UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
Such was the condition of culture when the Greek comedy was introduced at Rome.
Naevius adapted the works of Aristophanes to those conditions of society in the
city which seemed to merit chastisement. The Aristophanic muse, however, was too
bitter for the vanity of Rome, and the audacious dramatist had to save himself by
flight. The satire was more than could be borne by those who had provoked it.
After this episode the comic style divided into two: the one known as comedia
palliata, which kept closely to the Greek models; and the other, comedia togata,
or distinctly Roman type of comic representation.
The two great poets who headed the respective schools were Maccius Plautus and
Puplius Terentius. Of the works of these great authors several have been
preserved to modern times. According to the judgment of Varro, no fewer than
twenty, out of the one hundred and thirty comedies attributed to Plautus, may be
regarded as genuine; while of the works of Terence six pieces are still extant.
Plautus was preeminently a man of the people. Without fortune or rank, he
appeared at Rome as a sort of adventurer, but was received with enthusiasm by the
common people. The style which he adopted in the pieces which were offered to the
aediles was popular even to the verge of vulgarity. His crude speech and careless
versification, no less than his characters, caught up as they were from the
common walks of life, all combined to make him the idol of the Roman populace,
who roared and shouted over a man who was one of themselves and delighted in it.
At the head of the classical school of comedy was Terence. He was born at
Carthage, but was brought to Rome in his youth and sold as a slave. Carefully
educated by his master, the senator Lucan, he so distinguished himself by his
brilliant talents as to win the esteem of the literary club of the Scipios, by
whom he was received as an equal. He rapidly rose in esteem until he came to be
regarded by the critical and learned as the finest poet of the Republic. He was
not, however, like Plautus, followed with the applause of the multitude; for he
adhered to his Greek models, and wrote above the heads of the plebs. The poet is
said to have felt keenly this disparagement of his genius. He left Rome, and
perished at sea.
With the ushering in of the last century of the Republic, we come to Roman
literature in prose. After Plautus and Terence there is not so much seen of
dramatic and epic poetry. Not that the stage was abandoned, but dramas ceased to
be produced in that abundance which had characterized the preceding century. The
muse retreated into the broader and freer fields of prose. Even in the literary
clubs of the Scipios and the Gracchi poetry was no longer regarded as the
beginning and end of literary culture. It was seen that prose also might be
raised to the rank of a classic. Still in the later years of the Republic there
were two poets who, though without the full freedom of genius, wrote in a style
so careful and scholarly as to entitle them to fame. These were Lucretius and
Lucilius. The latter, who was the elder of the two, flourished from B. C. 148 to
103. He may, with some hesitation, be called the father of Latin satire. His
poems extended to thirty books, and of these works above eight hundred fragments
have been preserved. Some of these extend to only a single line, and the longest
contains no more than thirteen verses. The themes are life and manners. Lucretius
lived from B. C. 95 to 50. He was an epicurean, and sought by means of didattic
poetry to disseminate the doctrines of his system. His great poem, entitled On
the Nature of Things, is in this vein; and though the subject is as unpoetical as
can well be conceived, yet the tone is lofty and calm, and the versification of
the highest order of merit.
Thus far the Latin language had produced but a single important work in prose-the
Origines of the Elder Cato. This work was historical and biographical. In it the
author produced a sketch of the history of his country from the founding of the
city, and to this appended a summary of his own times and life. The work is lost,
and the fact is to be much regretted; for it will be remembered that Cato was one
of the strongest opponents of Greek culture in Rome, and it would have been
instructive to hear him plead his cause.