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original sluggishness to assume the tasks of letters. During the Kingdom and

early days of the Republic, Roman writings were as brief and barren as possible.

Written records were limited to official documents, laws and edicts, brief annals

of the public officers, and principal events of the year set down in the

clumsiest style by the priests. Such writings were painted on tablets or engraved

on stone or bronze, to be preserved as the records of the state.

After the conquest of the Greek cities of Southern Italy and the consequent

enlargement of the grandeur of Rome, she swept within her arms and brought home

to the Tiber the rudiments of that culture of which she had hitherto been

ignorant. Meanwhile the patricians grew great and wealthy. Leisure came with

luxury, and the business-like fathers found time to think, and a certain

inclination towards literature. They studied Greek, and one may well imagine the

emotions and struggles of the austere, half-barbaric mind of the primitive

patrician as he pored like an aged boy over the wonders of rudimentary learning.

He soon discovered that his own speech was as yet too crude and undeveloped for

literary expression. Nor was he long in discerning that the qualities tacking in

his own language, were abundantly present in the Greek. To speak and to write

this copious and beautiful tongue became his ambition. By the close of the first

Punic War a taste for Greek letters had become common with all the better class

of Romans. Public officers found in this language a vehicle of courteous

communication, and to the man of leisure it furnished a theme of profitable

entertainment. Under the stimulus thus afforded the first germs of Latin

literature made their tardy appearance.

In the beginning, the letters of Rome reached no further than translations of

Greek originals. Homer and the comic poets were done into Latin. Historical

narrative, in a style altogether superior to the Fasti, or annals of the priests,

began to be cultivated, at first in Greek, and afterwards in the vernacular.

At this epoch in Roman history, a remarkable struggle occurred between the new

culture and the old semi-barbaric element in society. By a large part, perhaps a

majority, of the people the foreign tongue and the literature which was embodied

in it were looked upon with disfavor and dread. The rude times of the fathers

were preferred to the age of innovation and enlightenment. In the good old days-

so said the Bourbon sentiment of Rome-there were no poets, no rhetoricians, no

philosophers. Rome then flourished and was pure. Now, under the heat of this

excitement, she was falling into vice and corruption. At the head of this party

stood Cato, the censor, a man who was the embodiment of conservative force and

rustic wisdom. During his life he opposed the whole power of his influence to the

swelling tides of the new literature-but without avail. The rising sun could not

be thrust back through the gates of the morning.

For a season the new literature conformed closely to the models from which it was

deduced. In subject-matter and spirit, however, the new works were essentially

Latin. A national literary sentiment was thus produced, and the forms of the

language were improved and crystallized.

The new tongue of Italy proved itself to be harmonious, sonorous, and expressive.

It showed itself to be equally capable in prose and in verse. For a long time,

however, the literary men of Rome were those who were most deeply imbued with the

culture of the Greeks. Prominent among these was the great family of the Scipios.

Their villa became the head-center of the Hellenic literary party. Here the wide

circle of friends, dependents, and kinsmen of the celebrated house, among whom

were the young Gracchi and many ladies of distinction, were wont to meet to

express their admiration for the writers of Greece, and to assimilate their

spirit. Many other circles of similar sort were organized in Rome, wherein young

and aspiring authors-poets, writers of prose, orators, grammarians-met to improve

their style and to converse on literary subjects.

Of the literature of this earliest epoch only a few fragments and meager notices

have been preserved. One of the first authors of what may be called the Graeco-

Roman era-himself