Page 0718

718

UNIVERSAL BISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.

as well as in abundance and variety, his works fall far below the level of the

Ciceronian productions. It was the orator rather than the historian who revealed

to the people of the Republic the full power and majesty of their language in the

broad domain of prose.

Caesar, Cicero, and Varro were the most distinguished literary men of the closing

days of the Republic. To be sure, the first was a warrior and statesman rather

than a man of letters; but his claim to authorship is undisputed, and his

patronage of literature was such that but for the assassin's steel the world

would have been the richer. Had he lived to build up the great library which was

one of his favorite schemes, and for the management of which he selected Varro,

it is not unlikely that a vast mass of ancient literature now hopelessly lost

might have been preserved for the entertainment and instruction of mankind.

As soon as those vast movements were accomplished by which the Imperial regime

was substituted instead of the Republic the literary pendulum oscillated again to

the side of poetry. We have in this fact a phenomenon not often witnessed in the

history of literature, a phenomenon, indeed, which never could occur except among

a people of predominant practicality and small imagination. The thing referred to

is the reversal, in the case of Latin literature, of the usual chronological

order in the development of prose and poetry. In nearly all nations the latter

has preceded the former. The rule has been that a given language is first

perfected by the poets, and then handed over, not without much timidity and

delay, to the purposes of prose. In most nations the earliest prose writers have

assumed their tasks in a kind of apologetic way, as if their unmetered method of

expressing thought were a kind of sacrilege and prostitution of letters.

Not so, however, in the case of Rome. Here the prose development preceded the

poetical. The last century and a half of the Republic witnessed the creation of a

prose literature which for its elevation and classicism required no additional

finish. As yet poetry had not advanced beyond the archaic stages of development.

Up to the age of Cicero no great national poet had arisen to honor his country in

song. With the institution of the Empire, however, there came a great change in

the literary sentiment of the nation, and poetry became a rage in all classes of

society.

The transformation of popular taste was traceable in part to the influence of the

schools. In these the study of poetry and the art of verse-making were

assiduously cultivated. Nearly every Roman boy of good rank was expected to have

some skill as a versifier. This species of culture became quite universal. No

doubt poor Nature tried to hide her wounds and dishonor; for she was grievously

tramped upon and outraged. Every body had the Muse in common. Augustus in his

bath, Tiberius in the German woods, Germanicus on his campaigns, each

contributed, as in duty bound, to swell the aggregate of Imperial poetry. Nero

wrote verses like a learned pig. As for Caligula and Claudius, they contented

themselves with the humbler work of prose.

In the meantime, moreover, oratory fell to a discount. The Empire did not need,

did not desire, public speech, as did the Republic. In a country where all of the

people have the good or ill fortune to be on one side of the question there can

be no oratory. To this extent, therefore, the literary energy went over to the

more agreeable, less dangerous, pursuit of the muses.

Perhaps there never was an age more given to literary patronage than that of

Augustus. The Emperor himself set the example. Triumphant Rome might now devote

herself to song. The sovereign encouraged in all possible ways the production of

literary and artistic works. He sought out the most distinguished men of letters,

and made them his friends. He furnished them the means of leisure, and rewarded

them for their works. As did the master, so did the men. It became a point of

honor with wealthy Romans to have authors or artists dependent upon their bounty.

More than the rest did Messala and Maecenas distinguish themselves in this

particular. The latter, as the friend and counselor of Augustus, became a kind of

literary pontifex for the early Empire. Horace, who had refused the favors of the

Emperor, accepted those of Maecenas, and the two for thirty years remained