UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
natural history. He lost his life during the great eruption of Vesuvius, but his
well earned fame could not be smothered under the lava. His nephew, the Younger
Pliny, was in some sense his successor in the world of letters. His tastes,
however, ran rather in the direction of oratory and poetry than to those
scientific pursuits to which the uncle had so assiduously devoted his life.
Greater than any of the group of writers just named was the historian Tacitus. He
was a man of public affairs, having been praetor in the year 88, and consul in
97. In the retirement of his old age he composed his valuable works, all of which
are either biographical or historical in their subjects. He wrote the life of his
father-in-law, Agricola, the successful general of the army in Britain. His next
work was the celebrated monograph entitled Germania, to which we are so much
indebted for our knowledge of the manners and customs of the primitive Germans.
Then followed his Annals and Bistories, upon which his reputation as an author is
planted on an enduring foundation. Throughout all his works runs a spirit of
protest against the corrupt and dangerous tendencies of his age. He writes like
one born out of due time, for his tone is that of a Roman of the old school, in
whom patriotism and the other heroic virtues still flourished.
While the moralists protested against the inundation of dissoluteness which was
ruining society, there were also Protestants in literature. Certain men of
letters appeared who advocated a return to the classicism and Latinity of the age
of Cicero. Prominent among these were the grammarian Quintilian, the Emperor
Hadrian, the scholar Fronto-who was the teacher of Marcus Aurelius-and this great
sovereign himself, who was as much a philosopher as a ruler. The reforms proposed
by the reactionaries extended to the rejection of all post-Augustan literary
models, and the substitution therefor of the archaic styles and methods of the
age, extending from Ennius to Cicero. It was as though the Metaphysical poets of
England had seized a fancy to reestablish the style of Chaucer. The attempted
reaction was barren of results; but a movement somewhat analogous-by which Greek
models were again advanced as the best types of literary composition-was more
At the head of this tendency appeared Plutarch and Lucian, and the Neo-Platonic
philosophers. The first named by his celebrated Lives has made a marked
impression on the biographical literature of the world, and the second by his
Dialogues gained the title of Blasphemer; for in them he handled the gods, and
indeed all the absurdities of paganism, with merciless severity.
After Tacitus there was little originality or personal force displayed in the
Roman world of letters. Except in the rather unliterary department of
jurisprudence, there is nothing further to admire. The Empire was now continually
agitated by wars. The plant of literature could not flourish in the midst of such
disquietude. The world of strife offered to the general great rewards; to the
scholar, none. The imperial patronage of letters now rose no higher than petty
favors shown to flatterers. Meanwhile the Latin language deteriorated. It ceased
to be a classic. Barbarous constructions and provincial vulgarities came in like
a flood. The magnificent periods of Cicero were forgotten, and Livy's pictured
page remanded to the dust.
With the division of the Roman Empire the culture of the Greeks naturally receded
to Constantinople; the West was left to fall to pieces and be trodden under the
heel of barbarism. The Christian writers were unable to save-perhaps did not much
care to save-the splendors of pagan literature and art. These were associated
with the old gods, who were dethroned and banished. The images of the great
deities of antiquity were broken in the streets of their own capital, and the
literature in which their praises were embalmed was cast into oblivion.