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Italy and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) online

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tenced to die, and, his vems being opened, bled to death,
repeating, as he expired, verses from his own great work.
He died at the age of twenty-seven, when his strong but
over-fervid intellect had not reached its maturity.

No literary work has been more severely criticised
than the Pharsalia, and certain of the charges against
it must be at once admitted. Its plan is inartificial and


wanting in invention, and it is meagre in poetical orna-
ment of every kind ; it has much of Seneca's exaggera-
tion, a little of his false antithesis, and very much of his
declamatory tediousness ; it is indistinct in its grouping
and incidents, which are seen as through a mist ; it
wants variety of passion, and is sadly defective in the
delineation of character, its personages, except the three
leading ones, being mere shadows, of which each is like
the other. In despite of all these heavy faults the poem
is one of the grandest in any language ; and in some
points of view no ancient Latin poem possesses half its
interest and importance.

The key-note of this Roman song is the sentiment of
moral strength, of which Cato of Utica is the represen-
tative. He, and not Cffisar or Pompey, is the hero,
although he is not brought sufficiently into the fore-
ground ; and the work, which is confessedly incom-
plete, would conclude with his self-murder instead
of reaching to Caesar's assassination, to which it is carried
in the continuation by our republican countryman,
Thomas May. Cato stands alone amidst ruins, without
hope, but immovably firm : he knows that liberty is
lost to Rome, and that her citizens have ceased to love
it ; he enters into the contest with the feeling of a father
at the funeral of his children ;* as his task of life draws
nearer to its close, his greatness of soul rises into pious
serenity ; the voice of the godhead, which has always
spoken in his heart, calls him forward ;t and he hastens
to obey and offer the final sacrifice to freedom. But this
is not the prevailing religious temper of the poem. The
sentiment which emerges when the poet himself speaks
of heaven is terrible. He feels as if the gods had aban-
doned the earth, or grown too weak to govern it ; and it
is this emotion of despair that gives birth to some of those
wild exclamations wliich, taken by themselves, sound so

* Pharsalia, lib. ii. v. 297—303.
t Ibid. lib. ix. v. 563—584.


extravagant.* There is no sorrow in the tone of thought.
Where grief is meant to be expressed the attempt fails ;
and the poet's state of mind, in lookmg to his ideal of
moral greatness in Cato, and his ideal of freedom in the
fallen commonwealth, is that which he has himself so
powerfully described as reigning in a household in which
lies a fresh corpse, — a chilly feeling in wliich for a time
grief is kept aloof by fear.t

These are the outlines which determine the character
of the poem ; but among the shades of the poetical
colouring, none tends to give the Pharsalia so peculiar
an air as the originality of its supernatural machin-
ery'. The beautifully cold mythology of Greece has
here no place ; the supreme powers which hover above
the field of civil slaughter are the native divinities
and native dead of Rome and Latium. In the begin-
ning of the contest terrible portents in heaven and in
earth affright the people ; the Etruscan rites elicit no
prophetic answer ; a raving woman rushes through
the streets of the city prophesA'-ing uncertain horrors ;
the ghost of Sylla rises in the field of Mars ; and the
dead Marius is seen to break open his sepulchre on
the banks of the Anio. The atrocities of the Marian
civil wars are brought forward in narrative ; the oracle
of Delphi is consulted and remains dumb ; and the last
supernatural terrors which close around Pompey are
summoned by the spells of a Thessalian witch, whose
incantation forms one of the most strongly painted
scenes in the circle of poetry. A corpse is taken from the
field of battle, and the spirit is forced to re-enter it, and
tell what it has seen in the world of death. The tor-
tured ghost has beheld the Decii and the Curii, the
patriots of Rome, weeping and wailing, and Marius,

Quis justius induit arma.

Scire nefas : magno se judice quisque tuetur
Victrix causa diis placuit, sed victa Catoni.

Lib. i. V. 126—128.

t Pharsalia, lib. ii. v. 21—28.


Cethegus, and Catiline, bursting their chaios and shout-
ing applauses.*

The republican Lucan is succeeded by Statius, the
court poet and kneeling flatterer of Domitian. Statius
seems to have been a man of amiable dispositions and
domestic habits ; and we are tempted to excuse that
want of public virtue which was common to him with
nearly the whole world, and for which the liveliness of
his poetical genius makes some atonement. He wrote
completely in the taste of liis times, with all their rhe-
torical superabundance and tediousness, and all their
display of Greek erudition ; and he wrote also with a
cautious avoidance of every dangerous topic. His chief
work, the " Thebais," an epic poem, in ten books, on
the shocking story of the two sons of CEdipus, is by no
means his best production, though far the most laboured.
It has a want of symmetry and coherence, which,
with its long-drawn diffuseness, and its exaggerated
monotony of horror and cruelty, makes it more weari-
some to read than will be agreeable to any who may
wish to criticise it ; and altogether it impresses the mind
as the work of a man who has thrown away on it much
strong feeling, much fine poetical imagery, and a good deal
of very picturesque description. The " Sylvse," five
books of miscellaneous poems, chiefly in hexameters, are
much superior to the epic ; being less tedious, less arti-
ficial, and admitting better the kind of ornament which
Statius likes to give. His fertile fancy, and his acute eye
for the picturesque, find full play in several very pleas-
ing poems of the collection, such as the Epithalamium of
Stella, the Sorrentine Villa of Pollius Felix, and the
prettily sylvan though somewhat aff^ected verses on the
Fountain and Overhanging Tree in the Gardens of
Atedius Melior, on the Caelian Mount. The few domestic
poems evince extreme goodness of heart, and one of

* ** Lucan's only Muses," says the cynical author of the Pur-
suits of Literature, "were Caesar, and Brutus, and Cato, and the
genius of expiring Rome."


them, the Poet's Invitation to Claudia, his wife, is in
some passages afFectingly tender.

The picture of the age closes with the satirists Persius
and Juvenal, and the historian Tacitus, all of whom
we regard here chiefly as painters of life, in which
view they require little illustration. The six satires of
Persius, scarcely rising above the level of prose, and
disfigured by an annoying obscurity, breathe a tone of
upright feeling, which, beheld in the age of Nero, is
like a sheltered island in a stormy sea ; and the moral
advice of the writer is conveyed in a quiet and gentle
tone, which contrasts strongly with the thundered
menaces of Juvenal. The latter, an orator and man of
business, who began to write verse in his fortieth year,
has given us sixteen satires, forming an image of gene-
ral depravity on which it is appalling to look, even
after all the allowance we can make for overcharged
declamation. The tone is invariably unpleasant, alter-
nating from bitter sarcasm to indignant invective ; and
the poet, with all his force and vehemence, is more
strong in exaggerating than successful in painting to
the life either action or character. His satires are in-
structive and most valuable monuments ; but they are
far from deserving the first rank in the class of writings
to which they belong. The dark view of society which
is taken by him is fully shared by Tacitus, whose histo-
rical merits this is not the place to extol, and whose
literary excellence as one of the most vigorous of all
moral teachers, and of all painters of character, is uni-
versally acknowledged, and calls for no proof. He wrote
in a fortunate time, for scarcely any emperor but Trajan
could have permitted the publication of such facts and
observations as are contained both in his History and
in his Annals ; and it required some courage even in
Trajan to allow such sketches of the abuse of power to
be circulated in liis dominions. Altogether, the relation
in which Tacitus, and one or two similar writers, stood
towards the reigning powers, is one of those anomalies
which meet us so frequently in the imperial histor}\




A. u. 933—1059, OR A. D. 180—306.

This period, little shorter than the last, was nearly a
blank m the native literature and philosophy of It^y.
The only great event in the mental cultivation of the
age was the rise of a new philosophical school, that of
the Latter Platonists, whose seat was Alexandria. The
tenets of this mystical sect acquired their chief import-
ance after tlie recognition of Christianity as the religion
of the state ; and the influence which the writings of the
Platonists had on the later fathers of the Church, makes
it necessary here to name, among the Greeks, Ammonius
Saccas, Plotinus, his pupil, who was the chief originator
of the new opinions, and Porphyrius, whose writings are
the text-book of the new Platonic theories. The re-
awakening of philosophy among the Greeks did not
come alone. Among authors who wrote in their lan-
guage about this time, and who were more or -less inti-
mately connected with Italy or its literature, we find
Longinus, Arrian the annalist and philosopher, Diogenes
Laertius, Herodian, whose history descends to the reign
of the Gordians, and Dio Cassius, a Bithynian, who carried
his Roman history, a useful though not impartial work,
down to the year 229. Among the same writers, too,
must be reckoned the physician Galen, a native of Per-
gamus, who lived long in Rome.

If none of these Greek names belongs to the first rank,
they are yet such as the Latin literature had nothing
to match. Among the Roman historians there were
Justin, whose epitome is still extant ; the antiquary Cen-
sorinus, who wrote in the reign of Gordian III. ; and
those collectors of scandal, the authors of the Augustan
History, a series of Imperial Memou's, from Hadrian to
Carinus and Numerianus, wliich were written by differ-
ent authors, and, though most curious as striking illus-
trations of the times, are quite worthless when viewed as


literary compositions. Among philosophers the Italians
had Solinus, if that writer deserves the name ; in poetry
they had the didactic verses of Medicine, written by
Samonicus, who was honoured by Caracalla ; and they
had the poem of Nemesianus, a Carthaginian, on Hunt-
ing, composed in the time of Cams, or of his sons, as
were the eclogues of the Sicilian Calphumius. Those
who doubt the wretched state of Italian literature in the
third century of our era, will be convinced by opening
the volumes of any of the writers named in the last sen-
tence. The philologist Aulus Gellius, whose amusing
" Noctes Atticse" still remain, is of more value ; but he
was not an Italian, nor educated m Italy. The African
schools, with those of Gaul, were now the most flourish-
ing in the Western Empire. In the peninsula itself no
branch of philosophy or literature prospered, except
jurisprudence, to which in this period belong the famous
names of Papinian and Ulpian.



Ai't in Italy and Sicily before the Conquest of Greece by
the Romans.

PERIOD ENDING A. U. 608 ; OR B. C. 146.

The Connexion of Italian with Grecian Art — Art in the Greco-
ItaUan Colonies. The Infancy of Art in Greece and the
Colonies (ending about a. u. 294) : — The Temples — Existing
Monuments of Architecture and Sculpture in Magna Graecia
and Sicily — The Selinuntine Marbles. Grecian Art after
ITS Complete Development (a. u. 294—608, or b.c. 460 —
146) : — Painting and Architecture — Extant Decorative Paint-
ings and Mosaics — The Greek Architectural Orders — Ruins in
Magna Graecia and Sicily — Sculpture in Two Eras : — I. The
Era of Great Names (a. u. 294—454) :— Its Two Ages— (1).
The Age of Phidias, Polycletus, and Myron — Existing Copies
or Imitations of their Works — The Amazons— The Jupiter-
busts — The Pallas-statues — The Colossi of the Quirinal Mount
— (2). The Age of Scopas, Praxiteles, and Lysippus — The
Niobe and her Children — The Fauns — The Cupids — The Venus-
statues — The Figures of Hercules — II. The Era of Great Works
( a. u. 454—608) :— Existing Sculptures of this Time— The Venus
and Apollo de' Medici — The Borghese Gladiator— The Farnese
Hercules — The Germanicus and Cincinnatus. Art in Etruria
AND Rome (till a. u. 608, or b.c. 146) : — Recent Elucidations
of Etruscan Art — Its Character Grecian — Etruscan Fortresses
— Temples — Tombs — Painted Vases — Sculpture and Castings
— The She-wolf— The Decline and Revival of Art in Rome.

In more than one metropolis northward of the Alps we
may examine some isolated sections of classical art, but
the southern country which those barriers enclose is
still the only one in which we can study the whole


magnificent volume. The Roman and Grecian archi-
tectural ruins still rise amidst the vineyards of Italian
valleys, or on the silent expanse of Italian plains. The
galleries of Italian palaces are still thronged with statues,
as were the temples on whose fragments they are built ;
while ancient painting itself, all but lost for ages, has
again come to light, and adorns a modern Italian city.
To these treasures we must add the numberless reliques
which fill the antiquarian cabinets ; and we must also
recollect, that of the masterpieces which enrich the
museums in England, Germany, and France, a very
large proportion have been discovered on the soil of
Rome, or of her Cisalpine territories.

In ancient Italy ait was always an exotic, — a fact
which, in reference to the purpose now in view, will
demand from us some knowledge of the history and
character of Grecian art, as preparatory to our study of
its remains in the former country ; for unquestionably
very many of these were executed in Greece, while
a large proportion of the rest are the works of artists
thence derived, and almost all of them bear a clear im-
press of the foreign character. The Greeks, in this de-
partment not less gloriously than in others, were the
makers of their own fortune ; and they shared the pos-
session with their colonies from the shores of Asia to those
of Sicily and Magna Graecia. The cultivated domain
of literature, philosophy, and art, which their genius thus
had won, devolved on Rome like an inheritance, which
she, a spendthrift heir, enjoyed but did not augment.

But these were neither the oldest nor the most direct
obligations which Italy owed to the Hellenic race ; for,
long before that people became the subjects of Rome,
all the arts of design were naturalized among their
colonists in the south of the peninsula and in Sicily.
The coins of the Greek cities in these districts show
art, in its earlier stages, to have advanced more rapidly
there than even in the mother-country. To these older
pieces, belonging to Sybaris, Tarentum, Caudonia, and
Posidonia, succeed those of Syracuse, Leontium, and


Selinus, and, still later, those of the same cities and of
Neapolis, Rhegium, and other towns ; all indicating that
art in these settlements still kept pace with, if it did
not outstrip, the progress of the nation from which its
lessons were learned.* In the higher departments, the
free municipalities of Lower Italy, and the princes of
Sicily, vied with each other in cultivating native genius,
and encouraging artists from JEgina and other schools
of Greece. Of the pieces of statuary now remaining,
which were confessedly the offspring of Grecian art be-
fore the Roman conquest, we can in few instances trace
the progress to the capital ; but there is no doubt that
very many splendid works were found by the conquerors
in Sicily and Magna Graecia. In architecture, numerous
monuments still bear witness to the skill of the Italiot

ENDING ABOUT A. 0. 294 ; OB B. C. 460.

The earliest progress of Grecian art, and the much
contested questions as to the aid which it received from
the oriental nations, must here be left untouched. It is
enough to say that, down to the 50th Olympiad, or about
the year of Rome 174, it was marked by a rude and
formal simplicity. In architecture, the colossal masonry
of the Pelasgians gave way to the most ancient and mas-
sive fonn of the Doric order, or to the Ionic, which
presented lighter proportions even in its oldest shape.
Sculpture was little employed, except in the temple-
statues of the divinities, in which the deficiency of
skill co-operated with an almost Egyptian reverence
for precedents ; and the idols of wood and stone were
as unadorned and rude as the hoary shrines in whose
niches they were placed. The few antique vases, which
alone can with any confidence be referred to this early
period, exhibit painting in its very infancy.

* Specimens of Ancient Sculpture, by the Society of Dilet-
tanti, vol. i. 1809 : Preliminary Dissertation, pp. 24, 36, 37-


With the 50th Olympiad there begins, hotli in Greece
and her colonies, a period of rapid advancement, which
in little more than a century placed statuary, painting,
and architecture, at the very threshold of perfection. Of
this interesting era we possess several splendid monu-
ments, both in architecture and sculpture, which chiefly
belong to Sicily and Magna Graecia.

The primitive idea of the Grecian Temple was that
of a small chapel (the Cell a) with its sacred image ;
and as its size increased, it did not lose the essential
character of the closed mysterious sanctuary. The
structure, roofed over, had no windows, and received
no light but from the single door at its front, while
the portico at this extremity, which originally may
have formed the only ornament, not only was, in some
instances, repeated at the oi3posite end, but enlarged
itself into an external colonnade to receive the wor-
shippers, and extended to the sides or the whole circuit
of the edifice, in a single or double row of columns,
forming a covered walk outside the walls. A second
colonnade shut in the wide space of consecrated ground
around the temple, which stood in the midst, gene-
rally elevated on a majestic flight of steps. The cell
or body of the fane continued to be a comparatively
small building. It was the receptacle of the statue
and altar of the divinity, and was accessible to none
but the priests ; while the worshippers tlironged around
in the sacred precincts, and beneath the porticos. The
cell was sometimes circular, but most frequently an
oblong rectangle. Its interior gradually underwent
alterations, of which the most marked was the intro-
duction of columns in this part for the purpose of
strengthening the roof, and thus permitting a conveni-
ent enlargement ; and these internal colonnades were
frequently united with a plan by which the roof ran
only round the building, covering the space between
the walls and the internal columns, while an area in
the centre was left open to the sky. There was thus
fonned the species of temple called hypsethral, not unlike


the arrangement of the courts which composed the
principal part of a Greek dwelling-house.*

Of the hypaethral cell, with its internal colonnades, we
have a fine instance in the majestic temple of Neptune
at Psestum, which also exhibits, in its short crowded
columns and gigantic entablature, the most characteristic
specimen of that massy form of the older Doric, which
was the ftivourite style among the Sicilian and Italian
Greeks.t The desolation of these classical ruins now
makes a picture very unlike that which the edifices them-
selves must have presented to the ancient world, when
the statue and the altar, illuminated by gorgeous lamps,
decked the cell, when marbles, gilding, and paintings
shone on the walls and fretted ceilings, and votive tablets
hung thickly in the porticos without.

To this period belong the three Sicilian temples in
the citadel of Selinus, which are most worthy of notice
for the sculptures on the metopes of their frieze, dis-
covered among the ruins in 1823.:{: Three of the slabs,
it is clear, are far more ancient than the rest, and are
the only ones belonging to the age now under review.
The first represents a naked Hercules carrying off, in
a serio-comic posture, the conquered Cercopes. Th"
subject of the second is Perseus killing Medusa, while

* Quatremere de Quinc)', however, has propounded a theory
which, if admitted, overthrows all our established notions as to
the form of the ancient temples. He maintains that none of
them, not even the largest, were in any part open to the sky ;
that Vitruvius, in describing hypaethral temples, speaks of a plan
which had never been executed; that the temple of Paestum was
roofed entirely over with bronze, and others with flags of stone or
wooden beams. He maintains also .that the cells were fully lighted
by windows in the roof. Memoires de I'lnstitut Royal de France ;
Classp d'Histoire, tom. iii. 1818.

•f For PfEstum and the Sicilian Tem.ples, except the recently
investigated ruins in the citadel of Selinus, consult Wilkins' An-
tiquities of Magna Graecia, 1807.

^ By jMr Harris and Mr Angell. The marbles were seized by
the Neapolitan government, and are now in the museum at Pa-
lermo. Casts are in the British Museum ; and a description was
published in 1826, by Mr Angell and Mr Evans. See also the
Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature, vol. ii. p. 144.


Minerva stands by. The third, which is much broken,
has a female standing and a male kneeling. The
reliefs on these tablets, and the figures which, com-
pletely detached from the wall, filled the pediments of
the temple of Minerva at ^gina, and were discovered in
1811, rank among the most curious of all contributions
to the antiquities of art.* If we were not entitled to
presume that the Attic ^gina may have been in advance
of the obscure Sicilian colony, both in the theory and
the mechanism of art, the difference which exists be-
tween the Selinuntine marbles and the -^ginetic, both
in style and execution, might induce us to suspect that
the former were considerably earlier works than the
latter. Taken together, the two sets of fragments ex-
hibit sculpture to us as Phidias found it. In the me-
topes of Selinus, while the lines are firm, and the general
contour of the human figure is traced with a tolerable
approach to truth, the proportions are ludicrously
clumsy, the attitudes are stiff and unvaried, and the
expression of all the countenances is a slight and almost
silly simper. In the iEgina marbles the expression of
all the heads is uniform, but it is that of profound repose ;
the outlines of the figures are hard, their proportions
meagre, and the bones and muscles harshly marked ;
but the truth of the details astonishes artists, and there
breathe through the whole a strength and simplicity
which not unworthily announce the approacliing ex-
cellence of the Parthenon.


A. u. 294—608 ; or b. c. 460—146.

About the 80th Olympiad (b. c. 460), architecture
and sculpture reached their highest excellence among

* The ^gina Marbles, having been restored by Thorwaldsen,
are now in the Glyptothek of Munich. Their exact age cannot be
easily fixed, but they certainly fall between the 55th and 77th


the Greeks, and the perfection of their painting belongs
to the same epoch, or one very little later. From that
time till the taking of Corinth by the Romans, in the
third 3'ear of the 158th Olympiad, Greece encountered
many political vicissitudes ; but there is little reason
to suspect that the disturbances of the country affected

Online LibraryWilliam SpaldingItaly and the Italian islands, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 13 of 35)