Robinson Ellis.

The Elegiae in Maecenatem; a lecture delivered in the hall of Corpus Christi college, Oxford, on Monday, June 10, 1907 online

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Among the smaller poems which the carelessness or
ignorance of antiquiiy ascribed to Vergil is extant an
eleo-iac composition of 178 lines which in the one early MS.
containing the whole poem, the BruxeUensis of the twelfth
centurj'-, is written, without any indication of discontinuity,
as a single poem, Joseph Scaliger was the first to show
that in reality a break occurs after 144 Ifon umqiiam
sitiens fiorlda temper eris, and that the verses which
follow beginning Sic est Maecenas fato ueniente locutus,
form a new elegy, describing Maecenas' dying moments as
1-144 deal with his character as a living man.^ This
^ view of two distinct elegies has been generally accepted
^ since ; but there is, perhaps, room for a slightly different
hypothesis ; the original poem may have been much longer
than what remains in the Brussels MS. ; it may have
extended to 400 or, like the Consolatio ad Liuiam, to
nearly 500 verses. Then the lacuna between 144, 145
might be occupied with the more intimate and private
relations of Maecenas with Augustus (including his loss
of favour) in the later years of both, and this would
naturally introduce the death scene, which begins with 1 45.
In any case there can be as little doubt that Scaliger was
right in dissevering the two portions of this Elegia in
Maecenatem, as that Jacobs was right in dissevering the
two portions of the pseudo-Vergilian Bivae, which are
similarly continuous and without break in the MSS., into
(i) 1-103 the curse itself [Dirue), (2) 164 — fin. a fragment

' Schauz.


of a connected but distinct poem on a woman who was
beloved by the author, and who gave her name Lyd'ta to
liis verses.

The first verses of tlie Maecenas'^ offer a not incon-
siderable difficulty.

Defleram iuuenis tristi modo carmine fata,

Sunt etiam mei-ito carmina danda seni.
Vt iuuenis deflendus enim tam candidus et tarn
Longius annoso uiuere dignus auo.
Who was the youth whose death the poet had recently
deplored? The old man is, of course, Maecenas, who, as
Meibom ^ computes (p. 183), might have been over 60 when
he died.

We should reply unhesitatingly, the youth can be no
other than Drusus, the brother of Tiberius, whose death
preceded Maecenas' death by a year, an agreement with
the words of the poem, as Vahlen has observed, of rather
special exactness (Skutsch ap. Pauly-Wissowa, s. v. Con-
solatio), were it not for two objections : (i) that where
Drusus is believed to be actually mentioned in the
Maecenas, 147-H,

Men, inquit, iuuenis primaeui, luppiter, ante
Angustum [al. -tam) Drusi non cecidisse diem,
the Bruocellensis and all the remaining codices known to
me (of which I shall speak further on) agree to give Bruti
for Drusi, fidem for diem. As sane a critic as Meibom
retained Bruti . . .fidem, explaining the words to mean, 'Is it
possible that I, Maecenas, should die at an age later than
Brutus, whom Julius Caesar brought up as his own son and
trained to be loyal to the imperial house ? ', a sense which,
however, can scarcely be got into the words, even if with
Meibom we read augustam. (2) the second objection to

^ Tlie best edition of the poem is Riese's, Anthol. Latin, ed. 2, No. 760 a.
It is also in Bahrens' Poe'ae Latini Minores I, pp. 122 sqq.

2 ' lohannis Henrici Meibomii MAECENAS sine de C. Cilnii Maecenatis
uita moribus et rebus gestis liber singularis. Lugduni Batauonun, 1653.'

identifying the iuuenis, whose death the poet had before
deplored, with Drusus the son of Liuia, is the almost in-
evitable conclusion that the autlior of Maecenas was the
author of the Consolatio. As Schanz has observed, it is not
necessary to read more than a very slight portion of the
two poems to repudiate such a conclusion. The style of the
one is wholly and essentially different from the style of the
other. The Consolatio is greatly influenced by Ovid, and
is throughout written in what may be called the classical
form of elegy at the time. The Maecenas is comj^ara-
tively nondescript in form : far removed from the manner-
isms and artifices of the Ovidian school, it maintains a
level plainness of style and diction which Meibom has not
inaptly characterized as humilis (low or without elevation).
The Consolatio is an artificial work^ with little of nature :
the Maecenas does not aspire to be anything great, but yet
is pleasing from its mere simplicity. It has far more of
natural feeling, far less of what is technical or rhetorical.^
I do not agree on this point with Schanz, who pronounces
the Consolatio to be the work of a tolerable poet, the
Maecenas of a bungler.

The two above-mentioned objections to believing Drusus
to be the iuuenis of u. i have their weight, but are not con-
clusive. The two parts into which the Maecenas falls have
an intimate correspondence, not only in language and metre,
but reference. Hence, if in the first of these we are told at
the outset by the poet that he had not long before written
an epicedium on the premature death of a young man,
when the second part similarly begins with a passionate
complaint against the cruelty of the gods which had cut off
a young man in his prime, it is a natural, though not

• There are points in which it approaches the stylo of the Elegy ad
Messallam included in the Calalepta ; but metrical considerations, especially
the uniform adoption of a disyllabic ending to the pentameter as opposed
to the trisyllables and quadrisyllaljlus of the Ekyia ad Messallam, preclude
anything moro than a superficial likeness.

necessary, inference that the youth thus early extinguislied
should be in both parts of the poem the same. And this
identification would be supported by the coincidence of rela-
tion in either section of the poem to Maecenas and the
imperial house of the Caesars. Any allusion to a man who,
like Brutus, had taken part in the murder of Julius Caesar,
would be out of place, and wholly alien to the feeling which
the poet uniformly conveys. And if the iuuenis is not, and
hardly can be, Brutus, so far as I can see, Drusus and Drusus
alone ^ suits the palaeographical requirements of 148. Ex-
perts will support me in stating that the interchange of d
and b in MSS. is familiar and acknowledged ; fidem might be
retained, and (reading augustaon with MS. Arundel 133
and the codex once in possession of Petrus Servius, and
now in the Bodleian) be explained of the princely loyalty of
Drusus to the house of the Caesars : yet, as the Bruxellensis,
our oldest voucher, gives angustum . . .fidem, not angustmn,
it is more than possible that fidem is a corruption of diem,
an error of transcription too easily defensible by numerous
similar parallels to need enlarging upon.

As to the other objection — the dissimilarity of style in
the Gonsolatio and the Maecenas — we cannot feel sure
that our surviving Gonsolatio ad Liuiam de morte Drusl
is the only poem that commemorated the death of Drusus :
there may well have been other Epicedia by less ambitious
versifiers ; amongst them by the author of Maecenas, who
perhaps tried then his limited powers for the first time
on a subject of national and world-wide interest. That his
epicedion on Drusus should have perished, whilst his elegy
on Maecenas has survived, would be one of those freaks of

* Marcellus is out of the question, as he died in 23 b. c, which does not
agree with Dejleram iuuenis tristi mo do carmine fata ; and the view mentioned
by Meibom, p. 171, that a son of Maecenas, who died in early youth, is
alluded to, seems to have as little solid foundation as the gloss in the MS.
of Petrus Servius which explains iuuenis by the words nepoiis Maecenaiis,
a grandson of the senex of v. a.

chance or accidents of literature which can surprise no one.
' But/ it will be said, ' the Maecenas is unworthy of the
Augustan age and cannot have been written in it ' : to
which we may answer, with Meiboni, that the humbleness
of the verses does not prove anything as to the time when
they were written. The Augustan era had its great stars
and its smaller lio^hts. Of the long list of versifiers men-
tioned by Ovid in the last of his elegies from Pontus how
very few have survived ! Not that I would defend the
Augustaneitj' of our poem from its ascription to Vergil ;
compositions as palpably non-Augustan as Robae, Est et
Non, Vir Bonus have been admitted to the same privilege,
and no one can say why.

Joseph Scaliger thought tlie Maecenas was written by
Albinovanus ^ Pedo, and the weight of his authority has
given credibility to this view till comparatively recent times.
But the highly-coloured passage quoted by the elder
Seneca from Pedo's poem on the expedition of Germanicus
(or possibly Drusus) to the German Ocean is inconsistent
with such a view : we have in it a true specimen of the
later Augustan poetry, such as the writer of Maecenas could
never have aspired to. More modern critics have contented
themselves with attempts to fix the date. Haupt thought he
could trace the chief source of the Maecenas in the younger
Seneca's 114th letter, in which the philosopher, prefacing
with the words quomodo Maecenas uixerit notius est quain
ut narrari nunc deheat, proceeds to a detailed description
of his walk, his effeminacy, his parade of a loose style of
dressing and speaking: then quotes, as an illustration
of his outlandish and extravagant dictions, a number of
instances, the reading and meaning of which have ever
since been the despair of interpreters, as the attempts
signalized by Meibom are enougli to show. Quid turplus?

* So Iliibner ap. Schanz, § 315.


asks Seneca, than the following from Maecenas' treatise de
cultu ?

Amne siluisque ripa comantihus ukJe ut cdueum
lyntrihiis arent uersoque uado remittant hortos, again
irremedlahilis factio and rlmantur eindis lagonaque
temptant domos et spe mortem exigunt.

Much more to the same effect might be found in Seneca's
voluminous philosophical writings. But that the poem was
based on Ep. 114, or on Seneca at all, is a rather arbitrary
hypothesis which does not commend itself to a judicial
criticism, and has been rejected by the latest modern
writers as decidedly as Haupt's other view, that the Gon-
solatio ad Liuiam was a forgery of the fifteenth century.
Even the correspondence of Maec. 25, 26 :

Liuide, quid tandem tunicae nocuere solutae ?
Aut tibi uentosi quid nocuere sinus ?
with Sen. Ep. 114 Quid ago? non oratio eius aeque
soluta est quam ip>se discinctus? or Non statim, haec
cum legeris, tlhi occurret hunc esse qui solutis tunicis
in Vrhe semper incesserit? merely turns on a point
of dress which, as Skutsch has observed, was the well-
known almost proverbial symbol of effeminacy. Long
before his death Maecenas had passed into a type of
soft living; it did not require the tirades of a Seneca
to suggest what the poet might have witnessed with his
own eyes. At any rate, there seems no valid reason
for thrusting the poem down, as Haupt seems to imply,^
to a late period of the Empire, when such an apology
for softness would fall flat and perhaps hardly be under-
stood, and when the history of the man himself, as detailed
in the two Elegies, would be out of place and out of time.
Far nearer, I believe, to the fact, is the opinion of the

' Opusc. i. 347 ' neque antiquorum uakle neque ut uidetur recentissi-
morum.' By ' most recent ' Haupt means written in the fifteenth century,
as he believed the Consolatio ad Liuiam to be, against all modern criticism.


accomplished metrist, Lueian Miiller, who placed the
composition of the work in the first decennia after
Maecenas' death. This would suit the chronological datum
supplied by the name Lollius (u. lo), whom both Hlibner *
and Skutsch more than probably identify with the Lollius
of Horace's fourth book of Odes (iv. 9) consul 20 B.C.,
died I B.C.

But it is time to give an outline of the actual contents of
the poem.

(1-13) I, who recently bemoaned in verse the death of
a youth cut off in his prime, must now chant an encomium
to the memory of an old man;. for Charon's bark ferries
old and young alike. To this task I am impelled, not by
personal acquaintance with Maecenas, but by the request
of Lollius.

(13-20) The stock of Maecenas was Etruscan and regal : he
was the right hand of Caesar (i.e. Augustus) and chief of the
uigiles of Rome. Yet, though so high in Caesar's favour, he
never abused his power. In him were combined the arts of
^linerva and Apollo ; if he showed a preference for things
fine and rare, who is there that does not prefer the rich
gems C? shells) of the Syrian coast to those of commoner
shores ■? ^

(21-3S) The one fault alleged against Maecenas, his
effeminacy of mind and body, may be excused as frankness
and simplicity. Jealousy must confess that his flowing
tunics did not interfere with his energy in guarding the
streets of Rome ag'ainst bullies and cut-throats. His un-
aspiring nature shrank from the glitter of triumphs, though
in his grasp, had he wished them : he preferred to large
estates and splendour the shade of a garden, the fall of
waters, the songs of birds, the cult of the Muses ; for song

* Jlenms, xiii. 239. And so Dessau in the Prosopographia hnperii

^ Or perhaps, ' lie was as unique as the ricli gem of the Syrian coast.'


and song alone has immortality. Homer's verses are
a lasting monument, marble memorials perish.

(39-92) And what was he to do? He had played his
part as a soldier, had fought against Sextus Pompeius in
Sicily, against Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, against
Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. Victory and peace
brought their natural relaxation. Did not Apollo, the
same god who, at Actium, prevented the subjection of Rome
to Antony and his Eastern paramour, and pursued with
his arrows the barbaric host to the furthest corner of the
Orient, drop his bow and strike his lyre, when victory had
set in ? Thou too, Bacchus, when Rome had conquered
India's coloured populations, didst return to the wine-cup,
didst assume a double tunic, each of purple, didst carry
a jewelled thyrsus and, in the jollity of thy heart,
address it with words of free-spoken sincerity.^ I recall it
all, even the silvered anklets thou wilt acknowledge to
have worn, and the new-fashioned words which suited so
well, young Bacchus, with thy frank and boyish mood.

Hercules himself, hero of so many athla, could forget
his conflict with the lion of Nemea, the boar of Eryman-
thus, to dally with Lydian Omphale. The lion's skin and
knotted club put aside, he submitted to twirl the distaff,
bite the uneven surface of the bobbin, be cuffed by Omphale
for working into knots or rudely breaking the thread.
And this w^as he who, as an infant, had stifled the
huge serpents, shorn away the Hydra's renascent heads,
quelled the fury of Diomede's horse, slain Geryon with
his three bodies and six hands. Nay, Jupiter himself,

' I agree with Meibom in considering the words Et tibi consulto uerhafuere
noua to be an allusion to the insignifa uerba which characterized tl;e
speech of Maecenas and of which some specimens are quoted in Seneca's
114th letter. Cf. 117 ' Haec uerba tarn improbe structa . . . tam contra
consuetudinem omnium posita ostendunt mores non minus nouos- ..
fuisse.' To Maecenas was ascribed the suggestion of a new kind of
affectation in style {noua cacozelia) traceable in the works of Vergil (see
Nettleship, p. 20 of his Ancient Lives of Vtrgil).


waited to conquer his giant foes, the Aloidae, before dis-
patching his eagle to look for the Ganymede who should
grace his hours of festivity.

(93-106) Even so : it is for the victor to love and to
enjoy and sleep on a bed of roses, for the vanquished to
plough, reap, and be the slave of alarms. Seasonable-
ness determines everything; the steer ploughs by day,
reposes by night ; the swallow hides itself in winter, flits
twittering over the lake in spring. Maecenas' life of
indolent seclusion coincided with his friend Caesar's
elevation. Sheltered by the approbation of Avigustus,
who never judged with precipitance, he might fairly claim
the repose he delighted in.

(107-128) Would that he had possessed Medea's drug of
rejuvenescence ! Flowers fade and revive ; stags shed their
horns and receive new ones ; crows live and live on year
after year ; why is man alone condemned to rapid ex-
tinction ■? Aurora could make Tithonus immortal ; would
that Maecenas had found a consort as potent as she !
Certainly, like Tithonus, he deserved to harness her steeds
at dawn, place the reins in her hands, stroke their manes
caressingly at the close of day.

(129-144) For Maecenas was mourned as fondly as
Hesperus, the youth so suddenly extinguished, was mourned
by his sorrowing companions. One admirer brings saffron,
another casia, another balsam, to honour his tomb. Nestor,
the old man of three generations, could not live long
enough to content his friends : and Maecenas might have
rivalled him had the threads of his destiny been in my (the
poet's) disposal. As it is, what remains for me to do ?
I can only implore the earth to lie softly upon him and
not press him with its full weight. We, for our part, will
bring to thee, O earth, unfailing gifts of flowers and per-
fumes ; drought thou shalt never feel, never be without
a coronal of flowers.


Second Section ( 1 45-^7'^)
These were the %A'ords of Maecenas as he lay dying.

' Alas, that I have outlived him who should have survived

me (Drusus). A boy in years, he was a man in ripeness of

understanding, a creature worthy of its creator, Caesar.

And would that I had died before the breach (with

Augustus) ' — shame prevented his saying more : but it was

clear his thoughts were of his wife (Terentia) and that he

missed her touch, voice, kiss, and embrace in his dying


'Yet it may console me to remember that, living and
dying, I was the friend of Caesar. Perhaps he will drop
a tear when he is told "Maecenas is no more". One only
boon I ask, to be buried happily : yet I could also hope
that you, Caesar, will still remember, still talk of me. It is
not your custom to forget a friend because he is dead.
I, in my turn, shall remember you from the dust of my
grave. It was you that gave me wealth and made
the name of Maecenas unique and memorable. I was the
guide of your counsels, your inner and informing spirit.
May you live to a prolonged old age, and not pass to the
Immortals till late. This is the world's necessity ; it should
be your own wish. May the two young Caesars grow up
to transmit undiminished the glories of their race ; above
all let Li via be the object of your supremest care, and
Tiberius compensate for him you have lost. But earth
must not retain a god ; scion as thou art of ancestors that
were divine, let Venus herself place thee (Augustus) in the
bosom of thy father ' (Julius Caesar).

It will be seen from this outline that the subject of the
poem is what may be called an Ajxdogia pro ulta Maecenatis,
a defence of the great minister against the attacks on his
life and character. This apology (which we perhaps possess
only in a fragmentary condition) mainly turns upon a single
point, Maecenas' undeniable effeminacy of conduct and


morals, and his afiectations in diction and dress. They
were parts, says the poet, of a frank open character which
despised conceahnent and prided itself on its candour.
The very word has almost come to connote the man. The
Elegy itself supplies three examples: 4 cancUdus, 62 can-
dldiora, 135 candoris] and every one will recall Horace's
candide Maecenas. In times of peace Maecenas could show
himself in the streets of Rome in double tunics fallino: to
the feet, and an unedifying looseness of demeanour which
ill-suited the ^j?'ae/ef^^ts iivh'i ; but when war came, he could
brace himself to its duties and fight vigorously, as he
proved in the naval campaign against Sextus Pompeius,
at Philippi and Actium. And no one can say that he was
unenergetic in the defence of the city against footpads or
nocturnal assassins: Rome was safe when Augustus was
away. And did not Augustus himself overlook or ignore
his minister's failings ? He, at least, did not form his
judgements inconsiderately. At this point (107 S(|(|.) the
poet turns off very abruptly to a mythological digression,
which, beginning with the story of Medea's caldron and the
magical renovation of Pelias, goes on to speak, first of
Tithonus, whom Aurora preserved unharmed by the old
age which she could not prevent, then of Nestor, the vener-
able sage of Pylos, who had seen three generations come
and go ; introducing by the way a remote and very obscure
legend of Hes^Derus. This somewhat empty display of
mythological learning, intended, it would seem, to show off
the poet's acquaintance with the technical and rhetorical
rules on which cpicedia and poems of consolation were
framed (Skutsch, Lillge), serves to introduce a wish that
the life of Maecenas might have been artificially prolonged ;
a wish, in lieu of which, as vain, the poet offers a prayer to
Earth, to lie less heavily on the beloved shade, and promises
an offering, ever to be renewed, of flowers and perfumes,
which he, with all Maecenas' friends, are to bring.


With this (144) the first elegy, or perhaps the first part of
the poem, ends. The second rushes at once in medlas res :
Sic est Maecenas fato ueniente locutus,
Frigidus et iamiam cum moriturus erat,
unless we suppose, as its comparative shortness, 34 verses
against 144 of the first elegy, justifies our supposing that
a considerable number of verses are lost. These would seem
to have preceded 145, since the fragment is otherwise con-
tinuous and complete, except that the last two verses (33, 34)
Cur deus in terris ? diuis insignis auitis,
Te Venus in patrio collocet ipsa sinu
are a little abrupt, and perhaps point to a lacuna after 32.
I shall quote the whole of this section to give an idea of
our poet's style and versification.

3 ' Men,' inquit, ' iuuenis primaeui, luppiter, ante

Angustum Drusi non cecidisse diem !
5 Pectore maturo fuerat puer, integer aeuo,
Et magnum magni Caesaris illud opus.
Discidio uellemque prius' — non omnia dixit:

Inciditque pudor, <|uae prope dixit amor.
Sed manifestus erat : moriens quaerebat amatae
10 Coniugis amplexus, oscula, uerba, manus.
Si tamen hoc satis est, uixi, te, Caesar, amico,

Et morior, dixit, dum moriorque, sat est !
Mollibus ex oculis aliquis tibi procidet umor,
Cum dicar subita uoce fuisse tibi.
15 Hoc mihi contingat, iaceam tellure sub aequa.
Nee tamen hoc ultra nil potuisse uelim,
Sed meminisse uelim. uiuam sermonibus illic,

Semper ero, semper si meminisse uoles.
Et decet et certe uiuam tibi semper amore,
ao Nee tibi qui moritur desinit esse tuus.

Ipse ego, quidquid ero, cineres interque fauillas,
Tum quoque non potero non memor esse tui.
Exemplum uixi te propter f molle beatef


Vniis Maecenas teque ego propter eram.
25 Arbiter ipse fui : uolui quod contigit esse,

Pectus eram uere pectoris ipse tui.
Viue diu, mi care senex, pete sidera sere :

Est opus hoc terris, te quoque uelle decet.
Et tibi succrescant iuuenes bis Caesare diofni,
30 Et tradant porro Caesaris usque genus,

Sed tibi sit curae quam primum Liuia coniunx.

Expleat amissi munera rupta gener.
Cur deus in terris ? diuis insignis auitis,

Te Venus in patrio collocet ipsa sinu.
This short fragment describes the death-bed of Maecenas;
his last thoughts, partly of his wife Terentia, partly of


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