UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
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-