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turn, Rliegium, and Naples. In these cities, indeed, the
language maintained a partial hold during the best times
of the empire. In Sicily it kept its place still longer,
as the dialect of common life ; and the modern tongue
exhibits marked traces of it, mingled with Saracenic
words, which at length aided the Latin in driving it
out. Literature, however, became Latin at once, both
on the mainland and in the island ; and after the sub-
jugation of the latter, Greek was not used in the works
of any eminent man belonging to those provinces, with
the single exception of Diodorus Siculus, who lived in
the times of Julius Csesar and Augustus, and composed
a history of the world in forty books, of which there
remain fifteen and some fragments.

Roman Literature in its Infancy. — The literature of
the Etruscans, if they ever had any writings worthy of
the name, is quite lost to us, along with the language in
which it was embodied. The Romans borrowed their
theatrical representations from Etruria, introducing them
for the first time, as it should seem, about the year of the
city 889 : but the rude compositions of those ages have
wholly perished. TUl the beginning of the sixth cen-
tury of Rome, her literature was a blank ; unless we con-
fer the name on such rude hymns as those of the Arval
Brothers, or on the simple enactments of the Twelve
Tables, or on those picturesque traditions which, speedily
lost in their original shape even to the people them-
selves, are known to us only by their substance, partially
preserved in the later histories.

Before that time, however, the language was de-
veloped to an extent which has not been equalled by
any other people possessing no native literature ; and in
the works of their sixth centur}'', the Latin tongue
appears in a purity and nervous simplicity, which the
polish of the two succeeding ages injured rather than
improved. In every thing, however, which regards both
the spirit and the form, the art of composition must
be considered as having been in its infancy at Rome
during the first half of that century ; and the produc-


tions of the time may most fairly be classed separately
from those which succeed them.

The first literature of the Romans, like that of every
other nation, was poetical, or rather metrical ; and it
assumed three forms, those of the drama, versified an-
nals, and satires. The dramatic poems of their sixth
century w^ere by far the most numerous. Their chief
writers were natives of the conquered provinces in the
south ; the subjects and the form of the vrorks, as might
have been expected, were close copies fi'om the Greek ;
and most of the dramas appear to have been mere transla-
tions. Prose writing began nearl}?^ at the end of this period,
and was soon applied to history and practical science.

The earliest author of the time was Livius Androni-
cus, an Italian Greek, whose works were chiefly tra-
gedies, though he also translated the Odyssey into Latin
iambics. His first play was acted in the year of the
city 513, and he was alive as late as 546. Cneius Nee-
vius, who followed him, was his countryman, being a
Campanian, and, besides tragedies and comedies, composed
a metrical history of the First Punic War. In his
comedies he imitated the personal attacks of the old
Attic stage, and, after having been repeatedly punished
for his libels by the exasperated Roman nobles, he died
in 549. To these names must be added those of Caecilius
Statins, a comic poet, a native of Insubrian Gaul ; Mar-
cus Pacuvius, a nephew of Ennius, bom at Brundu-
sium, and a writer of tragedies ; Lucius Accius or Attius,
also a dramatist, about half a century younger than Pa-
cuvius ; and, lastly, the most famous author of the age,
Quintus Ennius, a Calabrian {horn a. u. 514 — died 584).
He was the dear friend of the Scipios and Lselius ; his
genius was all but deified by the Romans till the Augus-
tan age ; and the best poet of that era did not disdain to
copy from him. His chief works were many tragedies
and comedies, some epigrams and satires, and eighteen
books of metrical annals.

The successive heads of the Cornelian family were
the kindest patrons of literature in those times. The


elder Scipio Africanus was one of the first Romans
who set a just value on intellectual cultivation ; and the
younger Africanus was distinguished for his successful
prosecution of Greek literature, in an age in which that
study began to be followed with universal zeal. On the
defeat of Perseus, in the year 586 of the Roman era, the
Macedonian hostages, among whom was Polybius, the
historian, became his cherished friends. The banishment
of the foreign teachers, effected soon afterwards by the
gloomy Cato, did not damp the ardour either of Scipio or
others ; the three great sects of the Hellenic philosophy
were represented at Rome, about the end of the century,
by the three ambassadors of the Grecian states ; and the
enthusiasm for the newly imported literature was in-
creased tenfold by the conquest of Greece itself.



A. u. 550—722, OR B. c. 204—32.

Of the productions of Ennius, as well as of the lesser
poets, who were named along with him, we possess only
fragments ; and our collection of complete Roman pieces
commences with those of three writers, all of whom be-
longed to the latter half of their sixth century. These
works possess merit and fame enough to entitle them
to be ranked as classical ; and, accordingly, in the analy-
tical table which was given in the introductory chapter
of this volume, the period of Roman greatness in litera-
ture was, in order to include their age, reckoned as
commencing about the year of the city 550, or 204
years before the Christian epoch.

About the middle of the century we have the come-
dies of the Umbrian, Marcus Accius Plautus (died a. u.
569) ; at a time rather later, those of Publius Terentius,
a Carthaginian {born about 560 — died 594) ; and during
the same age the works of Marcus Porcius Cato the
Censor (519 — 607). Of the comedies of Plautus, which,
about the time of the Antonines, existed to the number


of 130, we possess only twenty ; but the six plays of
Terence still extant are perhaps all that he wrote. The
antiquities of Rome have sustained a very grievous in-
jury by the loss of Cato's seven books of " Origines,"
the earliest prose history of the city ; a work in whicli
liis antiquarian learning had full scope, and which would
have been useful even on account of his violent preju-
dices. His remaining treatise on Rural Economy, hav-
ing had its diction modernized by later critics, affords
us little insight into the state of the language, though
it is a very valuable reuord on the subject to which
it relates. Plautus and Terence have reached us nearly
genuine, and their works convert into certainty that sus-
picion of weakness and a defective originality in the new
Latin literature, which is suggested to us by the frag-
ments of the lost dramatists.* All the scenes of both
authors are laid in Greece or its colonies ; their plots,
without exception, are borrowed in like manner ; and
as to their dialogue, that of Plautus is manifestly an
imitation, while Terence's seems even to be, from be-
ginning to end, closely translated. Authors who wrote
on this system, and patrons who applauded them for
doing so, occupied a rank equally low ; but, besides the
idiomatic vigour of style which distinguishes the one
writer, and the unaffected purity of the other, both have
merits of their o^\ti. Terence's delicacy of feeling, and
his fine sense of propriety and symmetry, are evident in
all liis adaptations of foreign stories and sentiments ; and
Plautus, rude and boisterous in manner, has a vein of
wild humour to which he sometimes gives full vent, by
ingrafting on his Greek fables groups from Roman life, in
a style of broad satire approaching to the freedoms of the
old Attic comedy. The indecency of the stories, and the
cool immorality of the characters^ are common to both
poets ; but the vices they depicted were those of Athens,

* The catalogue of lost tragedies, from which fragments have been
recovered, extends, as given by Fabricius (Bibliotheca Latina),
to about 125, besides other plays, whose titles are not known. Of
the preserved titles, there is not one which does not prove the
subject to have been taken from the Greek history or legends.


a luxurious and decaying community, not those of the
sterner youth of Rome.

After the taking of Carthage the diffusion of literature
was rapid ; and on the reduction of Sicily, Roman
refinement quickly reached its utmost height. In the
interval between those two events, we meet with only one
famous name, that of the satirist Caius Lucilius, whose
works have perished ; but every department of intel-
lectual exertion became more and more crowded with
labourers. The cultivation of popular eloquence was
general ; the Gracchi, in the beginning of the seventh
century, were followed by the orator Crassus, who was
consul in 658, and by Marcus Antonius, who was mur-
dered in the Marian proscription of 667, along with Mu-
cins Scsevola, the famous jurisconsult ; and in the end
of the century flourished, besides men of smaller note,
Cicero's formidable rival Quintus Hortensius. Histo-
ries, now lost, were composed by this author, by the
accomplished time-server Atticus, by Lucceius, and by
Cicero himself, who also, with a few others, studied pro-
foundly the philosophy of Greece.

But the half century which elapsed between Sylla's
dictatorship and the fall of the republic has left us
more than names. From this period we possess works of
the following writers : in poetry, Titus Lucretius Cams
(668—702), and Caius Valerius Catullus (born 667—
died after 706) ; in philosophy, oratory, and general
literature, Marcus TuUius Cicero (647 — 710) ; in plii-
lology and practical science, Marcus Terentius Varro
(638—727) ; and in history, Caius Julius Caesar (664 —
709), Caius Sallustius Crispus (668—719), and Corne-
lius Nepos.

Even the first age of the empire, the most polished
era of Roman poetry, possessed no genius superior to
Lucretius and Catullus ; and though the former, if con-
sidered as an artist, must rank below the writers of the
Augustan age, the latter is quite their equal, being not
less admirable in the mechanism of his poetry than in
its conception.


The only work of Lucretius is his didactic poem " On
the Nature of the Universe," in which he expounds the
tenets of the Epicurean philosophy. His leading topics
are ari'anged nearly in the following order. Commencing
\vith the views of elemental nature held by his school,
he next describes the properties of matter, and then
proceeds to explain the essence of spirit. The theory of
sensation follows, and is succeeded by the physical his-
tory of the earth, and an account of the rise of society
and development of religion ; after which the poem de-
scribes and attempts to explain many of the ordinary
phenomena of the material world, with some of its tem-
porary derangements. These themes, though affording
abundant sources of illustration in poetry, are evidently
too abstract to form the main subject of any poem, even
didactic ; and the work becomes yet more repulsive
on account of the sceptical dogmas on which the reason-
ing is founded, and the little art which is expended on
the plan. Materialism, and the denial of divine exist'
ence, lie at the root of the philosophy recommended by
Lucretius. His attack on the false theology and super-
stitious observances of the Greeks has, in many cases,
an overpowering force ; but the temper of liis system
infuses a cold spirit into the work, and gives it, at the
same time, a character nearly unexampled in classical
poetry, by stripping it almost entirely of those decora-
tive accompaniments which the ancient mythology so
lavishly supplied. The imperfect form of the poem, in
which the principles of the sect are dogmatically set
forth by the writer in his own person, and relieved only
by rare imaginative digressions, is common to it with all
didactic poems, except some of our o^vn times, in which
the essential imperfection of that anomalous class of
compositions has been in part remedied by throwing the
work into a narrative shape. Lucretius, however, who
had only the gnomologic verses of the Greeks as liis mo-
dels, is more constantly argumentative than any philoso-
phical poet who has succeeded him, and few tasks can be
more tedious than the perusal of his poem from beginning


to end. This labour, indeed, is least irksome to the pro-
fessed philologist, who, in the purity of the style and the
bold structure of the versification, can forget the weary
barrenness of the matter ; but even the student of poetry
must frequently bow with delight to the enthusiastic
imagination which inspires Lucretius, when he forgets
that he is a teacher of philosophy, and is for a time wholly
the poet. There occur every where short snatches of ima-
gery, warmly and clearly conceived, and expressed with
remarkable felicity ; and few things are finer than some
passages of greater length, such as the opening address to
the Divinity of Beauty, and the description of the rise of
primeval religions, — a strain which has been equalled in
its kind by no man, and approached by scarcely any.*

We know little of this author's private life except
that he put an end to his existence in utter weariness and
despondency. The memoirs of Catullus, an opulent
Veronese of the equestrian order, are scarcely less scanty,
and he derives little honour from the best accredited
incident of his life, his amour with the profligate sister
of the unprincipled Clodius. The works of this writer
are short poems, chiefly lyrical, in which he for the first
time adapted the Greek measures to the Latin tongue.
His alleged imitation of the Grecian poets must have some
foundation in truth ; but it is scarcely so easy to believe
that the chief objects of his study were Callimachus, and
the other members of the artificial school of Alexandria.
The love -poems, which are not the best, and the epi-
grams, chiefly launched at Julius Caesar's minion
Mamurra, are chargeable with voluptuousness and
coarseness, though scarcely with more of either than
belonged to most poets both of this age and the next.
His rich imagination, his warm feeling, and his unsur-
passed felicity of expression, qualities which form a
character of pure ideality quite peculiar to him, are
best exhibited in his verses addressed to friends, or com-

* Lucret. De Rerum Natura, lib. v., sub finem. Compare
Wordsworth's exquisite delineation of the same pictures in the
Fourth Book of the Excursion.


memorating favourite scenes, and in his few longer poems
on imaginative subjects. Of the more tender class,
we have delightful examples in the lines celebrating
the Peninsula of Sirmio on the Lake Benacus, whose
olive-groves now shade the ruins of the poet's villa ; in
the plaintive Invocation written at his brother's tomb ;
in the Epithalamium of Manlius and Julia, so full both
of passion and fancy ; and in the Acme and Septimius,
a short poem whose tone of romantic fondness, and de-
licate sweetness of language, are most nearly approach-
ed by Coleridge's " Love." Catullus had freer scope for
his clear poetic vision in the two mythological subjects,
the Atys, and the Marriage of Peleus and Thetis, which
form liis longest works. The latter of these is full of fine
thoughts and bright lyrical pictures, — a fragment, in-
deed, but the fragment of a gem. The Atys is one of the
most singular of poems, in the subject, the versifica-
tion, and the tone of thought and imagery : all is wild
and luxuriant, and its mysterious maenad inspiration is
the more deeply felt the more it is studied.

If the poets of the expiring republic are worthy to
be set up against their successors in the first imperial
court, the last republican period stands, in prose, infi-
nitely higher than the Augustan, which has little that
can be compared to the mass and variety of the older
works of that class, and no great name but Livy's to
rival those of Cicero, Caesar, Sallust, Nepos, and Varro.
Varro, the most learned of the Romans, has left us
a treatise on the Roman Tongue, and another on Rural
Afiairs, both of which, highly useful m their kind, may
be passed over with Nepos' work on Celebrated Cap-
tains, whose chief merit is in the style. The greatest
work of Sallust, which related the history of Rome
from Sylla to Catiline, is lost ; and we possess only his
short histories of the Jugurthan war, and of the Catili-
narian conspiracy. These tracts are written with an
antique purity of style, a nervous conciseness and full-
ness of sentence, happily borrowed from Thucydides, and
a high tone of moral feeling, which contrasted but too


strongly with the life of the author, a favourite of
Julius CjEsar, and enabled by his patronage to accumu-
late in the provinces wealth which he spent in luxurious
debauchery at Rome. The historical works of Caesar,
consisting of memoirs or commentaries on the Gallic and
on a part of the Civil War, are too well known to require
remark ; and theh- perspicuous simplicity, their grasp
of thought and quickness of observation, with the purity
of their phraseology, at once familiar and elegant, vouch
for the truth of the praises confeiTed on him by his
contemporaries as being even greater in the closet than
in the senate-house or the field.

Cicero's is by far the first literary name, not only of his
own age, but of the ancient Roman world. In its rare
union of warmth, practical sense, and astonishing versa-
tility, his genius has scarcely any parallel ; and his in-
fluence on the philosophical knowledge and opinions of
modern Europe has been incalculable. The voluminous
works of this great man, composed during the leisure
hours of a life involved in the vortex of political conten-
tion, embrace a wonderful variety of subjects. His his-
tories in Greek prose and Latin rhyme are lost ; and the
small specimens of his verses that survive leave no room
for regret that we do not possess more. His important
works are his Correspondence, his Orations, his Treatises
on Rhetoric, and his Philosopliical Dissertations.

The Correspondence includes letters from his family,
and from Brutus, Cassius, Atticus, and other public
men. Besides the high literary qualities and personal in-
terest of these memorials, the collection is an invaluable
fund of information on the history of the time, and the
state of society and manners. Of his Orations we
possess, in the common editions, fifty-six, of which two
or three are incomplete, and one or two spurious. The
merit of these compositions is unequal, and those on
which the orator's fame must always rest are, besides
the defence of Milo, the three sets of discourses directed
against Verres, Catiline, and Mark Antony. The seven
speeches which contain the accusation against Verres,


the rapacious and tyrannical governor of Sicily, are im-
portant not only for their indignant eloquence and their
sound political philosophy, hut for the light they inci-
dentally throw on ancient art and luxury, and on the
corrupt morals as well as the venal government of Rome.
The four orations against Catiline soar higher in their
vehemence and fiery force ; and the perfection of his
eloquence was reached in some parts of the fourteen
harangues against Antony, which their author called
Philippics, in imitation of the invectives pronounced hy
Demosthenes on the conduct of Philip. The second
of these, the masterpiece of the series, is a tremendous
attack on the clever but vicious Antony, who revenged
by Cicero's murder the temporary unpopularity and
eternal infamy to which that exposure of his vices
consigned him. These three collections of orations, and
a few of the others, such as the speech for MLlo, and
the partly thankful, partly admonitory address to Julius
Csesar on the pardon of Marcellus, are those in which
we find most of that full vein of eloquence so admir-
able in the author's own hands, and so easily degenerat-
ing into tumid verbosit}^ when taken up by his imitators.
The Rhetorical works are of great value, exhibitiag the
art as it existed in a time and country which made
oratory the universal study and indispensable qualifica-
tion of its statesmen. The best of these treatises, the
systematic essay " De Oratore," the historical work
entitled " Brutus," and the illustrative sketch called
" Orator," were the fruit of his most vigorous years.

His Philosophical worlds, however, are those by which
he has most benefited his own and subsequent ages.
They nearly equal in bulk the collection of his speeches,
and traverse a wide field of speculation. In no depart-
ment of research was Cicero, in the strict sense of the
terra, a discoverer, although his writings contain many
observations of a highly original cast. His chief merit
therefore consists in his having made himself extensively
master of the Greek philosophy, and embodied its most
practical branches in a form attractively eloquent, equally


divested of metaphysical abstruseness, and of rhetorical
exaggeration. His writings, indeed, form only the por-
tico to the temple of wisdom ; but the singular beauty of
the approach invites the student, and its ease of access
secures his progress to the sanctuary beyond. He was
the first Roman, perhaps the only man of his time, who
studied Aristotle's works, of which the manuscript lay
neglected in Sylla's library ; but the sects whose prin-
ciples he most fully elucidated were the Academics
and the Stoics ; and, throwing most of his dissertations
into the form of dialogues, he expounds the tenets, now
of the one sect, now of the other. Some of his philoso-
phical works have perished. Petrarch, who possessed the
only known manuscript of the treatise " On Glory," lent
it to a friend, by whom it was either sold or lost ; and
the recently discovered essay " De Republica" has dis-
appointed the hopes of scholars. His other tract on
political philosophy, entitled " De Legibus," is inferior in
interest to his ethical discussions, which, with the theo-
logical works, were written after the overthrow of the
republic by Caesar had for a time removed the author from
active life. The books " De Finibus" expound the ethical
doctrines of the three sects of Epicureans, Stoics, and
Academics. The essay " De Officiis," one of his latest
philosophical dissertations, inculcates the Stoical prin-
ciples of moral duty, illustrating them with the finest skill
and liveliness ; and the " Tusculan Questions," the most
delightful of all his speculative writings, discuss, in the
form of dialogues, held at his villa near Tusculum, some
of the most important topics, religious and moral, — the
duty of subduing the fear of death, of enduring pain and
sorrow with courage, of overcoming passion,and of belie v-

: ing in the all-sufficiency of virtue to secure genuine

I happiness.



A. u. 722—767 ; or b. c. 32— a. d. 14.
The first imperial reign, which is proverbial as the
n Golden Age of ancient letters, has bequeathed to us a



few names and works fully justifying the praises which
the era receives. Many of the forms which literature
had assumed in the republican times, including all those
which connected it with political life, decayed in-
stantly, and of course. Oratory took refuge in the
schools of the Greek rhetoricians, who could teach the
manner of speech, but could neither breathe soul into
the speaker nor furnish opportunity for exertion. For
orators, therefore, we are no longer to look. Even
philosophical and scientific studies, forced into the
background, have left us no monuments belonging to
the age now mentioned. History has given us only one
name, though that one is Livy*s ; and, with this excep-
tion, the greatness of the Augustan literature is confined
to its poetical compositions. There is much poetry

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 11 of 35)