Page 0722

722

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

successful.

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.