Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Latin Literature by J. W. Mackail

Part 3 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

elaborate poem on the feminine toilet called _De Medicamine Faciei,_ and
other poems now lost. Finally, in 2 or 1 B.C., he published what is
perhaps on the whole his most remarkable work, the three books _De Arte

Just about the time of the publication of the _Art of Love,_ the exile of
the elder Julia fell like a thunderbolt on Roman society. Staggered for a
little under the sudden blow, it soon gathered itself together again, and
a perpetual influx of younger men and women gathered round her daughter
and namesake, the wife of Lucius Aemilius Paulus, into a circle as
corrupt, if not so accomplished, as that of which Ovid had been a chief
ornament. He was himself now forty; though singularly free from literary
ambition, he could not but be conscious of his extraordinary powers, and
willing to employ them on larger work. He had already incidentally proved
that he possessed an instinct for narrative such as no Roman poet had
hitherto had--such, indeed, as it would be difficult to match even in
Greek poetry outside Homer. A born story-teller, and an accomplished
master of easy and melodious verse, he naturally turned for subjects to
the inexhaustible stores of the Graeco-Roman mythology, and formed the
scheme of his _Metamorphoses_ and _Fasti_. Both poems were all but
complete, but only the first half of the latter had been published, when,
at the end of the year 8, his life and work were suddenly shattered by a
mysterious catastrophe. An imperial edict ordered him to leave Rome on a
named day, and take up his residence at the small barbarous town of Tomi,
on the Black Sea, at the extreme outposts of civilisation. No reason was
assigned, and no appeal allowed. The cause of this sudden action on the
part of the Emperor remains insoluble. The only reason ever officially
given, that the publication of the _Art of Love_ (which was already ten
years old) was an offence against public morals, is too flimsy to have
been ever meant seriously. The allusions Ovid himself makes to his own
"error" or "crime" are not meant to be intelligible, and none of the many
theories which have been advanced fully satisfies the facts. But,
whatever may have been the cause--whether Ovid had become implicated in
one of those aristocratic conspiracies against which Augustus had to
exercise constant vigilance, or in the intrigues of the younger Julia, or
in some domestic scandal that touched the Emperor even more personally--
it brought his literary career irretrievably to the ground. The elegies
which he continued to pour forth from his place of exile, though not
without their grace and pathos, struggle almost from the first under the
crowning unhappiness of unhappiness, that it ceases to be interesting.
The five books of the _Tristia,_ written during the earlier years of his
banishment, still retain, through the monotony of their subject, and the
abject humility of their attitude to Augustus, much of the old dexterity.
In the four books of _Epistles from Pontus,_ which continue the
lamentation over his calamities, the failure of power is evident. He went
on writing profusely, because there was nothing else to do; panegyrics on
Augustus and Tiberius alternated with a natural history of fish--the
_Halieutica_--and with abusive poems on his real or fancied enemies at
Rome. While Augustus lived he did not give up hopes of a remission, or at
least an alleviation, of his sentence; but the accession of Tiberius, who
never forgot or forgave anything, must have extinguished them finally;
and he died some three years later, still a heart-broken exile.

Apart from his single tragedy, from a few didactic or mock-didactic
pieces, imitated from Alexandrian originals, and from his great poem of
the _Metamorphoses,_ the whole of Ovid's work was executed in the elegiac
couplet. His earliest poems closely approximate in their management of
this metre to the later work of Propertius. The narrower range of cadence
allowed by the rule which makes every couplet regularly end in a
disyllable, involves a monotony which only Ovid's immense dexterity
enabled him to overcome. In the _Fasti_ this dexterity becomes almost
portentous: when his genius began to fail him, the essential vice of the
metre is soon evident. But the usage was stereotyped by his example; all
through the Empire and through the Middle Ages, and even down to the
present day, the Ovidian metre has been the single dominant type: and
though no one ever managed it with such ingenuity again, he taught enough
of the secret to make its use possible for almost every kind of subject.
His own elegiac poetry covers an ample range. In the impassioned rhetoric
of the _Heroides,_ the brilliant pictures of life and manners in the _De
Arte Amatoria,_ or the sparkling narratives of the _Fasti,_ the same sure
and swift touch is applied to widely diverse forms and moods. Ovid was a
trained rhetorician and an accomplished man of the world before he began
to write poetry; that, in spite of his worldliness and his glittering
rhetoric, he has so much of feeling and charm, is the highest proof of
his real greatness as a poet.

But this feeling and charm are the growth of more mature years. In his
early poetry there is no passion and little sentiment. He writes of love,
but never as a lover; nor, with all his quickness of insight and
adroitness of impersonation, does he ever catch the lover's tone. From
the amatory poems written in his own person one might judge him to be
quite heartless, the mere hard and polished mirror of a corrupt society;
and in the _Art of Love_ he is the keen observer of men and women whose
wit and lucid common sense are the more insolently triumphant because
untouched by any sentiment or sympathy. We know him from other sources to
have been a man of really warm and tender feeling; in the poetry which he
wrote as laureate of the world of fashion he keeps this out of sight, and
outdoes them all in cynical worldliness. It is only when writing in the
person of a woman--as in the Phyllis or Laodamia of the _Heroides_--that
he allows himself any approach to tenderness. The _Ars Amatoria,_ full as
it is of a not unkindly humour, of worldly wisdom and fine insight, is
perhaps the most immoral poem ever written. The most immoral, not the
most demoralizing: he wrote for an audience for whom morality, apart from
the code of good manners which society required, did not exist; and
wholly free as it is from morbid sentiment, the one great demoralizing
influence over men and women, it may be doubted whether the poem is one
which ever did any reader serious harm, while few works are more
intellectually stimulating within a certain limited range. To readers for
whom its qualities have exhausted or have not acquired their stimulating
force, it merely is tiresome; and this, indeed, is the fate which in the
present age, when wit is not in vogue, has very largely overtaken it.

Interspersed in the _Art of Love_ are a number of stories from the old
mythology, introduced to illustrate the argument, but set out at greater
length than was necessary for that purpose, from the active pleasure it
always gives Ovid to tell a story. When he conceived the plan of his
_Metamorphoses,_ he had recognised this narrative instinct as his special
gift. His tragedy of _Medea_ had remained a single effort in dramatic
form, unless the _Heroides_ can be classed as dramatic monologues. The
_Medea,_ but for two fine single lines, is lost; but all the evidence is
clear that Ovid had no natural turn for dramatic writing, and that it was
merely a clever _tour de force_. In the idea of the _Metamorphoses_ he
found a subject, already treated in more than one Alexandrian poem, that
gave full scope for his narrative gift and his fertile ingenuity. The
result was a poem as long, and almost as unflagging, as the _Odyssey_. A
vast mass of multifarious stories, whose only connection is the casual
fact of their involving or alluding to some transformation of human
beings into stones, trees, plants, beasts, birds, and the like, is cast
into a continuous narrative. The adroitness with which this is done makes
the poem rank as a masterpiece of construction. The atmosphere of
romantic fable in which it is enveloped even gives it a certain
plausibility of effect almost amounting to epic unity. In the fabulous
superhuman element that appears in all the stories, and in their natural
surroundings of wood, or mountain, or sea--always realised with fresh
enjoyment and vivid form and colour--there is something which gives the
same sort of unity of effect as we feel in reading the _Arabian Nights_.
It is not a real world; it is hardly even a world conceived as real; but
it is a world so plausible, so directly appealing to simple instincts and
unclouded senses, above all so completely taken for granted, that the
illusion is, for the time, all but complete. For later ages, the
_Metamorphoses_ became the great textbook of classical mythology; the
legends were understood as Ovid had told them, and were reproduced (as,
for instance, throughout the whole of the painting of the Renaissance) in
the spirit and colour of this Italian story-teller.

For the metre of the _Metamorphoses_ Ovid chose the heroic hexameter, but
used it in a strikingly new and original way. He makes no attempt, as
later poets unsuccessfully did, at reproducing the richness of tone and
intricacy of modulation which it had in the hands of Virgil. Ovid's
hexameter is a thing of his own. It becomes with him almost a new metre--
light, brilliant, and rapid, but with some monotony of cadence, and
without the deep swell that it had, not in Virgil only, but in his
predecessors. The swift, equable movement is admirably adapted to the
matter of the poem, smoothing over the transitions from story to story,
and never allowing a story to pause or flag halfway. Within its limits,
the workmanship is faultless. The style neither rises nor sinks with the
variation of subject. One might almost say that it was without moral
quality. Ovid narrates the treachery of Scylla or the incestuous passion
of Myrrha with the same light and secure touch as he applies to the
charming idyl of Baucis and Philemon or the love-tale of Pyramus and
Thisbe; his interest is in what happened, in the story for the story's
sake. So, likewise, in the rhetorical evolution of his thought, and the
management of his metre, he writes simply as the artist, with the
artistic conscience as his only rule. The rhetorician is as strong in him
as it had been in the _Amores;_ but it is under better control, and
seldom leads him into excesses of bad taste, nor is it so overmastering
as not to allow free play to his better qualities, his kindliness, his
good-humour, his ungrudging appreciation of excellence, in his evolution
of thought--or his play of fancy, if the expression be preferred--he has
an alertness and precision akin to great intellectual qualities; and it
is this, perhaps, which has made him a favourite with so many great men
of letters. Shakespeare himself, in his earlier work, alike the plays and
the poems, writes in the Ovidian manner, and often in what might be
direct imitation of Ovid; the motto from the _Amores_ prefixed to the
_Venus and Adonis_ is not idly chosen. Still more remarkable, because
less superficially evident, is the affinity between Ovid and Milton. At
first sight no two poets, perhaps, could seem less alike. But it is known
that Ovid was one of Milton's favourite poets; and if one reads the
_Metamorphoses_ with an eye kept on _Paradise Lost_, the intellectual
resemblance, in the manner of treatment of thought and language, is
abundantly evident, as well in the general structure of their rhetoric as
in the lapses of taste and obstinate puerilities (_non ignoravit vitia
sua sed amavit_ might be said of Milton also), which come from time to
time in their maturest work.

The _Metamorphoses_ was regarded by Ovid himself as his masterpiece. In
the first impulse of his despair at leaving Rome, he burned his own copy
of the still incomplete poem. But other copies were in existence; and
though he writes afterwards as though it had been published without his
correction and without his consent, we may suspect that it was neither
without his knowledge nor against his will; when he speaks of the _manus
ultima_ as wanting, it is probably a mere piece of harmless affectation
to make himself seem liker the author of the _Aeneid_. The case was
different with the _Fasti_, the other long poem which he worked at side
by side with the _Metamorphoses_. The twelve books of this work, dealing
with the calendar of the twelve months, were also all but complete when
he was banished, and the first six, if not actually published, had, at
all events, got into private circulation. At Tomi he began a revision of
the poem which, apparently, he never completed. The first half of the
poem, prefaced by a fresh dedication to Germanicus, was published, or
republished, after the death of Augustus, to whom, in its earlier form,
it had been inscribed; the second half never reached the public. It
cannot be said that Latin poetry would be much poorer had the first six
books been suppressed also. The student of metrical forms would, indeed,
have lost what is metrically the most dexterous of all Latin poems, and
the archaeologist some curious information as to Roman customs; but, for
other readers, little would be missed but a few of the exquisitely told
stories, like that of Tarquin and Lucretia, or of the Rape of Proserpine,
which vary the somewhat tedious chronicle of astronomical changes and
national festivals.

The poems of the years of Ovid's exile, the _Tristia_ and the _Letters
from Pontus_, are a melancholy record of flagging vitality and failing
powers. His adulation of the Emperor and the imperial family passes all
bounds; it exhausts what would otherwise seem the inexhaustible
copiousness of his vocabulary. The long supplication to Augustus, which
stands by itself as book ii. of the _Tristia_, is the most elaborate and
skilful of these pieces; but those which may be read with the most
pleasure are the letters to his wife, for whom he had a deep affection,
and whom he addresses with a pathos that is quite sincere. As hope of
recall grew fainter, his work failed more and more; the incorrect
language and slovenly versification of some of the _Letters from Pontus_
are in sad contrast to the Ovid of ten years before, and if he went on
writing till the end, it was only because writing had long been a second
nature to him.

Of the extraordinary force and fineness of Ovid's natural genius, there
never have been two opinions; had he but been capable of controlling it,
instead of indulging it, he might have, in Quintilian's opinion, been
second to no Roman poet. In his _Medea_, the critic adds, he did show
some of this self-control; its loss is the more to be lamented. But the
easy good-nature of his own disposition, no less than the whole impulse
of the literary fashion then prevalent, was fatal to the continuous
exercise of such severe self-education: and the man who was so keen and
shrewd in his appreciation of the follies of lovers had all the weakness
of a lover for the faults of his own poetry. The delightful story of the
three lines which his critical friends urged him to erase proves, if
proof were needed, that this weakness was not blindness, and that he was
perfectly aware of the vices of his own work. The child of his time, he
threw all his brilliant gifts unhesitatingly into the scale of new ideas
and new fashions; his "modernity," to use a current term of the present
day, is greater than that of any other ancient author of anything like
his eminence.

_Prisca iuvent alios, ego me nunc denique natum
Gratulor: haec aetas moribus apta meis--_

this is his deliberate attitude throughout his life.

Such a spirit has more than once in the history of the arts marked the
point from which their downward course began. _I do not sing the old
things, for the new are far better_, the famous Greek musician Timotheus
had said four centuries earlier, and the decay of Greek music was dated
from that period. But to make any artist, however eminent, responsible
for the decadence of art, is to confuse cause with effect; and the note
of ignominy affixed by Augustus to the _Art of Love_ was as futile as the
action of the Spartan ephor when he cut the strings away from the cithara
of Timotheus. The actual achievement of Ovid was to perfect and
popularise a poetical form of unusual scope and flexibility; to throw a
vivid and lasting life into the world of Graeco-Roman mythology; and,
above all, to complete the work of Cicero and Horace in fixing a certain
ideal of civilised manners for the Latin Empire and for modern Europe. He
was not a poet of the first order; yet few poets of the first order have
done a work of such wide importance.



The Ciceronian age represents on the whole the culmination of Latin
prose, as the Augustan does the culmination of Latin poetry. In the
former field, the purity of the language as it had been used by Caesar
and Cicero could hardly be retained in a period of more diffused culture;
and the influence of the schools of rhetoric, themselves based on
inferior Greek models, became more and more marked. Poetry, too, was for
the time more important than prose, and one result was that prose became
infected with certain qualities of poetical style. The reign of Augustus
includes only one prose writer of the first rank, the historian Titus

Though not living like Virgil or Horace in the immediate circle of
Augustus and under direct court patronage, Livy was in friendly relations
with the Emperor and his family, and accepted the new rule with
cordiality, if without much enthusiasm. Of his life, which seems to have
been wholly spent in literary pursuits, little is known. He was born at
Padua in the year of Julius Caesar's first consulship, and had survived
Augustus by three years when he died at the age of seventy-five. In
earlier life he wrote some philosophical dialogues and treatises on
rhetoric which have not been preserved. An allusion in the first book of
his history shows that it was written, or at all events published, after
the first and before the second closing of the temple of Janus by
Augustus, in the years 29 and 25 B.C. For forty years thereafter he
continued this colossal task, which, like the _Decline and Fall_, was
published in parts from time to time. He lived to bring it down as far as
the death of Drusus, the younger son of the Empress Livia, in the year 9
B.C. The division into books, of which there were one hundred and forty-
two in the whole work, is his own; these again were arranged in
_volumina_, or sections issued as separate volumes, and containing a
varying number of books. The division of the work into decads was made by
copyists at a much later period, and was no part of the author's own
plan. Only one-fourth of the whole history has survived the Middle Ages.
This consists of the first, the third, the fourth, and half of the fifth
decad, or books i.-x. and xxi.-xlv. of the work; of the rest we only
possess brief tables of contents, drawn up in the fourth century, not
from the original work but from an abridgment, itself now lost, which was
then in use. The scale of the history is very different in the two
surviving portions. The first decad carries it from the foundation of the
city through the Regal and early Republican periods down to the third
Samnite war, a period of four centuries and a half. The twenty-five
extant books of the third, fourth, and fifth decads cover a period of
fifty years, from the beginning of the second Punic to the conclusion of
the third Macedonian war. This half century, it is true, was second in
importance to none in Roman history. But the scale of the work had a
constant tendency to expand as it approached more modern times, and more
abundant documents; and when he reached his own time, nearly a book was
occupied with the events of each year.

Founded as it was, at least for the earlier periods, upon the works of
preceding annalists, the history of Livy adopted from them the
arrangement by years marked by successive consulates, which was familiar
to all his readers. He even speaks of his own work as _annales_, though
its formal title seems to have been _Histori'_ (or _Libri Historiarum_)
_ab Urbe Condita_. There is no reason to suppose that he intended to
conclude it at any fixed point In a preface to one of the later volumes,
he observed with justifiable pride that he had already satisfied the
desire of fame, and only went on writing because the task of composition
had become a fixed habit, which he could not discontinue without
uneasiness. His fame even in his lifetime was unbounded. He seems to have
made no enemies. The acrid criticism of Asinius Pollio, a purist by
profession, on certain provincialities of his style, was an insignificant
exception to the general chorus of praise. In treading the delicate
ground of the Civil wars his attitude towards the Republican party led
Augustus to tax him half jestingly as a Pompeian; yet Livy lost no favour
either with him or with his more jealous successor. The younger Pliny
relates how a citizen of Cadiz was so fired by his fame that he travelled
the whole way to Rome merely to see him, and as soon as he had seen him
returned home, as though Rome had no other spectacles to offer.

Roman history had hitherto been divided between the annalists and the
writers of personal and contemporary memoirs. Sallust was almost the only
example of the definite historical treatment of a single epoch or episode
of the past. As a rule each annalist set himself the same task, of
compiling, from the work of his predecessors, and such additional
information as he found accessible to him, a general history of the Roman
people from its beginnings, carried down as far towards his own day as he
found time or patience to continue it. Each successive annalist tried to
improve upon previous writers, either in elegance of style or in
copiousness of matter, and so far as he succeeded in the double task his
work replaced those already written. It was not considered unfair to
transcribe whole passages from former annalists, or even to copy their
works with additions and improvements, and bring them out as new and
original histories. The idea of literary property seems, in truth, to be
very much a creation of positive law. When no copyright existed, and when
the circulation of any book was confined within very small limits by the
cost and labour of transcription, the vaguest ideas prevailed, not at
Rome alone, on what we should now regard as the elementary morality of
plagiarism. Virgil himself transferred whole lines and passages, not
merely from earlier, but even from contemporary poets; and in prose
writing, one annalist cut up and reshaped the work of another with as
little hesitation as a mediaeval romance-writer.

In this matter Livy allowed himself full liberty; and his work absorbed,
and in a great measure blotted out, those of his predecessors. In his
general preface he speaks of the two motives which animate new
historians, as the hope that they will throw further light on events, or
the belief that their own art will excel that of a ruder age. The former
he hardly professes to do, at least as regards times anterior to his own;
his hope is that by his pen the great story of the Republic will be told
more impressively, more vividly, in a manner more stimulating to the
reader and more worthy of the subject, than had hitherto been done. This
purpose at least he amply and nobly carried out; nor can it be said to be
a low ideal of the function of history. So far, however, as the office of
the historian is to investigate facts, to get at the exact truth of what
physically happened, or to appreciate the varying degrees of probability
with which that truth can be attained, Livy falls far short of any
respectable ideal. His romantic temper and the ethical bent of his mind
alike indisposed him to set any very great value on facts as such. His
history bears little trace of any independent investigation. Sources for
history lay round him in immense profusion. The enormous collections made
by Varro in every field of antiquarian research were at his hand, but he
does not seem to have used them, still less to have undertaken any
similar labour on his own account. While he never wilfully distorts the
truth, he takes comparatively little pains to disengage it from fables
and inaccuracies. In his account of a battle in Greece he finds that
Valerius Antias puts the number of the enemy killed as inside ten
thousand, while Claudius Quadrigarius says forty thousand. The
discrepancy does not ruffle him, nor even seem to him very important; he
contents himself with an expression of mild surprise that Valerius for
once allows himself to be outstripped in exaggerating numbers. Yet where
Valerius is his only authority or is not contradicted by others, he
accepts his statements, figures and all, without uneasiness. This
instance is typical of his method as a critical--or rather an uncritical
--historian. When his authorities do not disagree, he accepts what they
say without much question. When they do disagree, he has several courses
open to him, and takes one or another according to his fancy at the
moment. Sometimes he counts heads and follows the majority of his
authors; sometimes he adopts the account of the earliest; often he tries
to combine or mediate between discordant stories; when this is not easy,
he chooses the account which is most superficially probable or most
dramatically impressive. He even bases a choice on the ground that the
story he adopts shows Roman statesmanship or virtue in a more favourable
light, though he finds some of the inventions of Roman vanity too much
for him to swallow. Throughout he tends to let his own preferences decide
whether or not a story is true. _In rebus tam antiquis si quae similia
veri sint pro veris accipiantur_ is the easy canon which he lays down for
early and uncertain events. Even when original documents of great value
were extant, he refrains from citing them if they do not satisfy his
taste. During the second Punic war a hymn to Juno had been written by
Livius Andronicus for a propitiatory festival. It was one of the most
celebrated documents of early Latin; but he refuses to insert it, on the
ground that to the taste of his own day it seemed rude and harsh. Yet as
a historian, and not a collector of materials for history, he may plead
the privilege of the artist. The modern compromise by which documents are
cited in notes without being inserted in the text of histories had not
then been invented; and notes, even when as in the case of Gibbon's they
have a substantive value as literature, are an adjunct to the history
itself, rather than any essential part of it. A more serious charge is,
that when he had trustworthy authorities to follow, he did not appreciate
their value. In his account of the Macedonian wars, he often follows
Polybius all but word for word, but apparently without realising the
Greek historian's admirable accuracy and judgment. Such appreciation only
comes of knowledge; and Livy lacked the vast learning and the keen
critical insight of Gibbon, to whom in many respects he has a strong
affinity. His imperfect knowledge of the military art and of Roman law
often confuses his narrative of campaigns and constitutional struggles,
and gives too much reason to the charge of negligence brought against him
by that clever and impudent critic, the Emperor Caligula.

Yet, in spite of all his inaccuracies of detail, and in spite of the
graver defect of insufficient historical perspective, which makes him
colour the whole political development of the Roman state with the ideas
of his own time, the history of Rome as narrated by Livy is essentially
true and vital, because based on a large insight into the permanent
qualities of human nature. The spirit in which he writes history is well
illustrated by the speeches. These, in a way, set the tone of the whole
work. He does not affect in them to reproduce the substance of words
actually spoken, or even to imitate the tone of the time in which the
speech is laid. He uses them as a vivid and dramatic method of portraying
character and motive. The method, in its brilliance and its truth to
permanent facts, is like that of Shakespeare's _Coriolanus_. Such truth,
according to the celebrated aphorism in Aristotle's _Poetics_, is the
truth of poetry rather than of history: and the history of Livy, in this,
as in his opulent and coloured diction, has some affinity to poetry. Yet,
when such insight into motive and such vivid creative imagination are
based on really large knowledge and perfect sincerity, a higher
historical truth may be reached than by the most laborious accumulation
of documents and sifting of evidence.

Livy's humane and romantic temper prevented him from being a political
partisan, even if political partisanship had been consistent with the
view he took of his own art. In common with most educated Romans of his
time, he idealised the earlier Republic, and spoke of his own age as
fatally degenerate. But this is a tendency common to writers of all
periods. He frequently pauses to deplore the loss of the ancient
qualities by which Rome had grown great--simplicity, equity, piety,
orderliness. In his remarkable preface he speaks of himself as turning to
historical study in order to withdraw his mind from the evils of his own
age, and the spectacle of an empire tottering to the fall under the
weight of its own greatness and the vices of its citizens. "Into no
State," he continues, "were greed and luxury so long in entering; in
these late days avarice has grown with wealth, and the frantic pursuit of
pleasure leads fast towards a collapse of the whole social fabric; in our
ever-accelerating downward course we have already reached a point where
our vices and their remedies are alike intolerable." But his idealisation
of earlier ages was that of the romantic student rather than the
reactionary politician. He is always on the side of order, moderation,
conciliation; there was nothing politically dangerous to the imperial
government in his mild republicanism. He shrinks instinctively from
violence wherever he meets it, whether on the side of the populace or of
the governing class; he cannot conceive why people should not be
reasonable, and live in peace under a moderate and settled government.
This was the temper which was welcome at court, even in men of Pompeian

So, too, Livy's attitude towards the established religion and towards the
beliefs of former times has the same sentimental tinge. The moral reform
attempted by Augustus had gone hand in hand with an elaborate revival and
amplification of religious ceremony. Outward conformity at least was
required of all citizens. _Expedit esse deos, et ut expedit esse
putemus;_ "the existence of the gods is a matter of public policy, and we
must believe it accordingly," Ovid had said, in the most daring and
cynical of his poems. The old associations, the antiquarian charm, that
lingered round this faded ancestral belief, appealed strongly to the
romantic patriotism of the historian. His own religion was a sort of mild
fatalism; he pauses now and then to draw rather commonplace reflections
on the blindness of men destined to misfortune, or the helplessness of
human wisdom and foresight against destiny. But at the same time he
gravely chronicles miracles and portents, not so much from any belief in
their truth as because they are part of the story. The fact that they had
ceased to be regarded seriously in his own time, and were accordingly in
a great measure ceasing to happen, he laments as one among many
declensions from older and purer fashions.

As a master of style, Livy is in the first rank of historians. He marks
the highest point which the enlarged and enriched prose of the Augustan
age reached just before it began to fall into decadence. It is no longer
the famous _urbanus sermo_ of the later Republic, the pure and somewhat
austere language of a governing class. The influence of Virgil is already
traceable in Livy, in actual phrases whose use had hitherto been confined
to poetry, and also in a certain warmth of colouring unknown to earlier
prose. To Augustan purists this relaxation of the language seemed
provincial and unworthy of the severe tradition of the best Latin; and it
was this probably, rather than any definite novelties in grammar or
vocabulary, that made Asinius Pollio accuse Livy of "Patavinity." But in
the hands of Livy the new style, by its increased volume and flexibility,
is as admirably suited to a work of great length and scope as the older
had been for the purposes of Caesar or Sallust. It is drawn, so to speak,
with a larger pattern; and the added richness of tone enables him to
advance without flagging through the long and intricate narrative where a
simpler diction must necessarily have grown monotonous, as one more
florid would be cloying. In the earlier books we seem to find the manner
still a little uncertain and tentative, and a little trammelled by the
traditional manner of the older annalists; as he proceeds in his work he
falls into his stride, and advances with a movement as certain as that of
Gibbon, and claimed by Roman critics as comparable in ease and grace to
that of Herodotus. The periodic structure of Latin prose which had been
developed by Cicero is carried by him to an even greater complexity, and
used with a greater daring and freedom; a sort of fine carelessness in
detail enhancing the large and continuous excellence of his broad effect.
Even where he copies Polybius most closely he invariably puts life and
grace into his cumbrous Greek. For the facts of the war with Hannibal we
can rely more safely on the latter; but it is in the picture of Livy that
we see it live before us. His imagination never fails to kindle at great
actions; it is he, more than any other author, who has impressed the
great soldiers and statesmen of the Republic on the imagination of the

_Quin Decios Drusosque procul, saevumque securi
Aspice Torquatum, et referentem signa Camilium....
Quis te, magne Cato, tacitum, aut te, Cosse, relinquat?
Quis Gracchi genus, aut geminos, duo fulmina belli.
Scipiadas, cladem Libyae, parvoque potentem
Fabricium, vel te sulco, Serrane, serentem?--

his whole work is a splendid expansion of that vision of Rome which
passes before the eyes of Aeneas in the Fortunate Fields of the
underworld. In the description of great events, no less than of great
characters and actions, he rises and kindles with his subject. His eye
for dramatic effect is extraordinary. The picture of the siege and
storming of Saguntum, with which he opens the stately narrative of the
war between Rome and Hannibal, is an instance of his instinctive skill;
together with the masterly sketch of the character of Hannibal and the
description of the scene in the Carthaginian senate-house at the
reception of the Roman ambassadors, it forms a complete prelude to the
whole drama of the war. His great battle-pieces, too, in spite of his
imperfect grasp of military science, are admirable as works of art. Among
others may be specially instanced, as masterpieces of execution, the
account of the victory over Antiochus at Magnesia in the thirty-seventh
book, and, still more, that in the forty-fourth of the fiercely contested
battle of Pydna, the desperate heroism of the Pelignian cohort, and the
final and terrible destruction of the Macedonian phalanx.

Yet, with all his admiration for great men and deeds, what most of all
kindles Livy's imagination and sustains his enthusiasm is a subject
larger, and to him hardly more abstract, the Roman Commonwealth itself,
almost personified as a continuous living force. This is almost the only
matter in which patriotism leads him to marked partiality. The epithet
"Roman" signifies to him all that is high and noble. That Rome can do no
wrong is a sort of article of faith with him, and he has always a
tendency to do less than justice to her enemies. The two qualities of
eloquence and candour are justly ascribed to him by Tacitus, but from the
latter some deduction must be made when he is dealing with foreign
relations and external diplomacy. Without any intention to falsify
history, he is sometimes completely carried away by his romantic
enthusiasm for Roman statesmanship.

This canonisation of Rome is Livy's largest and most abiding achievement.
The elder Seneca, one of his ablest literary contemporaries, observes, in
a fine passage, that when historians reach in their narrative the death
of some great man, they give a summing-up of his whole life as though it
were an eulogy pronounced over his grave. Livy, he adds, the most candid
of all historians in his appreciation of genius, does this with unusual
grace and sympathy. The remark may bear a wider scope; for the whole of
his work is animated by a similar spirit towards the idealised
Commonwealth, to the story of whose life he devoted his splendid literary
gifts. As the title of _Gesta Populi Romani_ was given to the _Aeneid_ on
its appearance, so the _Historiae ab Urbe Condita_ might be called, with
no less truth, a funeral eulogy--_consummatio totius vitae et quasi
funebris laudatio_--delivered, by the most loving and most eloquent of
her children, over the grave of the great Republic.



The impulse given to Latin literature by the great poets and prose
writers of the first century before Christ ebbed slowly away. The end of
the so-called Golden Age may be conveniently fixed in the year which saw
the death of Livy and Ovid; but the smaller literature of the period
suffered no violent breach of continuity, and one can hardly name any
definite date at which the Silver Age begins. Until the appearance of a
new school of writers in the reign of Nero, the history of Roman
literature is a continuation of the Augustan tradition. But it is
continued by feeble hands, and dwindles away more and more under several
unfavourable influences. Among these influences may be specially noted
the growing despotism of the Empire, which had already become grave in
the later years of Augustus, and under his successors reached a point
which made free writing, like free speech, impossible; the perpetually
increasing importance of the schools of declamation, which forced a
fashion of overstrained and unnatural rhetoric on both prose and verse;
and the paralysing effect of the great Augustan writers themselves, which
led poetry at all events to lose itself in imitations of imitations
within an arbitrary and rigid limit of subjects and methods.

In mere amount of production, however, literature remained active during
the first half-century of the Christian era. That far the greater part of
it has perished is probably a matter for congratulation rather than
regret; even of what survives there is a good deal that we could well do
without, and such of it as is valuable is so rather from incidental than
essential reasons. _Scribimus indocti doctique poemata passim_, Horace
had written in half-humorous bitterness; the crowd of names that flit
like autumn leaves through the pages of Ovid represent probably but a
small part of the immense production. Among the works of Ovid himself
were included at various times poems by other contemporary hands--some,
like the _Consolatio ad Liviam_, and the elegy on the _Nut-tree_, without
any author's name; others of known authorship, like the continuation by
Sabinus of Ovid's _Heroides_, in the form of replies addressed to the
heroines by their lovers. Heroic poetry, too, both on mythological and
historical subjects, continued to be largely written; but few of the
writers are more than names. Cornelius Severus, author of an epic on the
civil wars, gave in his earlier work promise of great excellence, which
was but imperfectly fulfilled. The fine and stately passage on the death
of Cicero, quoted by Seneca, fully reaches the higher level of post-
Virgilian style. Two other poets of considerable note at the time, but
soon forgotten after their death, were Albinovanus Pedo and Rabirius. The
former, besides a _Theseid_, wrote a narrative and descriptive poem in
the epic manner, on the northern campaigns of Germanicus, the latter was
the author of an epic on the conflict with Antonius, which was kept alive
for a short time by court favour; the stupid and amiable aide-de-camp of
Tiberius, Velleius Paterculus, no doubt repeating what he heard in
official circles, speaks of him and Virgil as the two most eminent poets
of the age! Tiberius himself, though he chiefly wrote in Greek,
occasionally turned off a copy of Latin verses; and his nephew
Germanicus, a man of much learning and culture, composed a Latin version
of the famous _Phaenomena_ of Aratus, which shows uncommon skill and
talent. Another, and a more important work of the same type, but with
more original power, and less a mere adaptation of Greek originals, is
the _Astronomica,_ ascribed on doubtful manuscript evidence to an
otherwise unknown Gaius or Marcus Manilius. This poem, from the allusions
in it to the destruction of the three legions under Varus, and the
retirement of Tiberius in Rhodes, must have been begun in the later years
of Augustus, though probably not completed till after his death. As
extant it consists of five books, the last being incomplete; the full
plan seems to have included a sixth, and would have extended the work to
about five thousand lines, or two-thirds of the length of the _De Rerum
Natura_. Next to the poem of Lucretius it is, therefore, much the largest
in bulk of extant Latin didactic poems. The oblivion into which it has
fallen is, perhaps, a little hard if one considers how much Latin poetry
of no greater merit continues to have a certain reputation, and even now
and then to be read. The author is not a great poet; but he is a writer
of real power both in thought and style. The versification of his
_Astronomica_ shows a high mastery of technique. The matter is often
prosaically handled, and often seeks relief from prosaic handling in ill-
judged flights of rhetoric; but throughout we feel a strong and original
mind, with a large power over lucid and forcible expression. In the
prologue to the third book he rejects for himself the common material for
hexameter poems, subjects from the Greek heroic cycle, or from Roman
history. His total want of narrative gift, as shown by the languor and
flatness of the elaborate episode in which he attempts to tell the story
of Perseus and Andromeda, would have been sufficient reason for this
decision; but he justifies it, in lines of much grace and feeling, as due
to his desire to take a line of his own, and make a fresh if a small
conquest for Latin poetry.

_Omnis ad accessus Heliconis semita trita est,
Et iam confusi manant de fonitibus amnes
Nec capiunt haustum, turbamque ad nota ruentem:
Integra quaeramus rorantes prata per herbas
Undamque occultis meditantem murmur in antris._

In a passage of nobler and more sincere feeling, he breaks off his
catalogue of the signs of the Zodiac to vindicate the arduous study of
abstract science--

_"Multum" inquis "tenuemque iubes me ferre laborem
Cernere cum facili lucem ratione viderer."
Quod quaeris, Deus est. Coneris scandere caelum
Fataque fatali genitus cognoscere lege
Et transire tuum pectus, mundoque potiri:
Pro pretio labor est, nec sunt immunia tanta._

Wherever one found this language used, in prose or verse, it would be
memorable. The thought is not a mere text of the schools; it is strongly
and finely conceived, and put in a form that anticipates the ardent and
lofty manner of Lucan, without his perpetual overstrain of expression.
Other passages, showing the same mental force, occur in the
_Astronomica_; one might instance the fine passage on the power of the
human eye to take in, within its tiny compass, the whole immensity of the
heavens; or another, suggested by the mention of the constellation Argo,
on the influence of sea-power on history, where the inevitable and well-
worn instances of Salamis and Actium receive a fresh life from the
citation of the destruction of the Athenian fleet in the bay of Syracuse,
and the great naval battles of the first Punic war. Or again, the lines
with which he opens the fourth book, weakened as their effect is by what
follows them, a tedious enumeration of events showing the power of
destiny over human fortunes, are worthy of a great poet:--

_Quid tam sollicitis vitam consumimus annis,
Torquemurque metu caecaque cupidine rerum?
Acternisque senes curis, dum quaerimus aevum
Perdimus, et nullo votorum fine beati
Victuros agimus semper, nec vivimus unquam?_

These passages have been cited from the _Astronomica_ because, to all but
a few professional students of Latin, the poem is practically unknown.
The only other poet who survives from the reign of Tiberius is in a very
different position, being so well known and so slight in literary quality
as to make any quotations superfluous. Phaedrus, a Thracian freedman
belonging to the household of Augustus, published at this time the well-
known collection of _Fables_ which, like the lyrics of the pseudo-
Anacreon, have obtained from their use as a school-book a circulation
much out of proportion to their merit. Their chief interest is as the
last survival of the _urbanus sermo_ in Latin poetry. They are written in
iambic senarii, in the fluent and studiously simple Latin of an earlier
period, not without occasional vulgarisms, but with a total absence of
the turgid rhetoric which was coming into fashion. The _Fables_ are the
last utterance made by the speech of Terence: it is singular that this
intimately Roman style should have begun and ended with two authors of
servile birth and foreign blood. But the patronage of literature was now
passing out of the hands of statesmen. Terence had moved in the circle of
the younger Scipio; one book of the _Fables_ of Phaedrus is dedicated to
Eutychus, the famous chariot-driver of the Greens in the reign of
Caligula. It was not long before Phaedrus was in use as a school-book;
but his volume was apparently regarded as hardly coming within the
province of serious literature. It is ignored by Seneca and not mentioned
by Quintilian. But we must remind ourselves that the most celebrated
works, whether in prose or verse, do not of necessity have the widest
circulation or the largest influence. Among the poems produced in the
first ten years of this century the _Original Poems_ of Jane and Ann
Taylor are hardly if at all mentioned in handbooks of English literature;
but to thousands of readers they were more familiar than the contemporary
verse of Wordsworth or Coleridge or even of Scott. In their terse and
pure English, the language which is transmitted from one generation to
another through the continuous tradition of the nursery, they may remind
us of the _Fables_ of Phaedrus.

The collection, as it has reached us, consists of nearly a hundred
pieces. Of these three-fourths are fables proper; being not so much
translations from the Greek of Aesop as versions of the traditional
stories, written and unwritten, which were the common inheritance of the
Aryan peoples. Mixed up with these are a number of stories which are not
strictly fables; five of them are about Aesop himself, and there are also
stories told of Simonides, Socrates, and Menander. Two are from the
history of his own time, one relating a grim jest of the Emperor
Tiberius, and the other a domestic tragedy which had been for a while the
talk of the town in the previous reign. There are also, besides the
prologues and epilogues of the several books, a few pieces in which
Phaedrus speaks in his own person,[10] defending himself against
detractors with an acrid tone which recalls the Terentian prologues. The
body of fables current in the Middle Ages is considered by the most
recent investigators to descend from the collection of Phaedrus, though
probably supplemented from the Greek collection independently formed by
Babrius about the same period.

Though Livy is the single great historian of the Augustan age, there was
throughout this period a profuse production of memoirs and commentaries,
as well as of regular histories. Augustus wrote thirteen books of memoirs
of his own life down to the pacification of the Empire at the close of
the Cantabrian war. These are lost; but the _Index Rerum a se Gestarum,_
a brief epitome of his career, which he composed as a sort of epitaph on
himself, is extant. This document was engraved on plates of bronze
affixed to the imperial mausoleum by the Tiber, and copies of it were
inscribed on the various temples dedicated to him in many provincial
cities after his death. It is one of these copies, engraved on the
vestibule wall of the temple of Augustus and Rome at Ancyra in Galatia,
which still exists with inconsiderable gaps. His two principal ministers,
Maecenas and Agrippa, also composed memoirs. The most important work of
the latter hardly, however, falls within the province of literature; it
was a commentary on the great geographical survey of the Empire carried
out under his supervision.

Gaius Asinius Pollio, already mentioned as a critic and tragedian, was
also the author of the most important historical work of the Augustan age
after Livy's. This was a _History of the Civil Wars,_ in seventeen books,
from the formation of the first triumvirate in 60 B.C. to the battle of
Philippi. Though Pollio was a practised rhetorician, his narrative style
was simple and austere. The fine ode addressed to him by Horace during
the composition of this history seems to hint that in Horace's opinion--
or perhaps, rather, in that of Horace's masters--Pollio would find a
truer field for his great literary ability in tragedy. But apart from its
artistic quality, the work of Pollio was of the utmost value as giving
the view held of the Civil wars by a trained administrator of the highest
rank. It was one of the main sources used by Appian and Plutarch, and its
almost total loss is matter of deep regret.

An author of less eminence, and belonging rather to the class of
encyclopedists than of historians, is Pompeius Trogus, the descendant of
a family of Narbonese Gaul, which had for two generations enjoyed the
Roman citizenship. Besides works on zoology and botany, translated or
adapted from the Greek of Aristotle and Theophrastus, Trogus wrote an
important _History of the World_, exclusive of the Roman Empire, which
served as, and may have been designed to be, a complement to that of
Livy. The original work, which extended to forty-four books, is not
extant; but an abridgment, which was executed in the age of the Antonines
by one Marcus Junianus Justinus, and has fortunately escaped the fate
which overtook the abridgment of Livy made about the same time, preserves
the main outlines and much of the actual form of the original. Justin,
whose individual talent was but small, had the good sense to leave the
diction of his original as far as possible unaltered. The pure and
vivacious style, and the evident care and research which Trogus himself,
or the Greek historians whom he follows, had bestowed on the material,
make the work one of very considerable value. Its title, _Historiae
Philippicae_, is borrowed from that of a history conceived on a somewhat
similar plan by Theopompus, the pupil of Isocrates, in or after the reign
of Alexander the Great; and it followed Theopompus in making the
Macedonian Empire the core round which the history of the various
countries included in or bordering upon it was arranged.

Gaius Velleius Paterculus, a Roman officer, who after passing with credit
through high military appointments, entered the general administrative
service of the Empire, and rose to the praetorship, wrote, in the reign
of Tiberius, an abridgment of Roman history in two books, which hardly
rises beyond the mark of the military man who dabbles in letters. The
pretentiousness of his style is partly due to the declining taste of the
period, partly to an idea of his own that he could write in the manner of
Sallust. It alternates between a sort of laboured sprightliness and a
careless conversational manner full of endless parentheses. Yet Velleius
had two real merits; the eye of the trained soldier for character, and an
unaffected, if not a very intelligent, interest in literature. Where he
approaches his own times, his servile attitude towards all the members of
the imperial family, and towards Sejanus, who was still first minister to
Tiberius when the book was published, makes him almost valueless as a
historian; but in the earlier periods his observations are often just and
pointed; and he seems to have been almost the first historian who
included as an essential part of his work some account of the more
eminent writers of his country. A still lower level of aim and attainment
is shown in another work of the same date as that of Velleius, the nine
books of historical anecdotes, _Facta et Dicta Memorabilia,_ by Valerius
Maximus, whose turgid and involved style is not redeemed by any
originality of thought or treatment.

The study of archaeology, both on its linguistic and material sides, was
carried on in the Augustan age with great vigour, though no single name
is comparable to that of Varro for extent and variety of research. One of
the most eminent and copious writers on these subjects was Gaius Julius
Hyginus, a Spanish freed man of Augustus, who made him principal keeper
of the Palatine library. He was a pupil of the most learned Greek
grammarian of the age, Cornelius Alexander Polyhistor, and an intimate
acquaintance of Ovid. Of his voluminous works on geography, history,
astrology, agriculture, and poetry, all are lost but two treatises on
mythology, which in their present form are of a much later date, and are
at best only abridged and corrupted versions, if (as many modern critics
are inclined to think) they are not wholly the work of some author of the
second or third century. Hyginus was also one of the earliest
commentators on Virgil; he possessed among his treasures a manuscript of
the _Georgics,_ which came from Virgil's own house, though it was not
actually written by his hand; and many of his annotations and criticisms
on the _Aeneid_ are preserved by Aulus Gellius and later commentators. A
little later, in the reigns of Tiberius and Claudius, Virgilian criticism
was carried on by Quintus Remmius Palaemon of Vicenza, the most
fashionable teacher in the capital, and the author of a famous Latin
grammar on which all subsequent ones were more or less based. Perhaps the
most distinguished of Augustan scholars was another equally celebrated
teacher, Marcus Verrius Flaccus, who was chosen by Augustus as tutor for
his two grandsons, and thenceforward held his school in the imperial
residence on the Palatine. His lexicon, entitled _De Verborum
Significatu_, was a rich treasury of antiquarian research: such parts of
it as survive in the abridgments made from it in the second and eighth
centuries, by Sextus Pompeius Festus and Paulus Diaconus, are still among
our most valuable sources for the study of early Latin language and
institutions. The more practical side of science in the same period was
ably represented by Aulus Cornelius Celsus, the compiler of an
encyclopedia which included comprehensive treatises not only on oratory,
jurisprudence, and philosophy, but on the arts of war, agriculture, and
medicine. The eight books dealing with this last subject are the only
part of the work that has been preserved. This treatise, which is written
in a pure, simple, and elegant Latin, became a standard work. It was one
of the earliest books printed in the fifteenth century, and remained a
text-book for medical students till within living memory. Medical science
had then reached, in the hands of its leading professors, a greater
perfection than it regained till the eighteenth century. Celsus, though
not, so far as is known, the author of any important discovery or
improvement, had fully mastered a system which even then was highly
complicated, and takes rank by his extensive and accurate knowledge, as
well as by his rare literary skill, with the highest names in his
profession. That with his eminent medical acquirement he should have been
able to deal adequately with so many other subjects as well, has long
been a subject of perplexity. The cold censure of Quintilian, who refers
to him slightly as "a man of moderate ability," may be principally aimed
at the treatise on rhetoric, which formed a section of his encyclopedia.
Columella, writing in the next age, speaks of him as one of the two
leading authorities on agriculture; and he is also quoted as an authority
of some value on military tactics. Yet we cannot suppose that the
encyclopedist, however adequate his treatment of one or even more
subjects, would not lay himself open in others to the censure of the
specialist. It seems most reasonable to suppose that Celsus was one of a
class which is not, after all, very uncommon--doctors of eminent
knowledge and skill in their own art, who at the same time are men of
wide culture and far-ranging practical interests.

In striking contrast to Celsus as regards width of knowledge and literary
skill, though no less famous in the history of his own art, is his
contemporary, the celebrated architect Vitruvius Pollio. The ten books
_De Architectura,_ dedicated to Augustus about the year 14 B.C., are the
single important work on classical architecture which has come down from
the ancient world, and, as such, have been the object of continuous
professional study from the Renaissance down to the present day. But
their reputation is not due to any literary merit. Vitruvius, however
able as an architect, was a man of little general knowledge, and far from
handy with his pen. His style varies between immoderate diffuseness and
obscure brevity; sometimes he is barely intelligible, and he never writes
with grace. Where in his introductory chapters or elsewhere he ventures
beyond his strict province, his writing is that of a half-educated man
who has lost simplicity without acquiring skill.

Among the innumerable rhetoricians of this age one only requires formal
notice, Lucius Annaeus Seneca of Cordova, the father of the famous
philosopher, and the grandfather of the poet Lucan. His long life reached
from before the outbreak of war between Caesar and Pompeius till after
the death of Tiberius. His only extant work, a collection of themes
treated in the schools of rhetoric, was written in his old age, after the
fall of Sejanus, and bears witness to the amazing power of memory which
he tells us himself was, when in its prime, absolutely unique. How much
of his life was spent at Rome is uncertain. As a young man he had heard
all the greatest orators of the time except Cicero; and up to the end of
his life he could repeat word for word and without effort whole passages,
if not whole speeches, to which he had listened many years before. His
ten books of _Controversiae_ are only extant in a mutilated form, which
comprises thirty-five out of seventy-four themes; to these is prefixed a
single book of _Suasoriae_, which is also imperfect. The work is a mine
of information for the history of rhetoric under Augustus and Tiberius,
and incidentally includes many interesting quotations, anecdotes, and
criticisms. But we feel in reading it that we have passed definitely away
from the Golden Age. Yet once more "they have forgotten to speak the
Latin tongue at Rome." The Latinity of the later Empire is as distinct
from that of the Augustan age as this last is from the Latinity of the
Republic. Seneca, it is true, was not an Italian by birth; but it is just
this influx of the provinces into literature, which went on under the
early Empire with continually accelerating force, that determined what
type the new Latinity should take. Gaul, Spain, and Africa are henceforth
side by side with Italy, and Italy herself sinks towards the level of a
province. Within thirty years of the death of the elder Seneca "the fatal
secret of empire, that Emperors could be made elsewhere than at Rome,"
was discovered by the Spanish and German legions; of hardly less moment
was the other discovery, that Latin could be written in another than the
Roman manner. In literature no less than in politics the discovery meant
the final breaking up of the old world, and the slow birth of a new one
through alternate torpors and agonies. It might already have been said of
Rome, in the words of a poet of four hundred years later, that she had
made a city of what had been a world. But in this absorption of the world
into a single citizenship, the city itself was ceasing to be a world of
its own; and with the self-centred _urbs_ passed away the _urbanus
sermo,_ that austere and noble language which was the finest flower of
her civilisation.





The later years of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, while they brought about
the complete transformation of the government into an absolute monarchy,
also laid the foundations for that reign of the philosophers which had
been dreamed of by Plato, and which has never been so nearly realised as
it was in Rome during the second century after Christ. The Stoical
philosophy, passing beyond the limits of the schools to become at once a
religious creed and a practical code of morals for everyday use,
penetrated deeply into the life of Rome. At first associated with the
aristocratic opposition to the imperial government, it passed through a
period of persecution which only strengthened and consolidated its
growth. The final struggle took place under Domitian, whose edict of the
year 94, expelling all philosophers from Rome, was followed two years
afterwards by his assassination and the establishment, for upwards of
eighty years, of a government deeply imbued with the principles of

Of the men who set this revolution in motion by their writings, the
earliest and the most distinguished was Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the son of
the rhetorician. Though only of the second rank as a classic, he is a
figure of very great importance in the history of human thought from the
work he did in the exposition of the new creed. As a practical exponent
of morals, he stands, with Plutarch, at the head of all Greek and Roman

The life of Seneca was one of singularly dramatic contrasts and
vicissitudes. He was born in the year 4 B.C., at Cordova, where, at a
somewhat advanced age, his father had married Helvia, a lady of high
birth, and brought up in the strictest family traditions. Through the
influence of his mother's family (her sister had married Vitrasius
Pollio, who for sixteen years was viceroy of Egypt), the way was easy to
him for advancement in the public service. But delicate health, which
continued throughout his life, kept him as a young man from taking more
than a nominal share in administrative work. He passed into the senate
through the quaestorship, and became a well-known figure at court during
the reign of Caligula. On the accession of Claudius, he was banished to
Corsica at the instance of the Empress Messalina, on the charge of being
the favoured lover of Julia Livilla, Caligula's youngest sister. Whether
the scandal which connected his name with hers, or with that of her
sister Agrippina, had any other foundation than the prurient gossip which
raged round all the members of the imperial family, may well be doubted;
but when Agrippina married Claudius, after the downfall and execution of
Messalina seven years later, she recalled him from exile, obtained his
nomination to the quaestorship, and appointed him tutor to her son
Domitius Nero, then a boy of ten. The influence gained by Seneca, an
accomplished courtier and a clever man of the world, as well as a
brilliant scholar, over his young pupil was for a long time almost
unbounded; and when Nero became Emperor at the age of seventeen, Seneca,
in conjunction with his close friend, Afranius Burrus, commander of the
imperial guards, became practically the administrator of the Empire. His
philosophy was not one which rejected wealth or power; a fortune of three
million pounds may have been amassed without absolute dishonesty, or even
forced upon him, as he pleads himself, by the lavish generosity of his
pupil; but there can be no doubt that in indulging the weaknesses and
passions of Nero, Seneca went far beyond the limits, not only of honour,
but of ordinary prudence. The mild and enlightened administration of the
earlier years of the new reign, the famous _quinquennium Neronis_, which
was looked back to afterwards as a sort of brief golden age, may indeed
be ascribed largely to Seneca's influence; but this influence was based
on an excessive indulgence of Nero's caprices, which soon worked out its
own punishment. His consent to the murder of Agrippina was the death-blow
to his influence for good, or to any self-respect that he may till then
have retained; the death of Burrus left him without support; and, by
retiring into private life and formally offering to make over his whole
fortune to the Emperor, he did not long delay his fate. In the year 65,
on the pretext of complicity in the conspiracy of Piso, he was commanded
to commit suicide, and obeyed with that strange mixture of helplessness
and heroism with which the orders of the master of the world were then
accepted as a sort of inevitable law of nature.

The philosophical writings of Seneca were extremely voluminous; and
though a large number of them are lost, he is still one of the bulkiest
of ancient authors. They fall into three main groups: formal treatises on
ethics; moral letters (_epistolae morales_), dealing in a less continuous
way with the same general range of subjects; and writings on natural
philosophy, from the point of view of the Stoical system. The whole of
these are, however, animated by the same spirit; to the Stoical
philosophy, physics were merely a branch of ethics, and a study to be
pursued for the sake of moral edification, not of reaching truth by
accurate observation or research. The discussions of natural phenomena
are mere texts for religious meditations; and though the eight books of
_Naturales Quaestiones_ were used as a text-book of physical science in
the Middle Ages, they are totally without any scientific value. So, too,
the twenty books of moral letters, nominally addressed to Lucilius, the
procurator of Sicily, merely represent a slight variation of method from
the more formal treatises, _On Anger, On Clemency, On Consolation, On
Peace of Mind, On the Shortness of Life, On Giving and Receiving
Favours_, which are the main substance of Seneca's writings.

As a moral writer, Seneca stands deservedly high. Though infected with
the rhetorical vices of the age, his treatises are full of striking and
often gorgeous eloquence, and in their combination of high thought with
deep feeling, have rarely, if at all, been surpassed. The rhetorical
manner was so essentially part of Seneca's nature, that the warm
colouring and perpetual mannerism of his language does not imply any
insincerity or want of earnestness. In spite of the laboured style, there
is no failure either in lucidity or in force, and even where the rhetoric
is most profuse, it seldom is without a solid basis of thought. "It would
not be easy," says a modern scholar, who was himself averse to all
ornament of diction, and deeply penetrated with the spirit of Stoicism,
"to name any modern writer who has treated on morality and has said so
much that is practically good and true, or has treated the matter in so
attractive a way."

In the moral writings we have the picture of Seneca the philosopher;
Seneca the courtier is less attractively presented in the curious
pamphlet called the _Apocolocyntosis_, a silly and spiteful attack on the
memory of the Emperor Claudius, written to make the laughter of an
afternoon at the court of Nero. The gross bad taste of this satire is
hardly relieved by any great wit in the treatment, and the reputation of
the author would stand higher if it had not survived the occasion for
which it was written.

Among Seneca's extant works are also included nine tragedies, composed in
imitation of the Greek, upon the well-worn subjects of the epic cycle. At
what period of his life they were written cannot be ascertained. As a
rule, only young authors had courage enough to attempt the discredited
task of flogging this dead horse; but it is not improbable that these
dramas were written by Seneca in mature life, in deference to his
imperial pupil's craze for the stage. All the rhetorical vices of his
prose are here exaggerated. The tragedies are totally without dramatic
life, consisting merely of a series of declamatory speeches, in correct
but monotonous versification, interspersed with choruses, which only
differ from the speeches by being written in lyric metres instead of the
iambic. To say that the tragedies are without merit would be an
overstatement, for Seneca, though no poet, remained even in his poetry an
extremely able man of letters and an accomplished rhetorician. His
declamation comes in the same tones from all his puppets; but it is often
grandiose, and sometimes really fine. The lines with which the curtain
falls in his _Medea_ remind one, by their startling audacity, of Victor
Hugo in his most Titanic vein. As the only extant Latin tragedies, these
pieces had a great effect upon the early drama of the sixteenth century
in England and elsewhere. In the well-known verses prefixed to the first
folio Shakespeare, Jonson calls on "him of Cordova dead," in the same
breath with Aeschylus and Euripides; and long after the Jacobean period
the false tradition remained which, by putting these lifeless copies on
the same footing as their great originals, perplexed and stultified
literary criticism, much as the criticism of classical art was confused
by an age which drew no distinction between late Graeco-Roman sculpture
and the finest work of Praxiteles or Pheidias.

By far the most brilliant poet of the Neronian age was Seneca's nephew,
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus. His father, Annaeus Mela, the younger brother of
the philosopher, is known chiefly through his more distinguished son; an
interesting but puzzling notice in a life of Lucan speaks of him as
famous at Rome "from his pursuit of the quiet life." This may imply
refusal of some great office when his elder brother was practically ruler
of the Empire; whatever stirrings of ambition he suppressed broke out
with accumulated force in his son. Lucan's short life was one of feverish
activity. At twenty-one he made his first public sensation by the
recitation, in the theatre of Pompeius, of a panegyric on Nero, who had
already murdered his own mother, but had not yet broken with the poet's
uncle. Soon afterwards, he was advanced to the quaestorship, and a seat
in the college of Augurs: but his brilliant poetical reputation seems to
have excited the jealousy of the artist-emperor; a violent quarrel broke
out between them, and Lucan, already in theory an ardent republican,
became one of the principal movers in the conspiracy of Piso. The plan
discussed among the conspirators of assassinating Nero while in the act
of singing on the stage would, no doubt, commend itself specially to the
young poet whom the Emperor had forbidden to recite in public. When the
conspiracy was detected, Lucan's fortitude soon gave way; he betrayed one
accomplice after another, one of the first names he surrendered being
that of his mother, Acilia. The promise of pardon, under which his
confessions were obtained, was not kept after they were completed; and
the execution of Lucan, at the age of twenty-six, while it cut short a
remarkable poetical career, rid the world of a very poor creature. Yet
the final spasm of courage with which he died, declaiming a passage from
his own epic, has gained him, in the noblest of English elegies, a place
in the same verse with Sidney and Chatterton.

But the _Pharsalia_, the only large work which Lucan left complete, or
all but complete, among a number of essays in different styles of poetry,
and the only work of his which has been preserved, is a poem which, in
spite of its immaturity and bad taste, compels admiration by its
elevation of thought and sustained brilliance of execution. Pure rhetoric
has, perhaps, never come quite so near being poetry; and if the perpetual
overstraining of both thought and expression inevitably ends by fatiguing
the reader, there are at least few instances of a large work throughout
which so lofty and grandiose a style is carried with such elasticity and
force. The _Pharsalia_ is full of quotations, and this itself is no small
praise. Lines like _Nil actum credens dum quid superesset agendum,_ or
_Nec sibi, sed toti gentium se credere mundo_, or _Iupiter est quodcunque
vides quocunque moveris,_ or the sad and noble

_Victurosque dei celant, ut vivere durent,
Felix esse mori--_

are as well known and have sunk as deep as the great lines of Virgil
himself; and not only in single lines, but in longer passages of lofty
thought or sustained imagination, as in his description of the dream of
Pompeius, at the beginning of the seventh book; or the passage on the
extension of the Roman Empire, later in the same book; or the magnificent
speech of Cato when he refuses to seek counsel of the oracle of Ammon,
Lucan sometimes touches a point where he challenges comparison with his
master. In these passages, without any delicacy of modulation, with a
limited range of rhythm, his verse has a metallic clangour that stirs the
blood like a trumpet-note. But his range of ideas is as limited as that
of his rhythms; and the thought is not sustained by any basis of
character. His fierce republicanism sits side by side with flattery of
the reigning Emperor more gross and servile than had till then been known
at Rome. He makes no attempt to realise his persons or to grasp the
significance of events. Caesar, Pompeius, Cato himself--the hero of the
epic--are not human beings, but mere lay-figures round which he drapes
his gorgeous rhetoric. The Civil wars are alternately regarded as the
death-agony of freedom and as the destined channel through which the
world was led to the blessings of an uncontrolled despotism. His ideas
are borrowed indifferently from the Epicurean and Stoical philosophies
according to the convenience of the moment. Great events and actions do
not kindle in him any imaginative sympathy; they are greedily seized as
opportunities for more and more immoderate flights of extravagant
embellishment. He "prates of mountains;" his "phrase conjures the
wandering stars, and makes them stand like wonder-wounded hearers;"
freedom, virtue, fate, the sea and the sun, gods and men before whom the
gods themselves stand abased, hurtle through the poem in a confused
thunder of sonorous phrase. Such brilliance, in the exact manner that was
then most admired, dazzled his contemporaries and retained a permanent
influence over later poets. Statius, himself an author of far higher
poetical gifts, speaks of him in terms of almost extravagant admiration;
with a more balanced judgment Quintilian sums him up in words which may
be taken as on the whole the final criticism adopted by the world;
_ardens et concitatus et sententiis clarissimus, et, ut dicam quod
sentio, magis oratoribus quam poetis imitandus_.

One of Lucan's intimate friends was a young man of high family, Aulus
Persius Flaccus of Volaterrae in Etruria, a near relation of the
celebrated Arria, wife of Paetus. Through his kinswoman he was early
introduced to the circle of earnest thinkers and moralists among whom the
higher life was kept up at Rome amid the corruption of the Neronian age.
The gentle and delicate boy won the hearts of all who knew him. When he
died, at the age of twenty-eight, a little book of six satires, which he
had written with much effort and at long intervals, was retouched by his
master, the Stoic philosopher Cornutus, and published by another friend,
Caesius Bassus, himself a poet of some reputation. Several other writings
which Persius left were destroyed by the advice of Cornutus. The six
pieces--only between six and seven hundred lines in all--were at once
recognised as showing a refined and uncommon literary gift. Persius, we
are informed, had no admiration for the genius of Seneca; and, indeed, no
two styles, though both are deeply artificial, could be more unlike one
another. With all his moral elevation, Seneca was a courtier, an
opportunist, a man of the world: Stoicism took a very different colour in
the boy "of maidenly modesty," as his biographer tells us, who lived in a
household of devoted female relations, and only knew the world as a
remote spectator. Though within the narrow field of his own experience he
shows keen observation and delicate power of portraiture, the world that
he knows is mainly one of books; his perpetual imitations of Horace are
not so much plagiarisms as the unaffected outcome of the mind of a very
young student, to whom the _Satires_ of Horace were more familiar than
the Rome of his own day. So, too, the involved and obscure style which
has made him the paradise of commentators is less a deliberate literary
artifice than the natural effect of looking at everything through a
literary medium, and choosing phrases, not for their own fitness, but for
the associations they recall. His deep moral earnestness, his gentleness
of nature, and, it must be added, his want of humour, made him a
favourite author beyond the circles which were merely attracted by his
verbal obscurities and the way in which he locks up his meaning in hints
and allusions. His unquestionable dramatic power might, in later life,
have ripened into higher achievement; as it is, he lives to us chiefly in
the few beautiful passages where he slips into being natural, and draws,
with a grace and charm that are strikingly absent from the rest of his
writing, the picture of his own quiet life as a student, and of the
awakening of his moral and intellectual nature at the touch of

Lucan and Persius represent the effect which Roman Stoicism had on two
natures of equal sensibility but widely different quality and taste.
Among the many other professors or adherents of the Stoic school in the
age of Nero, a considerable number were also authors, but the habit of
writing in Greek, which a hundred years later grew to such proportions as
to threaten the continued existence of Latin literature, had already
taken root. The three most distinguished representatives of the stricter
Stoicism, Cornutus, Quintus Sextius, and Gaius Musonius Rufus (the first
and last of whom were exiled by Nero), wrote on philosophy in Greek,
though they seem to have written in Latin on other subjects. Musonius
was, indeed, hardly more Roman than his own most illustrious pupil, the
Phrygian Epictetus. Stoicism, as they understood it, left no room for
nationality, and little for writing as a fine art.

This growing prevalence of Greek at Rome combined with political reasons
to check the production of important prose works. History more especially
languished under the jealous censorship of the government. The only
important historical work of the period is one of which the subject could
hardly excite suspicion, the _Life of Alexander the Great_, by Quintus
Curtius Rufus. The precise date is uncertain, and different theories have
assigned it to an earlier or later period in the reign of Augustus or of
Vespasian. The subject is one which hardly any degree of dulness in the
writer could make wholly uninteresting. But the clear and orderly
narrative of Curtius, written in a style studied from that of Livy, but
kept within simpler limits, has real merit of its own; and against his
imperfect technical knowledge of strategy and tactics must be set the
pains he took to consult the best Greek authorities.

Memoirs were written in the Neronian age by numbers both of men and
women. Those of the Empress Agrippina were used by Tacitus; and we have
references to others by the two great Roman generals of the period,
Suetonius Paulinus and Domitius Corbulo. The production of scientific or
technical treatises, which had been so profuse in the preceding
generation, still went on. Only two of any importance are extant; one of
these, the _Chorographia_ of Pomponius Mela, a geographical manual based
on the best authorities and embellished with descriptions of places,
peoples, and customs, is valuable as the earliest and one of the most
complete systems of ancient geography which we possess; but in literary
merit it falls far short of the other, the elaborate work on agriculture
by Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella. Both Mela and Columella were
natives of Spain, and thus belong to the Spanish school of Latin authors,
which begins with the Senecas and is continued later by Martial and
Quintilian. But while Mela, in his style, followed the new fashion,
Columella, an enthusiast for antiquity and a warm admirer of the Augustan
writers, reverts to the more classical manner, which a little later
became once more predominant in the writers of the Flavian period. His
simple and dignified style is much above the level of a mere technical
treatise. His prose, indeed, may be read with more pleasure than the
verse in which, by a singular caprice, one of the twelve books is
composed. In one of the most beautiful episodes of the _Georgics_, Virgil
had briefly touched on the subject of gardening, and left it to be
treated by others who might come after him: _praetereo atque aliis post
me memoranda relinquo_. At the instance, he says, of friends, Columella
attempts to fill up the gap by a fifth Georgic on horticulture. He
approaches the task so modestly, and carries it out so simply, that
critics are not inclined to be very severe; but he was no poet, and the
book is little more than a cento from Virgil, carefully and smoothly
written, and hardly if at all disfigured by pretentiousness or rhetorical

The same return upon the Virgilian manner is shown in the seven
_Eclogues,_ composed in the early years of Nero's reign, by Titus
Calpurnius Siculus. These are remarkable rather as the only specimens for
nearly three hundred years of a direct attempt to continue the manner of
Virgil's _Bucolics_ than for any substantive merit of their own. That
manner, indeed, is so exceptionally unmanageable that it is hardly
surprising that it should have been passed over by later poets of high
original gift; but that even poets of the second and third rate should
hardly ever have attempted to imitate poems which stood in the very first
rank of fame bears striking testimony to Virgil's singular quality of
unapproachableness. The _Eclogues_ of Calpurnius (six of them are
Eclogues within the ordinary meaning, the seventh rather a brief Georgic
on the care of sheep and goats, made formally a pastoral by being put
into the mouth of an old shepherd sitting in the shade at midday) are,
notwithstanding their almost servile imitation of Virgil, written in such
graceful verse, and with so few serious lapses of taste, that they may be
read with considerable pleasure. The picture, in the sixth Eclogue, of
the fawn lying among the white lilies, will recall to English readers one
of the prettiest fancies of Marvell; that in the second, of Flora
scattering her tresses over the spring meadow, and Pomona playing under
the orchard boughs, is at least a vivid pictorial presentment of a
sufficiently well-worn theme. A more normal specimen of Calpurnius's
manner may be instanced in the lines (v. 52-62) where one of the most
beautiful passages in the third _Georgic,_ the description of a long
summer day among the Italian hill-pastures, is simply copied in different

The didactic poem on volcanoes, called _Aetna,_ probably written by the
Lucilius to whom Seneca addressed his writings on natural philosophy,
belongs to the same period and shows the same influences. Of the other
minor poetical works of the time the only one which requires special
mention is the tragedy of _Octavia,_ which is written in the same style
as those of Seneca, and was long included among his works. Its only
interest is as the single extant specimen of the _fabula praetexta,_ or
drama with a Roman subject and characters. The characters here include
Nero and Seneca himself. But the treatment is as conventional and
declamatory as that of the mythological tragedies among which it has been
preserved, and the result, if possible, even flatter and more tedious.

One other work of extreme and unique interest survives from the reign of
Nero, the fragments of a novel by Petronius Arbiter, one of the Emperor's
intimate circle in the excesses of his later years. In the year 66 he
fell a victim to the jealousy of the infamous and all but omnipotent
Tigellinus; and on this occasion Tacitus sketches his life and character
in a few of his strong masterly touches. "His days were passed," says
Tacitus, "in sleep, his nights in the duties or pleasures of life; where
others toiled for fame he had lounged into it, and he had the reputation
not, like most members of that profligate society, of a dissolute wanton,
but of a trained master in luxury. A sort of careless ease, an entire
absence of self-consciousness, added the charm of complete simplicity to
all he said and did. Yet, as governor of Bithynia, and afterwards as
consul, he showed himself a vigorous and capable administrator; then
relapsing into the habit or assuming the mask of vice, he was adopted as
Arbiter of Elegance into the small circle of Nero's intimate companions;
no luxury was charming or refined till Petronius had given it his
approval, and the jealousy of Tigellinus was roused against a rival and
master in the science of debauchery."

The novel written by this remarkable man was in the form of an
autobiography narrating the adventures, in various Italian towns, of a
Greek freedman. The fragments hardly enable us to trace any regular plot;
its interest probably lay chiefly in the series of vivid pictures which
it presented of life among all orders of society from the highest to the
lowest, and its accurate reproduction of popular language and manners.
The hero of the story uses the ordinary Latin speech of educated persons,
though, from the nature of the work, the style is much more colloquial
than that of the formal prose used for serious writing. But the
conversation of many of the characters is in the _plebeius sermo,_ the
actual speech of the lower orders, of which so little survives in
literature. It is full of solecisms and popular slang; and where the
scene lies, as it mostly does in the extant fragments, in the semi-Greek
seaports of Southern Italy, it passes into what was almost a dialect of
its own, the _lingua franca_ of the Mediterranean under the Empire, a
dialect of mixed Latin and Greek. The longest and most important fragment
is the well-known _Supper of Trimalchio_. It is the description of a
Christmas dinner-party given by a sort of Golden Dustman and his wife,
people of low birth and little education, who had come into an enormous
fortune. Trimalchio, a figure drawn with extraordinary life, is
constantly making himself ridiculous by his blunders and affectations,
while he almost wins our liking by his childlike simplicity and good
nature. The dinner itself, and the conversation on literature and art
that goes on at the dinner-table, are conceived in a spirit of the
wildest humour. Trimalchio, who has two libraries, besides everything
else handsome about him, is anxious to air his erudition. "Can you tell
us a story," he asks a guest, "of the twelve sorrows of Hercules, or how
the Cyclops pulled Ulysses' leg? I used to read them in Homer when I was
a boy." After an interruption, caused by the entrance of a boar, roasted
whole and stuffed with sausages, he goes on to talk of his collection of
plate; his unique cups of Corinthian bronze (so called from a dealer
named Corinthus; the metal was invented by Hannibal at the capture of
Troy), and his huge silver vases, "a hundred of them, more or less,"
chased with the story of Daedalus shutting Niobe into the Trojan horse,
and Cassandra killing her sons--"the dead children so good, you would
think they were alive; for I sell my knowledge in matters of art for no
money." Presently there follow the two wonderful ghost stories--that of
the wer-wolf, told by one of the guests, and that of the witches by
Trimalchio himself in return--both masterpieces of vivid realism. As the
evening advances the fun becomes more fast and furious. The cook, who had
excelled himself in the ingenuity of his dishes, is called up to take a
seat at table, and after favouring the company with an imitation of a
popular tragedian, begins to make a book with Trimalchio over the next
chariot races. Fortunata, Trimalchio's wife, is a little in liquor, and
gets up to dance. Just at this point Trimalchio suddenly turns
sentimental, and, after giving elaborate directions for his own
obsequies, begins to cry. The whole company are in tears round him when
he suddenly rallies, and proposes that, as death is certain, they shall
all go and have a hot bath. In the little confusion that follows, the
narrator and his friend slip quietly away. This scene of exquisite
fooling is quite unique in Greek or Latin literature: the breadth and
sureness of touch are almost Shakespearian. Another fragment relates the
famous story of the _Matron of Ephesus_, one of the popular tales which
can be traced back to India, but which appears here for the first time in
the Western world. Others deal with literary criticism, and include
passages in verse; the longest of these, part of an epic on the civil
wars in the manner of Lucan, is recited by one of the principal
characters, the professional poet Eumolpus, to exemplify the rules he has
laid down for epic poetry in a most curious discussion that precedes it.
That so small a part of the novel has been preserved is most annoying; it
must have been comparable, in dramatic power and (notwithstanding the
gross indecency of many passages) in a certain large sanity, to the great
work of Fielding. In all the refined writing of the next age we never
again come on anything at once so masterly and so human.



To the age of the rhetoricians succeeded the age of the scholars.
Quintilian, Pliny, and Statius, the three foremost authors of the Flavian
dynasty, have common qualities of great learning and sober judgment which
give them a certain mutual affinity, and divide them sharply from their
immediate predecessors. The effort to outdo the Augustan writers had
exhausted itself; the new school rather aimed at reproducing their
manner. In the hands of inferior writers this attempt only issued in tame
imitations; but with those of really original power it carried the Latin
of the Silver Age to a point higher in quality than it ever reached,
except in the single case of Tacitus, a writer of unique genius who
stands in a class of his own.

The reigns of the three Flavian emperors nearly occupy the last thirty
years of the first century after Christ. The "year of four Emperors"
which passed between the downfall of Nero and the accession of Vespasian
had shaken the whole Empire to its foundations. The recovery from that
shock left the Roman world established on a new footing. In literature,
no less than in government and finance, a feverish period of inflated
credit had brought it to the verge of ruin. At the beginning of his reign
Vespasian announced a deficit of four hundred million pounds (a sum the
like of which had never been heard of before) in the public exchequer;
some similar estimate might have been formed by a fanciful analogy of the
collapse that had to be made good in literature, when style could no
longer bear the tremendous overdrafts made on it by Seneca and Lucan. And
in the literary as in the political world there was no complete recovery:
throughout the second century we have to trace the gradual decline of
letters going on alongside of that mysterious decay of the Empire itself
before which a continuously admirable government was all but helpless.

Publius Papinius Statius, the most eminent of the poets of this age, was
born towards the end of the reign of Tiberius, and seems to have died
before the accession of Nerva. His poetry can all be assigned to the
reign of Domitian, or the few years immediately preceding it. As to his
life little is known, probably because it passed without much incident.
He was born at Naples, and returned to it in advanced age after the
completion of his _Thebaid_; but the greater part of his life was spent
at Rome, where his father was a grammarian of some distinction who had
acted for a time as tutor to Domitian. He had thus access to the court,
where he improved his opportunities by unstinted adulation of the Emperor
and his favourite eunuch Earinus. The curious mediaeval tradition of his
conversion to Christianity, which is so finely used by Dante in the
_Purgatorio_, cannot be traced to its origin, and does not appear to have
any historical foundation.

Twelve years were spent by Statius over his epic poem on the War of
Thebes, which was published about the year 92, with a florid dedication
to Domitian. After its completion he began another epic, on an even more
imposing scale, on the life of Achilles and the whole of the Trojan war.
Of this _Achilleid_ only the first and part of the second book were ever
completed; had it continued on the same scale it would have been the
longest of Greek or Latin epics. At various times after the publication
of the _Thebaid_ appeared the five books of _Silvae_, miscellaneous and
occasional poems on different subjects, often of a personal nature.
Another epic, on the campaign of Domitian in Germany, has not been

The _Thebaid_ became very famous; later poets, like Ausonius or Claudian,
constantly imitate it. Its smooth versification, copious diction, and
sustained elegance made it a sort of canon of poetical technique. But,
itself, it rises beyond the merely mechanical level. Without any quality
that can quite be called genius, Statius had real poetical feeling. His
taste preserves him from any great extravagances; and among much tedious
rhetoric and cumbrous mythology, there is enough of imagination and
pathos to make the poem interesting and even charming. At a time when
Guercino and the Caracci were counted great masters in the sister art,
the _Thebaid_ was also held to be a masterpiece. Besides complete
versions by inferior hands, both Pope and Gray took the pains to
translate portions of it into English verse, and it is perpetually quoted
in the literature of the eighteenth century. It is, indeed, perhaps its
severest condemnation that it reads best in quotations. Not only the more
highly elaborated passages, but almost any passage taken at random, may
be read with pleasure and admiration; those who have had the patience to
read it through, however much they may respect the continuous excellence
of its workmanship, will (as with the _Gierusalemme Liberata_ of Tasso)
feel nearly as much respect for their own achievement as for that of the

The _Silvae_, consisting as they do of comparatively short pieces,
display the excellences of Statius to greater advantage. Of the thirty-
two poems, six are in lyric metres, the rest being all written in the
smooth graceful hexameters of which the author of the _Thebaid_ was so
accomplished a master. The subjects, for the most part of a familiar
nature, are very various. A touching and affectionate poem to his wife
Claudia is one of the best known. Several are on the death of friends;
one of very great beauty is on the marriage of his brother poet,
Arruntius Stella, to a lady with the charming name of Violantilla. The
descriptive pieces on the villas of acquaintances at Tivoli and Sorrento,
and on the garden of another in Rome, are full of a genuine feeling for
natural beauty. The poem on the death of his father, though it has
passages of romantic fancy, is deformed by an excess of literary
allusions; but that on the death of his adopted son (he had no children
of his own), which ends the collection, is very touching in the sincerity
of its grief and its reminiscences of the dead boy's infancy. Perhaps the
finest, certainly the most remarkable of all these pieces is the short
poem (one might almost call it a sonnet) addressed to Sleep. This, though
included in the last book of the _Silvae_, must have been written in
earlier life; it shows that had Statius not been entangled in the
composition of epics by the conventional taste of his age, he might have
struck out a new manner in ancient poetry. The poem is so brief that it
may be quoted in full:--

_Crimine quo merui iuvenis, placidissime divom,
Quove errore miser, donis ut solus egerem,
Somne, tuis? Tacet omne pecus, volueresque, feraeque,
Et simulant fessos curvata cacumina somnos;
Nec trucibus fluviis idem sonus; occidit horror
Aequoris, et terris maria inclinata quiescunt.
Septima iam rediens Phoebe mihi respicit aegras
Stare genas, totidem Oeteae Paphiaeque revisunt
Lampades, et toties nostros Tithonia questus
Praeterit et gelido spargit miserata flagello.
Unde ego sufficiam? Non si mihi lumina mille
Quae sacer alterna tantum statione tenebat
Argus, et haud unquam vigilabat corpore toto.
At nunc, heu, aliquis longa sub nocte puellae
Brachia nexa tenens, ultra te, Somne, repellit:
Inde veni: nec te totas infundere pennas
Luminibus compello meis: hoc turba precatur
Laetior; extremae me tange cacumine virgae,
Sufficit, aut leviter suspenso poplite transi._

Were the three lines beginning _Unde ego sufficiam_ struck out--and one
might almost fancy them to have been inserted later by an unhappy second
thought--the remainder of this poem would be as perfect as it is unique.
The famous sonnet of Wordsworth on the same subject must at once occur to
an English reader; but the poem in its manner, especially in the dying
cadence of the last two lines, recalls even more strongly some of the
finest sonnets of Keats. "Had Statius written often thus," in the words
Johnson uses of Gray, "it had been vain to blame, and useless to praise

The two other epic poets contemporary with Statius whose works are
extant, Valerius Flaccus and Silius Italicus, belong generally to the
same school, but stand on a much lower level of excellence. The former is
only known as the author of the _Argonautica_. An allusion in the proem
of his epic to the recent destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in the year
70, and another in a later book to the great eruption of Vesuvius in 79,
fix the date of the poem; and Quintilian, writing in the later years of
Domitian, refers to the poet's recent death. From another passage in the
_Argonautica_ it has been inferred that Flaccus was one of the college of
quindecemvirs, and therefore of high family. The _Argonautica_ follows
the well-known poem of Apollonius Rhodius, but by his diffuse rhetorical
treatment the author expands the story to such a length that in between
five and six thousand lines he has only got as far as the escape of Jason
and Medea from Colchos. Here the poem breaks off abruptly in the eighth
book; it was probably meant to consist of twelve, and to end with the
return of the Argonauts to Greece. In all respects, except the choice of
subject, Valerius Flaccus is far inferior to Statius. He cannot indeed
wholly destroy the perennial charm of the story of the Golden Fleece, but
he comes as near doing so as is reasonably possible. His versification is
correct, but without freedom or variety; and incidents and persons are
alike presented through a cloud of monotonous and mechanical rhetoric.

If Valerius Flaccus to some degree redeemed his imaginative poverty by
the choice of his subject, the other epic poet of the Flavian era,
Tiberius Catius Silius Italicus, chose a subject which no ingenuity could
have adapted to epic treatment. His _Punic War_ may fairly contend for
the distinction of being the worst epic ever written; and its author is
the most striking example in Latin literature of the incorrigible
amateur. He had, in earlier life, passed through a distinguished official
career; he was consul the year before the fall of Nero, and in the
political revolutions which followed conducted himself with such prudence
that, though an intimate friend of Vitellius, he remained in favour under
Vespasian. After a term of further service as proconsul of Asia, he
retired to a dignified and easy leisure. His love of literature was
sincere; he prided himself on owning one of Cicero's villas, and the land
which held Virgil's grave, and he was a generous patron to men of
letters. The fulsome compliments paid to him by Martial (who has the
effrontery to speak of him as a combined Virgil and Cicero) are, no
doubt, only an average specimen of the atmosphere which surrounded so
munificent a patron; but the admiration which he openly expressed for the
slave Epictetus does him a truer honour. The _Bellum Punicum_, in
seventeen books, is longer than the _Odyssey_. It closely follows the
history as told by Livy; but the elements of almost epic grandeur in the
contest between Rome and Hannibal all disappear amid masses of tedious
machinery. Without any invention or constructive power of his own, Silius
copies with tasteless pedantry all the outworn traditions of the heroic
epic. What Homer or Virgil has done, he must needs do too. The Romans are
the Dardanians or the Aeneadae: Juno interferes in Hannibal's favour, and
Venus, hidden in a cloud, watches the battle of the Trebia from a hill.
Hannibal is urged to war by a dream like that of Agamemnon in the
_Iliad_; he is equipped with a spear "fatal to many thousands" of the
enemy, and a shield, like that of Aeneas, embossed with subjects from
Carthaginian history, and with the river Ebro flowing round the edge as
an ingenious variant of the Ocean-river on the shield of Achilles. A
Carthaginian fleet cruising off the coast of Italy falls in with Proteus,
who takes the opportunity of prophesying the course of the war. Hannibal
at Zama pursues a phantom of Scipio, which flies before him and
disappears like that of Aeneas before Turnus. Such was the degradation to
which the noble epic machinery had now sunk. Soon after the death of
Silius the poem seems to have fallen into merited oblivion; there is a
single reference to it in a poet of the fifth century, and thereafter it
remained unknown or unheard of until a manuscript discovered by Poggio
Bracciolini brought it to light again early in the fifteenth century.

The works of the other Flavian poets, Curiatius Maternus, Saleius Bassus,
Arruntius Stella, and the poetess Sulpicia, are lost; all else that
survives of the verse of the period is the work of a writer of a
different order, but of considerable importance and value, the
epigrammatist Martial. By no means a poet of the first rank, hardly
perhaps a poet at all according to any strict definition, he has yet a
genius of his own which for many ages made him the chief and almost the
sole model for a particular kind of literature.

Marcus Valerius Martialis was born at Augusta Bilbilis in Central Spain
towards the end of the reign of Tiberius. He came to Rome as a young man
during the reign of Nero, when his countrymen, Seneca and Lucan, were at
the height of their reputation. Through their patronage he obtained a
footing, if not at court, yet among the wealthy amateurs who extended a
less dangerous protection to men of letters. For some thirty-five years
he led the life of a dependant; under Domitian his assiduous flattery
gained for him the honorary tribunate which conferred equestrian rank,
though not the rewards of hard cash which he would probably have
appreciated more. The younger Pliny, who speaks of him with a slightly
supercilious approval, repaid with a more substantial gratification a
poem comparing him to Cicero. Martial's gift for occasional verse just
enabled him to live up three pair of stairs in the city; in later years,
when he had an income from booksellers as well as from private patrons,
he could afford a tiny country house among the Sabine hills. Early in the
reign of Domitian he began to publish regularly, bringing out a volume of
epigrams every year. After the accession of Trajan he returned to his
native town, from which, however, he sent a final volume three years
afterwards to his Roman publishers. There his talent for flattery at last
bore substantial fruit; a rich lady of the neighbourhood presented him
with a little estate, and though the longing for the country, which had
grown on him in Rome, was soon replaced by a stronger feeling of regret
for the excitement of the capital, he spent the remainder of his life in
material comfort.

The collected works of Martial, as published after his death, which
probably took place about the year 102, consist of twelve books of
miscellaneous _Epigrams,_ which are prefaced by a book of pieces called
_Liber Spectaculorum,_ upon the performances given by Titus and Domitian
in the capital, especially in the vast amphitheatre erected by the
former. At the end are added two books of _Xenia_ and _Apophoreta,_
distichs written to go with the Christmas presents of all sorts which
were interchanged at the festival of the Saturnalia. These last are, of
course, not "distinguished for a strong poetic feeling," any more than
the cracker mottoes of modern times. But the twelve books of _Epigrams_,
while they include work of all degrees of goodness and badness, are
invaluable from the vivid picture which they give of actual daily life at
Rome in the first century. Few writers of equal ability show in their
work such a total absence of character, such indifference to all ideas or
enthusiasms; yet this very quality makes the verse of Martial a more
perfect mirror of the external aspects of Roman life. A certain
intolerance of hypocrisy is the nearest approach Martial ever makes to
moral feeling. His perpetual flattery of Domitian, though gross as a
mountain--it generally takes the form of comparing him with the Supreme
Being, to the disadvantage of the latter--has no more serious political
import than there is serious moral import in the almost unexampled
indecency of a large proportion of the epigrams. The "candour" noted in
him by Pliny is simply that of a sheet of paper which is indifferent to
what is written upon it, fair or foul. He may claim the merit--nor is it
an inconsiderable one--of being totally free from pretence. In one of the
most graceful of his poems, he enumerates to a friend the things which
make up a happy life: "Be yourself, and do not wish to be something
else," is the line which sums up his counsel. To his own work he extends
the same easy tolerance with which he views the follies and vices of
society. "A few good, some indifferent, the greater number bad"--so he
describes his epigrams; what opening is left after this for hostile
criticism? If elsewhere he hints that only indolence prevented him from
producing more important work, so harmless an affectation may be passed
over in a writer whose clearness of observation and mastery of slight but
lifelike portraiture are really of a high order.

By one of the curious accidents of literary history Martial, as the only
Latin epigrammatist who left a large mass of work, gave a meaning to the
word epigram from which it is only now beginning to recover. The art,
practised with such infinite grace by Greek artists of almost every age
between Solon and Justinian, was just at this period sunk to a low ebb.
The contemporary Greek epigrammatists whose work is preserved in the
Palatine Anthology, from Nicarchus and Lucilius to Strato, all show the
same heaviness of handling and the same tiresome insistence on making a
point, which prevent Martial's epigrams from being placed in the first
rank. But while in any collection of Greek epigrammatic poetry these
authors naturally sink to their own place, Martial, as well by the mere
mass of his work--some twelve hundred pieces in all, exclusive of the
cracker mottoes--as by his animation and pungent wit, set a narrow and
rather disastrous type for later literature. He appealed strongly to all
that was worst in Roman taste--its heavy-handedness, its admiration of
verbal cleverness, its tendency towards brutality. Half a century later,
Verus Caesar, that wretched creature whom Hadrian had adopted as his
successor, and whose fortunate death left the Empire to the noble rule of
Antoninus Pius, called Martial "his Virgil:" the incident is highly
significant of the corruption of taste which in the course of the second
century concurred with other causes to bring Latin literature to decay
and almost to extinction.

Among the learned Romans of this age of great learning, the elder Pliny,
_aetatis suae doctissimus_, easily took the first place. Born in the
middle of the reign of Tiberius, Gaius Plinius Secundus of Comum passed
his life in high public employments, both military and civil, which took
him successively over nearly all the provinces of the Empire. He served
in Germany, in the Danubian provinces, in Spain, in Gaul, in Africa, and
probably also in Syria, on the staff of Titus, during the Jewish war. In
August of the year 79 he was in command of the fleet stationed at Misenum
when the memorable eruption of Vesuvius took place. In his zeal for
scientific investigation he set sail for the spot in a man-of-war, and,
lingering too near the zone of the eruption, was suffocated by the rain
of hot ashes. The account of his death, given by his nephew in a letter
to the historian Tacitus, is one of the best known passages in the

By amazing industry and a most rigid economy of time, Pliny combined with
his continuous official duties an immense reading and a literary
production of great scope and value. A hundred and sixty volumes of his
extracts from writers of all kinds, written, we are told, on both sides
of the paper in an extremely small hand, were bequeathed by him to his
nephew. Besides works on grammar, rhetoric, military tactics, and other
subjects, he wrote two important histories--one, in twenty books, on the
wars on the German frontier, the other a general history of Rome in
thirty-one books, from the accession of Nero to the joint triumph of
Vespasian and Titus after the subjugation of the Jewish revolt. Both
these valuable works are completely lost, nor is it possible to determine
how far their substance reappears in Tacitus and Suetonius; the former,
however, in both _Annals_ and _Histories_, repeatedly cites him as an
authority. But we fortunately possess the most important of his works,
the thirty-seven books of his _Natural History_. This is not, indeed, a
great work of literature, though its style, while sometimes heavy and
sometimes mannered, is on the whole plain, straightforward, and
unpretentious; but it is a priceless storehouse of information on every
branch of natural science as known to the ancient world. It was published
with a dedication to Titus two years before Pliny's death, but continued
during the rest of his life to receive his additions and corrections. It
was compiled from a vast reading. Nearly five hundred authors (about a
hundred and fifty Roman, the rest foreign) are cited in his catalogue of
authorities. The plan of this great encyclopedia was carefully thought
out before its composition was begun. It opens with a general system of
physiography, and then passes successively to geography, anthropology,
human physiology, zoology and comparative physiology, botany, including
agriculture and horticulture, medicine, mineralogy, and the fine arts.

After being long held as an almost infallible authority, Pliny, in more
recent times, fell under the reproach of credulity and want of sufficient
discrimination in the value of his sources. Further research has gone
some way to reinstate his reputation. Without having any profound
original knowledge of the particular sciences, he had a naturally
scientific mind. His tendency to give what is merely curious the same
attention as what is essentially important, has incidentally preserved
much valuable detail, especially as regards the arts; and modern research
often tends to confirm the anecdotes which were once condemned as plainly
erroneous and even absurd. Pliny has, further, the great advantage of
being shut up in no philosophical system. His philosophy of life, and his
religion so far as it appears, is that of his age, a moderate and
rational Stoicism. Like his contemporaries, he complains of the modern
falling away from nature and the decay of morals. But it is as the
conscientious student and the unbiassed observer that he habitually
appears. In diligence, accuracy, and freedom from preconception or
prejudice, he represents the highest level reached by ancient science
after Aristotle and his immediate successors.

Of the more specialised scientific treatises belonging to this period,
only two are extant, the three books on _Strategy_ by Sextus Julius
Frontinus, and a treatise by the same author on the public water-supply
of Rome; both belong to strict science, rather than to literature. The
schools of rhetoric and grammar continued to flourish: among many
unimportant names that of Quintilian stands eminent, as not only a
grammarian and rhetorician, but a fine critic and a writer of high
substantive value.

Marcus Fabius Quintilianus of Calagurris, a small town on the Upper Ebro,
is the last, and perhaps the most distinguished of that school of Spanish
writers which bulks so largely in the history of the first century. He
was educated at Rome, and afterwards returned to his native town as a
teacher of rhetoric. There he made, or improved, the acquaintance of
Servius Sulpicius Galba, proconsul of Tarraconensian Spain in the later
years of Nero. When Galba was declared Emperor by the senate, he took
Quintilian with him to Rome, where he was appointed a public teacher of
rhetoric, with a salary from the privy purse. He retained his fame and
his favour through the succeeding reigns. Domitian made him tutor to the
two grand-nephews whom he destined for his own successors, and raised him
to consular rank. For about twenty years he remained the most celebrated
teacher in the capital, combining his professorship with a large amount
of actual pleading in the law-courts. His published works belong to the
later years of his life, when he had retired from the bar and from public
teaching. His first important treatise, on the decay of oratory, _De
Causis Corruptae Eloquentiae_, is not extant. It was followed, a few
years later, in or about the year 93, by his great work, the _Institutio
Oratoria_, which sums up the teaching and criticism of his life.

The contents of this work, which at once became the final and standard
treatise on the theory and practice of Latin oratory, are very elaborate
and complete. In the first book, Quintilian discusses the preliminary
training required before the pupil is ready to enter on the study of his
art, beginning with a sketch of the elementary education of the child
from the time he leaves the nursery, which is even now of remarkable
interest. The second book deals with the general principles and scope of
the art of oratory, and continues the discussion of the aims and methods
of education in its later stages. The five books from the third to the
seventh are occupied with an exhaustive treatment of the matter of
oratory, under the heads of what were known to the Roman schools by the
names of _invention_ and _disposition_. The greater part of these books
is, of course, highly technical. The next four books, from the eighth to
the eleventh, treat of the manner of oratory, or all that is included in
the word _style_ in its widest signification. It is in this part of the
treatise that Quintilian, in relation to the course of general reading
both in Greek and Latin that should be pursued by the young orator, gives
the masterly sketch of Latin literature which is the most famous portion
of the whole work. The twelfth book, which concludes the work, reverts to
education in the highest and most extended sense, that of the moral
qualifications of the great orator, and the exhaustive discipline of the
whole nature throughout life which must be continued unfalteringly to the

Now that the formal study of rhetoric has ceased to be a part of the
higher education, the more strictly technical parts of Quintilian's work,
like those of the _Rhetoric_ of Aristotle, have, in a great measure, lost
their relevance to actual life, and with it their general interest to the
world at large. Both the Greek and the Roman masterpiece are read now
rather for their incidental observations upon human nature and the
fundamental principles of art, than for instruction in a particular form
of art which, in the course of time, has become obsolete. These
observations, in Quintilian no less than in Aristotle, are often both
luminous and profound, A collection of the memorable sentences of
Quintilian, such as has been made by his modern editors, is full of
sayings of deep wisdom and enduring value. _Nulla mansit ars qualis
inventa est, nec intra initium stetit; Plerumque facilius est plus
facere, quam idem; Nihil in studiis parvum est; Cito scribendo non fit ut
bene scribatur, bene scribendo fit ut cito; Omnia nostra dum nascuntur
placent, alioqui nec scriberentur_;--such sayings as these, expressed
with admirable terseness and lucidity, are scattered all over the work,
and have a value far beyond the limits of any single study. If they do
not drop from Quintilian with the same curious negligence as they do from
Aristotle (whose best things are nearly always said in a parenthesis),
the advantage is not wholly with the Greek author; the more orderly and
finished method of the Roman teacher marks a higher constructive literary
power than that of Aristotle, whose singular genius made him indeed the
prince of lecturers, but did not place him in the first rank of writers.

Beyond these incidental touches of wisdom and insight, which give an
enduring value to the whole substance of the work, the chief interest for
modern readers in the _Institutio Oratoria_, lies in three portions which
are, more or less, episodic to the strict purpose of the book, though
they sum up the spirit in which it is written. These are the discussions
on the education of children in the first, and on the larger education of
mature life in the last book, and the critical sketch of ancient
literature up to his own time, which occupies the first chapter of the
tenth. Almost for the first time in history--for the ideal system of
Plato, however brilliant and suggestive, stands on quite a different
footing--the theory of education was, in this age, made a subject of
profound thought and study. The precepts of Quintilian, if taken in
detail, address themselves to the formation of a Roman of the Empire, and
not a citizen of modern Europe. But their main spirit is independent of
the accidents of any age or country. In the breadth of his ideas, and in
the wisdom of much of his detailed advice, Quintilian takes a place in
the foremost rank of educational writers. The dialogue on oratory written
a few years earlier by Tacitus names, as the main cause of the decay of
the liberal arts, not any lack of substantial encouragement, but the
negligence of parents and the want of skill in teachers. To leave off
vague and easy declamations against luxury and the decay of morals, and
to fix on the great truth that bad education is responsible for bad life,
was the first step towards a real reform. This Quintilian insists upon
with admirable clearness. Nor has any writer on education grasped more
firmly or expressed more lucidly the complementary truth that education,
from the cradle upwards, is something which acts on the whole
intellectual and moral nature, and whose object is the production of what
the Romans called, in a simple form of words which was full of meaning,
"the good man." It would pass beyond the province of literary criticism
to discuss the reasons why that reform never took place, or, if it did,
was confined to a circle too small to influence the downward movement of
the Empire at large. They belong to a subject which is among the most
interesting of all studies, and which has hardly yet been studied with
adequate fulness or insight, the social history of the Roman world in the
second century.

One necessary part of the education of the orator was a course of wide
and careful reading in the best literature; and it is in this special
connection that Quintilian devotes part of his elaborate discussion on
style to a brief critical summary of the literature of Greece and that of
his own country. The frequent citations which have already been made from
this part of the work may indicate the very great ability with which it
is executed. Though his special purpose as a professor of rhetoric is
always kept in view, his criticism passes beyond this formal limit. He
expresses, no doubt, what was the general opinion of the educated world
of his own time; but the form of his criticism is so careful and so
choice, that many of his brief phrases have remained the final word on
the authors, both in prose and verse, whom he mentions in his rapid
survey. His catalogue is far from being, as it has been disparagingly
called, a mere "list of the best hundred books." It is the deliberate
judgment of the best Roman scholarship, in an age of wide reading and
great learning, upon the masterpieces of their own literature. His own
preference for certain periods and certain manners is well marked. But he
never forgets that the object of criticism is to disengage excellences
rather than to censure faults: even his pronounced aversion from the
style of Seneca and the authors of the Neronian age does not prevent him
from seeing their merits, and giving these ungrudging praise.

It is, indeed, in Quintilian that the reaction from the early imperial
manner comes to its climax. Statius had, to a certain degree, gone back
to Virgil; Quintilian goes back to Cicero without hesitation or reserve.
He is the first of the Ciceronians; Lactantius in the fourth century,
John of Salisbury in the twelfth, Petrarch in the fourteenth, Erasmus in
the sixteenth, all in a way continue the tradition which he founded; nor
is it surprising that the discovery of a complete manuscript of the
_Institutio Oratoria_, early in the fifteenth century was hailed by
scholars as one of the most important events of the Renaissance. He is
not, however, a mere imitator of his master's style; indeed, his style
is, in some features and for some purposes, a better one than his
master's. It is as clear and fluent, and not so verbose. He cannot rise
to the great heights of Cicero; but for ordinary use it would be
difficult to name a manner that combines so well the Ciceronian dignity
with the rich colour and high finish added to Latin prose by the writers
of the earlier empire.

The body of criticism left by Quintilian in this remarkable chapter is
the more valuable because it includes nearly all the great Latin writers.
Classical literature, little as it may have seemed so at the time, was
already nearing its end. With the generation which immediately followed,
that of his younger contemporaries, the Silver Age closes, and a new age
begins, which, though full of interest in many ways, is no longer
classical. After Tacitus and the younger Pliny, the main stream dwindles
and loses itself among quicksands. The writers who continue the pure
classical tradition are few, and of inferior power; and the chief
interest of Latin literature becomes turned in other directions, to the
Christian writers on the one hand, and on the other to those authors in
whom we may trace the beginning of new styles and methods, some of which
bore fruit at the time, while others remained undeveloped till the later
Middle Ages. Why this final effort of purely Roman culture, made in the
Flavian era with such sustained energy and ability, on the whole scarcely
survived a single generation, is a question to which no simple answer can
be given. It brings us once more face to face with the other question,
which, indeed, haunts Latin literature from the outset, whether the
conquest and absorption of Greece by Rome did not carry with it the seeds
of a fatal weakness in the victorious literature. Up to the end of the
Golden Age fresh waves of Greek influence had again and again given new
vitality and enlarged power to the Latin language. That influence had now
exhausted itself; for the Latin world Greece had no further message. That
Latin literature began to decline so soon after the stimulating Greek
influence ceased to operate, was partly due to external causes; the
empire began to fight for its existence before the end of the second
century, and never afterwards gained a pause in the continuous drain of
its vital force. But there was another reason more intimate and inherent;
a literature formed so completely on that of Greece paid the penalty in a
certain loss of independent vitality. The gap between the literary Latin
and the actual speech of the mass of Latin-speaking people became too
great to bridge over. Classical Latin poetry was, as we have seen,
written throughout in alien metres, to which indeed the language was
adapted with immense dexterity, but which still remained foreign to its
natural structure. To a certain degree the same was even true of prose,
at least of the more imaginative prose which was developed through a
study of the great Greek masters of history, oratory, and philosophy. In
the Silver Age Latin literature, feeling a great past behind it,
definitely tried to cut itself away from Greece and stand on its own
feet. Quintilian's criticism implies throughout that the two literatures
were on a footing of substantial equality; Cicero is sufficient for him,
as Virgil is for Statius. Even Martial, it has been noted, hardly ever
alludes to Greek authors, while he is full of references to those of his
own country. The eminent grammarians of the age, Aemilius Asper, Marcus
Valerius Probus, Quintus Asconius Pedianus, show the same tendency; their
main work was in commenting on the great Latin writers. The elaborate
editions of the Latin poets, from Lucretius to Persius, produced by
Probus, and the commentaries on Terence, Cicero, Sallust, and Virgil by
Asconius and Asper, were the work of a generation to whom these authors
had become in effect the classics. But literature, as the event proved
not for the first or the last time, cannot live long on the study of the
classics alone.



The end, however, was not yet; and in the generation which immediately
followed, the single imposing figure of Cornelius Tacitus, the last of
the great classical writers, adds a final and, as it were, a sunset
splendour to the literature of Rome. The reigns of Nerva and Trajan,
however much they were hailed as the beginning of a golden age, were
really far less fertile in literary works than those of the Flavian
Emperors; and the boasted restoration of freedom of speech was almost
immediately followed by an all but complete silence of the Latin tongue.
When to the name of Tacitus are added those of Juvenal and the younger
Pliny, there is literally almost no other author--none certainly of the
slightest literary importance--to be chronicled until the reign of
Hadrian; and even then the principal authors are Greek, while mere
compilers or grammarians like Gellius and Suetonius are all that Latin
literature has to show. The beginnings of Christian literature in
Minucius Felix, and of mediaeval literature in Apuleius and the author of
the _Pervigilium Veneris,_ rise in an age scanty in the amount and below
mediocrity in the substance of its production.

Little is known of the birth and parentage of Tacitus beyond the mere
fact that he was a Roman of good family. Tradition places his birth at
Interamna early in the reign of Nero; he passed through the regular
stages of an official career under the three Flavian Emperors. His
marriage, towards the end of the reign of Vespasian, to the daughter and

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest