an unlettered crowd, to the utter exclusion of drama and interlude alike. Thirty years later, Horace [7] declares that against such competitors no play could get a silent hearing.

This being the lamentable state of things, we are surprised to find that Mime writing was practised by two men of vigorous talent and philosophic culture, whose fragments, so far from betraying any concession to the prevailing depravity, are above the ordinary tone of ancient comic morality. They are the knight D. LABERIUS (106-43 B.C.) and PUBLILIUS SYRUS (fl. 44 B.C.), an enfranchised Syrian slave. It is probable that Caesar lent his countenance to these writers in the hope of raising their art. His patronage was valuable; but he put a great indignity (45 B.C.) on Laberius. The old man, for he was then sixty years of age, had written Mimes for a generation, but had never acted in them himself. Caesar, whom he may have offended by indiscreet allusions, [8] recommended him to appear in person against his rival Syrus. This recommendation, as he well knew, was equivalent to a command. In the prologue he expresses his sense of the affront with great manliness and force of language. We quote some lines from it, as a specimen of the best plebeian Latin;

"Necessitas, cuius cursus, transversi impetum Voluerunt multi effugere, pauci potuerunt, Quo me detrusit paene extremis sensibus? Quem nulla ambitio, nulla unquam largitio, Nullus timor, vis nulla, nulla auctoritas Movere potuit in inventa de statu, Ecce in senecta ut facile labefecit loco Viri excellentis mente clemente edita Summissa placide blandiloquens oratio! Et enim ipsi di negare cui nil potuerunt, Hominem me denegare quis posset pati? Ego bis tricenis actis annis sine nota, Eques Romanus e lare egressus meo, Domum revertormimus—ni mirum hoc die Uno plus vixi mihi quam vivendum fuit. * * * * * Porro, Quirites, libertatem perdimus." [9]

In these noble lines we see the native eloquence of a free spirit. But the poet's wrathful muse roused itself in vain. Caesar awarded the prize to Syrus, saying to Laberius in an impromptu verse of polite condescension,

"Favente tibime victus, Laberi, es a Syro." [10]

From this time the old knight surrendered the stage to his younger and more polished rival.

Syrus vas a native of Antioch, and remarkable from his childhood for the beauty of his person and his sparkling wit, to which he owed his freedom. His talent soon raised him to eminence as an improvisatore and dramatic declaimer. He trusted mostly to extempore inspiration when acting his Mimes, but wrote certain episodes where it was necessary to do so. His works abounded with moral apophthegms, tersely expressed. We possess 857 verses, arranged in alphabetical order, ascribed to him, of which perhaps half are genuine. This collection was made early in the Middle Ages, when it was much used for purposes of education. We append a few examples of these sayings: [11]

"Beneficium dando accipit, qui digno dedit."

"Furor fit laesa saepius patientia."

"Comes facundus in via pro vehiculo est."

"Nimium altercando veritas amittitur."

"Iniuriarum remedium est oblivio."

"Malum est consilium quod mutari non potest."

"Nunquam periclum sine periclo vincitar."

Horace mentions Laberius not uncomplimentarily, though he professes no interest in the sort of composition he represented. [12] Perhaps he judged him by his audience. Besides these two men, CN. MATIUS (about 44 B.C.) also wrote Mimiambi about the same date. They are described as Mimicae fabulae, versibus plerunque iambicis conscriptae, [13] and appear to have differed in some way from the actual mimes, probably in not being represented on the stage. They reappear in the time of Pliny, whose friend VERGINIUS ROMANUS (he tells us in one of his letters) [14] wrote Mimiambi tenuiter, argute, venuste, et in hoc genere eloquentissime. This shows that for a long tune a certain refinement and elaboration was compatible with the style of Mime writing. [15]

The Pantomimi have been confused with the Mimi; but they differed in being dancers, not actors; they represent the inevitable development of the mimic art, which, as Ovid says in his Tristia, [16] even in its earlier manifestations, enlisted the eye as much as the ear. In Imperial times they almost engrossed the stage. PYLADES and BATHYLLUS are monuments of a depraved taste, which could raise these men to offices of state, and seek their society with such zeal that the emperors were compelled to issue stringent enactments to forbid it. TIGELLIUS seems to have been the first of these effeminati; he is satirised by Horace, [17] but his influence was inappreciable compared with that of his successors. The pantomimus aspired to render the emotions of terror or love more speakingly by gesture than it was possible to do by speech; and ancient critics, while deploring, seem to have admitted this claim. The moral effect of such exhibitions may be imagined. [18]

It is pleasing to find that in Cicero's time the interpretation of the great dramatists' conceptions exercised the talents of several illustrious actors, the two best-known of whom are AESOPUS, the tragedian (l22-54 B.C.), and ROSCIUS, the comic actor (120-61? B.C.), [19] After the exhaustion of dramatic creativeness a period of splendid representation naturally follows. It was so in Germany and England, it was so at Rome. Of the two men, Roscius was the greater master; he was so perfect in his art that his name became a synonym for excellence in any branch. [20] Neither of them, however, embraced, as Garrick did, both departments of the art; their provinces were and always remained distinct. Both had the privilege of Cicero's friendship; both no doubt lent him the benefit of their professional advice. The interchange of hints between an orator and an actor was not unexampled. When Hortensius spoke, Roscius always attended to study his suggestive gestures, and it is told of Cicero himself that he and Roscius strove which could express the higher emotions more perfectly by his art. Roscius was a native of Solonium, a Latin town, his praenomen was Quintus; Aesopus appears to have been a freedman of the Claudia gens. Of other actors few were well-known enough to merit notice. Some imagine DOSSENNUS, mentioned by Horace, [21] to have been an actor; but he is much more likely to be the Fabius Dossennus quoted as an author of Atellanae by Pliny in his Natural History [22] The freedom with which popular actors were allowed to treat their original is shown by Aesopus on one occasion (62 B.C.?) changing the words Brutus qui patriam stabiliverat to Tullius, a change which, falling in with the people's humour at the moment, was vociferously applauded, and gratified Cicero's vanity not a little. [23] Aesopus died soon after (54 B.C.); Roscius did not live so long. His marvellous beauty when a youth is the subject of a fine epigram by Lutatius Catulus, already referred to. [24] Both amassed large fortunes, and lived in princely style.

While the stage was given up to Mimes, cultured men wrote tragedies for their improvement in command of language. Both Cicero and his brother wrought assiduously at these frigid imitations. Caesar followed in their steps; and no doubt the practice was conducive to copiousness and to an effective simulation of passion. Their appearance as orators before the people must have called out such different mental qualities from their cold and calculating intercourse with one another, that tragedy writing as well as declaiming may have been needful to keep themselves ready for an emergency. Cicero, as is well known, tried hard to gain fame as a poet. The ridicule which all ages have lavished on his unhappy efforts has been a severe punishment for his want of self-knowledge. Still, judging from the verses that remain, we cannot deny him the praise of a correct and elegant versateur. Besides several translations from Homer and Euripides scattered through his works, and a few quotations by hostile critics from his epic attempts, [25] we possess a large part of his translation of Aratus's Phaenomena, written, indeed, in his early days, but a graceful specimen of Latin verse, and, as Munro [26] has shown, carefully studied and often imitated by Lucretius. The most noticeable point of metre is his disregard of the final s, no less than thrice in the first ninety lines, a practice which in later life he stigmatised as subrusticum. In other respects his hexameters are a decided advance on those of Ennius in point of smoothness though not of strength. He still affects Greek caesuras which are not suited to the Latin cadence, [27] and his rhythm generally lacks variety.

Caesar's pen was nearly as prolific. He wrote besides an Oedipus a poem called Laudes Herculis, and a metrical account of a journey into Spain called Iter. [28] Sportive effusions on various plants are attributed to him by Pliny. [29] All these Augustus wisely refused to publish; but there remain two excellent epigrams, one on Terence, already alluded to, which is undoubtedly genuine, [30] the other probably so, though others ascribe it to Germanicus or Domitian. [31] But the rhythm, purity of language, and continuous structure of the couplets seem to point indisputably to an earlier age. It is as follows—

"Thrax puer, astricto glacie dum ludit in Hebro, Frigore concretas pondere rupit aquas. Quumque imae partes rapido traherentur ab amne, Abscidit, heu! tenerum lubrica testa caput. Orba quod inventum mater dum conderet urna, 'Hoc peperi flammis, cetera,' dixit, 'aquis.'"

This is evidently a study from the Greek, probably from an Alexandrine writer.

We have already had occasion more than once to mention the influence of Alexandria on Roman literature. Since the fall of Carthage Rome had had much intercourse with the capital of the Greek world. Her thought, erudition, and style, had acted strongly upon the rude imitators of Greek refinement. But hitherto the Romans had not been ripe for receiving their influence in full. In Cicero's time, however, and in a great measure owing to his labours, Latin composition of all kinds had advanced so far that writers, and especially poets, began to feel capable of rivalling their Alexandrian models. This type of Hellenism was so eminently suited to Roman comprehension that, once introduced, it could not fail to produce striking results. The results it actually produced were so vast, and in a way so successful, that we must pause a moment to contemplate the rise of the city which was connected with them.

Alexander did not err in selecting the mouth of the Nile for the capital that should perpetuate his name. Its site, its associations, religious, artistic, and scientific, and the tide of commerce that was certain to flow through it, all suggested the coast of Egypt as the fittest point of attraction for the industry of the Eastern world, while the rapid fall of the other kingdoms that rose from the ruins of his Empire contributed to make the new Merchant City the natural inheritor of his great ideas. The Ptolemies well fulfilled the task which Alexander's foresight had set before them. They aspired to make their capital the centre not only of commercial but of intellectual production, and the repository of all that was most venerable in religion, literature, and art. To achieve this end, they acted with the magnificence as well as the unscrupulousness of great monarchs. At their command, a princely city rose from the sandhills and rushes of the Canopic mouth; stately temples uniting Greek proportion with Egyptian grandeur, long quays with sheltered docks, ingenious contrivances for purifying the Nile water and conducting a supply to every considerable house; [32] in short, every product of a luxurious civilisation was found there, except the refreshing shade of green trees, which, beyond a few of the commoner kinds, could not be forced to grow on the shifting sandy soil. The great glory of Alexandria, however, was its public library, Founded by Soter (306-285 B.C.), greatly extended by Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.), under whom grammatical studies attained their highest development, enriched by Euergetes (247-212 B.C.) with genuine MSS. of authors fraudulently obtained from their owners to whom he sent back copies made by his own librarians, [33] this collection reached under the last-named sovereign the enormous total of 532,800 volumes, of which the great majority were kept in the museum which formed part of the royal palace, and about 50,000 of the most precious in the temple of Serapis, the patron deity of the city. [34] Connected with the museum were various endowments analogous to our professorships and fellowships of colleges; under the Ptolemies the head librarian, in after times the professor of rhetoric, held the highest post within this ancient university. The librarian was usually chief priest of one of the greatest gods, Isis, Osiris, or Serapis. [35] His appointment was for life, and lay at the disposal of the monarch. Thus the museum was essentially a court institution, and its savants and litterateurs were accomplished courtiers and men of the world. Learning being thus nursed as in a hot-bed, its products were rank, but neither hardy nor natural. They took the form of recondite mythological erudition, grammar and exegesis, and laborious imitation of the ancients. In science only was there a healthy spirit of research. Mathematics were splendidly represented by Euclid and Archimedes, Geography by Eratosthenes, Astronomy by Hipparchus; for these men, though not all residents in Alexandria, all gained their principles and method from study within her walls. To Aristarchus (fl. 180 B.C.) and his contemporaries we owe the final revision of the Greek classic texts; and the service thus done to scholarship and literature was incalculable. But the earlier Alexandrines seem to have been overwhelmed by the vastness of material at their command. Except in pastoral poetry, which in reality was not Alexandrine, [36] there was no creative talent shown for centuries. The true importance of Alexandria in the history of thought dates from Plotinus (about 200 A.D.), who first clearly taught that mystic philosophy which under the name of Neoplatonism, has had so enduring a fascination for the human spirit. It was not, however, for philosophy, science, or theology that the Romans went to Alexandria. It was for literary models which should less hopelessly defy imitation than those of old Greece, and for general views of life which should approve themselves to their growing enlightenment. These they found in the half-Greek, half-cosmopolitan culture which had there taken root and spread widely in the East. Even before Alexander's death there had been signs of the internal break-up of Hellenism, now that it had attained its perfect development. Out of Athens pure Hellenism had at no time been able to express itself successfully in literature. And even in Athens the burden of Atticism, if we may say so, seems to have become too great to bear. We see a desire to emancipate both thought and expression from the exquisite but confining proportions within which they had as yet moved. The student of Euripides observes a struggle, ineffectual it is true, but pregnant with meaning, against all that is most specially recognised as conservative and national. [37] He strives to pour new wine into old bottles; but in this case the bottles are too strong for him to burst. The Atticism which had guided and comprehended, now began to cramp development. To make a world-wide out of a Hellenic form of thought, it is necessary to go outside the charmed soil of Greece. Only on the banks of the Nile will the new culture find a shrine, whose remote and mysterious authority frees it from the spell of Hellenism, now no longer the exponent of the world's thought, while it is near enough to the arena where human progress is fighting its way onward, to inspire and be inspired by the mighty nation that is succeeding Greece as the representative of mankind.

The contribution of Alexandria to human progress consists, then, in its recoil from Greek exclusiveness, in its sifting of what was universal in Greek thought from what was national, and presenting the former in a systematised form for the enlightenment of those who received it. This is its nobler side; the side which men like Ennius and Scipio seized, and welded into a harmonious union with the higher national tradition of Rome, out of which union arose that complex product to which the name humanitas was so happily given. But Alexandrian culture was more than cosmopolitan. It was in a sense anti-national. Egyptian superstition, theurgy, magic, and charlatanism of every sort, tried to amalgamate with the imported Greek culture. In Greece itself they had never done this. The clear light of Greek intellect had no fellowship with the obscure or the mysterious. It drove them into corners and let them mutter in secret. But the moment the lamp of culture was given into other hands, they started up again unabashed and undismayed. The Alexandrine thinkers struggled to make Greek influences supreme, to exclude altogether those of the East; and their efforts were for three centuries successful: neither mysticism nor magic reigned in the museum of the Ptolemies. But this victory was purchased at a severe cost. The enthusiasm of the Alexandrian scholars had made them pedants. They gradually ceased to care for the thought of literature, and busied themselves only with questions of learning and of form. Their multifarious reading made them think that they too had a literary gift. Philetas was not only a profound logician, but he affected to be an amatory poet. [38] Callimachus, the brilliant and courtly librarian of Philadelphus, wrote nearly every kind of poetry that existed. Aratus treated the abstruse investigations of Eudoxus in neat verses that at once became popular. While in the great periods of Greek art each writer had been content to excel in a single branch, it now became the fashion for the same poet to be Epicist, Lyrist, and Elegy-writer at once.

Besides the new treatment of old forms, there were three kinds of poetry, first developed or perfected at Alexandria, which have special interest for us from the great celebrity they gained when imported into Rome. They are the didactic poem, the erotic elegy, and the epigram. The maxim of Callimachus (characteristic as it is of his narrow mind) mega biblion mega kakon, "a great book is a great evil," [39] was the rule on which these poetasters generally acted. The didactic poem is an illegitimate cross between science and poetry. In the creative days of Greece it had no place. Hesiod, Parmenides, and Empedocles were, indeed, cited as examples. But in their days poetry was the only vehicle of literary effort, and he who wished to issue accurate information was driven to embody it in verse. In the time of the Ptolemies things were altogether different. It was consistent neither with the exactness of science nor with the grace of the Muses to treat astronomy or geography as subjects for poetry. Still, the best masters of this style undoubtedly attained great renown, and have found brilliant imitators, not only in Roman, but in modern times.

ARATUS (280 B.C.), known as the model of Cicero's, and in a later age of Domitian's [40] youthful essays in verse, was born at Soli in Cilicia about three hundred years before Christ. He was not a scientific man, [41] but popularised in hexameter verse the astronomical works of Eudoxus, of which he formed two poems, the Phaenomena and the Diosemia, or Prognostics. These were extravagantly praised, and so far took the place of their original that commentaries were written on them by learned men, [42] while the works of Eudoxus were in danger of being forgotten. NICANDER (230 B.C.?), still less ambitious, wrote a poem on remedies for vegetable and mineral poisons (alexipharmaka), and for the bites of beasts (thaeriaka), and another on the habits of birds (ornithogonia). These attracted the imitation of Macer in the Augustan age. But the most celebrated poets were CALLIMACHUS (260 B.C.) and PHILETAS [43] (280 B.C.), who formed the models of Propertius. To them we owe the Erotic Elegy, whether personal or mythological, and all the pedantic ornament of fictitious passion which such writings generally display. More will be said about them when we come to the elegiac poets. Callimachus, however, seems to have carried his art, such as it was, to perfection. He is generally considered the prince of elegists, and his extant fragments show great nicety and finish of expression. The sacrilegious theft of the locks of Berenice's hair from the temple where she had offered them, was a subject too well suited to a courtier's muse to escape treatment. Its celebrity is due to the translation made by Catullus, and the appropriation of the idea by Pope in his Rape of the Lock. The short epigram was also much in vogue at Alexandria, and neat examples abound in the Anthology. But in all these departments the Romans imitated with such zest and vigour that they left their masters far behind. Ovid and Martial are as superior in their way to Philetas and Callimachus as Lucretius and Virgil to Aratus and Apollonius Rhodius. This last-mentioned poet, APOLLONIUS RHODIUS (fl. 240 B.C.), demands a short notice. He was the pupil of Callimachus, and the most genuinely-gifted of all the Alexandrine school; he incurred the envy and afterwards the rancorous hatred of his preceptor, through whose influence he was obliged to leave Alexandria and seek fame at Rhodes. Here he remained all his life and wrote his most celebrated poem, the Epic of the Argonauts, a combination of sentiment, learning, and graceful expression, which is less known than it ought to be. Its chief interest to us is the use made of it by Virgil, who studied it deeply and drew much from it. We observe the passion of love as a new element in heroic poetry, scarcely treated in Greece, but henceforth to become second to none in prominence, and through Dido, to secure a place among the very highest flights of song. [44] Jason and Medea, the hero and heroine, who love one another, create a poetical era. An epicist of even greater popularity was EUPHORION of Chalcis (274-203 B.C.), whose affected prettiness and rounded cadences charmed the ears of the young nobles. He had admirers who knew him by heart, who declaimed him at the baths, [45] and quoted his pathetic passages ad nauseam. He was the inventor of the historical romance in verse, of which Rome was so fruitful. A Lucan, a Silius, owe their inspiration in part to him. Lastly, we may mention that the drama could find no place at Alexandria. Only learned compilations of recondite legend and frigid declamation, almost unintelligible from the rare and obsolete words with which they were crowded, were sent forth under the name of plays. The Cassandra or Alexandra of Lycophron is the only specimen that has come to us. Its thorny difficulties deter the reader, but Fox speaks of it as breathing a rich vein of melancholy. The Thyestes of Varius and the Medea of Ovid were no doubt greatly improved copies of dramas of this sort.

It will be seen from this survey of Alexandrine letters that the better side of their influence was soon exhausted. Any breadth of view they possessed was seized and far exceeded by the nobler minds that imitated it; and all their other qualities were such as to enervate rather than inspire. The masculine rudeness of the old poets now gave way to pretty finish; verbal conceits took the place of condensed thoughts; the rich exuberance of the native style tried to cramp itself into the arid allusiveness which, instead of painting straight from nature, was content to awaken a long line of literary associations. Nevertheless there was much in their manipulation of language from which the Romans could learn a useful lesson. It was impossible for them to catch the original impulse of the divine seer [46]—

autodidaktos d'eimi, theos de moi en phresin oimas pantoias enephysen.

From poverty of genius they were forced to draw less flowing draughts from the Castalian spring. The bards of old Greece were hopelessly above them. The Alexandrines, by not overpowering their efforts, but offering them models which they felt they could not only equal but immeasurably excel, did real service in encouraging and stimulating the Roman muse. Great critics like Niebuhr and, within certain limits, Munro, regret the mingling of the Alexandrine channel with the stream of Latin poetry, but without it we should perhaps not have had Catullus and certainly neither Ovid nor Virgil.

It may easily be supposed that the national party, whether in politics or letters, would set themselves with all their might to oppose the rising current. The great majority surrendered themselves to it with a good will. Among the stern reactionists in prose, we have mentioned Varro; in poetry, by far the greatest name is LUCRETIUS. But little is known of Lucretius's life; even the date of his birth is uncertain. St. Jerome, in the Eusebian chronicle, [47] gives 95 B.C. Others have with more probability assigned an earlier date. It is from Jerome that we learn those facts which have cast a strong interest round the poet, viz. that he was driven mad by a love potion, that he composed in the intervals of insanity his poem, which Cicero afterwards corrected, and that he perished by his own hand in the forty-fourth year of his age. Jerome does not quote any contemporary authority; his statements, coming 500 years after the event, must go for what they are worth, but may perhaps meet with a qualified acceptance. The intense earnestness of the poem indicates a mind that we can well conceive giving way under the overwhelming thought which stirred it; and the example of a philosopher anticipating the stroke of nature is too often repeated in Roman history to make it incredible in this case. Tennyson with a poet's sympathy has surrounded this story with the deepest pathos, and it will probably remain the accepted, if not the established, version of his death.

Though born in a high position, he seems to have stood aloof from society. From first to last his book betrays the close and eager student. He was an intimate friend of the worthless C. Memmius, whom he extols in a manner creditable to his heart but not to his judgment. [48] But he was no flatterer, nor was Memmius a patron. Poet and statesman lived on terms of perfect equality. Of the date of his work we can so far conjecture that it was certainly unfinished at his death (55 B.C.), and from its scope and information must have extended over some years. The allusion [49]—

"Nam neque nos agere hoc patriai tempore iniquo Possumus aequo animo, nec Memmi clara propago Talibus in rebus communi desse saluti,"

is considered by Prof. Sellar to point to the praetorship of Memmius (58 B.C.). The work was long thought to have been edited by Cicero after the poet's death; but though he had read the poem, [50] and admitted its talent, he would doubtless have mentioned, at least to Atticus, the fact of the editing, had it occurred. Some critics, arguing from Cicero's silence and known opposition to the Epicurean tenets, have thought that Jerome referred to Q. Cicero the orator's brother, but for this there is no authority. The poem is entitled De Rerum Natura, an equivalent for the Greek peri physeos, the usual title of the pre-Socratic philosophers' works. The form, viz. a poem in heroic hexameters, containing a carefully reasoned exposition, in which regard was had above all to the claims of the subject-matter, was borrowed from the Sicilian thinker Empedocles [51] (460 B.C.). But while Aristotle denies Empedocles the title of poet [52] on account of his scientific subject, no one could think of applying the same criticism to Lucretius A general view of nature, as the Power most near to man, and most capable of deeply moving his heart, a Power whose beauty, variety, and mystery, were the source of his most perplexing struggles as well as of his purest joys; a desire to hold communion with her, and to learn from her lips, opened only to the ear of faith, those secrets which are hid from the vain world; this was the grand thought that stirred the depths of Lucretius's mind, and made him the herald of a new and enduring form of verse. It has been well said that didactic poetry was that in which the Roman was best fitted to succeed. It was in harmony with his utilitarian character. [53] To give a practically useful direction to its labour was almost demanded from the highest poetry. To say nothing of Horace and Lucilius, Virgil's Aeneid, no less than his Georgics, has a practical aim, and to an ardent spirit like Lucretius, poetry would be the natural vehicle for the truths to which he longed to convert mankind.

In the selection of his models, his choice fell upon the older Greek writers, such as Empedocles, Aeschylus, Thucydides, men renowned for deep thought rather than elegant expression; and among the Romans, upon Ennius and Pacuvius, the giants of a ruder past. Among contemporaries, Cicero alone seems to have awakened his admiration. Thus he stands altogether aloof from the fashionable standard of his day, a solitary beacon pointing to landmarks once well known, but now crumbling into decay. [54]

Lucretius is the only Roman in whom the love of speculative truth [55] prevails over every other feeling. In his day philosophy had sunk to an endless series of disputes about words [56] Frivolous quibbles and captious logical proofs, comprised the highest exercises of the speculative faculty. [57] The mind of Lucretius harks back to the glorious period of creative enthusiasm, when Democritus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, and Epicurus, successively believed that they had solved the great questions of being and knowing. Amid the zeal and confidence of that mighty time his soul is at home. To Epicurus as the inventor of the true guide of life he pays a tribute of reverential praise, calling him the pride of Greece, [58] and exalting him to the position of a god. [59] It is clear to one who studies this deeply interesting poet that his mind was in the highest degree reverential. No error could have been more fatal to his enjoyment of that equanimity, whose absence he deplores, than to select a creed, at once so joyless and barren in itself, and so unsuited to his ardent temperament.

When Lucretius wrote, belief in the national religion had among the upper classes become almost extinct. Those who needed conviction as a support for their life had no resource but Greek philosophy. The speculations of Plato, except in his more popular works, were not attractive to the Romans; those of Aristotle, brought to light in Cicero's time by the transference of Apellicon's library to Rome, [60] were a sealed book to the majority, though certain works, probably dialogues after the Platonic manner, gained the admiration of Cicero and Quintilian. The pre-Socratic thinkers, occupied as they were with physical questions which had little interest for Romans, were still less likely to be resorted to. The demand for a supreme moral end made it inevitable that their choice should fall on one of the two schools which offered such an end, those of the Porch and the Garden. Which of the two would a man like Lucretius prefer? The answer is not so obvious as it appears. For Lucretius has in him nothing of the Epicurean in our sense. His austerity is nearer to that of the Stoic. It was the speculative basis underlying the ethical system, and not the ethical system itself, that determined his choice. Epicurus had allied his theory of pleasure [61] with the atomic theory of Democritus. Stoicism had espoused the doctrine of Heraclitus, that fire is the primordial element. Epicurus had denied the indestructibility of the soul and the divine government of the world; his gods were unconnected with mankind, and lived at ease in the vacant spaces between the worlds. Stoicism on the contrary, had incorporated the popular theology, bringing it into conformity with the philosophic doctrine of a single Deity by means of allegorical interpretation. Its views of Divine Providence were reconcilable with, while they elevated, the popular superstition.

Lucretius had a strong hatred for the abuses into which state-craft and luxury had allowed the popular creed to fall; he was also firmly convinced of the sufficiency of Democritus's two postulates (Atoms and the Void) to account for all the phenomena of the universe. Hence he gave his unreserved assent to the Epicurean system, which he expounds, mainly in its physical outlines, in his work; the ethical tenets being interwoven with the bursts of enthusiastic poetry which break, or the countless touches which adorn, the sustained course of his argument.

The defects of the ancient scientific method are not wanting in him. Generalising from a few superficial instances, reasoning a priori, instead of winning his way by observation and comparison up to the Universal truth, fancying that it was possible for a single mind to grasp, and for a system by a few bold hypotheses to explain, the problem of external nature, of the soul, of the existence of the gods: such are the obvious defects which Lucretius shares with his masters, and of which the experience of ages has taught us the danger as well as the charm. But the atomic system has features which render it specially interesting at the present day. Its materialism, its attribution to nature of power sufficient to carry out all her ends, its analysis of matter into ultimate physical individua incognisable by sense, while yet it insists that the senses are the fountains of all knowledge, [62] are points which bring it into correspondence with hypotheses at present predominant. Its theory of the development of society from the lower to the higher without break and without divine intervention, and of the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence, its denial of design and claim to explain everything by natural law, are also points of resemblance. Finally, the lesson he draws from this comfortless creed, not to sit with folded hands in silent despair, nor to "eat and drink for to-morrow we die," but to labour steadily for our greater good and to cultivate virtue in accordance with reason, equally free from ambition and sloth, is strikingly like the teaching of that scientific school [63] which claims for its system a motive as potent to inspire self-denial as any that a more spiritual philosophy can give.

Lucretius, therefore, gains moral elevation by deserting the conclusion of Epicurus. While he does full justice to the poetical side of pleasure as an end in itself, [64] he never insists on it as a motive to action. Thus he retains the conception as a noble ornament of his verse, but reserves to himself, as every poet must, the liberty to adopt another tone if he feels it higher or more appropriate. Indeed, logical consistency of view would be out of place in a poem; and Lucretius is nowhere a truer poet that when he sins against his own canons. [65] His instinct told him how difficult it was to combine clear reasoning with a poetical garb, especially as the Latin language was not yet broken to the purposes of philosophy. [66] Nevertheless so complete is his mastery of the subject that there is scarcely a difficulty arising from want of clearness of expression from beginning to end of the poem. There are occasional lacunae, and several passages out of place, which were either stop-gaps intended to be replaced by lines more appropriate, or additions made after the first draft of the work, which, had the author lived, would have been wrought into the context. The first three books are quite or nearly quite finished, and from them we can judge his power of presenting an argument.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15     Next Part
Home - Random Browse