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Chapter XII
Religion, Culture, Literature, and Art

State Religion

In the development of religion and philosophy no new element appeared during this epoch. The Romano-Hellenic state-religion and the Stoic state-philosophy inseparably combined with it were for every government—oligarchy, democracy or monarchy—not merely a convenient instrument, but quite indispensable for the very reason that it was just as impossible to construct the state wholly without religious elements as to discover any new state-religion fitted to take the place of the old. So the besom of revolution swept doubtless at times very roughly through the cobwebs of the augural bird-lore;(1) nevertheless the rotten machine creaking at every joint survived the earthquake which swallowed up the republic itself, and preserved its insipidity and its arrogance without diminution for transference to the new monarchy. As a matter of course, it fell more and more into disfavour with all those who preserved their freedom of judgment. Towards the state-religion indeed public opinion maintained an attitude essentially indifferent; it was on all sides recognized as an institution of political convenience, and no one specially troubled himself about it with the exception of political and antiquarian literati. But towards its philosophical sister there gradually sprang up among the unprejudiced public that hostility, which the empty and yet perfidious hypocrisy of set phrases never fails in the long run to awaken. That a presentiment of its own worthlessness began to dawn on the Stoa itself, is shown by its attempt artificially to infuse into itself some fresh spirit in the way of syncretism. Antiochus of Ascalon (flourishing about 675), who professed to have patched together the Stoic and Platonic-Aristotelian systems into one organic unity, in reality so far succeeded that his misshapen doctrine became the fashionable philosophy of the conservatives of his time and was conscientiously studied by the genteel dilettanti and literati of Rome. Every one who displayed any intellectual vigour, opposed the Stoa or ignored it. It was principally antipathy towards the boastful and tiresome Roman Pharisees, coupled doubtless with the increasing disposition to take refuge from practical life in indolent apathy or empty irony, that occasioned during this epoch the extension of the system of Epicurus to a larger circle and the naturalization of the Cynic philosophy of Diogenes in Rome. However stale and poor in thought the former might be, a philosophy, which did not seek the way to wisdom through an alteration of traditional terms but contented itself with those in existence, and throughout recognized only the perceptions of sense as true, was always better than the terminological jingle and the hollow conceptions of the Stoic wisdom; and the Cynic philosophy was of all the philosophical systems of the times in so far by much the best, as its system was confined to the having no system at all and sneering at all systems and all systematizers. In both fields war was waged against the Stoa with zeal and success; for serious men, the Epicurean Lucretius preached with the full accents of heartfelt conviction and of holy zeal against the Stoical faith in the gods and providence and the Stoical doctrine of the immortality of the soul; for the great public ready to laugh, the Cynic Varro hit the mark still more sharply with the flying darts of his extensively- read satires. While thus the ablest men of the older generation made war on the Stoa, the younger generation again, such as Catullus, stood in no inward relation to it at all, and passed a far sharper censure on it by completely ignoring it.

The Oriental Religions

But, if in the present instance a faith no longer believed in was maintained out of political convenience, they amply made up for this in other respects. Unbelief and superstition, different hues of the same historical phenomenon, went in the Roman world of that day hand in hand, and there was no lack of individuals who in themselves combined both—who denied the gods with Epicurus, and yet prayed and sacrificed before every shrine. Of course only the gods that came from the east were still in vogue, and, as the men continued to flock from the Greek lands to Italy, so the gods of the east migrated in ever-increasing numbers to the west. The importance of the Phrygian cultus at that time in Rome is shown both by the polemical tone of the older men such as Varro and Lucretius, and by the poetical glorification of it in the fashionable Catullus, which concludes with the characteristic request that the goddess may deign to turn the heads of others only, and not that of the poet himself.

Worship of Mithra

A fresh addition was the Persian worship, which is said to have first reached the Occidental through the medium of the pirates who met on the Mediterranean from the east and from the west; the oldest seat of this cultus in the west is stated to have been Mount Olympus in Lycia. That in the adoption of Oriental worships in the west such higher speculative and moral elements as they contained were generally allowed to drop, is strikingly evinced by the fact that Ahuramazda, the supreme god of the pure doctrine of Zarathustra, remained virtually unknown in the west, and adoration there was especially directed to that god who had occupied the first place in the old Persian national religion and had been transferred by Zarathustra to the second—the sun-god Mithra.

Worship of Isis

But the brighter and gentler celestial forms of the Persian religion did not so rapidly gain a footing in Rome as the wearisome mystical host of the grotesque divinities of Egypt—Isis the mother of nature with her whole train, the constantly dying and constantly reviving Osiris, the gloomy Sarapis, the taciturn and grave Harpocrates, the dog-headed Anubis. In the year when Clodius emancipated the clubs and conventicles (696), and doubtless in consequence of this very emancipation of the populace, that host even prepared to make its entry into the old stronghold of the Roman Jupiter in the Capitol, and it was with difficulty that the invasion was prevented and the inevitable temples were banished at least to the suburbs of Rome. No worship was equally popular among the lower orders of the population in the capital: when the senate ordered the temples of Isis constructed within the ring-wall to be pulled down, no labourer ventured to lay the first hand on them, and the consul Lucius Paullus was himself obliged to apply the first stroke of the axe(704); a wager might be laid, that the more loose any woman was, the more piously she worshipped Isis. That the casting of lots, the interpretation of dreams, and similar liberal arts supported their professors, was a matter of course. The casting of horoscopes was already a scientific pursuit; Lucius Tarutius of Firmum, a respectable and in his own way learned man, a friend of Varro and Cicero, with all gravity cast the nativity of kings Romulus and Numa and of the city of Rome itself, and for the edification of the credulous on either side confirmed by means of his Chaldaean and Egyptian wisdom the accounts of the Roman annals.

The New Pythagoreanism
Nigidius Figulus

But by far the most remarkable phenomenon in this domain was the first attempt to mingle crude faith with speculative thought, the first appearance of those tendencies, which we are accustomed to describe as Neo-Platonic, in the Roman world. Their oldest apostle there was Publius Nigidius Figulus, a Roman of rank belonging to the strictest section of the aristocracy, who filled the praetorship in 696 and died in 709 as a political exile beyond the bounds of Italy. With astonishing copiousness of learning and still more astonishing strength of faith he created out of the most dissimilar elements a philosophico-religious structure, the singular outline of which he probably developed still more in his oral discourses than in his theological and physical writings. In philosophy, seeking deliverance from the skeletons of the current systems and abstractions, he recurred to the neglected fountain of the pre-Socratic philosophy, to whose ancient sages thought had still presented itself with sensuous vividness. The researches of physical science—which, suitably treated, afford even now so excellent a handle for mystic delusion and pious sleight of hand, and in antiquity with its more defective insight into physical laws lent themselves still more easily to such objects—played in this case, as may readily be conceived, a considerable part. His theology was based essentially on that strange medley, in which Greeks of a kindred spirit had intermingled Orphic and other very old or very new indigenous wisdom with Persian, Chaldaean, and Egyptian secret doctrines, and with which Figulus incorporated the quasi-results of the Tuscan investigation into nothingness and of the indigenous lore touching the flight of birds, so as to produce further harmonious confusion. The whole system obtained its consecration—political, religious, and national—from the name of Pythagoras, the ultra-conservative statesman whose supreme principle was "to promote order and to check disorder," the miracle-worker and necromancer, the primeval sage who was a native of Italy, who was interwoven even with the legendary history of Rome, and whose statue was to be seen in the Roman Forum. As birth and death are kindred with each other, so—it seemed—Pythagoras was to stand not merely by the cradle of the republic as friend of the wise Numa and colleague of the sagacious mother Egeria, but also by its grave as the last protector of the sacred bird-lore. But the new system was not merely marvellous, it also worked marvels; Nigidius announced to the father of the subsequent emperor Augustus, on the very day when the latter was born, the future greatness of his son; nay the prophets conjured up spirits for the credulous, and, what was of more moment, they pointed out to them the places where their lost money lay. The new-and-old wisdom, such as it was, made a profound impression on its contemporaries; men of the highest rank, of the greatest learning, of the most solid ability, belonging to very different parties—the consul of 705, Appius Claudius, the learned Marcus Varro, the brave officer Publius Vatinius— took part in the citation of spirits, and it even appears that a police interference was necessary against the proceedings of these societies. These last attempts to save the Roman theology, like the kindred efforts of Cato in the field of politics, produce at once a comical and a melancholy impression; we may smile at the creed and its propagators, but still it is a grave matter when even able men begin to addict themselves to absurdity.

Training of Youth
Sciences of General Culture at This Period

The training of youth followed, as may naturally be supposed, the course of bilingual humane culture chalked out in the previous epoch, and the general culture also of the Roman world conformed more and more to the forms established for that purpose by the Greeks. Even the bodily exercises advanced from ball-playing, running, and fencing to the more artistically-developed Greek gymnastic contests; though there were not yet any public institutions for gymnastics, in the principal country-houses the palaestra was already to be found by the side of the bath-rooms. The manner in which the cycle of general culture had changed in the Roman world during the course of a century, is shown by a comparison of the encyclopaedia of Cato(2) with the similar treatise of Varro "concerning the school-sciences." As constituent elements of non-professional culture, there appear in Cato the art of oratory, the sciences of agriculture, of law, of war, and of medicine; in Varro—according to probable conjecture—grammar, logic or dialectics, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music, medicine, and architecture. Consequently in the course of the seventh century the sciences of war, jurisprudence, and agriculture had been converted from general into professional studies. On the other hand in Varro the Hellenic training of youth appears already in all its completeness: by the side of the course of grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy, which had been introduced at an earlier period into Italy, we now find the course which had longer remained distinctively Hellenic, of geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music.(3) That astronomy more especially, which ministered, in the nomenclature of the stars, to the thoughtless erudite dilettantism of the age and, in its relations to astrology, to the prevailing religious delusions, was regularly and zealously studied by the youth in Italy, can be proved also otherwise; the astronomical didactic poems of Aratus, among all the works of Alexandrian literature, found earliest admittance into the instruction of Roman youth. To this Hellenic course there was added the study of medicine, which was retained from the older Roman instruction, and lastly that of architecture—indispensable to the genteel Roman of this period, who instead of cultivatingthe ground built houses and villas.

Greek Instruction

In comparison with the previous epoch the Greek as well as the Latin training improved in extent and in scholastic strictness quite as much as it declined in purity and in refinement. The increasing eagerness after Greek lore gave to instruction of itself an erudite character. To explain Homer or Euripides was after all no art; teachers and scholars found their account better in handling the Alexandrian poems, which, besides, were in their spirit far more congenial to the Roman world of that day than the genuine Greek national poetry, and which, if they were not quite so venerable as the Iliad, possessed at any rate an age sufficiently respectable to pass as classics with schoolmasters. The love-poems of Euphorion, the "Causes" of Callimachus and his "Ibis," the comically obscure "Alexandra" of Lycophron contained in rich abundance rare vocables (-glossae-) suitable for being extracted and interpreted, sentences laboriously involved and difficult of analysis, prolix digressions full of mystic combinations of antiquated myths, and generally a store of cumbersome erudition of all sorts. Instruction needed exercises more and more difficult; these productions, in great part model efforts of schoolmasters, were excellently adapted to be lessons for model scholars. Thus the Alexandrian poems took a permanent place in Italian scholastic instruction, especially as trial-themes, and certainly promoted knowledge, although at the expense of taste and of discretion. The same unhealthy appetite for culture moreover impelled the Roman youths to derive their Hellenism as much as possible from the fountain-head. The courses of the Greek masters in Rome sufficed only for a first start; every one who wished to be able to converse heard lectures on Greek philosophy at Athens, and on Greek rhetoric at Rhodes, and made a literary and artistic tour through Asia Minor, where most of the old art-treasures of the Hellenes were still to be found on the spot, and the cultivation of the fine arts had been continued, although after a mechanical fashion; whereas Alexandria, more distant and more celebrated as the seat of the exact sciences, was far more rarely the point whither young men desirous of culture directed their travels.

Latin Instruction

The advance in Latin instruction was similar to that of Greek. This in part resulted from the mere reflex influence of the Greek, from which it in fact essentially borrowed its methods and its stimulants. Moreover, the relations of politics, the impulse to mount the orators' platform in the Forum which was imparted by the democratic doings to an ever-widening circle, contributed not a little to the diffusion and enhancement of oratorical exercises; "wherever one casts his eyes," says Cicero, "every place is full of rhetoricians." Besides, the writings of the sixth century, the farther they receded into the past, began to be more decidedly regarded as classical texts of the golden age of Latin literature, and thereby gave a greater preponderance to the instruction which was essentially concentrated upon them. Lastly the immigration and spreading of barbarian elements from many quarters and the incipient Latinizing of extensive Celtic and Spanish districts, naturally gave to Latin grammar and Latin instruction a higher importance than they could have had, so long as Latium only spoke Latin; the teacher of Latin literature had from the outset a different position in Comum and Narbo than he had in Praeneste and Ardea. Taken as a whole, culture was more on the wane than on the advance. The ruin of the Italian country towns, the extensive intrusion of foreign elements, the political, economic, and moral deterioration of the nation, above all, the distracting civil wars inflicted more injury on the language than all the schoolmasters of the world could repair. The closer contact with the Hellenic culture of the present, the more decided influence of the talkative Athenian wisdom and of the rhetoric of Rhodes and Asia Minor, supplied to the Roman youth just the very elements that were most pernicious in Hellenism. The propagandist mission which Latium undertook among the Celts, Iberians, and Libyans—proud as the task was— could not but have the like consequences for the Latin language as the Hellenizing of the east had had for the Hellenic. The fact that the Roman public of this period applauded the well arranged and rhythmically balanced periods of the orator, and any offence in language or metre cost the actor dear, doubtless shows that the insight into the mother tongue which was the reflection of scholastic training was becoming the common possession of an ever- widening circle. But at the same time contemporaries capable of judging complain that the Hellenic culture in Italy about 690 was at a far lower level than it had been a generation before; that opportunities of hearing pure and good Latin were but rare, and these chiefly from the mouth of elderly cultivated ladies; that the tradition of genuine culture, the good old Latin mother wit, the Lucilian polish, the cultivated circle of readers of the Scipionic age were gradually disappearing. The circumstance that the term -urbanitas-, and the idea of a polished national culture which it expressed, arose during this period, proves, not that it was prevalent, but that it was on the wane, and that people were keenly alive to the absence of this -urbanitas- in the language and the habits of the Latinized barbarians or barbarized Latins. Where we still meet with the urbane tone of conversation, as in Varro's Satires and Cicero's Letters, it is an echo of the old fashion which was not yet so obsolete in Reate and Arpinum as in Rome.

Germs of State Training-Schools

Thus the previous culture of youth remained substantially unchanged, except that—not so much from its own deterioration as from the general decline of the nation—it was productive of less good and more evil than in the preceding epoch. Caesar initiated a revolution also in this department. While the Roman senate had first combated and then at the most had simply tolerated culture, the government of the new Italo-Hellenic empire, whose essence in fact was -humanitas-, could not but adopt measures to stimulate it after the Hellenic fashion. If Caesar conferred the Roman franchise on all teachers of the liberal sciences and all the physicians of the capital, we may discover in this step a paving of the way in some degree for those institutions in which subsequently the higher bilingual culture of the youth of the empire was provided for on the part of the state, and which form the most significant expression of the new state of -humanitas-; and if Caesar had further resolved on the establishment of a public Greek and Latin library in the capital and had already nominated the most learned Roman of the age, Marcus Varro, as principal librarian, this implied unmistakeably the design of connecting the cosmopolitan monarchy with cosmopolitan literature.

The Vulgarism of Asia Minor

The development of the language during this period turned on the distinction between the classical Latin of cultivated society and the vulgar language of common life. The former itself was a product of the distinctively Italian culture; even in the Scipionic circle "pure Latin" had become the cue, and the mother tongue was spoken, no longer in entire naivete, but in conscious contradistinction to the language of the great multitude. This epoch opens with a remarkable reaction against the classicism which had hitherto exclusively prevailed in the higher language of conversation and accordingly also in literature—a reaction which had inwardly and outwardly a close connection with the reaction of a similar nature in the language of Greece. Just about this time the rhetor and romance-writer Hegesias of Magnesia and the numerous rhetors and literati of Asia Minor who attached themselves to him began to rebel against the orthodox Atticism. They demanded full recognition for the language of life, without distinction, whether the word or the phrase originated in Attica or in Caria and Phrygia; they themselves spoke and wrote not for the taste of learned cliques, but for that of the great public. There could not be much objection to the principle; only, it is true, the result could not be better than was the public of Asia Minor of that day, which had totally lost the taste for chasteness and purity of production, and longed only after the showy and brilliant. To say nothing of the spurious forms of art that sprang out of this tendency—especially the romance and the history assuming the form of romance—the very style of these Asiatics was, as may readily be conceived, abrupt and without modulation and finish, minced and effeminate, full of tinsel and bombast, thoroughly vulgar and affected; "any one who knows Hegesias," says Cicero, "knows what silliness is."

Roman Vulgarism
The Rhodian School

Yet this new style found its way also into the Latin world. When the Hellenic fashionable rhetoric, after having at the close of the previous epoch obtruded into the Latin instruction of youth,(4) took at the beginning of the present period the final step and mounted the Roman orators' platform in the person of Quintus Hortensius (640-704), the most celebrated pleader of the Sullan age, it adhered closely even in the Latin idiom to the bad Greek taste of the time; and the Roman public, no longer having the pure and chaste culture of the Scipionic age, naturally applauded with zeal the innovator who knew how to give to vulgarism the semblance of an artistic performance. This was of great importance. As in Greece the battles of language were always waged at first in the schools of the rhetoricians, so in Rome the forensic oration to a certain extent even more than literature set the standard of style, and accordingly there was combined, as it were of right, with the leadership of the bar the prerogative of giving the tone to the fashionable mode of speaking and writing. The Asiatic vulgarism of Hortensius thus dislodged classicism from the Roman platform and partly also from literature. But the fashion soon changed once more in Greece and in Rome. In the former it was the Rhodian school of rhetoricians, which, without reverting to all the chaste severity of the Attic style, attempted to strike out a middle course between it and the modern fashion: if the Rhodian masters were not too particular as to the internal correctness of their thinking and speaking, they at least insisted on purity of language and style, on the careful selection of words and phrases, and the giving thorough effect to the modulation of sentences.


In Italy it was Marcus Tullius Cicero (648-711) who, after having in his early youth gone along with the Hortensian manner, was brought by hearing the Rhodian masters and by his own more matured taste to better paths, and thenceforth addicted himself to strict purity of language and the thorough periodic arrangement and modulation of his discourse. The models of language, which, in this respect he followed, he found especially in those circles of the higher Roman society which had suffered but little or not at all from vulgarism; and, as was already said, there were still such, although they were beginning to disappear. The earlier Latin and the good Greek literature, however considerable was the influence of the latter more especially on the rhythm of his oratory, were in this matter only of secondary moment: this purifying of the language was by no means a reaction of the language of books against that of conversation, but a reaction of the language of the really cultivated against the jargon of spurious and partial culture. Caesar, in the department of language also the greatest master of his time, expressed the fundamental idea of Roman classicism, when he enjoined that in speech and writing every foreign word should be avoided, as rocks are avoided by the mariner; the poetical and the obsolete word of the older literature was rejected as well as the rustic phrase or that borrowed from the language of common life, and more especially the Greek words and phrases which, as the letters of this period show, had to a very great extent found their way into conversational language. Nevertheless this scholastic and artificial classicism of the Ciceronian period stood to the Scipionic as repentance to innocence, or the French of the classicists under Napoleon to the model French of Moliere and Boileau; while the former classicism had sprung out of the full freshness of life, the latter as it were caught just in right time the last breath of a race perishing beyond recovery. Such as it was, it rapidly diffused itself. With the leadership of the bar the dictatorship of language and taste passed from Hortensius to Cicero, and the varied and copious authorship of the latter gave to this classicism—what it had hitherto lacked—extensive prose texts. Thus Cicero became the creator of the modern classical Latin prose, and Roman classicism attached itself throughout and altogether to Cicero as a stylist; it was to the stylist Cicero, not to the author, still less to the statesman, that the panegyrics—extravagant yet not made up wholly of verbiage—applied, with which the most gifted representatives of classicism, such as Caesar and Catullus, loaded him.

The New Roman Poetry

They soon went farther. What Cicero did in prose, was carried out in poetry towards the end of the epoch by the new Roman school of poets, which modelled itself on the Greek fashionable poetry, and in which the man of most considerable talent was Catullus. Here too the higher language of conversation dislodged the archaic reminiscences which hitherto to a large extent prevailed in this domain, and as Latin prose submitted to the Attic rhythm, so Latin poetry submitted gradually to the strict or rather painful metrical laws of the Alexandrines; e. g. from the time of Catullus, it is no longer allowable at once to begin a verse and to close a sentence begun in the verse preceding with a monosyllabic word or a dissyllabic one not specially weighty.

Grammatical Science

At length science stepped in, fixed the law of language, and developed its rule, which was no longer determined on the basis of experience, but made the claim to determine experience. The endings of declension, which hitherto had in part been variable, were now to be once for all fixed; e. g. of the genitive and dative forms hitherto current side by side in the so-called fourth declension (-senatuis- and -senatus-, -senatui-, and -senatu-) Caesar recognized exclusively as valid the contracted forms (-us and -u). In orthography various changes were made, to bring the written more fully into correspondence with the spoken language; thus the -u in the middle of words like -maxumus- was replaced after Caesar's precedent by -i; and of the two letters which had become superfluous, -k and -q, the removal of the first was effected, and that of the second was at least proposed. The language was, if not yet stereotyped, in the course of becoming so; it was not yet indeed unthinkingly dominated by rule, but it had already become conscious of it. That this action in the department of Latin grammar derived generally its spirit and method from the Greek, and not only so, but that the Latin language was also directly rectified in accordance with Greek precedent, is shown, for example, by the treatment of the final -s, which till towards the close of this epoch had at pleasure passed sometimes as a consonant, sometimes not as one, but was treated by the new- fashioned poets throughout, as in Greek, as a consonantal termination. This regulation of language is the proper domain of Roman classicism; in the most various ways, and for that very reason all the more significantly, the rule is inculcated and the offence against it rebuked by the coryphaei of classicism, by Cicero, by Caesar, even in the poems of Catullus; whereas the older generation expresses itself with natural keenness of feeling respecting the revolution which had affected the field of language as remorselessly as the field of politics.(5) But while the new classicism—that is to say, the standard Latin governed by rule and as far as possible placed on a parity with the standard Greek— which arose out of a conscious reaction against the vulgarism intruding into higher society and even into literature, acquired literary fixity and systematic shape, the latter by no means evacuated the field. Not only do we find it naively employed in the works of secondary personages who have drifted into the ranks of authors merely by accident, as in the account of Caesar's second Spanish war, but we shall meet it also with an impress more or less distinct in literature proper, in the mime, in the semi-romance, in the aesthetic writings of Varro; and it is a significant circumstance, that it maintains itself precisely in the most national departments of literature, and that truly conservative men, like Varro, take it into protection. Classicism was based on the death of the Italian language as monarchy on the decline of the Italian nation; it was completely consistent that the men, in whom the republic was still living, should continue to give to the living language its rights, and for the sake of its comparative vitality and nationality should tolerate its aesthetic defects. Thus then the linguistic opinions and tendencies of this epoch are everywhere divergent; by the side of the old-fashioned poetry of Lucretius appears the thoroughly modern poetry of Catullus, by the side of Cicero's well-modulated period stands the sentence of Varro intentionally disdaining all subdivision. In this field likewise is mirrored the distraction of the age.

Literary Effort
Greek Literati in Rome

In the literature of this period we are first of all struck by the outward increase, as compared with the former epoch, of literary effort in Rome. It was long since the literary activity of the Greeks flourished no more in the free atmosphere of civic independence, but only in the scientific institutions of the larger cities and especially of the courts. Left to depend on the favour and protection of the great, and dislodged from the former seats of the Muses(6) by the extinction of the dynasties of Pergamus (621), Cyrene (658), Bithynia (679), and Syria (690) and by the waning splendour of the court of the Lagids—moreover, since the death of Alexander the Great, necessarily cosmopolitan and at least quite as much strangers among the Egyptians and Syrians as among the Latins— the Hellenic literati began more and more to turn their eyes towards Rome. Among the host of Greek attendants with which the Roman of quality at this time surrounded himself, the philosopher, the poet, and the memoir-writer played conspicuous parts by the side of the cook, the boy-favourite, and the jester. We meet already literati of note in such positions; the Epicurean Philodemus, for instance, was installed as domestic philosopher with Lucius Piso consul in 696, and occasionally edified the initiated with his clever epigrams on the coarse-grained Epicureanism of his patron. From all sides the most notable representatives of Greek art and science migrated in daily-increasing numbers to Rome where literary gains were now more abundant than anywhere else. Among those thus mentioned as settled in Rome we find the physician Asclepiades whom king Mithradates vainly endeavoured to draw away from it into his service; the universalist in learning, Alexander of Miletus, termed Polyhistor; the poet Parthenius from Nicaea in Bithynia; Posidonius of Apamea in Syria equally celebrated as a traveller, teacher, and author, who at a great age migrated in 703 from Rhodes to Rome; and various others. A house like that of Lucius Lucullus was a seat of Hellenic culture and a rendezvous for Hellenic literati almost like the Alexandrian Museum; Roman resources and Hellenic connoisseurship had gathered in these halls of wealth and science an incomparable collection of statues and paintings of earlier and contemporary masters, as well as a library as carefully selected as it was magnificently fitted up, and every person of culture and especially every Greek was welcome there—the master of the house himself was often seen walking up and down the beautiful colonnade in philological or philosophical conversation with one of his learned guests. No doubt these Greeks brought along with their rich treasures of culture their preposterousness and servility to Italy; one of these learned wanderers for instance, the author of the "Art of Flattery," Aristodemus of Nysa (about 700) recommended himself to his masters by demonstrating that Homer was a native of Rome!

Extent of the Literary Pursuits of the Romans

In the same measure as the pursuits of the Greek literati prospered in Rome, literary activity and literary interest increased among the Romans themselves. Even Greek composition, which the stricter taste of the Scipionic age had totally set aside, now revived. The Greek language was now universally current, and a Greek treatise found a quite different public from a Latin one; therefore Romans of rank, such as Lucius Lucullus, Marcus Cicero, Titus Atticus, Quintus Scaevola (tribune of the people in 700), like the kings of Armenia and Mauretania, published occasionally Greek prose and even Greek verses. Such Greek authorship however by native Romans remained a secondary matter and almost an amusement; the literary as well as the political parties of Italy all coincided in adhering to their Italian nationality, only more or less pervaded by Hellenism. Nor could there be any complaint at least as to want of activity in the field of Latin authorship. There was a flood of books and pamphlets of all sorts, and above all of poems, in Rome. Poets swarmed there, as they did only in Tarsus or Alexandria; poetical publications had become the standing juvenile sin of livelier natures, and even then the writer was reckoned fortunate whose youthful poems compassionate oblivion withdrew from criticism. Any one who understood the art, wrote without difficulty at a sitting his five hundred hexameters in which no schoolmaster found anything to censure, but no reader discovered anything to praise. The female world also took a lively part in these literary pursuits; the ladies did not confine themselves to dancing and music, but by their spirit and wit ruled conversation and talked excellently on Greek and Latin literature; and, when poetry laid siege to a maiden's heart, the beleaguered fortress not seldom surrendered likewise in graceful verses. Rhythms became more and more the fashionable plaything of the big children of both sexes; poetical epistles, joint poetical exercises and competitions among good friends, were of common occurrence, and towards the end of this epoch institutions were already opened in the capital, at which unfledged Latin poets might learn verse-making for money. In consequence of the large consumption of books the machinery for the manufacture of copies was substantially perfected, and publication was effected with comparative rapidity and cheapness; bookselling became a respectable and lucrative trade, and the bookseller's shop a usual meeting-place of men of culture. Reading had become a fashion, nay a mania; at table, where coarser pastimes had not already intruded, reading was regularly introduced, and any one who meditated a journey seldom forgot to pack up a travelling library. The superior officer was seen in the camp-tent with the obscene Greek romance, the statesman in the senate with the philosophical treatise, in his hands. Matters accordingly stood in the Roman state as they have stood and will stand in every state where the citizens read "from the threshold to the closet." The Parthian vizier was not far wrong, when he pointed out to the citizens of Seleucia the romances found in the camp of Crassus and asked them whether they still regarded the readers of such books as formidable opponents.

The Classicists and the Moderns

The literary tendency of this age was varied and could not be otherwise, for the age itself was divided between the old and the new modes. The same tendencies which came into conflict on the field of politics, the national-Italian tendency of the conservatives, the Helleno-Italian or, if the term be preferred, cosmopolitan tendency of the new monarchy, fought their battles also on the field of literature. The former attached itself to the older Latin literature, which in the theatre, in the school, and in erudite research assumed more and more the character of classical. With less taste and stronger party tendencies than the Scipionic epoch showed, Ennius, Pacuvius, and especially Plautus were now exalted to the skies. The leaves of the Sibyl rose in price, the fewer they became; the relatively greater nationality and relatively greater productiveness of the poets of the sixth century were never more vividly felt than in this epoch of thoroughly developed Epigonism, which in literature as decidedly as in politics looked up to the century of the Hannibalic warriors as to the golden age that had now unhappily passed away beyond recall. No doubt there was in this admiration of the old classics no small portion of the same hollowness and hypocrisy which are characteristic of the conservatism of this age in general; and here too there was no want of trimmers. Cicero for instance, although in prose one of the chief representatives of the modern tendency, revered nevertheless the older national poetry nearly with the same antiquarian respect which he paid to the aristocratic constitution and the augural discipline; "patriotism requires," we find him saying, "that we should rather read a notoriously wretched translation of Sophocles than the original." While thus the modern literary tendency cognate to the democratic monarchy numbered secret adherents enough even among the orthodox admirers of Ennius, there were not wanting already bolder judges, who treated the native literature as disrespectfully as the senatorial politics. Not only did they resume the strict criticism of the Scipionic epoch and set store by Terence only in order to condemn Ennius and still more the Ennianists, but the younger and bolder men went much farther and ventured already—though only as yet in heretical revolt against literary orthodoxy—to call Plautus a rude jester and Lucilius a bad verse-smith. This modern tendency attached itself not to the native authorship, but rather to the more recent Greek literature or the so-called Alexandrinism.

The Greek Alexandrinism

We cannot avoid saying at least so much respecting this remarkable winter-garden of Hellenic language and art, as is requisite for the understanding of the Roman literature of this and the later epochs. The Alexandrian literature was based on the decline of the pure Hellenic idiom, which from the time of Alexander the Great was superseded in daily life by an inferior jargon deriving its origin from the contact of the Macedonian dialect with various Greek and barbarian tribes; or, to speak more accurately, the Alexandrian literature sprang out of the ruin of the Hellenic nation generally, which had to perish, and did perish, in its national individuality in order to establish the universal monarchy of Alexander and the empire of Hellenism. Had Alexander's universal empire continued to subsist, the former national and popular literature would have been succeeded by a cosmopolitan literature Hellenic merely in name, essentially denationalized and called into life in a certain measure by royal patronage, but at all events ruling the world; but, as the state of Alexander was unhinged by his death, the germs of the literature corresponding to it rapidly perished. Nevertheless the Greek nation with all that it had possessed— with its nationality, its language, its art—belonged to the past. It was only in a comparatively narrow circle not of men of culture— for such, strictly speaking, no longer existed—but of men of erudition that the Greek literature was still cherished even when dead; that the rich inheritance which it had left was inventoried with melancholy pleasure or arid refinement of research; and that, possibly, the living sense of sympathy or the dead erudition was elevated into a semblance of productiveness. This posthumous productiveness constitutes the so-called Alexandrinism. It is essentially similar to that literature of scholars, which, keeping aloof from the living Romanic nationalities and their vulgar idioms, grew up during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries among a cosmopolitan circle of erudite philologues—as an artificial aftergrowth of the departed antiquity; the contrast between the classical and the vulgar Greek of the period of the Diadochi is doubtless less strongly marked, but is not, properly speaking, different from that between the Latin of Manutius and the Italian of Macchiavelli.

The Roman Alexandrinism

Italy had hitherto been in the main disinclined towards Alexandrinism. Its season of comparative brilliance was the period shortly before and after the first Punic war; yet Naevius, Ennius, Pacuvius and generally the whole body of the national Roman authors down to Varro and Lucretius in all branches of poetical production, not excepting even the didactic poem, attached themselves, not to their Greek contemporaries or very recent predecessors, but without exception to Homer, Euripides, Menander and the other masters of the living and national Greek literature. Roman literature was never fresh and national; but, as long as there was a Roman people, its authors instinctively sought for living and national models, and copied, if not always to the best purpose or the best authors, at least such as were original. The Greek literature originating after Aexander found its first Roman imitators—for the slight initial attempts from the Marian age(7) can scarcely be taken into account—among the contemporaries of Cicero and Caesar; and now the Roman Alexandrinism spread with singular rapidity. In part this arose from external causes. The increased contact with the Greeks, especially the frequent journeys of the Romans into the Hellenic provinces and the assemblage of Greek literati in Rome, naturally procured a public even among the Italians for the Greek literature of the day, for the epic and elegiac poetry, epigrams, and Milesian tales current at that time in Greece. Moreover, as we have already stated(8) the Alexandrian poetry had its established place in the instruction of the Italian youth; and thus reacted on Latin literature all the more, since the latter continued to be essentially dependent at all times on the Hellenic school-training. We find in this respect even a direct connection of the new Roman with the new Greek literature; the already-mentioned Parthenius, one of the better known Alexandrian elegists, opened, apparently about 700, a school for literature and poetry in Rome, and the excerpts are still extant in which he supplied one of his pupils of rank with materials for Latin elegies of an erotic and mythological nature according to the well-known Alexandrian receipt. But it was by no means simply such accidental occasions which called into existence the Roman Alexandrinism; it was on the contrary a product—perhaps not pleasing, but thoroughly inevitable— of the political and national development of Rome. On the one hand, as Hellas resolved itself into Hellenism, so now Latium resolved itself into Romanism; the national development of Italy outgrew itself, and was merged in Caesar's Mediterranean empire, just as the Hellenic development in the eastern empire of Alexander. On the other hand, as the new empire rested on the fact that the mighty streams of Greek and Latin nationality, after having flowed in parallel channels for many centuries, now at length coalesced, the Italian literature had not merely as hitherto to seek its groundwork generally in the Greek, but had also to put itself on a level with the Greek literature of the present, or in other words with Alexandrinism. With the scholastic Latin, with the closed number of classics, with the exclusive circle of classic-reading -urbani-, the national Latin literature was dead and at an end; there arose instead of it a thoroughly degenerate, artificially fostered, imperial literature, which did not rest on any definite nationality, but proclaimed in two languages the universal gospel of humanity, and was dependent in point of spirit throughout and consciously on the old Hellenic, in point of language partly on this, partly on the old Roman popular, literature. This was no improvement. The Mediterranean monarchy of Caesar was doubtless a grand and— what is more—a necessary creation; but it had been called into life by an arbitrary superior will, and therefore there was nothing to be found in it of the fresh popular life, of the overflowing national vigour, which are characteristic of younger, more limited, and more natural commonwealths, and which the Italian state of the sixth century had still been able to exhibit. The ruin of the Italian nationality, accomplished in the creation of Caesar, nipped the promise of literature. Every one who has any sense of the close affinity between art and nationality will always turn back from Cicero and Horace to Cato and Lucretius; and nothing but the schoolmaster's view of history and of literature— which has acquired, it is true, in this department the sanction of prescription—could have called the epoch of art beginning with the new monarchy pre-eminently the golden age. But while the Romano-Hellenic Alexandrinism of the age of Caesar and Augustus must be deemed inferior to the older, however imperfect, national literature, it is on the other hand as decidedly superior to the Alexandrinism of the age of the Diadochi as Caesar's enduring structure to the ephemeral creation of Alexander. We shall have afterwards to show that the Augustan literature, compared with the kindred literature of the period of the Diadochi, was far less a literature of philologues and far more an imperial literature than the latter, and therefore had a far more permanent and far more general influence in the upper circles of society than the Greek Alexandrinism ever had.

Dramatic Literature
Tragedy and Comedy Disappear

Nowhere was the prospect more lamentable than in dramatic literature. Tragedy and comedy had already before the present epoch become inwardly extinct in the Roman national literature. New pieces were no longer performed. That the public still in the Sullan age expected to see such, appears from the reproductions— belonging to this epoch—of Plautine comedies with the titles and names of the persons altered, with reference to which the managers well added that it was better to see a good old piece than a bad new one. From this the step was not great to that entire surrender of the stage to the dead poets, which we find in the Ciceronian age, and to which Alexandrinism made no opposition. Its productiveness in this department was worse than none. Real dramatic composition the Alexandrian literature never knew; nothing but the spurious drama, which was written primarily for reading and not for exhibition, could be introduced by it into Italy, and soon accordingly these dramatic iambics began to be quite as prevalent in Rome as in Alexandria, and the writing of tragedy in particular began to figure among the regular diseases of adolescence. We may form a pretty accurate idea of the quality of these productions from the fact that Quintus Cicero, in order homoeopathically to beguile the weariness of winter quarters in Gaul, composed four tragedies in sixteen days.

The Mime

In the "picture of life" or mime alone the last still vigorous product of the national literature, the Atellan farce, became engrafted with the ethological offshoots of Greek comedy, which Alexandrinism cultivated with greater poetical vigour and better success than any other branch of poetry. The mime originated out of the dances in character to the flute, which had long been usual, and which were performed sometimes on other occasions, e. g. for the entertainment of the guests during dinner, but more especially in the pit of the theatre during the intervals between the acts. It was not difficult to form out of these dances—in which the aid of speech had doubtless long since been occasionally employed— by means of the introduction of a more organized plot and a regular dialogue little comedies, which were yet essentially distinguished from the earlier comedy and even from the farce by the facts, that the dance and the lasciviousness inseparable from such dancing continued in this case to play a chief part, and that the mime, as belonging properly not to the boards but to the pit, threw aside all ideal scenic effects, such as masks for the face and theatrical buskins, and—what was specially important—admitted of the female characters being represented by women. This new mime, which first seems to have come on the stage of the capital about 672, soon swallowed up the national harlequinade, with which it indeed in the most essential respects coincided, and was employed as the usual interlude and especially as afterpiece along with the other dramatic performances.(9) The plot was of course still more indifferent, loose, and absurd than in the harlequinade; if it was only sufficiently chequered, the public did not ask why it laughed, and did not remonstrate with the poet, who instead of untying the knot cut it to pieces. The subjects were chiefly of an amorous nature, mostly of the licentious sort; for example, poet and public without exception took part against the husband, and poetical justice consisted in the derision of good morals. The artistic charm depended wholly, as in the Atellana, on the portraiture of the manners of common and low life; in which rural pictures are laid aside for those of the life and doings of the capital, and the sweet rabble of Rome— just as in the similar Greek pieces the rabble of Alexandria— is summoned to applaud its own likeness. Many subjects are taken from the life of tradesmen; there appear the— here also inevitable—"Fuller," then the "Ropemaker," the "Dyer," the "Salt-man," the "Female Weavers," the "Rascal"; other pieces give sketches of character, as the "Forgetful," the "Braggart," the "Man of 100,000 sesterces";(10) or pictures of other lands, the "Etruscan Woman," the "Gauls," the "Cretan," "Alexandria"; or descriptions of popular festivals, as the "Compitalia," the "Saturnalia," "Anna Perenna," the "Hot Baths"; or parodies of mythology, as the "Voyage to the Underworld," the "Arvernian Lake." Apt nicknames and short commonplaces which were easily retained and applied were welcome; but every piece of nonsense was of itself privileged; in this preposterous world Bacchus is applied to for water and the fountain-nymph for wine. Isolated examples even of the political allusions formerly so strictly prohibited in the Roman theatre are found in these mimes.(11) As regards metrical form, these poets gave themselves, as they tell us, "but moderate trouble with the versification"; the language abounded, even in the pieces prepared for publication, with vulgar expressions and low newly-coined words. The mime was, it is plain, in substance nothing but the former farce; with this exception, that the character-masks and the standing scenery of Atella as well as the rustic impress are dropped, and in their room the life of the capital in its boundless liberty and licence is brought on the stage. Most pieces of this sort were doubtless of a very fugitive nature and made no pretension to a place in literature; but the mimes of Laberius, full of pungent delineation of character and in point of language and metre exhibiting the hand of a master, maintained their ground in it; and even the historian must regret that we are no longer permitted to compare the drama of the republican death-struggle in Rome with its great Attic counterpart.

Dramatic Spectacles

With the worthlessness of dramatic literature the increase of scenic spectacles and of scenic pomp went hand in hand. Dramatic representations obtained their regular place in the public life not only of the capital but also of the country towns; the former also now at length acquired by means of Pompeius a permanent theatre (699;(12)), and the Campanian custom of stretching canvas over the theatre for the protection of the actors and spectators during the performance, which in ancient times always took place in the open air, now likewise found admission to Rome (676). As at that time in Greece it was not the—more than pale-Pleiad of the Alexandrian dramatists, but the classic drama, above all the tragedies of Euripides, which amidst the amplest development of scenic resources kept the stage, so in Rome at the time of Cicero the tragedies of Ennius, Pacuvius, and Accius, and the comedies of Plautus were those chiefly produced. While the latter had been in the previous period supplanted by the more tasteful but in point of comic vigour far inferior Terence, Roscius and Varro, or in other words the theatre and philology, co-operated to procure for him a resurrection similar to that which Shakespeare experienced at the hands of Garrick and Johnson; but even Plautus had to suffer from the degenerate susceptibility and the impatient haste of an audience spoilt by the short and slovenly farces, so that the managers found themselves compelled to excuse the length of the Plautine comedies and even perhaps to make omissions and alterations. The more limited the stock of plays, the more the activity of the managing and executive staff as well as the interest of the public was directed to the scenic representation of the pieces. There was hardly any more lucrative trade in Rome than that of the actor and the dancing-girl of the first rank. The princely estate of the tragic actor Aesopus has been already mentioned;(13) his still more celebrated contemporary Roscius(14) estimated his annual income at 600,000 sesterces (6000 pounds)(15) and Dionysia the dancer estimated hers at 200,000 sesterces (2000 pounds). At the same time immense sums were expended on decorations and costume; now and then trains of six hundred mules in harness crossed the stage, and the Trojan theatrical army was employed to present to the public a tableau of the nations vanquished by Pompeius in Asia. The music which accompanied the delivery of the inserted choruses likewise obtained a greater and more independent importance; as the wind sways the waves, says Varro, so the skilful flute-player sways the minds of the listeners with every modulation of melody. It accustomed itself to the use of quicker time, and thereby compelled the player to more lively action. Musical and dramatic connoisseurship was developed; the -habitue- recognized every tune by the first note, and knew the texts by heart; every fault in the music or recitation was severely censured by the audience. The state of the Roman stage in the time of Cicero vividly reminds us of the modern French theatre. As the Roman mime corresponds to the loose tableaux of the pieces of the day, nothing being too good and nothing too bad for either the one or the other, so we find in both the same traditionally classic tragedy and comedy, which the man of culture is in duty bound to admire or at least to applaud. The multitude is satisfied, when it meets its own reflection in the farce, and admires the decorative pomp and receives the general impression of an ideal world in the drama; the man of higher culture concerns himself at the theatre not with the piece, but only with its artistic representation. Moreover the Roman histrionic art oscillated in its different spheres, just like the French, between the cottage and the drawing-room. It was nothing unusual for the Roman dancing-girls to throw off at the finale the upper robe and to give a dance in undress for the benefit of the public; but on the other hand in the eyes of the Roman Talma the supreme law of his art was, not the truth of nature, but symmetry.

Metrical Annals

In recitative poetry metrical annals after the model of those of Ennius seem not to have been wanting; but they were perhaps sufficiently criticised by that graceful vow of his mistress of which Catullus sings—that the worst of the bad heroic poems should be presented as a sacrifice to holy Venus, if she would only bring back her lover from his vile political poetry to her arms.


Indeed in the whole field of recitative poetry at this epoch the older national-Roman tendency is represented only by a single work of note, which, however, is altogether one of the most important poetical products of Roman literature. It is the didactic poem of Titus Lucretius Carus (655-699) "Concerning the Nature of Things," whose author, belonging to the best circles of Roman society, but taking no part in public life whether from weakness of health or from disinclination, died in the prime of manhood shortly before the outbreak of the civil war. As a poet he attached himself decidedly to Ennius and thereby to the classical Greek literature. Indignantly he turns away from the "hollow Hellenism" of his time, and professes himself with his whole soul and heart to be the scholar of the "chaste Greeks," as indeed even the sacred earnestness of Thucydides has found no unworthy echo in one of the best-known sections of this Roman poem. As Ennius draws his wisdom from Epicharmus and Euhemerus, so Lucretius borrows the form of his representation from Empedocles, "the most glorious treasure of the richly gifted Sicilian isle"; and, as to the matter, gathers "all the golden words together from the rolls of Epicurus," "who outshines other wise men as the sun obscures the stars." Like Ennius, Lucretius disdains the mythological lore with which poetry was overloaded by Alexandrinism, and requires nothing from his reader but a knowledge of the legends generally current.(16) In spite of the modern purism which rejected foreign words from poetry, Lucretius prefers to use, as Ennius had done, a significant Greek word in place of a feeble and obscure Latin one. The old Roman alliteration, the want of due correspondence between the pauses of the verse and those of the sentence, and generally the older modes of expression and composition, are still frequently found in Lucretius' rhythms, and although he handles the verse more melodiously than Ennius, his hexameters move not, as those of the modern poetical school, with a lively grace like the rippling brook, but with a stately slowness like the stream of liquid gold. Philosophically and practically also Lucretius leans throughout on Ennius, the only indigenous poet whom his poem celebrates. The confession of faith of the singer of Rudiae(17)—

   -Ego deum genus esse semper dixi et dicam caelitum,
   Sed eos non curare opinor, quid agat humanum genus-:—

describes completely the religious standpoint of Lucretius, and not unjustly for that reason he himself terms his poem as it were the continuation of Ennius:—

   -Ennius ut noster cecinit, qui primus amoeno
   Detulit ex Helicone perenni fronde coronam,
   Per gentis Italas hominum quae clara clueret-.

Once more—and for the last time—the poem of Lucretius is resonant with the whole poetic pride and the whole poetic earnestness of the sixth century, in which, amidst the images of the formidable Carthaginian and the glorious Scipiad, the imagination of the poet is more at home than in his own degenerate age.(18) To him too his own song "gracefully welling up out of rich feeling" sounds, as compared with the common poems, "like the brief song of the swan compared with the cry of the crane";—with him too the heart swells, listening to the melodies of its own invention, with the hope of illustrious honours—just as Ennius forbids the men to whom he "gave from the depth of the heart a foretaste of fiery song," to mourn at his, the immortal singer's, tomb.

It is a remarkable fatality, that this man of extraordinary talents, far superior in originality of poetic endowments to most if not to all his contemporaries, fell upon an age in which he felt himself strange and forlorn, and in consequence of this made the most singular mistake in the selection of a subject. The system of Epicurus, which converts the universe into a great vortex of atoms and undertakes to explain the origin and end of the world as well as all the problems of nature and of life in a purely mechanical way, was doubtless somewhat less silly than the conversion of myths into history which was attempted by Euhemerus and after him by Ennius; but it was not an ingenious or a fresh system, and the task of poetically unfolding this mechanical view of the world was of such a nature that never probably did poet expend life and art on a more ungrateful theme. The philosophic reader censures in the Lucretian didactic poem the omission of the finer points of the system, the superficiality especially with which controversies are presented, the defective division, the frequent repetitions, with quite as good reason as the poetical reader frets at the mathematics put into rhythm which makes a great part of the poem absolutely unreadable. In spite of these incredible defects, before which every man of mediocre talent must inevitably have succumbed, this poet might justly boast of having carried off from the poetic wilderness a new chaplet such as the Muses had not yet bestowed on any; and it was by no means merely the occasional similitudes, and the other inserted descriptions of mighty natural phenomena and yet mightier passions, which acquired for the poet this chaplet. The genius which marks the view of life as well as the poetry of Lucretius depends on his unbelief, which came forward and was entitled to come forward with the full victorious power of truth, and therefore with the full vigour of poetry, in opposition to the prevailing hypocrisy or superstition.

   -Humana ante oculos foede cum vita iaceret
   In terris oppressa gravi sub religione,
   Quae caput a caeli regionibus ostendebat
   Horribili super aspectu mortalibus instans,
   Primum Graius homo mortalis tendere contra
   Est oculos ausus primusque obsistere contra.
   Ergo vivida vis animi pervicit, et extra
   Processit longe flammantia moenia mundi
   Atque omne immensum peragravit mente animoque-.

The poet accordingly was zealous to overthrow the gods, as Brutus had overthrown the kings, and "to release nature from her stern lords." But it was not against the long ago enfeebled throne of Jovis that these flaming words were hurled; just like Ennius, Lucretius fights practically above all things against the wild foreign faiths and superstitions of, the multitude, the worship of the Great Mother for instance and the childish lightning-lore of the Etruscans. Horror and antipathy towards that terrible world in general, in which and for which the poet wrote, suggested his poem. It was composed in that hopeless time when the rule of the oligarchy had been overthrown and that of Caesar had not yet been established, in the sultry years during which the outbreak of the civil war was awaited with long and painful suspense. If we seem to perceive in its unequal and restless utterance that the poet daily expected to see the wild tumult of revolution break forth over himself and his work, we must not with reference to his view of men and things forget amidst what men, and in prospect of what things, that view had its origin. In the Hellas of the epoch before Alexander it was a current saying, and one profoundly felt by all the best men, that the best thing of all was not to be born, and the next best to die. Of all views of the world possible to a tender and poetically organized mind in the kindred Caesarian age this was the noblest and the most ennobling, that it is a benefit for man to be released from a belief in the immortality of the soul and thereby from the evil dread of death and of the gods which malignantly steals over men like terror creeping over children in a dark room; that, as the sleep of the night is more refreshing than the trouble of the day, so death, eternal repose from all hope and fear, is better than life, as indeed the gods of the poet themselves are nothing, and have nothing, but an eternal blessed rest; that the pains of hell torment man, not after life, but during its course, in the wild and unruly passions of his throbbing heart; that the task of man is to attune his soul to equanimity, to esteem the purple no higher than the warm dress worn at home, rather to remain in the ranks of those that obey than to press into the confused crowd of candidates for the office of ruler, rather to lie on the grass beside the brook than to take part under the golden ceiling of the rich in emptying his countless dishes. This philosophico-practical tendency is the true ideal essence of the Lucretian poem and is only overlaid, not choked, by all the dreariness of its physical demonstrations. Essentially on this rests its comparative wisdom and truth. The man who with a reverence for his great predecessors and a vehement zeal, to which this century elsewhere knew no parallel, preached such doctrine and embellished it with the charm of art, may be termed at once a good citizen and a great poet. The didactic poem concerning the Nature of Things, however much in it may challenge censure, has remained one of the most brilliant stars in the poorly illuminated expanse of Roman literature; and with reason the greatest of German philologues chose the task of making the Lucretian poem once more readable as his last and most masterly work.

The Hellenic Fashionable Poetry

Lucretius, although his poetical vigour as well as his art was admired by his cultivated contemporaries, yet remained—of late growth as he was—a master without scholars. In the Hellenic fashionable poetry on the other hand there was no lack at least of scholars, who exerted themselves to emulate the Alexandrian masters. With true tact the more gifted of the Alexandrian poets avoided larger works and the pure forms of poetry—the drama, the epos, the lyric; the most pleasing and successful performances consisted with them, just as with the new Latin poets, in "short- winded" tasks, and especially in such as belonged to the domains bordering on the pure forms of art, more especially to the wide field intervening between narrative and song. Multifarious didactic poems were written. Small half-heroic, half-erotic epics were great favourites, and especially an erudite sort of love-elegy peculiar to this autumnal summer of Greek poetry and characteristic of the philological source whence it sprang, in which the poet more or less arbitrarily interwove the description of his own feelings, predominantly sensuous, with epic shreds from the cycle of Greek legend. Festal lays were diligently and artfully manufactured; in general, owing to the want of spontaneous poetical invention, the occasional poem preponderated and especially the epigram, of which the Alexandrians produced excellent specimens. The poverty of materials and the want of freshness in language and rhythm, which inevitably cleave to every literature not national, men sought as much as possible to conceal under odd themes, far-fetched phrases, rare words, and artificial versification, and generally under the whole apparatus of philologico-antiquarian erudition and technical dexterity. Such was the gospel which was preached to the Roman boys of this period, and they came in crowds to hear and to practise it; already (about 700) the love-poems of Euphorion and similar Alexandrian poetry formed the ordinary reading and the ordinary pieces for declamation of the cultivated youth.(19) The literary revolution took place; but it yielded in the first instance with rare exceptions only premature or unripe fruits. The number of the "new-fashioned poets" was legion, but poetry was rare and Apollo was compelled, as always when so many throng towards Parnassus, to make very short work. The long poems never were worth anything, the short ones seldom. Even in this literary age the poetry of the day had become a public nuisance; it sometimes happened that one's friend would send home to him by way of mockery as a festal present a pile of trashy verses fresh from the bookseller's shop, whose value was at once betrayed by the elegant binding and the smooth paper. A real public, in the sense in which national literature has a public, was wanting to the Roman Alexandrians as well as to the Hellenic; it was thoroughly the poetry of a clique or rather cliques, whose members clung closely together, abused intruders, read and criticised among themselves the new poems, sometimes also quite after the Alexandrian fashion celebrated the successful productions in fresh verses, and variously sought to secure for themselves by clique-praises a spurious and ephemeral renown. A notable teacher of Latin literature, himself poetically active in this new direction, Valerius Cato appears to have exercised a sort of scholastic patronage over the most distinguished men of this circle and to have pronounced final decision on the relative value of the poems. As compared with their Greek models, these Roman poets evince throughout a want of freedom, sometimes a schoolboy dependence; most of their products must have been simply the austere fruits of a school poetry still occupied in learning and by no means yet dismissed as mature. Inasmuch as in language and in measure they adhered to the Greek patterns far more closely than ever the national Latin poetry had done, a greater correctness and consistency in language and metre were certainly attained; but it was at the expense of the flexibility and fulness of the national idiom. As respects the subject-matter, under the influence partly of effeminate models, partly of an immoral age, amatory themes acquired a surprising preponderance little conducive to poetry; but the favourite metrical compendia of the Greeks were also in various cases translated, such as the astronomical treatise of Aratus by Cicero, and, either at the end of this or more probably at the commencement of the following period, the geographical manual of Eratosthenes by Publius Varro of the Aude and the physico-medicinal manual of Nicander by Aemilius Macer. It is neither to be wondered at nor regretted that of this countless host of poets but few names have been preserved to us; and even these are mostly mentioned merely as curiosities or as once upon a time great; such as the orator Quintus Hortensius with his "five hundred thousand lines" of tiresome obscenity, and the somewhat more frequently mentioned Laevius, whose -Erotopaegnia- attracted a certain interest only by their complicated measures and affected phraseology. Even the small epic Smyrna by Gaius Helvius Cinna (d. 710?), much as it was praised by the clique, bears both in its subject—the incestuous love of a daughter for her father—and in the nine years' toil bestowed on it the worst characteristics of the time.


Those poets alone of this school constitute an original and pleasing exception, who knew how to combine with its neatness and its versatility of form the national elements of worth still existing in the republican life, especially in that of the country-towns. To say nothing here of Laberius and Varro, this description applies especially to the three poets already mentioned above(20) of the republican opposition, Marcus Furius Libaculus (652-691), Gaius Licinius Calvus (672-706) and Quintus Valerius Catullus (667-c. 700). Of the two former, whose writings have perished, we can indeed only conjecture this; respecting the poems of Catullus we can still form a judgment. He too depends in subject and form on the Alexandrians. We find in his collection translations of pieces of Callimachus, and these not altogether the very good, but the very difficult. Among the original pieces, we meet with elaborately-turned fashionable poems, such as the over-artificial Galliambics in praise of the Phrygian Mother; and even the poem, otherwise so beautiful, of the marriage of Thetis has been artistically spoiled by the truly Alexandrian insertion of the complaint of Ariadne in the principal poem. But by the side of these school-pieces we meet with the melodious lament of the genuine elegy, the festal poem in the full pomp of individual and almost dramatic execution, above all, the freshest miniature painting of cultivated social life, the pleasant and very unreserved amatory adventures of which half the charm consists in prattling and poetizing about the mysteries of love, the delightful life of youth with full cups and empty purses, the pleasures of travel and of poetry, the Roman and still more frequently the Veronese anecdote of the town, and the humorous jest amidst the familiar circle of friends. But not only does Apollo touch the lyre of the poet, he wields also the bow; the winged dart of sarcasm spares neither the tedious verse-maker nor the provincial who corrupts the language, but it hits none more frequently and more sharply than the potentates by whom the liberty of the people is endangered. The short-lined and merry metres, often enlivened by a graceful refrain, are of finished art and yet free from the repulsive smoothness of the manufactory. These poems lead us alternately to the valleys of the Nile and the Po; but the poet is incomparably more at home in the latter. His poems are based on Alexandrian art doubtless, but at the same time on the self- consciousness of a burgess and a burgess in fact of a rural town, on the contrast of Verona with Rome, on the contrast of the homely municipal with the high-born lords of the senate who usually maltreat their humble friends—as that contrast was probably felt more vividly than anywhere else in Catullus' home, the flourishing and comparatively vigorous Cisalpine Gaul. The most beautiful of his poems reflect the sweet pictures of the Lago di Garda, and hardly at this time could any man of the capital have written a poem like the deeply pathetic one on his brother's death, or the excellent genuinely homely festal hymn for the marriage of Manlius and Aurunculeia. Catullus, although dependent on the Alexandrian masters and standing in the midst of the fashionable and clique poetry of that age, was yet not merely a good scholar among many mediocre and bad ones, but himself as much superior to his masters as the burgess of a free Italian community was superior to the cosmopolitan Hellenic man of letters. Eminent creative vigour indeed and high poetic intentions we may not look for in him; he is a richly gifted and graceful but not a great poet, and his poems are, as he himself calls them, nothing but "pleasantries and trifles." Yet when we find not merely his contemporaries electrified by these fugitive songs, but the art-critics of the Augustan age also characterizing him along with Lucretius as the most important poet of this epoch, his contemporaries as well as their successors were completely right. The Latin nation has produced no second poet in whom the artistic substance and the artistic form appear in so symmetrical perfection as in Catullus; and in this sense the collection of the poems of Catullus is certainly the most perfect which Latin poetry as a whole can show.

Poems in Prose

Lastly, poetry in a prose form begins in this epoch. The law of genuine naive as well as conscious art, which had hitherto remained unchangeable—that the poetical subject-matter and the metrical setting should go together—gave way before the intermixture and disturbance of all kinds and forms of art, which is one of the most significant features of this period. As to romances indeed nothing farther is to be noticed, than that the most famous historian of this epoch, Sisenna, did not esteem himself too good to translate into Latin the much-read Milesian tales of Aristides—licentious fashionable novels of the most stupid sort.

Varro's Aesthetic Writings

A more original and more pleasing phenomenon in this debateable border-land between poetry and prose was the aesthetic writings of Varro, who was not merely the most important representative of Latin philologico-historical research, but one of the most fertile and most interesting authors in belles-lettres. Descended from a plebeian gens which had its home in the Sabine land but had belonged for the last two hundred years to the Roman senate, strictly reared in antique discipline and decorum,(21) and already at the beginning of this epoch a man of maturity, Marcus Terentius Varro of Reate (638-727) belonged in politics, as a matter of course, to the institutional party, and bore an honourable and energetic part in its doings and sufferings. He supported it, partly in literature—as when he combated the first coalition, the "three-headed monster," in pamphlets; partly in more serious warfare, where we found him in the army of Pompeius as commandant of Further Spain.(22) When the cause of the republic was lost, Varro was destined by his conqueror to be librarian of the library which was to be formed in the capital. The troubles of the following period drew the old man once more into their vortex, and it was not till seventeen years after Caesar's death, in the eighty-ninth year of his well-occupied life, that death called him away.

Varros' Models

The aesthetic writings, which have made him a name, were brief essays, some in simple prose and of graver contents, others humorous sketches the prose groundwork of which was inlaid with various poetical effusions. The former were the "philosophico- historical dissertations" (-logistorici-), the latter the Menippean Satires. In neither case did he follow Latin models, and the -Satura- of Varro in particular was by no means based on that of Lucilius. In fact the Roman -Satura- in general was not properly a fixed species of art, but only indicated negatively the fact that the "multifarious poem" was not to be included under any of the recognized forms of art; and accordingly the -Satura- poetry assumed in the hands of every gifted poet a different and peculiar character. It was rather in the pre-Alexandrian Greek philosophy that Varro found the models for his more severe as well as for his lighter aesthetic works; for the graver dissertations, in the dialogues of Heraclides of Heraclea on the Black Sea (d. about 450), for the satires, in the writings of Menippus of Gadara in Syria (flourishing about 475). The choice was significant. Heraclides, stimulated as an author by Plato's philosophic dialogues, had amidst the brilliance of their form totally lost sight of the scientific contents and made the poetico-fabulistic dress the main matter; he was an agreeable and largely-read author, but far from a philosopher. Menippus was quite as little a philosopher, but the most genuine literary representative of that philosophy whose wisdom consisted in denying philosophy and ridiculing philosophers the cynical wisdom of Diogenes; a comic teacher of serious wisdom, he proved by examples and merry sayings that except an upright life everything is vain in earth and heaven, and nothing more vain than the disputes of so-called sages. These were the true models for Varro, a man full of old Roman indignation at the pitiful times and full of old Roman humour, by no means destitute withal of plastic talent but as to everything which presented the appearance not of palpable fact but of idea or even of system, utterly stupid, and perhaps the most unphilosophical among the unphilosophical Romans.(23) But Varro was no slavish pupil. The impulse and in general the form he derived from Heraclides and Menippus; but his was a nature too individual and too decidedly Roman not to keep his imitative creations essentially independent and national.

Varro's Philosophico-Historical Essays

For his grave dissertations, in which a moral maxim or other subject of general interest is handled, he disdained, in his framework to approximate to the Milesian tales, as Heraclides had done, and so to serve up to the reader even childish little stories like those of Abaris and of the maiden reawakened to life after being seven days dead. But seldom he borrowed the dress from the nobler myths of the Greeks, as in the essay "Orestes or concerning Madness"; history ordinarily afforded him a worthier frame for his subjects, more especially the contemporary history of his country, so that these essays became, as they were called -laudationes- of esteemed Romans, above all of the Coryphaei of the constitutional party. Thus the dissertation "concerning Peace" was at the same time a memorial of Metellus Pius, the last in the brilliant series of successful generals of the senate; that "concerning the Worship of the Gods" was at the same time destined to preserve the memory of the highly-respected Optimate and Pontifex Gaius Curio; the essay "on Fate" was connected with Marius, that "on the Writing of History" with Sisenna the first historian of this epoch, that "on the Beginnings of the Roman Stage" with the princely giver of scenic spectacles Scaurus, that "on Numbers" with the highly-cultured Roman banker Atticus. The two philosophico-historical essays "Laelius or concerning Friendship," "Cato or concerning Old Age," which Cicero wrote probably after the model of those of Varro, may give us some approximate idea of Varro's half-didactic, half-narrative, treatment of these subjects.

Varros' Menippean Satires

The Menippean satire was handled by Varro with equal originality of form and contents; the bold mixture of prose and verse is foreign to the Greek original, and the whole intellectual contents are pervaded by Roman idiosyncrasy—one might say, by a savour of the Sabine soil. These satires like the philosophico-historical essays handle some moral or other theme adapted to the larger public, as is shown by the several titles—-Columnae Herculis-, —peri doxeis—; —Euren ei Lopas to Poma, peri gegameikoton—, -Est Modus Matulae-, —peri metheis—; -Papiapapae-, —peri egkomios—. The plastic dress, which in this case might not be wanting, is of course but seldom borrowed from the history of his native country, as in the satire -Serranus-, —peri archairesion—. The Cynic- world of Diogenes on the other hand plays, as might be expected, a great part; we meet with the —Kounistor—, the —Kounorreiton—, the 'Ippokouon, the —'Oudrokouon—, the —Kounodidaskalikon— and others of a like kind. Mythology is also laid under contribution for comic purposes; we find a -Prometheus Liber-, an -Ajax Stramenticius-, a -Hercules Socraticus-, a -Sesqueulixes- who had spent not merely ten but fifteen years in wanderings. The outline of the dramatic or romantic framework is still discoverable from the fragments in some pieces, such as the -Prometheus Liber-, the -Sexagessis-, -Manius-; it appears that Varro frequently, perhaps regularly, narrated the tale as his own experience; e. g. in the -Manius- the dramatis personae go to Varro and discourse to him "because he was known to them as a maker of books." as to the poetical value of this dress we are no longer allowed to form any certain judgment; there still occur in our fragments several very charming sketches full of wit and liveliness— thus in the -Prometheus Liber- the hero after the loosing of his chains opens a manufactory of men, in which Goldshoe the rich (-Chrysosandalos-) bespeaks for himself a maiden, of milk and finest wax, such as the Milesian bees gather from various flowers, a maiden without bones and sinews, without skin or hair, pure and polished, slim, smooth, tender, charming. The life-breath of this poetry is polemics— not so much the political warfare of party, such as Lucilius and Catullus practised, but the general moral antagonism of the stern elderly man to the unbridled and perverse youth, of the scholar living in the midst of his classics to the loose and slovenly, or at any rate in point of tendency reprobate, modern poetry,(24) of the good burgess of the ancient type to the new Rome in which the Forum, to use Varro's language, was a pigsty and Numa, if he turned his eyes towards his city, would see no longer a trace of his wise regulations. In the constitutional struggle Varro did what seemed to him the duty of a citizen; but his heart was not in such party-doings— "why," he complains on one occasion, "do ye call me from my pure life into the filth of your senate-house?" He belonged to the good old time, when the talk savoured of onions and garlic, but the heart was sound. His polemic against the hereditary foes of the genuine Roman spirit, the Greek philosophers, was only a single aspect of this old-fashioned opposition to the spirit of the new times; but it resulted both from the nature of the Cynical philosophy and from the temperament of Varro, that the Menippean lash was very specially plied round the cars of the philosophers and put them accordingly into proportional alarm—it was not without palpitation that the philosophic scribes of the time transmitted to the "severe man" their newly-issued treatises. Philosophizing is truly no art. With the tenth part of the trouble with which a master rears his slave to be a professional baker, he trains himself to be a philosopher; no doubt, when the baker and the philosopher both come under the hammer, the artist of pastry goes off a hundred times dearer than the sage. Singular people, these philosophers! One enjoins that corpses be buried in honey— it is a fortunate circumstance that his desire is not complied with, otherwise where would any honey-wine be left? Another thinks that men grow out of the earth like cresses. A third has invented a world-borer (—Kosmotorounei—) by which the earth will some day be destroyed.

   -Postremo, nemo aegrotus quicquam somniat
   Tam infandum, quod non aliquis dicat philosophus-.

It is ludicrous to observe how a Long-beard—by which is meant an etymologizing Stoic—cautiously weighs every word in goldsmith's scales; but there is nothing that surpasses the genuine philosophers' quarrel—a Stoic boxing-match far excels any encounter of athletes. In the satire -Marcopolis-, —peri archeis—, when Marcus created for himself a Cloud-Cuckoo-Home after his own heart, matters fared, just as in the Attic comedy, well with the peasant, but ill with the philosopher; the -Celer- — -di'-enos- -leimmatos-logos—, son of Antipater the Stoic, beats in the skull of his opponent— evidently the philosophic -Dilemma—-with the mattock.

With this morally polemic tendency and this talent for embodying it in caustic and picturesque expression, which, as the dress of dialogue given to the books on Husbandry written in his eightieth year shows, never forsook him down to extreme old age, Varro most happily combined an incomparable knowledge of the national manners and language, which is embodied in the philological writings of his old age after the manner of a commonplace-book, but displays itself in his Satires in all its direct fulness and freshness. Varro was in the best and fullest sense of the term a local antiquarian, who from the personal observation of many years knew his nation in its former idiosyncrasy and seclusion as well as in its modern state of transition and dispersion, and had supplemented and deepened his direct knowledge of the national manners and national language by the most comprehensive research in historical and literary archives. His partial deficiency in rational judgment and learning— in our sense of the words—was compensated for by his clear intuition and the poetry which lived within him. He sought neither after antiquarian notices nor after rare antiquated or poetical words;(25) but he was himself an old and old-fashioned man and almost a rustic, the classics of his nation were his favourite and long-familiar companions; how could it fail that many details of the manners of his forefathers, which he loved above all and especially knew, should be narrated in his writings, and that his discourse should abound with proverbial Greek and Latin phrases, with good old words preserved in the Sabine conversational language, with reminiscences of Ennius, Lucilius, and above all of Plautus? We should not judge as to the prose style of these aesthetic writings of Varro's earlier period by the standard of his work on Language written in his old age and probably published in an unfinished state, in which certainly the clauses of the sentence are arranged on the thread of the relative like thrushes on a string; but we have already observed that Varro rejected on principle the effort after a chaste style and Attic periods, and his aesthetic essays, while destitute of the mean bombast and the spurious tinsel of vulgarism, were yet written after an unclassic and even slovenly fashion, in sentences rather directly joined on to each other than regularly subdivided. The poetical pieces inserted on the other hand show not merely that their author knew how to mould the most varied measures with as much mastery as any of the fashionable poets, but that he had a right to include himself among those to whom a god has granted the gift of "banishing cares from the heart by song and sacred poesy."(26) the sketches of Varro no more created a school than the didactic poem of Lucretius; to the more general causes which prevented this there falls to be added their thoroughly individual stamp, which was inseparable from the greater age, from the rusticity, and even from the peculiar erudition of their author. But the grace and humour of the Menippean satires above all, which seem to have been in number and importance far superior to Varro's graver works, captivated his contemporaries as well as those in after times who had any relish for originality and national spirit; and even we, who are no longer permitted to read them, may still from the fragments preserved discern in some measure that the writer "knew how to laugh and how to jest in moderation." And as the last breath of the good spirit of the old burgess-times ere it departed, as the latest fresh growth which the national Latin poetry put forth, the Satires of Varro deserved that the poet in his poetical testament should commend these his Menippean children to every one "who had at heart the prosperity of Rome and of Latium"; and they accordingly retain an honourable place in the literature as in the history of the Italian people.(27)

Historical Composition

The critical writing of history, after the manner in which the Attic authors wrote the national history in their classic period and in which Polybius wrote the history of the world, was never properly developed in Rome. Even in the field most adapted for it— the representation of contemporary and of recently past events— there was nothing, on the whole, but more or less inadequate attempts; in the epoch especially from Sulla to Caesar the not very important contributions, which the previous epoch had to show in this field— the labours of Antipater and Asellius—were barely even equalled. The only work of note belonging to this field, which arose in the present epoch, was the history of the Social and Civil Wars by Lucius Cornelius Sisenna (praetor in 676). Those who had read it testify that it far excelled in liveliness and readableness the old dry chronicles, but was written withal in a style thoroughly impure and even degenerating into puerility; as indeed the few remaining fragments exhibit a paltry painting of horrible details,(28) and a number of words newly coined or derived from the language of conversation. When it is added that the author's model and, so to speak, the only Greek historian familiar to him was Clitarchus, the author of a biography of Alexander the Great oscillating between history and fiction in the manner of the semi- romance which bears the name of Curtius, we shall not hesitate to recognize in Sisenna's celebrated historical work, not a product of genuine historical criticism and art, but the first Roman essay in that hybrid mixture of history and romance so much a favourite with the Greeks, which desires to make the groundwork of facts life-like and interesting by means of fictitious details and thereby makes it insipid and untrue; and it will no longer excite surprise that we meet with the same Sisenna also as translator of Greek fashionable romances.(29)

Annals of the City

That the prospect should be still more lamentable in the field of the general annals of the city and even of the world, was implied in the nature of the case. The increasing activity of antiquarian research induced the expectation that the current narrative would be rectified from documents and other trustworthy sources; but this hope was not fulfilled. The more and the deeper men investigated, the more clearly it became apparent what a task it was to write a critical history of Rome. The difficulties even, which opposed themselves to investigation and narration, were immense; but the most dangerous obstacles were not those of a literary kind. The conventional early history of Rome, as it had now been narrated and believed for at least ten generations; was most intimately mixed up with the civil life of the nation; and yet in any thorough and honest inquiry not only had details to be modified here and there, but the whole building had to be overturned as much as the Franconian primitive history of king Pharamund or the British of king Arthur. An inquirer of conservative views, such as was Varro for instance, could have no wish to put his hand to such a work; and if a daring freethinker had undertaken it, an outcry would have been raised by all good citizens against this worst of all revolutionaries, who was preparing to deprive the constitutional party even of their past Thus philological and antiquarian research deterred from the writing of history rather than conduced towards it. Varro and the more sagacious men in general evidently gave up the task of annals as hopeless; at the most they arranged, as did Titus Pomponius Atticus, the official and gentile lists in unpretending tabular shape—a work by which the synchronistic Graeco-Roman chronology was finally brought into the shape in which it was conventionally fixed for posterity. But the manufacture of city-chronicles of course did not suspend its activity; it continued to supply its contributions both in prose and verse to the great library written by ennui for ennui, while the makers of the books, in part already freedmen, did not trouble themselves at all about research properly so called. Such of these writings as are mentioned to us—not one of them is preserved—seem to have been not only of a wholly secondary character, but in great part even pervaded by interested falsification. It is true that the chronicle of Quintus Claudius Quadrigarius (about 676?) was written in an old-fashioned but good style, and studied at least a commendable brevity in the representation of the fabulous period. Gaius Licinius Macer (d. as late praetor in 688), father of the poet Calvus,(30) and a zealous democrat, laid claim more than any other chronicler to documentary research and criticism, but his -libri lintei- and other matters peculiar to him are in the highest degree suspicious, and an interpolation of the whole annals in the interest of democratic tendencies— an interpolation of a very extensive kind, and which has passed over in part to the later annalists—is probably traceable to him.

Valerius Antias

Lastly, Valerius Antias excelled all his predecessors in prolixity as well as in puerile story-telling. The falsification of numbers was here systematically carried out down even to contemporary history, and the primitive history of Rome was elaborated once more from one form of insipidity to another; for instance the narrative of the way in which the wise Numa according to the instructions of the nymph Egeria caught the gods Faunus and Picus; with wine, and the beautiful conversation thereupon held by the same Numa with the god Jupiter, cannot be too urgently recommended to all worshippers of the so-called legendary history of Rome in order that, if possible, they may believe these things—of course, in substance. It would have been a marvel if the Greek novel-writers of this period had allowed such materials, made as if for their use, to escape them. In fact there were not wanting Greek literati, who worked up the Roman history into romances; such a composition, for instance, was the Five Books "Concerning Rome" of the Alexander Polyhistor already mentioned among the Greek literati living in Rome,(31) a preposterous mixture of vapid historical tradition and trivial, principally erotic, fiction. He, it may be presumed, took the first steps towards filling up the five hundred years, which were wanting to bring the destruction of Troy and the origin of Rome into the chronological connection required by the fables on either side, with one of those lists of kings without achievements which are unhappily familiar to the Egyptian and Greek chroniclers; for, to all appearance, it was he that launched into the world the kings Aventinus and Tiberinus and the Alban gens of the Silvii, whom the following times accordingly did not neglect to furnish in detail with name, period of reigning, and, for the sake of greater definiteness, also a portrait.

Thus from various sides the historical romance of the Greeks finds its way into Roman historiography; and it is more than probable that not the least portion of what we are accustomed nowadays to call tradition of the Roman primitive times proceeds from sources of the stamp of Amadis of Gaul and the chivalrous romances of Fouque—an edifying consideration, at least for those who have a relish for the humour of history and who know how to appreciate the comical aspect of the piety still cherished in certain circles of the nineteenth century for king Numa.

Universal History

A novelty in the Roman literature of this period is the appearance of universal history or, to speak more correctly, of Roman and Greek history conjoined, alongside of the native annals. Cornelius Nepos from Ticinum (c. 650-c. 725) first supplied an universal chronicle (published before 700) and a general collection of biographies—arranged according to certain categories—of Romans and Greeks distinguished in politics or literature or of men at any rate who exercised influence on the Roman or Greek history. These works are of a kindred nature with the universal histories which the Greeks had for a considerable time been composing; and these very Greek world-chronicles, such as that of Kastor son-in-law of the Galatian king Deiotarus, concluded in 698, now began to include in their range the Roman history which previously they had neglected. These works certainly attempted, just like Polybius, to substitute the history of the Mediterranean world for the more local one; but that which in Polybius was the result of a grand and clear conception and deep historical feeling was in these chronicles rather the product of the practical exigencies of school and self-instruction. These general chronicles, text-books for scholastic instruction or manuals for reference, and the whole literature therewith connected which subsequently became very copious in the Latin language also, can hardly be reckoned as belonging to artistic historical composition; and Nepos himself in particular was a pure compiler distinguished neither by spirit nor even merely by symmetrical plan.

The historiography of this period is certainly remarkable and in a high degree characteristic, but it is as far from pleasing as the age itself. The interpenetration of Greek and Latin literature is in no field so clearly apparent as in that of history; here the respective literatures become earliest equalized in matter and form, and the conception of Helleno-Italic history as an unity, in which Polybius was so far in advance of his age, was now learned even by Greek and Roman boys at school. But while the Mediterranean state had found a historian before it had become conscious of its own existence, now, when that consciousness had been attained, there did not arise either among the Greeks or among the Romans any man who was able to give to it adequate expression. "There is no such thing," says Cicero, "as Roman historical composition"; and, so far as we can judge, this is no more than the simple truth. The man of research turns away from writing history, the writer of history turns away from research; historical literature oscillates between the schoolbook and the romance. All the species of pure art—epos, drama, lyric poetry, history—are worthless in this worthless world; but in no species is the intellectual decay of the Ciceronian age reflected with so terrible a clearness as in its historiography.

Literature Subsidiary to History
Caesar's Report

The minor historical literature of this period displays on the other hand, amidst many insignificant and forgotten productions, one treatise of the first rank—the Memoirs of Caesar, or rather the Military Report of the democratic general to the people from whom he had received his commission. The finished section, and that which alone was published by the author himself, describing the Celtic campaigns down to 702, is evidently designed to justify as well as possible before the public the formally unconstitutional enterprise of Caesar in conquering a great country and constantly increasing his army for that object without instructions from the competent authority; it was written and given forth in 703, when the storm broke out against Caesar in Rome and he was summoned to dismiss his army and answer for his conduct.(32) The author of this vindication writes, as he himself says, entirely as an officer and carefully avoids extending his military report to the hazardous departments of political organization and administration. His incidental and partisan treatise cast in the form of a military report is itself a piece of history like the bulletins of Napoleon, but it is not, and was not intended to be, a historical work in the true sense of the word; the objective form which the narrative assumes is that of the magistrate, not that of the historian. But in this modest character the work is masterly and finished, more than any other in all Roman literature. The narrative is always terse and never scanty, always simple and never careless, always of transparent vividness and never strained or affected. The language is completely pure from archaisms and from vulgarisms— the type of the modern -urbanitas-. In the Books concerning the Civil War we seem to feel that the author had desired to avoid war and could not avoid it, and perhaps also that in Caesar's soul, as in every other, the period of hope was a purer and fresher one than that of fulfilment; but over the treatise on the Gallic war there is diffused a bright serenity, a simple charm, which are no less unique in literature than Caesar is in history.


Of a kindred nature were the letters interchanged between the statesmen and literati of this period, which were carefully collected and published in the following epoch; such as the correspondence of Caesar himself, of Cicero, Calvus and others. They can still less be numbered among strictly literary performances; but this literature of correspondence was a rich store-house for historical as for all other research, and the most faithful mirror of an epoch in which so much of the worth of past times and so much spirit, cleverness, and talent were evaporated and dissipated in trifling.


A journalist literature in the modern sense was never formed in Rome; literary warfare continued to be confined to the writing of pamphlets and, along with this, to the custom generally diffused at that time of annotating the notices destined for the public in places of resort with the pencil or the pen. On the other hand subordinate persons were employed to note down the events of the day and news of the city for the absent men of quality; and Caesar as early as his first consulship took fitting measures for the immediate publication of an extract from the transactions of the senate. From the private journals of those Roman penny-a-liners and these official current reports there arose a sort of news-sheet for the capital (-acta diurna-), in which the resume of the business discussed before the people and in the senate, and births, deaths, and such like were recorded. This became a not unimportant source for history, but remained without proper political as without literary significance.

Decline of Political Oratory

To subsidiary historical literature belongs of right also the composition of orations. The speech, whether written down or not, is in its nature ephemeral and does not belong to literature; but it may, like the report and the letter, and indeed still more readily than these, come to be included, through the significance of the moment and the power of the mind from which it springs, among the permanent treasures of the national literature. Thus in Rome the records of orations of a political tenor delivered before the burgesses or the jurymen had for long played a great part in public life; and not only so, but the speeches of Gaius Gracchus in particular were justly reckoned among the classical Roman writings. But in this epoch a singular change occurred on all hands. The composition of political speeches was on the decline like political speaking itself. The political speech in Rome, as generally in the ancient polities, reached its culminating point in the discussions before the burgesses; here the orator was not fettered, as in the senate, by collegiate considerations and burdensome forms, nor, as in the judicial addresses, by the interests—in themselves foreign to politics—of the accusation and defence; here alone his heart swelled proudly before the whole great and mighty Roman people hanging on his lips. But all this was now gone. Not as though there was any lack of orators or of the publishing of speeches delivered before the burgesses; on the contrary political authorship only now waxed copious, and it began to become a standing complaint at table that the host incommoded his guests by reading before them his latest orations. Publius Clodius had his speeches to the people issued as pamphlets, just like Gaius Gracchus; but two men may do the same thing without producing the same effect. The more important leaders even of the opposition, especially Caesar himself, did not often address the burgesses, and no longer published the speeches which they delivered; indeed they partly sought for their political fugitive writings another form than the traditional one of -contiones-, in which respect more especially the writings praising and censuring Cato(33) are remarkable. This is easily explained. Gaius Gracchus had addressed the burgesses; now men addressed the populace; and as the audience, so was the speech. No wonder that the reputable political author shunned a dress which implied that he had directed his words to the crowd assembled in the market-place of the capital.

Rise of A Literature of Pleadings

While the composition of orations thus declined from its former literary and political value in the same way as all branches of literature which were the natural growth of the national life, there began at the same time a singular, non-political, literature of pleadings. Hitherto the Romans had known nothing of the idea that the address of an advocate as such was destined not only for the judges and the parties, but also for the literary edification of contemporaries and posterity; no advocate had written down and published his pleadings, unless they were possibly at the same time political orations and in so far were fitted to be circulated as party writings, and this had not occurred very frequently. Even Quintus Hortensius (640-704), the most celebrated Roman advocate in the first years of this period, published but few speeches and these apparently only such as were wholly or half political. It was his successor in the leadership of the Roman bar, Marcus Tullius Cicero (648-711) who was from the outset quite as much author as forensic orator; he published his pleadings regularly, even when they were not at all or but remotely connected with politics. This was a token, not of progress, but of an unnatural and degenerate state of things. Even in Athens the appearance of non-political pleadings among the forms of literature was a sign of debility; and it was doubly so in Rome, which did not, like Athens, by a sort of necessity produce this malformation from the exaggerated pursuit of rhetoric, but borrowed it from abroad arbitrarily and in antagonism to the better traditions of the nation. Yet this new species of literature came rapidly into vogue, partly because it had various points of contact and coincidence with the earlier authorship of political orations, partly because the unpoetic, dogmatical, rhetorizing temperament of the Romans offered a favourable soil for the new seed, as indeed at the present day the speeches of advocates and even a sort of literature of law-proceedings are of some importance in Italy.

His Character

Thus oratorical authorship emancipated from politics was naturalized in the Roman literary world by Cicero. We have already had occasion several times to mention this many-sided man. As a statesman without insight, idea, or purpose, he figured successively as democrat, as aristocrat, and as a tool of the monarchs, and was never more than a short-sighted egotist. Where he exhibited the semblance of action, the questions to which his action applied had, as a rule, just reached their solution; thus he came forward in the trial of Verres against the senatorial courts when they were already set aside; thus he was silent at the discussion on the Gabinian, and acted as a champion of the Manilian, law; thus he thundered against Catilina when his departure was already settled, and so forth. He was valiant in opposition to sham attacks, and he knocked down many walls of pasteboard with a loud din; no serious matter was ever, either in good or evil, decided by him, and the execution of the Catilinarians in particular was far more due to his acquiescence than to his instigation. In a literary point of view we have already noticed that he was the creator of the modern Latin prose;(34) his importance rests on his mastery of style, and it is only as a stylist that he shows confidence in himself. In the character of an author, on the other hand, he stands quite as low as in that of a statesman. He essayed the most varied tasks, sang the great deeds of Marius and his own petty achievements in endless hexameters, beat Demosthenes off the field with his speeches, and Plato with his philosophic dialogues; and time alone was wanting for him to vanquish also Thucydides. He was in fact so thoroughly a dabbler, that it was pretty much a matter of indifference to what work he applied his hand. By nature a journalist in the worst sense of that term—abounding, as he himself says, in words, poor beyond all conception in ideas—there was no department in which he could not with the help of a few books have rapidly got up by translation or compilation a readable essay. His correspondence mirrors most faithfully his character. People are in the habit of calling it interesting and clever; and it is so, as long as it reflects the urban or villa life of the world of quality; but where the writer is thrown on his own resources, as in exile, in Cilicia, and after the battle of Pharsalus, it is stale and emptyas was ever the soul of a feuilletonist banished from his familiar circles. It is scarcely needful to add that such a statesman and such a -litterateur- could not, as a man, exhibit aught else than a thinly varnished superficiality and heart-lessness. Must we still describe the orator? The great author is also a great man; and in the great orator more especially conviction or passion flows forth with a clearer and more impetuous stream from the depths of the breast than in the scantily-gifted many who merely count and are nothing. Cicero had no conviction and no passion; he was nothing but an advocate, and not a good one. He understood how to set forth his narrative of the case with piquancy of anecdote, to excite, if not the feeling, at any rate the sentimentality of his hearers, and to enliven the dry business of legal pleading by cleverness or witticisms mostly of a personal sort; his better orations, though they are far from coming up to the free gracefulness and the sure point of the most excellent compositions of this sort, for instance the Memoirs of Beaumarchais, yet form easy and agreeable reading. But while the very advantages just indicated will appear to the serious judge as advantages of very dubious value, the absolute want of political discernment in the orations on constitutional questions and of juristic deduction in the forensic addresses, the egotism forgetful of its duty and constantly losing sight of the cause while thinking of the advocate, the dreadful barrenness of thought in the Ciceronian orations must revolt every reader of feeling and judgment.


If there is anything wonderful in the case, it is in truth not the orations, but the admiration which they excited. As to Cicero every unbiassed person will soon make up his mind: Ciceronianism is a problem, which in fact cannot be properly solved, but can only be resolved into that greater mystery of human nature—language and the effect of language on the mind. Inasmuch as the noble Latin language, just before it perished as a national idiom, was once more as it were comprehensively grasped by that dexterous stylist and deposited in his copious writings, something of the power which language exercises, and of the piety which it awakens, was transferred to the unworthy vessel. The Romans possessed no great Latin prose-writer; for Caesar was, like Napoleon, only incidentally an author. Was it to be wondered at that, in the absence of such an one, they should at least honour the genius of the language in the great stylist? And that, like Cicero himself, Cicero's readers also should accustom themselves to ask not what, but how he had written? Custom and the schoolmaster then completed what the power of language had begun.

Opposition to Ciceronianism
Calvus and His Associates

Cicero's contemporaries however were, as may readily be conceived, far less involved in this strange idolatry than many of their successors. The Ciceronian manner ruled no doubt throughout a generation the Roman advocate-world, just as the far worse manner of Hortensius had done; but the most considerable men, such as Caesar, kept themselves always aloof from it, and among the younger generation there arose in all men of fresh and living talent the most decided opposition to that hybrid and feeble rhetoric. They found Cicero's language deficient in precision and chasteness, his jests deficient in liveliness, his arrangement deficient in clearness and articulate division, and above all his whole eloquence wanting in the fire which makes the orator. Instead of the Rhodian eclectics men began to recur to the genuine Attic orators especially to Lysias and Demosthenes, and sought to naturalize a more vigorous and masculine eloquence in Rome. Representatives of this tendency were, the solemn but stiff Marcus Junius Brutus (669-712); the two political partisans Marcus Caelius Rufus (672-706;(35)) and Gaius Scribonius Curio (d. 705(36);)— both as orators full of spirit and life; Calvus well known also as a poet (672-706), the literary coryphaeus of this younger group of orators; and the earnest and conscientious Gaius Asinius Pollio (678-757). Undeniably there was more taste and more spirit in this younger oratorical literature than in the Hortensian and Ciceronian put together; but we are not able to judge how far, amidst the storms of the revolution which rapidly swept away the whole of this richly-gifted group with the single exception of Pollio, those better germs attained development. The time allotted to them was but too brief. The new monarchy began by making war on freedom of speech, and soon wholly suppressed the political oration. Thenceforth the subordinate species of the pure advocate-pleading was doubtless still retained in literature; but the higher art and literature of oratory, which thoroughly depend on political excitement, perished with the latter of necessity and for ever.

The Artificial Dialogue Applied to the Professional Sciences
Cicero's Dialogues

Lastly there sprang up in the aesthetic literature of this period the artistic treatment of subjects of professional science in the form of the stylistic dialogue, which had been very extensively in use among the Greeks and had been already employed also in isolated cases among the Romans.(37) Cicero especially made various attempts at presenting rhetorical and philosophical subjects in this form and making the professional manual a suitable book for reading. His chief writings are the -De Oratore- (written in 699), to which the history of Roman eloquence (the dialogue -Brutus-, written in 708) and other minor rhetorical essays were added by way of supplement; and the treatise -De Republica- (written in 700), with which the treatise -De Legibus- (written in 702?) after the model of Plato is brought into connection. They are no great works of art, but undoubtedly they are the works in which the excellences of the author are most, and his defects least, conspicuous. The rhetorical writings are far from coming up to the didactic chasteness of form and precision of thought of the Rhetoric dedicated to Herennius, but they contain instead a store of practical forensic experience and forensic anecdotes of all sorts easily and tastefully set forth, and in fact solve the problem of combining didactic instruction with amusement. The treatise -De Republica- carries out, in a singular mongrel compound of history and philosophy, the leading idea that the existing constitution of Rome is substantially the ideal state-organization sought for by the philosophers; an idea indeed just as unphilosophical as unhistorical, and besides not even peculiar to the author, but which, as may readily be conceived, became and remained popular. The scientific groundwork of these rhetorical and political writings of Cicero belongs of course entirely to the Greeks, and many of the details also, such as the grand concluding effect in the treatise -De Republica- the Dream of Scipio, are directly borrowed from them; yet they possess comparative originality, inasmuch as the elaboration shows throughout Roman local colouring, and the proud consciousness of political life, which the Roman was certainly entitled to feel as compared with the Greeks, makes the author even confront his Greek instructors with a certain independence. The form of Cicero's dialogue is doubtless neither the genuine interrogative dialectics of the best Greek artificial dialogue nor the genuine conversational tone of Diderot or Lessing; but the great groups of advocates gathering around Crassus and Antonius and of the older and younger statesmen of the Scipionic circle furnish a lively and effective framework, fitting channels for the introduction of historical references and anecdotes, and convenient resting-points for the scientific discussion. The style is quite as elaborate and polished as in the best-written orations, and so far more pleasing than these, since the author does not often in this field make a vain attempt at pathos.

While these rhetorical and political writings of Cicero with a philosophic colouring are not devoid of merit, the compiler on the other hand completely failed, when in the involuntary leisure of the last years of his life (709-710) he applied himself to philosophy proper, and with equal peevishness and precipitation composed in a couple of months a philosophical library. The receipt was very simple. In rude imitation of the popular writings of Aristotle, in which the form of dialogue was employed chiefly for the setting forth and criticising of the different older systems, Cicero stitched together the Epicurean, Stoic, and Syncretist writings handling the same problem, as they came or were given to his hand, into a so-called dialogue. And all that he did on his own part was, to supply an introduction prefixed to the new book from the ample collection of prefaces for future works which he had beside him; to impart a certain popular character, inasmuch as he interwove Roman examples and references, and sometimes digressed to subjects irrelevant but more familiar to the writer and the reader, such as the treatment of the deportment of the orator in the -De Officiis-; and to exhibit that sort of bungling, which a man of letters, who has not attained to philosophic thinking or even to philosophic knowledge and who works rapidly and boldly, shows in the reproduction of dialectic trains of thought. In this way no doubt a multitude of thick tomes might very quickly come into existence—"They are copies," wrote the author himself to a friend who wondered at his fertility; "they give me little trouble, for I supply only the words and these I have in abundance." Against this nothing further could be said; but any one who seeks classical productions in works so written can only be advised to study in literary matters a becoming silence.

Professional Sciences.
Latin Philology

Of the sciences only a single one manifested vigorous life, that of Latin philology. The scheme of linguistic and antiquarian research within the domain of the Latin race, planned by Silo, was carried out especially by his disciple Varro on the grandest scale. There appeared comprehensive elaborations of the whole stores of the language, more especially the extensive grammatical commentaries of Figulus and the great work of Varro -De Lingua Latina-; monographs on grammar and the history of the language, such as Varro's writings on the usage of the Latin language, on synonyms, on the age of the letters, on the origin of the Latin tongue; scholia on the older literature, especially on Plautus; works of literary history, biographies of poets, investigations into the earlier drama, into the scenic division of the comedies of Plautus, and into their genuineness. Latin archaeology, which embraced the whole older history and the ritual law apart from practical jurisprudence, was comprehended in Varro's "Antiquities of Things Human and Divine," which was and for all times remained the fundamental treatise on the subject (published between 687 and 709). The first portion, "Of Things Human," described the primeval age of Rome, the divisions of city and country, the sciences of the years, months, and days, lastly, the public transactions at home and in war; in the second half, "Of Things Divine," the state- theology, the nature and significance of the colleges of experts, of the holy places, of the religious festivals, of sacrificial and votive gifts, and lastly of the gods themselves were summarily unfolded. Moreover, besides a number of monographs— e. g. on the descent of the Roman people, on the Roman gentes descended from Troy, on the tribes—there was added, as a larger and more independent supplement, the treatise "Of the Life of the Roman People"—a remarkable attempt at a history of Roman manners, which sketched a picture of the state of domestic life, finance, and culture in the regal, the early republican, the Hannibalic, and the most recent period. These labours of Varro were based on an empiric knowledge of the Roman world and its adjacent Hellenic domain more various and greater in its kind than any other Roman either before or after him possessed—a knowledge to which living observation and the study of literature alike contributed. The eulogy of his contemporaries was well deserved, that Varro had enabled his countrymen—strangers in their own world—to know their position in their native land, and had taught the Romans who and where they were. But criticism and system will be sought for in vain. His Greek information seems to have come from somewhat confused sources, and there are traces that even in the Roman field the writer was not free from the influence of the historical romance of his time. The matter is doubtless inserted in a convenient and symmetrical framework, but not classified or treated methodically; and with all his efforts to bring tradition and personal observation into harmony, the scientific labours of Varro are not to be acquitted of a certain implicit faith in tradition or of an unpractical scholasticism.(38) The connection with Greek philology consists in the imitation of its defects more than of its excellences; for instance, the basing of etymologies on mere similarity of sound both in Varro himself and in the other philologues of this epoch runs into pure guesswork and often into downright absurdity.(39) In its empiric confidence and copiousness as well as in its empiric inadequacy and want of method the Varronian vividly reminds us of the English national philology, and just like the latter, finds its centre in the study of the older drama. We have already observed that the monarchical literature developed the rules of language in contradistinction to this linguistic empiricism.(40) It is in a high degree significant that there stands at the head of the modern grammarians no less a man than Caesar himself, who in his treatise on Analogy (given forth between 696 and 704) first undertook to bring free language under the power of law.

The Other Professional Sciences

Alongside of this extraordinary stir in the field of philology The small amount of activity in the other sciences is surprising. What appeared of importance in philosophy—such as Lucretius' representation of the Epicurean system in the poetical child-dress of the pre-Socratic philosophy, and the better writings of Cicero— produced its effect and found its audience not through its philosophic contents, but in spite of such contents solely through its aesthetic form; the numerous translations of Epicurean writings and the Pythagorean works, such as Varro's great treatise on the Elements of Numbers and the still more copious one of Figulus concerning the Gods, had beyond doubt neither scientific nor formal value.

Even the professional sciences were but feebly cultivated. Varro's Books on Husbandry written in the form of dialogue are no doubt more methodical than those of his predecessors Cato and Saserna— on which accordingly he drops many a side glance of censure— but have on the whole proceeded more from the study than, like those earlier works, from living experience. Of the juristic labours of Varro and of Servius Sulpicius Rufus (consul in 703) hardly aught more can be said, than that they contributed to the dialectic and philosophical embellishment of Roman jurisprudence. And there is nothing farther here to be mentioned, except perhaps the three books of Gaius Matius on cooking, pickling, and making preserves— so far as we know, the earliest Roman cookery-book, and, as the work of a man of rank, certainly a phenomenon deserving of notice. That mathematics and physics were stimulated by the increased Hellenistic and utilitarian tendencies of the monarchy, is apparent from their growing importance in the instruction of youth (41) and from various practical applications; under which, besides the reform of the calendar,(42) may perhaps be included the appearance of wall-maps at this period, the technical improvements in shipbuilding and in musical instruments, designs and buildings like the aviary specified by Varro, the bridge of piles over the Rhine executed by the engineers of Caesar, and even two semicircular stages of boards arranged for being pushed together, and employed first separately as two theatres and then jointly as an amphitheatre. The public exhibition of foreign natural curiosities at the popular festivals was not unusual; and the descriptions of remarkable animals, which Caesar has embodied in the reports of his campaigns, show that, had an Aristotle appeared, he would have again found his patron-prince. But such literary performances as are mentioned in this department are essentially associated with Neopythagoreanism, such as the comparison of Greek and Barbarian, i. e. Egyptian, celestial observations by Figulus, and his writings concerning animals, winds, and generative organs. After Greek physical research generally had swerved from the Aristotelian effort to find amidst individual facts the law, and had more and more passed into an empiric and mostly uncritical observation of the external and surprising in nature, natural science when coming forward as a mystical philosophy of nature, instead of enlightening and stimulating, could only still more stupefy and paralyze; and in presence of such a method it was better to rest satisfied with the platitude which Cicero delivers as Socratic wisdom, that the investigation of nature either seeks after things which nobody can know, or after such things as nobody needs to know.


If, in fine, we cast a glance at art, we discover here the same unpleasing phenomena which pervade the whole mental life of this period. Building on the part of the state was virtually brought to a total stand amidst the scarcity of money that marked the last age of the republic. We have already spoken of the luxury in building of the Roman grandees; the architects learned in consequence of this to be lavish of marble—the coloured sorts such as the yellow Numidian (Giallo antico) and others came into vogue at this time, and the marble-quarries of Luna (Carrara) were now employed for the first time—and began to inlay the floors of the rooms with mosaic work, to panel the walls with slabs of marble, or to paint the compartments in imitation of marble—the first steps towards the subsequent fresco-painting. But art was not a gainer by this lavish magnificence.

Arts of Design

In the arts of design connoisseurship and collecting were always on the increase. It was a mere affectation of Catonian simplicity, when an advocate spoke before the jurymen of the works of art "of a certain Praxiteles"; every one travelled and inspected, and the trade of the art-ciceroni, or, as they were then called, the -exegetae-, was none of the worst. Ancient works of art were formally hunted after—statues and pictures less, it is true, than, in accordance with the rude character of Roman luxury, artistically wrought furniture and ornaments of all sorts for the room and the table. As early as that age the old Greek tombs of Capua and Corinth were ransacked for the sake of the bronze and earthenware vessels which had been placed in the tomb along with the dead. for a small statuette of bronze 40,000 sesterces (400 pounds) were paid, and 200,000 (2000 pounds) for a pair of costly carpets; a well-wrought bronze cooking machine came to cost more than an estate. In this barbaric hunting after art the rich amateur was, as might be expected, frequently cheated by those who supplied him; but the economic ruin of Asia Minor in particular so exceedingly rich in artistic products brought many really ancient and rare ornaments and works of art into the market, and from Athens, Syracuse, Cyzicus, Pergamus, Chios, Samos, and other ancient seats of art, everything that was for sale and very much that was not migrated to the palaces and villas of the Roman grandees. We have already mentioned what treasures of art were to be found within the house of Lucullus, who indeed was accused, perhaps not unjustly, of having gratified his interest in the fine arts at the expense of his duties as a general. The amateurs of art crowded thither as they crowd at present to the Villa Borghese, and complained even then of such treasures being confined to the palaces and country-houses of the men of quality, where they could be seen only with difficulty and after special permission from the possessor. The public buildings on the other hand were far from filled in like proportion with famous works of Greek masters, and in many cases there still stood in the temples of the capital nothing but the old images of the gods carved in wood. As to the exercise of art there is virtually nothing to report; there is hardly mentioned by name from this period any Roman sculptor or painter except a certain Arellius, whose pictures rapidly went off not on account of their artistic value, but because the cunning reprobate furnished, in his pictures of the goddesses faithful portraits of his mistresses for the time being.

Dancing and Music

The importance of music and dancing increased in public as in domestic life. We have already set forth how theatrical music and the dancing-piece attained to an independent standing in the development of the stage at this period;(43) we may add that now in Rome itself representations were very frequently given by Greek musicians, dancers, and declaimers on the public stage— such as were usual in Asia Minor and generally in the whole Hellenic and Hellenizing world.(44) To these fell to be added the musicians and dancing-girls who exhibited their arts to order at table and elsewhere, and the special choirs of stringed and wind instruments and singers which were no longer rare in noble houses. But that even the world of quality itself played and sang with diligence, is shown by the very adoption of music into the cycle of the generally recognized subjects of instruction;(45) as to dancing, it was, to say nothing of women, made matter of reproach even against consulars that they exhibited themselves in dancing performances amidst a small circle.

Incipient Influence of the Monarchy

Towards the end of this period, however, there appears with the commencement of the monarchy the beginning of a better time also in art. We have already mentioned the mighty stimulus which building in the capital received, and building throughout the empire was destined to receive, through Caesar. Even in the cutting of the dies of the coins there appears about 700 a remarkable change; the stamping, hitherto for the most part rude and negligent, is thenceforward managed with more delicacy and care.


We have reached the end of the Roman republic. We have seen it rule for five hundred years in Italy and in the countries on the Mediterranean; we have seen it brought to ruin in politics and morals, religion and literature, not through outward violence but through inward decay, and thereby making room for the new monarchy of Caesar. There was in the world, as Caesar found it, much of the noble heritage of past centuries and an infinite abundance of pomp and glory, but little spirit, still less taste, and least of all true delight in life. It was indeed an old world; and even the richly-gifted patriotism of Caesar could not make it young again. The dawn does not return till after the night has fully set in and run its course. But yet with him there came to the sorely harassed peoples on the Mediterranean a tolerable evening after the sultry noon; and when at length after a long historical night the new day dawned once more for the peoples, and fresh nations in free self-movement commenced their race towards new and higher goals, there were found among them not a few, in which the seed sown by Caesar had sprung up, and which owed, as they still owe, to him their national individuality.

The End


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