1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Latin Literature
LATIN LITERATURE. The germs of an indigenous literature had existed at an early period in Rome and in the country districts of Italy, and they have an importance as indicating natural wants in the Italian race, which were ultimately satisfied by regular literary forms. The art of writing was first employed in the service of the state and of religion for books of ritual, treaties with other states, the laws of the Twelve Tables and the like. An approach to literature was made in the Annales Maximi, records of private families, funeral orations and inscriptions on busts and tombs such as those of the Scipios in the Appian Way. In the satisfaction they afforded to the commemorative and patriotic instincts they anticipated an office afterwards performed by the national epics and the works of regular historians. A still nearer approach to literature was probably made in oratory, as we learn from Cicero that the famous speech delivered by Appius Claudius Caecus against concluding peace with Pyrrhus (280 B.C.) was extant in his time. Appius also published a collection of moral maxims and reflections in verse. No other name associated with any form of literature belonging to the pre-literary age has been preserved by tradition.
But it was rather in the chants and litanies of the ancient religion, such as those of the Salii and the Fratres Arvales, and the dirges for the dead (neniae), and in certain extemporaneous effusions, that some germs of a native poetry might have been detected; and finally in the use of Saturnian verse, a metre of pure native origin, which by its rapid and lively movement gave expression to the vivacity and quick apprehension of the Italian race. This metre was employed in ritual hymns, which seem to have assumed definite shapes out of the exclamations of a primitive priesthood engaged in a rude ceremonial dance. It was also used by a class of bards or itinerant soothsayers known by the name of vates, of whom the most famous was one Marcius, and in the “Fescennine verses,” as sung at harvest-homes and weddings, which gave expression to the coarse gaiety of the people and to their strong tendency to personal raillery and satiric comment. The metre was also employed in commemorative poems, accompanied with music, which were sung at funeral banquets in celebration of the exploits and virtues of distinguished men. These had their origin in the same impulse which ultimately found its full gratification in Roman history, Roman epic poetry, and that form of Roman oratory known as laudationes, and in some of the Odes of Horace. The latest and probably the most important of these rude and inchoate forms was that of dramatic saturae (medleys), put together without any regular plot and consisting apparently of contests of wit and satiric invective, and perhaps of comments on current events, accompanied with music (Livy vii. 2). These have a real bearing on the subsequent development of Latin literature. They prepared the mind of the people for the reception of regular comedy. They may have contributed to the formation of the style of comedy which appears at the very outset much more mature than that of serious poetry, tragic or epic. They gave the name and some of the characteristics to that special literary product of the Roman soil, the satura, addressed to readers, not to spectators, which ultimately was developed into pure poetic satire in Lucilius, Horace, Persius and Juvenal, into the prose and verse miscellany of Varro, and into something approaching the prose novel in Petronius.
First Period: from 240 to about 80 B.C.
The historical event which brought about the greatest change in the intellectual condition of the Romans, and thereby exercised a decisive influence on the whole course of human culture, was the capture of Tarentum in 272. After Livius Andronicus. the capture many Greek slaves were brought to Rome, and among them the young Livius Andronicus (c. 284–204), who was employed in teaching Greek in the family of his master, a member of the Livian gens. From that time to learn Greek became a regular part of the education of a Roman noble. The capture of Tarentum was followed by the complete Romanizing of all southern Italy. Soon after came the first Punic war, the principal scene of which was Sicily, where, from common hostility to the Carthaginian, Greek and Roman were brought into friendly relations, and the Roman armies must have become familiar with the spectacles and performances of the Greek theatre. In the year after the war (240), when the armies had returned and the people were at leisure to enjoy the fruits of victory, Livius Andronicus substituted at one of the public festivals a regular drama, translated or adapted from the Greek, for the musical medleys (saturae) hitherto in use. From this time dramatic performances became a regular accompaniment of the public games, and came more and more to encroach on the older kinds of amusement, such as the chariot races. The dramatic work of Livius was mainly of educative value. The same may be said of his translation of the Odyssey, which was still used as a school-book in the days of Horace, and the religious hymn which he was called upon to compose in 207 had no high literary pretensions. He was, however, the first to familiarize the Romans with the forms of the Greek drama and the Greek epic, and thus to determine the main lines which Latin literature followed for more than a century afterwards.
His immediate successor, Cn. Naevius (d. c. 200 B.C.), was not, like Livius, a Greek, but either a Roman citizen or, more probably, a Campanian who enjoyed the limited citizenship of a Latin and who had served in the Roman army in the Naevius. first Punic war. His first appearance as a dramatic author was in 235. He adapted both tragedies and comedies from the Greek, but the bent of his genius, the tastes of his audience, and the condition of the language developed through the active intercourse and business of life, gave a greater impulse to comedy than to tragedy. Naevius tried to use the theatre, as it had been used by the writers of the Old Comedy of Athens, for the purposes of political warfare, and thus seems to have anticipated by a century the part played by Lucilius. But his attacks upon the Roman aristocracy, especially the Metelli, were resented by their objects; and Naevius, after being imprisoned, had to retire in his old age into banishment. He was not only the first in point of time, and according to ancient testimony one of the first in point of merit, among the comic poets of Rome, and in spirit, though not in form, the earliest of the line of Roman satirists, but he was also the oldest of the national poets. Besides celebrating the success of M. Claudius Marcellus in 222 over the Gauls in a play called Clastidium, he gave the first specimen of the fabula praetexta in his Alimonium Romuli et Remi, based on the most national of all Roman traditions. Still more important service was rendered by him in his long Saturnian poem on the first Punic war, in which he not only told the story of contemporary events but gave shape to the legend of the settlement of Aeneas in Latium,—the theme ultimately adopted for the great national epic of Rome.
His younger contemporary T. Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184) was the greatest comic dramatist of Rome. He lived and wrote only to amuse his contemporaries, and thus, although more popular in his lifetime and more fortunate than Plautus. any of the older authors in the ultimate survival of a large number of his works, he is less than any of the great writers of Rome in sympathy with either the serious or the caustic spirit in Latin literature. Yet he is the one extant witness to the humour and vivacity of the Italian temperament at a stage between its early rudeness and rigidity and its subsequent degeneracy.
Thus far Latin literature, of which the predominant characteristics are dignity, gravity and fervour of feeling, seemed likely to become a mere vehicle of amusement adapted to all classes of the people in their holiday mood. But a new spirit, which henceforth became predominant, appeared in the time of Plautus. Latin literature ceased to be in close sympathy with the popular spirit, either politically or as a form of amusement, but became the expression of the ideas, sentiment and culture of the aristocratic Ennius. governing class. It was by Q. Ennius (239–169) of Rudiae in Messapia, that a new direction was given to Latin literature. Deriving from his birthplace the culture, literary and philosophical, of Magna Graecia, and having gained the friendship of the greatest of the Romans living in that great age, he was of all the early writers most fitted to be the medium of conciliation between the serious genius of ancient Greece and the serious genius of Rome. Alone among the older writers he was endowed with the gifts of a poetical imagination and animated with enthusiasm for a great ideal.
First among his special services to Latin literature was the fresh impulse which he gave to tragedy. He turned the eyes of his contemporaries from the commonplace social humours of later Greek life to the contemplation of the heroic age. But he did not thereby denationalize the Roman drama. He animated the heroes of early Greece with the martial spirit of Roman soldiers and the ideal magnanimity and sagacity of Roman senators, and imparted weight and dignity to the language and verse in which their sentiments and thoughts were expressed. Although Rome wanted creative force to add a great series of tragic dramas to the literature of the world, yet the spirit of elevation and moral authority breathed into tragedy by Ennius passed into the ethical and didactic writings and the oratory of a later time.
Another work was the Saturae, written in various metres, but chiefly in the trochaic tetrameter. He thus became the inventor of a new form of literature; and, if in his hands the satura was rude and indeterminate in its scope, it became a vehicle by which to address a reading public on matters of the day, or on the materials of his wide reading, in a style not far removed from the language of common life. His greatest work, which made the Romans regard him as the father of their literature, was his epic poem, in eighteen books, the Annales, in which the record of the whole career of Rome was unrolled with idealizing enthusiasm and realistic detail. The idea which inspired Ennius was ultimately realized in both the national epic of Virgil and the national history of Livy. And the metrical vehicle which he conceived as the only one adequate to his great theme was a rude experiment, which was ultimately developed into the stately Virgilian hexameter. Even as a grammarian he performed an important service to the literary language of Rome, by fixing its prosody and arresting the tendency to decay in its final syllables. Although of his writings only fragments remain, these fragments are enough, along with what we know of him from ancient testimony, to justify us in regarding him as the most important among the makers of Latin literature before the age of Cicero.
There is still one other name belonging partly to this, partly to the next generation, to be added to those of the men of original force of mind and character who created Latin literature, that of M. Porcius Cato the Censor (234–149), Cato. the younger contemporary of Ennius, whom he brought to Rome. More than Naevius and Plautus he represented the pure native element in that literature, the mind and character of Latium, the plebeian pugnacity, which was one of the great forces in the Roman state. His lack of imagination and his narrow patriotism made him the natural leader of the reaction against the new Hellenic culture. He strove to make literature ancillary to politics and to objects of practical utility, and thus started prose literature on the chief lines that it afterwards followed. Through his industry and vigorous understanding he gave a great impulse to the creation of Roman oratory, history and systematic didactic writing. He was one of the first to publish his speeches and thus to bring them into the domain of literature. Cicero, who speaks of 150 of these speeches as extant in his day, praises them for their acuteness, their wit, their conciseness. He speaks with emphasis of the impressiveness of Cato’s eulogy and the satiric bitterness of his invective.
Cato was the first historical writer of Rome to use his native tongue. His Origines, the work of his old age, was written with that thoroughly Roman conception of history which regarded actions and events solely as they affected the continuous and progressive life of a state. Cato felt that the record of Roman glory could not be isolated from the story of the other Italian communities, which, after fighting against Rome for their own independence, shared with her the task of conquering the world. To the wider national sympathies which stimulated the researches of the old censor into the legendary history of the Italian towns we owe some of the most truly national parts of Virgil’s Aeneid.
In Naevius, Plautus, Ennius and Cato are represented the contending forces which strove for ascendancy in determining what was to be the character of the new literature. The work, begun by them, was carried on by younger contemporaries and successors; by Statius Caecilius (c. 220–168), an Insubrian Gaul, in comedy; in tragedy by M. Pacuvius (c. 220–132), the nephew of Ennius, called by Cicero the greatest of Roman tragedians; and, in the following generation, by L. Accius (c. 170–86), who was more usually placed in this position. The impulse given to oratory by Cato, Ser. Sulpicius Galba and others, and along with it the development of prose composition, went on with increased momentum till the age of Cicero. But the interval between the death of Ennius (169) and the beginning of Cicero’s career, while one of progressive advance in the appreciation of literary form and style, was much less distinguished by original force than the time immediately before and after the end of the second Punic war. The one complete survival of the generation after the death of Ennius, the comedy of P. Terentius Terence. Afer or Terence (c. 185–159), exemplifies the gain in literary accomplishment and the loss in literary freedom. Terence has nothing Roman or Italian except his pure and idiomatic Latinity. His Athenian elegance affords the strongest contrast to the Italian rudeness of Cato’s De Re Rustica. By looking at them together we understand how much the comedy of Terence was able to do to refine and humanize the manners of Rome, but at the same time what a solvent it was of the discipline and ideas of the old republic. What makes Terence an important witness of the culture of his time is that he wrote from the centre of the Scipionic circle, in which what was most humane and liberal in Roman statesmanship was combined with the appreciation of what was most vital in the Greek thought and literature of the time. The comedies of Terence may therefore be held to give some indication of the tastes of Scipio, Laelius and their friends in their youth. The influence of Panaetius and Polybius was more adapted to their maturity, when they led the state in war, statesmanship and oratory, and when the humaner teaching of Stoicism began to enlarge the sympathies of Roman jurists. But in the last years during which this circle kept together a new spirit appeared in Roman politics and a new power in Roman literature,—the revolutionary spirit evoked by the Gracchi in opposition to the long-continued ascendancy of the senate, and the new power of Roman satire, which was exercised impartially and unsparingly against both the excesses of the revolutionary spirit and the arrogance and incompetence of the extreme party among the nobles. Roman satire, though in form a legitimate development of the indigenous dramatic satura through the written satura of Ennius and Pacuvius, is really a birth of this time, and its author was the youngest of those admitted into the intimacy of the Scipionic Lucilius. circle, C. Lucilius of Suessa Aurunca (c. 180–103). Among the writers before the age of Cicero he alone deserves to be named with Naevius, Plautus Ennius and Cato as a great originative force in literature. For about thirty years the most important event in Roman literature was the production of the satires of Lucilius, in which the politics, morals, society and letters of the time were criticized with the utmost freedom and pungency, and his own personality was brought immediately and familiarly before his contemporaries. The years that intervened between his death and the beginning of the Ciceronian age are singularly barren in works of original value. But in one direction there was some novelty. The tragic writers had occasionally taken their subjects from Roman life (fabulae praetextae), and in comedy we find the corresponding togatae of Lucius Afranius and others, in which comedy, while assuming a Roman dress, did not assume the virtue of a Roman matron.
The general results of the last fifty years of the first period
(130 to 80) may be thus summed up. In poetry we have the
satires of Lucilius, the tragedies of Accius and of a
few successors among the Roman aristocracy, who
from 130 to 80. thus exemplified the affinity of the Roman stage to Roman oratory; various annalistic poems intended to serve as continuations of the great poem of Ennius; minor poems of an epigrammatic and erotic character, unimportant anticipations of the Alexandrian tendency operative in the following period; works of criticism in trochaic tetrameters by Porcius Licinus and others, forming part of the critical and grammatical movement which almost from the first accompanied the creative movement in Latin literature, and which may be regarded as rude precursors of the didactic epistles that Horace devoted to literary criticism.
The only extant prose work which may be assigned to the end of this period is the treatise on rhetoric known by the title Ad Herennium (c. 84) a work indicative of the attention bestowed on prose style and rhetorical studies during the last century of the republic, and which may be regarded as a precursor of the oratorical treatises of Cicero and of the work of Quintilian. But the great literary product of this period was oratory, developed indeed with the aid of these rhetorical studies, but Oratory. itself the immediate outcome of the imperial interests, the legal conflicts, and the political passions of that time of agitation. The speakers and writers of a later age looked back on Scipio and Laelius, the Gracchi and their contemporaries, L. Crassus and M. Antonius, as masters of their art.
In history, regarded as a great branch of prose literature, it is not probable that much was accomplished, although, with the advance of oratory and grammatical studies, there must have been not only greater fluency of History. composition but the beginning of a richer and more ornate style. Yet Cicero denies to Rome the existence, before his own time, of any adequate historical literature. Nevertheless it was by the work of a number of Roman chroniclers during this period that the materials of early Roman history were systematized, and the record of the state, as it was finally given to the world in the artistic work of Livy, was extracted from the early annals, state documents and private memorials, combined into a coherent unity, and supplemented by invention and reflection. Amongst these chroniclers may be mentioned L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi (consul 133, censor 108), C. Sempronius Tuditanus (consul 129), Cn. Gellius, C. Fannius (consul 122), L. Coelius Antipater, who wrote a narrative of the second Punic war about 120, and Sempronius Asellio, who wrote a history of his own times, have a better claim to be considered historians. There were also special works on antiquities and contemporary memoirs, and autobiographies such as those of M. Aemilius Scaurus, the elder, Q. Lutatius Catulus (consul 102 B.C.), and P. Rutilius Rufus, which formed the sources of future historians. (See further Annales; and Rome: History, Ancient, § “Authorities.”)
Although the artistic product of the first period of Latin
literature which has reached us in a complete shape is limited
to the comedies of Plautus and Terence, the influence
of the lost literature in determining the spirit, form
the period. and style of the eras of more perfect accomplishment which followed is unmistakable. While humour and vivacity characterize the earlier, and urbanity of tone the later development of comedy, the tendency of serious literature had been in the main practical, ethical, commemorative and satirical. The higher poetical imagination had appeared only in Ennius, and had been called forth in him by sympathy with the grandeur of the national life and the great personal qualities of its representative men. Some of the chief motives of the later poetry, e.g. the pleasures and sorrows of private life, had as yet found scarcely any expression in Latin literature. The fittest metrical vehicle for epic, didactic, and satiric poetry had been discovered, but its movement was as yet rude and inharmonious. The idiom of ordinary life and social intercourse and the more fervid and elevated diction of oratorical prose had made great progress, but the language of imagination and poetical feeling was, if vivid and impressive in isolated expressions, still incapable of being wrought into consecutive passages of artistic composition. The influences of Greek literature to which Latin literature owed its birth had not as yet spread beyond Rome and Latium. The Sabellian races of central and eastern Italy and the Italo-Celtic and Venetian races of the north, in whom the poetic susceptibility of Italy was most manifest two generations later, were not, until after the Social war, sufficiently in sympathy with Rome, and were probably not as yet sufficiently educated to induce them to contribute their share to the national literature. Hence the end of the Social war, and of the Civil war, which arose out of it, is most clearly a determining factor in Roman literature, and may most appropriately be taken as marking the end of one period and the beginning of another.
Second Period: from 80 to 42 B.C.
The last age of the republic coincides with the first half of the Golden age of Roman literature. It is generally known as the Ciceronian age from the name of its greatest literary representative, whose activity as a and writer was unremitting during nearly the whole period. It is the age of purest excellence in prose, and of a new birth of poetry, characterized rather by great original force and artistic promise than by perfect accomplishment. The five chief representatives of this age who still hold their rank among the great classical writers are Cicero, Caesar and Sallust in prose, Lucretius and Catullus in verse. The works of other prose writers, Varro and Cornelius Nepos, have been partially preserved; but these writers have no claim to rank with those already mentioned as creators and masters of literary style. Although literature had not as yet become a trade or profession, an educated reading public already existed, and books and intellectual intercourse filled a large part of the leisure of men actively engaged in affairs. Even oratory was intended quite as much for readers as for the audiences to which it was immediately addressed; and some of the greatest speeches which have come down from that great age of orators were never delivered at all, but were published as manifestoes after the event with the view of influencing educated opinion, and as works of art with the view of giving pleasure to educated taste.
Thus the speeches of M. Tullius Cicero (106–43) belong to the domain of literature quite as much as to that of forensic or political oratory. And, although Demosthenes is a master of style unrivalled even by Cicero, the literary Cicero. interest of most of Cicero’s speeches is stronger than that of the great mass of Greek oratory. It is urged with justice that the greater part of Cicero’s Defence of Archias was irrelevant to the issue and would not have been listened to by a Greek court of justice or a modern jury. But it was fortunate for the interests of literature that a court of educated Romans could be influenced by the considerations there submitted to them. In this way a question of the most temporary interest, concerning an individual of no particular eminence or importance, has produced one of the most impressive vindications of literature ever spoken or written. Oratory at Rome assumed a new type from being cultivated as an art which endeavoured to produce persuasion not so much by intellectual conviction, as by appeal to general human sympathies. In oratory, as in every other intellectual province, the Greeks had a truer sense of the limits and conditions of their art. But command over form is only one element in the making of an orator or poet. The largeness and dignity of the matter with which he has to deal are at least as important. The Roman oratory of the law courts had to deal not with petty questions of disputed property, of fraud, or violence, but with great imperial questions, with matters affecting the well-being of large provinces and the honour and safety of the republic; and no man ever lived who, in these respects, was better fitted than Cicero to be the representative of the type of oratory demanded by the condition of the later republic. To his great artistic accomplishment, perfected by practice and elaborate study, to the power of his patriotic, his moral, and personal sympathies, and his passionate emotional nature, must be added his vivid imagination and the rich and copious stream of his language, in which he had no rival among Roman writers or speakers. It has been said that Roman poetry has produced few, if any, great types of character. But the Verres, Catiline, Antony of Cicero are living and permanent types. The story told in the Pro Cluentio may be true or false, but the picture of provincial crime which it presents is vividly dramatic. Had we only known Cicero in his speeches we should have ranked him with Demosthenes as one who had realized the highest literary ideal. We should think of him also as the creator and master of Latin style—and, moreover, not only as a great orator but as a just and appreciative critic of oratory. But to his services to Roman oratory we have to add his services not indeed to philosophy but to the literature of philosophy. Though not a philosopher he is an admirable interpreter of those branches of philosophy which are fitted for practical application, and he presents us with the results of Greek reflection vivified by his own human sympathies and his large experience of men. In giving a model of the style in which human interest can best be imparted to abstract discussions, he used his great oratorical gift and art to persuade the world to accept the most hopeful opinions on human destiny and the principles of conduct most conducive to elevation and integrity of character.
The Letters of Cicero are thoroughly natural—colloquia absentium amicorum, to use his own phrase. Cicero’s letters to Atticus, and to the friends with whom he was completely at his ease, are the most sincere and immediate expression of the thought and feeling of the moment. They let us into the secret of his most serious thoughts and cares, and they give a natural outlet to his vivacity of observation, his wit and humour, his kindliness of nature. It shows how flexible an instrument Latin prose had become in his hand, when it could do justice at once to the ample and vehement volume of his oratory, to the calmer and more rhythmical movement of his philosophical meditation, and to the natural interchange of thought and feeling in the everyday intercourse of life.
Among the many rival orators of the age the most eminent were Quintus Hortensius Ortalus and C. Julius Caesar. The former was the leading representative of the Asiatic or florid style of oratory, and, like other members of Caesar. the aristocracy, such as C. Memmius and L. Manlius Torquatus, and like Q. Catulus in the preceding generation, was a kind of dilettante poet and a precursor of the poetry of pleasure, which attained such prominence in the elegiac poets of the Augustan age. Of C. Julius Caesar (102–44) as an orator we can judge only by his reputation and by the testimony of his great rival and adversary Cicero; but we are able to appreciate the special praise of perfect taste in the use of language attributed to him. In his Commentaries, by laying aside the ornaments of oratory, he created the most admirable style of prose narrative, the style which presents interesting events in their sequence of time and dependence on the will of the actor, rapidly and vividly, with scarcely any colouring of personal or moral feeling, any oratorical passion, any pictorial illustration. While he shows the persuasive art of an orator by presenting the subjugation of Gaul and his own action in the Civil War in the light most favourable to his claim to rule the Roman world, he is entirely free from the Roman fashion of self-laudation or disparagement of an adversary. The character of the man reveals itself especially in a perfect simplicity of style, the result of the clearest intelligence and the strongest sense of personal dignity. He avoids not only every unusual but every superfluous word; and, although no writing can be more free from rhetorical colouring, yet there may from time to time be detected a glow of sympathy, like the glow of generous passion in Thucydides, the more effective from the reserve with which it betrays itself whenever he is called on to record any act of personal heroism or of devotion to military duty.
In the simplicity of his style, the directness of his narrative, the entire absence of any didactic tendency, Caesar presents a marked contrast to another prose writer of that age—the historian C. Sallustius Crispus or Sallust (c. 87–36). Sallust. Like Varro, he survived Cicero by some years, but the tone and spirit in which his works are written assign him to the republican era. He was the first of the purely artistic historians, as distinct from the annalists and the writers of personal memoirs. He imitated the Greek historians in taking particular actions—the Jugurthan War and the Catilinarian Conspiracy—as the subjects of artistic treatment. He wrote also a continuous work, Historiae, treating of the events of the twelve years following the death of Sulla, of which only fragments are preserved. His two extant works are more valuable as artistic studies of the rival parties in the state and of personal character than as trustworthy narratives of facts. His style aims at effectiveness by pregnant expression, sententiousness, archaism. He produces the impression of caring more for the manner of saying a thing than for its truth. Yet he has great value as a painter of historical portraits, some of them those of his contemporaries, and as an author who had been a political partisan and had taken some part in making history before undertaking to write it; and he gives us, from the popular side, the views of a contemporary on the politics of the time. Of the other historians, or rather annalists, who belong to this period, such as Q. Claudius Quadrigarius, Q. Valerius Antias, and C. Licinius Macer, the father of Calvus, we have only fragments remaining.
The period was also remarkable for the production of works which we should class as technical or scientific rather than literary. The activity of one of these writers was so great that he is entitled to a separate mention. This Varro. was M. Terentius Varro, the most learned not only of the Romans but of the Greeks, as he has been called. The list of Varro’s writings includes over seventy treatises and more than six hundred books dealing with topics of every conceivable kind. His Menippeae Saturae, miscellanies in prose and verse, of which unfortunately only fragments are left, was a work of singular literary interest.
Since the Annals of Ennius no great and original poem had appeared. The powerful poetical force which for half a century continued to be the strongest force in literature, and which created masterpieces of art and genius, first Lucretius. revealed itself in the latter part of the Ciceronian age. The conditions which enabled the poetic genius of Italy to come to maturity in the person of T. Lucretius Carus (96–55) were entire seclusion from public life and absorption in the ideal pleasures of contemplation and artistic production. This isolation from the familiar ways of his contemporaries, while it was, according to tradition and the internal evidence of his poem, destructive to his spirit’s health, resulted in a work of genius, unique in character, which still stands forth as the greatest philosophical poem in any language. In the form of his poem he followed a Greek original; and the stuff out of which the texture of his philosophical argument is framed was derived from Greek science; but all that is of deep human and poetical meaning in the poem is his own. While we recognize in the De Rerum Natura some of the most powerful poetry in any language and feel that few poets have penetrated with such passionate sincerity and courage into the secret of nature and some of the deeper truths of human life, we must acknowledge that, as compared with the great didactic poem of Virgil, it is crude and unformed in artistic design, and often rough and unequal in artistic execution. Yet, apart altogether from its independent value, by his speculative power and enthusiasm, by his revelation of the life and spectacle of nature, by the fresh creativeness of his diction and the elevated movement of his rhythm, Lucretius exercised a more powerful influence than any other on the art of his more perfect successors.
While the imaginative and emotional side of Roman poetry was so powerfully represented by Lucretius, attention was directed to its artistic side by a younger generation, who moulded themselves in a great degree on Catullus. Alexandrian models. Such were Valerius Cato also a distinguished literary critic, and C. Licinius Calvus, an eminent orator. Of this small group of poets one only has survived, fortunately the man of most genius among them, the bosom-friend of Calvus, C. Valerius Catullus (84–54). He too was a new force in Roman literature. He was a provincial by birth, although early brought into intimate relations with members of the great Roman families. The subjects of his best art are taken immediately from his own life—his loves, his friendships, his travels, his animosities, personal and political. His most original contribution to the substance of Roman literature was that he first shaped into poetry the experience of his own heart, as it had been shaped by Alcaeus and Sappho in the early days of Greek poetry. No poet has surpassed him in the power of vitally reproducing the pleasure and pain of the passing hour, not recalled by idealizing reflection as in Horace, nor overlaid with mythological ornament as in Propertius, but in all the keenness of immediate impression. He also introduced into Roman literature that personal as distinct from political or social satire which appears later in the Epodes of Horace and the Epigrams of Martial. He anticipated Ovid in recalling the stories of Greek mythology to a second poetical life. His greatest contribution to poetic art consisted in the perfection which he attained in the phalaecian, the pure iambic, and the scazon metres, and in the ease and grace with which he used the language of familiar intercourse, as distinct from that of the creative imagination, of the rostra, and of the schools, to give at once a lifelike and an artistic expression to his feelings. He has the interest of being the last poet of the free republic. In his life and in his art he was the precursor of those poets who used their genius as the interpreter and minister of pleasure; but he rises above them in the spirit of personal independence, in his affection for his friends, in his keen enjoyment of natural and simple pleasures, and in his power of giving vital expression to these feelings.
Third Period: Augustan Age, 42 B.C. to A.D. 17.
The poetic impulse and culture communicated to Roman
literature in the last years of the republic passed on without
any break of continuity into the literature of the
succeeding age. One or two of the circle of Catullus
of imperial institutions. survived into that age; but an entirely new spirit came over the literature of the new period, and it is by new men, educated indeed under the same literary influences, but living in an altered world and belonging originally to a different order in the state, that the new spirit was expressed. The literature of the later republic reflects the sympathies and prejudices of an aristocratic class, sharing in the conduct of national affairs and living on terms of equality with one another; that of the Augustan age, first in its early serious enthusiasm, and then in the licence and levity of its later development, represents the hopes and aspirations with which the new monarchy was ushered into the world, and the pursuit of pleasure and amusement, which becomes the chief interest of a class cut off from the higher energies of practical life, and moving in the refining and enervating atmosphere of an imperial court. The great inspiring influence of the new literature was the enthusiasm produced first by the hope and afterwards by the fulfilment of the restoration of peace, order, national glory, under the rule of Augustus. All that the age longed for seemed to be embodied in a man who had both in his own person and by inheritance the natural spell which sways the imagination of the world. The sentiment of hero-worship was at all times strong in the Romans, and no one was ever the object of more sincere as well as simulated hero-worship than Augustus. It was not, however, by his equals in station that the first feeling was likely to be entertained. The earliest to give expression to it was Virgil; but the spell was soon acknowledged by the colder and more worldly-wise Horace. The disgust aroused by the anti-national policy of Antony, and the danger to the empire which was averted by the result of the battle of Actium, combined with the confidence inspired by the new ruler to reconcile the great families as well as the great body of the people to the new order of things.
While the establishment of the empire produced a revival of national and imperial feeling, it suppressed all independent political thought and action. Hence the two great forms of prose literature which drew their nourishment from the struggles of political life, oratory and contemporary history, were arrested in their development. The main course of literature was thus for a time diverted into poetry. That poetry in its most elevated form aimed at being the organ of the new empire and of realizing the national ideals of life and character under its auspices; and in carrying out this aim it sought to recall the great memories of the past. It became also the organ of the pleasures and interests of private life, the chief motives of which were the love of nature and the passion of love. It sought also to make the art and poetry of Greece live a new artistic life. Satire, debarred from comment on political action, turned to social and individual life, and combined with the newly-developed taste for ethical analysis and reflection introduced by Cicero. One great work had still to be done in prose—a retrospect of the past history of the state from an idealizing and romanticizing point of view. For that work the Augustan age, as the end of one great cycle of events and the beginning of another, was eminently suited, and a writer who, by his gifts of imagination and sympathy, was perhaps better fitted than any other man of antiquity for the task, and who through the whole of this period lived a life of literary leisure, was found to do justice to the subject.
Although the age did not afford free scope and stimulus to individual energy and enterprise, it furnished more material and social advantages for the peaceful cultivation of letters. The new influence of patronage, which in other times has chilled the genial current of literature, become, in the person of Maecenas, the medium through which literature and the imperial policy were brought into union. Poetry thus acquired the tone of the world, kept in close connexion with the chief source of national life, while it was cultivated to the highest pitch of artistic perfection under the most favourable conditions of leisure and freedom from the distractions and anxieties of life.
The earliest in the order of time of the poets who adorn this age—P. Vergilius Maro or Virgil (70–19)—is also the greatest in genius, the most richly cultivated, and the most perfect in art. He is the idealizing poet of the hopes Virgil. and aspirations and of the purer and happier life of which the age seemed to contain the promise. He elevates the present by associating it with the past and future of the world, and sanctifies it by seeing in it the fulfilment of a divine purpose. Virgil is the true representative poet of Rome and Italy, of national glory and of the beauty of nature, the artist in whom all the efforts of the past were made perfect, and the unapproachable standard of excellence to future times. While more richly endowed with sensibility to all native influences, he was more deeply imbued than any of his contemporaries with the poetry, the thought and the learning of Greece. The earliest efforts of his art (the Eclogues) reproduce the cadences, the diction and the pastoral fancies of Theocritus; but even in these imitative poems of his youth Virgil shows a perfect mastery of his materials. The Latin hexameter, which in Ennius and Lucretius was the organ of the more dignified and majestic emotions, became in his hands the most perfect measure in which the softer and more luxurious sentiment of nature has been expressed. The sentiment of Italian scenery and the love which the Italian peasant has for the familiar sights and sounds of his home found a voice which never can pass away.
In the Georgics we are struck by the great advance in the originality and self-dependence of the artist, in the mature perfection of his workmanship, in the deepening and strengthening of all his sympathies and convictions. His genius still works under forms prescribed by Greek art, and under the disadvantage of having a practical and utilitarian aim imposed on it. But he has ever in form so far surpassed his originals that he alone has gained for the pure didactic poem a place among the highest forms of serious poetry, while he has so transmuted his material that, without violation of truth, he has made the whole poem alive with poetic feeling. The homeliest details of the farmer’s work are transfigured through the poet’s love of nature; through his religious feeling and his pious sympathy with the sanctities of human affection; through his patriotic sympathy with the national greatness; and through the rich allusiveness of his art to everything in poetry and legend which can illustrate and glorify his theme.
In the Eclogues and Georgics Virgil is the idealizing poet of the old simple and hardy life of Italy, as the imagination could conceive of it in an altered world. In the Aeneid he is the idealizing poet of national glory, as manifested in the person of Augustus. The epic of national life, vividly conceived but rudely executed by Ennius, was perfected in the years that followed the decisive victory at Actium. To do justice to his idea Virgil enters into rivalry with a greater poet than those whom he had equalled or surpassed in his previous works. And, though he cannot unroll before us the page of heroic action with the power and majesty of Homer, yet by the sympathy with which he realizes the idea of Rome, and by the power with which he has used the details of tradition, of local scenes, of religious usage, to embody it, he has built up in the form of an epic poem the most enduring and the most artistically constructed monument of national grandeur.
The second great poet of the time—Q. Horatius Flaccus or Horace (68–8) is both the realist and the idealist of his age. If we want to know the actual lives, manners and ways of thinking of the Romans of the generation succeeding Horace. the overthrow of the republic it is in the Satires and partially in the Epistles of Horace that we shall find them. If we ask what that time provided to stir the fancy and move the mood of imaginative reflection, it is in the lyrical poems of Horace that we shall find the most varied and trustworthy answer. His literary activity extends over about thirty years and naturally divides itself into three periods, each marked by a distinct character. The first—extending from about 40 to 29—is that of the Epodes and Satires. In the former he imitates the Greek poet Archilochus, but takes his subjects from the men, women and incidents of the day. Personality is the essence of his Epodes; in the Satires it is used merely as illustrative of general tendencies. In the Satires we find realistic pictures of social life, and the conduct and opinions of the world submitted to the standard of good feeling and common sense. The style of the Epodes is pointed and epigrammatic, that of the Satires natural and familiar. The hexameter no longer, as in Lucilius, moves awkwardly as if in fetters, but, like the language of Terence, of Catullus in his lighter pieces, of Cicero in his letters to Atticus, adapts itself to the everyday intercourse of life. The next period is the meridian of his genius, the time of his greatest lyrical inspiration, which he himself associates with the peace and leisure secured to him by his Sabine farm. The life of pleasure which he had lived in his youth comes back to him, not as it was in its actual distractions and disappointments, but in the idealizing light of meditative retrospect. He had not only become reconciled to the new order of things, but was moved by his intimate friendship with Maecenas to aid in raising the world to sympathy with the imperial rule through the medium of his lyrical inspiration, as Virgil had through the glory of his epic art. With the completion of the three books of Odes he cast aside for a time the office of the vates, and resumed that of the critical spectator of human life, but in the spirit of a moralist rather than a satirist. He feels the increasing languor of the time as well as the languor of advancing years, and seeks to encourage younger men to take up the rôle of lyrical poetry, while he devotes himself to the contemplation of the true art of living. Self-culture rather than the fulfilment of public or social duty, as in the moral teaching of Cicero, is the aim of his teaching; and in this we recognize the influence of the empire in throwing the individual back on himself. As Cicero tones down his oratory in his moral treatises, so Horace tones down the fervour of his lyrical utterances in his Epistles, and thus produces a style combining the ease of the best epistolary style with the grace and concentration of poetry—the style, as it has been called, of “idealized common sense,” that of the urbanus and cultivated man of the world who is also in his hours of inspiration a genuine poet. In the last ten years of his life Horace resumed his lyrical function for a time, under pressure of the imperial command, and produced some of the most exquisite and mature products of his art. But his chief activity is devoted to criticism. He first vindicates the claims of his own age to literary pre-eminence, and then seeks to stimulate the younger writers of the day to what he regarded as the manlier forms of poetry, and especially to the tragic drama, which seemed for a short time to give promise of an artistic revival.
But the poetry of the latter half of the Augustan age destined to survive did not follow the lines either of lyrical or of dramatic art marked out by Horace. The latest form of poetry adopted from Greece and destined to gain and permanently to hold the ear of the world was the elegy. From the time of Mimnermus this form seems to have presented itself as the most natural vehicle for the poetry of pleasure in an age of luxury, refinement and incipient decay. Its facile flow and rhythm seem to adapt it to the expression and illustration of personal feeling. It goes to the mind of the reader through a medium of sentiment rather than of continuous thought or imaginative illustration. The greatest masters of this kind of poetry are the elegiac poets of the Augustan age—Tibullus, Propertius and Ovid.
Of the ill-fated C. Cornelius Gallus, their predecessor, we have but a single pentameter remaining. Of the three Tibullus (c. 54–19) is the most refined and tender. As the poet of love he gives utterance to the pensive melancholy Tibullus. rather than to the pleasures associated with it. In his sympathy with the life and beliefs of the country people he shows an affinity both to the idyllic spirit and to the piety of Virgil. There is something, too, in his fastidious refinement and in his shrinking from the rough contact of life that reminds us of the English poet Gray.
A poet of more strength and more powerful imagination, but of less refinement in his life and less exquisite taste in his art, is Sextus Propertius (c. 50-c. 15). His youth was a more stormy one than that of Tibullus, and was Propertius. passed, not like his, among the “healthy woods” of his country estate, but amid all the licence of the capital. His passion for Cynthia, the theme of his most finished poetry, is second only in interest to that of Catullus for Lesbia; and Cynthia in her fascination and caprices seems a more real and intelligible personage than the idealized object first of the idolatry and afterwards of the malediction of Catullus. Propertius is a less accomplished artist and a less equably pleasing writer than either Tibullus or Ovid, but he shows more power of dealing gravely with a great or tragic situation than either of them, and his diction and rhythm give frequent proof of a concentrated force of conception and a corresponding movement of imaginative feeling which remind us of Lucretius.
The most facile and brilliant of the elegiac poets and the least serious in tone and spirit is P. Ovidius Naso or Ovid (43 B.C.–A.D. 18). As an amatory poet he is the poet of pleasure and intrigue rather than of tender sentiment or Ovid. absorbing passion. Though he treated his subject in relation to himself with more levity and irony than real feeling, yet by his sparkling wit and fancy he created a literature of sentiment and adventure adapted to amuse the idle and luxurious society of which the elder Julia was the centre. His power of continuous narrative is best seen in the Metamorphoses, written in hexameters to which he has imparted a rapidity and precision of movement more suited to romantic and picturesque narrative than the weighty self-restrained verse of Virgil. In his Fasti he treats a subject of national interest; it is not, however, through the strength of Roman sentiment but through the power of vividly conceiving and narrating stories of strong human interest that the poem lives. In his latest works—the Tristia and Ex Ponto—he imparts the interest of personal confessions to the record of a unique experience. Latin poetry is more rich in the expression of personal feeling than of dramatic realism. In Ovid we have both. We know him in the intense liveliness of his feeling and the human weakness of his nature more intimately than any other writer of antiquity, except perhaps Cicero. As Virgil marks the point of maturest excellence in poetic diction and rhythm, Ovid marks that of the greatest facility.
The Augustan age was one of those great eras in the world like the era succeeding the Persian War in Greece, the Elizabethan age in England, and the beginning of the 19th century in Europe, in which what seems a new spring Livy. of national and individual life calls out an idealizing retrospect of the past. As the present seems full of new life, the past seems rich in glory and the future in hope. The past of Rome had always a peculiar fascination for Roman writers. Virgil in a supreme degree, and Horace, Propertius and Ovid in a less degree, had expressed in their poetry the romance of the past. But it was in the great historical work of T. Livius or Livy (59 B.C.–A.D. 17) that the record of the national life received its most systematic exposition. Its execution was the work of a life prolonged through the languor and dissolution following so soon upon the promise of the new era, during which time the past became glorified by contrast with the disheartening aspect of the present. The value of the work consists not in any power of critical investigation or weighing of historical evidence but in the intense sympathy of the writer with the national ideal, and the vivid imagination with which under the influence of this sympathy he gives life to the events and personages, the wars and political struggles, of times remote from his own. He makes us feel more than any one the majesty of the Roman state, of its great magistracies, and of the august council by which its policy was guided. And, while he makes the words senatus populusque Romanus full of significance for all times, no one realizes with more enthusiasm all that is implied in the words imperium Romanum, and the great military qualities of head and heart by which that empire was acquired and maintained. The vast scale on which the work was conceived and the thoroughness of artistic execution with which the details are finished are characteristically Roman. The prose style of Rome, as a vehicle for the continuous narration of events coloured by a rich and picturesque imagination and instinct with dignified emotion, attained its perfection in Livy.
Fourth Period: The Silver Age, from A.D. 17 to about 130.
For more than a century after the death of Augustus Roman literature continues to flow in the old channels. Though drawing from the provinces, Rome remains the centre of the literary movement. The characteristics of the great writers are essentially national, not provincial nor Characteristics of post-Augustan age. cosmopolitan. In prose the old forms—oratory, history, the epistle, treatises or dialogues on ethical and literary questions—continue to be cultivated. Scientific and practical subjects, such as natural history, architecture, medicine, agriculture, are treated in more elaborate literary style. The old Roman satura is developed into something like the modern prose novel. In the various provinces of poetry, while there is little novelty or inspiration, there is abundance of industry and ambitious effort. The national love of works of large compass shows itself in the production of long epic poems, both of the historic and of the imitative Alexandrian type. The imitative and rhetorical tastes of Rome showed themselves in the composition of exotic tragedies, as remote in spirit and character from Greek as from Roman life, of which the only extant specimens are those attributed to the younger Seneca. The composition of didactic, lyrical and elegiac poetry also was the accomplishment and pastime of an educated dilettante class, the only extant specimens of any interest being some of the Silvae of Statius. The only voice with which the poet of this age can express himself with force and sincerity is that of satire and satiric epigram. We find now only imitative echoes of the old music created by Virgil and others, as in Statius, or powerful declamation, as in Lucan and Juvenal. There is a deterioration in the diction as well as in the music of poetry. The elaborate literary culture of the Augustan age has done something to impair the native force of the Latin idiom. The language of literature, in the most elaborate kind of prose as well as poetry, loses all ring of popular speech. The old oratorical tastes and aptitudes find their outlet in public recitations and the practice of declamation. Forced and distorted expression, exaggerated emphasis, point and antithesis, an affected prettiness, are studied with the view of gaining the applause of audiences who thronged the lecture and recitation rooms in search of temporary excitement. Education is more widely diffused, but is less thorough, less leisurely in its method, derived less than before from the purer sources of culture. The precocious immaturity of Lucan’s career affords a marked contrast to the long preparation of Virgil and Horace for their high office. Although there are some works of this so-called Silver Age of considerable and one at least of supreme interest, from the insight they afford into the experience of a century of organized despotism and its effect on the spiritual life of the ancient world, it cannot be doubted that the steady literary decline which characterized the last centuries of paganism was beginning before the death of Ovid and Livy.
The influences which had inspired republican and Augustan literature were the artistic impulse derived from a familiarity with the great works of Greek genius, becoming more intimate with every new generation, the spell of Rome over the imagination of the kindred Italian races, the charm of Italy, and the vivid sensibility of the Italian temperament. These influences were certainly much less operative in the first century of the empire. The imitative impulse, which had much of the character of a creative impulse, and had resulted in the appropriation of the forms of poetry suited to the Roman and Italian character and of the metres suited to the genius of the Latin language, no longer stimulated to artistic effort. The great sources of Greek poetry were no longer regarded, as they were by Lucretius and Virgil, as sacred, untasted springs, to be approached in a spirit of enthusiasm tempered with reverence. We have the testimony of two men of shrewd common sense and masculine understanding—Martial and Juvenal—to the stale and lifeless character of the art of the Silver Age, which sought to reproduce in the form of epics, tragedies and elegies the bright fancies of the Greek mythology.
The idea of Rome, owing to the antagonism between the policy of the government and the sympathies of the class by which literature was favoured and cultivated, could no longer be an inspiring motive, as it had been in the literature of the republic and of the Augustan age. The spirit of Rome appears only as animating the protest of Lucan, the satire of Persius and Juvenal, the sombre picture which Tacitus paints of the annals of the empire. Oratory is no longer an independent voice appealing to sentiments of Roman dignity, but the weapon of the “informers” (delatores), wielded for their own advancement and the destruction of that class which, even in their degeneracy, retained most sympathy with the national traditions. Roman history was no longer a record of national glory, stimulating the patriotism and flattering the pride of all Roman citizens, but a personal eulogy or a personal invective, according as servility to a present or hatred of a recent ruler was the motive which animated it.
The charm of Italian scenes still remained the same, but the fresh and inspiring feeling of nature gave place to the mere sensuous gratification derived from the luxurious and artificial beauty of the country villa. The idealizing poetry of passion, which found a genuine voice in Catullus and the elegiac poets, could not prolong itself through the exhausting licence of successive generations. The vigorous vitality which gives interest to the personality of Catullus, Propertius and Ovid no longer characterizes their successors. The pathos of natural affection is occasionally recognized in Statius and more rarely in Martial, but it has not the depth of tenderness found in Lucretius and Virgil. The wealth and luxury of successive generations, the monotonous routine of life, the separation of the educated class from the higher work of the world, have produced their enervating and paralysing effect on the mainsprings of poetic and imaginative feeling.
New elements, however, appear in the literature of this period. As the result of the severance from the active interests of life, a new interest is awakened in the inner life of the individual. The immorality of Roman society not only affords abundant material to the satirist, but New literary elements. deepens the consciousness of moral evil in purer and more thoughtful minds. To these causes we attribute the pathological observation of Seneca and Tacitus, the new sense of purity in Persius called out by contrast with the impurity around him, the glowing if somewhat sensational exaggeration of Juvenal, the vivid characterization of Martial. The literature of no time presents so powerfully the contrast between moral good and evil. In this respect it is truly representative of the life of the age. Another new element is the influence of a new race. In the two preceding periods the rapid diffusion of literary culture following the Social War and the first Civil War was seen to awaken into new life the elements of original genius in Italy and Cisalpine Gaul. In the first century of the empire a similar result was produced by the diffusion of that culture in the Latinized districts of Spain. The fervid temperament of a fresh and vigorous race, which received the Latin discipline just as Latium had two or three centuries previously received the Greek discipline, revealed itself in the writings of the Senecas, Lucan, Quintilian, Martial and others, who in their own time added literary distinction to the Spanish towns from which they came. The new extraneous element introduced into Roman literature draws into greater prominence the characteristics of the last great representatives of the genuine Roman and Italian spirit—the historian Tacitus and the satirist Juvenal.
On the whole this century shows, in form, language and substance, the signs of literary decay. But it is still capable of producing men of original force; it still maintains the traditions of a happier time; it is still alive to the value of literary culture, and endeavours by minute attention to style to produce new effects. Though it was not one of the great eras in the annals of literature, yet the century which produced Martial, Juvenal and Tacitus cannot be pronounced barren in literary originality, nor that which produced Seneca and Quintilian devoid of culture and literary taste.
This fourth period is itself subdivided into three divisions: (1) from the accession of Tiberius to the death of Nero, 68—the most important part of it being the Neronian age, 54 to 68; (2) the Flavian era, from the death of Nero to the death of Domitian, 96; (3) the reigns of Nerva and Trajan and part of the reign of Hadrian.
1. For a generation after the death of Augustus no new
original literary force appeared. The later poetry of the Augustan
age had ended in trifling dilettantism, for the
continuance of which the atmosphere of the court
Tiberius to Nero. was no longer favourable. The class by which literature was encouraged had become both enervated and terrorized. The most remarkable poetical product of the time is the long-neglected astrological poem of Manilius which was written at the beginning of Tiberius’s reign. Its vigour and originality have had scanty justice done to them owing to the difficulty of the subject-matter and the style, and the corruptions which still disfigure its text. Very different has been the fate of the Fables of Phaedrus. This slight work of a Macedonian freedman, destitute of national significance and representative in its morality only of the spirit of cosmopolitan individualism, owes its vogue to its easy Latinity and popular subject-matter. Of the prose writers C. Velleius Paterculus, the historian, and Valerius Maximus, the collector of anecdotes, are the most important. A. Cornelius Celsus composed a series of technical handbooks, one of which, upon medicine, has survived. Its purity of style and the fact that it was long a standard work entitle it to a mention here. The traditional culture was still, however, maintained, and the age was rich in grammarians and rhetoricians. The new profession of the delator must have given a stimulus to oratory. A high ideal of culture, literary as well as practical, was realized in Germanicus, which seems to have been transmitted to his daughter Agrippina, whose patronage of Seneca had important results in the next generation. The reign of Claudius was a time in which antiquarian learning, grammatical studies, and jurisprudence were cultivated, but no important additions were made to literature. A fresh impulse was given to letters on the accession of Nero, and this was partly due to the theatrical and artistic tastes of the young emperor. Four writers of the Neronian age still possess considerable interest,—L. Annaeus Seneca, M. Annaeus Lucanus, A. Persius Flaccus and Petronius Arbiter. The first three represent the spirit of their age by exhibiting the power of the Stoic philosophy as a moral, political and religious force; the last is the most cynical exponent of the depravity of the time. Seneca (c. 5 B.C.–A.D. 65) is less than Persius a pure Stoic, and more of a moralist and pathological observer of man’s inner life. He makes the commonplaces of a cosmopolitan philosophy interesting by his abundant illustration drawn from the private and social life of his contemporaries. He has knowledge of the world, the suppleness of a courtier, Spanish vivacity, and the ingenium amoenum attributed to him by Tacitus, the fruit of which is sometimes seen in the “honeyed phrases” mentioned by Petronius—pure aspirations combined with inconsistency of purpose—the inconsistency of one who tries to make the best of two worlds, the ideal inner life and the successful real life in the atmosphere of a most corrupt court. The Pharsalia of Lucan (39–65), with Cato as its hero, is essentially a Stoic manifesto of the opposition. It is written with the force and fervour of extreme youth and with the literary ambition of a race as yet new to the discipline of intellectual culture, and is characterized by rhetorical rather than poetical imagination. The six short Satires of Persius (34–62) are the purest product of Stoicism—a Stoicism that had found in a contemporary, Thrasea, a more rational and practical hero than Cato. But no important writer of antiquity has less literary charm than Persius. In avoiding the literary conceits and fopperies which he satirizes he has recourse to the most unnatural contortions of expression. Of hardly greater length are the seven eclogues of T. Calpurnius Siculus, written at the beginning of the reign of Nero, which are not without grace and facility of diction. Of the works of the time that which from a human point of view is perhaps the most detestable in ancient literature has the most genuine literary quality, the fragment of a prose novel—the Satyricon—of Petronius (d. 66). It is most sincere in its representation, least artificial in diction, most penetrating in its satire, most just in its criticism of art and style.
2. A greater sobriety of tone was introduced both into life and literature with the accession of Vespasian. The time was, however, characterized rather by good sense and industry than by original genius. Under Vespasian Age of Domitian. C. Plinius Secundus, or Pliny the elder (compiler of the Natural History, an encyclopaedic treatise, 23–79), is the most important prose writer, and C. Valerius Flaccus Setinus Balbus, author of the Argonautica (d. c. 90), the most important among the writers of poetry. The reign of Domitian, although it silenced the more independent spirits of the time, Tacitus and Juvenal, witnessed more important contributions to Roman literature than any age since the Augustan,—among them the Institutes of Quintilian, the Punic War of Silius Italicus, the epics and the Silvae of Statius, and the Epigrams of Martial. M. Fabius Quintilianus, or Quintilian (c. 35–95), is brought forward by Juvenal as a unique instance of a thoroughly successful man of letters, of one not belonging by birth to the rich or official class, who had risen to wealth and honours through literature. He was well adapted to his time by his good sense and sobriety of judgment. His criticism is just and true rather than subtle or ingenious, and has thus stood the test of the judgment of after-times. The poem of Ti. Catius Silius Italicus (25–101) is a proof of the industry and literary ambition of members of the rich official class. Of the epic poets of the Silver Age P. Papinius Statius (c. 45–96) shows the greatest technical skill and the richest pictorial fancy in the execution of detail; but his epics have no true inspiring motive, and, although the recitation of the Thebaid could attract and charm an audience in the days of Juvenal, it really belongs to the class of poems so unsparingly condemned both by him and Martial. In the Silvae, though many of them have little root in the deeper feelings of human nature, we find occasionally more than in any poetry after the Augustan age something of the purer charm and pathos of life. But it is not in the Silvae, nor in the epics and tragedies of the time, nor in the cultivated criticism of Quintilian that the age of Domitian lives for us. It is in the Epigrams of M. Valerius Martialis or Martial (c. 41–104) that we have a true image of the average sensual frivolous life of Rome at the end of the 1st century, seen through a medium of wit and humour, but undistorted by the exaggeration which moral indignation and the love of effect add to the representation of Juvenal. Martial represents his age in his Epigrams, as Horace does his in his Satires and Odes, with more variety and incisive force in his sketches, though with much less poetic charm and serious meaning. We know the daily life, the familiar personages, the outward aspect of Rome in the age of Domitian better than at any other period of Roman history, and this knowledge we owe to Martial.
3. But it was under Nerva and Trajan that the greatest and most truly representative works of the empire were written. The Annals and Histories of Cornelius Tacitus (54–119), with the supplementary Life of Agricola and the Period of Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian. Germania, and the Satires of D. Iunius Iuvenalis or Juvenal (c. 47–130), sum up for posterity the moral experience of the Roman world from the accession of Tiberius to the death of Domitian. The generous scorn and pathos of the historian acting on extraordinary gifts of imaginative insight and characterization, and the fierce indignation of the satirist finding its vent in exaggerating realism, doubtless to some extent warped their impressions; nevertheless their works are the last voices expressive of the freedom and manly virtue of the ancient world. In them alone among the writers of the empire the spirit of the Roman republic seems to revive. The Letters of C. Plinius Caecilius Secundus or Pliny the Younger (61-c. 115), though they do not contradict the representation of Tacitus and Juvenal regarded as an exposure of the political degradation and moral corruption of prominent individuals and classes, do much to modify the pervadingly tragic and sombre character of their representation.
With the death of Juvenal, the most important part of whose activity falls in the reign of Trajan, Latin literature as an original and national expression of the experience, character, and sentiment of the Roman state and empire, and as one of the great literatures of the world, may be considered closed.
What remains to describe is little but death and decay. Poetry died first; the paucity of writings in verse is matched by their insignificance. For two centuries after Juvenal there are no names but those of Q. Serenus Sammonicus, with his pharmacopoeia in verse (c. 225), and M. Aurelius Olympius Nemesianus, who wrote a few feeble eclogues and (283) a dull piece on the training of dogs for the chase. Towards the middle of the 4th century we have Decimus Magnus Ausonius, a professor of Bordeaux and afterwards consul (379), whose style is as little like that of classical poetry as is his prosody. His Mosella, a detailed description of the river Moselle, is the least unattractive of his works. A little better is his contemporary, Rufius Festus Avienus, who made some free translations of astronomical and geographical poems in Greek. A generation later, in what might be called the expiring effort of Latin poetry, appeared two writers of much greater merit. The first is Claudius Claudianus (c. 400), a native of Alexandria and the court poet of the emperor Honorius and his minister Stilicho. Claudian Claudian. may be properly styled the last of the poets of Rome. He breathes the old national spirit, and his mastery of classical idiom and versification is for his age extraordinary. Something of the same may be seen in Rutilius Namatianus, a Gaul by birth, who wrote in 416 a description of his voyage from the capital to his native land, which contains the most glowing eulogy of Rome ever penned by an ancient hand. Of the Christian “poets” only Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (c. 348–410) need be mentioned. He was well read in the ancient literature; but the task of embodying the Christian spirit in the classical form was one far beyond his powers.
The vitality of the prose literature was not much greater though its complete extinction was from the nature of the case impossible. The most important writer in the age succeeding Juvenal was the biographer C. Suetonius Tranquillus Suetonius. (c. 75–160), whose work is more valuable for its matter than its manner. His style is simple and direct, but has hardly any other merit. A little later the rise of M. Cornelius Fronto (c. 100–175), a native of Cirta, marks the beginning of an African influence. Fronto, a distinguished orator and intimate friend of the emperor M. Aurelius, broke away from the traditional Latin of the Silver and Golden ages, and took as his models the pre-classical authors. The reaction was short-lived; but the same affectation of antiquity is seen in the writings of Apuleius, also an African, who lived a little later than Fronto and was a man of much greater natural parts. In his Metamorphoses, Apuleius. which were based upon a Greek original, he takes the wonderful story of the adventures of Lucius of Madaura, and interweaves the famous legend of Cupid and Psyche. His bizarre and mystical style has a strange fascination for the reader; but there is nothing Roman or Italian about it. Two epitomists of previous histories may be mentioned: Justinus (of uncertain date) who abridged the history of Pompeius Trogus, an Augustan writer; and P. Annius Florus, who wrote in the reign of Hadrian a rhetorical sketch based upon Livy. The Historia Augusta, which includes the lives of the emperors from Hadrian to Numerianus (117–284), is the work of six writers, four of whom wrote under Diocletian and two under Constantine. It is a collection of personal memoirs of little historical importance, and marked by puerility and poverty of style. Ammianus Marcellinus (c. 330–400) had a higher conception of the historian’s function. His narrative of the years 353–378 (all that now remains) is honest and straightforward, but his diction is awkward and obscure. The last pagan prose writer who need be mentioned is Q. Aurelius Symmachus (c. 350–410), the author of some speeches and a collection of letters. All the art of his ornate and courtly periods cannot disguise the fact that there was nothing now for paganism to say.
It is in Christian writers alone that we find the vigour of life. The earliest work of Christian apologetics is the Octavius or Minucius Felix, a contemporary of Fronto. It is written in pure Latin and is strongly tinged by classical Christian writers. influences. Quite different is the work of “the fierce Tertullian,” Q. Septimius Florens Tertullianus (c. 150–230), a native of Carthage, the most vigorous of the Latin champions of the new faith. His style shows the African revolt of which we have already spoken, and in its medley of archaisms, Graecisms and Hebraisms reveals the strength of the disintegrating forces at work upon the Latin language. A more commanding figure is that of Aurelius Augustinus or St Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo, who for comprehensiveness and dialectical power stands out in the same way as Hieronymus or St Jerome (c. 331 or 340–420), a native of Stridon in Dalmatia, does for many-sided learning and scholarship.
The decline of literature proper was attended by an increased output of grammatical and critical studies. From the time of L. Aelius Stilo Praeconinus, who was the teacher of Varro and Cicero, much interest had been taken in Grammarians. literary and linguistic problems at Rome. Varro under the republic, and M. Verrius Flaccus in the Augustan age, had busied themselves with lexicography and etymology. The grammarian M. Valerius Probus (c. A.D. 60) was the first critical editor of Latin texts. In the next century we have Velius Longus’s treatise De Orthographia, and then a much more important work, the Noctes Atticae of Aulus Gellius, and (c. 200) a treatise in verse by Terentianus, an African, upon Latin pronunciation, prosody and metre. Somewhat later are the commentators on Terence and Horace, Helenius Acro and Pomponius Porphyrio. The tradition was continued in the 4th century by Nonius Marcellus and C. Marius Victorinus, both Africans; Aelius Donatus, the grammarian and commentator on Terence and Virgil, Flavius Sosipater Charisius and Diomedes, and Servius, the author of a valuable commentary on Virgil. Ambrosius Macrobius Theodosius (c. 400) wrote a treatise on Cicero’s Somnium Scipionis and seven books of miscellanies (Saturnalia); and Martianus Capella (c. 430), a native of Africa, published a compendium of the seven liberal arts, written in a mixture of prose and verse, with some literary pretensions. The last grammarian who need be named is the most widely known of all, the celebrated Priscianus, who published his text-book at Constantinople probably in the middle of the 5th century.
In jurisprudence, which may be regarded as one of the outlying regions of literature, Roman genius had had some of its greatest triumphs, and, if we take account of the “codes,” was active to the end. The most distinguished of the early jurists (whose works are lost) were Q. Mucius Scaevola, who died in 82 B.C., and following him Ser. Sulpicius Rufus, who died in 43 B.C. In the Augustan age M. Antistius Labeo and C. Ateius Jurists. Capito headed two opposing schools in jurisprudence, Labeo being an advocate of method and reform, and Capito being a conservative and empiricist. The strife, which reflects the controversy between the “analogists” and the “anomalists” in philology, continued long after their death. Salvius Julianus was entrusted by Hadrian with the task of reducing into shape the immense mass of law which had grown up in the edicts of successive praetors—thus taking the first step towards a code. Sex. Pomponius, a contemporary, wrote an important legal manual of which fragments are preserved. The most celebrated handbook, however, is the Institutiones of Gaius, who lived under Antonius Pius—a model of what such treatises should be. The most eminent of all the Roman jurists was Aemilius Papinianus, the intimate friend of Septimius Severus; of his works only fragments remain. Other considerable writers were the prolific Domitius Ulpianus (c. 215) and Julius Paulus, his contemporary. The last juristical writer of note was Herennius Modestinus (c. 240). But though the line of great lawyers had ceased, the effects of their work remained and are clearly visible long after in the “codes”—the code of Theodosius (438) and the still more famous code of Justinian (529 and 533), with which is associated the name of Tribonianus.
Bibliography.—The most full and satisfactory modern account of Latin literature is M. Schanz’s Geschichte der römischen Litteratur. The best in English is the translation by C. C. Warr of W. S. Teuffel and L. Schwabe’s History of Roman Literature. J. W. Mackail’s short History of Latin Literature is full of excellent literary and aesthetic criticisms on the writers. C. Lamarre’s Histoire de la littérature latine (1901, with specimens) only deals with the writers of the republic. W. Y. Sellar’s Roman Poets of the Republic and Poets of the Augustan Age, and R. Y. Tyrrell’s Lectures on Latin Poetry, will also be found of service. A concise account of the various Latin writers and their works, together with bibliographies, is given in J. E. B. Mayor’s Bibliographical Clue to Latin Literature (1879), which is based on a German work by E. Hübner. See also the separate bibliographies to the articles on individual writers. (W. Y. S.; J. P. P.)
- Latine loqui elegantissime.