A History of Roman Literature - From the Earliest Period to the Death of Marcus Aurelius
by Charles Thomas Cruttwell
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His chief object he states to be not the discovery, but the exposition of truth, for the purpose of freeing men's minds from religious terrors. This he announces immediately after the invocation to Venus, "Mother of the Aeneadae," with which the poem opens. He then addresses himself to Memmius, whom he intreats not to be deterred from reading him by the reproach of "rationalism." [67] He next states his first principle, which is the denial of creation:

"Nullam rem e nilo gigni divinitus unquam,"

and asks, What then is the original substance out of which existing things have arisen? The answer is, "Atoms and the Void, and beside them nothing else:" these two principles are solid, self-existent, indestructible, and invisible. He next investigates and refutes the first principles of other philosophers, notably Heraclitus, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras; and the book ends with a short proof that the atoms are infinite in number and space infinite in extent. The Second Book opens with a digression on the folly of ambition; but, returning to the atoms, treats of the combination which enables them to form and perpetuate the present variety of things. All change is ultimately due to the primordial motion of the atoms. This motion, naturally in a straight line, is occasionally deflected; and this deflection accounts for the many variations from exact law. Moreover, atoms differ in form, some being rough, others smooth, some round, others square, &c. They are combined in infinite ways, which combinations give rise to the so-called secondary properties of matter, colour, heat, smell, &c. Innumerable other worlds besides our own exist; this one will probably soon pass away; atoms and the void alone are eternal. In the Third Book the poet attacks what he considers the stronghold of superstition. The soul, mind, or vital principle is carefully discussed, and declared to be material, being composed, indeed, of the finest atoms, as is shown by its rapid movement, and the fact that it does not add to the weight of the body, but in no wise sui generis, or differing in kind from other matter. It is united with the body as the perfume with the incense, nor can they be severed without destruction to both. They are born together, grow together, and perish together. Death therefore is the end of being, and life beyond the grave is not only impossible but inconceivable. Book IV. treats of the images or idols cast off from the surface of bodies, borne continually through space, and sometimes seen by sleepers in dreams, or by sick people or others in waking visions. They are not illusions of the senses; the illusion arises from the wrong interpretation we put upon them. To these images the passion of love is traced; and with a brilliant satire on the effects of yielding to it the book closes. The Fifth Book examines the origin and formation of the solar system, which it treats not as eternal after the manner of the Stoics, but as having had a definite beginning, and as being destined to a natural and inevitable decay. He applies his principle of "Fortuitous Concurrence" to this part of his subject with signal power, but the faultiness of his method interferes with the effect of his argument. The finest part of the book, and perhaps of the whole poem, is his account of the "origin of species," and the progress of human society. His views read like a hazy forecast of the evolution doctrine. He applies his principle with great strictness; no break occurs; experience alone has been the guide of life. If we ask, however, whether he had any idea of progress as we understand it, we must answer no. He did not believe in the perfectibility of man, or in the ultimate prevalence of virtue in the world. The last Book tries to show the natural origin of the rarer and more gigantic physical phenomena, thunderstorms, volcanoes, earthquakes, pestilence, &c. and terminates with a long description of the plague of Athens, in which we trace many imitations of Thucydides. This book is obviously unfinished; but the aim of the work may be said to be so far complete that nowhere is the central object lost sight of, viz., to expel the belief in divine interventions, and to save mankind from all fear of the supernatural.

The value of the poem to us consists not in its contributions to science but in its intensity of poetic feeling. None but a student will read through the disquisitions on atoms and void. All who love poetry will feel the charm of the digressions and introductions. These, which are sufficiently numerous, are either resting-places in the process of proof, when the writer pauses to reflect, or bursts of eloquent appeal which his earnestness cannot repress. Of the first kind are the account of spring in Book I. and the enumeration of female attractions in Book IV.; of the second, are the sacrifice of Iphigenia, [68] the tribute to Empedocles and Epicurus, [69] the description of himself as a solitary wanderer among trackless haunts of the Muses, [70] the attack on ambition and luxury, [71] the pathetic description of the cow bereft of her calf, [72] the indignant remonstrance with the man who fears to die. [73] In these, as in innumerable single touches, the poet of original genius is revealed. Virgil often works by allusion: Lucretius never does. All his effects are gained by the direct presentation of a distinct image. He has in a high degree the "seeing eye," which needs only a steady hand to body forth its visions. Take the picture of Mars in love, yielding to Venus's prayer for peace. [74] What can be more truly statuesque?

"Belli fera moenera Mavors Armipotens regit, in gremium qui saepe tuum se Reiicit aeterno devictus volnere amoris: Atque ita suspiciens tereti cervice reposta Pascit amore avidos inhians in te, dea, visus, Eque tuo pendet resupini spiritus ore. Hunc tu diva tuo recubantem corpore sancto Circumfusa super suavis ex ore loquellas Funde petens placidam Romanis, incluta, pacem."

Or, again, of nature's freedom:

"Libera continuo dominis privata superbis."

Who can fail in this to catch the tones of the Republic? Again, take his description of the transmission of existence,

"Et quasi cursores vitai; lampada tradunt;"

or of the helplessness of medicine in time of plague,

"Mussabat tacito medicina timore."

These are a few examples of a power present throughout, filling his reasonings with a vivid reality far removed from the conventional rhetoric of most philosopher poets. [75] His language is Thucydidean in its chiselled outline, its quarried strength, its living expressiveness. Nor is his moral earnestness inferior. The end of life is indeed nominally pleasure, [76] "dux vitae dia voluptas;" but really it is a pure heart, "At bene non poterat sine puro pectore vivi." [77] He who first showed the way to this was the true deity. [78] The contemplation of eternal law will produce, not as the strict Epicureans say, indifference, [79] but resignation. [80] This happiness is in our own power, and neither gods nor men can take it away. The ties of family life are depicted with enthusiasm, and though the active duties of a citizen are not recommended, they are certainly not discouraged. But the knowledge of nature alone can satisfy man's spirit, or enable him to lead a life worthy of the immortals, and see with his mind's eye their mansions of eternal rest. [81] Nothing can be further from the light treatment of deep problems current among Epicureans than the solemn earnestness of Lucretius. He cannot leave the world to its vanity and enjoy himself. He seeks to bring men to his views, but at the same time he sees how hopeless is the task. He becomes a pessimist: in Roman language, he despairs of the Republic. He is a lonely spirit, religious even in his anti-religionism, full of reverence, but ignorant what to worship; a splendid poet, feeding his spirit on the husks of mechanical causation.

With regard to his language, there can be but one opinion. It is at times harsh, at times redundant, at times prosaic; but at a time when "Greek, and often debased Greek, had made fatal inroads into the national idiom," his Latin has the purity of that of Cicero or Terence. Like Lucilius, he introduces single Greek words, [82] a practice which Horace wisely rejects, [83] but which is revived in the poetry of the Empire. [84] His poetical ornaments are those of the older writers. Archaism, [85] alliteration, [86] and assonance abound in his pages. These would not have been regarded as defects by critics like Cicero or Varro; they are instances of his determination to give way in nothing to the fashion of the day.

His style [87] is fresh, strong, and impetuous, but frequently and intentionally rugged. Repetitions occasionally wearisome, and prosaic constructions, occur. Poetry is sacrificed to logic in the innumerable particles of transition, [88] and in the painful precision which at times leaves nothing to the imagination of the reader. But his vocabulary is not prosaic; it is poetical to a degree exceeding that of all other Latin writers. It is to be regretted that he did not oftener allow himself to be carried away by the stroke of the thyrsus, which impelled him to strive for the meed of praise. [89]

He is not often mentioned in later literature. Quintilian characterises him as elegant but difficult; [90] Ovid and Statius warmly praise him; [91] Horace alludes to him as his own teacher in philosophy; [92] Virgil, though he never mentions his name, refers to him in a celebrated passage, and shows in all his works traces of a profound study of, and admiration for, his poetry. [93] Ovid draws largely from him in the Metamorphoses, and Manilius had evidently adopted him as a model. The writer of Etna echoes his language and sentiments, and Tacitus, in a later generation, speaks of critics who even preferred him to Virgil. The irreligious tendency of his work seems to have brought his name under a cloud; and those who copied him may have thought it wiser not to acknowledge their debt. The later Empire and the Middle Ages remained indifferent to a poem which sought to disturb belief; it was when the scepticism of the eighteenth century broke forth that Lucretius's power was first fully felt. Since the time of Boyle he has commanded from some minds an almost enthusiastic admiration. His spirit lives in Shelley, though he has not yet found a poet of kindred genius to translate him. But his great name and the force with which he strikes chords to which every soul at times vibrates must, now that he is once known, secure for him a high place among the masters of thoughtful song.

Transpadane Gaul was at this time fertile in poets. Besides two of the first order it produced several of the second rank Among these M. FURIUS BIBACULUS (103-29? B.C.) must be noticed. His exact date is uncertain, but he is known to have lampooned both Julius and Augustus Caesar, [94] and perhaps lived to find himself the sole representative of the earlier race of poets. [95] He is one of the few men of the period who attained to old age. Some have supposed that the line of Horace [96]—

"Turgidus Alpinus jugulat dum Memnona,"

refers to him, the nickname of Alpinus having been given him on account of his ludicrous description of Jove "spitting snow upon the Alps." Others have assigned the eight spurious lines on Lucilius in the tenth satire of Horace to him. Macrobius preserves several verses from his Bellum Gallicum, which Virgil has not disdained to imitate, e.g.

"Interea Oceani linquens Aurora cubile."

"Rumoresque serunt varios et multa requirunt."

"Confimat dictis simul atque exsuscitat acres Ad bellandum animos reficitque ad praelia mentes." [97]

Many of the critics of this period also wrote poems. Among these was VALERIUS CATO, sometimes called CATO GRAMMATICUS, whose love elegies were known to Ovid. He also amused himself with short mythological pieces, none of which have come down to us. Two short poems called Dirae and Lydia, which used to be printed among Virgil's Catalecta, bear his name, but are now generally regarded as spurious. They contain the bitter complaints of one who was turned out of his estate by an intruding soldier, and his resolution to find solace for all ills in the love of his faithful mistress.

The absorbing interest of the war between Caesar and Pompey compelled all classes to share its troubles; even the poets did not escape. They were now very numerous. Already the vain desire to write had become universal among the jeunesse of the capital. The seductive methods by which Alexandrinism had made it equally easy to enshrine in verse his morning reading or his evening's amour, proved too great an attraction for the young Roman votary of the muses. Rome already teemed with the class so pitilessly satirized by Horace and Juvenal, the

"Saecli incommoda, pessimi poetae."

The first name of any celebrity is that of VARRO ATACINUS, a native of Gallia Narbonensis. He was a varied and prolific writer, who cultivated with some success at least three domains of poetry. In his younger days he wrote satires, but without any aptitude for the work. [98] These he deserted for the epos, in which he gained some credit by his poem on the Sequanian War. This was a national epic after the manner of Ennius, but from the silence of later poets we may conjecture that it did not retain its popularity. At the age of thirty-five he began to study with diligence the Alexandrine models, and gained much credit by his translation of the Argonautica of Apollonius. Ovid often mentions this poem with admiration; he calls Varro the poet of the sail-tossing sea, says no age will be ignorant of his fame, and even thinks the ocean gods may have helped him to compose his song. [99] Quintilian with better judgment [100] notes his deficiency both in originality and copiousness, but allows him the merit of a careful translator. We gather from a passage of Ovid [101] that he wrote love poems, and from other sources that he translated Greek works on topography and meteorology, both strictly copied from the Alexandrines.

Besides Varro, we hear of TICIDAS, of MEMMIUS the friend of Lucretius, of C. HELVIUS CINNA, and C. LICINIUS CALVUS, as writers of erotic poetry. The last two were also eminent in other branches. Cinna (50 B.C.), who is mentioned by Virgil as a poet superior to himself, [102] gained renown by his Smyrna, an epic based on the unnatural love of Myrrha for her father Cinyras, [103] on which revolting subject he bestowed nine years [104] of elaboration, tricking it out with every arid device that pedantry's long list could supply. Its learning, however, prevented it from being neglected. Until the Aeneid appeared, it was considered the fullest repository of choice mythological lore. It was perhaps the nearest approach ever made in Rome to an original Alexandrine poem. Calvus (82-47 B.C.), who is generally coupled with Catullus, was a distinguished orator as well as poet. Cicero pays him the compliment of honourable mention in the Brutus, [105] praising his parts and lamenting his early death. He thinks his success would have been greater had he forgotten himself more. This egotism was probably not wanting to his poetry, but much may be excused him on account of his youth. It is difficult to form an opinion of his style; the epithets, gravis, vehemens, exilis (which apply rather to his oratory than to his poetry), seem contradictory; the last strikes us as the most discriminating. Besides short elegies like those of Catullus, he wrote an epic called Io, as well as lampoons against Pompey and other leading men. We possess none of his fragments.

From Calvus we pass to CATULLUS. This great poet was born at Verona (87 B.C.), and died, according to Jerome, in his thirty-first year; but this is generally held to be an error, and Prof. Ellis fixes his death in 54 B.C. In either case he was a young man when he died, and this is an important consideration in criticising his poems. He came as a youth to Rome, where he mixed freely in the best society, and where he continued to reside, except when his health or fortunes made a change desirable. [106] At such times he resorted either to Sirmio, a picturesque spot on the Lago di Garda, [107] where he had a villa, or else to his Tiburtine estate, which, he tells us, he mortgaged to meet certain pecuniary embarrassments. [108] Among his friends were Nepos, who first acknowledged his genius, [109] to whom the grateful poet dedicated his book; Cicero, whose eloquence he warmly admired; [110] Pollio, Cornificius, Cinna, and Calvus, besides many others less known to fame. Like all warm natures, he was a good hater. Caesar and his friend Mamurra felt his satire; [111] and though he was afterwards reconciled to Caesar, the reconciliation did not go beyond a cold indifference. [112] To Mamurra he was implacably hostile, but satirised him under the fictitious name of Mentula to avoid offending Caesar. His life was that of a thorough man of pleasure, who was also a man of letters. Indifferent to politics, he formed friendships and enmities for personal reasons alone. Two events in his life are important for us, since they affected his genius—his love for Lesbia, and his brother's death. The former was the master-passion of his life. It began in the fresh devotion of a first love; it survived the cruel shocks of infidelity and indifference; and, though no longer as before united with respect, it endured unextinguished to the end, burning with the passion of despair.

Who Lesbia was, has been the subject of much discussion. There can be little doubt that Apuleius's information is correct, and that her real name was Clodia. If so, it is most natural to suppose her the same with that abandoned woman, the sister of P. Clodius Pulcher, whom Cicero brands with infamy in his speech for Caelius. Unwillingness to associate the graceful verse of Catullus with a theme so unworthy has perhaps led the critics to question without reason the identity. But the portrait drawn by the poet when at length his eyes were opened, answers but too truly to that of the orator. Few things in all literature are sadder than the spectacle of this trusting and generous spirit withered by the unkindness, as it had been soiled by the favours, of this evil beauty. [113] The life which began in rapturous devotion ends in hopeless gloom. The poet whose every nerve was strung to the delights of an unselfish though guilty passion, now that the spell is broken, finds life a burden, and confronts with relief the thought of death which, as he anticipated, soon came to end his sorrows.

The affection of Catullus for his only brother, lost to him by an early death, forms the counterpoise to his love for Lesbia. Where this brings remorse, the other brings a soothing melancholy; the memory of this sacred sorrow struggles to cast out the harassing regrets that torment his soul. [114] Nothing can surpass the simple pathos with which he alludes to this event. It is the subject of one short elegy, [115] and enters largely into another. When travelling with the pro-praetor Memmius into Bithynia, he visited his brother's tomb at Rhoeteum in the Troad. It was on his return from this journey, undertaken, but without success, in the hope of bettering his fortune, that he wrote the little poem to Sirmio, [116] which dwells on the associations of home with a sweetness perhaps unequalled in ancient poetry. [117]

In this, and indeed in all his shorter pieces, his character is unmistakably revealed. No writer, ancient or modern, is more frank than he. He neither hides his own faults, nor desires his friends to hide theirs from him; [118] his verses are the honest spontaneous expression of his every-day life. In them we see a youth, ardent, unaffected, impulsive, generous, courteous, and outspoken, but indifferent to the serious interests of life; recklessly self-indulgent, plunging into the grossest sensuality, and that with so little sense of guilt as to appeal to Heaven as witness of the purity of his life: [119] we see a poet, full of delicate fooling and of love for the beautiful, with a strong lyrical impulse fresh as that of Greece, and an appreciation of Greek feeling that makes him revive the very inspiration of Greek genius; [120] with a chaste simplicity of style that faithfully reflects every mood, and with an amount of learning which, if inconsiderable as compared with that of the Augustan poets, much exceeded that of his chief predecessors, and secured for him the honourable epithet of the learned (doctus). [121]

The poems of Catullus fall naturally into three divisions, doubtless made by the poet himself. These are the short lyrical pieces in various metres, containing the best known of those to Lesbia, besides others to his most intimate friends; then come the longer poems, mostly in heroic or elegiac metre, representing the higher flights of his genius; and lastly, the epigrams on divers subjects, all in the elegiac metre, of which both the list and the text are imperfect. In all we meet with the same careless grace and simplicity both of thought and diction, but all do not show the same artistic skill. The judgment that led Catullus to place his lyric poems in the foreground was right. They are the best known, the best finished, and the most popular of all his compositions; the four to Lesbia, the one to Sirmio, and that on Acme and Septimus, are perhaps the most perfect lyrics in the Latin language; and others are scarcely inferior to them in elegance. The hendecasyllabic rhythm, in which the greater part are written, is the one best suited to display the poet's special gifts. Of this metre he is the first and only master. Horace does not employ it; and neither Martial nor Statius avoids monotony in the use of it. The freedom of cadence, the varied caesura, and the licences in the first foot, [122] give the charm of irregular beauty, so sweet in itself and so rare in Latin poetry; and the rhythm lends itself with equal ease to playful humour, fierce satire, and tender affection. Other measures, used with more or less success, are the iambic scazon, [123] the chorianibic, the glyconic, and the sapphic, all probably introduced from the Greek by Catullus. Of these the sapphic is the least perfected. If the eleventh and fifty-first odes be compared with the sapphic odes of Horace, the great metrical superiority of the latter will at once appear. Catullus copies the Greek rhythm in its details without asking whether these are in accordance with the genius of the Latin language. Horace, by adopting stricter rules, produces a much more harmonious effect. The same is true of Catullus's treatment of the elegiac, as compared with that of Propertius or Ovid. The Greek elegiac does not require any stop at the end of the couplet, nor does it affect any special ending; words of seven syllables or less are used by it indifferently. The trisyllabic ending, which is all but unknown to Ovid, occurs continually in Catullus; even the monosyllabic, which is altogether avoided by succeeding poets, occurs once. [124] Another licence, still more alien from Roman usage, is the retention of a short or unelided syllable at the end of the first penthemimer. [125] Catullus's elegiac belongs to the class of half-adapted importations, beautiful in its way, but rather because it recalls the exquisite cadences of the Greek than as being in itself a finished artistic product.

The six long poems are of unequal merit. The modern reader will not find much to interest him in the Coma Berenices, abounding as it does in mythological allusions. [126] The poem to Mallius or Allius, [127] written at Verona, is partly mythological, partly personal, and though somewhat desultory, contains many fine passages. Catullus pleads his want of books as an excuse for a poor poem, implying that a full library was his usual resort for composition. This poem was written shortly after his brother's death, which throws a vein of melancholy into the thought. In it, and still more happily in his two Epithalamia, [128] he paints with deep feeling the joys of wedded love. The former of these, which celebrates the marriage of Manlius Torquatus, is the loveliest product of his genius. It is marred by a few gross allusions, but they are not enough to interfere with its general effect. It rings throughout with joyous exultation, and on the whole is innocent as well as full of warm feeling. It is all movement; the scene opens before us; the marriage god wreathed with flowers and holding the flammeum, or nuptial veil, leads the dance; then the doors open, and amid waving torches the bride, blushing like the purple hyacinth, enters with downcast mien, her friends comforting her; the bridegroom stands by and throws nuts to the assembled guests; light railleries are banded to and fro; meanwhile the bride is lifted over the threshold, and sinks on the nuptial couch, alba parthenice velut, luteumve papaver. The different sketches of Auruneuleia as the loving bride, the chaste matron, and the aged grandame nodding kindly to everybody, please from their unadorned simplicity as well as from their innate beauty.

The second of these Epithalamia is, if not translated, certainly modelled from the Greek, and in its imagery reminds us of Sappho. It is less ardent and more studied than the first, and though its tone is far less elevated, it gains a special charm from its calm, almost statuesque language. [129] The Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis is a miniature epic, [130] such as were often written by the Alexandrian poets. Short as it is, it contains two plots, one within the other. The story of Peleus's marriage is made the occasion for describing the scene embroidered on the coverlet or cushion of the marriage bed. This contains the loves of Theseus and Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Labyrinth, the return of Theseus, his desertion of Ariadne, and her reception into the stars by Iacchus. The poem is unequal in execution; the finest passages are the lament of Ariadne, which Virgil has imitated in that of Dido, and the song of the Fates, which gives the first instances of those refrains taken from the Greek pastoral, which please so much in the Eclogues, and in Tennyson's May Queen. The Atys or Attis stands alone among the poet's works. Its subject is the self-mutilation of a noble youth out of zeal for Cybele's worship, and is probably a study from the Greek, though of what period it would be hard to say. A theme so unnatural would have found little favour with the Attic poets; the subject is more likely to have been approached by the Alexandrian writers, whom Catullus often copies. But these tame and pedantic versifiers could have given no precedent for the wild inspiration of this strange poem, which clothes in the music of finished art bursts of savage emotion. The metre is galliambic, a rhythm proper to the hymns of Cybele, but of which no primitive Greek example remains. The poem cannot be perused with pleasure, but must excite astonishment at the power it displays. The language is tinged with archaisms, especially compounds like hederigera, silvicultrix. In general Catullus writes in the plain unaffected language of daily life. His effects are produced by the freshness rather than the choiceness of his terms, and by his truth to nature and good taste. His construction of sentences, like that of Lucretius, becomes at times prosaic, from the effort to avoid all ambiguity. If the first forty lines of his Epistle to Mallius [131] be studied and compared with any of Ovid's Epistles from Pontus, the great difference in this respect will at once be seen. Later writers leave most of the particles of transition to be supplied by the reader's intelligence: Catullus, like Sophocles, indicates the sequence of thought. Nevertheless poetry lost more than it gained by the want of grammatical connection between successive passages, which, while it adds point, detracts from clearness, and makes the interpretation, for example, of Persius and Juvenal very much less satisfactory than that of Lucretius or Horace.

The genius of Catullus met with early recognition. Cornelius Nepos, in his life of Atticus (ch. xii.), couples him with Lucretius as the first poet of the age (nostra aetas), and his popularity, though obscured during the Augustan period, soon revived, and remained undiminished until the close of Latin literature. During the Middle Ages Catullus was nearly being lost to us; he is preserved in but one manuscript discovered in the fourteenth century. [132]

Catullus is the last of the Republican poets. Separated by but a few years from the Eclogues of Virgil, a totally different spirit pervades the works of the two writers; while Catullus is free, unblushing, and fearless, owing allegiance to no man, Virgil is already guarded, restrained, and diffident of himself, trusting to Pollio or Augustus to perfect his muse, and guide it to its proper sphere. In point of language the two periods show no break: in point of feeling they are altogether different. A few survived from the one into the other, but as a rule they relapsed into silence, or indulged merely in declamation. We feel that Catullus was fortunate in dying before the battle of Aetium; had he lived into the Augustan age, it is difficult to see how he could have found a place there. He is a fitting close to this passionate and stormy period, a youth in whom all its qualities for good and evil have their fullest embodiment.


NOTE I.—On the Use of Alliteration in Latin Poetry.

It is impossible to read the earlier Latin poets, or even Virgil, without seeing that they abound in repetitions of the same letter or sound, either intentionally introduced or unconsciously presenting themselves owing to constant habit. Alliteration and assonance are the natural ornaments of poetry in a rude age. In Anglo-Saxon literature alliteration is one of the chief ways of distinguishing poetry from prose. But when a strict prosody is formed, it is no longer needed. Thus in almost all civilised poetry, it has been discarded, except as an occasional and appropriate ornament for a special purpose. Greek poetry gives few instances. The art of Homer has long passed the stage at which such an aid to effect is sought for. The cadence of the Greek hexameter would be marred by so inartistic a device. The dramatists resort to it now and then, e.g. Oedipus, in his blind rage, thus taunts Tiresias:

tuphlos ta t' ota ton te noun ta t' ommat' ei.

But here the alliteration is as true to nature as it is artistically effective. For it is known that violent emotion irresistibly compels us to heap together similar sounds. Several subtle and probably unconscious instances of it are given by Peile from the Idyllic poets; but as a rule it is true of Greek as it is of English, French, and Italian poetry, that when metre, caesura, or rhyme, hold sway, alliteration plays an altogether subordinate part. It is otherwise in Latin poetry. Here, owing to the fondness for all that is old, alliteration is retained in what is correspondingly a much later period of growth. After Virgil, indeed, it almost disappears, but as used by him it is such an instrument for effect, that perhaps the discontinuance of it was a loss rather than a gain. It is employed in Latin poetry for various purposes. Plautus makes it subservient to comic effect (Capt. 903, quoted by Munro.).

"Quanta pernis pestis veniet, quanta labes larido, Quanta sumini absumedo, quanta callo calamitas Quanta lanies lassitudo."

Compare our verse:

"Right round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran."

Ennius and the tragedians make it express the stronger emotions, as violence:

"Priamo vi vitam evitari."

So Virgil, imitating him: _fit via vi_; Lucr. _vivida vis animi pervicit_; or again pity, which is expressed by the same letter (pronounced as w), _e.g. neu patriae validas in viscera vertite vires; viva videns vivo sepeliri viscera, busto_, from Virgil and Lucr. respectively. A hard letter expresses difficulty or effort, _e.g. manibus magnos divellere montis_. So Pope: _Up the high hill he heaves a huge round stone_. Or emphasis, _parare non potuit pedibus qui pontum per vada possent_, from Lucretius; _multaque_ prae_terea vatum_ prae_di ta_ pri_orum_, from Virgil. Rarely it has no special appropriateness, or is a mere display of ingenuity, as: _O Tite tute Tati tibi tanta tyranne tulisti_ (Ennius). Assonance is almost equally common, and is even more strange to our taste. In Greek, Hebrew, and many languages, it occurs in the form of _Paronomasia_, or play on words; but this presupposes a _rapport_ between the name and what is implied by it. Assonance in Latin poetry has no such relevance. It simply emphasizes or adorns, _e.g_. Aug_usto_ aug_urio postquam incluta condita Roma est_ (Enn.); _pulcram pulcritudinem_ (Plaut.). It takes divers forms, _e.g._ the _omoioteleuton_ akin to our rhyme. _Vincla recus_antum _et sera sub nocte rud_entum; _cornua relat_arum _obvertimus antenn_arum._ The beginnings of rhyme are here seen, and perhaps still more in the elegiac, _debuerant fusos evoluisse meos_; or Sapphic, _Pone me pigris ubi nulla campis Arbor aestiva recreatur aura._ Other varieties of assonance are the frequent employment of the same preposition in the same part of the foot, _e.g. insontem, infando indicio—disjectis disque supatis_; the mere repetition of the same word, _lacerum crudeliter ora, ora manusque_; or of a different inflexion of it, _omnis feret omnia tellus, non omnia possumus omnes_; most of all, by employing several words of a somewhat similar sound, what is in fact a jingle, _e.g._ the well-known line, Cedant _arma togae con_cedat lau_rea_ lau_di_; or again, mente _cle_mente _edita_ (Laberius). Instances of this are endless; and in estimating the mechanical structure of Latin poetry, which is the chief side of it, we observe the care with which the greatest artists retain every method of producing effect, even if somewhat old fashioned (see on this subject Munro's Lucr. preface to Notes II. which has often been referred to.)

NOTE II.—Some additional details on the History of the Mimus (from Woelfflin. Publ. Syri Sententiae, Lips. 1869).

The mime at first differed from other kinds of comedy—(1) in having no proper plot; (2) in not being presented primarily on the stage; (3) in having but one actor. Eudicos imitated the gestures of boxing; Theodorus the creaking of a windlass; Parmeno did the grunting of a pig to perfection. Any one who raised a laugh by such kinds if imitation was properly said mimum agere. Mimes are thus defined by Diomedes (p. 491, 13 k), sermones cuiuslibet et molus sine reverentia vel factorum et dictorum turpium cum lascivia imitatio. Such mimes as these were often held at banquets for the amusement of great men. Sulla was passionately fond of them. Admitted to the stage, they naturally took the place of interludes or afterpieces. When a man imitated e.g. a muleteer (Petr. Sat. 68), he had his mule with him; or if he imitated a causidicus, or a drunken ruffian (Ath. 14, 621, c.), some other person was by to play the foil to his violence. Thus arose the distinction of parts and dialogue; the chief actor was called Archimimus, and the mime was then developed after the example of the Atellanae. When several actors took part in a piece, each was said mimum agere, though this phrase originally applied only to the single actor.

When the mime first came on the stage, it was acted in front of the curtain (Fest. p. 326, ed. Mull.), afterwards, as its proportions increased, a new kind of curtain called siparium was introduced, so that while the mime was being performed on this new and enlarged proscaenium the regular drama were going on behind the siparium. Pliny (xxxv. 199) calls Syrus mimicae scaenae conditorem; and as he certainly did not build a theatre, it is most probable that Pliny refers to his invention of the siparium. He evidently had a natural genius for this kind of representation, in which Macrobius (ii. 7. 6) and Quintilian allow him the highest place. Laberius appears to have been a more careful writer. Syrus was not a literary man, but an improvisator and moralist. His sententiae were held in great honour in the rhetorical schools in the time of Augustus, and are quoted by the elder Seneca (Contr. 206, 4). The younger Seneca also frequently quotes them in his letters (Ep. 108, 8, &c.), and often imitates their style. There are some interesting lines in Petronius (Satir. 55), which are almost certainly from Syrus. Being little known, they are worth quoting as a popular denunciation of luxury—

"Luxuriae rictu Martis marcent moenia, Tuo palato clausus pavo pascitur Plumato amictus aureo Babylonico; Gallina tibi Numidica, tibi gallus spado: Ciconia etiam grata peregrina hospita Pietaticultrix gracilipes crotalistria Avis, exul hiemis, titulus tepidi temporis Nequitiae nidum in cacabo fecit modo. Quo margarita cara tribaca Indica? An ut matrona ornata phaleris pelagiis Tollat pedes indomita in strato extraneo? Zmaragdum ad quam rem viridem, pretiosum vitrum. Quo Carchedonios optas ignes lnpideos Nisi ut scintilles? probitas est carbunculus."

There is a rude but unmistakable vigour in these lines which, when compared with the quotation from Laberius given in the text of the work, cause us to think very highly of the mime as patronized by Caesar.

NOTE III.—Fragments of Valerius Soranus.

This writer, who was somewhat earlier than the present epoch, having been a contemporary of Sulla but having outlived him, was noted for his great learning. He is mentioned by Pliny as the first to prefix a table of contents to his book. His native town, Sora, was well known for its activity in liberal studies. He is said by Plutarch to have announced publicly the secret name of Rome or of her tutelary deity, for which the gods punished him by death. St. Augustine (C. D. vii. 9) quotes two interesting hexameters as from him:

"Iupiter omnipotens, rerum rex ipse deusque Progenitor genetrixque, deum deus, unus et omnes."

Servius (Aen. iv. 638) cites two verses of a similar character, which are most probably from Soranus. Iupiter, addressing the gods, says,

"Caelicolae, mea membra, dei, quos nostra potestas Officiis, diversa facit."

These fragments show an extraordinary power of condensed expression, as well as a clear grasp on the unity of the Supreme Being, for which reason they are quoted.





The Augustan Age in its strictest sense does not begin until after the battle of Actium, when Augustus, having overthrown his competitor, found himself in undisputed possession of the Roman world (31 B.C.). But as the Eclogues, and many of Horace's poems, were written at an earlier date, and none of these can be ranked with the Republican literature, it is best to assign the commencement of the Augustan period to the year of the battle of Philippi, when the defeat of Brutus and Cassius left the old constitution without a champion and made monarchy in the person either of Antonius or Octavius inevitable. This period of fifty-seven years, extending to the death of Augustus, comprises a long list of splendid writers, inferior to those of the Ciceronian age in vigour and boldness, but superior to all but Cicero himself in finish and artistic skill as well as in breadth of human sympathy and suggestive beauty of expression. It marks the culmination of Latin poetry, as the last epoch marks the perfection of Latin prose. But the bloom which had been so long expanding was short-lived in proportion to its sweetness; and perfect as is the art of Virgil, Horace, and Tibullus, within a few years of Horace's death both style and thought had entered on the path of irretrievable decline. The muse of Ovid, captivating and brilliant, has already lost the severe grace that stamps the highest classic verse; and the false tendencies forgiven in him from admiration for his talent, become painfully conspicuous in his younger contemporaries. Livy, too, in the domain of history, shows traces of that poetical colouring which began more and more to encroach on the style of prose; while in the work of Vitruvius, on the one hand and in that of the elder Seneca on the other, we observe two tendencies which helped to accelerate decay; the one towards an entire absence of literary finish, the other towards the substitution of rich decoration for chaste ornament.

There are certain common features shared by the chief Augustan authors which distinguish them from those of the closing Republic. While the latter were men of birth and eminence in the state, the former were mostly Italians or provincials, [1] often of humble origin, neither warriors nor statesmen, but peaceful, quiet natures, devoid of ambition, and desiring only a modest independence and success in prosecuting their art. Horace had indeed fought for Brutus; but he was no soldier, and alludes with humorous irony to his flight from the field of battle. [2] Virgil prays that he may live without glory among the forests and streams he loves. [3] Tibullus [4] and Propertius [5] assert in the strongest terms their incapacity for an active career, praying for nothing more than enjoyment of the pleasures of love and song. Spirits like these would have had no chance of rising to eminence amid the fierce contests of the Republic. Gentle and diffident, they needed a patron to call out their powers or protect their interests; and when, under the sway of Augustus, such a patron was found, the rich harvest of talent that arose showed how much letters had hitherto suffered from the unsettled state of the times. [6] It is true that several writers of the preceding period survived into this. Men like Varro, who kept aloof from the city, nursing in retirement a hopeless loyalty to the past; men like Pollio and Messala, who accepted the monarchy without compromising their principles, and who still appeared in public as orators or jurists; these, together with a few poets of the older school, such as Furius Bibaculus, continued to write during the first few years of the Augustan epoch, but cannot properly be regarded as belonging to it. [7] They pursued their own lines of thought, uninfluenced by the Empire, except in so far as it forced them to select more trivial themes, or to use greater caution in expressing their thoughts. But the great authors who are the true representatives of Augustus's reign, Virgil, Livy, and Horace, were brought into direct contact with the emperor, and much of their inspiration centres round his office and person.

The conqueror of Actium was welcomed by all classes with real or feigned enthusiasm. To the remnant of the republican families, indeed, he was an object partly of flattery, partly of hatred, in no case, probably, of hearty approval or admiration; but by the literary class, as by the great mass of the people, he was hailed as the restorer of peace and good government, of order and religion, the patron of all that was best in literature and art, the adopted son of that great man whose name was already a mighty power, and whose spirit was believed to watch over Rome as one of her presiding deities. It is no wonder if his opening reign stamped literature with new and imposing features, or if literature expressed her sense of his protection by a constant appeal to his name.

Augustus has been the most fortunate of despots, for he has met with nothing but praise. A few harsh spirits, it seems, blamed him in no measured terms; but he repaid them by a wise neglect, at least as long as Maecenas lived, who well knew, from temperament as well as experience, the value of seasonable inactivity. As it is, all the authors that have come to us are panegyrists. None seem to remember his early days; all centre their thoughts on the success of the present and the promise of the future. Yet Augustus himself could not forget those times. As chief of the proscription, as the betrayer of Cicero, as the suspected murderer of the consul Hirtius, as the pitiless destroyer of Cleopatra's children, he must have found it no easy task to act the mild ruler; as a man of profligate conduct he must have found it still less easy to come forward as the champion of decency and morals. He was assisted by the confidence which all, weary of war and bloodshed, were willing to repose in him, even to an unlimited extent. He was assisted also by able administrators, Maecenas in civil, and Agrippa in military affairs. But there were other forces making themselves felt in the great city. One of these was literature, as represented by the literary class, consisting of men to whom letters were a profession not a relaxation, and who now first appear prominently in Rome. Augustus saw the immense advantage of enlisting these on his side. He could pass laws through the senate; he could check vice by punishment; but neither his character nor his history could make him influence the heart of the people. To effect real reforms persuasive voice must be found to preach them. And who so efficacious as the band of cultured poets whom he saw collecting round him? These he deliberately set himself to win; and that he did win then, some to a half-hearted, others to an absolute allegiance, is one of the best testimonies to his enlightened policy. Yet he could hardly have effected his object had it not been for the able co- operation of Maecenas, whose conciliatory manners well fitted him to be the friend of literary men. This astute minister formed a select circle of gifted authors, chiefly poets, whom he endeavoured to animate with the enthusiasm of succouring the state. He is said to have suggested to Augustus the necessity of restoring the decayed grandeur of the national religion. The open disregard of morality and religion evinced by the ambitious party-leaders during the Civil Wars had brought the public worship into contempt and the temples into ruin. Augustus determined that civil order should once more repose upon that reverence for the gods which had made Rome great. [8] Accordingly, he repaired or rebuilt many temples, and both by precept and example strove to restore the traditional respect for divine things. But he must have experienced a grave difficulty in the utter absence of religious conviction which had become general in Rome. The authors of the De Divinatione and the De Rerum Natura could not have written as they did, without influencing many minds. And if men so admirable as Cicero and Lucretius denied, the one the possibility of the science he professed, [9] the other the doctrine of Providence on which all religion rests, it was little likely that ordinary minds should retain much belief in such things. Augustus was relieved from this strait by the appearance of a new literary class in Rome, young authors from the country districts, with simpler views of life and more enthusiasm, of whom some at least might be willing to consecrate their talents to furthering the sacred interests on which social order depends. The author who fully responded to his appeal, and probably exceeded his highest hopes, was Virgil; but Horace, Livy, and Propertius, showed themselves not unwilling to espouse the same cause. Never was power more ably seconded by persuasion; the laws of Augustus and the writings of Virgil, Horace, and Livy, in order to be fully appreciated, must be considered in their connection, political and religious, with each other.

The emperor, his minister, and his advocates, thus working for the same end, beyond doubt produced some effect. The Odes of Horace in the first three books, which are devoted to politics, show an attitude of antagonism and severe expostulation; he boldly rebukes vice, and calls upon the strong hand to punish it:

"Quid tristes querimoniae, Si non supplicio culpa reciditur? Quid leges sine moribus Vanae proficiunt?" [10]

But when, some years later, he wrote the Carmen Saeculare, and the fourth book of the Odes, his voice is raised in a paean of unmixed triumph. "The pure home is polluted by no unchastity; law and morality have destroyed crime; matrons are blessed with children resembling their fathers; already faith and peace, honour and maiden modesty, have returned to us," &c. [11] This can hardly be mere exaggeration, though no doubt the picture is coloured, since the popularity of Ovid's Art of Love, even during Horace's lifetime, is a sufficient proof that profligacy did not lack its votaries.

To the student of human development the most interesting feature in this attempted reform of manners is the universal tendency to connect it with the deification of the emperor. It was in vain that Augustus claimed to return to the old paths; everywhere he met this new apotheosis of himself crowning the restored edifice of belief; so impossible was it for him, as for others, to reconstruct the past. As the guardian of the people's material welfare, he became, despite of himself, the people's chief divinity. From the time that Virgil's gratitude expressed itself in the first Eclogue—

"Namque erit ille mihi semper deus: illius aram Saepe tener nostris ab ovilibus imbuet agnus," [12]

the emperor was marked out for this new form of adulation, and succeeding poets only added to what Virgil had begun. Even in his Epistles, where the conventionalities of mythology are never employed, Horace compares him with the greatest deities, and declares that altars are raised to his name, while all confess him to be the greatest person that has been or will be among mankind. [13] Propertius and Ovid [14] accept this language as proper and natural, and the striking rapidity with which it established itself in universal use is one of the most speaking signs of the growing degeneracy. Augustus himself was not cajoled, Tiberius still less, but Caius and his successors were; even Vespasian, when dying, in jest or earnest used the words "ut puto deus fio." As the satirist says, "Power will believe anything that Flattery suggests." [15]

Side by side with this religious cultus of the emperor was a willingness to surrender all political power into his hands. Little by little he engrossed all the offices of state, and so completely had proscription and indulgence in turn done their work that none were found bold enough to resist these insidious encroachments. [16] The privileges of the senate and the rights of the people were gradually abridged; and that pernicious policy so congenial to a despotism, of satisfying the appetite for food and amusement and so keeping the people quiet, was inaugurated early in his reign, and set moving in the lines which it long afterwards followed. Freedom of debate, which had been universal in the senate, was curtailed by the knowledge that, as often as not, the business was being decided by a secret council held within the palace. Eloquence could not waste itself in abstract discussions; and even if it attempted to speak, the growing servility made it perilous to utter plain truths. Thus the sphere of public speaking was greatly restricted. Those who had poured forth before the assembled people the torrents of their oratory were now by what Tacitus so graphically calls the pacification of eloquence [17] confined to the tamer arena of the civil law courts. All those who felt that without a practical object eloquence cannot exist, had to resign themselves to silence. Others less serious-minded found a sphere for their natural gift of speech in the halls of the rhetoricians. It is pitiable to see men like Pollio content to give up all higher aims, and for want of healthier exercise waste their powers in noisy declamation.

History, if treated with dignity and candour, was almost as dangerous a field as eloquence. Hence we find that few were bold enough to cultivate it. Livy, indeed, succeeded in producing a great masterwork, which, while it did not conceal his Pompeian sympathies, entered so heartily into the emperor's general point of view as to receive high praise at his hands. But Livy was not a politician. Those who had been politicians found it unwise to provoke the jealousy of Augustus by expressing their sentiments. Hence neither Messala nor Pollio continued their works on contemporary history; a deprivation which we cannot but strongly feel, as we have few trustworthy accounts of those, times.

In law Augustus trenched less on the independent thought of the jurists, but at the same time was better able to put forth his prerogative when occasion was really needed. His method of accrediting the Responsa Prudentum, by permitting only those who had his authorisation to exercise that profession, was an able stroke of policy. [18] It gave the profession as it were the safeguard of a diploma, and veiled an act of despotic power under the form of a greater respect for law. The science of jurisprudence was ably represented by various professors, but it became more and more involved and difficult, and frequently draws forth from the satirists abuse of its quibbling intricacies.

Poetry was the form of literature to which most favour was shown, and which flourished more vigorously than any other. The pastoral, and the metrical epistle, were now first introduced. The former was based on the Theocritean idyll, but does not seem to have been well adapted to Roman treatment; the latter was of two kinds; it was either a real communication on some subject of mutual interest, as that of Horace, or else an imaginary expression of feeling put into the mouth of a mythical hero or heroine, of which the most brilliant examples are those of Ovid. Philosophy and science flourished to a considerable extent. The desire to find some compensation for the loss of all outward activity led many to strive after the ideal of conduct presented by stoicism: and nearly all earnest minds were more or less affected by this great system. Livy is reported to have been an eloquent expounder of philosophical doctrines, and most of the poets show a strong leaning to its study. Augustus wrote adhortationes, and beyond doubt his example was often followed. The speculative and therefore inoffensive topics of natural science were neither encouraged nor neglected by Augustus; Vitruvius, the architect, having showed some capacity for engineering, was kindly received by him, but his treatise, admirable as it is, does not seem to have secured him any special favour. It was such writers as he thought might be made instruments of his policy that Augustus set himself specially to encourage by every means in his power. The result of this patronage was an increasing divergence from the popular taste on the part of the poets, who now aspired only to please the great and learned. [19] It is pleasing, however, to observe the entire absence of ill-feeling that reigned in this society of beaux esprits with regard to one another. Each held his own special position, but all were equally welcome at the great man's reunions, equally acceptable to one another; and each criticised the other's works with the freedom of a literary freemasonry. [20] This select cultivation of poetry reacted unfavourably on the thought and imagination, though it greatly elevated the style of those that employed it. The extreme delicacy of the artistic product shows it to have been due to some extent to careful nursing, and its almost immediate collapse confirms this conclusion.

While Augustus, through Maecenas, united men eminent for taste and culture in a literary coterie, Messala, who had never joined the successful side, had a similar but smaller following, among whom was numbered the poet Tibullus. At the tables of these great men met on terms of equal companionship their own friends and the authors whom they favoured or assisted. For though the provincial poet could not, like those of the last age, assume the air of one who owned no superior, but was bound by ties of obligation as well as gratitude to his patron, still the works of Horace and Virgil abundantly prove that servile compliment was neither expected by him nor would have been given by them, as it was too frequently in the later period to the lasting injury of literature as well as of character. The great patrons were themselves men of letters. Augustus was a severe critic of style, and, when he wrote or spoke, did not fall below the high standard he exacted from others. Suetonius and Tacitus bear witness to the clearness and dignity of his public speaking. [21]

MAECENAS, as we shall notice immediately, was, or affected to be, a writer of some pretension; and MESSALA'S eloquence was of so high an order, that had he been allowed the opportunity of freely using it, he would beyond doubt have been numbered among the great orators of Rome.

Such was the state of thought and politics which surrounded and brought out the celebrated writers whom we shall now proceed to criticise, a task the more delightful, as these writers are household words, and their best works familiar from childhood to all who have been educated to love the beautiful in literature.

The excellent literary judgment shown by Augustus contributed to encourage a high standard of taste among the rival authors. How weighty the sovereign's influence was may be gathered from the extravagancies into which the Neronian and Flavian authors fell through anxiety to please monarchs of corrupt taste. The advantages of patronage to literature are immense; but it is indispensable that the patron should himself be great. The people were now so totally without literary culture that a popular poet would necessarily have been a bad poet; careful writers turned from them to the few who could appreciate what was excellent. Yet Maecenas, so judicious as a patron, fell as an author into the very faults he blamed. During the years he held office (30-8 B.C.) he devoted some fragments of his busy days to composing in prose and verse writings which Augustus spoke of as "murobrecheis cincinni," "curled locks reeking with ointment." We hear of a treatise called Prometheus, certain dialogues, among them a Symposium, in which Messala, Virgil, and Horace were introduced; and Horace implies that he had planned a prose history of Augustus's wars. [22] He did not shrink from attempting, and what was worse, publishing, poetry, which bore imprinted on it the characteristics of his effeminate mind. Seneca quotes one passage [23] from which we may form an estimate of his level as a versifier. But, however feeble in execution, he was a skilful adviser of others. The wisdom of his counsels to Augustus is known; those he offered to Virgil were equally sound. It was he who suggested the plan of the Georgics, and the poet acknowledges his debt for a great idea in the words "Nil altum sine te meas inchoat." He was at once cautious and liberal in bestowing his friendship. The length of time that elapsed between his first reception of Horace and his final enrolment of the poet among his intimates, shows that he was not hasty in awarding patronage. And the difficulty which Propertius encountered in gaining a footing among his circle proves that even great talent was not by itself a sufficient claim on his regard. As we shall have occasion to mention him again, we shall pass him over here, and conclude the chapter with a short account of the earliest Augustan poet whose name has come to us, L. VARIUS RUFUS (64 B.C.-9 A.D.), the friend of Virgil, who introduced both him and Horace to Maecenas's notice, and who was for some years accounted the chief epic poet of Rome. [24]

Born in Cisalpine Gaul, Varius was, like all his countrymen, warmly attached to Caesar's cause, and seems to have made his reputation by an epic on Caesar's death. [25] Of this poem we have scattered notices implying that it was held in high esteem, and a fragment is preserved by Macrobius, [26] which it is worth while to quote:

"Ceu canis umbrosam lustrans Gortynia vallem, Si veteris potuit cervae comprendere lustra, Saevit in absentem, et circum vestigia lustrans Aethera per nitidum tenues sectatur odores; Non amnes illam medii non ardua tentant, Perdita nec serae meminit decedere nocti."

The rhythm here is midway between Lucretius and Virgil; the inartistic repetition of lustrans together with the use immediately before of the cognate word lustra point to a certain carelessness in composition; the employment of epithets is less delicate than in Horace and Virgil; the last line is familiar from its introduction unaltered, except by an improved punctuation, into the Eclogues. [27] Two fine verses, slightly modified in expression but not in rhythm, have found their way into the Aeneid. [28]

"Vendidit hic Latium populis, agrosque Quiritum Eripuit: fixit leges pretio atque refixit."

Besides this poem he wrote another on the praises of Augustus, for which Horace testifies his fitness while excusing himself from approaching the same subject. [29] From this were taken two lines [30] appropriated by Horace, and instanced as models of graceful flattery:

"Tene magis salvum populus velit, an populum tu, Servet in ambiguum qui consulit et tibi et Urbi, Iupiter."

After the pre-eminence of Virgil began to be recognised, Varius seems to have deserted epic poetry and turned his attention to tragedy, and that with so much success, that his great work, the Thyestes, was that on which his fame with posterity chiefly rested. This drama, considered by Quintilian [31.] equal to any of the Greek masterpieces, was performed at the games after the battle of Actium; but it was probably better adapted for declaiming than acting. Its high reputation makes its loss a serious one—not for its intrinsic value, but for its position in the history of literature as the first of those rhetorical dramas of which we possess examples in those of Seneca, and which, with certain modifications, have been cultivated in our own century with so much spirit by Byron, Shelley, and Swinburne. The main interest which Varius has for us arises from his having, in company with Plotius Tucca, edited the Aeneid after Virgil's death. The intimate friendship that existed between the two poets enabled Varius to give to the world many particulars as to Virgil's character and habits of life; this biographical sketch, which formed probably an introduction to the volume, is referred to by Quintilian [32] and others.

A poet of inferior note, but perhaps handed down to unenviable immortality in the line of Virgil—

"Argutos inter strepere Anser olores," [33]

was ANSER. He was a partisan of Antony, and from this fact, together with the possible allusion in the Eclogues, later grammarians discovered that he was, like Bavius and Maevius, unhappy bards only known from the contemptuous allusions of their betters, [34] an obtrectator Virgilii. As such he of course called down the vials of their wrath. But there is no real evidence for the charge. He seems to have been an unambitious poet, who indulged light and wanton themes. [35] AEMILIUS MACER, of Verona, who died 16 B.C., was certainly a friend of Virgil, and has been supposed to be the Mopsus of the Eclogues. He devoted his very moderate talents to minute and technical didactic poems. The Ornithogonias of Nicander was imitated or translated by him, as well as the Thaeriaka of the same writer. Ovid mentions having been frequently present at the poet's recitations, but as he does not praise them, [36] we may infer that Macer had no great name among his contemporaries, but owed his consideration and perhaps his literary impulse to his friendship for Virgil.


VIRGIL (70-19 B.C.).

PUBLIUS VIRGILIUS, or more correctly, VERGILIUS [1] MARO, was born in the village or district [2] of Andes, near Mantua, sixteen years after the birth of Catullus, of whom he was a compatriot as well as an admirer. [3] As the citizenship was not conferred on Gallia Transpadana, of which Mantua was a chief town, until 49 B.C., when Virgil was nearly twenty-one years old, he had no claim by birth to the name of Roman. And yet so intense is the patriotism which animates his poems, that no other Roman writer, patrician or plebeian, surpasses or even equals it in depth of feeling. It is one proof out of many how completely the power of Rome satisfied the desire of the Italians for a great common head whom they might reverence as the heaven-appointed representative of their race. And it leads us to reflect on the narrow pride of the great city in not earlier extending her full franchise to all those gallant tribes who fought so well for her, and who at last extorted their demand with grievous loss to themselves as to her, by the harsh argument of the sword. To return to Virgil. We learn nothing from his own works as to his early life and parentage. Our chief authority is Donatus. His father, Maro, was in humble circumstances; according to some he followed the trade of a potter. But as he farmed his own little estate, he must have been far removed from indigence, and we know that he was able to give his illustrious son the best education the time afforded. Trained in the simple virtues of the country, Virgil, like Horace, never lost his admiration for the stern and almost Spartan ideal of life which he had there witnessed, and which the levity of the capital only placed in stronger relief. After attending school for some years at Cremona, he assumed at sixteen the manly gown, on the very day to which tradition assigns the death of the poet Lucretius. Some time later (53 B.C.), we find him at Rome studying rhetoric under Epidius, and soon afterwards philosophy under Siro the Epicurean. The recent publication of Lucretius's poem must have invested Siro's teaching with new attractiveness in the eyes of a young author, conscious of genius, but as yet self-distrustful, and willing to humble his mind before the "temple of speculative truth," The short piece, written at this date, and showing his state of feeling, deserves to be quoted:—

"Ite hinc inanes ite rhetorum ampullae... Scholasticorum natio madens pingui:... Tuque o mearum cura, Sexte, curarum Vale Sabine: iam valete formosi. Nos ad beatos vela mittimus portus Magni patentes docta dicta Sironis, Vitamque ab omni vindicabimus cura. Ite hinc Camenae... Dulces Camenae, nam (fatebimur verum) Dulces fuistis: et tamen meas chartas Revisitote, sed pudenter et varo."

These few lines are very interesting, first, as enabling us to trace the poetic influence of Catullus, whose style they greatly resemble, though their moral tone is far more serious; secondly, as showing us that Virgil was in aristocratic company, the names mentioned, and the epithet formosi, by which the young nobles designated themselves, after the Greek kaloi, kalokagathoi, indicating as much; and thirdly, as evincing a serious desire to embrace philosophy for his guide in life, after a conflict with himself as to whether he should give up writing poetry, and a final resolution to indulge his natural taste "seldom and without licentiousness." We can hardly err in tracing this awakened earnestness and its direction upon the Epicurean system to his first acquaintance with the poem of Lucretius. The enthusiasm for philosophy expressed in these lines remained with Virgil all his life. Poet as he was, he would at once be drawn to the theory of the universe so eloquently propounded by a brother-poet. And in all his works a deep study of Lucretius is evidenced not only by imitations of his language, but by frequent adoption of his views and a recognition of his position as the loftiest attainable by man. [4] The young Romans at this time took an eager interest in the problems which philosophy presents, and most literary men began their career as disciples of the Lucretian theory. [5] Experience of life, however, generally drew them away from it. Horace professed to have been converted by a thunder-clap in a clear sky; this was no doubt irony, but it is clear that in his epistles he has ceased to be an Epicurean. Virgil, who in the Eclogues and Georgics seems to sigh with regret after the doctrines he fears to accept, comes forward in the Aeneid as the staunch adherent of the national creed, and where he acts the philosopher at all, assumes the garb of a Stoic, not an Epicurean. But he still desired to spend his later days in the pursuit of truth; it seemed as if he accepted almost with resignation the labours of a poet, and looked forward to philosophy as his recompense and the goal of his constant desire. [6] We can thus trace a continuity of interest in the deepest problems, lasting throughout his life, and, by the sacrifice of one side of his affections, tinging his mind with that subtle melancholy so difficult to analyse, but so irresistible in its charm. The craving to rest the mind upon a solid ground of truth, which was kept in abeyance under the Republic by the incessant calls of active life, now asserted itself in all earnest characters, and would not be content without satisfaction. Virgil was cut off before his philosophical development was completed, and therefore it is useless to speculate what views he would have finally espoused. But it is clear that his tone of mind was in reality artistic and not philosophical. Systems of thought could never have had real power over him except in so far as they modified his conceptions of ideal beauty: he possessed neither the grasp nor the boldness requisite for speculative thought; all ideas as they were presented to his mind were unconsciously transfused into materials for effects of art. And the little poem which has led to these remarks seems to enshrine in the outpourings of an early enthusiasm the secret of that divided allegiance between his real and his fancied aptitudes, which impels the poet's spirit, while it hears the discord, to win its way into the inner and more perfect harmony.

After the battle of Philippi (42 B.C.) he appears settled in his native district cultivating pastoral poetry, but threatened with ejection by the agrarian assignations of the Triumvirs. Pollio, who was then Prefect of Gallia Transpadana, interceded with Octavian, and Virgil was allowed to retain his property. But on a second division among the veterans, Varus having now succeeded to Pollio, he was not so fortunate, but with his father was obliged to fly for his life, an event which he has alluded to in the first and ninth Eclogues. The fugitives took refuge in a villa that had belonged to Siro, [7] and from this retreat, by the advice of his friend Cornelius Gallus, he removed to Rome, where, 37 B.C., he published his Eclogues. These at once raised him to eminence as the equal of Varius, though in a different department; but even before their publication he had established himself as an honoured member of Maecenas's circle. [8] The liberality of Augustus and his own thrift enabled him to live in opulence, and leave at his death a very considerable fortune. Among other estates he possessed one in Campania, at or near Naples, which from its healthfulness and beauty continued till his death to be his favourite dwelling-place. It was there that he wrote the Georgics, and there that his bones were laid, and his tomb made the object of affectionate and even religious veneration. He is not known to have undertaken more than one voyage out of Italy; but that contemplated in the third Ode of Horace may have been carried out, as Prof. Sellar suggests, for the sake of informing himself by personal observation about the localities of the Aeneid; for it seems unlikely that the accurate descriptions of Book III. could have been written without some such direct knowledge. The rest of his life presents no event worthy of record. It was given wholly to the cultivation of his art, except in so far as he was taken up with scientific and antiquarian studies, which he felt to be effectual in elevating his thought and deepening his grasp of a great subject. [9] The Georgics were composed at the instance of Maecenas during the seven years 37-30 B.C., and read before Augustus the following year. The Aeneid was written during the remaining years of his life, but was left unfinished, the poet having designed to give three more years to its elaboration. As is well known, it was saved from destruction and given to the world by the emperor's command, contrary to the poet's dying wish and the express injunctions of his will. He died at Brundisium (19 B.C.) at the comparatively early age of 51, of an illness contracted at Megara, and aggravated by a too hurried return. The tour on which he had started was undertaken from a desire to see for himself the coasts of Asia Minor which he had made Aeneas visit. Such was the life and such the premature death of the greatest of Roman bards.

Even those who have judged the poems of Virgil most unfavourably speak of his character in terms of warmest praise. He was gentle, innocent, modest, and of a singular sweetness of disposition, which inspired affection even where it was not returned, and in men who rarely showed it. [10] At the same time he is described as silent and even awkward in society, a trait which Dante may have remembered when himself taunted with the same deficiency. His nature was pre-eminently a religious one. Dissatisfied with his own excellence, filled with a deep sense of the unapproachable ideal, he reverenced the ancient faith and the opinions of those who had expounded it. This habit of mind led him to underrate his own poetical genius and to attach too great weight to the precedents and judgment of others. He seems to have thought no writer so common-place as not to yield some thought that he might make his own; and, like Milton, he loves to pay the tribute of a passing allusion to some brother poet, whose character he valued, or whose talent his ready sympathy understood. In an age when licentious writing, at least in youth, was the rule and required no apology, Virgil's early poems are conspicuous by its almost total absence; while the Georgics and Aeneid maintain a standard of lofty purity to which nothing in Latin, and few works in any literature, approach. His flattery of Augustus has been censured as a fault; but up to a certain point it was probably quite sincere. His early intimacy with Varius, the Caesarian poet, and possibly the general feeling among his fellow provincials, may have attracted him from the first to Caesar's name; his disposition, deeply affected by power or greatness, naturally inclined him to show loyalty to a person; and the spell of success when won on such a scale as that of Augustus doubtless wrought upon his poetical genius. Still, no considerations can make us justify the terms of divine homage which he applies in all his poems, and with every variety of ornament, to the emperor. Indeed, it would be inconceivable, were it not certain, that the truest representative of his generation could, with the approbation of all the world, use language which, but a single generation before, would have called forth nothing but scorn.

Virgil was tall, dark, and interesting-looking, rather than handsome; his health was delicate, and besides a weak digestion, [11] he suffered like other students from headache. His industry must, in spite of this, have been extraordinary; for he shows an intimate acquaintance not only with all that is eminent in Greek and Latin literature, but with many recondite departments of ritual, antiquities, and philosophy, [12] besides being a true interpreter of nature, an excellence that does not come without the habit as well as the love of converse with her. Of his personal feelings we know but little, for he never shows that unreserve which characterises so many of the Roman writers; but he entertained a strong and lasting friendship for Gallus, [13] and the force and truth of his delineations of the passion of love seem to point to personal experience. Like Horace, he never married, and his last days are said to have been clouded with regret for the unfinished condition of his great work.

The early efforts of Virgil were chiefly lyric and elegiac pieces after the manner of Catullus, whom he studied with the greatest care, and two short poems in hexameters, both taken from the Alexandrines, called Culex and Moretum, of which the latter alone is certainly, the formerly possibly, genuine. [14] Among the short pieces called Catalecta we have some of exquisite beauty, as the dedicatory prayer to Venus and the address to Siro's villa; [15] others show a vein of invective which we find it hard to associate with the gentle poet; [16] others, again, are parodies or close imitations of Catullus; [17] while one or two [18] are proved by internal evidence to be by another hand than Virgil's. The Copa, "Mine Hostess," which closes the series, reminds us of Virgil in its expression, rhythm, and purity of style, but is far more lively than anything we possess of his. It is an invitation to a rustic friend to put up his beast and spend the hot hours in a leafy arbour where wine, fruits, and goodly company wait for him. We could wish the first four lines away, and then the poem would be a perfect gem. Its clear joyous ring marks the gay time of youth; its varied music sounds the prelude to the metrical triumphs that were to come, and if it is not Virgil's, we have lost in its author a genre poet of the rarest power.

The Moretum is a pleasing idyll, describing the daily life of the peasant Simplus, translated probably from the Greek of Parthenius. On it Teuffel says, "Suevius had written a Moretum, and it is not improbable that the desire to surpass Suevius influenced Virgil in attempting the same task again." [19] Trifling as this circumstance is, nothing that throws any light on the growth of Virgil's muse can be wanting in interest. Virgil was not one of those who startle the world by their youthful genius. His soul was indeed a poet's from the first, but the rich perfection of his verse was not developed until after years of severe labour, self-correction, and even failure. He began by essaying various styles; he gradually confined himself to one; and in that one he wrought unceasingly, always bringing method to aid talent, until, through various grades of immaturity, he passed to a perfection peculiarly his own, in which thought and expression are fused with such exceeding art as to elude all attempts to disengage them. If we can accept the Culex in its present form as genuine, the development of Virgil's genius is shown to us in a still earlier stage. Whether he wrote it at sixteen or twenty-six (and to us the latter age seems infinitely the more probable), it bears the strongest impress of immaturity. It is true the critics torment us by their doubts. Some insist that it cannot be by Virgil. Their chief arguments are derived from the close resemblances (which they regard as imitations) to many passages in the Aeneid; but of these another, and perhaps a more plausible, explanation may be given. The hardest argument to meet is that drawn from the extraordinary imperfection of the plot, which mars the whole consistency of the poem; [20] but even this is not incompatible with Virgil's authorship. For all ancient testimony agrees in regarding the Culex of Virgil as a poem of little merit. [21] Amid the uncertainty which surrounds the subject, it seems best not to disturb the verdict of antiquity, until better grounds are discovered for assigning our present poem to a later hand. To us the evidence seems to point to the Virgilian authorship. The defect in the plot marks a fault to which Virgil certainly was prone, and which he never quite cast off. [22] The correspondences with the mythology, language, and rhythm of Virgil are just such as might be explained by supposing them to be his first opening conceptions on these points, which assumed afterwards a more developed form. [23] And this is the more probable because Virgil's mind created with labour, and cast and re-cast in the crucible of reflection ideas of which the first expression suggested itself in early life. Thus we find in the Aeneid similes which had occurred in a less finished form in the Georgics; in both Georgics and Aeneid phrases or cadences which seem to brood over and strive to reproduce half-forgotten originals wrought out long before. Nothing is more interesting in tracing Virgil's genius, than to note how each fullest development of his talent subsumes and embraces those that had gone before it; how his mind energises in a continuous mould, and seems to harp with almost jealous constancy on strings it has once touched. The deeper we study him, the more clearly is this feature seen. Unlike other poets who throw off their stanzas and rise as if freed from a load, Virgil seems to carry the accumulated burden of his creations about with him. He imitates himself with the same elaborate assimilation by which he digests and reproduces the thoughts of others.

It is probable that Virgil suppressed all his youthful poetry, and intended the Eclogues to be regarded as the first-fruits of his genius. [24] The pastoral had never yet been cultivated at Rome. Of all the products of later Greece none could vie with it in truth to nature. Its Sicilian origin bespoke a fresh inspiration, for it arose in a land where the muse of Hellas still lingered. Theocritus's vivid delineation of country scenes must have been full of charm to the Romans, and Virgil did well to try to naturalise it. Not even his matchless grace, however, could atone for the want of reality that pervades an imported type of art. Sicilian shepherds, Roman literati, sometimes under a rustic disguise, sometimes in their own person; a landscape drawn, now from the vales round Syracuse, now from the poet's own district round Mantua; playful contests between rural bards interspersed with panegyrics on Julius Caesar and the patrons or benefactors of the poet; a continual mingling of allegory with fiction, of genuine rusticity with assumed courtliness; such are the incongruities which lie on the very surface of the Eclogues. Add to these the continual imitations, sometimes sinning against the rules of scholarship, [25] which make them, with all their beauties, by far the least original of Virgil's works, the artificial character of the whole composition; and the absence of that lofty self-consciousness on the poet's part [26] which lends so much fire to his after works: and it may seem surprising that the Eclogues have been so much admired. But the fact is, their irresistible charm outweighs all the exceptions of criticism. While we read we become like Virgil's own shepherd; we cannot choose but surrender ourselves to the magic influence:

"Tale tuum carmen nobis, divine poeta, Quale sopor fessis in gramine, quale per herbam Dulcis aquae saliente sitim restinguere rivo." [27]

This charm is due partly to the skill with which the poet has blended reality with allegory, fancy with feeling, partly to the exquisite language to which their music is attuned. The Latin language had now reached its critical period of growth, its splendid but transitory epoch of ripe perfection. Literature had arrived at that second stage of which Conington speaks, [28] when thought finds language no longer as before intractable and inadequate, but able to keep pace with and even assist her movements. Trains of reflection are easily awakened; a diction matured by reason and experience rivals the flexibility or sustains the weight of consecutive thought. It is now that an author's mind exhibits itself in its most concrete form, and that the power of style is first fully felt. But language still occupies its proper place as a means and not an end; the artist does not pay it homage for its own sake; this is reserved for the next period when the meridian is already past.

It has already been said that the Georgics were undertaken at the request of Maecenas. [29] From more than one passage in the Eclogues we should infer that Virgil was not altogether content with the light themes he was pursuing; that he had before his mind's eye dim visions of a great work which should give full scope to the powers he felt within him. But Virgil was deficient in self-reliance. He might have continued to trifle with bucolic poetry, had not Maecenas enlisted his muse in a practical object worthy of its greatness. This was the endeavour to rekindle the old love of husbandry which had been the nurse of Rome's virtue, and which was gradually dying out. To this object Virgil lent himself with enthusiasm. To feel that his art might be turned to some real good, that it might advance the welfare of the state, this idea acted on him like an inspiration. He was by early training well versed in the details of country life. And he determined that nothing which ardour or study could effect should be wanting to make his knowledge at once thorough and attractive. For seven years he wrought into their present artistic perfection the technical details of husbandry; a labour of love wrought out of study and experience, and directed, as Merivale well says, to the glorification of labour itself as the true end of man.

Virgil's treatment is partially adapted from the Alexandrines; but, as he himself says, his real model is Hesiod. [30] The combination of quaint sententiousness with deep enthusiasm, which he found in the old poet, met his conception of what a practical poem should be. And so, although the desultory maxims of the Works and Days give but a faint image of the comprehensive width and studied discursiveness of the Georgics, yet they present a much more real parallel to it than the learned trifling of Aratus or Nicander. For Virgil, like Lucretius, is no trifler: he uses verse as a serious vehicle for impressing his conviction; he acknowledges, so to say, the responsibility of his calling, [31] and writes in poetry because poetry is the clothing of his mind. Hence the Georgics must be ranked as a link in the chain of serious treatises on agriculture, of which Cato's is the first and Varro's the second, designed to win the nation back to the study and discipline of its youth. And that Columella so understood it is clear both from his defending his opinions by frequent quotation from it as a standard authority, and from his writing one book of his voluminous manual in verses imitated from Virgil. The almost religious fervour with which Virgil threw himself into the task of arresting the decay of Italian life, which is the dominant motive of the Aeneid, is present also in the Georgics. The pithy condensation of useful experience characteristic of Cato,

"Utiliumque sagax rerum et divina futuri Sortilegis non discrepuit sententia Delphis," [32]

the fond antiquarianism of Varro, "laudator temporis acti," unite, with the newly-kindled hope of future glories to be achieved under Caesar's rule, to make the Georgics the most complete embodiment of Roman industrial views, as the Aeneid is of Roman theology and religion. [33] Virgil aims at combining the stream of poetical talent, which had come mostly from outside, [34] with the succession of prose compositions on practical subjects which had proceeded from the burgesses themselves. Cato and Varro are as continually before his mind as Ennius, Catullus, and Lucretius. A new era had arrived: the systematising of the results of the past he felt was committed to him. Of Virgil's works the Georgics is unquestionably the most artistic. Grasp of the subject, clearness of arrangement, evenness of style, are all at their highest excellence; the incongruities that criticism detects in the Eclogues, and the unrealities that often mar the Aeneid, are almost wholly absent. There is, however, one great artistic blemish, for which the poet's courage, not his taste, is to blame. We have already spoken of his affection for Gallus, celebrated in the most extravagant but yet the most ethereally beautiful of the Eclogues; [35] and this affection, unbroken by the disgrace and exile of its object, had received a yet more splendid tribute in the episode which closed the Georgics. Unhappily, the beauties of this episode, so honourable to the poet's constancy, are to us a theme for conjecture only; the narrow jealousy of Augustus would not suffer any honourable mention of one who had fallen under his displeasure; and, to his lasting disgrace, he ordered Virgil to erase his work. The poet weakly consented, and filled up the gap by the story, beautiful, it is true, but singularly inappropriate, of Aristacus and Orpheus and Eurydice. This epic sketch, Alexandrine in form but abounding in touches of the richest native genius, [36] must have revealed to Rome something of the loftiness of which Virgil's muse was capable. With a felicity and exuberance scarcely inferior to Ovid, it united a power of awakening feeling, a dreamy pathos and a sustained eloquence, which marked its author as the heir of Homer's lyre, "magnae spes altera Romae." [37]

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