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Latin Literature by J. W. Mackail

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himself into the trial with all his energy. After his opening speech, and
the evidence which followed, Verres threw up his defence and went into
exile. This, of course, brought the case to an end; but the cause turned
on larger issues than his particular guilt or innocence. The whole of the
material prepared against him was swiftly elaborated by Cicero into five
great orations, and published as a political document. These orations,
the _Second Action against Verres_ as they are called, were at once the
most powerful attack yet made on the working of the Sullan constitution,
and the high-water mark of the earlier period of Cicero's eloquence. It
was not till some years later that his oratory culminated; but he never
excelled these speeches in richness and copiousness of style, in ease and
lucidity of exposition, and in power of dealing with large masses of
material. He at once became an imposing political force; perhaps it was
hardly realised till later how incapable that force was of going straight
or of bearing down opposition. The series of political and semi-political
speeches of the next ten years, down to his exile, represent for the time
the history of Rome; and together with these we now begin the series of
his private letters. The year of his praetorship, 66 B.C., is marked by
the two orations which are on the whole his greatest, one public and the
other private. The first, the speech known as the _Pro Lege Manilia_,
which should really be described as the panegyric of Pompeius and of the
Roman people, does not show any profound appreciation of the problems
which then confronted the Republic; but the greatness of the Republic
itself never found a more august interpreter. The stately passage in
which Italy and the subject provinces are called on to bear witness to
the deeds of Pompeius breathes the very spirit of an imperial race.
Throughout this and the other great speeches of the period "the Roman
People" is a phrase that keeps perpetually recurring with an effect like
that of a bourdon stop. As the eye glances down the page, _Consul Populi
Romani, Imperium Populi Romani, Fortuna Populi Romani_, glitter out of
the voluminous periods with a splendour that hardly any other words could

The other great speech of this year, Cicero's defence of Aulus Cluentius
Habitus of Larinum on a charge of poisoning, has in its own style an
equal brilliance of language. The story it unfolds of the ugly tragedies
of middle-class life in the capital and the provincial Italian towns is
famous as one of the leading documents for the social life of Rome.
According to Quintilian, Cicero confessed afterwards that his client was
not innocent, and that the elaborate and impressive story which he
unfolds with such vivid detail was in great part an invention of his own.
This may be only bar gossip; true or false, his defence is an
extraordinary masterpiece of oratorical skill.

The manner in which Cicero conducted a defence when the cause was not so
grave or so desperate is well illustrated by a speech delivered four
years later, the _Pro Archia_. The case here was one of contested
citizenship. The defendant, one of the Greek men of letters who lived in
great numbers at Rome, had been for years intimate with the literary
circle among the Roman aristocracy. This intimacy gained him the
privilege of being defended by the first of Roman orators, who would
hardly, in any other circumstances, have troubled himself with so trivial
a case. But the speech Cicero delivered is one of the permanent glories
of Latin literature. The matter immediately at issue is summarily dealt
with in a few pages of cursory and rather careless argument; then the
scholar lets himself go. Among the many praises of literature which great
men of letters have delivered, there is none, ancient or modern, more
perfect than this; some of the sentences have remained ever since the
abiding motto and blason of literature itself. _Haec studia,
adolescentiam agunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis
perfugium ac solatium praebent, delectant domi, non impediunt foris,
pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur;_ and again, _Nullam enim
virtus aliam mercedem laborum periculorumque desiderat, praeter hanc
laudis et gloriae; qua quidem detracta, iudices, quid est quod in hoc tam
exiguo vitae curriculo, et tam brevi, tantis nos in laboribus exerceamus?
Certe, si nihil animus praesentiret in posterum, et si quibus regionibus
vitae spatium circumscriptum est, eisdem omnes cogitationes terminaret
suas, nec tantis se laboribus frangeret, neque tot curis vigiliisque
angeretur, neque teties de vita ipsa dimicaret_. Strange words these to
fall from a pleader's lips in the dusty atmosphere of the praetor's
court! _non fori, neque iudiciali consuetudine_, says Cicero himself, in
the few words of graceful apology with which the speech ends. But, in
truth, as he well knew, he was not speaking to the respectable gentlemen
on the benches before him. He addressed a larger audience; posterity, and
the civilised world.

The _Pro Archia_ foreshadows already the change which was bound to take
place in Cicero's life, and which was precipitated by his exile four
years later. More and more he found himself forced away from the inner
circle of politics, and turned to the larger field where he had an
undisputed supremacy, of political and ethical philosophy clothed in the
splendid prose of which he had now obtained the full mastery. The roll of
his great speeches is indeed continued after his return from exile; but
even in the greatest, the _Pro Sestio_, the _Pro Caelio_, the _De
Provinciis Consularibus_ of 56, or the _In Pisonem_ and _Pro Plancio_ of
55 B.C., something of the old tone is missing; it is as though the same
voice spoke on a smaller range of notes and with less flexibility of
cadence. And now alongside of the speeches begins the series of his works
on oratory and philosophy, with the _De Oratore_ of 55, and the _De
Republica_ of 54 B.C.

The three books _De Oratore_ are perhaps the most finished examples of
the Ciceronian style. The subject (which cannot be said of all the
subjects he deals with) was one of which, over all its breadth and in all
its details, he was completely master; and, thus left unhampered by any
difficulties with his material, he could give full scope to his brilliant
style and diction. The arrangement of the work follows the strict
scholastic divisions; but the form of dialogue into which it is thrown,
and which is managed with really great skill, avoids the tediousness
incident to a systematic treatise. The principal persons of the dialogue
are the two great orators of the preceding age, Lucius Crassus and Marcus
Antonius; this is only one sign out of many that Cicero was more and more
living in a sort of dream of the past, that past of his own youth which
was still full of traditions of the earlier Republic.

The _De Oratore_ was so complete a masterpiece that its author probably
did not care to weaken its effect by continuing at the time to bring out
any of the supplementary treatises on Roman oratory for which his
library, and still more his memory, had accumulated immense quantities of
material. In the treatise _De Republica_, which was begun in 54 B.C.,
though not published till three years later, he carried the achievement
of Latin prose into a larger and less technical field--that of the
philosophy of politics. Again the scene of the dialogue is laid in a past
age; but now he goes further back than he had done in the _De Oratore_,
to the circle of the younger Scipio. The work was received, when
published, with immense applause; but its loss in the Middle Ages is
hardly one of those which are most seriously to be deplored, except in so
far as the second and fifth books may have preserved real information on
the early history of the Roman State and the development of Roman
jurisprudence. Large fragments were recovered early in the present
century from a palimpsest, itself incomplete, on which the work of Cicero
had been expunged to make room for the commentary of St. Augustine on the
Psalms. The famous _Somnium Scipionis_, with which (in imitation of the
vision of Er in Plato's _Republic_) the work ended, has been
independently preserved. Though it flagrantly challenges comparison with
the unequalled original, it has, nevertheless, especially in its opening
and closing passages, a grave dignity which is purely Roman, and
characteristically Ciceronian. Perhaps some of the elaborate fantasies of
De Quincey (himself naturally a Ciceronian, and saturated in the rhythms
and cadences of the finest Latin prose) are the nearest parallel to this
piece in modern English. The opening words of Scipio's narrative, _Cum in
Africam venissem, Mania Manilio consuli ad quartam legionem tribunus_,
come on the ear like the throb of a great organ; and here and there
through the piece come astonishing phrases of the same organ-music:
_Ostendebat autem Karthaginem de excelso et pleno stellarum inlustri et
claro quodam loco.... Quis in reliquis orientis aut obeuntis solis,
ultimis aut aquilonis austrive partibus, tuum nomen audiet?... Deum te
igitur scito esse, siquidem deus est, qui viget, qui sentit, qui meminit,
qui providet_--hardly from the lips of Virgil himself does the noble
Latin speech issue with a purer or a more majestic flow.

During the next few years the literary activity of Cicero suffered a
check. The course of politics at Rome filled him with profound
disappointment and disgust. Public issues, it became more and more plain,
waited for their determination, not on the senate-house or the forum, but
on the sword. The shameful collapse of his defence of Milo in 52 B.C.
must have stung a vanity even as well-hardened as Cicero's to the quick;
and his only important abstract work of this period, the _De Legibus_,
seems to have been undertaken with little heart and carried out without
either research or enthusiasm. His proconsulate in Cilicia in 51 and 50
B.C. was occupied with the tedious details of administration and petty
warfare; six months after his return the Civil war broke out, and, until
permitted to return to Rome by Caesar in the autumn of 47 B.C., he was
practically an exile, away from his beloved Rome and his more beloved
library, hating and despising the ignorant incompetence of his
colleagues, and looking forward with almost equal terror to the
conclusive triumph of his own or the opposite party. When at last he
returned, his mind was still agitated and unsettled. The Pompeian party
held Africa and Spain with large armies; their open threats that all who
had come to terms with Caesar would be proscribed as public enemies were
not calculated to restore Cicero's confidence. The decisive battle of
Thapsus put an end to this uncertainty; and meanwhile Cicero had resumed
work on his _De Legibus_, and had once more returned to the study of
oratory in one of the most interesting of his writings, the _Brutus de
claris Oratoribus_, in which he gives a vivid and masterly sketch of the
history of Roman oratory down to his own time, filled with historical
matter and admirable sketches of character.

The spring of 45 B.C. brought with it two events of momentous importance
to Cicero: the final collapse of the armed opposition to Caesar at the
battle of Munda, and the loss, by the death of his daughter Tullia, of
the one deep affection of his inner life. Henceforth it seemed as if
politics had ceased to exist, even had he the heart to interest himself
in them. He fell back more completely than ever upon philosophy; and the
year that followed (45-44 B.C.) is, in mere quantity of literary
production, as well as in the abiding effect on the world of letters of
the work he then produced, the _annus mirabilis_ of his life. Two at
least of the works of this year, the _De Gloria_ and the _De Virtutibus_,
have perished, though the former survived long enough to be read by
Petrarch; but there remain extant (besides one or two other pieces of
slighter importance) the _De Finibus_, the _Academics_, the _Tusculans_,
the _De Natura Deorum_, the _De Divinatione_, the _De Fato_, the _De
Officiis_, and the two exquisite essays _De Senectute_ and _De Amicitia_.

It is the work of this astonishing year which, on the whole, represents
Cicero's permanent contribution to letters and to human thought. If his
philosophy seems now to have exhausted its influence, it is because it
has in great measure been absorbed into the fabric of civilised society.
Ciceronianism, at the period of the Renaissance, and even in the
eighteenth century, meant more than the impulse towards florid and
sumptuous style. It meant all that is conveyed by the Latin word
_humanitas;_ the title of "the humaner letters," by which Latin was long
designated in European universities, indicated that in the great Latin
writers--in Cicero and Virgil preeminently--a higher type of human life
was to be found than existed in the literature of other countries: as
though at Rome, and in the first century before Christ, the political and
social environment had for the first time produced men such as men would
wish to be, at all events for the ideals of Western Europe. To less
informed or less critical ages than our own, the absolute contribution of
Cicero to ethics and metaphysics seemed comparable to that of the great
Greek thinkers; the _De Natura Deorum_ was taken as a workable argument
against atheism, and the thin and wire-drawn discussions of the
_Academics_ were studied with an attention hardly given to the founder of
the Academy. When a sounder historical method brought these writings into
their real proportion, it was inevitable that the scale should swing
violently to the other side; and for a time no language was too strong in
which to attack the reputation of the "phrase-maker," the "journalist,"
whose name had once dominated Europe. The violence of this attack has now
exhausted itself; and we may be content, without any exaggerated praise
or blame, to note the actual historical effect of these writings through
many ages, and the actual impression made on the world by the type of
character which they embodied and, in a sense, created. In this view,
Cicero represents a force that no historian can neglect, and the
importance of which it is not easy to overestimate. He did for the Empire
and the Middle Ages what Lucretius, with his far greater philosophic
genius, totally failed to do--created forms of thought in which the life
of philosophy grew, and a body of expression which alone made its growth
in the Latin-speaking world possible; and to that world he presented a
political ideal which profoundly influenced the whole course of European
history even up to the French Revolution. Without Cicero, the Middle Ages
would not have had Augustine or Aquinas; but, without him, the movement
which annulled the Middle Ages would have had neither Mirabeau nor Pitt.

The part of Cicero's work which the present age probably finds the most
interesting, and the interest of which is, in the nature of things,
perennial, has been as yet left unmentioned. It consists of the
collections of his private letters from the year 68 B.C. to within a few
months of his death. The first of these collections contains his letters
to the friend and adviser, Titus Pomponius Atticus, with whom, when they
were not both in Rome, he kept up a constant and an extremely intimate
correspondence. Atticus, whose profession, as far as he had one, was that
of a banker, was not only a man of wide knowledge and great political
sagacity, but a refined critic and an author of considerable merit. The
publishing business, which he conducted as an adjunct to his principal
profession, made him of great use to Cicero by the rapid multiplication
in his workshops of copies of the speeches or other writings for which
there was an immediate public demand. But the intimacy was much more than
that of the politician and his confidential adviser, or the author and
his publisher. Cicero found in him a friend with whom he could on all
occasions be perfectly frank and at his ease, and on whose sober judgment
and undemonstrative, but perfectly sincere, attachment his own excitable
and emotional nature could always throw itself without reserve. About
four hundred of the letters were published by Atticus several years after
Cicero's death. It must always be a source of regret that he could not,
or, at all events, did not, publish the other half of the correspondence;
many of the letters, especially the brief confidential notes, have the
tantalising interest of a conversation where one of the speakers is
inaudible. It is the letters to Atticus that place Cicero at the head of
all epistolary stylists. We should hardly guess from the more formal and
finished writings what the real man was, with his excitable Italian
temperament, his swift power of phrase, his sensitive affections.

The other large collection of Cicero's letters, the _Epistolae ad
Familiares_, was preserved and edited by his secretary, Tiro. They are,
of course, of very unequal value and interest. Some are merely formal
documents; others, like those to his wife and family in book xiv., are as
intimate and as valuable as any we possess. The two smaller collections,
the letters to his brother Quintus, and those to Marcus Brutus, of which
a mere fragment is extant, are of little independent value. The
_Epistolae ad Familiares_ include, besides Cicero's own letters, a large
number of letters addressed to him by various correspondents; a whole
book, and that not the least interesting, consists of those sent to him
during his Cilician proconsulate by the brilliant and erratic young
aristocrat, Marcus Caelius Rufus, who was the temporary successor of
Catullus as the favoured lover of Clodia. Full of the political and
social gossip of the day, they are written in a curiously slipshod but
energetic Latin, which brings before us even more vividly than Cicero's
own the familiar language of the upper classes at Rome at the time.
Another letter, which can hardly be passed over in silence in any history
of Latin literature, is the noble message of condolence to Cicero on the
death of his beloved Tullia, by the statesman and jurist, Servius
Sulpicius Rufus, who carried on in this age the great tradition of the

It is due to these priceless collections of letters, more than to any
other single thing, that our knowledge of the Ciceronian age is so
complete and so intimate. At every point they reinforce and vitalise the
more elaborate literary productions of the period. The art of letter-
writing suddenly rose in Cicero's hands to its full perfection. It fell
to the lot of no later Roman to have at once such mastery over familiar
style, and contemporary events of such engrossing and ever-changing
interest on which to exercise it. All the great letter-writers of more
modern ages have more or less, consciously or unconsciously, followed the
Ciceronian model. England of the eighteenth century was peculiarly rich
in them; but Horace Walpole, Cowper, Gray himself, would willingly have
acknowledged Cicero as their master.

Caesar's assassination on the 15th of March, 44 B.C., plunged the
political situation into a worse chaos than had ever been reached during
the Civil wars. For several months it was not at all plain how things
were tending, or what fresh combinations were to rise out of the welter
in which a vacillating and incapable senate formed the only
constitutional rallying-point. In spite of all his long-cherished
delusions, Cicero must have known that this way no hope lay; when at last
he flung himself into the conflict, and broke away from his literary
seclusion to make the fierce series of attacks upon Antonius which fill
the winter of 44-43 B.C., he may have had some vague hopes from the
Asiatic legions which once before, in Sulla's hands, had checked the
revolution, and some from the power of his own once unequalled eloquence;
but on the whole he seems to have undertaken the contest chiefly from the
instinct that had become a tradition, and from his deep personal
repugnance to Antonius. The fourteen _Philippics_ add little to his
reputation as an orator, and still less to his credit as a statesman. The
old watchwords are there, but their unreality is now more obvious; the
old rhetorical skill, but more coarsely and less effectively used. The
last _Philippic_ was delivered to advocate a public thanksgiving for the
victory gained over Antonius by the consuls, Hirtius and Pansa. A month
later, the consuls were both dead, and their two armies had passed into
the control of the young Octavianus. In autumn the triumvirate was
constituted, with an armed force of forty legions behind it. The
proscription lists were issued in November. On the 7th of December, after
some aimless wandering that hardly was a serious effort to escape, Cicero
was overtaken near Formiae by a small party of Antonian troops. He was
killed, and his head sent to Rome and displayed in the senate-house.
There was nothing left for which he could have wished to live. In the
five centuries of the Republic there never had been a darker time for
Rome. Cicero had outlived almost all the great men of his age. The newer
generation, so far as they had revealed themselves, were of a type from
which those who had inherited the great traditions of the Republic shrank
with horror. Caesar Octavianus, the future master of the world, was a
delicate boy of twenty, already an object of dislike and distrust to
nearly all his allies. Virgil, a poet still voiceless, was twenty-seven.



Fertile as the Ciceronian age was in authorship of many kinds, there was
only one person in it whose claim to be placed in an equal rank with
Cicero could ever be seriously entertained; and this was, strangely
enough, one who was as it were only a man of letters by accident, and
whose literary work is but among the least of his titles to fame--Julius
Caesar himself. That anything written by that remarkable man must be
interesting and valuable in a high degree is obvious; but the combination
of literary power of the very first order with his unparallelled military
and political genius is perhaps unique in history.

It is one of the most regrettable losses in Latin literature that
Caesar's speeches and letters have almost completely perished. Of the
latter several collections were made after his death, and were extant in
the second century; but none are now preserved, except a few brief notes
to Cicero, of which copies were sent by him at the time to Atticus. The
fragments of his speeches are even less considerable; yet, according to
the unanimous testimony both of contemporary and of later critics, they
were unexcelled in that age of great oratory. He used the Latin language
with a purity and distinction that no one else could equal. And along
with this quality, the _mira elegantia_ of Quintilian, his oratory had
some kind of severe magnificence which we can partly guess at from his
extant writings--_magnifica et generosa_, says Cicero; _facultas dicendi
imperatoria_ is the phrase of a later and able critic.

Of Caesar's other lost writings little need be said. In youth, like most
of his contemporaries, he wrote poems, including a tragedy, of which
Tacitus drily observes that they were not better than those of Cicero. A
grammatical treatise, _De Analogia_, was composed by him during one of
his long journeys between Northern Italy and the headquarters of his army
in Gaul during his proconsulate. A work on astronomy, apparently written
in connection with his reform of the calendar, two pamphlets attacking
Cato, and a collection of apophthegms, have also disappeared. But we
possess what were by far the most important of his writings, his famous
memoirs of the Gallic and Civil Wars.

The seven books of _Commentaries on the Gallic War_ were written in
Caesar's winter quarters in Gaul, after the capture of Alesia and the
final suppression of the Arvernian revolt. They were primarily intended
to serve an immediate political purpose, and are indeed a defence, framed
with the most consummate skill, of the author's whole Gallic policy and
of his constitutional position. That Caesar was able to do this without,
so far as can be judged, violating, or even to any large degree
suppressing facts, does equal credit to the clear-sightedness of his
policy and to his extraordinary literary power. From first to last there
is not a word either of self-laudation or of innuendo; yet at the end we
find that, by the use of the simplest and most lucid narration, in which
hardly a fact or a detail can be controverted, Caesar has cleared his
motives and justified his conduct with a success the more complete
because his tone is so temperate and seemingly so impartial. An officer
of his staff who was with him during that winter, and who afterwards
added an eighth book to the _Commentaries_ to complete the history of the
Gallic proconsulate, has recorded the ease and swiftness with which the
work was written. Caesar issued it under the unpretending name of
_Commentarii_--"notes"--on the events of his campaigns, which might be
useful as materials for history; but there was no exaggeration in the
splendid compliment paid it a few years later by Cicero, that no one in
his senses would think of recasting a work whose succinct, perspicuous,
and brilliant style--_pura et inlustris brevitas_--has been the model and
the despair of later historians.

The three books of _Commentaries on the Civil War_ show the same merits
in a much less marked degree. They were not published in Caesar's
lifetime, and do not seem to have received from him any close or careful
revision. The literary incompetence of the Caesarian officers into whose
hands they fell after his death, and one or more of whom must be
responsible for their publication, is sufficiently evident from their own
awkward attempts at continuing them in narratives of the Alexandrine,
African, and Spanish campaigns; and whether from the carelessness of the
original editors or from other reasons, the text is in a most deplorable
condition. Yet this is not in itself sufficient to account for many
positive misstatements. Either the editors used a very free hand in
altering the rough manuscript, or--which is not in itself unlikely, and
is borne out by other facts--Caesar's own prodigious memory and
incomparable perspicuity became impaired in those five years of all but
superhuman achievement, when, with the whole weight of the civilised
world on his shoulders, feebly served by second-rate lieutenants and
hampered at every turn by the open or passive opposition of nearly the
whole of the trained governing classes, he conquered four great Roman
armies, secured Egypt and Upper Asia and annexed Numidia to the Republic,
carried out the unification of Italy, reestablished public order and
public credit, and left at his death the foundations of the Empire
securely laid for his successor.

The loyal and capable officer, Aulus Hirtius (who afterwards became
consul, and was killed in battle before Mutina a year after Caesar's
murder), did his best to supplement his master's narrative. He seems to
have been a well-educated man, but without any particular literary
capacity. It was uncertain, even to the careful research of Suetonius,
whether the narrative of the campaigns in Egypt and Pontus, known as the
_Bellum Alexandrinum_, was written by him or by another officer of
Caesar's, Gaius Oppius. The books on the campaigns of Africa and Spain
which follow are by different hands: the former evidently by some
subaltern officer who took part in the war, and very interesting as
showing the average level of intelligence and culture among Roman
officers of the period; the latter by another author and in very inferior
Latin, full of grammatical solecisms and popular idioms oddly mixed up
with epic phrases from Ennius, who was still, it must be remembered, the
great Latin school-book. It is these curious fragments of history which
more than anything else help us to understand the rapid decay of Latin
prose after the golden period. Under the later Republic the educated
class and the governing class had, broadly speaking, been the same. The
Civil wars, in effect, took administration away from their hands,
transferring it to the new official class, of which these subalterns of
Caesar's represent the type; and this change was confirmed by the Empire.
The result was a sudden and long-continued divorce between political
activity on the one hand and the profession of letters on the other. For
a century after the establishment of the Empire the aristocracy, which
had produced the great literature of the Republic, remained forcibly or
sullenly silent; and the new hierarchy was still at the best only half
educated. The professional man of letters was at first fostered and
subsidised; but even before the death of Augustus State patronage of
literature had fallen into abeyance, while the cultured classes fell more
and more back on the use of Greek. The varying fortunes of this struggle
between Greek and literary Latin as it had been formed under the
Republic, belong to a later period: at present we must return to complete
a general survey of the prose of the Ciceronian age.

Historical writing at Rome, as we have seen, had hitherto been in the
form either of annals or memoirs. The latter were, of course, rather
materials for history than history itself, even when they were not
excluded from Quintilian's famous definition of history[5] by being
composed primarily as political pamphlets. The former had so far been
attempted on too large a scale, and with insufficient equipment either of
research or style, to attain any permanent merit. In the ten years after
Caesar's death Latin history was raised to a higher level by the works of
Sallust, the first scientific historian whom Italy had produced.

Gaius Sallustius Crispus of Amiternum in Central Italy belonged to that
younger generation of which Marcus Antonius and Marcus Caelius Rufus were
eminent examples. Clever and dissipated, they revolted alike from the
severe traditions and the narrow class prejudices of the constitutional
party, and Caesar found in them enthusiastic, if somewhat imprudent and
untrustworthy, supporters. Sallust was expelled from the senate just
before the outbreak of the Civil war; was reinstated by Caesar, and
entrusted with high posts in Illyria and Italy; and was afterwards sent
by him to administer Africa with the rank of proconsul. There he
accumulated a large fortune, and, after Caesar's death, retired to
private life in his beautiful gardens on the Quirinal, and devoted
himself to historical study. The largest and most important of his works,
the five books of _Historiae_, covering a period of about ten years from
the death of Sulla, is only extant in inconsiderable fragments; but his
two monographs on the Jugurthine war and the Catilinarian conspiracy,
which have been preserved, place him beyond doubt in the first rank of
Roman historians.

Sallust took Thucydides as his principal literary model. His reputation
has no doubt suffered by the comparison which this choice makes
inevitable; and though Quintilian did not hesitate to claim for him a
substantial equality with the great Athenian, no one would now press the
parallel, except in so far as Sallust's formal treatment of his subject
affords interesting likenesses or contrasts with the Thucydidean manner.
In his prefatory remarks, his elaborately conceived and executed
speeches, his reflections on character, and his terse method of
narration, Sallust closely follows the manner of his master. He even
copies his faults in a sort of dryness of style and an excessive use of
antithesis. But we cannot feel, in reading the _Catiline_ or the
_Jugurtha_, that it is the work of a writer of the very first
intellectual power. Yet the two historians have this in common, which is
not borrowed by the later from the earlier,--that they approach and
handle their subject with the mature mind, the insight and common sense
of the grown man, where their predecessors had been comparatively like
children. Both are totally free from superstition; neither allows his own
political views to obscure his vision of facts, of men as they were and
events as they happened. The respect for truth, which is the first virtue
of the historian, is stronger in Sallust than in any of his more
brilliant successors. His ideal in the matter of research and documentary
evidence was, for that age, singularly high. In the _Catiline_ he writes
very largely from direct personal knowledge of men and events; but the
_Jugurtha_, which deals with a time two generations earlier than the date
of its composition, involved wide inquiry and much preparation. He had
translations made from original documents in the Carthaginian language;
and a complete synopsis of Roman history, for reference during the
progress of his work, was compiled for him by a Greek secretary. Such
pains were seldom taken by a Latin historian.

The last of the Ciceronians, Sallust is also in a sense the first of the
imperial prose-writers. His style, compressed, rhetorical, and very
highly polished, is in strong contrast to the graceful and fluid periods
which were then, and for some time later continued to be, the predominant
fashion, and foreshadows the manner of Seneca or Tacitus. His archaism in
the use of pure Latin, and, alongside of it, his free adoption of
Grecisms, are the first open sign of two movements which profoundly
affected the prose of the earlier and later empire. The acrid critic of
the Augustan age, Asinius Pollio, accused him of having had collections
of obsolete words and phrases made for his use out of Cato and the older
Roman writers. For a short time he was eclipsed by the glowing and
opulent style of Livy; but Livy formed no school, and Sallust on the
whole remained in the first place. The line of Martial, _primus Romana
Crispus in historia_, expresses the settled opinion held of him down to
the final decay of letters; and even in the Middle Ages he remained
widely read and highly esteemed.

Contemporary with Sallust in this period of transition between the
Ciceronian and the Augustan age is Cornelius Nepos (_circ_. 99-24 B.C.).
In earlier life he was one of the circle of Catullus, and after Cicero's
death was one of the chief friends of Atticus, of whom a brief biography,
which he wrote after Atticus' death, is still extant. Unlike Sallust,
Nepos never took part in public affairs, but carried on throughout a long
life the part of a man of letters, honest and kindly, but without any
striking originality or ability. In him we are on the outer fringe of
pure literature; and it is no doubt purposely that Quintilian wholly
omits him from the list of Roman historians. Of his numerous writings on
history, chronology, and grammar, we only possess a fragment of one, his
collection of Roman and foreign biographies, entitled _De Viris
Illustribus_. Of this work there is extant one complete section, _De
Excellentibus Ducibus Exterarum Gentium_, and two lives from another
section, those of Atticus and the younger Cato. The accident of their
convenient length and the simplicity of their language has made them for
generations a common school-book for beginners in Latin; were it not for
this, there can be little doubt that Nepos, like the later epitomators,
Eutropius or Aurelius Victor, would be hardly known except to
professional scholars, and perhaps only to be read in the pages of some
_Corpus Sciptorum Romanorum_. The style of these little biographies is
unpretentious, and the language fairly pure, though without any great
command of phrase. A theory was once held that what we possess is merely
a later epitome from the lost original. But for this there is no rational
support. The language and treatment, such as they are (and they do not
sink to the level of the histories of the African and Spanish wars), are
of this, and not of a later age, and quite consonant with the good-
natured contempt which Nepos met at the hands of later Roman critics.
The chief interest of the work is perhaps the clearness with which it
enforces the truth we are too apt to forget, that the great writers were
in their own age, as now, unique, and that there is no such thing as a
widely diffused level of high literary excellence.

As remote from literature in the higher sense were the innumerable
writings of the Ciceronian age on science, art, antiquities, grammar,
rhetoric, and a hundred miscellaneous subjects, which are, for the most
part, known only from notices in the writings of later commentators and
encyclopedists. Foremost among the voluminous authors of this class was
the celebrated antiquarian, Marcus Terentius Varro, whose long and
laborious life, reaching from two years after the death of the elder Cato
till the final establishment of the Empire, covers and overlaps the
entire Ciceronian age. Of the six or seven hundred volumes which issued
from his pen, and which formed an inexhaustible quarry for his
successors, nearly all are lost. The most important of them were the one
hundred and fifty books of _Saturae Menippeae_, miscellanies in prose and
verse in the manner which had been originated by Menippus of Gadara, the
master of the poet Meleager, and which had at once obtained an enormous
popularity throughout the whole of the Greek-speaking world; the forty-
one books of _Antiquitates Rerum Humanarum et Divinarum_, the standard
work on the religious and secular antiquities of Rome down to the time of
Augustine; the fifteen books of _Imagines_, biographical sketches, with
portraits, of celebrated Greeks and Romans, the first certain instance in
history of the publication of an illustrated book; the twenty-five books
_De Lingua Latina_, of which six are extant in an imperfect condition;
and the treatise _De Re Rustica_, which we possess in an almost complete
state. This last work was written by him at the age of eighty. It is in
the form of a dialogue, and is not without descriptive and dramatic
power. The tediousness which characterised all Varro's writing is less
felt where the subject is one of which he had a thorough practical
knowledge, and which gave ample scope for the vein of rough but not
ungenial humour which he inherited from Cato.

Other names of this epoch have left no permanent mark on literature. The
precursors of Sallust in history seem, like the precursors of Cicero in
philosophy, to have approached their task with little more equipment than
that of the ordinary amateur. The great orator Hortensius wrote _Annals_
(probably in the form of memoirs of his own time), which are only known
from a reference to them in a later history written in the reign of
Tiberius. Atticus, who had an interest in literature beyond that of the
mere publisher, drew up a sort of handbook of Roman history, which is
repeatedly mentioned by Cicero. Cicero's own brother Quintus, who passed
for a man of letters, composed a work of the same kind; the tragedies
with which he relieved the tedium of winter-quarters in Gaul were,
however, translations from the Greek, not originals. Cicero's private
secretary, Marcus Tullius Tiro, best known by the system of shorthand
which he invented or improved, and which for long remained the basis of a
standard code, is also mentioned as the author of works on grammar, and,
as has already been noticed, edited a collection of his master's letters
after his death. Decimus Laberius, a Roman of equestrian family, and
Publilius Syrus, a naturalised native of Antioch, wrote mimes, which
were performed with great applause, and gave a fugitive literary
importance to this trivial form of dramatic entertainment. A collection
of sentences which passes under the name of the latter was formed out of
his works under the Empire, and enlarged from other sources in the Middle
Ages. It supplies many admirable instances of the terse vigour of the
Roman popular philosophy; some of these lines, like the famous--

_Bene vixit is qui potuit cum voluit mori_,


_Index damnatur ubi nocens absolvitur_,


_O vitam misero longam, felici brevem!_

or the perpetually misquoted--

_Stultum facit fortuna, quem vult perdere_,

have sunk deeper and been more widely known than almost anything else
written in Latin. Among the few poets who succeeded the circle of
Catullus, the only one of interest is Publius Terentius Varro, known as
Varro Atacinus from his birthplace on the banks of the Aude in Provence,
the first of the long list of Transalpine writers who filled Rome at a
later period. Besides the usual translations and adaptations from
Alexandrian originals, and an elaborate cosmography, he practised his
considerable talent in hexameter verse both in epic and satiric poetry,
and did something to clear the way in metrical technique for both Horace
and Virgil. With these names, among a crowd of others even more vague and
shadowy, the literature of the Roman Republic closes. A new generation
was already at the doors.




Publius Vergilius Maro was born at the village of Andes, near Mantua, on
the 15th of October, 70 B.C. The province of Cisalpine Gaul, though not
formally incorporated with Italy till twenty years later, had before
this become thoroughly Romanised, and was one of the principal recruiting
grounds for the legions. But the population was still, by blood and
sympathy, very largely Celtic; and modern theorists are fond of tracing
the new element of romance, which Virgil introduced with such momentous
results into Latin poetry, to the same Celtic spirit which in later ages
flowered out in the Arthurian legend, and inspired the whole creative
literature of mediaeval Europe. To the countrymen of Shakespeare and
Keats it will not seem necessary to assume a Celtic origin, on abstract
grounds, for any new birth of this romantic element. The name Maro may or
may not be Celtic; any argument founded on it is of little more relevance
than the fancy which once interpreted the name of Virgil's mother, Magia
Polla, into a supernatural significance, and, connecting the name
Virgilius itself with the word _Virgo_, metamorphosed the poet into an
enchanter born of a maiden mother, the Merlin of the Roman Empire.

Virgil's father was a small freeholder in Andes, who farmed his own land,
practised forestry and bee-keeping, and gradually accumulated a
sufficient competence to enable him to give his son--an only child, it
would appear, of this marriage--the best education that the times could
provide. He was sent to school at the neighbouring town of Cremona, and
afterwards to Milan, the capital city of the province. At the age of
seventeen he proceeded to Rome, where he studied oratory and philosophy
under the best masters of the time. A tradition, which the dates make
improbable, was that Gaius Octavius, afterwards the Emperor Augustus, was
for a time his fellow-scholar under the rhetorician Epidius. In the
classroom of the Epicurean Siro he may have made his first acquaintance
with the poetry of Lucretius.

For the next ten years we know nothing of Virgil's life, which no doubt
was that of a profound student. His father had died, and his mother
married again, and his patrimony was sufficient to support him until a
turn of the wheel of public affairs for a moment lost, and then
permanently secured his fortune. After the battle of Philippi, the first
task of the victorious triumvirs was to provide for the disbanding and
settlement of the immense armies which had been raised for the Civil war.
The lands of cities which had taken the Republican side were confiscated
right and left for this purpose; among the rest, Virgil's farm, which was
included in the territory of Cremona. But Virgil found in the
administrator of the district, Gaius Asinius Pollio, himself a
distinguished critic and man of letters, a powerful and active patron. By
his influence and that of his friends, Cornelius Gallus and Alfenus
Varus--the former a soldier and poet, the latter an eminent jurist, who
both had been fellow-students of Virgil at Rome--Virgil was compensated
by an estate in Campania, and introduced to the intimate circle of
Octavianus, who, under the terms of the triumvirate, was already absolute
ruler of Italy.

It was about this time that the _Eclogues_ were published, whether
separately or collectively is uncertain, though the final collection and
arrangement, which is Virgil's own, can hardly be later than 38 B.C. The
impression they made on the world of letters was immediate and universal.
To some degree no doubt a reception was secured to them by the influence
of Maecenas, the Home Minister of Octavianus, who had already taken up
the line which he so largely developed in later years, of a public patron
of art and letters in the interest of the new government. But had Virgil
made his first public appearance merely as a Court poet, it is probable
that the _Eclogues_ would have roused little enthusiasm and little
serious criticism. Their true significance seems to have been at once
realised as marking the beginning of a new era; and amid the storm of
criticism, laudatory and adverse, which has raged round them for so many
ages since, this cardinal fact has always remained prominent. Alike to
the humanists of the earlier Renaissance, who found in them the sunrise
of a golden age of poetry and the achievement of the Latin conquest over
Greece, and to the more recent critics of this century, for whom they
represented the echo of an already exhausted convention and the beginning
of the decadence of Roman poetry, the _Eclogues_ have been the real
turning-point, not only between two periods of Latin literature, but
between two worlds.

The poems destined to so remarkable a significance are, in their external
form, close and careful imitations of Theocritus, and have all the vices
and weaknesses of imitative poetry to a degree that could not well be
exceeded. Nor are these failings redeemed (as is to a certain extent true
of the purely imitative work of Catullus and other poets) by any
brilliant jewel-finish of workmanship. The execution is uncertain,
hesitating, sometimes extraordinarily feeble. One well-known line it is
impossible to explain otherwise than as a mistranslation of a phrase in
Theocritus such as one would hardly expect from a well-grounded
schoolboy. When Virgil follows the convention of the Greek pastoral his
copy is doubly removed from nature; where he ventures on fresh
impersonation or allegory of his own, it is generally weak in itself and
always hopelessly out of tone with the rest. Even the versification is
curiously unequal and imperfect. There are lines in more than one Eclogue
which remind one in everything but their languor of the flattest parts of
Lucretius. Contemporary critics even went so far as to say that the
language here and there was simply not Latin.

Yet granted that all this and more than all this were true, it does not
touch that specific Virgilian charm of which these poems first disclosed
the secret. Already through their immature and tremulous cadences there
pierces, from time to time, that note of brooding pity which is unique in
the poetry of the world. The fourth and tenth Eclogues may be singled out
especially as showing the new method, which almost amounted to a new
human language, as they are also those where Virgil breaks away most
decidedly from imitation of the Greek idyllists. The fourth Eclogue
unfortunately has been so long and so deeply associated with purely
adventitious ideas that it requires a considerable effort to read it as
it ought to be read. The curious misconception which turned it into a
prophecy of the birth of Christ outlasted in its effects any serious
belief in its historical truth: even modern critics cite Isaiah for
parallels, and are apt to decry it as a childish attempt to draw a
picture of some actual golden age. But the Sibylline verses which
suggested its contents and imagery were really but the accidental grain
of dust round which the crystallization of the poem began; and the
enchanted light which lingers over it is hardly distinguishable from that
which saturates the _Georgics. Cedet et ipse mari vector, nec nautica
pinus mutabit merces_--the feeling here is the same as in his mere
descriptions of daily weather, like the _Omnia plenis rura natant fossis
atque omnis navita ponto umida vela legit;_ not so much a vision of a
golden age as Nature herself seen through a medium of strange gold. Or
again, in the tenth Eclogue, where the masque of shepherds and gods
passes before the sick lover, it is through the same strange and golden
air that they seem to move, and the heavy lilies of Silvanus droop in the
stillness of the same unearthly day.

Seven years following on the publication of the _Eclogues_ were spent by
Virgil on the composition of the _Georgics_. They were published two
years after the battle of Actium, being thus the first, as they are the
most splendid, literary production of the Empire. They represent the art
of Virgil in its matured perfection. The subject was one in which he was
thoroughly at home and completely happy. His own early years had been
spent in the pastures of the Mincio, among his father's cornfields and
coppices and hives; and his newer residence, by the seashore near Naples
in winter, and in summer at his villa in the lovely hill-country of
Campania, surrounded him with all that was most beautiful in the most
beautiful of lands. His delicate health made it easier for him to give
his work the slow and arduous elaboration that makes the _Georgics_ in
mere technical finish the most perfect work of Latin, or perhaps of any
literature. There is no trace of impatience in the work. It was in some
sense a commission; but Augustus and Maecenas, if it be true that they
suggested the subject, had, at all events, the sense not to hurry it. The
result more than fulfilled the brilliant promise of the _Eclogues_.
Virgil was now, without doubt or dispute, the first of contemporary

But his responsibilities grew with his greatness. The scheme of a great
Roman epic, which had always floated before his own mind, was now
definitely and indeed urgently pressed upon him by authority which it was
difficult to resist. And many elements in his own mind drew him in the
same direction. Too much stress need not be laid on the passage in the
sixth Eclogue--one of the rare autobiographic touches in his work--in
which he alludes to his early experiments in "singing of kings and
battles." Such early exercises are the common field of young poets. But
the maturing of his mind, which can be traced in the _Georgics,_ was
urging him towards certain methods of art for which the epic was the only
literary form that gave sufficient scope. More and more he was turning
from nature to man and human life, and to the contemplation of human
destiny. The growth of the psychological instinct in the _Georgics_ is
curiously visible in the episode of Aristaeus, with which the poem now
ends. According to a well-authenticated tradition, the last two hundred
and fifty lines of the fourth _Georgic_ were written several years after
the rest of the poem, to replace the original conclusion, which had
contained the praises of his early friend, Cornelius Gallus, now dead in
disgrace and proscribed from court poetry. In the story of Orpheus and
Eurydice, in the later version, Virgil shows a new method and a new
power. It stands between the idyl and the epic, but it is the epic method
towards which it tends. No return upon the earlier manner was thenceforth
possible; with many searchings of heart, with much occasional
despondency and dissatisfaction, he addressed himself to the composition
of the _Aeneid_.

The earlier national epics of Naevius and Ennius had framed certain lines
for Roman epic poetry, which it was almost bound to follow. They had
established the mythical connection of Rome with Troy and with the great
cycle of Greek legend, and had originated the idea of making Rome itself
--that _Fortuna Urbis_ which later stood in the form of a golden statue
in the imperial bedchamber--the central interest, one might almost say
the central figure, of the story. To adapt the Homeric methods to this
new purpose, and at the same time to make his epic the vehicle for all
his own inward broodings over life and fate, for his subtle and delicate
psychology, and for that philosophic passion in which all the other
motives and springs of life were becoming included, was a task incapable
of perfect solution. On his death-bed Virgil made it his last desire that
the _Aeneid_ should be destroyed, nominally on the ground that it still
wanted three years' work to bring it to perfection, but one can hardly
doubt from a deeper and less articulate feeling. The command of the
Emperor alone prevented his wish from taking effect. With the unfinished
_Aeneid,_ as with the unfinished poem of Lucretius, it is easy to see
within what limits any changes or improvements would have been made in
it had the author lived longer: the work is, in both cases, substantially

The _Aeneid_ was begun the year after the publication of the _Georgics,_
when Virgil was forty years of age. During its progress he continued to
live for the most part in his Campanian retirement. He had a house at
Rome in the fashionable quarter of the Esquiline, but used it little. He
was also much in Sicily, and the later books of the _Aeneid_ seem to show
personal observation of many parts of Central Italy. It is a debated
question whether he visited Greece more than once. His last visit there
was in 19 B.C. He had resolved to spend three years more on the
completion of his poem, and then give himself up to philosophy for what
might remain of his life. But the three years were not given him. A
fever, caught while visiting Megara on a day of excessive heat, induced
him to return hastily to Italy. He died a few days after landing at
Brundusium, on the 26th of September. His ashes were, by his own request,
buried near Naples, where his tomb was a century afterwards worshipped as
a holy place. The _Aeneid,_ carefully edited from the poet's manuscript
by two of his friends, was forthwith published, and had such a reception
as perhaps no poem before or since has ever found. Already, while it was
in progress, it had been rumoured as "something greater than the
_Iliad,_" and now that it appeared, it at once became the canon of Roman
poetry, and immediately began to exercise an overwhelming influence over
Latin literature, prose as well as verse. Critics were not indeed wanting
to point out its defects, and there was still a school (which attained
greater importance a century later) that went back to Lucretius and the
older poets, and refused to allow Virgil's preeminence. But for the
Roman world at large, as since for the world of the Latin races, Virgil
became what Homer had been to Greece, "the poet." The decay of art and
letters in the third century only added a mystical and hieratic element
to his fame. Even to the Christian Church he remained a poet sacred and
apart: in his profound tenderness and his mystical "yearning after the
further shore," as much as in the supposed prophecy of the fourth
Eclogue, they found and reverenced what seemed to them like an
unconscious inspiration. The famous passage of St. Augustine, where he
speaks of his own early love for Virgil, shows in its half-hysterical
renunciation how great the charm of the Virgilian art had been, and still
was, to him: _Quid miserius misero,_ he cries, _non miserante se ipsum,
et flente Didonis mortem quae fiebat amando Aeneam, non flente autem
mortem meam quae flebat non amando te? Deus lumen cordis mei, non te
amabam, et haec non flebam, sed flebam Didonem exstinctam, ferroque
extrema secutam, sequens ipse extrema condita tua relicto te![6] To the
graver and more matured mind of Dante, Virgil was the lord and master
who, even though shut out from Paradise, was the chosen and honoured
minister of God. Up to the beginning of the present century the supremacy
of Virgil was hardly doubted. Since then the development of scientific
criticism has passed him through all its searching processes, and in a
fair judgment his greatness has rather gained than lost. The doubtful
honour of indiscriminate praise was for a brief period succeeded by the
attacks of an almost equally undiscriminating censure. An ill-judged
partiality had once spoken of the _Aeneid_ as something greater than a
Roman _Iliad:_ it was easy to show that in the most remarkable Homeric
qualities the _Aeneid_ fell far short, and that, so far as it was an
imitation of Homer, it could no more stand beside Homer than the
imitations of Theocritus in the _Eclogues_ could stand beside Theocritus.
The romantic movement, with its impatience of established fames, damned
the _Aeneid_ in one word as artificial; forgetting, or not seeing, that
the _Aeneid_ was itself the fountain-head of romanticism. Long after the
theory of the noble savage had passed out of political and social
philosophy it lingered in literary criticism; and the distinction between
"natural" and "artificial" poetry was held to be like that between light
and darkness. It was not till a comparatively recent time that the
leisurely progress of criticism stumbled on the fact that all poetry is
artificial, and that the _Iliad_ itself is artificial in a very eminent
and unusual degree.

No great work of art can be usefully judged by comparison with any other
great work of art. It may, indeed, be interesting and fertile to compare
one with another, in order to seize more sharply and appreciate more
vividly the special beauty of each. But to press comparison further, and
to depreciate one because it has not what is the special quality of the
other, is to lose sight of the function of criticism. We shall not find
in Virgil the bright speed, the unexhausted joyfulness, which, in spite
of a view of life as grave as Virgil's own, make the _Iliad_ and
_Odyssey_ unique in poetry; nor, which is more to the point as regards
the _Aeneid,_ the narrative power, the genius for story-telling, which is
one of the rarest of literary gifts, and which Ovid alone among the Latin
poets possessed in any high perfection. We shall not find in him that
high and concentrated passion which in Pindar (as afterwards in Dante)
fuses the elements of thought and language into a single white heat. We
shall not find in him the luminous and untroubled calm, as of a spirit in
which all passion has been fused away, which makes the poetry of
Sophocles so crystalline and irreproachable. Nor shall we find in him the
peculiar beauties of his own Latin predecessors, Lucretius or Catullus.
All this is merely saying in amplified words that Virgil was not
Lucretius or Catullus, and that still less was he Homer, or Pindar, or
Sophocles; and to this may be added, that he lived in the world which the
great Greek and Latin poets had created, though he looked forward out of
it into another.

Yet the positive excellences of the _Aeneid_ are so numerous and so
splendid that the claim of its author to be the Roman Homer is not
unreasonable, if it be made clear that the two poems are fundamentally
disparate, and that no more is meant than that the one poet is as eminent
in his own form and method as the other in his. In our haste to rest
Virgil's claim to supremacy as a poet on the single quality in which he
is unique and unapproachable we may seem tacitly to assent to the
judgment of his detractors on other points. Yet the more one studies the
_Aeneid,_ the more profoundly is one impressed by its quality as a
masterpiece of construction. The most adverse critic would not deny that
portions of the poem are, both in dramatic and narrative quality, all but
unsurpassed, and in a certain union of imaginative sympathy with their
fine dramatic power and their stateliness of narration perhaps
unequalled. The story of the last agony of Troy could not be told with
more breadth, more richness, more brilliance than it is told in the
second book: here, at least, the story neither flags nor hurries; from
the moment when the Greek squadron sets sail from Tenedos and the signal-
flame flashes from their flagship, the scenes of the fatal night pass
before us in a smooth swift stream that gathers weight and volume as it
goes, till it culminates in the vision of awful faces which rises before
Aeneas when Venus lifts the cloud of mortality from his startled eyes.
The episode of Nisus and Euryalus in the ninth book, and that of Camilla
in the eleventh, are in their degree as admirably vivid and stately. The
portraiture of Dido, again, in the fourth book, is in combined breadth
and subtlety one of the dramatic masterpieces of human literature. It is
idle to urge that this touch is borrowed from Euripides or that suggested
by Sophocles, or to quote the Medea of Apollonius as the original of
which Dido is an elaborate imitation. What Virgil borrowed he knew how to
make his own; and the world which, while not denying the tenderness, the
grace, the charm of the heroine of the _Argonautica,_ leaves the
_Argonautica_ unread, has thrilled and grown pale from generation to
generation over the passionate tragedy of the Carthaginian queen.

But before a deeper and more appreciative study of the _Aeneid_ these
great episodes cease to present themselves as detached eminences. That
the _Aeneid_ is unequal is true; that passages in it here and there are
mannered, and even flat, is true also; but to one who has had the
patience to know it thoroughly, it is in its total effect, and not in the
great passages, or even the great books, that it seems the most
consummate achievement. Virgil may seem to us to miss some of his
opportunities, to labour others beyond their due proportion, to force
himself (especially in the later books) into material not well adapted to
the distinctive Virgilian treatment. The slight and vague portrait of the
maiden princess of Latium, in which the one vivid touch of her "flower-
like hair" is the only clear memory we carry away with us, might, in
different hands--in those of Apollonius, for instance,--have given a new
grace and charm to the scenes where she appears. The funeral games at the
tomb of Anchises, no longer described, as they had been in early Greek
poetry, from a real pleasure in dwelling upon their details, begin to
become tedious before they are over. In the battle-pieces of the last
three books we sometimes cannot help being reminded that Virgil is rather
wearily following an obsolescent literary tradition. But when we have set
such passages against others which, without being as widely celebrated as
the episode of the sack of Troy or the death of Dido, are equally
miraculous in their workmanship--the end of the fifth book, for instance,
or the muster-roll of the armies of Italy in the seventh, or, above all,
the last hundred and fifty lines of the twelfth, where Virgil rises
perhaps to his very greatest manner--we shall not find that the
splendour of the poem depends on detached passages, but far more on the
great manner and movement which, interfused with the unique Virgilian
tenderness, sustains the whole structure through and through.

In merely technical quality the supremacy of Virgil's art has never been
disputed. The Latin hexameter, "the stateliest measure ever moulded by
the lips of man," was brought by him to a perfection which made any
further development impossible. Up to the last it kept taking in his
hands new refinements of rhythm and movement which make the later books
of the _Aeneid_ (the least successful part of the poem in general
estimation) an even more fascinating study to the lovers of language than
the more formally perfect work of the _Georgics,_ or the earlier books of
the _Aeneid_ itself. A brilliant modern critic has noted this in words
which deserve careful study. "The innovations are individually hardly
perceptible, but taken together they alter the character of the hexameter
line in a way more easily felt than described. Among the more definite
changes we may note that there are more full stops in the middle of
lines, there are more elisions, there is a larger proportion of short
words, there are more words repeated, more assonances, and a freer use of
the emphasis gained by the recurrence of verbs in the same or cognate
tenses. Where passages thus characterised have come down to us still in
the making, the effect is forced and fragmentary; where they succeed,
they combine in a novel manner the rushing freedom of the old trochaics
with the majesty which is the distinguishing feature of Virgil's style.
The poet's last words suggest to us possibilities in the Latin tongue
which no successor has been able to realise." In these later books
likewise, the psychological interest and insight which keep perpetually
growing throughout Virgil's work result in an almost unequalled power of
expressing in exquisite language the half-tones and delicate shades of
mental processes. The famous simile in the twelfth _Aeneid_--

_Ac velut in somnis oculos ubi languida pressit
Nocte quies, nequiquam avidos extendere cursus
Velle videmur, et in mediis conatibus aegri
Succidimus, nec lingua valet, nec corpore notae
Sufficiunt vires aut vox et verba sequuntur--_

is an instance of the amazing mastery with which he makes language have
the effect of music in expressing the subtlest processes of feeling.
But the specific and central charm of Virgil lies deeper than in any
merely technical quality. The word which expresses it most nearly is that
of pity. In the most famous of his single lines he speaks of the "tears
of things;" just this sense of tears, this voice that always, in its most
sustained splendour and in its most ordinary cadences, vibrates with a
strange pathos, is what finally places him alone among artists. This
thrill in the voice, _come colui che piange e dice,_ is never absent from
his poetry. In the "lonely words," in the "pathetic half-lines" spoken of
by the two great modern masters of English prose and verse, he
perpetually touches the deepest springs of feeling; in these it is that
he sounds, as no other poet has done, the depths of beauty and sorrow, of
patience and magnanimity, of honour in life and hope beyond death.

A certain number of minor poems have come down to us associated more or
less doubtfully with Virgil's name. Three of these are pieces in
hexameter verse, belonging broadly to the class of the _epyllion,_ or
"little epic," which was invented as a convenient term to include short
poems in the epic metre that were not definitely pastorals either in
subject or treatment, and which the Alexandrian poets, headed by
Theocritus, had cultivated with much assiduity and considerable success.
The most important of them, the _Culex,_ or _Gnat,_ is a poem of about
four hundred lines, in which the incident of a gnat saving the life of a
sleeping shepherd from a serpent, and being crushed to death in the act,
is made the occasion for an elaborate description of the infernal
regions, from which the ghost of the insect rises to reproach his
unconscious murderer. That Virgil wrote a poem with this title is alluded
to by Martial and Statius as matter of common undisputed knowledge; nor
is there any certain argument against the Virgilian authorship of the
extant poem, but various delicate metrical considerations incline recent
critics to the belief that it is from the hand of an almost contemporary
imitator who had caught the Virgilian manner with great accuracy. The
_Ciris,_ another piece of somewhat greater length, on the story of Scylla
and Nisus, is more certainly the production of some forgotten poet
belonging to the circle of Marcus Valerius Messalla, and is of interest
as showing the immense pains taken in the later Augustan age to continue
the Virgilian tradition. The third poem, the Moretum, is at once briefer
and slighter in structure and more masterly in form. It is said to be a
close copy of a Greek original by Parthenius of Nicaea, a distinguished
man of letters of this period who taught Virgil Greek; nor is there any
grave improbability in supposing that the _Moretum_ is really one of the
early exercises in verse over which Virgil must have spent years of his
laborious apprenticeship, saved by some accident from the fate to which
his own rigorous judgment condemned the rest.

So far the whole of the poetry attributed to Virgil is in the single form
of hexameter verse, to the perfecting of which his whole life was
devoted. The other little pieces in elegiac and lyric metres require but
slight notice. Some are obviously spurious; others are so slight and
juvenile that it matters little whether they are spurious or not. One
elegiac piece, the _Copa,_ is of admirable vivacity and grace, and the
touch in it is so singularly unlike the Virgilian manner as to tempt one
into the paradox of its authenticity. That Virgil wrote much which he
deliberately destroyed is obviously certain; his fastidiousness and his
melancholy alike drove him towards the search after perfection, and his
mercilessness towards his own work may be measured by his intention to
burn the _Aeneid_. Not less by this passionate desire of unattainable
perfection than by the sustained glory of his actual achievement,--his
haunting and liquid rhythms, his majestic sadness, his grace and pity,--
he embodies for all ages that secret which makes art the life of life



In that great turning-point of the world's history marked by the
establishment of the Roman Empire, the position of Virgil is so unique
because he looks almost equally forwards and backwards. His attitude
towards his own age is that of one who was in it rather than of it. On
the one hand is his intense feeling for antiquity, based on and
reinforced by that immense antiquarian knowledge which made him so dear
to commentators, and which renders some of his work so difficult to
appreciate from our mere want of information; on the other, is that
perpetual brooding over futurity which made him, within a comparatively
short time after his death, regarded as a prophet and his works as in
some sense oracular. The _Sortes Vergilianae,_ if we may believe the
confused gossip of the Augustan History, were almost a State institution,
while rationalism was still the State creed in ordinary matters. Thus,
while, in a way, he represented and, as it were, gave voice to the Rome
of Augustus, he did so in a transcendental manner; the Rome which he
represents, whether as city or empire, being less a fact than an idea,
and already strongly tinged with that mysticism which we regard as
essentially mediaeval, and which culminated later without any violent
breach of continuity in the conception of a spiritual Rome which was a
kingdom of God on earth, and of which the Empire and the Papacy were only
two imperfect and mutually complementary phases; _quella Roma onde Cristo
e Romano,_ as it was expressed by Dante with his characteristic width and

To this mystical temper the whole mind and art of Virgil's great
contemporary stands in the most pointed contrast. More than almost any
other poet of equal eminence, Horace lived in the present and actual
world; it is only when he turns aside from it that he loses himself.
Certain external similarities of method there are between them--above
all, in that mastery of verbal technique which made the Latin language
something new in the hands of both. Both were laborious and indefatigable
artists, and in their earlier acquaintanceship, at all events, were close
personal friends. But the five years' difference in their ages represents
a much more important interval in their poetical development. The earlier
work of Horace, in the years when he was intimate with Virgil, is that
which least shows the real man or the real poet; it was not till Virgil,
sunk in his _Aeneid,_ and living in a somewhat melancholy retirement far
away from Rome, was within a few years of his death, that Horace, amid
the gaiety and vivid life of the capital, found his true scope, and
produced the work that has made him immortal.

Yet the earlier circumstances of the two poets' lives had been not
unlike. Like Virgil, Horace sprang from the ranks of the provincial lower
middle class, in whom the virtues of industry, frugality, and sense were
generally accompanied by little grace or geniality. But he was
exceptionally fortunate in his father. This excellent man, who is always
spoken of by his son with a deep respect and affection, was a freedman of
Venusia in Southern Italy, who had acquired a small estate by his
economies as a collector of taxes in the neighbourhood. Horace must have
shown some unusual promise as a boy; yet, according to his own account,
it was less from this motive than from a disinterested belief in the
value of education that his father resolved to give him, at whatever
personal sacrifice, every advantage that was enjoyed by the children of
the highest social class. The boy was taken to Rome about the age of
twelve--Virgil, a youth of seventeen, came there from Milan about the
same time--and given the best education that the capital could provide.
Nor did he stop there; at eighteen he proceeded to Athens, the most
celebrated university then existing, to spend several years in completing
his studies in literature and philosophy. While he was there the
assassination of Caesar took place, and the Civil war broke out. Marcus
Brutus occupied Macedonia, and swept Greece for recruits. The scarcity of
Roman officers was so great in the newly levied legions that the young
student, a boy of barely twenty-one, with no birth or connection, no
experience, and no military or organising ability, was not only accepted
with eagerness, but at once given a high commission. He served in the
Republican army till Philippi, apparently without any flagrant discredit;
after the defeat, like many of his companions, he gave up the idea of
further resistance, and made the best of his way back to Italy. He found
his little estate forfeited, but he was not so important a person that he
had to fear proscription, and with the strong common sense which he had
already developed, he bought or begged himself a small post in the civil
service which just enabled him to live. Three years later he was
introduced by Virgil to Maecenas, and his uninterrupted prosperity began.

Did we know more of the history of Horace's life in the interval between
his leaving the university and his becoming one of the circle of
recognised Augustan poets, much in his poetical development might be less
perplexing to us. The effect of these years was apparently to throw him
back, to arrest or thwart what would have been his natural growth. No
doubt he was one of the men who (like Caesar or Cromwell in other fields
of action) develop late; but something more than this seems needed to
account for the extraordinary weakness and badness of his first volume of
lyrical pieces, published by him when he was thirty-five. In the first
book of the _Satires,_ produced about five years earlier, he had shown
much of his admirable later qualities,--humour, sense, urbanity,
perception,--but all strangely mingled with a vein of artistic vulgarity
(the worst perhaps of all vulgarities) which is totally absent from his
matured writing. It is not merely that in this earlier work he is often
deliberately coarse--that was a literary tradition, from which it would
require more than ordinary originality to break free,--but that he again
and again allows himself to fall into such absolute flatness as can only
be excused on the theory that his artistic sense had been checked or
crippled in its growth, and here and there disappeared in his nature
altogether. How elaborate and severe the self-education must have been
which he undertook and carried through may be guessed from the vast
interval that separates the spirit and workmanship of the _Odes_ from
that of the _Epodes,_ and can partly be traced step by step in the
autobiographic passages of the second book of _Satires_ and the later
_Epistles_. We are ignorant in what circumstances or under what pressure
the _Epodes_ were published; it is a plausible conjecture that their
faults were just such as would meet the approbation of Maecenas, on whose
favour Horace was at the time almost wholly dependent; and Horace may
himself have been glad to get rid, as it were, of his own bad immature
work by committing it to publicity. The celebrated passage in Keats'
preface to _Endymion,_ where he gives his reasons for publishing a poem
of whose weakness and faultiness he was himself acutely conscious, is of
very wide application; and it is easy to believe that, after the
publication of the _Epodes,_ Horace could turn with an easier and less
embarrassed mind to the composition of the _Odes_.

Meanwhile he was content to be known as a writer of satire, one whose
wish it was to bring up to an Augustan polish the literary form already
carried to a high degree of success by Lucilius. The second book of
_Satires_ was published not long after the _Epodes_. It shows in every
way an enormous advance over the first. He has shaken himself free from
the imitation of Lucilius, which alternates in the earliest satires with
a rather bitter and self-conscious depreciation of the work of the older
poet and his successors. The prosperous turn Horace's own life had taken
was ripening him fast, and undoing the bad effects of earlier years. We
have passed for good out of the society of Rupilius Rex and Canidia. At
one time Horace must have run the risk of turning out a sort of
ineffectual Francois Villon; this, too, is over, and his earlier
education bears fruit in a temper of remarkable and delicate gifts.

This second book of _Satires_ marks in one way the culmination of
Horace's powers. The brilliance of the first years of the Empire
stimulated the social aptitude and dramatic perception of a poet who
lived in the heart of Rome, already free from fear or ambition, but as
yet untouched by the melancholy temper which grew on him in later years.
He employs the semi-dramatic form of easy dialogue throughout the book
with extraordinary lightness and skill. The familiar hexameter, which
Lucilius had left still cumbrous and verbose, is like wax in his hands;
his perfection in this use of the metre is as complete as that of Virgil
in the stately and serious manner. And behind this accomplished literary
method lies an unequalled perception of common human nature, a rich vein
of serious and quiet humour, and a power of language the more remarkable
that it is so unassuming, and always seems as it were to say the right
thing by accident. With the free growth of his natural humour he has
attained a power of self-appreciation which is unerring. The _Satires_
are full from end to end of himself and his own affairs; but the name of
egoism cannot be applied to any self-revelation or self-criticism which
is so just and so certain. From the opening lines of the first satire,
where he notes the faults of his own earlier work, to the last line of
the book, with its Parthian shot at Canidia and the _jeunesse orageuse_
that he had so long left behind, there is not a page which is not full of
that self-reference which, in its truth and tact, constantly passes
beyond itself and holds up the mirror to universal human nature. In
reading the _Satires_ we all read our own minds and hearts.

Nearly ten years elapsed between the publication of the second book of
the _Satires_ and that of the first book of the _Epistles_. Horace had
passed meanwhile into later middle life. He had in great measure retired
from society, and lived more and more in the quietness of his little
estate among the Sabine hills. Life was still full of vivid interest; but
books were more than ever a second world to him, and, like Virgil, he was
returning with a perpetually increasing absorption to the Greek
philosophies, which had been the earliest passion of his youth. Years had
brought the philosophic mind; the more so that these years had been
filled with the labour of the _Odes,_ a work of the highest and most
intricate effort, and involving the constant study of the masterpieces of
Greek thought and art. The "monument more imperishable than bronze" had
now been completed; its results are marked in the _Epistles_ by a new and
admirable maturity and refinement. Good sense, good feeling, good taste,
--these qualities, latent from the first in Horace, have obtained a final
mastery over the coarser strain with which they had at first been
mingled; and in their shadow now appear glimpses of an inner nature even
more rare, from which only now and then he lifts the veil with a sort of
delicate self-depreciation, in an occasional line of sonorous rhythm, or
in some light touch by which he gives a glimpse into a more magical view
of life and nature: the earliest swallow of spring on the coast, the
mellow autumn sunshine on a Sabine coppice, the everlasting sound of a
talking brook; or, again, the unforgettable phrases, the _fallentis
semita vitae,_ or _quod petis hic est,_ or _ire tamen restat,_ that have,
to so many minds in so many ages, been key-words to the whole of life.

It is in the _Epistles_ that Horace reveals himself most intimately, and
perhaps with the most subtle charm. But the great work of his life, for
posterity as well as for his own age, was the three books of _Odes_ which
were published by him in 23 B.C., at the age of forty-two, and represent
the sustained effort of about ten years. This collection of eighty-eight
lyrics was at once taken to the heart of the world. Before a volume of
which every other line is as familiar as a proverb, which embodies in a
quintessential form that imperishable delight of literature to which the
great words of Cicero already quoted[7] give such beautiful expression,
whose phrases are on all men's lips as those of hardly any other ancient
author have been, criticism is almost silenced. In the brief and graceful
epilogue, Horace claims for himself, with no uncertainty and with no
arrogance, such eternity as earth can give. The claim was completely
just. The school-book of the European world, the _Odes_ have been no less
for nineteen centuries the companions of mature years and the delight of
age--_adolescentiam agunt, senectutem oblectant,_ may be said of them
with as much truth as ever now. Yet no analysis will explain their
indefinable charm. If the so-called "lyrical cry" be of the essence of a
true lyric, they are not true lyrics at all. Few of them are free from a
marked artificiality, an almost rigid adherence to canon. Their range of
thought is not great; their range of feeling is studiously narrow. Beside
the air and fire of a lyric of Catullus, an ode of Horace for the moment
grows pale and heavy, _cineris specie decoloratur_. Beside one of the
pathetic half-lines of Virgil, with their broken gleams and murmurs as of
another world, a Horatian phrase loses lustre and sound. Yet Horace
appeals to a tenfold larger audience than Catullus--to a larger audience,
it may even be said, than Virgil. Nor is he a poets' poet: the refined
and exquisite technique of the _Odes_ may be only appreciable by a
trained artist in language; but it is the untrained mind, on whom other
art falls flat, that the art of Horace, by some unique penetrative power,
kindles and quickens. His own phrase of "golden mediocrity" expresses
with some truth the paradox of his poetry; in no other poet, ancient or
modern, has such studied and unintermitted mediocrity been wrought in
pure gold. By some tact or instinct--the "felicity," which is half of the
famous phrase in which he is characterised by Petronius--he realised
that, limited as his own range of emotion was, that of mankind at large
was still more so, and that the cardinal matter was to strike in the
centre. Wherever he finds himself on the edge of the range in which his
touch is certain, he draws back with a smile; and so his concentrated
effect, within his limited but central field, is unsurpassed, and perhaps

This may partly explain how it was that with Horace the Latin lyric stops
dead. His success was so immediate and so immense that it fixed the
limit, so to speak, for future poets within the confined range which he
had chosen to adopt; and that range he had filled so perfectly that no
room was left for anything but imitation on the one hand, or, on the
other, such a painful avoidance of imitation as would be equally
disastrous in its results. With the principal lyric metres, too, the
sapphic and alcaic, he had done what Virgil had done with the dactylic
hexameter, carried them to the highest point of which the foreign Latin
tongue was capable. They were naturalised, but remained sterile. When at
last Latin lyric poetry took a new development, it was by starting afresh
from a wholly different point, and by a reversion to types which, for the
culture of the early imperial age, were obsolete and almost non-existent.

The phrase, _verbis felicissime audax,_ used of Horace as a lyric poet by
Quintilian, expresses, with something less than that fine critic's usual
accuracy, another quality which goes far to make the merit of the _Odes_.
Horace's use of words is, indeed, remarkably dexterous; but less so from
happy daring than from the tact which perpetually poises and balances
words, and counts no pains lost to find the word that is exactly right.
His audacities--if one cares to call them so--in the use of epithet, in
Greek constructions (which he uses rather more freely than any other
Latin poet), and in allusive turns of phrase, are all carefully
calculated and precisely measured. His unique power of compression is not
that of the poet who suddenly flashes out in a golden phrase, but more
akin to the art of the distiller who imprisons an essence, or the gem-
engraver working by minute touches on a fragment of translucent stone.
With very great resources of language at his disposal, he uses them with
singular and scrupulous frugality; in his measured epithets, his curious
fondness for a number of very simple and abstract words, and the studious
simplicity of effect in his most elaborately designed lyrics, he reminds
one of the method of Greek has-reliefs, or, still more (after allowing
for all the difference made by religious feeling), of the sculptured work
of Mino of Fiesole, with its pale colours and carefully ordered outlines.
Phrases of ordinary prose, which he uses freely, do not, as in Virgil's
hands, turn into poetry by his mere use of them; they give rather than
receive dignity in his verses, and only in a few rare instances, like the
stately _Motum ex Metello consule civicum,_ are they completely fused
into the structure of the poem. So, too, his vivid and clearly-cut
descriptions of nature in single lines and phrases stand out by
themselves like golden tesserae in a mosaic, each distinct in a
glittering atmosphere--_qua tumidus rigat arva Nilus; opacam porticus
excipiebat Arcton; nec prata canis albicant pruinis_--a hundred phrases
like these, all exquisitely turned, and all with the same effect of
detachment, which makes them akin to sculpture, rather than painting or
music. Virgil, as we learn from an interesting fragment of biography,
wrote his first drafts swiftly and copiously, and wrought them down by
long labour into their final structure; with Horace we may rather imagine
that words came to the surface slowly and one by one, and that the _Odes_
grew like the deposit, cell by cell, of the honeycomb to which, in a
later poem, he compares his own work. In some passages where the _Odes_
flag, it seems as though material had failed him before the poem was
finished, and he had filled in the gaps, not as he wished, but as he
could, yet always with the same deliberate gravity of workmanship.

_Horatii curiosa felicitas_--this, one of the earliest criticisms made on
the _Odes,_ remains the phrase which most completely describes their
value. Such minute elaboration, on so narrow a range of subject, and
within such confined limits of thought and feeling, could only be
redeemed from dulness by the perpetual felicity--something between luck
and skill--that was Horace's secret. How far it was happy chance, how far
deliberately aimed at and attained, is a question which brings us before
one of the insoluble problems of art; we may remind ourselves that, in
the words of the Greek dramatist Agathon, which Aristotle was so fond of
quoting, skill and chance in all art cling close to one another. "Safe in
his golden mediocrity," to use the words of his own counsel to Licinius,
Horace has somehow or another taken deep hold of the mind, and even the
imagination, of mankind. This very mediocrity, so fine, so chastened, so
certain, is in truth as inimitable as any other great artistic quality;
we must fall back on the word genius, and remember that genius does not
confine itself within the borders of any theory, but works its own will.

With the publication of the three books of the _Odes,_ and the first book
of the _Epistles,_ Horace's finest and maturest work was complete. In the
twelve years of his life which were still to run he published but little,
nor is there any reason to suppose that he wrote more than he published.
In 17 B.C., he composed, by special command, an ode to be sung at the
celebration of the Secular Games. The task was one in which he was much
hampered by a stringent religious convention, and the result is
interesting, but not very happy. We may admire the skill with which
formularies of the national worship are moulded into the sapphic stanza,
and prescribed language, hardly, if at all, removed from prose, is made
to run in stately, though stiff and monotonous, verse; but our admiration
is of the ingenuity, not of the poetry. The _Jubilee Ode_ written by Lord
Tennyson is curiously like the _Carmen Seculare_ in its metrical
ingenuities, and in the way in which the unmistakeable personal note of
style sounds through its heavy and formal movement.

Four years later a fourth book of _Odes_ was published, the greater part
of which consists of poems less distinctly official than the _Secular
Hymn,_ but written with reference to public affairs by the direct command
of the Emperor, some in celebration of the victories of Drusus and
Tiberius on the north-eastern frontier, and others in more general praise
of the peace and external prosperity established throughout Italy under
the new government. Together with these official pieces he included some
others: an early sketch for the _Carmen Seculare,_ a curious fragment of
literary criticism in the form of an ode addressed to one of the young
aristocrats who followed the fashion of the Augustan age in studying and
writing poetry, and eight pieces of the same kind as his earlier odes,
written at various times within the ten years which had now passed since
the publication of the first three books. An introductory poem, of
graceful but half-ironical lamentation over the passing of youth, seems
placed at the head of the little collection in studious depreciation of
its importance. Had it not been for the necessity of publishing the
official odes, it is probable enough that Horace would have left these
few later lyrics ungathered. They show the same care and finish in
workmanship as the rest, but there is a certain loss of brilliance;
except one ode of mellow and refined beauty, the famous _Diffugere
nives,_ they hardly reach the old level. The creative impulse in Horace
had never been very powerful or copious; with growing years he became
less interested in the achievement of literary artifice, and turned more
completely to his other great field, the criticism of life and
literature. To the concluding years of his life belong the three
delightful essays in verse which complete the list of his works. Two of
these, which are placed together as a second book of _Epistles_, seem to
have been published at about the same time as the fourth book of the
_Odes_. The first, addressed to the Emperor, contains the most matured
and complete expression of his views on Latin poetry, and is in great
measure a vindication of the poetry of his own age against the school
which, partly from literary and partly from political motives, persisted
in giving a preference to that of the earlier Republic. In the second,
inscribed to one of his younger friends belonging to the circle of
Tiberius, he reviews his own life as one who was now done with literature
and literary fame, and was giving himself up to the pursuit of wisdom.
The melancholy of temperament and advancing age is subtly interwoven in
his final words with the urbane humour and strong sense that had been his
companions through life:--

_Lusisti satis, edisti satis atque bibisti,
Tempus abire tibi est, ne potum largius acquo
Rideat et pulset lasciva decentius aetas._

A new generation, clever, audacious, and corrupt, had silently been
growing up under the Empire. Ovid was thirty, and had published his
_Amores_. The death of Virgil had left the field of serious poetry to
little men. The younger race had learned only too well the lesson of
minute care and formal polish so elaborately taught them by the earlier
Augustan poets, and had caught the ear of the town with work of
superficial but, for the time, captivating brilliance. Gloom was already
beginning to gather round the Imperial household; the influence of
Maecenas, the great support of letters for the last twenty years, was
fast on the wane. In the words just quoted, with their half-sad and half-
mocking echo of the famous passage of Lucretius,[8] Horace bids farewell
to poetry.

But literary criticism, in which he had so fine a taste, and on which he
was a recognised authority, continued to interest him; and the more
seriously minded of the younger poets turned to him for advice, which he
was always willing to give. The _Epistle to the Pisos,_ known more
generally under the name of the _Art of Poetry,_ seems to have been
composed at intervals during these later years, and was, perhaps, not
published till after his death in the year 8 B.C. It is a discussion of
dramatic poetry, largely based on Greek textbooks, but full of Horace's
own experience and of his own good sense. Young aspirants to poetical
fame regularly began with tragedies; and Horace, accepting this as an
actual fact, discusses the rules of tragedy with as much gravity as if he
were dealing with some really living and national form of poetry. This
discursive and fragmentary essay was taken in later ages as an
authoritative treatise; and the views expressed by Horace on a form of
poetical art with which he had little practical acquaintance had, at the
revival of literature, and even down to last century, an immense
influence over the structure and development of the drama. Just as modern
comedy based itself on imitation of Plautus and Terence, and as the
earliest attempts at tragedy followed haltingly in the steps of Seneca,
so as regards the theory of both, Horace, and not the Greeks, was the
guiding influence.

Among the many amazing achievements of the Greek genius in the field
of human thought were a lyrical poetry of unexampled beauty, a refined
critical faculty, and, later than the great thinkers and outside of the
strict schools, a temperate philosophy of life such as we see afterwards
in the beautiful personality of Plutarch. In all these three Horace
interpreted Greece to the world, while adding that peculiarly Roman
urbanity--the spirit at once of the grown man as distinguished from
children, of the man of the world, and of the gentleman--which up till
now has been a dominant ideal over the thought and life of Europe.



Those years of the early Empire in which the names of Virgil and Horace
stand out above all the rest were a period of large fertility in Latin
poetry. Great poets naturally bring small poets after them; and there was
no age at Rome in which the art was more assiduously practised or more
fashionable in society. The Court set a tone which was followed in other
circles, and more especially among the younger men of the old
aristocracy, now largely excluded from the public life which had
engrossed their parents under the Republic. The influence of the
Alexandrian poets, so potent in the age of Catullus, was not yet
exhausted; and a wider culture had now made the educated classes familiar
with the whole range of earlier Greek poetry as well. Rome was full of
highly educated Greek scholars, some of whom were themselves poets of
considerable merit. It was the fashion to form libraries; the public
collection formed by Augustus, and housed in a sumptuous building on the
Palatine, was only the largest among many others in the great houses of
Rome. The earlier Latin poets had known only a small part of Greek
literature, and that very imperfectly; their successors had been
trammelled by too exclusive an admiration of the Greek of the decadence.
Virgil and Horace, though professed students of the Alexandrians, had
gone back themselves, and had recalled the attention of the public, to
the poets of free Greece, and had stimulated the widely felt longing to
conquer the whole field of poetry for the Latin tongue.

For this attempt, tradition and circumstance finally proved too strong;
and Augustan poetry, outside of a few definite forms, is largely a
chronicle of failure. This was most eminently so in the drama. Augustan
tragedy seems never to have risen for a moment beyond mere academic
exercises. Of the many poets who attempted it, nothing survives beyond a
string of names. Lucius Varius Rufus, the intimate friend of both Virgil
and Horace, and one of the two joint-editors of the _Aeneid_ after the
death of the former, wrote one tragedy, on the story of Thyestes, which
was acted with applause at the games held to celebrate the victory of
Actium, and obtained high praise from later critics. But he does not
appear to have repeated the experiment like so many other Latin poets, he
turned to the common path of annalistic epic. Augustus himself began a
tragedy of _Ajax,_ but never finished it. Gaius Asinius Pollio, the first
orator and critic of the period, and a magnificent patron of art and
science, also composed tragedies more on the antique model of Accius and
Pacuvius, in a dry and severe manner. But neither in these, nor in the
work of the young men for whose benefit Horace wrote the _Epistle to the
Pisos,_ was there any real vitality; the precepts of Horace could no more
create a school of tragedians than his example could create a school of
lyric poets.

The poetic forms, on the other hand, used by Virgil were so much more on
the main line of tendency that he stands among a large number of others,
some of whom might have had a high reputation but for his overwhelming
superiority. Of the other essays made in this period in bucolic poetry we
know too little to speak with any confidence. But both didactic poetry
and the little epic were largely cultivated, and the greater epic itself
was not without followers. The extant poems of the _Culex_ and _Ciris_
have already been noted as showing with what skill and grace unknown
poets, almost if not absolutely contemporary with Virgil, could use the
slighter epic forms. Varius, when he abandoned tragedy, wrote epics on
the death of Julius Caesar, and on the achievements of Agrippa. The few
fragments of the former which survive show a remarkable power and
refinement; Virgil paid them the sincerest of all compliments by
conveying, not once only but again and again, whole lines of Varius into
his own work. Another intimate friend of Virgil, Aemilius Macer of
Verona, wrote didactic poems in the Alexandrian manner on several
branches of natural history, which were soon eclipsed by the fame of the
_Georgics_, but remained a model for later imitators of Nicander. One of
these, a younger contemporary of Virgil called Gratius, or Grattius, was
the author of a poem on hunting, still extant in an imperfect form. In
its tame and laboured correctness it is only interesting as showing the
early decay of the Virgilian manner in the hands of inferior men.

A more interesting figure, and one the loss of whose works leaves a real
gap in Latin literature, is Gaius Cornelius Gallus, the earliest and one
of the most brilliant of the Augustan poets. Like Varro Atacinus, he was
born in Narbonese Gaul, and brought into Roman poetry a new touch of
Gallic vivacity and sentiment. The year of his birth was the same as that
of Virgil's, but his genius matured much earlier, and before the
composition of the _Eclogues_ he was already a celebrated poet, as well
as a distinguished man of action. The story of his life, with its swift
rise from the lowest fortune to the splendid viceroyalty of Egypt, and
his sudden disgrace and death at the age of forty-three, is one of the
most dramatic in Roman history. The translations from Euphorion, by which
he first made his reputation, followed the current fashion; but about the
same time he introduced a new kind of poetry, the erotic elegy, which had
a swift and far-reaching success. To Gallus, more than to any other
single poet, is due the naturalisation in Latin of the elegiac couplet,
which, together with the lyrics of Horace and the Virgilian hexameter,
makes up the threefold poetical achievement of the Augustan period, and
which, after the Latin lyric had died out with Horace himself, halved the
field with the hexameter. For the remaining literature of the Empire, for
that of the Middle Ages so far as it followed classical models, and even
for that of the Renaissance, which carries us down to within a measurable
distance of the present day, the hexameter as fixed by Virgil, and the
elegiac as popularised by Gallus and rapidly brought to perfection by his
immediate followers, are the only two poetical forms of real importance.

The elegiac couplet had, of course, been in use at Rome long before;
Ennius himself had employed it, and in the Ciceronian age Catullus had
written in it largely, and not without success. But its successful use
had been hitherto mainly confined to short pieces, such as would fall
within the definition of the Greek epigram. The four books of poems in
which Gallus told the story of his passion for the courtesan Cytheris
(the Lycoris of the tenth Eclogue) showed the capacities of the metre in
a new light. The fashion they set was at once followed by a crowd of
poets. The literary circles of Maecenas and Messalla had each their
elegiac poet of the first eminence; and the early death of both
Propertius and Tibullus was followed, amid the decline of the other forms
of the earlier Augustan poetry, by the consummate brilliance of Ovid.

Of the Augustan elegiac poets, Sextus Propertius, a native of Assisi in
Umbria, and introduced at a very early age to the circle of Maecenas, is
much the most striking and interesting figure, not only from the formal
merit of his poetry, but as representing a type till then almost unknown
in ancient literature. Of his life little is known. Like Virgil, he lost
his patrimonial property in the confiscations which followed the Civil
war, but he was then a mere child. He seems to have been introduced to
imperial patronage by the publication of the first book of his _Elegies_
at the age of about twenty. He died young, before he was thirty-five, if
we may draw an inference from the latest allusions in his extant poems;
he had then written four other books of elegiac pieces, which were
probably published separately at intervals of a few years. In the last
book there is a noticeable widening of range of subject, which
foreshadows the further development that elegiac verse took in the hands
of Ovid soon after his death.

In striking contrast to Virgil or Horace, Propertius is a genius of great
and, indeed, phenomenal precocity. His first book of _Elegies,_ the
_Cynthia monobiblos_ of the grammarians, was a literary feat comparable
to the early achievements of Keats or Byron. The boy of twenty had
already mastered the secret of elegiac verse, which even Catullus had
used stiffly and awkwardly, and writes it with an ease, a colour, a
sumptuousness of rhythm which no later poet ever equalled. The splendid
cadence of the opening couplet--

_Cynthia prima suis miserum me cepit ocellis
Contactum nullis ante cupidinibus--_

must have come on its readers with the shock of a new revelation. Nothing
like it had ever been written in Latin before: itself and alone it
assures a great future to the Latin elegiac. His instinct for richness of
sound is equally conspicuous where it is found in purely Latin phrases,
as in the opening of the sixteenth elegy--

_Quae fueram magnis olim patefacta triumphis
Ianua Tarpeiae nota pudicitiae
Cuius inaurati celebrarunt limina currus
Captorum lacrimis umida supplicibus,_

and where it depends on a lavish use of Greek ornament, as in the opening
of the third--

_Qualis Thesea iacuit cedente carina
Languida desertis Gnosia litoribus,
Qualis et accubuit primo Cepheia somno
Libera iam duris cotibus Andromede,_

Even when one comes to them fresh from Virgil, lines like these open a
new world of sound. The Greek elegiac, as it is known to us by the finest
work of the epigrammatists, had an almost unequalled flexibility and
elasticity of rhythm; this quality Propertius from the first seized, and
all but made his own. By what course of reasoning he was led in his later
work to suppress this large and elastic treatment, and approximate more
and more closely to the fine but somewhat limited and metallic rhythm
which has been perpetuated by the usage of Ovid, we cannot guess. In this
first book he ends the pentameter freely with words of three, four, and
five syllables; the monotony of the perpetual disyllabic termination,
which afterwards became the normal usage, is hardly compensated by the
increased smoothness which it gives the verse.

But this new power of versification accompanied a new spirit even more
remarkable, which is of profound import as the precursor of a whole
school of modern European poetry. The _Cynthia_ is the first appearance
in literature of the neurotic young man, who reappeared last century in
Rousseau's _Confessions_ and Goethe's _Werther,_ and who has dominated
French literature so largely since Alfred de Musset. The way had been
shown half a century before by that remarkable poet, Meleager of Gadara,
whom Propertius had obviously studied with keen appreciation. Phrases in
the _Cynthia_, like--

_Tum mihi constantis deiecit lumina fastus
Et caput impositis pressit Amor pedibus,_


_Qui non ante patet donec manus attigit ossa,_

are in the essential spirit of Meleager, and, though not verbally copied
from him, have the precise quality of his rhythms and turns of phrase.
But the abandonment to sensibility, the absorption in self-pity and the
sentiment of passion, are carried by Propertius to a far greater length.

The abasement of a line like--

Sis quodcunque voles, non aliena tamen,_

is in the strongest possible contrast to that powerful passion which
fills the poetry of Catullus, or to the romantic tenderness of the
_Eclogues_; and in the extraordinary couplet--

_Me sine, quem semper voluit fortuna iacere,
Hanc animam extremae reddere nequitiae,_

"the expense of spirit in a waste of shame" reaches its culminating
point. This tremulous self-absorption, rather than any defect of eye or
imagination, is the reason of the extraordinary lapses which now and then
he makes both in description and in sentiment. The vivid and picturesque
sketches he gives of fashionable life at watering-places and country-
houses in the eleventh and fourteenth elegies, or single touches, like
that in the remarkable couplet--

_Me mediae noctes, me sidera prona iacentem,
Frigidaque Eoo me dolet aura gelu,_

show that where he was interested neither his eye nor his language had
any weakness; but, as a rule, he is not interested either in nature or,
if the truth be told, in Cynthia, but wholly in himself. He ranks among
the most learned of the Augustan poets; but, for want of the rigorous
training and self-criticism in which Virgil and Horace spent their lives,
he made on the whole but a weak and ineffective use of a natural gift
perhaps equal to either of theirs. Thus it is that his earliest work is
at the same time his most fascinating and brilliant. After the _Cynthia_
he rapidly became, in the mordant phrase used by Heine of Musset, _un
jeune homme d'un bien beau passe_. Some premonition of early death seems
to have haunted him; and the want of self-control in his poetry may
reflect actual physical weakness united with his vivid imagination.

The second and third books of the _Elegies_,[9] though they show some
technical advance, and are without the puerilities which here and there
occur in the _Cynthia,_ are on the whole immensely inferior to it in
interest and charm. There is still an occasional line of splendid beauty,
like the wonderful--

_Sunt apud infernos tot milia formosarum;_

an occasional passage of stately rhythm, like the lines beginning--

_Quandocunque igitur nostros mors clausit ocellos;_

but the smooth versification has now few surprises; the learning is
becoming more mechanical; there is a tendency to say over again what he
had said before, and not to say it quite so well.

Through these two books Cynthia is still the main subject. But with the
advance of years, and his own growing fame as a poet, his passion--if
that can be called a passion which was so self-conscious and so
sentimental--fell away from him, and left his desire for literary
reputation the really controlling motive of his work. In the introductory
poem to the fourth book there is a new and almost aggressive tone with
regard to his own position among the Roman poets, which is in strong
contrast to the modesty of the epilogue to the third book. The inflated
invocation of the ghost of Callimachus laid him fatally open to the
quietly disdainful reference by which, without even mentioning Propertius
by name, Horace met it a year or two later in the second book of the
_Epistles_. But even Horace is not infallible; and Propertius was, at all
events, justified in regarding himself as the head of a new school of
poetry, and one which struck its roots wide and deep.

In the fourth and fifth books of the _Elegies_ there is a wide range of
subject; the verse is being tested for various purposes, and its
flexibility answers to almost every demand. But already we feel its fatal
facility. The passage beginning _Atque ubi iam Venerem,_ in the poem
where he contrasts his own life with those of the followers of riches and
ambition, is a dilution into twelve couplets of eight noble lines of the
_Georgics,_ with an effect almost as feeble, if not so grotesque, as that
of the later metaphrasts, who occupied themselves in turning heroic into
elegiac poems by inserting a pentameter between each two lines. The sixth
elegy of the same book is nothing but a cento of translations from the
_Anthology,_ strung together and fastened up at the end by an original
couplet in the worst and most puerile manner of his early writing. On the
other hand, these books include fresh work of great merit, and some of
great beauty. The use of the elegiac metre to tell stories from Graeco-
Roman mythology and legendary Roman history is begun in several poems
which, though Propertius has not the story-telling gift of Ovid, showed
the way to the delightful narratives of the _Fasti_. A few of the more
personal elegies have a new and not very agreeable kind of realism, as
though Musset had been touched with the spirit of Flaubert. In one, the
ninth of the fourth book, the realism is in a different and pleasanter
vein; only Herrick among English poets has given such imaginative charm
to straightforward descriptions of the ordinary private life of the
middle classes. The fifth book ends with the noble elegy on Cornelia, the
wife of Paulus Aemilius Lepidus, in which all that is best in Propertius'
nature at last finds splendid and memorable expression. It has some of
his common failings,--passages of inappropriate learning, and a little
falling off towards the end. But where it rises to its height, in the
lines familiar to all who know Latin, it is unsurpassed in any poetry for
grace and tenderness.

_Nunc tibi commendo communia pignora natos;
Haec cura et cineri spirat inusta meo.
Fungere maternis vicibus pater: illa meorum
Omnis erit collo turba fovenda tuo.
Oscula cum dederis tua flentibus, adice matris;
Tota domus coepit nunc onus esse tuum.
Et siquid doliturus eris, sine testibus illis!
Cum venient, siccis oscula falle genis:
Sat tibi sint noctes quas de me, Paule, fatiges,
Somniaque in faciem reddita saepe meam._

In these lines, hardly to be read without tears, Propertius for once
rises into that clear air in which art passes beyond the reach of
criticism. What he might have done in this new manner had he lived longer
can only be conjectured; at the same age neither Virgil nor Horace had
developed their full genius. But the perpetual recurrence in the later
poems of that brooding over death, which had already marked his juvenile
work, indicates increasing exhaustion of power. Even the sparkling elegy
on the perils of a lover's rapid night journey from Rome to Tibur passes
at the end into a sombre imagination of his own grave; and the fine and
remarkable poem (beginning with the famous _Sunt aliquid Manes_) in which
the ghost of Cynthia visits him, is full of the same morbid dwelling on
the world of shadows, where the "golden girl" awaits her forgetful lover.
_Atque hoc sollicitum vince sopore caput_ had become the sum of his
prayers. But a little while afterwards the restless brain of the poet
found the sleep that it desired.

At a time when literary criticism was so powerful at Rome, and poetry was
ruled by somewhat rigid canons of taste, it is not surprising that more
stress was laid on the defects than on the merits of Propertius' poetry.
It evidently annoyed Horace; and in later times Propertius remained the
favourite of a minority, while general taste preferred the more
faultless, if less powerfully original, elegiacs of his contemporary,
Albius Tibullus. This pleasing and graceful poet was a few years older
than Propertius, and, like him, died at the age of about thirty-five. He
did not belong to the group of court poets who formed the circle of
Maecenas, but to a smaller school under the patronage of Marcus Valerius
Messalla, a distinguished member of the old aristocracy, who, though
accepting the new government and loyal in his service to the Emperor,
held somewhat aloof from the court, and lived in a small literary world
of his own. Tibullus published in his lifetime two books of elegiac
poems; after his death a third volume was published, containing a few of
his posthumous pieces, together with poems by other members of the same
circle. Of these, six are elegies by a young poet of the upper class,
writing under the name of Lygdamus, and plausibly conjectured to have
been a near relative of Tibullus. One, a panegyric on Messalla, by an
unknown author, is without any poetical merit, and only interesting as an
average specimen of the amateur verse of the time when, in the phrase of

_Populus calet uno
Scribendi studio; pueri patresque severi
Fronde comas vincti cenant et carmina dictant._

The curious set of little poems going under the name of Sulpicia, and
included in the volume, will be noticed later.

Tibullus might be succinctly and perhaps not unjustly described as a
Virgil without the genius. The two poets died in the same year, and a
contemporary epigram speaks of them as the recognised masters of heroic
and elegiac verse; while the well known tribute of Ovid, in the third
book of the _Amores,_ shows that the death of Tibullus was regarded as an
overwhelming loss by the general world of letters. "Pure and fine," the
well-chosen epithets of Quintilian, are in themselves no slight praise;
and the poems reveal a gentleness of nature and sincerity of feeling
which make us think of their author less with admiration than with a sort
of quiet affection. No two poets could be more strongly contrasted than
Tibullus and Propertius, even when their subject and manner of treatment
approximate most closely. In Tibullus the eagerness, the audacity, the
irregular brilliance of Propertius are wholly absent; as are the feverish
self-consciousness and the want of good taste and good sense which are
equally characteristic of the latter. Poetry is with him, not the
outburst of passion, or the fruit of high imagination, but the refined
expression of sincere feeling in equable and melodious verse. The
delightful epistle addressed to him by Horace shows how high he stood in
the esteem and affection of a severe critic, and a man whose friendship
was not lightly won or lavishly expressed. He stands easily at the head
of Latin poets of the second order. In delicacy, in refinement, in grace
of rhythm and diction, he cannot be easily surpassed; he only wants the
final and incommunicable touch of genius which separates really great
artists from the rest of the world.



The Peace of the Empire, secured by the victory of Actium, and fully
established during the years which followed by Augustus and his
lieutenants, inaugurated a new era of social life in the capital. The
saying of Augustus, that he found Rome brick and left it marble, may be
applied beyond the sphere of mere architectural decoration. A French
critic has well observed that now, for the first time in European
history, the Court and the City existed in their full meaning. Both had
an organised life and a glittering external ease such as was hardly known
again in Europe till the reign of the Grand Monarque. The enormous wealth
of the aristocracy was in the mass hardly touched by all the waste and
confiscations of the civil wars; and, in spite of a more rigorous
administration, fresh accumulations were continually made by the new
official hierarchy, and flowed in from all parts of the Empire to feed
the luxury and splendour of the capital. Wealth and peace, the increasing
influence of Greek culture, and the absence of political excitement,
induced a period of brilliant laxity among the upper classes. The severe
and frugal morals of the Republic still survived in great families, as
well as among that middle class, from which the Empire drew its solid
support; but in fashionable society there was a marked and rapid
relaxation of morals which was vainly combated by stringent social and
sumptuary legislation. The part taken by women in social and political
life is among the most powerful factors in determining the general aspect
of an age. This, which had already been great under the later Republic,
was now greater than ever. The Empress Livia was throughout the reign of
Augustus, and even after his death, one of the most important persons in
Rome. Partly under her influence, partly from the temperament and policy
of Augustus himself, a sort of court Puritanism grew up, like that of the
later years of Louis Quatorze. The aristocracy on the whole disliked and
despised it; but the monarchy was stronger than they. The same gloom
overshadows the end of these two long reigns. Sentences of death or
banishment fell thick among the leaders of that gay and profligate
society; to later historians it seemed that all the result of the
imperial policy had been to add hypocrisy to profligacy, and incidentally
to cripple and silence literature.

Of this later Augustan period Ovid is the representative poet. The world
in which he lived may be illustrated by a reference to two ladies of his
acquaintance, both in different ways singularly typical of the time.
Julia, the only daughter of Augustus, still a mere child when her father
became master of the world, was brought up with a strictness which
excited remark even among those who were familiar with the strict
traditions of earlier times. Married, when a girl of fourteen, to her
cousin, Marcus Claudius Marcellus; after his death, two years later, to
the Emperor's chief lieutenant, Marcus Agrippa; and a third time, when he
also died, to the son of the Empress Livia, afterwards the Emperor
Tiberius,--she was throughout treated as a part of the State machinery,
and as something more or less than a woman. But she turned out to be, in
fact, a woman whose beauty, wit, and recklessness were alike
extraordinary, and who rose in disastrous revolt against the system in
which she was forced to be a pivot. Alike by birth and genius she easily
took the first place in Roman society; and under the very eyes of the
Emperor she multiplied her lovers right and left, and launched out into a
career that for years was the scandal of all Rome. When she had reached
the age of thirty-seven, in the same year when Ovid's _Art of Love_ was
published, the axe suddenly fell; she was banished, disinherited, and
kept till her death in rigorous imprisonment, almost without the
necessaries of life. Such were the first-fruits of the social reform
inaugurated by Augustus and sung by Horace.

In the volume of poems which includes the posthumous elegies of Tibullus,
there is also contained a group of short pieces by another lady of high
birth and social standing, a niece of Messalla and a daughter of Servius
Sulpicius, and so belonging by both parents to the inner circle of the
aristocracy. Nothing is known of her life beyond what can be gathered
from the poems. But that they should have been published at all, still
more that they should have been published, as they almost certainly were,
with the sanction of Messalla, is a striking instance of the unique
freedom enjoyed by Roman women of the upper classes, and of their
disregard of the ordinary moral conventions. The only ancient parallel is
in the period of the Aeolic Greek civilisation which produced Sappho. The
poems are addressed to her lover, who (according to the fashion of the
time--like Catullus' Lesbia or Propertius' Cynthia) is spoken of by a
Greek name, but was most probably a young Roman of her own circle. The
writer, a young, and apparently an unmarried woman, addresses him with a
frankness of passion that has no idea of concealment. She does not even
take the pains to seal her letters to him, though they contain what most
women would hesitate to put on paper. They have all the same directness,
which sometimes becomes a splendid simplicity. One note, reproaching him
for a supposed infidelity--

_Si tibi cura togae potior pressumque quasillo
Scortum quam Servi filia Sulpicia--_

has all the noble pride of Shakespeare's Imogen. Of the world and its
ways she has no girlish ignorance; but the talk of the world, as a motive
for reticence, simply does not exist for her.

Where young ladies of the upper classes had such freedom as is shown in
these poems, and used it, the ordinary lines of demarcation between
respectable women and women who are not respectable must have largely
disappeared. It has been much and inconclusively debated whether the
Hostia and Plania, to whom, under assumed names, the amatory poems of
Propertius and Tibullus were addressed, were more or less married women
(for at Rome there were degrees of marriage), or women for whom marriage
was a remote and immaterial event. The same controversy has raged over
Ovid's Corinna, who is variously identified as Julia the daughter of the
Emperor herself, as a figment of the imagination, or as an ordinary
courtesan. The truth is, that in the society so brilliantly drawn in the
_Art of Love_, such distinctions were for the time suspended, and we are
in a world which, though for the time it was living and actual, is as
unreal to us as that of the Restoration dramatists.

The young lawyer and man of fashion, Publius Ovidius Naso, who was the
laureate of this gay society, was a few years younger than Propertius,
with whom he was in close and friendly intimacy. The early death of both
Propertius and Tibullus occurred before Ovid published his first volume;
and Horace, the last survivor of the older Augustans, had died some years
before that volume was followed by any important work. The period of
Ovid's greatest fertility was the decade immediately following the
opening of the Christian era; he outlived Augustus by three years, and so
laps over into the sombre period of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which
culminated in the reign of Nero.

As the eldest surviving son of an opulent equestrian family of Upper
Italy, Ovid was trained for the usual career of civil and judicial
office. He studied for the bar at Rome, and, though he never worked hard
at law, filled several judicial offices of importance. But his interest
was almost wholly in the rhetorical side of his profession; he "hated
argument;" and from the rhetoric of the schools to the highly rhetorical
poetry which was coming into fashion there was no violent transition. An
easy fortune, a brilliant wit, an inexhaustible memory, and an unfailing
social tact, soon made him a prominent figure in society; and his genuine
love of literature and admiration for genius--unmingled in his case with
the slightest trace of literary jealousy or self-consciousness--made him
the friend of the whole contemporary world of letters. He did not begin
to publish poetry very early; not because he had any delicacy about doing
so, nor because his genius took long to ripen, but from the good-humoured
laziness which never allowed him to take his own poetry too seriously.
When he was about thirty he published, to be in the fashion, a volume of
amatory elegiacs, which was afterwards re-edited and enlarged into the
existing three books of _Amores_. Probably about the same time he
formally graduated in serious poetry with his tragedy of _Medea_. For ten
or twelve years afterwards he continued to throw off elegiac poems, some
light, others serious, but all alike in their easy polish, and written
from the very first with complete and effortless mastery of the metre. To
this period belong the _Heroides,_ the later pieces in the _Amores,_ the

Book of the day: