Part 3 out of 7
no more as yet than a knight of Rome; whether it was that at
thy fortune's close thy sleep, tormented with the fears of what
should be, fled back to happier days, or riddling as 'tis wont,
foretold the contrary of thy dreams and brought thee omens of
mighty woe; or whether, since ne'er again thou mightest see thy
father's home, thus even in dreams fortune gave it to thy sight.
Break not his slumbers, guardians of the camp; let not the
trumpet strike his ears at all. Dread shall to-morrow's slumbers
be, and, haunted by the sad image of the disastrous day, shall
bring before his eyes naught save war and armies doomed to die.
The scene is well and naturally conceived; there is no rant or false
pathos; it is an oasis in a book which, though in many ways the finest
in the _Pharsalia_, yet owes its impressiveness to a rhetoric which,
for all its brilliance and power, will not always bear more than
superficial examination. The last passage, with its description of the
Druid's grove near Massilia, is on a different plane. It gives
less scope to the higher poetical imagination; it describes a scene
such as the Silver Age delighted in, a dark wood, whereto the
sunlight scarce can penetrate; altars stand there stained with dark
rites of human sacrifice; no bird or beast will approach it; no wind
ever stirs its leaves; if they rustle, it is with a strange mysterious
rustling all their own: there are dark pools and ancient trees, their
trunks encircled by coiling snakes; strange sounds and sights are
there, and when the sun rides high at noon, not even the priest will
approach the sanctuary for fear lest unawares he come upon his lord and
master. While similar descriptions may be found in other poets of the
age, there is a strength and simplicity about this passage that rivets
the attention, whereas others leave us cold and indifferent. But Lucan
does not always exercise such restraint, and such passages are as rare
as they are welcome. The reason for this is obvious: the narrative must
necessarily consist in the main of military movements. In the words of
Petronius, that is better done by the historians. The adventures
on the march are not likely as a rule to be peculiarly interesting;
there are no heroic single combats to vary and glorify the fighting.
Conscious of this inevitable difficulty, and with all the rhetorician's
morbid fear of being commonplace, Lucan betakes himself to desperate
remedies, hyperbole and padding. If he describes a battle, he must
invent new and incredible horrors to enthral us; his sea-fight at
Massilia is a notable instance; death ceases to inspire horror and
becomes grotesque. If a storm arises he must outdo all earlier epic
storms. Vergil had attempted to outdo the storms of the Odyssey. Lucan
must outdo Vergil. Consequently, in the storm that besets Caesar on his
legendary voyage to Italy in the fisherman's boat that 'carried
Caesar and his fortunes', strange things happen. The boat rocks
helplessly in mid-sea--
Its sails in clouds, its keel upon the ground,
For all the sea was piled into the waves
And drawn from depths between laid bare the sand.
In the same tempest--
The sea had risen to the clouds
In mighty mass, had not Olympus' chief
Pressed down its waves with clouds,
If he is concerned with a march through the African desert, he must
introduce the reader to a whole host of apocryphal serpents, with
details as to the nature of their bites. So terrible are these
reptiles that it is a positive relief to the army to enter the region of
lions. Before such specimens as this the hyperbole of Seneca seems
tame and insignificant.
The introduction of irrelevant episodes would be less reprehensible were
it not that such episodes are for the most part either dull or a fresh
excuse for bombast or (worse still) a display of erudition. He
devotes no less than 170 lines in the first book to a description of the
prodigies that took place at Rome on the outbreak of the Civil War, and
of the rites performed to avert their omens.
In the next book a hundred and sixty-six lines are given to a lurid
picture of the Marian and Sullan proscriptions, and forty-six to a
compressed geography of Italy. In the fifth book we are given the
tedious story of how a certain obscure Appius consulted the Delphian
oracle and how he fared, merely, we suspect, that Lucan may have an
opportunity for depicting the frenzies of the Pythian prophetess.
Similarly, at the close of the sixth book, Pompey's son consults a
necromancer as to the result of the war. The scene is described
with not a little skill and ingenuity, but it has little _raison d'etre_
save the gratification of the taste for witchcraft which Lucan shared
with his audience and his fellow poets.
Apart from these weaknesses of method and execution, Lucan's style is
unsuited to epic whether historical or legendary. He has not sufficient
command of a definitely poetical vocabulary to enable him to captivate
the reader by pure sensuous charm. He is, as Quintilian says, 'magis
oratoribus quam poetis imitandus.' He cannot shake himself free from the
influence of his rhetorical training. It is a severe condemnation of an
epic poet to deny him, as we have denied, the gifts of narrative and
dramatic power. Yet much of Lucan is more than readable, to some it is
even fascinating. He has other methods of meeting the difficulties
presented by historical epic. The work is full of speeches, moralising,
and apostrophes. He will not let the story tell itself; he is always
harping on its moral and political significance. As a result, we get
long passages that belong to the region of elevated political satire.
They are not epic, but they are often magnificent. It is in them that
Lucan's political feeling appears at its truest and strongest. The
actual fortunes of the republican armies, as recounted by Lucan, must
fail to rouse the emotions of the most ardent anti-Caesarian, and it is
doubtful whether they would have responded to more skilful treatment.
But in the apostrophes grief and indignation can find a voice and stir
the heart. They may reveal a monstrous lack of the sense of historical
proportion. To attribute the depopulation of the rural districts of
Italy to the slaughter at Pharsalus is absurd. That Lucan does this is
undeniable, but his words have a deeper significance. It was at
Pharsalus, above all other battles, that the republic fell to ruin, and
the poet is justified in making it the symbol of that fall. And
even where the sentiment is at bottom false, there is such an
impetuosity and vigour in the lines, and such a depth of scorn in each
epigram, that the reader is swept off his balance and convinced against
his will. We hardly pause to think whether Pharsalus, or even the whole
series of civil wars, really prevented the frontiers of Rome being
conterminous with the limits of the inhabited globe, when we read such
lines as (vii. 419)--
quo latius orbem
possedit, citius per prospera fata cucurrit.
omne tibi bellum gentes dedit omnibus annis:
te geminum Titan procedere vidit in axem;
haud multum terrae spatium restabat Eoae,
ut tibi nox, tibi tota dies, tibi curreret aether,
omniaque errantes stellae Romana viderent.
sed retro tua fata tulit par omnibus annis
Emathiae funesta dies, hac luce cruenta
effectum, ut Latios non horreat India fasces,
nec vetitos errare Dahas in moenia ducat
Sarmaticumque premat succinctus consul aratrum,
quod semper saevas debet tibi Parthia poenas,
quod fugiens civile nefas redituraque numquam
libertas ultra Tigrim Rhenumque recessit
ac totiens nobis iugulo quaesita vagatur,
Germanum Scythicumque bonum, nec respicit ultra
The wider she lorded it o'er the world, the swifter did she
run through her fair fortunes. Each war, each year, gave thee
new peoples to rule thee did the sun behold advancing towards
either pole; little remained to conquer of the Eastern world;
so that for thee, and thee alone, night and day and heaven
should revolve, and the planets gaze on naught that was not
Rome's. But Emathia's fatal day, a match for all the bygone
years, has swept thy destiny backward. This day of slaughter
was the cause that India trembles not before the lictor-rods
of Rome, and that no consul, with toga girded high, leads the
Dahae within some city's wall, forbidden to wander more, and in
Sarmatia drives the founder's plough. This day was the cause
that Parthia still owes thee a fierce revenge, that freedom
flying from the crimes of citizens has withdrawn behind Tigris
and the Rhine, ne'er to return, and, sought so oft by us with
our life's blood, wanders the prize of German and of Scyth, and
hath no further care for Ausonia.
But this famous apostrophe closes on a truer note with six lines of
unsurpassed satire (454)--
sunt curata deo. cladis tamen huius habemus
vindictam, quantam terris dare numina fas est:
bella pares superis facient civilia divos;
fulminibus manes radiisque ornabit et astris,
inque deum templis iurabit Roma per umbras.
No god has a thought for the doings of mortal men: yet for this
overthrow this vengeance is ours, so far as gods may give
satisfaction to the earth: civil wars shall raise dead Caesars
to the level of the gods above; and Rome shall deck the spirits
of the dead with rays and thunderbolts and stars, and in the
temples of the gods shall swear by the name of shades.
Noblest of all are the lines that close another apostrophe on the same
subject a little later in the same book (638)--
maius ab hac acie quam quod sua saecula ferrent
volnus habent populi; plus est quam vita salusque
quod perit; in totum mundi prosternimur aevum,
vincitur his gladiis omnis quae serviet aetas.
proxima quid suboles aut quid meruere nepotes
in regnum nasci? pavide num gessimus arma
teximus aut iugulos? alieni poena timoris
in nostra cervice sedet. post proelia natis
si dominum, Fortuna, dabas, et bella dedisses.
A deeper wound than their own age might bear was dealt the
peoples of this earth in this battle: 'tis more than life and
safety that is lost: for all future ages of the world are we
laid low: these swords have vanquished generations yet unborn,
and doomed them to eternal slavery. What had the sons and
grandsons of those who fought that day deserved that they
should be born into slavery? Did we bear our arms like cowards,
or screen our throats from death? Upon our necks is riveted the
doom that we should live in fear of another. Nay, Fortune, since
thou gavest a tyrant to those born since the war, thou shouldst
have given them also the chance to fight for freedom.
These are the finest of not a few remarkable expressions of Lucan's
hatred for the growing autocracy of the principate: it is noteworthy
that almost all occur in the last seven books. They can hardly be
regarded as mere abstract meditations; they have a force and bitterness
which justify us in regarding them as evidence of his changed attitude
towards Nero. The first three books were published while he yet basked
in the sunshine of court favours. Then came the breach between himself
and Nero. His wounded vanity assisted his principles to come to the
The speeches, with very few exceptions, scarcely rank with the
apostrophes. Like the speeches in the plays of Seneca, they are little
more than glorified _suasoriae_. They are, for the most part, such
speeches as--after making the most liberal allowance for rhetorical
licence--no human being outside a school of rhetoric could have uttered.
Caesar's soldiery would have stared aghast had they been addressed by
their general in such language as Lucan makes him use to inspire them
with courage before Pharsalus. They would have understood little, and
cared less, had Caesar said (vii. 274)--
bella manus facient; pugnae pars magna levabit
his orbem populis Romanumque obteret hostem;
Not in civil strife
Your blows shall fall--the battle of to-day
Sweeps from the earth the enemies of Rome.
SIR E. RIDLEY.
sitque palam, quas tot duxit Pompeius in urbem
curribus, unius gentes non esse triumphi.
Make plain to all men that the crowds who decked
Pompeius' hundred pageants scarce were fit
For one poor triumph.
SIR E. RIDLEY.
They would have laughed at exaggerations such as (287)--
cuius non militis ensem
agnoscam? caelumque tremens cum lancea transit,
dicere non fallar quo sit vibrata lacerto.
Of each of you shall strike, I know the hand:
The javelin's flight to me betrays the arm
That launched it hurtling.
SIR E. RIDLEY.
And yet beneath all this fustian there is much that stirs the blood.
Lines such as (261)--
si pro me patriam ferro flammisque petistis,
nunc pugnate truces gladiosque exsolvite culpa.
nulla manus belli mutato iudice pura est.
non mihi res agitur, sed vos ut libera sitis
turba precor, gentes ut ius habeatis in omnes.
ipse ego privatae cupidus me reddere vitae
plebeiaque toga modicum compomere civem,
omnia dum vobis liceant, nihil esse recuso.
invidia regnate mea;
If for my sake you sought your fatherland with fire and sword,
fight fierce to-day, and by victory clear your swords from
guilt. No hand is guiltless judged by a new arbiter of war.
The struggle of to-day does naught for me; but for you, so
runs my prayer, it shall bring freedom and dominion o'er the
world. Myself, I long to return to private life, and, even
though my garb were that of the common people, to be a peaceful
citizen once more. So be it all be made lawful for you, there
is naught I would refuse to be: for me the hatred, so be yours
quod si signa ducem numquam fallentia vestrum
conspicio faciesque truces oculosque minaces,
Nay, if I behold those signs that ne'er deceived your leader,
fierce faces and threatening eyes, you are already conquerors.
though they are not the words of the historical Caesar, have a stirring
sincerity and force. But the speeches fail because all speak the same
artificial language. A mutineer can say of Caesar (v. 289)--
Rheni mihi Caesar in undis
dux erat, hic socius. facinus quos inquinat aequat;
Caesar was my leader by the waves of Rhine, here he is
my comrade. The stain of crime makes all men equal.
or threaten with the words (292)--
quidquid gerimus fortuna vocatur.
nos fatum sciat esse suum.
As fortune's gift
He takes the victory which our arms have won:
But _we_ his fortunes are, his fates are ours
To fashion as we will.
SIR E. RIDLEY.
The lines are brilliant and worthy of life: in their immediate context
they are ridiculous. Epigrams have their value, however, even when they
suit their context ill, and neither Juvenal nor Tacitus has surpassed
Lucan in this respect, or been more often quoted. He is, says
Quintilian, _sententiis clarissimus_. Nothing can surpass (iv. 519)--
victurosque dei celant, ut vivere durent,
felix esse mori.
And the gods conceal from those who are doomed to live how
happy it is to die. Thus only may they endure to live.
or (viii. 631-2)--
mutantur prospera vitae,
non fit morte miser;
Life may bring defeat,
But death no misery.
SIR E. RIDLEY.
or (i. 32)--
alta sedent civilis volnera dextrae;
Deep lie the wounds that civil war hath made.
or (ix. 211)--
scire mori sors prima viris, sed proxima cogi.
Best gift of all
The knowledge how to die: next, death compelled.
SIR E. RIDLEY.
Lines such as (i. 281)--
semper nocuit differre paratis,
To pause when ready is to court defeat.
SIR E. RIDLEY.
or (v. 260)--
quidquid multis peccatur, inultum est
The crime is free where thousands bear the guilt.
SIR E. RIDLEY.
are commonplace enough in thought but perfect in expression. Of a
different character, but equally noteworthy, are sayings such as iv.
momentumque fuit mutatus Curio rerum;
The change of Curio turned the scale of history.
or (iv. 185)--
usque adeone times, quem tu facis ipse timendum?
Dost fear him so
Who takes his title to be feared from thee?
SIR E. RIDLEY, _slightly altered._
Lucan's gift for epigram is further enhanced by the nature of his metre.
Ponderous in the extreme, it is ill-suited for epic, though in isolated
lines its very weight gives added force. But he had a poor ear for
rhythm: his hexameter is monotonous as the iambics of Seneca. There is a
want of variety in pauses; he will not accommodate his rhythm to
circumstances; line follows line with but the slightest rhythmical
variation, and there is far too sparing a use of elision. This
failing is in part due to his desire to steer clear of the influence of
Vergil and strike out on a line of his own. Faint echoes of Vergil, it
is true, occur frequently throughout the poem, but to the untrained eye
Lucan is emphatically un-Vergilian. His affinity to Ovid is greater.
Both are rhetorical, and Lucan is indebted to Ovid for much mythological
detail. And it is probable that he owes his smoothness and monotony of
metre largely to the influence of the _Metamorphoses_. His ponderosity
is all his own.
Lucan is the child of his age, but he is almost an isolated figure in
literature. He has almost every conceivable defect in every conceivable
degree, from the smallest detail to the general conception of his poem.
And yet he triumphs over himself. It is a hateful task to read the
_Pharsalia_ from cover to cover, and yet when it is done and the lapse
of time has allowed the feeling of immediate repulsion to evaporate, the
reader can still feel that Lucan is a great writer. The absurdities slip
from the memory, the dreariness of the narrative is forgotten, and the
great passages of lofty rhetoric, with their pungent epigram and their
high political enthusiasm, remain deeply engraven on the mind. It is
they that have given Lucan the immortality which he promised himself.
The _Pharsalia_ is dead, but Lucan lives.
It is useless to conjecture what might have been the fate of such
remarkable gifts in a less corrupt age. This much, however, may be said,
Lucan never had a fair chance. The circle in which he moved, the
education which he received, suffered only his rhetorical talent to
develop, and to this were sacrificed all his other gifts, his clearness
of vision, his sense of proportion, his poetical imagination. He was
spoilt by admiration and his own facility. Moreover, Seneca was his
uncle: a comparison shows how profoundly the elder poet influenced the
younger. There is the same self-conscious arrogance begotten of
Stoicism, the same brilliance of wit and absence of humour. Their
defects and merits alike reveal them as kindred, though Lucan stands
worlds apart as a poet from Seneca, the ranting tragedian. He was but
twenty-five when he died. Age might have brought a maturity and dignity
of spirit which would have made rhetoric his servant and not his master,
and refined away the baser alloys of his character. Even as it was he
left much that, without being pure gold, yet possessed many elements and
much of the brilliance of the true metal. Dante's judgement was true
when he set him among the little company of true poets, of which Dante
himself was proud to be made one.
The most curious and in some respects the most remarkable work that the
Silver Age has bequeathed to us is a fragment of a novel, the
_Satyricon_ of Petronius Arbiter, Its author is generally identified
with Titus Petronius, the friend and victim of Nero. Tacitus has
described him in a passage, remarkable even among Tacitean portraits for
its extraordinary brilliance. 'His days he passed in sleep, his nights
in the business and pleasures of life. Indolence had raised him to fame,
as energy raises others, and he was reckoned not a debauchee and
spendthrift, like most of those who squander their substance, but a man
of refined luxury. And indeed his talk and his doings, the freer they
were, and the more show of carelessness they exhibited, were the better
liked for their look of a natural simplicity. Yet as proconsul of
Bithynia and soon afterwards as consul, he showed himself a man of
vigour and equal to business. Then, falling back into vice or affecting
vice, he was chosen by Nero to be one of his few intimate associates, as
a critic in matters of taste (_elegantiae arbiter_). The emperor thought
nothing charming or elegant in luxury unless Petronius had expressed his
approval. Hence jealousy on the part of Tigellinus, who looked on him as
a rival, and even his superior, in the science of pleasure. And so he
worked on the prince's cruelty, which dominated every other passion:
charging Petronius with having been the friend of Scaevinus, bribing a
slave to turn informer, robbing him of the means of defence, and
hurrying into prison the greater part of his domestics. It happened at
the time that the emperor was on his way to Campania, and that
Petronius, after going as far as Cumae, was there detained. He bore no
longer the suspense of fear or of hope. Yet he did not fling away life
with precipitate haste, but having made an incision in his veins and
then according to his humour bound them up, he again opened them, while
he conversed with his friends, not in a serious strain or on topics that
might win him the glory of courage. He listened to them as they
repeated, not thoughts on the immortality of the soul or on the theories
of philosophers, but light poetry and playful verses. To some of his
slaves he gave liberal presents, to others a flogging. He dined,
indulged himself in sleep, that death, even though forced, might have a
natural appearance. Even in his will he did not, as did many in their
last moments, flatter Nero or Tigellinus, or any other of the men in
power. On the contrary, he described fully the prince's shameful
excesses, with the names of his male and female companions and their
novelties in debauchery, and sent the account under seal to Nero. Then
he broke his signet-ring, that it might not be available to bring others
There is nothing definitely to bring this ingenious and brilliant
debauchee into connexion with the Petronius Arbiter of the _Satyricon_.
But the character of Titus Petronius is exactly in keeping with the tone
of the novel; the novelist's cognomen Arbiter, though in itself by no
means extraordinary, may well have sprung from or given rise to the
title _elegantiae arbiter_; and finally the few indications of date in
the novel all point to a period not far from the reign of Nero. There is
the criticism of Lucan, which certainly loses point if not written
during Lucan's lifetime; there is the criticism of the rhetorical
training of the day, which finds a remarkable echo in the criticism
of Vipstanus Messala in the _Dialogus_ of Tacitus, a work which,
whatever the date of its actual composition, certainly refers to a
period less than ten years after the death of T. Petronius; there is the
style of the work itself; wherever the writer abandons the colloquial
Latin, in which so much of the work is written, we find a finished
diction, whether in prose or verse, which no unprejudiced judge could
place later than the accession of Trajan, and which has nothing in it to
prevent its attribution to the reign of Nero. In that reign there is but
one Petronius to whom we can assign the _Satyricon_, the Petronius
immortalized by Tacitus.
Of the work as a whole this is no place to speak. The fragments which
survive are in the main in prose. But the work is modelled on the
Menippean satires of Varro, and belongs to the same class of writing as
the _Apocolocyntosis_ of Seneca. In the form of a loosely-strung and
rambling novel we have a satirical commentary on human life; the satire
is cynical and pungent, rather than mordant, makes no pretence of
logic, and proceeds not from a moral sense but from a sense of humour.
Wild and indecent as Petronius' laughter often is, it springs from one
who is a real artist, possessing a sense of proportion as well as the
sense of contrast that is the source and fount of humour. This is most
strongly evident in that portion of his satire which concerns us here,
inasmuch as it is directed against contemporary literary tendencies. We
must beware of fastening on the words of the characters in the novel as
necessarily expressing the thoughts of its author. But it is noteworthy
that all his literary criticism points in the same direction; it is
above all conservative. Through the mouths of Encolpius, the dissolute
hero of the story, and the rhetorician Agamemnon he denounces the
flamboyant rhetoric of the day, its remoteness from reality, the lack
of sanity and industry on the part both of pupil and instructor. 'As
boys they pass their time at school at what is no better than play, as
youths they make themselves ridiculous in the forum, and, worst of all,
when they grow old they refuse to acknowledge the faults acquired by
their education.' Study is necessary, and above all the study of good
models. Sophocles, Euripides, Pindar, the great lyricists, Plato,
Demosthenes, Thucydides, Hyperides, all the great classics, these are
the true models for the young orator. Agamemnon cannot restrain himself
and even bursts into verse in the course of this disquisition on the
decadence of oratory:
artis severae si quis ambit effectus
mentemque magnis applicat, prius mores
frugalitatis lege poliat exacta.
nec curet alto regiam trucem vultu
cliensve cenas impotentium captet
nec perditis addictus obruat vino
mentis calorem, neve plausor in scaenam
sedeat redemptus histrionis ad rictus.
sed sive armigerae rident Tritonidis arces,
seu Lacedaemonio tellus habitata colono
Sirenumve domus, det primos versibus annos
Maeoniumque bibat felici pectore fontem.
mox et Socratico plenus grege mittat habenas
liber et ingentis quatiat Demosthenis arma.
hinc Romana manus circumfluat et modo Graio
exonerata sono mutet suffusa saporem.
interdum subducta foro det pagina cursum
et cortina sonet celeri distincta meatu;
dein epulas et bella truci memorata canore
grandiaque indomiti Ciceronis verba minetur.
his animum succinge bonis: sic flumine largo
plenus Pierio defundes pectore verba.
If any man court success in the lofty art of letters and
apply his mind to great things, he must first perfect his
character by simplicity's stern law; he must care naught for
the haughty frown of the fierce tyrant that lords it in his
palace, nor seek client-like for invitations to the board of
the profligate, nor deliver himself over to the company of
debauchees and drown the fire of his understanding in wine,
nor sit in the theatre the hired applauder of the mouthing
actor. But whether the citadel of panoplied Minerva allure him
with its smile, or the land where the Spartan exile came to
dwell, or the Sirens' home, let him devote his early years to
poesy, and let his spirit drink in with happy omen a draught
from the Maeonian fount. Thereafter, when his soul is full of
the lore of the Socratic school, let him give himself free rein
and brandish the weapons of great Demosthenes. Next let the band
of Roman authors throng him round, and, but newly freed from the
music of Greece, suffuse his soul and change its tone. Meanwhile,
let his pen run its course withdrawn from the forum, and let
Apollo's tripod send forth a voice rhythmic and swift: next let
him roll forth in lordly speech the tale of heroes' feasting and
wars, set forth in fierce strain and lofty language, such as fell
from the lips of dauntless Cicero. Prepare thy soul for joys such
as these; and, steeped in the plenteous stream of letters, thou
shalt give utterance to the thoughts of thy Pierian soul.
This is not inspired poetry; but its advice is sound, and its point of
view just. Nor is this criticism a mere _jeu d'esprit_; it is hard to
resist the conclusion that the author is putting his own views into the
mouths of his more than shady characters. For, _mutatis mutandis_, the
same attitude towards literary art is revealed in the utterances of the
poet Eumolpus. It is a curious fact that while none of the
characters in Petronius are to be taken seriously, their speech at times
soars from the reeking atmosphere of the brothel and the clamour of the
streets to clearer and loftier regions of thought, if not of action. The
first appearance of Eumolpus is conceived in a broadly comic vein.
'While I was thus engaged a grey-haired old man entered the picture
gallery. He had a troubled countenance, which seemed to promise some
momentous utterance. His dress was lamentable, and showed that he was
clearly one of those literary gentlemen so unpopular with the rich. He
took his stand by my side. "I am a poet," he said, "and no mean one, if
any trust is to be placed in wreaths of honour, which are so often
bestowed even on those who least deserve them." "Why, then, are you so
ill-clad?" I asked. "Just for that very reason. Devotion to art never
brought any one wealth"--
qui pelago credit magno se faenore tollit;
qui pugnas et castra petit, praecingitur auro;
vilis adulator picto iacet ebrius ostro,
et qui sollicitat nuptas, ad praemia peccat:
sola pruinosis horret facundia pannis
atque inopi lingua desertas invocat artes.
He who entrusts his fortunes to the sea, wins a mighty
harvest; he who seeks the camp and the field of war, may
gird him with gold: the vile flatterer lies drunken on
embroidered purple; the gallant who courts the favours of
wedded wives, wins wealth by his sin: eloquence alone
shivers in frosty rags and invokes the neglected arts
with pauper tongue.
'There's no doubt as to the truth of it. If a man has a detestation of
vice and chooses the paths of virtue, he is hated on the ground that his
morals are eccentric. No one approves of ways of life other than his
own. Then there are those whose sole care is the acquisition of wealth;
they are unwilling that anything should be thought to be a superior good
to that which they themselves possess. And so they persecute lovers of
literature with all their might.' This _vitiorum omnium inimicus_ then
proceeds to tell a story which casts a startling light upon his
'eccentric morality'. Its undoubted humour can hardly be said to redeem
its amazing grossness. He has scarcely finished the narration of his own
shame when he is back again in another world--the world of letters. He
laments the decay of art and philosophy. 'The passion for money-making
has brought ruin in its train. While virtue went bare and was a welcome
guest, the noble arts flourished, and men vied with one another in the
effort to discover anything that might be of service to mankind.' He
quotes the examples of Democritus, Eudoxus, Chrysippus in the world of
science, of Myron in art. 'We have given ourselves up to wine and women,
and take no pains to become acquainted even with the arts already
discovered. We traduce antiquity by teaching and learning its vices
only. Where is dialectic? Where is astronomy? Where is philosophy?' He
sees that Encolpius is not listening, but is absorbed in the
contemplation of a picture representing the sack of Troy, and seizes the
opportunity of reciting a poem of his own upon the subject. The lines
are for the most part neither original nor striking; they form a kind of
abstract in iambics of the second Aeneid, from the appearance of Sinon
to the emergence of the Greeks from the Trojan horse. But the work is
finished and elegant, and the simile which describes the arrival of
the serpents that were to slay Laocoon is not unworthy of a more
successful poet than Eumolpus is represented to have been:
ecce alia monstra; celsa qua Tenedos mare
dorso replevit, tumida consurgunt freta
undaque resultat scissa tranquillo minans
qualis silenti nocte remorum sonus
longe refertur, cum premunt classes mare
pulsumque marmor abiete imposita gemit.
respicimus; angues orbibus geminis ferunt
ad saxa fluctus, tumida quorum pectora
rates ut altae lateribus spumas agunt.
Lo! a fresh portent; where the ridge of lofty Tenedos
filled the sea, there breaks a swelling surge, and the
broken waves rebound and threaten the calm: as when in
the silent night the sound of oars is borne afar, when
navies burden the main and the smitten deep groans beneath
its freight of pine. We looked round: the waves bear towards
the rocks two coiling snakes, whose swelling breasts, like
tall ships, drive the water in foam along their sides.
The picture is at once vivid and beautiful, and we feel almost regretful
at the fate which his recitation brought on the unhappy poet. 'Those who
were walking in the colonnade began to throw stones at Eumolpus as he
recited. He recognized this method of applauding his wit, covered his
head with his cloak and fled from the temple. I was afraid that he would
denounce me as a poet. And so I followed him till I came to the
sea-shore and was out of range. "What do you mean," I said, "by
inflicting this disease of yours upon us? You have been less than two
hours in my company, and you have more often spoken like a poet than a
man. I'm not surprised that people throw stones at you. I'm going to
fill my own pockets with stones, and the moment you begin to unburden
yourself, I'm going to break your head." His face revealed a painful
emotion. "My good youth," said he, "to-day is not the first occasion on
which I have suffered this fate. Nay, I have never entered a theatre to
recite, without attracting this kind of welcome. But as I don't want to
quarrel with you, I will abstain from my daily food for the whole day."'
Eumolpus did not keep this promise; but the poem with which he broke it
is of small importance and need not detain us. It is a little
disquisition on the refinements of luxury now prevalent, and has but one
notable line--the last--
quidquid quaeritur optimum videtur.
Whatever must be sought for, that seems best.
But later he has another outbreak. Encolpius and his friends have been
shipwrecked near Croton. On their way to the town Eumolpus beguiles the
tedium of the climb by the criticism of Lucan and the attempt to improve
on the _Pharsalia_, which have been discussed in the chapter on Lucan.
If neither his poetry nor his criticism as a whole are sound, they are
at least meant seriously. Here, again, we have a plea for earnest study,
and for the avoidance of mere tricks of rhetoric. As for the rhetorician
Agamemnon, so for Eumolpus, the great poets of the past are Homer and
the lyric poets; and nearer home are the 'Roman Vergil' and Horace. If
there was nothing else in this passage than the immortal phrase 'Horatii
curiosa felicitas', it would redeem it from the commonplace. Petronius
is a 'classicist'; the friend of Nero, he protests against the
flamboyance of the age as typified in the rhetorical style of Seneca and
Lucan. If the work was written at the time when Seneca and Lucan first
fell from the Imperial favour, such criticism may well have found favour
at court. If, with the brilliant whimsicality that characterizes all his
work, Petronius has placed these utterances in the mouth of disreputable
and broadly comic figures, that does not impair the value or sincerity
of the criticism. Eumolpus' complaint of the decline of the arts and the
baneful effect of the struggle for wealth is no doubt primarily inspired
by the fact that he is poor and can find no patron nor praise for his
verse, but must put up with execrations and showers of stones. But that
does not affect the truth of much that he says, nor throw doubt upon the
sincerity of Petronius himself.
The same whimsicality is shown elsewhere in the course of the novel.
It contains not a few poems which, detached from their context, are
full of grace and charm, though their application is often disgusting
in the extreme. Such are the hexameters towards the close of the work
in which Encolpius describes the scene of his unhappy love affair with
a certain Circe:
Idaeo quales fudit de vertice flores
terra parens, cum se concesso iunxit amori
Iuppiter et toto concepit pectore flammas:
emicuere rosae violaeque et molle cyperon,
albaque de viridi riserunt lilia prato:
talis humus Venerem molles clamavit in herbas,
candidiorque dies secreto favit amori (127);
As the flowers poured forth by mother earth from Ida's peak,
when she yielded to Jove's embrace and the god's soul was
filled with passionate flame; the rose, the violet, and the
soft iris flashed forth, and white lilies gleamed from the
green meadow; so shone the earth when it called our love to
rest upon the soft grass, and the day, brighter than its wont,
smiled on our secret passion.
nobilis aestivas platanus diffuderat umbras
et bacis redimita Daphne tremulaeque cupressus
et circum tonsae trepidanti vertice pinus.
has inter ludebat aquis errantibus amnis
spumeus et querulo vexabat rore lapillos.
dignus amore locus: testis silvestris aedon
atque urbana Procne, quae circum gramina fusae
ac molles violas cantu sua furta colebant (131).
A noble plane tree and the bay tree with its garland of berries,
and the quivering cypress and the trim pine with its tremulous
top, spread a sweet summer shade abroad. Amid them a foaming
river sported with wandering waters and lashed the pebbles with
its peevish spray. Meet was the place for love, with the woodland
nightingale and the town-haunting swallow for witness, that,
flitting all about the grass and the soft violets, told of their
loves in song.
The unpleasing nature of the context cannot obscure the fact that here
we have genuine poetry of great delicacy and beauty.
Of the satirical epigrams contained in the novel little need be said.
They are not in any way pointless or feeble, but they lack the ease and
grace, and, it may be added, the sting, of the best work of Martial.
The themes are hackneyed and suffer from the absence of the personal
note. But it is at least refreshing to find that Petronius does not
attempt, like Martial and others, to excuse his obscenity on the ground
that his actual life is chaste. He speaks out frankly. 'Why hide what
all men know?'
quid me constricta spectatis fronte Catones
damnatisque novae simplicitatis opus?
sermonis puri non tristis gratia ridet,
quodque facit populus, Candida lingua refert (132).
Why gaze at me, ye Catos, with frowning brow, and damn the
fresh frankness of my work? my speech is Latin undefiled, and
has grace unmarred by gloom, and my candid tongue tells of what
all Rome's people do.
A more interesting collection of poems, probably Petronian, remains to
be discussed. In addition to the numerous fragments of poetry included
in the surviving excerpts from the _Satyricon_, a considerable number of
epigrams, attributed with more or less certainty to Petronius, are
preserved in the fragments of the _Anthologia Latina_. Immediately
following on the epigrams assigned to the authorship of Seneca, the
Codex Vossianus Q. 86 gives sixteen epigrams, each headed by the
word _item_. Of these two are quoted by Fulgentius as the work of
Petronius. There is, therefore, especially in view of the fact that
they all bear a marked family resemblance to one another, a strong
presumption that all are by the author of the _Satyricon_. Further,
there are eleven epigrams published by Binet in his edition of
Petronius from a MS. originally in the cathedral library of
Beauvais, but now unfortunately lost. The first of the series is quoted
by Fulgentius as being by Petronius, and there is no reason for
doubting the accuracy of Binet or his MS. as to the rest. These
poems are followed by eight more epigrams, the first two of which
Binet attributes to Petronius on stylistic grounds, but without any MS.
authority. Lastly, four epigrams are preserved by a third MS. (Cod.
Voss. F. III) under the title _Petronii_. Of these the first two
are found in the extant portions of the _Satyricon_. The evidence for
the Petronian authorship of these thirty-seven poems is not conclusive.
Arguments based on resemblance or divergence in points of style are
somewhat precarious in the case of an author like Petronius, writing
with great variety of style on a variety of subjects. But there are some
very marked resemblances between certain of these poems and verses
surviving in the excerpts from the Satyricon, and the evidence
_against_ the Petronian authorship is of the slightest. A possible
exception may be made in the case of the last eight epigrams preserved
by Binet, though even here Binet is just enough in pointing out the
resemblance of the first two of these to what is admittedly the work of
Petronius. But with regard to the rest we shall run small risk in
regarding them as selected from the lost books of the _Satyricon_.
These poems are very varied in character and as a whole reach a higher
poetical level than most of those preserved in the existing fragments of
the _Satyricon_. The most notable features are simplicity and
unaffected grace of diction coupled with a delicate appreciation of the
beauties of nature. There is nothing that is out of keeping with the
classicism on which we have insisted as a characteristic of Petronius,
there is much that is worthy of the best writers of the Augustan age.
The five lines in which he describes the coming of autumn have much in
common with the descriptions of nature already quoted from the
_Satyricon_. The last line in particular has at once a conciseness and a
wealth of suggestion that is rare in any post-Ovidian poet:
iam nunc algentes autumnus fecerat umbras
atque hiemem tepidis spectabat Phoebus habenis,
iam platanus iactare comas, iam coeperat uvas
adnumerare suas defecto palmite vitis:
ante oculos stabat, quidquid promiserat annus.
Now autumn had brought its cool shades, Phoebus' reins glowed
less hot and he was looking winterward. The plane was beginning
to shed her leaves, the vine to count its clusters, and its
fresh shoots were withered. Before our eyes stood all the
promise of the year.
Equally charming and sincere in tone is the description of the delights
of the simple life:
parvula securo tegitur mihi culmine sedes
uvaque plena mero fecunda pendet ab ulmo.
dant rami cerasos, dant mala rubentia silvae
Palladiumque nemus pingui se vertice frangit.
iam qua diductos potat levis area fontes,
Corycium mihi surgit olus malvaeque supinae
et non sollicitos missura papavera somnos.
praeterea sive alitibus contexere fraudem
seu magis inbelles libuit circumdare cervos
aut tereti lino pavidum subducere piscem,
hos tantum novere dolos mea sordida rura.
i nunc et vitae fugientis tempora vende
divitibus cenis! me qui manet exitus olim,
hic precor inveniat consumptaque tempora poscat.
My cottage is sheltered by a roof that fears no ill; the
grape, bursting with wine, hangs from the fertile elm;
cherries hang by the bough and my orchard yields its rosy
apples, and the tree that Pallas loves breaks beneath the
rich burden of its branches. And now, where the garden bed's
light soil drinks in the runnels of water, rises for me
Corycian kale and low-growing mallow, and the poppy that grants
easy slumber. Moreover, whether 'tis my pleasure to set snares
for birds or hem in the timid deer, or on fine-meshed net to
draw up the affrighted fish, this is all the guile known to my
humble lands. Go to, now, and waste the flying hours of life
on sumptuous feasts! I pray, that my destined end may find me
here, and here demand an account of the days I have lived.
These lines may be no more than an academic exercise on a commonplace
theme, but there can be no doubt of their artistic success. We find the
same simplicity in Columella, but not the same art. Compare them with
the work of Petronius' contemporary, Calpurnius Siculus, and there is
all the difference between true poetry and mere poetising. More
passionate and more convincing is the elegiac poem celebrating the
poet's return to the scene of former happiness:
o litus vita mihi dulcius, o mare! felix,
cui licet ad terras ire subinde tuas!
o formosa dies! hoc quondam rure solebam
naidas alterna sollicitare manu.
hic fontis lacus est, illic sinus egerit algas:
haec statio est tacitis fida cupidinibus.
pervixi; neque enim fortuna malignior umquam
eripiet nobis, quod prior aura dedit.
O shore, O sea, that I love more than life! Happy is he
that may straightway visit the lands ye border. O fairest
day! 'Twas here that once I was wont to swim and vex the
sea-nymphs with my hands' alternate strokes. Here is a
stream's deep pool, there the bay casts up its seaweed: here
is a spot that can faithfully guard the secret of one's love.
I have lived my life to the full; nor can grudging fortune
ever rob me of that which her favouring breeze once gave me.
But Petronius can attain to equal success in other veins. Now we have a
fragment in the epic style containing a simile at once original and
haec ait et tremulo deduxit vertice canos
consecuitque genas; oculis nec defuit imber,
sed qualis rapitur per vallis improbus amnis,
cum gelidae periere nives et languidus auster
non patitur glaciem resoluta vivere terra,
gurgite sic pleno facies manavit et alto
insonuit gemitu turbato murmure pectus.
He spake, and rent the white hair on his trembling head
and tore his cheeks, and his eyes streamed with a flood of
tears. As when a resistless river sweeps down the valley
when the chill snows have melted and the languid south wind
thaws the earth and suffers not the ice to remain, even so
his face streamed with a torrent of weeping and his breast
groaned loud with a confused murmur of sorrow.
Elsewhere we find him writing in satirical vein of the origin of
religion, on the decay of virtue, on the hardship of the
'uxor legis onus, debet quasi census amari.'
nec censum vellem semper amare meum.
'One should love one's wife as one loves one's fortune.'
Nay, I desire not always to love even my fortune.
But it is in a love-poem that he reaches his highest achievement:
lecto compositus vix prima silentia noctis
carpebam et somno lumina victa dabam:
cum me saevus Amor prensat sursumque capillis
excitat et lacerum pervigilare iubet.
'tu famulus meus,' inquit, 'ames cum mille puellas,
solus, io, solus, dure, iacere potes?'
exsilio et pedibus nudis tunicaque soluta
omne iter incipio, nullum iter expedio.
nunc propero, nunc ire piget, rursumque redire
paenitet et pudor est stare via media.
ecce tacent voces hominum strepitusque viarum
et volucrum cantus turbaque fida canum:
solus ego ex cunctis paveo somnumque torumque
et sequor imperium, magne Cupido, tuum.
I lay on my bed and began to enjoy the silence of the night
scarce yet begun, and was yielding my wearied eyes to sleep,
when fierce Love laid hold of me, and, seizing me by the
hair, aroused me, tore me, and bade me wake. 'Canst thou, my
servant,' he cried, 'the lover of a thousand girls, lie thus
alone, alone, hard-hearted?' I leapt from my couch, and
barefoot, with dishevelled robe, started on my errand, yet
never accomplished it. Now I hurry forward, now am loth to go;
now repent me that I have returned, and feel shame to stand
thus aimless in mid-street. So the voices of men, the murmur
of the streets, the song of birds, and the trusty watchdogs
all are silent; and I alone dread the slumbers of my couch and
follow thy behest, great god of love.
If this is not great poetry, it is at least one of the most perfect
specimens of conventional erotic verse in all ancient literature. If we
except a very few of the best poems of Propertius, Latin Elegiacs have
nothing to show that combines such perfection of form with such
exquisite sensuous charm. It breathes the fragrance of the Greek
The general impression left by the poetical work of Petronius is
curiously unlike that left by any Latin poet. Sometimes dull, he is
never eccentric; without the originality of the greatest artists, he has
all the artist's sensibility for form. He writes not as one inspired,
but as one steeped in the best literature. Many were greater stylists,
but few were endowed with such an exquisite sense of style. As a poet he
is a _dilettante_, and his claim to greatness lies in the brilliant and
audacious humour of his 'picaresque novel'. But his verse at its best
has a charm and fragrance of its own that is almost unique in Latin, and
reveals a combination of grace and facility, to find a parallel for
which among writers of the post-Augustan age we must turn to the pages
MINOR POETRY, 14-70 A.D.
Only two didactic poems of this period have survived, the poem of
Columella on gardening, and the anonymous work on Mount Etna, setting
forth a theory of volcanic action.
The _Aetna_ is a hexameter poem, 646 lines in length. The author laments
the indifference shown by poets to the natural phenomena of his day.
They waste their time on the description of the marvels of art, the
spectacular side of human civilization, and the surface-beauties of
Nature. They write trivial epics on the voyage of Argo, the sack of
Troy, Niobe, Thyestes, Cadmus, Ariadne, the Battle of the Giants.
They tell of the terrors of the underworld, and the loves of the
gods: they seek the false rather than the true, they neglect the
genuine wonders of Nature, the laws that govern heavenly and terrestrial
He will be wiser. But there is no need to travel far. He will not soar
skyward to treat of the stars in their courses, of the seasons and signs
of the weather, to the neglect of the marvels of mother earth. The
greatest of miracles is close at hand, Etna, the home of eternal fire.
Deep in the heart of earth dwell two irresistible forces, wind and
fire. It is their conflict that causes the outbursts of flame and
molten rock that devastate the slopes of Etna. It is no smithy of the
gods, no Titan's prison. The causes are natural, water and wind and
fire. He has seen Etna; he describes the crater, the volcanic rock
that can imprison fire, the clouds that continually veil the
mountain's crest, the flames that burst from its summit, the
subterranean rumblings, the terrors of the lava stream. He
concludes with the touching story of the Catanian brothers who,
neglecting all else, sought only to save their aged parents from the
flames. Their piety had its reward; they, and they alone, escaped from
the lava; their neighbours, who sought to save their chattels and their
wealth, perished in the stream, encumbered by their belongings.
Of the poet's theory of volcanic action we need not speak; it was the
current scientific theory of the day, and has no value for us; nor has
the author any claim to originality. As to the style and composition of
the work, brief comment will suffice. We may give the author credit for
a real enthusiasm, and for a just contempt of the prevailing themes that
engaged the attention of the minor poets of the day. But he has no gifts
for poetry. His theme, although it gave considerable opportunities for
episodic display, was one of great difficulty. Much dry scientific
detail was necessarily required. If Lucretius is sometimes tedious and
prosaic in spite of the vastness of his theme, the magnificence of his
moral background, and his inspired enthusiasm, what can be expected of a
poem on a minor scientific theme such as Etna? Volcanoes can hardly
compete with the universe as a theme for poetry. The subject is one that
might have fascinated an Alexandrian poet and found skilful treatment at
his hands. But the author of the _Aetna_ had not the stylistic gifts of
the Alexandrian. The actual arrangement of his matter is good, but, even
when due allowance is made for the corruption of our text, his obscurity
is intolerable, his imagery confused, his language cumbrous and wooden.
He has, moreover, no poetic imagination. _Aetna_, not the poet, provides
the fire. Even the beautiful story of the Catanian brothers, which forms
by far the best portion of the poem, never rises to the level of pure
poetry. It is illumined neither by the fire of rhetoric nor by the
lambent light of sensuous diction and rich imagination. A few lines may
be quoted to show its general character (605):
Nam quondam ruptis excanduit Aetna cavernis,
et velut eversis penitus fornacibus ingens
evecta in longum est rapidis fervoribus unda.
* * * * *
ardebant agris segetes et mollia cultu
iugera cum dominis, silvae collesque rubebant.
* * * * *
tum vero ut cuique est animus viresque rapinae
tutari conantur opes, gemit ille sub auro,
colligit ille arma et stulta cervice reponit,
defectum raptis illum sua carmina tardant,
hic velox minimo properat sub pondere pauper.
* * * * *
... haec nullis parsura incendia pascunt,
vel solis parsura piis. namque optima proles
Amphinomus fraterque pari sub munere fortes,
cum iam vicinis streperent incendia tectis,
aspiciunt pigrumque patrem matremque senecta
eheu defessos posuisse in limine membra,
parcite, avara manus, dulces attollere praedas:
illis divitiae solae materque paterque:
hanc rapient praedam. mediumque exire per ignem
ipso dante fidem properant. o maxima rerum
et merito pietas homini tutissima virtus!
erubuere pios iuvenes attingere flammae
et, quacumque ferunt illi vestigia, cedunt
felix illa dies, illa est innoxia terra.
dextra saeva tenent, laevaque incendia fervent;
ille per obliquos ignes fraterque triumphant
tutus uterque pio sub pondere: suffugit illa
et circa geminos avidus sibi temperat ignis,
incolumes abeunt tandem et sua numina secum
salva ferunt. illos mirantur carmina vatum,
illos seposuit claro sub nomine Ditis
nec sanctos iuvenes attingunt sordida fata,
securas cessere domus et iura piorum.
For once Etna burst its caves and, glowing with fire, cast
forth all that its furnaces contained; a vast wave, swift and
hot with fire, streamed forth afar.... Crops blazed along the
fields, rich acres with their masters were consumed, forest and
hill glowed rosy red.... Then each man, as he had courage and
strength to bear away his goods, strove to protect his wealth.
One groans beneath a weight of gold, another collects his weapons
and slings them on his foolish neck. Another, unable to carry away
what he has snatched up, wastes time in repeating charms, while
there the poor man moves swift beneath his slender burden.... The
fire feeds on all it meets: nought will it spare, or, if aught it
spares, only the pious. For Amphinomus and his brother, the best of
sons, brave in the toil they shared, when the fires roared loud and
were already nigh their home, behold their father and their mother
fall fainting on the threshold fordone with years. Cease, greedy
folk, to shoulder the spoil of your fortunes that are so dear to
you: for these men father and mother are their sole wealth; this
only is the spoil that they would save. They hasten to escape
through the midst of the fire, which itself gave them confidence.
O piety, greatest of all that man may possess, of all virtues that
which most saves the righteous. The flames blushed to touch the
pious youths, and yield a path wherever they turn their steps.
Blest was that day; the ground they trod was unharmed. The fierce
burning holds all things on their right and blazes on their left.
The brethren move triumphant on their path aslant the flame, each
saved by his pious burden: the fire shuns their path and restrains
its greedy hunger where pass the twain; scatheless they escape at
length and bear those whom they worship to a place of safety. The
songs of poets hymn their praise and the underworld gives them a
glorious resting-place apart, nor does any unworthy fate befall
these youths that lived so holy. They have passed away to dwell
among the blessed, and sorrow cometh not nigh their dwelling-place.
The narrative is clear, and the story delightful. But the telling of it,
though free from affectation, is dull, prosaic, and uninspired. And it
must be remembered that this passage shows the author in his most
favourable aspect. In his more technical passages the clearness and
simplicity is absent, the prosiness and lack of imagination remain,
The author of the poem is unknown, the very date is uncertain. The
conception of the work is Lucretian, but in point of style, while full
of reminiscences of Lucretius, the poem owes most to Vergil, whose
hexameter has undoubtedly been taken for a model, though it has lost all
its music. Except in the avoidance of elision there is no trace of the
influence of Ovid. The poem might easily have been written in the latter
half of the reign of Augustus. The obscurity is due to the lack,
not the excess of art, and the poem has no special affinity with the
Silver Age. Servius and Donatus, indeed, both seem to ascribe the poem
to Vergil, while it is found in the MSS. which give us the
_Appendix Vergiliana_. But there are considerations which have inclined
editors to place it later, in the reign of Nero, or in the opening years
of the principate of Vespasian. In one of his letters (Sen. 79) Seneca,
writing to his friend Lucilius Junior, urges him to 'describe Etna in
his poem, and by so doing treat a topic common to all poets'. The fact
that Vergil had already treated it was no obstacle to Ovid's essaying
the task, nor was Cornelius Severus deterred by the fact that both
Vergil and Ovid had handled the theme. Later he adds, 'If I know you
aright, the subject of Aetna will make your mouth water.' Lucilius was
procurator in Sicily, and had sung the story of the Syracusan nymph
Arethusa. It has been suggested that he wrote the _Aetna_. But
Lucilius was an imitator of Ovid, and Seneca advises him _not_ to
write a didactic poem on Etna, but to treat it episodically (_in suo
carmine_), as Vergil and Ovid had done. It is conceivable that he
may have written a didactic poem on the subject, but Seneca's remarks
yield absolutely no evidence for the fact.
Others have made Cornelius Severus the author, though it is
practically certain that his description of the volcano must have
occurred in his poem _On the Sicilian War_. But the fact that
Seneca makes no reference to the existence of any learned didactic poem
on the subject carries a little more weight, and there are marked
parallels between Seneca's 'quaestiones Naturales' and passages in the
_Aetna_. Further, the very badness of the poem makes us hesitate to
place it in the Augustan period. That age, no doubt, produced much bad
work as well as good, but a poem so obscure and inartistically prosaic
as the _Aetna_ was more likely to be produced and more likely to survive
in an imitative and uninspired age such as that which followed on the
death of Augustus. But for the evidence of Seneca we should place the
poem in the prosaic reign of Tiberius; the considerations adduced from
Seneca lead us, though with the utmost hesitation, to place it somewhere
between 57 and 79 A.D. Of the lower limit there can be no doubt.
The fires of the Phlegraean plains are extinct, therefore the poem
was composed before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The
question of the authorship of the _Aetna_ has necessarily been treated
at greater length than the merits of the poem deserve. It is a work of
small importance; its chief value is to show how low it was possible for
Roman didactic poetry to sink. In the _Aetna_ it sinks lower than epic
in the _Punica_ of Silius Italicus. That poem, for all its portentous
dullness, shows a certain ponderous technical skill and literary
facility. The author of the _Aetna_, though clearly a man of culture, is
never at his ease, the verse is laboured and lacking flexibility, and
there is no technical dexterity to compensate for a total absence of
genius. The terror and beauty of the mountain crowned with snow and fire
find no adequate expression in these monotonous lines. There remains a
conglomerate of unoriginal and unsound physical speculation.
The _Aetna_ is a Lucretian poem decked out in a Vergilian dress. In the
tenth book of Columella we have a didactic poem modelled on the
_Georgics_ of Vergil. The author was of Spanish origin, a native of
Gades, and the contemporary of his great compatriot the younger
Seneca. He had served in a military capacity in Syria, but his
real passion was agriculture. His ambition was to write a really
practical farmers' manual. He had written nine books in prose,
covering the whole range of farming, from the tillage of the soil to the
breeding of poultry and cattle, and concluding with a disquisition on
wild animals and bee-keeping. But in the tenth book, yielding to the
solicitation of his friend Publius Silvinus, he set himself a more
exalted task, no less than the writing of a fifth Georgic on gardening.
Vergil, in his fourth Georgic (148), had left the theme of gardens for
another's singing. Columella takes him at his word. The tenth book is
manifestly intended as the crown and conclusion of his work. But later
he changed his plan. Another friend, Claudius Augustalis, demanded
a paraphrase, or rather an amplification in prose. This resulted in an
eleventh book, in which the care of the garden and the duties of the
_villicus_ are described, while the work was finally concluded in a
twelfth book setting forth the duties of the _villica_.
It may be doubted whether Columella was well advised when he yielded to
the entreaties of his friend Silvinus and wrote his tenth book in
verse. He had no great poetic talent, nor did he possess the sleight of
hand of Calpurnius, the imitator of the _Eclogues_. But he possesses
qualities which render his work far more attractive than that of
Calpurnius. He is a genuine enthusiast, with a real love of the
countryside and a charming affection for flowers. And as a stylist he
is modest. He makes no attempt at display, no contorted striving after
originality. His verse is clear and simple as his tastes. He is content
to follow humbly in the footsteps of his great master, the 'starry'
Vergil. He imitates and even plagiarizes because he loves,
not because it is the fashion. He shows no appreciation of the more
intimate harmonies of the Vergilian hexameter; like so many
contemporaries, he realizes neither the value of judicious elision nor
varied pauses; but his verse, in spite of its monotony and lack of life
and movement, is not unmelodious. The poem is a sober work, uninspired
in tone, straightforward and simple in plan. It need not be described
in detail; its advice is obvious, setting forth the times and seasons
to be observed by the gardener, the methods of preparing the soil, the
choice of flowers, with all the customary mythological allusions.
At its worst, with its tedious lists of the names of flowers, it reads
like a seedsman's catalogue, at its best it is lit up with a
quaint humour, a love of colour, and a homely yet vivid imagination.
Mother earth--'sweet earth' he calls her--is highly personified; that
she may be adorned anew, her green locks must be torn from their tangle
by the plough, her old raiment stripped from her, her thirst quenched
by irrigation, her hunger satisfied with fertilizing manure. The
garden is to be no rich man's park for the display of statues and
fountains. Its one statue shall be the image of the garden god, its
patron and its protector. Its splendour shall be the varied hue of
its flower-beds and its wealth in herbs that serve the use of man:
verum ubi iam puro discrimine pectita tellus
deposito squalore nitens sua semina poscet,
pingite tunc varios, terrestria sidera, flores,
candida leucoia et flaventia lumina caltae
narcissique comas et hiantis saeva leonis
ora feri calathisque virentia lilia canis,
nec non vel niveos vel caeruleos hyacinthos,
tum quae pallet humi, quae frondens purpurat auro,
ponatur viola et nimium rosa plena pudoris (94).
But when earth, with parted locks combed clear, gleams, all
soilure cast aside, and demands the seeds that are her due,
call forth the varied hues of flowers, earth's constellations,
the white snowflake and the marigold's golden eyes, the
narcissus-petals and the blossom that apes the fierce lion's
gaping maw; the lily, too, with calix shining white amid its
green leaves, the hyacinths white and blue; plant also the
violet lying pale upon the ground or purple shot with gold
among its leafage, and the rose with its deep shamefaced blush.
He loves the return of spring with as deep a love as Vergil's, though he
must borrow Vergil's language to describe its coming and its power.
But his painting of its harvest of colour is his own:
quin et odoratis messis iam floribus instat:
iam ver purpureum, iam versicoloribus anni
fetibus alma parens pingi sua tempora gaudet.
iam Phrygiae loti gemmantia lumina promunt
et coniventis oculos violaria solvunt (255).
Nay, more, the harvest-time draws near for sweet-scented
flowers. The purple spring has come, and kindly mother
earth rejoices that her brows are painted bright with all
the many-coloured offspring of the year. Now the Phrygian
lotus puts forth its jewelled orbs and the violet beds
open their winking eyes.
All the glories of an Italian spring are in the lines in which a little
later he describes the joy of living when the year is young, and the
wasting heat of summer is still far off, when it is sweet to be in the
sun and watch the garden with its rainbow colours:
nunc ver egelidum, nunc est mollissimus annus,
dum Phoebus tener ac tenera decumbere in herba
suadet et arguto fugientes gramine fontes
nec rigidos potare iuvat nec sole tepentes,
iamque Dionaeis redimitur floribus hortus,
iam rosa mitescit Sarrano clarior ostro.
nec tam nubifugo Borea Latonia Phoebe
purpureo radiat vultu, nec Sirius ardor
sic micat aut rutilus Pyrois aut ore corusco
Hesperus, Eoo remeat cum Lucifer ortu,
nec tam sidereo fulget Thaumantias arcu
quam nitidis hilares conlucent fetibus horti (282).
Now cool spring is come, the gentlest season of the year,
while Phoebus yet is young and bids us recline in the young
herbage, and 'tis sweet to drink the rill that flows among
the murmuring grass, with waters neither icy cold nor warm
with the sun's heat. Now, too, the garden is crowned with the
flowers Dione loves, and the rose ripens brighter than Tyrian
purple. Not so brightly does Phoebe, Leto's daughter, shine
with radiant face when Boreas has dispersed the clouds, nor
glows hot Sirius so, nor ruddy Pyrois, nor Hesperus with
shining countenance when he returns as the daystar at the
break of dawn, not so fair gleams Iris with her starry
bow, as shines the joyous garden with its bright offspring.
These are the words of an enthusiast and a poet, and these few
outbursts of song redeem the poem from dullness. There is wafted from
his pages the perfume of the countryside, and the fresh air breathes
welcome amid the hothouse cultures of contemporary poets. And he is
almost the only poet of the age that can be read without a wince of
pain. He is at least as good a laureate of the garden as Thomson of the
seasons, and he has all the grace of humility. Even when the artist
fails us, we love the man.
CALPURNIUS SICULUS. THE EINSIEDELN FRAGMENTS AND THE 'PANEGYRICUS
It may be said of pastoral poetry, without undue disrespect, that it is
the most artificial and the least in touch with reality of all the more
important forms of poetic art. Even in the hands of a master like
Theocritus, invested as it is with an incomparable charm, and
distinguished in many respects by an astonishing truth and fidelity, it
is never other than highly artificial. For its birth an age was required
in which the class whence the majority of poets and their audience are
drawn had largely lost touch with country life, or had at any rate
developed ideals that can only spring up in town society. This does not
imply that men have ceased altogether to appreciate the value of the
country life or the beauty of country surroundings, only that they have
lost much of their understanding of them; and so their appreciation
takes new forms. They love the country as a half-forgotten paradise,
they fly back to it as a refuge from the artificiality of town life, but
they take much of that artificiality with them. From the time of
Theocritus pastoral poetry pure and simple has steadily declined. Great
poems have been written with exquisite pastoral elements or even cast in
pastoral form. But they have never owed their greatness entirely, or
even chiefly, to the pastoral element. That element has merely provided
a charming setting for scenes or thoughts that have nothing genuinely
pastoral about them.
Of the small amount of pastoral poetry extant in Latin it need hardly be
said that the _Bucolica_ of Vergil stand in a class by themselves. And
yet for all their beauty they are unsatisfactory to those who know and
love Theocritus. Their charm is undeniable, but they are immature and
too obviously imitative. But Vergil was at least country-born and had a
deep sympathy for country life. When we come to the scanty relics of his
successors and imitators we are conscious of a lamentable falling away.
If Vergil's imitations of Theocritus fail to ring as true as their
original, what shall be said of the imitators of Vergil's imitations?
Even if they had been true poets, their verse must have rung false. But
the poets with whom we have to deal, Calpurnius Siculus and the
anonymous author of two poems known as the Einsiedeln fragments, were
not genuine poets. They had little of the intimacy with nature and
unsophisticated man that was demanded by their self-chosen task. That
they possessed some real affection for the country is doubtless true,
but it was not the prime inspiration of their verse. They had the
ambition to write poetry rather than the call; a slight bent towards the
country, heightened by a vague dissatisfaction and weariness with the
artificial luxury of Rome, led them to choose pastoral poetry. They make
up for depth of observation by a shallow minuteness. In the seven
eclogues of Calpurnius may be found a larger assortment of vegetables,
of agricultural implements and operations, than in the _Bucolics_ of
Vergil, but there is little poetry, pastoral or otherwise. The 'grace of
all the Muses' and the breath of the country are fled for ever; the
dexterous phrasing of a laborious copyist reigns in their stead.
Of the life of Calpurnius Siculus nothing is known and but little can be
conjectured. Of his date there can be little doubt. We learn from the
evidence of the poems themselves that they were written in the
principate of a youthful Caesar (i. 44; iv. 85, 137; vii. 6), beautiful
to look upon (vii. 84), the giver of splendid games (vii. 44), the
inaugurator of an age of peace, liberty and plenty (i. 42-88; iv
_passim_). This points strongly to the opening of Nero's reign. The
young Nero was handsome and personally popular, and the opening years of
his reign (_quinquennium Neronis_) were famous for good government and
prosperity. But there are two further pieces of internal evidence which
clinch the argument. A comet is mentioned (i. 77) as appearing in the
autumn, an appearance which would tally with that of the comet observed
shortly before the death of Claudius in 54 A.D., while the line
maternis causam qui vicit Iulis (i. 45)
seems clearly to refer to the speech delivered by the young Nero for the
people of Ilium, from whom the Iuli, Nero's ancestors on the
mother's side, claimed to trace their descent. It may therefore safely
be assumed that the poems were written early in the reign of Nero. A
most ingenious attempt has been made to throw some light on the identity
of their author. He speaks of himself as Corydon, and he has a
patron whom he styles Meliboeus. He prays that Meliboeus may bring him
before Caesar's notice as Pollio brought Vergil (iv. 157 sqq.; also i.
94). It has been suggested with some plausibility that Meliboeus is no
other than C. Calpurnius Piso, the distinguished noble round whom in 65
A.D. centred the great conspiracy against Nero. The evidence rests on
the existence of a poem entitled _panegyricus in Pisonem_, in which
a nameless poet seeks by his laudations to win Piso for a patron. The
style of the poem has a marked resemblance to that of Calpurnius. If, as
is possible, it should be assigned to his authorship, it becomes fairly
certain that he was a dependent of Piso, and the name Calpurnius would
suggest that he may have been the son of one of his freedmen.
The eclogues of Calpurnius are seven in number. The first is in
praise of the Golden Age, with special reference to the advent of the
young princeps. Though given a different setting it is clearly modelled
on the fourth eclogue of Vergil. The second, describing a contest of
song between two shepherds before a third as judge, follows Vergil even
more closely. Parallels might be further elaborated, but it is
sufficient to say here that only two of the poems show any originality,
namely, the fifth and the seventh. In the former we have the advice
given by an aged farmer to his son, to whom he is handing over his farm.
It is inclined to be prosy, but is simple and pleasing in tone, and the
old countryman may be forgiven if he sometimes seems to be quoting the
Georgics. The seventh is a more ambitious effort. A rustic describes the
great games that he has seen given in the amphitheatre at Rome. The
language, though characteristically decadent in its elaboration, shows
considerable originality. The amphitheatre is, for instance, thus
described (vii. 30):
qualiter haec patulum concedit vallis in orbem
et sinuata latus resupinis undique silvis
inter continuos curvatur concava montes,
sic ibi planitiem curvae sinus ambit arenae
et geminis medium se molibus alligat ovum.
* * * * *
balteus en gemmis, en illita porticus auro
certatim radiant; nec non, ubi finis arenae
proxima marmoreo praebet spectacula muro,
sternitur adiunctis ebur admirabile truncis
et coit in rotulum, tereti qui lubricus axe
impositos subita vertigine falleret ungues
excuteretque feras. auro quoque torta refulgent
retia, quae totis in arenam dentibus extant,
dentibus aequatis: et erat (mihi crede, Lycota,
si qua fides) nostro dens longior omnis aratro.
Even as this vale rounds to a wide circle, and with
bending sides and slanting woods on every side makes
a curved hollow amid the unbroken hills, so there the
circle of the curving arena surrounds its level plain
and locks either side of its towering structure into
an oval about itself.... See how the gangway's parapet
studded with gems and the colonnade plated with gold
vie with each other's brightness; nay more, where the
arena's bound sets forth its shows close to the marble
wall, ivory is overlaid in wondrous wise on jointed beams
and is bent into a cylinder, which, turning nimbly on its
trim axle, may cheat with sudden whirl the wild beast's
claws and cast them from it. Nets, too, of twisted gold
gleam forth, hung out into the arena on tusks in all their
length and of equal size, and--believe me, Lycotas, if you
can--each tusk was longer than our ploughshare.
In its defence it may be urged that the very nature of the subject
demands elaboration, and that the resulting picture has the merit of
being vivid despite its elaborate ingenuity. It is in this poem that
Calpurnius is seen at his best. Elsewhere his love for minute and
elaborate description is merely wearisome. It would be hard, for
instance, to find a more tiresomely circuitous method of claiming to be
an authority on sheep-breeding than (ii. 36)--
me docet ipsa Pales cultum gregis, ut niger albae
terga maritus ovis nascenti mutet in agna
quae neque diversi speciem servare parentis
possit et ambiguo testetur utrumque colore.
Pales herself teaches me how to breed my flocks and tells
me how the black ram transforms the fleece of the white
ewe in the lamb that comes to birth, that cannot reproduce
the colour of its sire, so different from that of its dam,
and by its ambiguous hue testifies to either parent.
It is difficult to give a poetic description of the act of
et matutinas revocat palearibus herbas (iii. 17)
And recalls to its dewlaps the grass of its morning's meal.
is needlessly grotesque. And the vain struggle to give life to old and
outworn themes leads to laboured lines such as (iii. 48)--
non sic destricta marcescit turdus oliva,
non lepus extremas legulus cum sustulit uvas,
ut Lycidas domina sine Phyllide tabidus erro.
Not so does the thrush pine when the olives are plucked,
not so does the hare pine when the vintager has gathered
the last grapes, as I, Lycidas, droop while I roam apart
from my mistress Phyllis.
Calpurnius yields little to compensate for such defects. He meanders on
through hackneyed pastoral landscapes haunted by hackneyed shepherds. It
is only on rare occasions that a refreshing glimmer of poetry revives
the reader. In lines such as (ii. 56)--
si quis mea vota deorum
audiat, huic soli, virides qua gemmeus undas
fons agit et tremulo percurrit lilia rivo
inter pampineas ponetur faginus ulmos;
If any of the gods hear my prayer, to his honour, and his
alone, shall his beechwood statue be planted amid my
vine-clad elms, where the jewelled stream rolls its green
wave and with rippling water runs through the lilies.
or, in the pleasant description of the return of spring (v. 16),
vere novo, cum iam tinnire volueres
incipient nidosque reversa lutabit hirundo,
protinus hiberno pecus omne movebis ovili.
tune etenim melior vernanti germine silva
pullat et aestivas reparabilis incohat umbras,
tune florent saltus viridisque renascitur annus,
When spring is young and the birds begin to pipe once more,
and the swallow returns to plaster its nest anew, then move
all your flock from its winter fold. For then the wood sprouts
in fresh glory with its spring shoots and builds anew the
shades of summer, then all the glades are bright with flowers
and the green year is born again.
we seem to catch a glimpse of the real countryside; but for the most
part Calpurnius paints little save theatrical and _maniere_ miniatures.
Of such a character is the clever and not unpleasing description of the
tame stag in the sixth eclogue (30). He shows a pretty fancy and no
The metre is like the language, easy, graceful, and correct. But the
pauses are poorly managed; the rhythm is unduly dactylic; the verse
trips all too lightly and becomes monotonous.
The total impression that we receive from these poems is one of
insignificance and triviality. The style is perhaps less rhetorical and
obscure than that of most writers of the age; as a result, these poems
lack what is often the one saving grace of Silver Latin poetry, its
extreme cleverness. To find verse as dull and uninspired, we must turn
to Silius Italicus or the _Aetna_.
* * * * *
The two short poems contained in a MS. at Einsiedeln and distinguished
by the name of their place of provenance are also productions of the
Neronian age. The first, in the course of a contest of song between
Thamyras and Ladas, with a third shepherd, Midas, as arbiter, sets
forth the surpassing skill of Nero as a performer on the _cithara_.
The second celebrates the return of the Golden Age to the world now
under the beneficent guidance of Nero. Neither poem possesses the
slightest literary importance; both are polished but utterly insipid
examples of foolish court flattery. The author is unknown. An ingenious
suggestion has been made that he is no other than Calpurnius Piso,
the supposed Meliboeus of Calpurnius Siculus. The second of these
eclogues begins, 'Quid tacitus, Mystes?' The fourth eclogue of
Calpurnius Siculus begins (Meliboeus loquitur), 'Quid tacitus, Corydon?'
Is Meliboeus speaking in person and quoting his own poem? It may be so,
but the evidence is obviously not such as to permit any feeling of
But it is at least probable that the poet had access to the court and had
been praised by Nero. Such is the most plausible interpretation of a
passage in the first eclogue, where Ladas, in answer to Thamyras, who
claims the prize on the ground that his song shall be of Caesar, replies
et me sidereo respexit Cynthius ore
laudatamque chelyn iussit variare canendo.
On me, too, has the Cynthian god cast his starry glance and
bidden me accompany the lyre he praised with diverse song.
Whether the author be Piso or another, the poems do him small credit.
The _Panegyricus in Pisonem_ remains to be considered. Attributed to
Vergil by one MS., to Lucan by another, the poem is certainly
by neither. Quite apart from stylistic evidence, which is convincing
against its attribution to Lucan, it is almost certain that the name of
Lucan has been wrongly inserted for that of Vergil. That it is not by
Vergil would be clear from the very inferior nature of the verse, but it
can further be shown that the Piso addressed is the Calpurnius Piso of
the reigns of Claudius and Nero to whom we have alluded above. If the
account of Piso given by Tacitus be compared with the characteristics
described in the _Panegyricus_, it will be found that both alike refer
in strong terms to his eloquence in the law courts so readily exercised
in defence of accused persons, and also to his affability and capacity
for friendship. Further, we have the evidence of a scholium on
Juvenal as to his skill in the game of draughts. He played so well
that crowds would throng to see him. One of the chief points mentioned
in the _Panegyricus_ is the skill of Piso at the same game. Nor is
it a mere casual allusion; on the contrary, the writer treats this
portion of his eulogy with even greater elaboration than the rest. There
can, therefore, be little doubt as to the date of the poem. It is
addressed to Calpurnius Piso after his rise to fame (i.e. during the
latter portion of the principate of Claudius, or during the earlier part
of the reign of Nero). The poet prays that Piso may be to him what
Maecenas was to Vergil. It is hardly possible for a poem of this type to
possess any real interest for others than the recipient of the flattery
and its author. But in this case the poet has done his work well. The
flattery never becomes outrageous and is expressed in easy flowing verse
and graceful diction. At times the language is genuinely felicitous. Any
great man might be proud to receive such a tribute as (129)--
tu mitis et acri
asperitate carens positoque per omnia fastu
inter ut aequales unus numeraris amicos,
obsequiumque doces et amorem quaeris amando.
Mild is thy temper and free from sharp harshness. Thou
layest aside thy pride in thy every act, and among thy
friends thou art counted a friend and equal, thou teachest
men to follow thee and seekest to be loved by loving.
There is, moreover, little straining after effect and little real
obscurity. The difficulties of the description of Piso's
draught-playing are due to our ignorance of the exact nature of the
game. The actual language is at least as lucid as Pope's famous
description of the game of ombre in _The Rape of the Lock_. The verse
is of the usual post-Augustan type, showing strongly the primary
influence of Vergil modified by the secondary influence of Ovid. It is
light and easy and not ill-suited to its subject. It has distinct
affinities, both in metre and diction, with the verse of Calpurnius
Siculus, and may be by the same hand; but the resemblance is not so
close as to afford anything approaching positive proof. Minor poets,
lacking all individuality, the victims and not the controlling forces
of the tendencies of the age, are apt to resemble one another. There
are, however, two noteworthy passages which point strongly to the
identity of the author of the _Panegyricus_ with the Bucolic poet. The
former, addressing Piso as his patron (246), says:
si mentem subiere tuam, memorabilis olim
tu mihi Maecenas tereti cantabere versu.
If my prayers reach thy mind, thou shalt be sung
of as Maecenas in my slender verse, and future ages
shall tell of thy glory.
The latter, addressing his patron Meliboeus and begging him to commend
him to Caesar, exclaims (iv. 152):
o mihi quae tereti decurrent carmina versu
tunc, Meliboee, meum si quando montibus istis (i.e. at Rome)
dicar habere larem.
O how shall my songs trip in slender verse then, Meliboeus,
if ever men shall say of me 'He has a house on yonder mountain'.
Is it a mere coincidence, a plagiarism, or a direct allusion? There is
no certainty, but the coincidence is--to say the least--suggestive. If
the identity of authorship be assumed as correct, it is probable that
the eclogues are the later production. To place one's patron among the
_dramatis personae_ of an eclogue argues a nearer intimacy than the
writing of a formal panegyric. That the poet is more at home as a
panegyrist than as a writer of idylls does not affect the question. In
such an age such a result was to be expected.
THE ILIAS LATINA
Latin poetry may almost be said to have begun with Livius Andronicus'
translation of the _Odyssey_ into the rude Saturnian metre. This
translation had great vogue as a school book. But the _Iliad_ remained
untranslated, and it was only natural that later authors should try
their hand upon it. Translations were produced in Republican times by
Cn. Matius and Ninnius Crassus, but neither work attained to
With the growth of the knowledge of Greek and its increasing use as a
medium of instruction in the schools on the one hand, and the appearance
of Vergil and the rise of the Aeneas saga on the other, the demand for a
translation of the _Iliad_ naturally became less. The Silver Age arrived
with the problem unsolved. It was a period when writers abounded who
would have been better employed on translation than on any attempt at
original work. Further, in spite of the general knowledge of Greek, a
translation of Homer would have its value in the schools both as a
handbook for the subject-matter and as a 'crib '.
Three works of the kind seem to have been produced between the reigns of
Tiberius and Nero.
Attius Labeo translated not only the _Iliad_ but also the _Odyssey_
into hexameters. But it was a poor performance. It was a baldly literal
translation, paying small attention to the meaning of the original.
Persius pours scorn upon it, and one verse has survived to confirm our
crudum manduces Priamum Priamique pisinnos.
Polybius, the well-known freedman of Claudius, also produced a work,
which is praised by Seneca as having introduced Homer and Vergil to a
yet larger public than they already enjoyed, and as preserving the charm
of the original in an altered form. As Polybius had dealt with
Vergil as well as Homer, it may be conjectured that the work praised by
Seneca was a prose paraphrase. Lastly, there is the _Ilias Latina_,
which has been preserved to the present day. It is written in graceful
hexameter verse, and is an abridgement rather than a translation. It
consists of 1,070 lines, of which the first five books in fact claim a
little more than half. The author wearied of his task and finished off
the remaining nineteen books in summary fashion. While the twenty-second
occupies as much as sixty lines, the abridgements of the thirteenth and
seventeenth are reduced to a meagre seven and three lines respectively.
That such work is of small importance is obvious. It must have been
useless from its birth save as a handbook for the schools, and even for
this purpose its value must have been greatly impaired by its lack of
proportion. Its survival can only be accounted for on the assumption
that it was written and employed as a textbook. In fact, during the
Middle Ages, when the original was a sealed book, there is definite
evidence that it was so used. The work is trivial, but might well
have been worse. The language is clear and often vigorous, and there is
an easy grace about the verse which shows that the author was a man of
culture, knowing his Vergil well and his Ovid better. The date cannot be
proved with certainty, but there can be no doubt that it was written
before the death of Nero.
The lines (899),
quem (Aenean) nisi servasset magnarum rector aquarum
ut profugus laetis Troiam repararet in arvis,
augustumque genus claris submitteret astris,
non carae gentis nobis mansisset origo,
Unless the ruler of the mighty deep had preserved Aeneas to
found in exile a new Troy in happier fields, and beget a line
of princes to shine among the stars, the stock of the race we
love would not have endured to bless us.
can only have been written under the Julian Dynasty.
The work is clearly post-Ovidian and must therefore be attributed to the
principates of Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, or Nero. Further evidence of
date is entirely wanting. No meaning can be attached to the heading
Pindarus found in certain MSS. There is, however, an interesting
though scarcely more fruitful problem presented by the possible
existence of two acrostics in the course of the poem. The initial
letters of the first nine lines spell the name 'Italices', while the
last eight lines yield the word 'scqipsit'. Baehrens, by a not very
probable alteration in the eighth line, procures the name 'Italicus',
while a slighter and more natural change yields 'scripsit' at the
close. Further, a late MS. gives Bebius Italicus as the name of the
author. On these grounds the poem has been attributed to Silius
Italicus. But Martial makes no reference to the existence of this work
in any of his references to Silius, and indeed suggests that Silius only
took to writing poetry after his withdrawal from public life. This
would make the poem post-Neronian, which, as we have seen, is most
improbable. Further, the style of the verse is very different from that
of the _Punica_. When, over and above these considerations, it is
remembered that the acrostics can only be produced by emendation of the
text, the critic has no course open to him but to abandon the
attribution to Silius and to give up the problem of the acrostics as an
unprofitable curiosity of literature.
LOST MINOR POETS
In addition to the poets of whom we have already treated as writing
under the Julian Dynasty there must have been many others of whom chance
or their own insignificance has deprived us. But few names have
survived, and only two of these lost poets merit mention here, the
erotic poet Lentulus Gaetulicus and the lyric writer Caesius Bassus.
Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus was consul in 26 A.D., and for
ten years was legatus in Upper Germany, where his combination of
firmness and clemency won him great popularity. He conspired
against Caligula while holding this command, and was put to death.
Pliny the younger speaks of him as the writer of sportive and lascivious
erotic verse, and Martial writes of him in very similar terms. His
mistress was named Caesennia, and was herself a poetess. It is
possible that the poems in the Greek Anthology under the title [Greek:
Gaitoulikou] may be from his pen, but the only fragment of his
Latin poems which survives is from a work in hexameters, and describes
the geographical situation of Britain.
More important is the lyric poet Caesius Bassus, whose loss is the
more to be regretted because of the very scanty remains of Roman lyric
verse that have survived to modern times. Statius attempted with but
indifferent success to imitate the Sapphics and Alcaics of Horace, while
the plays of Seneca provide a considerable quantity of lyric choruses of
varying degrees of merit. But of lyric writers pure and simple there is
scarcely a trace. That they existed we know from Quintilian. If we may
trust him, certain of his contemporaries attained to considerable
distinction in this branch of poetry--that is to say, they surpassed all
Roman lyric poets subsequent to Horace. But when all is said, it is
scarcely possible to go beyond Quintilian's emphatic statement, that of
Roman lyricists Horace alone repays reading. If any other name deserves
mention it is that of Caesius Bassus, but he is inferior to Quintilian's
own contemporaries. Caesius Bassus is best known to us as the editor of
the satires of Persius. The sixth satire is actually addressed to him:
admovit iam bruma foco te, Basse, Sabino?
iamne lyra et tetrico vivunt tibi pectine chordae?
mire opifex numeris veterum primordia vocum
atque marem strepitum fidis intendisse Latinae,
mox iuvenes agitare iocos et pollice honesto
egregius lusisse senex.
Has winter made you move yet to your Sabine fireside, dear
Bassus? Are your lyre and its strings and the austere quill
that runs over them yet in force? Marvellous artist as you
are at setting to music the primitive antiquities of our
language, the manly utterance of the Latian harp, and then
showing yourself excellent in your old age at wakening young
loves and frolicking over the chords with a virtuous touch.
The only information yielded by this passage is that Bassus had a
Sabine villa, that he was already advanced in years, that he affected
'the simple and manly versification of antiquity', and that he dealt
also with erotic themes. But few other facts are known to us. He wrote
a treatise on metre--a portion of which has been preserved to the
present day, and he perished at his Campanian villa in 79 A.D.,
during the great eruption of Vesuvius. The fragments of verse
enshrined in his metrical treatise suggest that he wrote in a large
variety of metres, but they may be no more than examples invented
solely to illustrate metres unfamiliar in Latin. The one quotation that
is explicitly made from his lyrical poems is, curiously enough, a
hexameter line. As to his literary merits or defects, it is now
impossible even to guess.
THE EMPERORS FROM VESPASIAN TO TRAJAN AND MINOR POETS
THE EMPERORS AND POETS WHOSE WORKS ARE LOST
After the death of Nero and the close of the Civil War a happier era,
both for literature and the world at large, was inaugurated by the
accession of Vespasian in 69 A.D. A man of low birth and of little
culture, he yet had a true appreciation of art and literature. Of his
own writing we know nothing save that he left behind him memoirs.
But we have abundant evidence that he showed himself a liberal patron of
the arts. He gave rich rewards to poets and sculptors, effected all
that was possible to repair the great loss of works of art occasioned by
the burning of the Capitol, and did what he could for the stage,
perhaps even attempting to revive the legitimate drama. Above all,
he set aside a large sum annually for the support of Greek and Latin
professors of rhetoric, the first instance in the history of Rome
of State endowment of education. Against this we must set his expulsion
from Italy of philosophers and astrologers, an intemperate and
presumably ineffective act, prompted by reasons of State and probably
without any appreciable influence on literature. His sons, however,
had received all the advantages of the highest education. Of Titus'
(79-81 A.D.) achievements in literature we have no information save that
he aspired to be both orator and poet. The language used in praise of
his efforts by Pliny the elder, our one authority on this point, is so
extravagant as to be virtually meaningless. Of the literary
exploits of his brother Domitian (81-96 A.D.) there is more to be said.
It pleased him to lay claim to distinction both in prose and verse.
His only prose work of which any record remains was a treatise on the
care of the hair; his own baldness rankled in his mind and turned
the _calvus Nero_ of Juvenal into a hair specialist. As to his poems it
is almost doubtful if he ever wrote any. He professed an enthusiasm for
poetry, an art which, according to Suetonius, he had neglected in his
youth and despised when he came to the throne. But Quintilian, Valerius
Flaccus, and Martial all load him with praise of various degrees of
fulsomeness, though, reading between the lines of Quintilian, it is easy
to see that Domitian's output must have been exceedingly small. The
evidence of these three authors goes to show that he had contemplated,
perhaps even begun, an epic on the achievements of his brother Titus in
the Judaic War. Whether these _caelestia carmina belli_, as Martial
calls them, ever existed, save in the imagination of courtiers and
servile poets, there is nothing to show. If they did exist there seems
no reason to regret their loss.
Domitian's chief service to literature, if indeed it was a true service,
was the establishment of the Agon Capitolinus in 86, a quinquennial
festival at which prizes were awarded not only for athletics and
chariot-racing, but for declamations in verse and prose, and the
institution of a similar, though annual, contest at his own palace on
the Alban Mount, which took place as often as the great festival of
Minerva, known as the Quinquatria, came round. But his interest in
literature was only superficial; he had no originality and read nothing
save the memoirs and edicts of Tiberius. His capricious cruelty
extended itself to artists and authors; twice (in 89 and 93 A.D.),
following his father's example, he banished philosophers and astrologers
from Rome; the crime of having written laudatory biographies of the
Stoics Thrasea and Helvidius Priscus brought Arulenus Rusticus and
Herennius Senecio to their deaths. But Domitian's tyranny had
little effect on _belles-lettres_, however adverse it may have been to
free-spoken philosophy, rhetoric, or history. Valerius Flaccus, Silius,
Statius, and Martial, all wrote during his reign, and the works of the
last-named poet and Quintilian give ample evidence of widespread
literary activity. The minor poet replenished the earth, and the prizes
for literature awarded at the Agon Capitolinus and the festival of the
Alban Mount must have been a real stimulus to writing, even though the
type of literature produced by such a stimulus may have been scarcely
worth producing. The worst feature of the poetry of the time is the
almost incredibly fulsome flattery to which the tyranny of Domitian gave
rise. As a compensation we have in the two succeeding reigns the biting
satire of Juvenal and Tacitus, rendered all the keener by its long
suppression under the last of the Flavian dynasty.
But, however impossible it may have been to write really effective
satire during the Flavian dynasty, of poets there was no lack. It was,
moreover, under the Flavians that there sprang up that reaction towards
a saner style to which we have already referred as finding its
expression in the Ciceronianism of Quintilian, and to a lesser degree in
the Vergilianism of Valerius, Statius, and Silius. Of lesser luminaries
there were enough and to spare. Serranus and Saleius Bassus are both
warmly commended by Quintilian for their achievements in Epic. The
former died young, before his powers had ripened to maturity, but showed
great soundness of style and high promise. Of Saleius
Quintilian says, 'He had a vigorous and poetic genius, but it was
not mellowed by age.' That is to say, he died young, like Serranus. In
the _Dialogus_ of Tacitus he is spoken of as the best of men and the
most finished of poets. He won Vespasian's favour and received a gift
from him of five hundred thousand sesterces. His poems brought him no
material profit; both Tacitus and Juvenal emphasize this point:
contentus fama iaceat Lucanus in hortis
marmoreis; at Serrano tenuique Saleio
gloria quantalibet quid erit, si gloria tantum est.
Statius' father, a distinguished teacher of rhetoric at Naples, had
written a poem on the burning of the Capitol in 69 A.D., and was only
prevented by death from singing the great eruption of Vesuvius.
Arruntius Stella of Patavium, the friend of Statius and Martial,
wrote elegies to his wife Violentilla. Turnus, like Juvenal the son
of a freedman, attained considerable success as a satirist, while the
two distinguished soldiers, Verginius Rufus and Vestricius
Spurinna, wrote light erotic verse and lyrics respectively. In
addition to these there are a whole host of minor poets mentioned by
Statius and Martial. In fact the writing of verse was the most
fashionable occupation for the leisure time of a cultivated gentleman.
With Nerva and Trajan the happiest epoch of the principate set in. Nerva
(96-98 A.D.) sprung from a line of distinguished jurists, was celebrated
by Martial as the Tibullus of his time, and is praised by the
younger Pliny for the excellence of his light verses. Trajan, his
successor (98-117 A.D.), though a man of war, rather than a man of
letters, wrote a history of the Dacian wars, and possessed--as his
letters to Pliny testify--a remarkable power of expressing himself
tersely and clearly. He was, like Vespasian, a generous patron to
rhetoric and education, and the founder of the important library
known as the _Bibliotheca Ulpia_. But the great service which he
and his predecessor rendered to literature was, as Pliny and Tacitus
bear eloquent witness, the gift of freedom. This did more for prose than
for poetry, save for one important fact--it was the means of enriching
the world with the satires of Juvenal. If the quantity of the literature
surviving from the principates of Nerva and Trajan is small, its quality
is unmistakable. Pliny the younger, Tacitus, and Juvenal form a trio
whose equal is to be found at no other period of the post-Augustan
principate, while the letters of Pliny give proof of the existence of a
highly cultivated society devoted to literature of all kinds. Poets were
numerous even if they were not good. Few names, however, survive, and
those have but the slightest interest for us. It will suffice to mention
three of them: Passennus Paulus, Sentius Augurinus, and the younger
Pliny. With the dramatic poets, Pomponius Bassulus and Vergilius
Romanus, we have already dealt. Pliny shall speak for himself and
'Passennus Paulus,' he writes, 'a distinguished Roman knight of
great learning, is a writer of elegies. This runs in the family; for he
is a fellow townsman of Propertius and indeed counts him among his
ancestors.' In a later letter he speaks with solicitude of his
failing health, and goes on to describe the characteristics of his work.
'In his verse he imitates the ancients, paraphrases them, and reproduces
them, above all Propertius, from whom he traces his descent. He is a
worthy scion of the house, and closely resembles his great ancestor in
that sphere in which he of old excelled. If you read his elegies you
will find them highly polished, possessed of great sensuous charm, and
quite obviously written in the house of Propertius. He has lately
betaken himself to lyric verse, and imitates Horace with the same skill
with which he has imitated Propertius. Indeed, if kinship counts for
anything in the world of letters, you would deem him Horace's kinsman as
well.' Pliny concludes with a warm tribute to Passennus' character. The
picture is a pleasant one, but it is startling and significant to find
Pliny awarding such praise to one who was frankly imitative, if he was
not actually a plagiarist.
Pliny is not less complimentary to Sentius Augurinus. 'I have been
listening,' he writes, 'to a recitation given by Sentius Augurinus.
It gave me the greatest pleasure, and filled me with the utmost
admiration for his talent. He calls his verses "trifles" (_poematia_).
Much is written with great delicacy, much with great elevation of style;
many of the poems show great charm, many great tenderness; not a few are
honey-sweet, not a few bitter and mordant. It is some time since
anything so perfect has been produced.' The next clause, however,
betrays the reason, in part at any rate, for Pliny's admiration. In the
course of his recitation he had produced a small hendecasyllabic poem in
praise of Pliny's own verses. Pliny proceeds to quote it with every
expression of gratification and approval. It is certainly neatly turned
and well expressed, but it is such as any cultivated gentleman who had
read his Catullus and Martial might produce, and can hardly have been of
interest to any one save Augurinus and Pliny. Pliny was, in fact, with
all his admirable gifts, one of the principal and most amiable members
of a highly cultivated mutual admiration society. He was a poet himself,
though only a few lines of the poems praised by Augurinus have survived
to undergo the judgement of a more critical age. Pliny has, however,
given an interesting little sketch of his poetical career in the fourth
letter of the seventh book. 'I have always had a taste for poetry,' he
tells his friend Pontius; 'nay, I was only fourteen when I composed a
tragedy in Greek. What was it like? you ask. I know not; it was called a
tragedy. Later, when returning from my military service, I was
weather-bound in the island of Icaria, and wrote elegiac poems in Latin
about that island and the sea, which bears the same name. I have
occasionally attempted heroic hexameters, but it is only quite recently
that I have taken to writing hendecasyllables. You shall hear of their
origin and of the occasion which gave them birth. Some writings of
Asinius Gallus were being read aloud to me in my Laurentine villa; in
these works he was comparing his father with Cicero; we came upon an