ROME-ARTS AND LEARNING.
exiled tribe springing into greatness from, its planting by the Tiber.
Of the prose writers of the Age of Augustus only one is able to compare in merit
and rank with the great poets who have just been mentioned-Titus Livius, the
historian. The rest like Asinius Pollio, Agrippa, and Augustus himself were
writers of memoirs-sketches and incidents of the age of which themselves had been
a part. These fugitive histories of the early days of the Empire have perished,
and posterity is thus unable to judge of their merits. With Livy the case is
different. He was born at Padua, in B. C. 59, and lived to the year 17 of our
era. He was intimately associated with the Emperor. Living in leisure at Rome, he
undertook the history of the city from its legendary foundation to the current
epoch. The work was of vast proportions, consisting of one hundred and forty
books, of which only thirty-five have been preserved. The narrative was brought
down to the death of Drusus in the year B. C. 9, and is conducted with a skill
and fidelity which have rarely been surpassed among historical writings. Whether
viewed as a history or considered in the light of a literary composition, the
works of Livy have truthfully been said to mark the culmination of Latin prose.
After the Age of Augustus the writings of the Roman authors have less merit and
more rhetoric. Such was the constitution of society that freedom of speech could
not exist. Every bold thought fledging itself in the Roman mind was stricken dead
before taking to flight. For eulogy there was abundant opportunity. The emperor
must be well praised. The open ear of existing prejudice must be filled with
flattery. The panegyrist became the principal person. The Younger Pliny used his
great talents to immortalize Trajan. All literary compositions were infected with
a declamatory spirit. Every thing was conceived and executed as if to be given as
a recitation. The age was one of the multiplication of books. The dealers in the
shops kept a retinue of scribes; but the author, generally anxious for immediate
success, was eager to have his productions read in public. It became customary
with the vainglorious literati of the city to hire halls, gather their friends,
employ a claque, and thus to give their new-born production manufactured fame.
The effect of all this is seen in the artificial and declamatory character of the
works which proceeded from the post-Augustan age. Of such sort are the ten extant
tragedies and the so-called epics of Lucan and Silius. (1)
With this decline in the quality of literary work, the high estimation in which
authors were held ceased to exist. Patrons of art and poetry disappeared. Nero
was jealous of the fame of literary men, desiring himself to be considered as a
great poet. Martial, the Spanish epigrammatist, lived a life of miserable
dependence at the court of Domitian until, sent home to Spain by the kindness of
the Younger Pliny, his sweetness turned to vitriol.
In the midst of such bad surroundings, the sincere spirit of Persius sought
expression in satire. Himself a stoic, he witnessed with disgust and bitterness
the vices of the age. Greater than he, and bolder, was Juvenal, in whom the Latin
satire reached its culmination. Such was the condition of society in the era
following the reign of Domitian as to merit and provoke the keenest invective.
The smothered voice of the times found expression in the verse of Juvenal. He
lashes the life and manners of Imperial Rome with a scourge of terrible severity;
nor does it appear that his indignation against the depraved morality of his
times was assumed or insincere.
As a Roman moralist, the philosopher Seneca-he whose alleged tragedies are
referred to above-holds the highest rank. His calm spirit taught the lessons of
moderation and fortitude. As the teacher of Nero, he deserved a better fate than
to see his pupil become an imperial swine, at whose command he was to suffer an
ignominious death. Another philosopher of like rank and character was the Elder
Pliny, to whom the world is indebted for his great and valuable work on
_______________________________ 1 It is said that the principal aim of the poet
Lucan in the production of his epic entitled Pharsalia was to furnish a book of
speeches and declamations for students of elocution. To such a complexion had
come the tragic muse.