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Social life at Rome in the Age of Cicero by W. Warde Fowler

Part 4 out of 6

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Romans, like the Greeks, were busy much earlier in the morning than
we are. In part this was the result of their comfortable southern
climate, where the nights are never so long as with us, and where the
early mornings are not so chilly and damp in summer or so cold
in winter. But it was probably still more the effect of the very
imperfect lighting of houses, which made it difficult to carry on
work, especially reading and writing, after dark, and suggested early
retirement to bed and early rising in the morning. The streets, we
must remember, were not lighted except on great occasions, and it was
not till late in Roman history that public places and entertainments
could be frequented after dark. In early times the oil-lamp with a
wick was unknown, and private houses were lighted by torches and rude
candles of wax or tallow.[414] The introduction of the use of olive
oil, which was first imported from Greece and the East and then
produced in Italy, brought with it the manufacture of lamps of various
kinds, great and small; and as the cultivation of the valuable tree,
so easily grown in Italy, increased in the last century B.C.,[415] the
oil-lamp became universal in houses, baths, etc. Even in the small old
baths of Pompeii there were found about a thousand lamps, obviously
used for illumination after dark.[416] But in spite of this and of the
invention of candelabra for extending the use of candles, it was never
possible for the Roman to turn night into day as we do in our modern
town-life. We must look on the lighting of the streets as quite an
exceptional event. This happened, for example, on the night of the
famous fifth of December 63 B.C., when Cicero returned to his house
after the execution of the conspirators; people placed lamps and
torches at their doors, and women showed lights from the roofs of the

An industrious man, especially in winter, when this want of artificial
light made time most valuable, would often begin his work before
daylight; he might have a speech to prepare for the senate, or a brief
for a trial, or letters to write, and, as we shall see, as soon as the
sun had well risen it was not likely that he would be altogether his
own master. Thus we find Cicero on a February morning writing to his
brother before sunrise,[417] and it is not unlikely that the soreness
of the eyes of which he sometimes complains may have been the result
of reading and writing before the light was good. In his country
villas he could do as he liked, but at Rome he knew that he would have
the "turba salutantium" upon him as soon as the sun had risen. Cicero
is the only man of his own time of whose habits we know much, but in
the next generation Horace describes himself as calling for pen and
paper before daylight, and later on that insatiable student the elder
Pliny would work for hours before daylight, and then go to the Emperor
Vespasian, who was also a very early riser.[418] After sunrise the
whole population was astir; boys were on their way to school, and
artisans to their labour.

If Horace is not exaggerating when he says (_Sat._ i. 1. 10) that
the barrister might be disturbed by a client at cock-crow, Cicero's
studies may have been interrupted even before the crowds came; but
this could hardly happen often. As a rule it was during the first two
hours (_mane_) that callers collected. In the old times it had been
the custom to open your house and begin your business at daybreak, and
after saluting your familia and asking a blessing of the household
gods, to attend to your own affairs and those of your clients.[419]
Although we are not told so explicitly, we must suppose that the same
practice held good in Cicero's time; under the Empire it is familiar
to all readers of Seneca or Martial, but in a form which was open to
much criticism and satire. The client of the Empire was a degraded
being; of the client in the last age of the Republic we only know that
he existed, and could be useful to his _patronus_ in many ways,--in
elections and trials especially;[420] but we do not hear of his
pressing himself on the attention of his patron every morning, or
receiving any "sportula." All the same, the number of persons, whether
clients in this sense or in the legal sense, or messengers, men of
business, and ordinary callers, who would want to see a man like
Cicero before he left his house in the morning, would beyond doubt be
considerable. Otherwise they would have to catch him in the street or
Forum; and though occasionally a man of note might purposely walk in
public in order to give his clients their chance, Cicero makes it
plain that this was not his way.[421]

Within these two first hours of daylight the busy man had to find time
for a morning meal; the idle man, who slept later, might postpone
it. This early breakfast, called _ientaculum_[422], answered to the
"coffee and roll" which is usual at the present day in all European
countries except our own, and which is fully capable of supporting
even a hard-working man for several hours. It is, indeed, quite
possible to do work before this breakfast; Antiochus, the great
doctor, is said by Galen to have visited such of his patients as lived
near him before his breakfast and on foot[423]. But as a rule the meal
was taken before a busy man went out to his work, and consisted of
bread, either dipped in wine or eaten with honey, olives, or cheese.
The breakfast of Antiochus consisted, for example, of bread and Attic

The meal over, the man of politics or business would leave his house,
outside which his clients and friends or other hangers-on would be
waiting for him, and proceed to the Forum,--the centre, as we have
seen, of all his activity--accompanied by these people in a kind of
procession. Some would go before to make room for him, while others
followed him; if bent on election business, he would have experienced
helpers,[424] either volunteers or in his pay, to save him from making
blunders as to names and personalities, and in fact to serve him
in conducting himself towards the populace with the indispensable
_blanditia_.[425] Every Roman of importance liked to have, and usually
had, a train of followers or friends in descending to the Forum of a
morning from his house, or in going about other public business; what
Q. Cicero urges on his brother in canvassing for the consulship may
hold good in principle for all the public appearances of a
public man,--"I press this strongly on you, always to be with a
multitude."[426] It may perhaps be paralleled with the love of the
Roman for processions, e.g. the lustrations of farm, city, and
army,[427] and with his instinctive desire for aid and counsel in
all important matters both of public and private life, shown in the
consilium of the paterfamilias and of the magistrate. Examples are
easy to find in the literature of this period; an excellent one is the
graphic picture of Gaius Gracchus and his train of followers, which
Plutarch has preserved from a contemporary writer. "The people
looked with admiration on him, seeing him attended by crowds of
building-contractors, artificers, ambassadors, magistrates, soldiers,
and learned men, to all of whom he was easy of access; while he
maintained his dignity, he was gracious to all, and suited his
behaviour to the condition of every individual; thus he proved the
falsehood of those who called him tyrannical or arrogant."[428]

Arrived at the Forum, if not engaged in a trial, or summoned to a
meeting of the senate, or busy in canvassing, he would mingle with the
crowd, and spend a social morning in meeting and talking with friends,
or in hearing the latest news from the provinces, or in occupying
himself with his investments with the aid of his bankers and agents.
This is the way in which such a sociable and agreeable man as Cicero
was loved to spend his mornings when not deep in the composition of
some speech or book,--and at Rome it was indeed hardly possible for
him to find the time for steady literary work. It was this social life
that he longed for when in Cilicia; "one little walk and talk with
you," he could write to Caelius at Rome, "is worth all the profits of
a province."[429] But it was also this crowded and talkative Forum
that Lucilius could describe in a passage already quoted, as teeming
with men who, with the aid of hypocrisy and blanditia, spent the
day from morning till night in trying to get the better of their

After a morning spent in the Forum, our Roman might return home in
time for his lunch (_prandium_), which had taken the place of the
early dinner (_cena_) of the olden time. Exactly the same thing
affected the hours of these meals as has affected those of our own
within the last century or so; the great increase of public business
of all kinds has with us pushed the time of the chief meal later and
later, and so it was at Rome. The senate had an immense amount of
business to transact in the two last centuries B.C., and the increase
in oratorical skill, as well as the growing desire to talk in public,
extended its sittings sometimes till nightfall.[431] So too with the
law-courts, which had become the scenes of oratorical display, and
often of that indulgence in personal abuse which has great attractions
for idle people fond of excitement. Thus the dinner hour had come to
be postponed from about noon to the ninth or even the tenth hour,[432]
and some kind of a lunch was necessary. We do not hear much of this
meal, which was in fact for most men little more than the "snack"
which London men of business will take standing at a bar; nor do we
know whether senators and barristers took it as they sat in the curia
or in court, or whether there was an adjournment for purposes
of refreshment. Such an adjournment seems to have taken place
occasionally at least, during the games under the Empire, for
Suetonius (_Claud._ 34) tells us that Claudius would dismiss the
people to take their prandium and yet remain himself in his seat. A
joke of Cicero's about Caninius Rebilus, who was appointed consul by
Caesar on the last day of the year 45 at one o'clock, shows that the
usual hour for the prandium was about noon or earlier; "under the
consulship of Caninius," he wrote to Curius, "no one ever took

After the prandium, if a man were at home and at leisure, followed the
siesta (_meridiatio_). This is the universal habit in all southern
climates, especially in summer, and indeed, if the mind and body
are active from an early hour, a little repose is useful, if not
necessary, after mid-day. Busy men however like Cicero could not
always afford it in the city, and we find him noting near the end of
his life, when Caesar's absolutism had diminished the amount of his
work both in senate and law-courts, that he had taken to the siesta
which he formerly dispensed with.[434] Even the sturdy Varro in his
old age declared that in summer he could not possibly do without his
nap in the middle of the day.[435] On the other hand, in the famous
letter in which Cicero describes his entertainment of Caesar in
mid-winter 45 B.C., nothing is said of a siesta; the Dictator worked
till after mid-day, then walked on the shore, and returned, not for a
nap but for a bath.[436]

Caesar, as he was Cicero's guest, must have taken his bath in the
villa, probably that at Cumae (see above, p. 257). Most well-appointed
private houses had by this time a bath-room or set of bath-rooms,
providing every accommodation, according to the season and the taste
of the bather. This was indeed a modern improvement; in the old days
the Romans only washed their arms and legs daily, and took a bath
every market-day, i.e. every ninth day. This is told us in an amusing
letter of Seneca's, who also gives a description of the bath in the
villa of the elder Scipio at Liternum, which consisted of a single
room without a window, and was supplied with water which was often
thick after rain.[437] "Nesciit vivere," says Seneca, in ironical
allusion to the luxury of his own day. In Cicero's time every villa
doubtless had its set of baths, with at least three rooms,--the
_apodyterium_, _caldarium_, and _tepidarium_, sometimes also an open
swimming-bath, as in the House of the Silver Wedding at Pompeii.[438]
In Cicero's letter to his brother about the villa at Arcanum, he
mentions the dressing-room (apodyterium) and the caldarium or hot-air
chamber, and doubtless there were others. Even in the villa rustica of
Boscoreale near Pompeii, which was a working farm-house, we find the
bath-rooms complete, provided, that is, with the three essentials of
dressing-room, tepid-room, and hot-air room.[439] Caesar probably, as
it was winter, used the last of these, took in fact a Turkish bath, as
we should call it, and then went into a tepidarium, where, as Cicero
tells us, he received some messenger. Here he was anointed (unctus),
i.e. rubbed dry from perspiration, with a strigil on which oil was
dropped to soften its action.[440] When this operation was over, about
the ninth hour, which in mid-winter would begin about half-past one,
he was ready for the dinner which followed immediately.[441] This we
may take as the ordinary winter dinner-hour in the country; in summer
it would be an hour or so later. In an amusing story given as a
rhetorical illustration in the work known as _Rhetorica ad Herennium_,
iv. 63, the guests (doomed never to get their dinner that day except
in an inn) are invited for the tenth hour. But in the city it must
have often happened that the hour was later, owing to the press of
business. For example, on one occasion when the senate had been
sitting _ad noctem_, Cicero dines with Pompeius after its dismissal
(_ad Fam_. i. 2.3). Another day we find him going to bed after his
dinner, and clearly not for a siesta, which, as we saw, he never had
time to take in his busy days; this, however, was not actually in Rome
but in his villa at Formiae, where he was at that time liable to much
interruption from callers (_ad Att_. ii. 16). Probably, like most
Romans of his day, he had spent a long time over his dinner, talking
if he had guests, or reading and thinking if he were alone or with his
family only.

The dinner, _cena_, was in fact the principal private event of the
day; it came when all business was over, and you could enjoy the
privacy of family life or see your friends and unbend with them. At no
other meal do we hear of entertainment, unless the guests were on
a journey, as was the case at the lunch at Arcanum when Pomponia's
temper got the better of her (see above, p. 52). Even dinner-parties
seem to have come into fashion only since the Punic wars, with later
hours and a larger staff of slaves to cook and wait at table. In the
old days of household simplicity the meals were taken in the atrium,
the husband reclining on a _lectus_,[442] the wife sitting by his
side, and the children sitting on stools in front of them. The slaves
too in the olden time took their meal sitting on benches in the
atrium, so that the whole familia was present. This means that the
dinner was in those days only a necessary break in the intervals of
work, and the sitting posture was always retained for slaves, i.e.
those who would go about their work as soon as the meal was over.
Columella, writing under the early Empire, urges that the vilicus or
overseer should sit at his dinner except on festivals; and Cato the
younger would not recline after the battle of Pharsalia for the
rest of his life, apparently as a sign that life was no longer

But after the Second Punic war, which changed the habits of the Roman
in so many ways, the atrium ceased to be the common dining-place, and
special chambers were built, either off the atrium or in the interior
part of the house about the peristylium, or even upstairs, for the
accommodation of guests, who might be received in different rooms,
according to the season and the weather.[444] These _triclinia_ were
so arranged as to afford the greatest personal comfort and the best
opportunities for conversation; they indicate clearly that dinner is
no longer an interval in the day's work, but a time of repose and ease
at the end of it. The plan here given of a triclinium, as described by
Plutarch, in his _Quaestiones conviviales_,

Lectus medius.
Chief | | |
Guest | | | Lectus
| | | Summus
+-----------------+--------------+ |
H | | | |
| | | |
Lectus | | Mensa | |
Imus | | | |
| +--------------+ |
| | +----------------+
| |
| |
| |
| |


will show this sufficiently without elaborate description; but it is
necessary to notice that the host always or almost always occupied the
couch marked H on the plan, while the one immediately above him, i.e.
No. 3 of the _lectus medius_, was reserved for the most important
guest, and called _lectus consularis_. Plutarch's account, and a
little consideration, will show that the host was thus well placed for
the superintendence of the meal, as well as for conversation with his
distinguished guest; and that the latter occupied what Plutarch calls
a free corner, so that any messengers or other persons needing to see
him could get access to him without disturbing the party.[445] The
number that could be accommodated, nine, was not only a sacred and
lucky one, but exactly suited for convenience of conversation and
attendance. Larger parties were not unheard of, even under the
Republic, and Vitruvius tells us that some dining-rooms were fitted
with three or more triclinia; but to put more than three guests on a
single couch, and so increase the number, was not thought courteous or
well-bred. Among the points of bad breeding which Cicero attributes to
his enemy Calpurnius Piso, the consul of 58, one was that he put five
guests to recline on a single couch, while himself occupying one
alone; so Horace:

Saepe tribus lectis videas cenare quaternos.[446]

As the guests were made so comfortable, it may be supposed that they
were not in a hurry to depart; the mere fact that they were reclining
instead of sitting would naturally dispose them to stay. The triclinia
were open at one end, i.e. not shut up as our dining-rooms are, and
the air would not get close and "dinnery." Cicero describes old
Cato[447] (no doubt from some passage in Cato's writings) as remaining
in conversation at dinner until late at night. The guests would arrive
with their slaves, who took off their walking shoes, if they had come
on foot, and put on their sandals (_soleae_): each wore a festive
dress (_synthesis_), of Greek origin like the other features of the
entertainment, and there was no question of changing these again in a
hurry. Nothing can better show the difference between the old Roman
manners and the new than the character of these parties; they are
the leisurely and comfortable rendezvous of an opulent and educated
society, in which politics, literature or philosophy could be
discussed with much self-satisfaction. That such discussion did not go
too deeply into hard questions was perhaps the result of the comfort.

There was of course another side to this picture of the evening of a
Roman gentleman. There was a coarse side to the Roman character, and
in the age when wealth, the slave trade, and idle habits encouraged
self-indulgence, meals were apt to become ends in themselves instead
of necessary aids to a wholesome life. The ordinary three parts or
courses (_mensae_) of a dinner,--the gustatio or light preliminary
course, the cena proper, with substantial dishes, and the dessert of
pastry and fruit, could be amplified and extended to an unlimited
extent by the skill of the slave-cooks brought from Greece and the
East (see above, p. 209); the gourmand had appeared long before
the age of Cicero and had been already satirised by Lucilius and
Varro.[448] Splendid dinner-services might take the place of the
old simple ware, and luxurious drapery and rugs covered the couches
instead of the skins of animals, as in the old time.[449] Vulgarity
and ostentation, such as Horace satirised, were doubtless too often to
be met with. Those who lived for feasting and enjoyment would invite
their company quite early in the day (tempestativum convivium) and
carry on the revelry till midnight.[450] And lastly, the practice of
drinking wine after dinner (_comissatio_), simply for the sake of
drinking, under fixed rules according to the Greek fashion, familiar
to us all in the _Odes_ of Horace, had undoubtedly begun some time
before the end of the Public. In the Actio prima of his Verrine
orations Cicero gives a graphic picture of a convivium beginning
early, where the proposal was made and agreed to that the drinking
should be "more graeco."[451]

But it would be a great mistake to suppose that this kind of
self-indulgence was characteristic of the average Roman life of this
age. The ordinary student is liable to fall into this error because
he reads his Horace and his Juvenal, but dips a very little way
into Cicero's correspondence; and he needs to be reminded that the
satirists are not deriding the average life of the citizen, any more
than the artists who make fun of the foibles of our own day in the
pages of _Punch_. Cicero hardly ever mentions his meals, his cookery,
or his wine, even in his most chatty letters; such matters did not
interest him, and do not seem to have interested his friends, so far
as we can judge by their letters. In one amusing letter to Poetus, he
does indeed tell him what he had for dinner at a friend's house, but
only by way of explaining that he had been very unwell from eating
mushrooms and such dishes, which his host had had cooked in order not
to contravene a recent sumptuary law.[452] The Letters are worth far
more as negative evidence of the usual character of dinners than
either the invectives (vituperationes) against a Piso or an Antony,
or the lively wit of the satirists. Let us return for an instant, in
conclusion, to that famous letter, already quoted, in which Cicero
describes the entertainment of Caesar at Cumae in December, 45.
It contains an expression which has given rise to very mistaken
conclusions both about Caesar's own habits and those of his day. After
telling Atticus that his guest sat down to dinner when the bath was
over he goes on: "[Greek: Emetikaen] agebat; itaque et edit et bibit
[Greek: adeos] et iucunde, opipare sane et apparate, nec id solum, sed

bene cocto
condito, sermone bono, et si quaeri, libenter."

Even good scholars used formerly to make the mistake of supposing that
Caesar, a man habitually abstemious, or at least temperate, had made
up his mind to over-eat himself on this occasion, as he was intending
to take an emetic afterwards. And even now it may be as well to point
out that medical treatment by a course of emetics was a perfectly well
known and valued method at this time;[453] that Caesar, whose health
was always delicate, and at this time severely tried, was then under
this treatment, and could therefore eat his dinner comfortably,
without troubling himself about what he ate and drank: and that the
apt quotation from Lucilius, and the literary conversation which (so
Cicero adds) followed the dinner, prove beyond all question that this
was no glutton's meal, but one of that ordinary and rational type, in
which repose and pleasant intercourse counted for more than the mere
eating and drinking.

No more work seems to have been done after the cena was over and the
guests had retired. We found Cicero on one occasion going to bed soon
after the meal; and, as he was up and active so early in the morning,
we may suppose that he retired at a much earlier hour than we do. But
of this last act of the day he tells us nothing.



The Italian peoples, of all races, have always had a wonderful
capacity for enjoying themselves out of doors. The Italian _festa_
of to-day, usually, as in ancient times, linked to some religious
festival, is a scene of gaiety, bright dresses, music, dancing,
bonfires, races, and improvisation or mummery; and all that we know of
the ancient rural festivals of Italy suggests that they were of much
the same lively and genial character. Tibullus gives us a good idea of

"Agricola assiduo primum satiatus aratro
Cantavit oerto rustica verba pede;
Et satur arenti primum est modulatus avena
Carmen, ut ornatos diceret ante decs;
Agricola et minio suffusus, Bacche, rubenti
Primus inexperta duxit ab arte choros."[454]

It would be easy to multiply examples of such merry-making from the
poets of the Augustan age, nearly all of whom were born and bred in
the country, and shared Virgil's tenderness for a life of honest work
and play among the Italian hills and valleys. But in this chapter we
are to deal with the holidays and enjoyments of the great city, and
the rural festivals are only mentioned here because almost all the
characteristics of the urban holiday-making are to be found in germ
there. The Roman calendar of festivals has its origin in the regularly
recurring rites of the earliest Latin husbandman. As the city grew,
these old agricultural festivities lost of course much of their native
simplicity and naivete; some of them survived merely as religious or
priestly performances, some became degraded into licentious enjoyment;
but the music and dancing, the gay dresses, the racing, the mumming
or acting, are all to be found in the city, developed in one form or
another, from the earliest to the latest periods of Roman history.

The Latin word for a holiday was _feriae_, a term which belongs to the
language of religious law (_ius divinum_). Strictly speaking, it means
a day which the citizen has resigned, either wholly or in part, to the
service of the gods.[455] As of old on the farm no work was to be done
on such days, so in the city no public business could be transacted.
Cicero, drawing up in antique language his idea of the ius divinum,
writes thus of feriae: "Feriis iurgia amovento, easque in familiis,
operibus patratis, habento": which he afterwards explains as meaning
that the citizen must abstain from litigation, and the slave be
excused from labour.[456] The idea then of a holiday was much the same
as we find expressed in the Jewish Sabbath, and had its root also in
religious observance. But Cicero, whether he is actually reproducing
the words of an old law or inventing it for himself, was certainly
not reflecting the custom of the city in his own day; no such rigid
observance of a rule was possible in the capital of an Empire such
as the Roman had become. Even on the farm it had long ago been found
necessary to make exceptions; thus Virgil tells us:[457]

"Quippe etiam festis quaedam exercere diebus
Fas et iura sinunt: rivos deducere nulla
Religio vetuit, segeti praetendere saepem,
Insidias avibus moliri, incendere vepres,
Balantumque gregem fluvio mersare salubri."

So too in the city it was simply impossible that all work should
cease on feriae, of which there were more than a hundred in the year,
including the Ides of every month and some of the Kalends and Nones.
As a matter of fact a double change had come about since the city and
its dominion began to increase rapidly about the time of the Punic
wars. First, many of the old festivals, sacred to deities whose
vogue was on the wane, or who had no longer any meaning for a city
population, as being deities of husbandry, were almost entirely
neglected: even if the priests performed the prescribed rites, no one
knew and no one cared,[458] and it may be doubted whether the State
was at all scrupulous in adhering to the old sacred rules as to
the hours on which business could be transacted on such days.[459]
Secondly, certain festivals which retained their popularity had been
extended from one day to three or more, in one or two cases, as we
shall see, even to thirteen and fifteen days, in order to give
time for an elaborate system of public amusement consisting of
chariot-races and stage-plays, and known by the name of _ludi_, or, as
at the winter Saturnalia, to enable all classes to enjoy themselves
during the short days for seven mornings instead of one. Obviously
this was a much more convenient and popular arrangement than to have
your holidays scattered about over the whole year as single days; and
it suited the rich and ambitious, who sought to obtain popular favour
by shows and games on a grand scale, needing a succession of several
days for complete exhibition. So the old religious word feriae becomes
gradually supplanted, in the sense of a public holiday of amusement,
by the word _ludi_, and came at last to mean, as it still does in
Germany, the holidays of schoolboys.[460] These ludi will form the
chief subject of this chapter; but we must first mention one or two
of the old feriae which seem always to have remained occasions of
holiday-making, at any rate for the lower classes of the population.

One of these occurred on the Ides of March, and must have been going
on at the moment when Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. It was the
festival of Anna Perenna, a mysterious old deity of "the ring of the
year." The lower class of the population, Ovid tells us,[461] streamed
out to the "festum geniale" of Anna, and spent the whole day in the
Campus Martius, lying about in pairs of men and women, indulging
in drinking and all kinds of revelry. Some lay in the open; some
constructed tents, or rude huts of boughs, stretching their togas over
them for shelter. As they drank they prayed for as many years of life
as they could swallow cups of wine. The usual characteristics of the
Italian _festa_ were to be found there: they sang anything they had
picked up in the theatre, with much gesticulation ("et iactant faciles
ad sua verba manus"), and they danced, the women letting down their
long hair. The result of these performances was naturally that they
returned home in a state of intoxication, which roused the mirth of
the bystanders. Ovid adds that he had himself met them so returning,
and had seen an old woman pulling along an old man, both of them
intoxicated. There may have been other popular "jollifications" of
this kind, for example at the Neptunalia on July 23, where we find the
same curious custom of making temporary huts or shelters;[462] but
this is the only one of which we have any account by an eye-witness.
Of the famous Lupercalia in February, and some other festivals which
neither died out altogether nor were converted into ludi, we only know
the ritual, and cannot tell whether they were still used as popular

One famous festival of the old religious calendar did, however, always
remain a favourite holiday, viz. the Saturnalia on December 17,
which was by common usage extended to seven days in all.[463] It was
probably the survival of a mid-winter festivity in the life of the
farm, at a time when all the farm work of the autumn was over,
and when both bond and free might indulge themselves in unlimited
enjoyment. Such ancient customs die hard, or, as was the case with the
Saturnalia, never die at all; for the same features are still to be
found in the Christmas rejoicings of the Italian peasant. Every one
knows something of the character of this holiday, and especially of
the entertainment of slaves by their masters,[464] which has many
parallels in Greek custom, and has been recently supposed to have been
borrowed from the Greeks. Various games were played, and among them
that of "King," at which we have seen the young Cato playing with his
boy companions.[465] Seneca tells us that in his day all Rome seemed
to go mad on this holiday.

But we must now turn to the real _ludi_, organised by the State on a
large and ever increasing scale. The oldest and most imposing of these
were the Ludi Romani or Magni, lasting from September 5 to September
19 in Cicero's time. These had their origin in the return of a
victorious army at the end of the season of war, when king or consul
had to carry out the vows he had made when entering on his campaign.
The usual form of the vow was to entertain the people on his return,
in honour of Jupiter, and thus they were originally called ludi
_votivi_, before they were incorporated as a regularly recurring
festival. After they became regular and annual, any entertainment
vowed by a general had to take place on other days; thus in the year
70 B.C. Pompey's triumphal ludi votivi immediately preceded the Ludi
Romani of that year,[466] giving the people in all some thirty days of
holiday. The centre-point, and original day, of the Ludi Romani was
the Ides (13th) of September, which was also the day of the epulum
Jovis,[467] and the dies natalis (dedication day) of the Capitoline
temple of Jupiter; and the whole ceremonial was closely connected with
that temple and its great deity. The triumphal procession passed along
the Sacra via to the Capitol, and thence again to the Circus Maximus,
where the ludi were held. The show must have been most imposing;
first marched the boys and youths, on foot and on horseback, then the
chariots and charioteers about to take part in the racing, with crowds
of dancers and flute-players,[468] and lastly the images of the
Capitoline deities themselves, carried on _fercula_ (biers). All such
shows and processions were dear to the Roman people, and this seems to
have become a permanent feature of the Ludi Romani, whether or no an
actual triumph was to be celebrated, and also of some other ludi, e.g.
the Apollinares and the Megalenses.[469] Thus the idea was kept up
that the greatness and prosperity of Rome were especially due to
Jupiter Optimus Maximus, who, since the days of the Tarquinii, had
looked down on his people from his temple on the Capitol.[470]

The Ludi Plebeii in November seem to have been a kind of plebeian
duplicate of the Ludi Romani. As fully developed at the end of the
Republic, they lasted from the 4th to the 17th; their centre-point and
original day was the Ides (13th), on which, as on September 13, there
was an epulum Jovis in the Capitol.[471] They are connected with the
name of that Flaminius who built the circus Flaminius in the Campus
Martius in 220 B.C., the champion of popular rights, killed soon
afterwards at Trasimene; and it is probable that his object in
erecting this new place of entertainment was to provide a convenient
building free of aristocratic associations. But unfortunately we know
very little of the history of these ludi.

If we may suppose that the Ludi Plebeii were instituted just before
the second Punic war, it is interesting to note that three other great
ludi were organised in the course of that war, no doubt with the
object of keeping up the drooping spirits of the urban population. The
Ludi Apollinares were vowed by a praetor urbanus in 212, when the
fate of Rome was hanging in the balance, and celebrated in the Circus
Maximus: in 208 they were fixed to a particular day, July 13, and
eventually extended to eight, viz. July 6-13.[472] In 204 were
instituted the Ludi Megalenses, to celebrate the arrival in Rome of
the Magna Mater from Pessinus in Phrygia, i.e. on April 4; but the
ludi were eventually extended to April 10.[473] Lastly, in 202 the
Ludi Ceriales, which probably existed in some form already, were made
permanent and fixed for April 19: they eventually lasted from the 12th
to the 19th.[474] After the war was over we only find one more set of
ludi permanently established, viz. the Florales, which date from 173.
The original day was April 28, which had long been one of coarse
enjoyment for the plebs; like the other ludi, these too were extended,
and eventually reached to May 3.[475] April, we may note, was a month
chiefly consisting of holidays: the Ludi Megalenses, Ceriales, and
Florales occupied no less than seventeen of its twenty-nine days.

When Sulla wished to commemorate his victory at the Colline gate, he
instituted Ludi Victoriae on November I, the date of the battle, and
these seem to have been kept up after most of Sulla's work had been
destroyed; they are mentioned by Cicero in the passage quoted above
from the Verrines, as Ludi Victoriae, but we hear comparatively little
of them.

Before we go on to describe the nature of these numerous
entertainments, it may be as well to realise that the spectators had
nothing to pay for them; they were provided by the State free of cost,
as being part of certain religious festivals which it was the duty
of the government to keep up. Certain sums were set aside for this
purpose, differing in amount from time to time; thus in 217 B.C., for
the Ludi Romani, on which up to that time 200,000 sesterces (L16,600)
had been spent, the sum of 333,333-1/3 sest. was voted, because the
number three had a sacred signification, and the moment was one of
extreme peril for the State.[476] On one occasion only before the end
of the Republic do we hear of any public collection for the ludi; in
186 B.C. Pliny tells us that every one was so well off, owing no doubt
to the enormous amount of booty brought from the war in the East, that
all subscribed some small sum for the games of Scipio Asiaticus.[477]
There was no doubt a growing demand for magnificence in the shows, and
thus it came about that the amount provided by the State had to be
supplemented. But the usual way of supplementing it was for the
magistrate in charge of the ludi to pay what he could out of his own
purse, or to get his friends to help him; and as all the ludi except
the Apollinares were in charge of the aediles, it became the practice
for these, if they aspired to reach the praetorship and consulship, to
vie with each other in the recklessness of their expenditure. As early
as 176 B.C. the senate had tried to limit this personal expenditure,
for Ti. Sempronius Gracchus as aedile had that year spent enormous
sums on his ludi, and had squeezed money (it does not appear how) out
of the subject populations of Italy, as well as the provinces, to
entertain the Roman people.[478] But naturally no decrees of the
senate on such matters were likely to have permanent effect; the great
families whose younger members aimed at popularity in this way were
far too powerful to be easily checked. In the last age of the Republic
it had become a necessary part of the aedile's duty to supplement the
State's contribution, and as a rule he had to borrow heavily, and thus
to involve himself financially quite early in his political career. In
his _de Officiis_,[479] writing of the virtue of _liberalitas_, Cicero
gives a list of men who had been munificent as aediles, including the
elder and younger Crassus, Mucius Scaevola (a man, he says, of great
self-restraint), the two Lueulli, Hortensius, and Silanus; and adds
that in his own consulship P. Lentulus outdid all his predecessors,
and was imitated by Scaurus in 58 B.C.[480] Cicero himself had to
undertake the Ludi Romani, Megalenses, and Florales in his aedileship;
how he managed it financially he does not tell us.[481] Caesar
undoubtedly borrowed largely, for his expenditure as aedile was
enormous,[482] and he had no private fortune of any considerable

Our friend Caelius Rufus was elected curule aedile while he was in
correspondence with Cicero, and his letters give us a good idea of the
condition of the mind of an ambitious young man who is bent on making
the most of himself. He is in a continual state of fidget about his
games; he has set his heart on getting panthers to exhibit and hunt,
and urges Cicero in letter after letter to procure them for him in
Cilicia. "It will be a disgrace to you," he writes in one of them,
"that Patiscus has sent ten panthers to Curio, and that you should not
send me ten times as many."[483] The provincial governor, he urges,
can do what he pleases; let Cicero send for some men of Cibyra, let
him write to Pamphylia, where they are most abundant, and he will get
what he wants, or rather what Caelius wants. Even after a letter full
of the most important accounts of public business, including copies of
senatus consulta (ad Fam. viii. 8), he harks back at the end to the
inevitable panthers. Cicero tells Atticus that he rebuked Caelius for
pressing him thus hard to do what his conscience could not approve,
and that it was not right, in his opinion, for a provincial governor
to set the people of Cibyra hunting for panthers for Roman games.[484]
From the same passage it would seem that Caelius had also been urging
him to take other steps in his province of which he disapproved, no
doubt with the same object of raising money for the ludi. This letter
to Caelius is not extant, but we may believe that Cicero had the
courage to reprove his old pupil, and that the constant worrying for
panthers was more than even his amiability could stand. But others
were less sensitive; and it is a well known fact in natural history
that the Roman games had a powerful effect, from this time forwards,
in diminishing the numbers of wild animals in the countries bordering
on the Mediterranean, and in bringing about the extinction of species.
In our own day the same work is carried on by the big-game sportsman,
somewhat farther afield; the pleasure of slaughter being now confined
to the few rich and adventurous, who shoot for their own delectation,
and not to make a London holiday.

Thus to all his ludi the citizen had the right of admission free
of cost.[485] An Englishman may find some difficulty at first in
realising this; it is as if cricket and football matches and theatres
in London were open to the public gratis, and the cost provided by the
London County Council. Yet it is not difficult to understand how the
Roman government drifted into a practice which was eventually found to
have such unfortunate results. It has already been explained that ludi
were originally attached to certain religious festivals, which it was
the duty of the State and its priests and magistrates to maintain. The
Romans, like all Italians, loved shows and out-of-door enjoyment,
and as the population increased and became more liable to excitement
during the stress of the great wars with Carthage, it became necessary
to keep them cheerful and in good humour by developing the old ludi
and instituting new ones, for which it would have been contrary to all
precedent to make them pay. The government, as we may guess from the
history of the ludi which has just been sketched, seems to have been
careful at first not to go too far with this policy, and it was some
time before any ludi but the Romani were made annual and extended to
the length they eventually reached. But the sudden increase of wealth
after the great struggle was over was answerable for this, as for
so many other damaging tendencies. We have seen that the people
themselves in 186 were able and willing to contribute; and now it was
possible for aediles to invest their capital in popular undertakings
which might, later on, pay them well by carrying them on to higher
magistracies and provincial governorships, where fresh fortunes might
be made. The evil results are, of course, as obvious here as in the
parallel case of the corn-supply (see above, p. 34); enormous amounts
of capital were used unproductively, and the people were gradually
accustomed to believe that the State was responsible for their
enjoyment as well as their food. But we must be most careful not to
jump to the conclusion that this was due to any deliberate policy on
the part of the Roman government. They drifted into these dangerous
shoals in spite of the occasional efforts of intelligent steersmen;
and it would indeed have needed a higher political intelligence than
was then and there available, to have fully divined the direction of
the drift and the dangers ahead of them.

We must now turn in the last place to consider the nature of the
entertainments, and see whether there was any improving or educational
influence in them.

These had originally consisted entirely of shows of a military
character, as we have seen in the case of the Ludi Romani, and
especially of chariot-racing in the old Circus Maximus. The Romans
seem always to have been fond of horses and racing, though they
never developed a large or thoroughly efficient cavalry force. It
is probable that the position of the Circus Maximus in the vallis
Murcia[486] was due to horse-racing near the underground altar of
Consus, a harvest deity, and the oldest religious calendar has
Equirria (horse-races) on February 27 and March 14, no doubt in
connexion with the preparation of the cavalry for the coming season
of war. And in the very curious ancient rite known as "the October
horse," there was a two-horse chariot-race in the Campus Martius, when
the season of arms was over, and the near horse of the winning pair
was sacrificed to Mars[487]. The Ludi Romani consisted chiefly of
chariot-races until 364 B.C. (when plays were first introduced),
together with other military evolutions or exercises, such perhaps as
the ludus Troiae of the Roman boys, described by Virgil in the fifth
Aeneid. Of the Ludi Plebeii we do not know the original character, but
it is likely that these also began with _circenses_, the regular word
for chariot-races. The Ludi Cereales certainly included circenses, and
plays are only mentioned as forming part of their programme under the
Empire; but on the last day, April 19, there was a curious practice of
letting foxes loose in the Circus Maximus with burning firebrands tied
to their tails[488],--a custom undoubtedly ancient, which may have
suggested the _venationes_ (hunts) of later times, for one of which
Caelius wanted his panthers. Of the other three ludi, Apollinares,
Megalenses, and Florales, we only know that they included both
circenses and plays; we must take it as probable that the former were
in their programme from the first. There is no need to describe
here in detail the manner of the chariot-racing. We can picture to
ourselves the Circus Maximus filled with a dense crowd of some 150,000
people,[489] the senators in reserved places, and the consul or other
magistrate presiding; the chariots, usually four in number, painted at
this time either red or white, with their drivers in the same colours,
issuing from the carceres at the end of the circus next to the Forum
Boarium and the river, and at the signal racing round a course of
about 1600 yards, divided into two halves by a spina; at the farther
end of this the chariots had to turn sharply and always with a certain
amount of danger, which gave the race its chief interest. Seven
complete laps of this course constituted a missus or race,[490] and
the number of races in a day varied from time to time, according to
the season of the year and the equipment of the particular ludi. The
rivalry between factions and colours, which became so famous later
on and lasted throughout the period of the Empire, was only just
beginning in Cicero's time. We hear hardly anything of such excitement
in the literature of the period; we only know that there were already
two rival colours, white and red, and Pliny tells us the strange
story that one chariot-owner, a Caecina of Volaterrae, used to bring
swallows into the city smeared with his colour, which he let loose to
fly home and so bear the news of a victory.[491] Human nature in big
cities seems to demand some such artificial stimulus to excitement,
and without it the racing must have been monotonous; but of betting
and gambling we as yet hear nothing at all. Gradually, as vast sums
of money were laid out by capitalists and even by senators upon the
horses and drivers, the colour-factions increased in numbers, and
their rivalry came to occupy men's minds as completely as do now the
chances of football teams in our own manufacturing towns.[492]

Exhibitions of gladiators (_munera_) did not as yet take place at ludi
or on public festivals, but they may be mentioned here, because they
were already becoming the favourite amusement of the common people;
Cicero in the _pro Sestio_[493] speaks of them as "that kind of
spectacle to which all sorts of people crowd in the greatest
numbers, and in which the multitude takes the greatest delight."
The consequence was, of course, that candidates for election to
magistracies took every opportunity of giving them; and Cicero himself
in his consulship inserted a clause in his _lex de ambitu_ forbidding
candidates to give such exhibitions within two years of the
election.[494] They were given exclusively by private individuals up
to 105 B.C., either in the Forum or in one or other circus: in that
year there was an exhibition by the consuls, but there is some
evidence that it was intended to instruct the soldiers in the better
use of their weapons. This was a year in which the State was in sore
need of efficient soldiers; Marius was at the same time introducing a
new system of recruiting and of arming the soldier, and we are told
that the consul Rutilius made use of the best gladiators that were to
be found in the training-school (ludus) of a certain Scaurus, to teach
the men a more skilful use of their weapons.[495] If gladiators could
have been used only for a rational purpose like this, as skilful
swordsmen and military instructors, the State might well have
maintained some force of them. But as it was they remained in private
hands, and no limit could be put on the numbers so maintained. They
became a permanent menace to the peace of society, as has already been
mentioned in the chapter on slavery. Their frequent use in funeral
games is a somewhat loathsome feature of the age. These funeral games
were an old religious institution, occurring on the ninth day after
the burial, and known as Ludi Novemdiales; they are familiar to every
one from Virgil's skilful introduction of them, as a Roman equivalent
for the Homeric games, in the fifth Aeneid, on the anniversary of the
funeral of Anchises. Virgil has naturally omitted the gladiators; but
long before his time it had become common to use the opportunity of
the funeral of a relation to give munera for the purpose of gaining
popularity.[496] A good example is that of young Curio, who in 53 B.C.
ruined himself in this way. Cicero alludes to this in an interesting
letter to Curio.[497] "You may reach the highest honours," he says,
"more easily by your natural advantages of character, diligence, and
fortune, than by gladiatorial exhibitions. The power of giving them
stirs no feeling of admiration in any one: it is a question of means
and not of character: and there is no one who is not by this time
sick and tired of them." To Cicero's refined mind they were naturally
repugnant; but young men like Curio, though they loved Cicero, were
not wont to follow his wholesome advice.[498]

We turn now to the dramatic element in the ludi, chiefly with the
object of determining whether, in the age of Cicero, it was of any
real importance in the social life of the Roman people. The Roman
stage had had a great history before the last century B.C., into which
it is not necessary here to enter. It had always been possible without
difficulty for those who were responsible for the ludi to put on
the stage a tragedy or comedy either written for the occasion or
reproduced, with competent actors and the necessary music; and there
seems to be no doubt that both tragedies and comedies, whether adapted
from the Greek (fabulae palliatae) or of a national character (fab.
togatae), were enjoyed by the audiences. In the days of the Punic wars
and afterwards, when everything Greek was popular, a Roman audience
could appreciate stories of the Greek mythology, as presented in the
tragedies of Ennius, Pacuvius, and Accius, if without learning to read
in them the great problems of human life, at least as spectacles of
the vicissitudes of human fortune; and had occasionally listened to a
tragedy, or perhaps father a dramatic history, based on some familiar
legend of their own State. And the conditions of social life in Rome
and Athens were not so different but that in the hands of a real
genius like Plautus the New Athenian comedy could come home to the
Roman people, with their delight in rather rough fun and comical
situations: and Plautus was followed by Caecilius and the more refined
Terence, before the national comedy of Afranius and others established
itself in the place of the Greek. It is hardly possible to avoid the
conclusion that in those early days of the Roman theatre the audiences
were really intelligent, and capable of learning something from the
pieces they listened to, apart from their natural love of a show, of
all acting, and of music.[499]

But before the age with which this book deals, the long succession
of great dramatic writers had come to an end. Accius, the nephew of
Pacuvius, had died as a very old man when Cicero was a boy;[500] and
in the national comedy no one had been found to follow Afranius. The
times were disturbed, the population was restless, and continually
incorporating heterogeneous elements: much amusement could be found in
the life of the Forum, and in rioting and disorder; gladiatorial shows
were organised on a large scale. To sit still and watch a good play
would become more tiresome as the plebs grew more restless, and
probably even the taste of the better educated was degenerating as
the natural result of luxury and idleness. Politics and political
personages were the really exciting features of the time, and there
are signs that audiences took advantage of the plays to express their
approval or dislike of a statesman. In a letter to Atticus, written
in the summer of 59,[501] the first year of the triumvirate, Cicero
describes with enthusiasm how at the Ludi Apollinares the actor
Diphilus made an allusion to Pompey in the words (from an unknown
tragedy then being acted), "Nostra miseria tu es--Magnus," and was
forced to repeat them many times. When he delivered the line

"Eandem virtutem istam veniet tempus cum graviter gemes,"

the whole theatre broke out into frantic applause. So too in a
well-known passage of the speech _pro Sestio_ he tells from hearsay
how the great tragic actor Aesopus, acting in the Eurysaces of Accius,
was again and again interrupted by applause as he cleverly adapted the
words to the expected recall from exile of the orator, his personal
friend.[502] The famous words "Summum amicum, summo in bello, summo
ingenio praeditum," were among those which the modest Cicero tells us
were taken up by the people with enthusiasm,--greatly, without doubt,
to the detriment of the play. The whole passage is one of great
graphic power, and only fails to rouse us too to enthusiasm when we
reflect that Cicero was not himself present.

From this and other passages we have abundant evidence that tragedies
were still acted; but Cicero nowhere in his correspondence, where we
might naturally have expected to find it, nor in his philosophical
works, gives us any idea of their educational or aesthetic influence
either on himself or others. He is constantly quoting the old plays,
especially the tragedies, and knows them very well: but he quotes them
almost invariably as literature only. Once or twice, as we shall see,
he recalls the gesture or utterance of a great actor, but as a rule he
is thinking of them as poetry rather than as plays. It may be noted
in this connexion that it was now becoming the fashion to write plays
without any immediate intention of bringing them on the stage. We read
with astonishment in a letter of Cicero to his brother Quintus, then
in Gaul, that the latter had taken to play-writing, and accomplished
four tragedies in sixteen days, and this apparently in the course of
the campaign.[503] One, the _Erigona_, was sent to his brother from
Britain, and lost on the way. We hear no more of these plays, and
have no reason to suppose that they were worthy to survive. No man of
literary eminence in that day wrote plays for acting, and in fact the
only person of note, so far as we know, who did so, was the younger
Cornelius Balbus, son of the intimate friend and secretary of Caesar.
This man wrote one in Latin about his journey to his native town
of Gades, had it put on the stage there, and shed tears during its

When we hear of plays being written without being acted, and of
tragedies being made the occasion of expressing political opinions,
we may be pretty sure that the drama is in its nonage. An interesting
proof of the same tendency is to be found in the first book of the
_Ars Amatoria_ of Ovid, though it belongs to the age of Augustus. In
this book Ovid describes the various resorts in the city where the
youth may look out for his girl; and when he comes to the theatre,
draws a pretty picture of the ladies of taste and fashion crowding

Spectatum veniunt: veniunt spectentur ut ipsae.

And then, without a word about the play, or the smallest hint that he
or the ladies really cared about such things, he goes off into the
familiar story of the rape of the Sabine women, supposed to have taken
place when Romulus was holding his ludi.

It is curious, in view of what thus seems to be a flagging interest
in the drama as such, to find that the most remarkable event in the
theatrical history of this time is the building of the first permanent
stone theatre. During the whole long period of the popularity of
the drama the government had never consented to the erection of a
permanent theatre after the Greek fashion; though it was impossible to
prohibit the production of plays adapted from the Greek, there seems
to have been some strange scruple felt about giving Rome this outward
token of a Greek city. Temporary stages were erected in the Forum
or the circus, the audience at first standing, but afterwards
accommodated with seats in a _cavea_ of wood erected for the occasion.
The whole show, including play, actors, and pipe-players[505] to
accompany the voices where necessary, was contracted for, like all
such undertakings,[506] on each occasion of Ludi scaenici being
produced. At last, in the year 154 B.C., the censors had actually
set about the building of a theatre, apparently of stone, when the
reactionary Scipio Nasica, acting under the influence of a temporary
anti-Greek movement, persuaded the senate to put a stop to this
symptom of degeneracy, and to pass a decree that no seats were in
future to be provided, "ut scilicet remissioni animorum standi
virilitas propria Romanae gentis iuncta esset."[507] Whether this
extraordinary decree, of which the legality might have been questioned
a generation later, had any permanent effect, we do not know;
certainly the senators, and after the time of Gaius Gracchus the
equites, sat on seats appropriated to them. But Rome continued to
be without a stone theatre until Pompey, in the year of his second
consulship, 55 B.C., built one on a grand scale, capable of holding
40,000 people. Even he, we are told, could not accomplish this without
some criticism from the old and old-fashioned,--so lasting was the
prejudice against anything that might seem to be turning Rome into a
Greek city.[508] There was a story too, of which it is difficult to
make out the real origin, that he was compelled by popular feeling
to conceal his design by building, immediately behind the theatre, a
temple of Venus Victrix, the steps of which were in some way connected
with his auditorium.[509] The theatre was placed in the Campus
Martius, and its shape is fairly well known to us from fragments of
the Capitoline plan of the city;[510] adjoining it Pompey also built
a magnificent _porticus_ for the convenience of the audience, and
a _curia_, in which the senate could meet, and where, eleven years
later, the great Dictator was murdered at the feet of Pompey's statue.

In spite of the magnificence of this building, it was by no means
destined to revive the earlier prosperity of the tragic and comic
drama. Even at the opening of it the signs of degeneracy are apparent.
Luckily for us Cicero was in Rome at the time, and in a letter to a
friend in the country he congratulates him on being too unwell to come
to Rome and see the spoiling of old tragedies by over-display.[511]
"The ludi," he says, "had not even that charm which games on a
moderate scale generally have; the spectacle was so elaborate as to
leave no room for cheerful enjoyment, and I think you need feel no
regret at having missed it. What is the pleasure of a train of six
hundred mules in the Clytemnestra (of Accius), or three thousand bowls
(craterae) in the Trojan Horse (of Livius), or gay-coloured armour of
infantry and cavalry in some mimic battle? These things roused the
admiration of the vulgar: to you they would have brought no delight."
This ostentatious stage-display finds its counterpart to some extent
at the present day, and may remind us also of the huge orchestras of
blaring sound which are the delight of the modern composer and the
modern musical audience. And the plays were by no means the only part
of the show. There were displays of athletes; but these never seem to
have greatly interested a Roman audience, and Cicero says that Pompey
confessed that they were a failure; but to make up for that there were
wild-beast shows for five whole days (_venationes_)--"magnificent,"
the letter goes on, "no one denies it, yet what pleasure can it be
to a man of refinement, when a weak man is torn by a very powerful
animal, or a splendid animal is transfixed by a hunting-spear? ... The
last day was that of the elephants, about which there was a good deal
of astonishment on the part of the vulgar crowd, but no pleasure
whatever. Nay, there was even a feeling of compassion aroused by
them, and a notion that this animal has something in common with
mankind."[512] This last interesting sentence is confirmed by a
passage in Pliny's _Natural History_, in which he asserts that the
people were so much moved that they actually execrated Pompey.[513]
The last age of the Republic is a transitional one, in this, as in
other ways; the people are not yet thoroughly inured to bloodshed
and cruelty to animals, as they afterwards became when deprived of
political excitements, and left with nothing violent to amuse them but
the displays of the amphitheatre.

Earlier in this same letter Cicero had told his friend Marius that on
this occasion certain old actors had re-appeared on the stage, who,
as he thought, had left it for good. The only one he mentions is the
great tragic actor Aesopus, who "was in such a state that no one could
say a word against his retiring from the profession." At one important
point his voice failed him. This may conveniently remind us that
Aesopus was the last of the great actors of tragedy, and that his best
days were in the early half of this century--another sign of the decay
of the legitimate drama. He was an intimate friend of Cicero, and from
a few references to him in the Ciceronian writings we can form some
idea of his genius. In one passage Cicero writes of having seen him
looking so wild and gesticulating so excitedly, that he seemed almost
to have lost command of himself.[514] In the description, already
quoted from the speech _pro Sestio_, of the scene in the theatre
before his recall from exile, he speaks of this "summus artifex" as
delivering his allusions to the exile with infinite force and passion.
Yet the later tradition of his acting was rather that he was serious
and self-restrained; Horace calls him _gravis_, and Quintilian too
speaks of his _gravitas_.[515] Probably, like Garrick, he was capable
of a great variety of moods and parts. How carefully he studied the
varieties of gesticulation is indicated by a curious story preserved
by Valerius Maximus, that he and Roscius the great comedian used to
go and sit in the courts in order to observe the action of the orator

Roscius too was an early intimate friend of Cicero, who, like Caesar,
seems to have valued the friendship of all men of genius, without
regard to their origin or profession. Roscius seems to have been a
freedman;[517] his great days were in Cicero's early life, and he died
in 61 B.C., to the deep grief of all his friends.[518] So wonderfully
finished was his acting that it became a common practice to call any
one a Roscius whose work was more than usually perfect. He never could
find a pupil of whom he could entirely approve; many had good points,
but if there were a single blot, the master could not bear it.[519]
In the _de Oratore_ Cicero tells us several interesting things about
him,--how he laid the proper emphasis on the right words, reserving
his gesticulation until he came to them; and how he was never so much
admired when acting with a mask on, because the expression of his face
was so full of meaning[520].

In Cicero's later years, when Roscius was dead and Aesopus retired, we
hear no more of great actors of this type. With these two remarkable
men the great days of the Roman drama come to an end, and henceforward
the favourite plays are merely farces, of which a word must here be
said in the last place.

The origin of these farces, as indeed of all kinds of Latin comedy,
and probably also of the literary satura, is to be found in the jokes
and rude fun of the country festivals, and especially perhaps, as
Horace tells us of the harvest amusements[521]:

Fescennina per hunc inventa licentia morem
Versibus alternis opprobria rustica fudit,
Libertasque recurrentis accepta per annos
Lusit amabiliter, etc.

_Epist_. ii. 1. 145 foll.

These amusements were always accompanied with the music and dancing
so dear to the Italian peoples, and it is easy to divine how they may
have gradually developed into plays of a rude but tolerably fixed
type, with improvised dialogue, acted in the streets, or later in the
intervals between acts at the theatre, and eventually as afterpieces,
more after our own fashion.

In Cicero's day two kinds of farces were in vogue. In his earlier life
the so-called Atellan plays (fabulae Atellanae) were the favourites:
these were of indigenous Latin origin, and probably took their name
from the ruined town Atella, which might provide a permanent scenery
as the background of the plays without offending the jealousy of any
of the other Latin cities.[522] They were doubtless very comic, but it
was possible to get tired of them, for the number of stock
characters was limited, and the masks were always the same for each
character--the old man Pappus, the glutton Bucco, Dossennus the
sharper, etc. About the time of Sulla the _mimes_ seem to have
displaced these old farces in popular favour, perhaps because their
fun was more varied; the mere fact that the actors did not wear masks
shows that the improvisation could be freer and less stereotyped. But
both kinds were alike coarse, and may be called the comedy of low life
in country towns and in the great city. Sulla's tastes seem to have
been low in the matter of plays, if we may trust Plutarch, who asserts
that when he was young he spent much of his time among _mimi_ and
jesters, and that when he was dictator he "daily got together from the
theatre the lewdest persons, with whom he would drink and enter into a
contest of coarse witticisms."[523] This may be due to the evidence of
an enemy, but it is not improbable; and it is possible that both Sulla
and Caesar, who also patronised the mimes, may have wished to avoid
the personal allusions which, as we have seen, were so often made or
imagined in the exhibition of tragedies, and have aimed at confining
the plays to such as would give less opportunity for unwelcome

About the year 50 B.C., as we have seen in the chapter on education,
there came to Italy the Syrian Publilius, who began to write mimes in
verse, thus for the first time giving them a literary turn. Caesar,
always on the look-out for talent, summoned him to Rome, and awarded
him the palm for his plays.[525] These must have been, as regards wit
and style, of a much higher order than any previous mimes, and in fact
not far removed from the older Roman comedy (fabula togata) in manner.
Cicero alludes to them twice: and writing to Cornificius from Rome in
October 45 he says that at Caesar's ludi he listened to the poems of
Publilius and Laberius with a well-pleased mind.[526] "Nihil mihi
tamen deesse scito quam quicum haec familiariter docteque rideam";
here the word _docte_ seems to suggest that the performance was at
least worthy of the attention of a cultivated man. Laberius, also
a Roman knight, wrote mimes at the same time as Publilius, and was
beaten by him in competition; of him it is told that he was induced by
Caesar to act in his own mime, and revenged himself for the insult, as
it was then felt to be by a Roman of good birth, in a prologue which
has come down to us.[527] We may suppose that his plays were of the
same type as those of Publilius, and interspersed with those wise
sayings, _sententiae_, which the Roman people were still capable of
appreciating. Even in the time of Seneca applause was given to any
words which the audience felt at once to be true and to hit the

Thus the mime was lifted from the level of the lowest farcical
improvisation to a recognised position in literature, and quite
incidentally became useful in education. But the coarseness remained;
the dancing was grotesque and the fun ribald, and, as Professor Purser
says, the plots nearly always involved "some incident of an amorous
nature in which ordinary morality was set at defiance." The Roman
audience of the early Empire enjoyed these things, and all sorts
of dancing, singing, and instrumental music, and above all the
_pantomimus_,[529] in which the actor only gesticulated, without
speaking; this and the fact that the real drama never again had a fair
chance is one of the many signs that the city population was losing
both virility and intelligence.



It is easy to write the word "religion" at the head of this chapter,
but by no means easy to find anything in this materialistic period
which answers to our use of the word. In the whole mass, for example,
of the Ciceronian correspondence, there is hardly anything to show
that Cicero and his friends, and therefore, as we may presume, the
average educated man of the day, were affected in their thinking or
their conduct by any sense of dependence on, or responsibility to, a
Supreme Being. If, however, it had been possible to substitute for
the English word the Latin _religio_ it would have made a far more
appropriate title to this chapter, for _religio_ meant primarily awe,
nervousness, scruple--much the same in fact as that feeling which in
these days we call superstition; and secondarily the means taken,
under the authority of the State, to quiet such feelings by the
performance of rites meant to propitiate the gods.[530] In both of
these senses _religio_ is to be found in the last age of the Republic;
but, as we shall see, the tendency to superstitious nervousness was
very imperfectly allayed and the worship that should have allayed it
was in great measure neglected.

It may be, indeed, that in quiet country districts the joyous rural
festivals went on--we have many allusions and a few descriptions of
them in the literature of the Augustan period,--and also the worship
of the household deities, in which there perhaps survived a feeling of
_pietas_ more nearly akin to what we call religious feeling than in
any of the cults (_sacra publica_) undertaken by the State for the
people. Even in the city the cult of the dead, or what may perhaps be
better called the religious attention paid to their resting-places,
and the religious ceremonies attending birth, puberty, and marriage,
were kept up as matters of form and custom among the upper and
wealthier classes. But the great mass of the population of Rome, we
may be almost sure, knew nothing of these rites; the poor man, for
example, could no more afford a tomb for himself than a house, and his
body was thrown into some _puticulus_ or common burying-place,[531]
where it was impossible that any yearly ceremonies could be performed
to his memory, even if any one cared to do so. And among the higher
strata of society, outside of these _sacra privata_, carelessness
and negligence of the old State cults were steadily on the increase.
Neither Cicero nor any of his contemporaries but Varro has anything
to tell us of their details, and the decay had gone so far that Varro
himself knew little or nothing about many of the deities of the old
religious calendar,[532] or of the ways in which they had at one
time been worshipped. Vesta, with her simple cult and her virgin
priestesses, was almost the only deity who was not either forgotten
or metamorphosed in one way or another under the influence of Greek
literature and mythology; Vesta was too well recognised as a symbol
of the State's vitality to be subject to neglect like other and less
significant cults. The old sacrificing priesthoods, such as the
Fratres Arvales and the lesser Flamines, seem not to have been filled
up by the pontifices whose duty it was to do so: and the Flamen
Dialis, the priest of Jupiter himself, is not heard of from 89 to
11 B.C., when he appears again as a part of the Augustan religious
restoration. The explanation is probably that these offices could not
be held together with any secular one which might take the holder
away from Rome; and as every man of good family had business in the
provinces, no qualified person could be found willing to put himself
under the restriction. The temples too seem to have been sadly
neglected; Augustus tells us himself[533] that he had to restore no
less than eighty-two; and from Cicero we actually hear of thefts
of statues and other temple property[534]--sacrileges which may be
attributed to the general demoralisation caused by the Social and
Civil Wars. At the same time there seems to have been a strong
tendency to go after strange gods, with whose worship Roman soldiers
had made acquaintance in the course of their numerous eastern
campaigns. It is a remarkable fact that no less than four times in a
single decade the worship of Isis had to be suppressed,--in 58, 53,
50, and 48 B.C. In the year 50 we are told that the consul Aemilius
Paullus, a conservative of the old type, actually threw off his toga
praetexta and took an axe to begin destroying the temple, because no
workmen could be found to venture on the work.[535] These are indeed
strange times; the beautiful religion of Isis, which assuredly had
some power to purify a man and strengthen his conscience,[536] was to
be driven out of a city where the old local religion had never had any
such power, and where the masses were now left without a particle of
aid or comfort from any religious source. The story seems to ring
true, and gives us a most valuable glimpse into the mental condition
of the Roman workman of the time.

Of such foreign worships, and of the general neglect of the old cults,
Cicero tells us nothing; we have to learn or to guess at these facts
from evidence supplied by later writers. His interest in religious
practice was confined to ceremonies which had some political
importance. He was himself an augur, and was much pleased with his
election to that ancient college; but, like most other augurs of
the time, he knew nothing of augural "science," and only cared to
speculate philosophically on the question whether it is possible to
foretell the future. He looked upon the right of the magistrate to
"observe the heaven" as a part of an excellent constitution,[537]
and could not forgive Caesar for refusing in 59 B.C. to have his
legislation paralysed by the fanatical declarations of his colleague
that he was going to "look for lightning." He firmly believed in
the value of the _ius divinum_ of the State. In his treatise on the
constitution (_de Legibus_) he devotes a whole book to this religious
side of constitutional law, and gives a sketch of it in quasi-legal
language from which it appears that he entirely accepted the duty of
the State to keep the citizen in right relation to the gods, on whose
good-will his welfare depended. He seems never to have noticed that the
State was neglecting this duty, and that, as we saw just now, temples
and cults were falling into decay, strange forms of religion pressing
in. Such things did not interest him; in public life the State
religion was to him a piece of the constitution, to be maintained
where it was clearly essential; in his own study it was a matter of
philosophical discussion. In his young days he was intimate with the
famous Pontifex Maximus, Mucius Scaevola, who held that there were
three religions,--that of the poets, that of the philosophers, and
that of the statesman, of which the last must be accepted and
acted on, whether it be true or not.[538] Cicero could hardly have
complained if this saying had been attributed to himself.

This attitude of mind, the combination of perfect freedom of thought
with full recognition of the legal obligations of the State and its
citizens in matters of religion, is not difficult for any one to
understand who is acquainted with the nature of the ius divinum and
the priesthood administering it. That ius divinum was a part of the
ius civile, the law of the Roman city-state; as the ius civile,
exclusive of the ius divinum, regulated the relations of citizen to
citizen, so did the ius divinum regulate the relations of the citizen
to the deities of the community. The priesthoods administering this
law consisted not of sacrificing priests, attached to the cult of a
particular god and temple, but of lay officials in charge of that part
of the law of the State; it was no concern of theirs (so indeed they
might quite well argue) whether the gods really existed or not,
provided the law were maintained. When in 61 B.C. Clodius was caught
in disguise at the women's festival of the Bona Dea, the pontifices
declared the act to be _nefas_,--crime against the ius divinum; but
we may doubt whether any of those pontifices really believed in the
existence of such a deity. The idea of the _mos maiorum_ was still so
strong in the mind of every true Roman, his conservative instincts
were so powerful, that long after all real life had left the divine
inhabitants of his city, so that they survived only as the dead stalks
of plants that had once been green and flourishing, he was quite
capable of being horrified at any open contempt of them. And he was
right, as Augustus afterwards saw clearly; for the masses, who had
no share in the education described in the sixth chapter, who
knew nothing of Greek literature or philosophy, and were full
of superstitious fancies, were already losing confidence in the
authorities set over them, and in their power to secure the good-will
of the gods and their favour in matters of material well-being.
This is the only way in which we can satisfactorily account for the
systematic efforts of Augustus to renovate the old religious rites and
priesthoods, and we can fairly argue back from it to the tendencies of
the generation immediately before him. He knew that the proletariate
of Rome and Italy still believed, as their ancestors had always
believed, that state and individual would alike suffer unless the gods
were properly propitiated; and that in order to keep them quiet and
comfortable the sense of duty to the gods must be kept alive even
among those who had long ceased to believe in them. It was fortunate
indeed for Augustus that he found in the great poet of Mantua one who
was in some sense a prophet as well as a poet, who could urge the
Roman by an imaginative example to return to a living pietas,--not
merely to the old religious forms, but to the intelligent sense of
duty to God and man which had built up his character and his empire.
In Cicero's day there was also a great poet, he too in some sense a
prophet; but Lucretius could only appeal to the Roman to shake off the
slough of his old religion, and such an appeal was at the time both
futile and dangerous. Looking at the matter historically, and not
theologically, we ought to sympathise with the attitude of Cicero
and Scaevola towards the religion of the State. It was based on a
statesmanlike instinct; and had it been possible for that instinct to
express itself practically in a positive policy like that of Augustus,
instead of showing itself in philosophical treatises like the _de
Legibus_, or on occasional moments of danger like that of the Bona Dea
sacrilege, it is quite possible that much mischief might have
been averted. But in that generation no one had the shrewdness or
experience of Augustus, and no one but Julius had the necessary free
hand; and we may be almost sure that Julius, Pontifex Maximus though
he was, was entirely unfitted by nature and experience to undertake
a work that called for such delicate handling, such insight into the
working of the ignorant Italian mind.

This attitude of inconsistency and compromise must seem to a modern
unsatisfactory and strained, and he turns with relief to the
courageous outspokenness of the great poem of Lucretius on the Nature
of Things, of which the main object was to persuade the Romans to
renounce for good all the mass of superstition, in which he included
the religion of the State, by which their minds were kept in a prison
of darkness, terror, and ignorance. Lucretius took no part whatever in
public life; he could afford to be in earnest; he felt no shadow of
responsibility for the welfare of the State as such. The Epicurean
tenets which he held so passionately had always ranked the individual
before the community, and suggested a life of individual quietism;
Lucretius in his study could contemplate the "rerum natura" without
troubling himself about the "natura hominum" as it existed in the
Italy of his day. "Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas,"--so
wrote of him his great successor and admirer, yet added, with a tinge
of pathos which touches us even now, "Fortunatus et ille deos qui
novit agrestes." Even at the present day an uncompromising unbeliever
may be touched by the simple worship, half pagan though it may seem to
him, of a village in the Apennines; but in the eyes of Lucretius all
worship seemed prompted by fear and based on ignorance of natural law.
Virgil's tender and sympathetic soul went out to the peasant as he
prayed to his gods for plenty or prosperity, as it went out to all
living creatures in trouble or in joy.

But it is nevertheless true that Lucretius was a great religious poet.
He was a prophet, in deadly earnest, calling men to renounce their
errors both of thought and conduct. He saw around him a world full of
wickedness and folly; a world of vanity, vexation, fear, ambition,
cruelty, and lust. He saw men fearing death and fearing the gods;
overvaluing life, yet weary of it; unable to use it well, because
steeped in ignorance of the wonderful working of Nature.[539] He saw
them, as we have already seen them, the helpless victims of ambition
and avarice, ever, like Sisyphus, rolling the stone uphill and never
reaching the summit.[540] Of cruelty and bloodshed in civil strife
that age had seen enough, and on this too the poet dwells with bitter
emphasis;[541] on the unwholesome luxury and restlessness of the
upper classes,[542] and on their unrestrained indulgence of bodily
appetites. In his magnificent scorn he probably exaggerated the evils
of his day, yet we have seen enough in previous chapters to suggest
that he was not a mere pessimist; there is no trace in his poem of
cynicism, or of a soured temperament. We may be certain that he was
absolutely convinced of the truth of all he wrote.

So far Lucretius may be called a religious poet, in that with profound
conviction and passionate utterance he denounced the wickedness of
his age, and, like the Hebrew prophets, called on mankind to put away
their false gods and degrading superstitions, and learn the true
secret of guidance in this life. It is only when we come to ask what
that secret was, that we feel that this extraordinary man knew far too
little of ordinary human nature to be either a religious reformer
or an effective prophet: as Sellar has said of him,[543] he had no
sympathy with human activity. His secret, the remedy for all the
world's evil and misery, was only a philosophical creed, which he had
learnt from Epicurus and Democritus. His profound belief in it is one
of the most singular facts in literary history; no man ever put such
poetic passion into a dogma, and no such imperious dogma was ever
built upon a scientific theory of the universe. He seems to have
combined two Italian types of character, which never have been united
before or since,--that of the ecclesiastic, earnest and dogmatic,
seeing human nature from a doctrinal platform, not working and
thinking with it; and secondly the poetic type, of which Dante is the
noblest example, perfectly clear and definite in inward and outward
vision, and illuminating all that it touches with an indescribable
glow of pure poetic imagination.

Lucretius' secret then is knowledge,[544]--not the dilettanteism of
the day, but real scientific knowledge of a single philosophical
attempt to explain the universe,--the atomic theory of the Epicurean
school. Democritus and Epicurus are the only saviours,--of this
Lucretius never had the shadow of a doubt. As the result of this
knowledge, the whole supernatural and spiritual world of fancy
vanishes, together with all futile hopes or fears of a future life.
The gods, if they exist, will cease to be of any importance to
mankind, as having no interest in him, and doing him neither good nor
harm. Chimaeras, portents, ghosts, death, and all that frightens the
ignorant and paralyses their energies, will vanish in the pure light
of this knowledge; man will have nothing to be afraid of but himself.
Nor indeed need he fear himself when he has mastered "the truth." By
that time, as the scales of fear fall from his eyes, his moral balance
will be recovered; the blind man will see. What will he see? What is
the moral standard that will become clear to him, the sanction of
right living that will grip his conscience?

It is simply the conviction that as this life is all we have in past,
present, or future, it _must be used well_. After all then, Lucretius
is reduced to ordinary moral suasion, and finds no new power or
sanction that could keep erring human nature in the right path. And
we must sadly allow that no real moral end is enunciated by him;
his ideal seems to be quietism in this life, and annihilation
afterwards.[545] It is a purely self-regarding rule of life. It is not
even a social creed; neither family nor State seems to have any part
in it, much less the unfortunate in this life, the poor, and the
suffering. The poet never mentions slavery, or the crowded populations
of great cities. It might almost be called a creed of fatalism, in
which Natura plays much the same part as Fortuna did in the creed of
many less noble spirits of that age.[546] Nature fights on; we cannot
resist her, and cannot improve on her; it is better to acquiesce and
obey than to try and rule her.

Thus Lucretius' remedy fails utterly; it is that of an aristocratic
intellect, not of a saviour of mankind.[547] So far as we know, it was
entirely fruitless; like the constitution of Sulla his contemporary,
the doctrine of Lucretius roused no sense of loyalty in Roman or
Italian, because it was constructed with imperfect knowledge of the
Roman and Italian nature. But it was a noble effort of a noble mind;
and, apart from its literary greatness, it has incidentally a lasting
value for all students of religious history, as showing better than
anything else that has survived from that age the need of a real
consecration of morality by the life and example of a Divine man.

Thus while the Roman statesman found it necessary to maintain the ius
divinum without troubling himself to attempt to put any new life into
the details of the worship it prescribed, content to let much of it
sink into oblivion as no longer essential to the good government of
the State, the greatest poetical genius of the age was proclaiming in
trumpet tones that if a man would make good use of his life he must
abandon absolutely and without a scruple the old religious ideas of
the Graeco-Roman world. But there was another school of thought which
had long been occupied with these difficulties, and had reached
conclusions far better suited than the dogmatism of Lucretius to the
conservative character of the Roman mind, for it found a place for
the deities of the State, and therefore for the ius divinum, in a
philosophical system already widely accepted by educated men. This
school may be described as Stoic, though its theology was often
accepted by men who did not actually call themselves Stoics; for
example, by Cicero himself, who, as an adherent of the New Academy,
the school which repudiated dogmatism and occupied itself with
dialectic and criticism, was perfectly entitled to adopt the tenets
of other schools if he thought them the most convincing. Its most
elaborate exponent in this period was Varro, and behind both Varro and
Cicero there stands the great figure of the Rhodian Posidonius[548],
of whose writings hardly anything has come down to us. It is worth
while to trace briefly the history of this school at Rome, for it is
in itself extremely interesting, as an attempt to reconcile the old
theology--if the term may be used--with philosophical thought, and it
probably had an appreciable influence on the later quasi-religious
Stoicism of the Empire.

We must go back for a moment to the period succeeding the war with
Hannibal. The awful experience of that war had done much to discredit
the old Roman religious system, which had been found insufficient of
itself to preserve the State. The people, excited and despairing,
had been quieted by what may be called new religious prescriptions,
innumerable examples of which are to be found in Livy's books.
The Sibylline books were constantly consulted, and _lectisternia,
supplicationes, ludi_, in which Greek deities were prominent, were
ordered and carried out. Finally, in 204 B.C., there was brought to
Rome the sacred stone of the Magna Mater Idaea, the great deity of
Pessinus in Phrygia, and a festival was established in her honour,
called by the Greek name Megalesia. All this means, as can be seen
clearly from Livy's language,[549] that the governing classes were
trying to quiet the minds of the people by convincing them that no
effort was being spared to set right their relations with the unseen
powers; they had invoked in vain their own local and native deities,
and had been compelled to seek help elsewhere; they had found their
own narrow system of religion quite inadequate to express their
religious experience of the last twenty years. And indeed that old
system of religion never really recovered from the discredit thus cast
on it. The temper of the people is well shown by the rapidity with
which the orgiastic worship of the Greek Dionysus spread over Italy a
few years later; and the fact that it was allowed to remain, though
under strict supervision, shows that the State religion no longer had
the power to satisfy the cravings of the masses. And the educated
class too was rapidly coming under the influence of Greek thought,
which could hardly act otherwise than as a solvent of the old
religious ideas. Ennius, the great literary figure of this period,
was the first to strike a direct blow at the popular belief in the
efficacy of prayer and sacrifice, by openly declaring that the gods
did not interest themselves in mankind,[550]--the same Epicurean
doctrine preached afterwards by Lucretius. It may indeed be doubted
whether this doctrine became popular, or acceptable even to the
cultured classes; but the fact remains that the same man who did
more than any one before Virgil to glorify the Roman character and
dominion, was the first to impugn the belief that Rome owed her
greatness to her divine inhabitants.

But in the next generation there arrived in Rome a man whose teaching
had so great an influence on the best type of educated Roman that, as
we have already said, he may almost be regarded as a missionary.[551]
We do not know for certain whether Panaetius wrote or taught about the
nature or existence of the gods; but we do know that he discussed the
question of divination[552] in a work [Greek: Peri pronoias], where he
could hardly have avoided the subject. In any case the Stoic doctrines
which he held, themselves ultimately derived from Plato and the Old
Academy, were found capable in the hands of his great successor
Posidonius of Rhodes of supplying a philosophical basis for the
activity as well as the existence of the gods. These men, it must
be repeated, were not merely professed philosophers, but men of the
world, travellers, writing on a great variety of subjects; they were
profoundly interested, like Polybius, in the Roman character and
government; they became intimate with the finer Roman minds, from
Scipio the younger to Cicero and Varro, and seem to have seen clearly
that the old rigid Stoicism must be widened and humanised, and its
ethical and theological aspects modified, if it were to gain a real
hold on the practical Roman understanding. We have already seen[553]
how their modified Stoic ethics acted for good on the best Romans
of our period. In theology also they left a permanent mark on Roman
thought; Posidonius wrote a work on the gods, which formed the basis
of the speculative part of Varro's _Antiquitates divinae_, and almost
certainly also of the second book of Cicero's de _Natura Deorum_[554].
Other philosophers of the period, even if not professed Stoics, may
have discussed the same subjects in their lectures and writings,
arriving at conclusions of the same kind.

It is chiefly from the fragments of Varro's work that we learn
something of the Stoic attempt to harmonise the old religious beliefs
with philosophic theories of the universe[555]. Varro, following his
teacher, held the Stoic doctrine of the _animus mundi_ the Divine
principle permeating all material things which, in combination with
them, constitutes the universe, and is Nature, Reason, God, Destiny,
or whatever name the philosopher might choose to give it. The universe
is divine, the various parts of it are, therefore, also divine, in
virtue of this informing principle. Now in the sixteenth book of his
great work Varro co-ordinated this Stoic theory with the Graeco-Roman
religion of the State as it existed in his time. The chief gods
represented the _partes mundi_ in various ways; even the difference
of sex among the deities was explained by regarding male gods as
emanating from the heaven and female ones from the earth, according
to a familiar ancient idea of the active and passive principle in
generation. The Stoic doctrine of [Greek: daimones] was also utilised
to find an explanation for semi-deities, lares, genii, etc., and thus
another character of the old Italian religious mind was to be saved
from contempt and oblivion. The old Italian tendency to see the
supernatural manifesting itself in many different ways expressed by
adjectival titles, e.g. Mars Silvanus, Jupiter Elicius, Juno Lucina,
etc., also found an explanation in Varro's doctrine; for the divine
element existing in sky, earth, sea, or other parts of the _mundus_,
and manifesting itself in many different forms of activity, might
be thus made obvious to the ordinary human intellect without the
interposition of philosophical terms.

At the head of the whole system was Jupiter, the greatest of Roman
gods, whose title of Optimus Maximus might well have suggested that no
other deity could occupy this place. Without him it would have been
practically impossible for Varro to carry out his difficult and
perilous task. Every Roman recognised in Jupiter the god who
condescended to dwell on the Capitol in a temple made with hands, and
who, beyond all other gods, watched over the destinies of the Roman
State; every Roman also knew that Jupiter was the great god of the
heaven above him, for in many expressions of his ordinary speech he
used the god's name as a synonym for the open sky.[556] The position
now accorded to the heaven-god in the new Stoic system is so curious
and interesting that we must dwell on it for a moment.

Varro held, or at any rate taught, that Jupiter was himself that soul
of the world (animus mundi) which fills and moves the whole material
universe.[557] He is the one universal causal agent,[558] from whom
all the forces of nature are derived;[559] or he may be called, in
language which would be intelligible to the ordinary Roman, the
universal Genius.[560] Further, he is himself all the other gods and
goddesses, who may be described as parts, or powers, or virtues,
existing in him.[561] And Varro makes it plain that he wishes to
identify this great god of gods with the Jupiter at Rome, whose temple
was on the Capitol; St. Augustine quotes him as holding that the
Romans had dedicated the Capitol to Jupiter, who by his spirit
breathes life into everything in the universe:[562] or in less
philosophical language, "The Romans wish to recognise Jupiter as king
of gods and men, and this is shown by his sceptre and his seat on the
Capitol." Thus the god who dwelt on the Capitol, and in the temple
which was the centre-point of the Roman Empire, was also the
life-giving ruler and centre of the whole universe. Nay, he goes one
step further, and identifies him with the one God of the monotheistic
peoples of the East, and in particular with the God of the Jews.[563]

Thus Varro had arrived, with the help of Posidonius and the Stoics, at
a monotheistic view of the Deity, which is at the same time a kind of
pantheism, and yet, strange to say, is able to accommodate itself to
the polytheism of the Graeco-Roman world. But without Jupiter, god of
the heaven both for Greeks and Romans, and now too in the eyes of both
peoples the god who watched over the destiny of the Roman Empire, this
wonderful feat could not have been performed. The identification of
the heaven-god with the animus mundi of the Stoics was not indeed a
new idea; it may be traced up Stoic channels even to Plato. What is
really new and astonishing is that it should have been possible for a
conservative Roman like Varro, in that age of carelessness and doubt,
to bring the heaven-god, so to speak, down to the Roman Capitol, where
his statue was to be seen sitting between Juno and Minerva, and yet to
teach the doctrine that he was the same deity as the Jewish Jehovah,
and that both were identical with the Stoic animus mundi.

But did Varro also conceive of this Jupiter as a deity "making for
righteousness," or acting as a sanction for morality? It would not
have been impossible or unnatural for a Roman so to think of him, for
of all the Roman deities Jupiter is the one whose name from the most
ancient times had been used in oaths and treaties, and whose _numen_
was felt to be violated by any public or private breach of faith.[564]
We cannot tell how far Varro himself followed out this line of
thought, for the fragments of his great work are few and far between.
But we know that the Roman Stoics saw in that same universal Power or
Mind which Varro identified with Jupiter the source and strength of
law, and therefore of morality; here it is usually called reason,
_ratio_, the working of the eternal and immutable Mind of the
universe. "True law is right reason," says Cicero in a noble
passage;[565] and goes on to teach that this law transcends all human
codes of law, embracing and sanctioning them all; and that the spirit
inherent in it, which gives it its universal force, is God Himself. In
another passage, written towards the end of his life, and certainly
later than the publication of Varro's work, he goes further and
identifies this God with Jupiter.[566] "This law," he says, "came into
being simultaneously with the Divine Mind" (i.e. the Stoic Reason):
"wherefore that true and paramount law, commanding and forbidding, is
the right reason of almighty Jupiter" (summi Iovis). Once more, in the
first book of his treatise on the gods, he quotes the Stoic Chrysippus
as teaching that the eternal Power, which is as it were a guide in the
duties of life, is Jupiter himself.[567] It is characteristic of the
Roman that he should think, in speculations like these, rather of the
law of his State than of the morality of the individual, as emanating
from that Right Reason to which he might give the name of Jupiter: I
have been unable to find a passage in which Cicero attributes to this
deity the sanction for individual goodness, though there are many that
assert the belief that justice and the whole system of social life
depend on the gods and our belief in them.[568] But the Roman had
never been conscious of individual duty, except in relation to his
State, or to the family, which was a living cell in the organism of
the State. In his eyes law was rather the source of morality than
morality the cause and the reason of law; and as his religion was a
part of the law of his State, and thus had but an indirect connection
with morality, it would not naturally occur to him that even the great
Jupiter himself, thus glorified as the Reason in the universe, could
really help him in the conduct of his life _qua_ individual. It is
only as the source of legalised morality that we can think of Varro's
Jupiter as "making for righteousness."

Less than twenty-five years after Cicero's death, in the imagination
of the greatest of Roman poets, Jupiter was once more brought before
the Roman world, and now in a form comprehensible by all educated men,
whether or no they had dabbled in philosophy. What are we to say of
the Jupiter of the _Aeneid_? We do not need to read far in the first
book of the poem to find him spoken of in terms which remind us of
Varro: "O qui res hominumque deumque Aeternis regis imperiis," are the
opening words of the address of Venus; and when she has finished,

Olli subridens hominum sator atque deorum
Vultu, quo caelum tempestatesque serenat,
Oscula libavit natae, dehine talia fatur;
"Parce metu, Cytherea, manent immota tuorum
Fata tibi."

Jupiter is here, as in Varro's system, the prime cause and ruler of
all things, and he also holds in his hand the destiny of Rome and the
fortunes of the hero who was to lay the first foundation of Rome's
dominion. It is in the knowledge of his will that Aeneas walks, with
hesitating steps, in the earlier books, in the later ones with assured
confidence, towards the goal that is set before him. But the lines
just quoted serve well to show how different is the Jupiter of Virgil
from the universal deity of the Roman Stoic. Beyond doubt Virgil had
felt the power of the Stoic creed; but he was essaying an epic poem,
and he could not possibly dispense with the divine machinery as it
stood in his great Homeric model. His Jupiter is indeed, as has been
lately said,[569] "a great and wise god, free from the tyrannical and
sensuous characteristics of the Homeric Zeus," in other words, he is a
Roman deity, and sometimes acts and speaks like a grave Roman consul
of the olden time. But still he is an anthropomorphic deity, a purely
human conception of a personal god-king; in these lines he smiles on
his daughter Venus and kisses her. This is the reason why Virgil has
throughout his poem placed the Fates, or Destiny, in close relation to
him, without definitely explaining that relation. Fate, as it appears
in the Aeneid, is the Stoic [Greek: eimarmenae] applied to the idea of
Rome and her Empire; that Stoic conception could not take the form of
Jupiter, as in Varro's hands, for the god had to be modelled on the
Homeric pattern, not on the Stoic. It is perhaps not going too far to
say that the god, as a theological conception, never recovered from
this treatment; any chance he ever had of becoming the centre of a
real religious system was destroyed by the Aeneid, the _pietas_ of
whose hero is indeed nominally due to him, but in reality to the
decrees of Fate.[570]

While philosophers and poets were thus performing intellectual and
imaginative feats with the gods of the State, the strong tendency to
superstition, untutored fear of the supernatural, which had always
been characteristic of the Italian peoples, so far from losing power,
was actually gaining it, and that not only among the lower classes. As
Lucretius mockingly said, even those who think and speak with contempt
of the gods will in moments of trouble slay black sheep and sacrifice
them to the Manes. This feeling of fear or nervousness, which lies at
the root of the meaning of the word _religio_,[571] had been quieted
in the old days by the prescriptions of the pontifices and their jus
divinum, but it was always ready to break out again; as we have seen,
in the long and awful struggle of the Hannibalic war, it was necessary
to go far beyond the ordinary pharmacopoeia within reach of the
priesthoods in order to convince the people that all possible means
were being taken for their salvation. Again, in this last age of the
Republic, there are obvious signs that both ignorant and educated
were affected by the gloom and uncertainty of the times. Increasing
uncertainty in the political world, increasing doubt in the world of
thought, very naturally combined to produce an emotional tendency
which took different forms in men of different temperament. We can
trace this (1) in the importance attached to omens, portents, dreams;
(2) in a certain vague thought of a future life, which takes a
positive shape in the deification of human beings; (3) at the close of
the period, in something approaching to a sense of sin, of neglected
duty, bringing down upon State and individual the anger of the gods.

1. If we glance over the latter part of the book of prodigies,
compiled by the otherwise unknown writer Julius Obsequens from the
records of the pontifices quoted in Livy's history, we can get a fair
idea of the kind of portent that was troubling the popular mind.
They are much the same as they always had been in Roman
history,--earthquakes, monstrous births, temples struck by lightning,
statues overthrown, wolves entering the city, and so on; they are
extremely abundant in the terrible years of the Social and Civil Wars,
become less frequent after the death of Sulla, and break out again
in full force with the murder of Caesar. They were reported to the
pontifices from the places where they were supposed to have occurred,
and if thought worthy of expiation were entered in the pontifical
books. We may suppose that they were sent in chiefly by the
uneducated. But among men of education we have many examples of this
same nervousness, of which two or three must suffice. Sulla, as we
know from his own Memoirs, which were used directly or indirectly by
Plutarch, had a strong vein of superstition in his nature, and made
no attempt to control it. In dedicating his Memoirs to Lucullus he
advised him "to think no course so safe as that which is enjoined
by the [Greek: daimon] (perhaps his genius) in the night";[572]
and Plutarch tells us several tales of portents on which he acted,
evidently drawn from this same autobiography. We are told of him that
he always carried a small image of Apollo, which he kissed from time
to time, and to which he prayed silently in moments of danger.[573]
Again, Cicero tells us a curious story of himself, Varro, and Cato,
which shows that those three men of philosophical learning were quite
liable to be frightened by a prophecy which to us would not seem to
have much claim to respect.[574] He tells how when the three were
at Dyrrachium, after Caesar's defeat there and the departure of the
armies into Thessaly, news was brought them by the commander of the
Rhodian fleet that a certain rower had foretold that within thirty
days Greece would be weltering in blood; how all three were terribly
frightened, and how a few days later the news of the battle at
Pharsalia reached them. Lastly, we all remember the vision which
appeared to Brutus on the eve of the battle of Philippi, of a huge and
fearsome figure standing by him in silence, which Shakespeare has made
into the ghost of Caesar and used to unify his play. According to
Plutarch, the Epicurean Cassius, as Lucretius would have done,
attempted to convince his friend on rational grounds that the vision
need not alarm him, but apparently in vain.[575]

2. Lucretius had denied the doctrine of the immortality of the soul,
as the cause of so much of the misery which he believed it to be his
mission to avert. Caesar, in the speech put into his mouth by Sallust,
in the debate on the execution of the conspirators on December 5, 63,
seems to be of the same opinion, and as Cicero alludes to his words in
the speech with which he followed Caesar, we may suppose that Sallust
was reporting him rightly.[576] The poet and the statesman were not
unlike in the way in which they looked at facts; both were of clear
strong vision, without a trace of mysticism. But such men were the
exception rather than the rule; Cicero probably represents better the
average thinking man of his time. Cicero was indeed too full of life,
too deeply interested in the living world around him, to think much
of such questions as the immortality of the soul; and as a professed
follower of the Academic school, he assuredly did not hold any
dogmatic opinion on it. He was at no time really affected by
Pythagoreanism, like his friend Nigidius Figulus, whose works, now
lost, had a great vogue in the later years of Cicero's life, and much
influence on the age that followed. In the first book of his Tusculan
Disputations Cicero discusses the question from the Academic point of
view, coming to no definite conclusion, except that whether we are
immortal or not we must be grateful to death for releasing us from the
bondage of the body. This book was written in the last year of his
life; but ten years earlier, in the beautiful myth, imitated from the
myths of Plato, which he appended to his treatise _de Republica_, he
had emphatically asserted the doctrine. There the spirit of the elder
Scipio appears to his great namesake, Cicero's ideal Roman, and
assures him that the road to heaven (caelum) lies open to those who do
their duty in this life, and especially their duty to the State. "Know
thyself to be a god; as the god of gods rules the universe, so the god
within us rules the body, and as that great god is eternal, so does an
eternal soul govern this frail body."[577]

The _Somnium Scipionis_ was an inspiration, written under the
influence of Plato at one of those emotional moments of Cicero's
life which make it possible to say of him that there was a religious
element in his mind.[578] Some years later the poignancy of his grief
at the death of his daughter Tullia had the effect of putting him
again in a strong emotional mood. For many weeks he lived alone at
Astura, on the edge of the Pomptine marshes, out of reach of all
friends, forbidding even his young wife and her mother to come near
him; brooding, as it would seem, on the survival of the godlike
element in his daughter. These sad meditations took a practical form
which at first astonishes us, but is not hard to understand when we
have to come to know Cicero well, and to follow the tendencies of
thought in these years. He might erect a tomb to her memory,--but
that would not satisfy him; it would not express his feeling that the
immortal godlike spark within her survived. He earnestly entreats
Atticus to find and buy him a piece of ground where he can build a
_fanum_, i.e. a shrine, to her spirit. "I wish to have a shrine built,
and that wish cannot be rooted out of my heart. I am anxious to avoid
any likeness to a tomb ... in order to attain as nearly as possible to
an apotheosis."[579] A little further on he calls these foolish ideas;
but this is doubtless only because he is writing to Atticus, a man
of the world, not given to emotion or mysticism. Cicero is really
speaking the language of the Italian mind, for the moment free from
philosophical speculation; he believes that his beloved dead lived
on, though he could not have proved it in argument. So firmly does
he believe it that he wishes others to know that he believes it, and
insists that the shrine shall be erected in a frequented place![580]

Though the great Dictator did not believe in another world, he
consented at the end of his life to become Jupiter Julius, and after
his death was duly canonised as Divus, and had a temple erected to
him. But the many-sided question of the deification of the Caesars
cannot be discussed here; it is only mentioned as showing in another
way the trend of thought in this dark age of Roman history. Whatever
some philosophers may have thought, there cannot be a doubt that the
ordinary Roman believed in the godhead of Julius.[581]

3. We saw in an earlier chapter with what gay and heedless frivolity
young men like Caelius were amusing themselves even on the very eve of
civil war. In strange contrast with this is the gloom that overspread
all classes during the war itself, and more especially after the
assassination of the Dictator. Caesar seemed irresistible and godlike,
and men were probably beginning to hope for some new and more stable
order of things, when he was suddenly struck down, and the world
plunged again into confusion and doubt; and it was not till after
the final victory of Octavian at Actium, and the destruction of the
elements of disunion with the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra, that
men really began to hope for better times. The literature of those
melancholy years shows distinct signs of the general depression, which
was perhaps something more than weariness and material discomfort;
there was almost what we may call a dim sense of sin, or at least of
moral evil, such a feeling, though far less real and intense, as that
which their prophets aroused from time to time in the Jewish people,
and one not unknown in the history of Hellas.

The most touching expression of this feeling is to be found in the
preface which Livy prefixed to his history--a wonderful example of the
truth that when a great prose writer is greatly moved, his language
reflects his emotion in its beauty and earnestness. Every student
knows the sentence in which he describes the gradual decay of all that
was good in the Roman character: "donec ad haec tempora, quibus nec
vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus, perventum est"; but it is
not every student who can recognise in it a real sigh of despair, an
unmistakable token of the sadness of the age.[582] In the introductory
chapters which serve the purpose of prefaces to the _Jugurtha_ and
_Catiline_ of Sallust, we find something of the same sad tone, but
it does not ring true like Livy's exordium; Sallust was a man of
altogether coarser fibre, and seems to be rather assuming than
expressing the genuine feeling of a saddened onlooker. In one of his
earliest poems, written perhaps after the Perusian war of 41 B.C.[583]
even the lively Horace was moved to voice the prevailing depression,
fancifully urging that the Italian people should migrate, like the
Phocaeans of old, to the far west, where, as Sertorius had been told
in Spain, lay the islands of the blest, where the earth, as in the
golden age, yields all her produce untilled:

Iuppiter ilia piae secrevit litora genti
Ut inquinavit aere tempus aureum;
Aere, dehinc ferro duravit saecula, quorum
Piis secunda vate me datur fuga.

It may be, as has recently been suggested, that the famous fourth
Eclogue of Virgil, "the Messianic Eclogue," was in some sense meant as
an answer to this poem of Horace. "There is no need," he seems to say
in that poem, written in the year 39, "to seek the better age in a
fabled island of the west. It is here and now with us. The period upon
which Italy is now entering more than fulfils in real life the dream
of a Golden Age. A marvellous child is even now coming into the world
who will see and inaugurate an era of peace and prosperity: darkness
and despair will after a while pass entirely away, and a regenerate
Italy,--regenerate in religion and morals as in fertility and
wealth,--will lead the world in a new era of happiness and good

But the Golden Age, so fondly hoped for, so vaguely and poetically
conceived, was not to come in the sense in which Virgil, or any other
serious thinker of the day, could dream of it. I may conclude this
chapter with a few sentences which express this most truly and
eloquently. "When there is a fervent aspiration after better things,
springing from a strong feeling of human brotherhood, and a firm
belief in the goodness and righteousness of God, such aspiration
carries with it an invincible confidence that some how, some where,
some when, it must receive its complete fulfilment, for it is prompted
by the Spirit which fills and orders the Universe throughout its whole
development. But if the human organ of inspiration goes on to fix the
how, the where, and the when, and attributes to some nearer object the
glory of the final blessedness, then it inevitably falls into such
mistakes as Virgil's, and finds its golden age in the rule of the
Caesars (which was indeed an essential feature of Christianity),
or perhaps, as in later days, in the establishment of socialism or
imperialism. Well for the seer if he remembers that the kingdom of God
is within us, and that the true golden age must have its foundation in
penitence for misdoing, and be built up in righteousness and loving


These sketches of social life at the close of the Republican period
have been written without any intention of proving a point, or any
pre-conceived idea of the extent of demoralisation, social, moral, or
political, which the Roman people had then reached. But a perusal of
Mr. Balfour's suggestive lecture on "Decadence" has put me upon making
a very succinct diagnosis of the condition of the patient whose life
and habits I have been describing. The Romans, and the Italians, with
whom they were now socially and politically amalgamated, were not in
the last two centuries B.C. an old or worn-out people. It is at any
rate certain that for a century after the war with Hannibal Rome and
her allies, under the guidance of the Roman senate, achieved an amount
of work in the way of war and organisation such as has hardly been
performed by any people before or since; and even in the period dealt
with in this book, in spite of much cause for misgiving at home, the
work done by Roman and Italian armies both in East and West shows
beyond doubt that under healthy discipline the native vigour of the
population could assert itself. We must not forget, however severely
we may condemn the way in which the work was done, that it is to
these armies, in all human probability, that we owe not only the
preservation of Graeco-Italian culture and civilisation, but the
opportunity for further progress. The establishment of definite
frontiers by Pompeius and Caesar, and afterwards by Augustus and
Tiberius, brought peace to the region of the Mediterranean, and with
it made possible the development of Roman law and the growth of a new
and life-giving religion.

But peoples, like individuals, if offered opportunities of doing
themselves physical or moral damage, are only too ready to accept
them. Time after time in these chapters we have had to look back to
the age following the war with Hannibal in order to see what those
opportunities were; and in each case we have found the acceptance
rapid and eager. We have seen wealth coming in suddenly, and misused;
slave-labour available in an abnormal degree, and utilised with
results in the main unfortunate; the population of the city increasing
far too quickly, yet the difficulties arising from this increase
either ignored or misapprehended. We have noticed the decay of
wholesome family life, of the useful influence of the Roman matron, of
the old forms of the State religion; the misconception of the true end
of education, the result partly of Greek culture, partly of political
life; and to these may perhaps be added an increasing liability to
diseases, and especially to malaria, arising from economic blunders
in Italy and insanitary conditions of life in the city. All these
opportunities of damage to the fibre of the people had been freely
accepted, and with the result that in the age of Cicero we cannot
mistake the signs and symptoms of degeneracy.

But it would be a mistake to jump to the conclusion that this
degeneracy had as yet gone too far to be arrested. It was assuredly
not that degeneracy of senility which Mr. Balfour is inclined to
postulate as an explanation of decadence. So far as I can judge, the
Romans were at that stage when, in spite of unhealthy conditions of
life and obstinate persistence in dangerous habits, it was not too
late to reform and recover. To me the main interest of the history of
the early Empire lies in seeking the answer to the question how far
that recovery was made. If these chapters should have helped any
student to prepare the ground for the solution of this problem their
object will have been fully achieved.

[Illustration: _Stanfords Geog. Estab. London_]


Aediles, the
Aemilia, Via. _See_ Via Aemilia
Aemilius, Pons. See Pons Aemilius
Aerarium, the
Aesopus, the actor
Africa, province of
Alexis (Atticus's slave)
_Ambitu, lex de_
Anio, the river
Anna Perenna, festival of
Antiochus (the physician)
Antium, Cicero's villa at
Apollinares, Ludi. _See_ Ludi Apollinares
Appia, Via. _See_ Via Appia
Appius Claudius Caecus
Aqua Appia
Aqua Tepula

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