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Sketch Of The History Of Roman Literature, From The Earliest Times To The Death Of Augustus

For many centuries after the foundation of the city the Romans can hardly be said to have had any literature at all. There may have existed, at an early period, some songs or ballads, recounting, in rude strains, the exploits of the heroes of Roman story, but all trace of these has disappeared. It was not till the conquest of the Greek cities in Southern Italy, shortly before the First Punic War, that we can date the commencement of the Roman literature. It began with the Drama. Dramatic exhibitions were first introduced at Rome from Etruria in B.C. 363, on the occasion of a severe pestilence, in order to avert the anger of the gods. But these exhibitions were only pantomimic scenes to the music of the flute, without any song or dialogue. It was not till B.C. 240 that a drama with a regular plot was performed at Rome. Its author was M. LIVIUS ANDRONICUS, a native of Magna Græcia, who was taken prisoner at the capture of Tarentum, and carried to Rome, where he became the slave of M. Livius Salinator. He was afterward set free, and, according to Roman practice, took the gentilic name of his master. He acquired at Rome a perfect knowledge of the Latin language, and wrote both tragedies and comedies, which were borrowed, or, rather, translated from the Greek. He also wrote an Odyssey in the Saturnian metre, and some hymns. He may be regarded as the first Roman poet. His works were read in schools in the time of Horace.

CN. NÆVIUS, the second Roman poet, was a Campanian by birth. He served in the First Punic War, and, like Livius, wrote dramas borrowed from the Greek. His first play was performed in B.C. 235. He was attached to the Plebeian party; and, with the license of the old Attic comedy, he made the stage a vehicle for assailing the aristocracy. In consequence of his attacks upon the Metelli he was thrown into prison. He obtained his release through the Tribunes, but was soon compelled to expiate a new offense by exile. He retired to Utica, where he died about B.C. 202. In his exile he wrote, in the Saturnian metre, an epic poem on the First Punic War, in which he introduced the celebrated legends connected with the foundation of Rome. This poem was extensively copied both by Ennius and Virgil.

Q. ENNIUS, however, may be regarded as the real founder of Roman literature. Like Livius, he was a native of Magna Græcia. He was born at Rudiæ, in Calabria, B.C. 239. Cato found him in Sardinia in B.C. 204, and brought him in his train to Rome. He dwelt in a humble house on the Aventine, and maintained himself by acting as preceptor to the youths of the Roman nobles. He lived on terms of the closest intimacy with the elder Scipio Africanus. He died B.C. 169, at the age of 70. He was buried in the sepulchre of the Scipios, and his bust was allowed a place among the effigies of that noble house. His most important work was an epic poem, entitled the "Annals of Rome," in 18 books, written in dactylic hexameters, which, through his example, supplanted the old Saturnian metre. This poem commenced with the loves of Mars and Rhea, and came down to the age of Ennius. Virgil borrowed largely from it; and, down to his time, it was regarded as the great epic poem of the Latin language. He also wrote numerous tragedies, a few comedies, and several other works, such as Satiræ, composed in a great variety of metres, from which circumstance they probably received their name.

The comic drama of Rome, though it continued to be more or less a translation or an imitation of the Greek, was cultivated with distinguished success by two writers of genius, several of whose plays are still extant.

T. MACCIUS PLAUTUS was a native of Sarsina, a small village in Umbria, and was born about B.C. 254. He probably came to Rome at an early age, and was first employed in the service of the actors. With the money he had saved in this inferior station he left Rome, and set up in business; but his speculations failed: he returned to Rome, and his necessities obliged him to enter the service of a baker, who employed him in turning a hand-mill. While in this degrading occupation he wrote three plays, the sale of which to the managers of the public games enabled him to quit his drudgery, and begin his literary career. He was then about 30 years of age (B.C. 224), and continued to write for the stage for about 40 years. He died in B.C. 184, when he was 70 years of age. The comedies of Plautus enjoyed unrivaled popularity among the Romans, and continued to be represented down to the time of Diocletian. Though they were founded upon Greek models, the characters in them act, speak, and joke like genuine Romans, and the poet thereby secured the sympathy of his audience more completely than Terence. It was not only with the common people that Plautus was a favorite; educated Romans read and admired his works down to the latest times. Cicero places his wit on a level with that of the old Attic comedy; and St. Jerome used to console himself with the perusal of the poet, after spending many nights in tears on account of his past sins. The favorable impression which the ancients entertained of the merits of Plautus has been confirmed by the judgment of modern critics, and by the fact that several of his plays have been imitated by many of the best modern poets. Twenty of his comedies are extant.

P. TERENTIUS AFER, usually called TERENCE, was born at Carthage, B.C. 195. By birth or purchase he became the slave of P. Terentius, a Roman senator, who afforded him the best education of the age, and finally gave him his freedom. The Andria, which was the first play of Terence acted (B.C. 166), was the means of introducing him to the most refined and intellectual circles of Rome. His chief patrons were Lælius and the younger Scipio, both of whom treated him as an equal, and are said even to have assisted him in the composition of his plays. He died in the 36th year of his age, in B.C. 159. Six comedies are all that remain to us. The ancient critics are unanimous in ascribing to Terence immaculate purity and elegance of language. Although a foreigner and a freedman, he divides with Cicero and Cæsar the palm of pure Latinity.

There were two other comic poets, whose works are lost, but who enjoyed a great reputation among the Romans. Q. CÆCILIUS was a native of Milan, and, like Terence, came to Rome as a slave. He was the immediate predecessor of Terence, and died B.C. 108, two years before the representation of the Andria. L. AFRANIUS flourished B.C. 100, and wrote comedies describing Roman scenes and manners, called Comœdiæ Togatæ, to distinguish them from those depicting Grecian life, which were termed Palliatæ, from pallium, the national dress of the Greeks.

There were two tragic poets contemporary with Terence, who also enjoyed great celebrity, though their works have likewise perished. M. PACUVIUS, son of the sister of Ennius, was born about B.C. 220, and died in the 90th year of his age. He is praised by the Latin writers for the loftiness of his thoughts, the vigor of his language, and the extent of his knowledge. Hence we find the epithet doctus frequently applied to him. Most of his tragedies were taken from the Greek writers; but some belonged to the class called Prætextatæ, in which the subjects were taken from Roman story. One of these, entitled Paullus, had as its hero L. Æmilius Paullus, the conqueror of Perseus, king of Macedonia. L. ACCIUS, a younger contemporary of Pacuvius, was born B.C. 170, and lived to a great age. Cicero, when a young man, frequently conversed with him. His tragedies, like those of Pacuvius, were chiefly imitations of the Greek; but he also wrote some on Roman subjects, one of which was entitled Brutus.

Though the Roman Drama, properly so called, was derived from the Greeks, there were some kinds of dramatic exhibitions which were of Italian origin. The first of these were the Atellanæ Fabulæ, or Atellane Plays, which took their name from Atella, a town in Campania. They were composed in the Oscan dialect, and were at first rude extemporaneous farces, but were afterward divided into acts like a regular drama. They seem to have been the origin of the Policinello of modern Italy. The Oscan dialect was preserved even when they were introduced at Rome. The Mimes were another species of comedy, of which only the name seems to have been derived from the Greek. They were a species of low comedy of an indecent description, in which the dialogue was subordinate to mimicry and gesture. The Dictator Sulla was very fond of these performances. The two most distinguished writers of Mimes were DEC. LABERIUS, a knight, and P. SYRUS, a freedman, and originally a Syrian slave, both of whom were contemporaries of Julius Cæsar. At Cæsar's triumphal games in October, B.C. 45, P. Syrus challenged all his craft to a trial of wit in extemporaneous farce, and Cæsar offered Laberius 500,000 sesterces to appear on the stage. Laberius was 60 years old, and the profession of a mimus was infamous, but the wish of the Dictator was equivalent to a command, and he reluctantly complied. He had, however, revenge in his power, and took it. His prologue awakened compassion, and perhaps indignation; and during the performance he adroitly availed himself of his various characters to point his wit at Cæsar. In the person of a beaten Syrian slave he cried out, "Marry! Quirites, but we lose our freedom," and all eyes were turned upon the Dictator; and in another mime he uttered the pregnant maxim, "Needs must he fear who makes all else adread" Cæsar, impartially or vindictively, awarded the prize to Syrus.

The Fescennine Songs were the origin of the Satire, the only important species of literature not derived from the Greeks, and altogether peculiar to Italy. These Fescennine Songs were rude dialogues, in which the country people assailed and ridiculed one another in extempore verses, and which were introduced as an amusement in various festivals. They were formed into the Satire by C. LUCILIUS, who wrote in hexameter verse, and attacked the follies and vices both of distinguished persons and of mankind in general. He was born B.C. 148, at Suessa Aurunca, and died at Naples in B.C. 103. He lived upon terms of intimacy with the younger Scipio and Lælius, and was the maternal ancestor of Pompey the Great. Lucilius continued to be admired in the Augustan age; and Horace, while he censures the harsh versification and the slovenly haste with which Lucilius threw off his compositions, acknowledges with admiration the fierceness and boldness of his attacks upon the vices and follies of his contemporaries.

Between Lucilius and the poets of the Augustan age lived Lucretius and Catullus, two of the greatest - perhaps the greatest - of all the Roman poets.

T. LUCRETIUS CARUS was born B.C. 95, and died about B.C. 51. He is said to have been driven mad by a love-potion, and to have perished by his own hand. The work which has immortalized his name is a philosophical didactic poem, in heroic hexameters, entitled De Rerum Natura, divided into six books, and addressed to C. Memmius Gemellus, who was prætor in B.C. 58. Its object is to state clearly the leading principles of the Epicurean philosophy in such a form as might render the study attractive to his countrymen. He attempts to show that there is nothing in the history or actual condition of the world which does not admit of explanation without having recourse to the active interposition of divine beings. The work has been admitted by all modern critics to be the greatest of didactic poems. The most abstruse speculations are clearly explained in majestic verse, while the subject, which in itself is dry and dull, is enlivened by digressions of matchless power and beauty.

VALERIUS CATULLUS was born at Verona or in its immediate vicinity, B.C. 87. He inherited considerable property from his father, who was the friend of Julius Cæsar; but he squandered a great part of it by indulging freely in the pleasures of the metropolis. In order to better his fortunes, he went to Bithynia in the train of the Prætor Memmius, but it appears that the speculation was attended with little success. It was probably during this expedition that his brother died in the Troad, a loss which he deplores in the affecting elegy to Hortalus. On his return he continued to reside at Rome, or at his country seats on the promontory of Sirmio and at Tibur. He died about B.C. 47. His poems are on a variety of topics, and composed in different styles and metres. Some are lyrical, others elegies, others epigrams; while the Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis is an heroic poem. Catullus adorned all he touched, and his shorter poems are characterized by original invention and felicity of expression. His Atys is one of the most remarkable poems in the whole range of Latin literature, distinguished by wild passion and the noblest diction.

Among the poets of the Augustan age Virgil and Horace stand forth pre-eminent.

P. VIRGILIUS (more properly VERGILIUS) MARO was born B.C. 70, at Andes, a small village near Mantua, in Cisalpine Gaul. His father left him a small estate, which he cultivated. After the battle of Philippi (B.C. 42) his property was among the lands assigned by Octavian to the soldiers. Through the advice of Asinius Pollio, who was then governor of Cisalpine Gaul, and was himself a poet, Virgil applied to Octavian at Rome for the restitution of his land, and obtained his request. The first Eclogue commemorates his gratitude. Virgil lived on intimate terms with Mæcenas, whom he accompanied in the journey from Rome to Brundusium, which forms the subject of one of the Satires of Horace. His most finished work, the Georgics, was undertaken at the suggestion of Mæcenas. The poem was completed after the battle of Actium, B.C. 31, while Octavian was in the East. The Æneid was the occupation of his latter years. His health was always feeble, and he died at Brundusium in B.C. 19, in his 51st year. His remains were transferred to Naples, which had been his favorite residence, and placed on the road from Naples to Puteoli (Pozzuoli), where a monument is still shown, supposed to be the tomb of the poet. It is said that in his last illness he wished to burn the Æneid, to which he had not given the finishing touches, but his friends would not allow him. He was an amiable, good-tempered man, free from the mean passions of envy and jealousy. His fame, which was established in his lifetime, was cherished after his death as an inheritance in which every Roman had a share; and his works became school-books even before the death of Augustus, and continued such for centuries after. He was also the great poet of the Middle Ages. To him Dante paid the homage of his superior genius, and owned him for his master and model. The ten short poems called Bucolics, or Eclogues, were the earliest works of Virgil, and probably all written between B.C. 41 and B.C. 37. They have all a Bucolic form and coloring, but some of them have nothing more. Their merit consists in their versification, and in many natural and simple touches. The Georgics is an "Agricultural Poem" in four books. Virgil treats of the cultivation of the soil in the first book, of fruit-trees in the second, of horses and other cattle in the third, and of bees in the fourth. This poem shows a great improvement both in his taste and in his versification. Neither in the Georgics nor elsewhere has he the merit of striking originality; his chief excellence consists in the skillful handling of borrowed materials. The Æneid, or adventures of Æneas after the fall of Troy, is an epic formed on the model of the Homeric poems. It was founded upon an old Roman tradition that Æneas and his Trojans settled in Italy, and were the founders of the Roman name. In the first six books the adventures of Ulysses in the Odyssey are the model, and these books contain more variety of incident and situation than those which follow. The last six books, the history of the struggles of Æneas in Italy, are based on the plan of the battles of the Iliad. Latinus, the king of the Latini, offers in marriage to the Trojan hero his daughter Lavinia, who had been betrothed to Turnus, the warlike king of the Rutuli. The contest is ended by the death of Turnus, who falls by the hand of Æneas. The fortunes of Æneas and his final settlement in Italy are the subjects of the Æneid, but the glories of Rome and the Julian house, to which Augustus belonged, are indirectly the poet's theme. In the first book the foundation of Alba Longa is promised by Jupiter to Venus, and the transfer of empire from Alba to Rome; from the line of Æneas will descend the "Trojan Cæsar," whose empire will only be limited by the ocean, and his glory by the heavens. The ultimate triumphs of Rome are predicted.

Q. HORATIUS FLACCUS, usually called HORACE, was born at Venusia, in Apulia, B.C. 65. His father was a freedman. He had received his manumission before the birth of the poet, who was of ingenuous birth, but who did not altogether escape the taunt which adhered to persons even of remote servile origin. His father's occupation was that of a collector (coactor) of taxes. With the profits of his office he had purchased a small farm in the neighborhood of Venusia. Though by no means rich, he declined to send the young Horace to the common school, kept in Venusia by one Flavius, to which the children of the rural aristocracy resorted. Probably about his twelfth year his father carried him to Rome to receive the usual education of a knight's or senator's son. He frequented the best schools in the capital. One of these was kept by Orbilius, a retired military man, whose flogging propensities have been immortalized by his pupil. The names of his other teachers are not recorded by the poet. He was instructed in the Greek and Latin languages: the poets were the usual school-books - Homer in the Greek, and the old tragic writer, Livius Andronicus, in the Latin. In his eighteenth year Horace proceeded to Athens, in order to continue his studies at that seat of learning. When Brutus came to Athens after the death of Cæsar, Horace joined his army, and received at once the rank of a military tribune and the command of a legion. He was present at the battle of Philippi, and shared in the flight of the republican army. In one of his poems he playfully alludes to his flight, and throwing away his shield. He now resolved to devote himself to more peaceful pursuits; and, having obtained his pardon, he ventured at once to return to Rome. He had lost all his hopes in life; his paternal estate had been swept away in the general forfeiture; but he was enabled to obtain sufficient money to purchase a clerkship in the Quæstor's office, and on the profits of that place he managed, with the utmost frugality, to live. Meantime some of his poems attracted the notice of Varius and Virgil, who introduced him to Mæcenas (B.C. 39). Horace soon became the friend of Mæcenas, and this friendship quickly ripened into intimacy. In a year or two after the commencement of their friendship (B.C. 37) Horace accompanied his patron on the journey to Brundusium already alluded to. About the year B.C. 34 Mæcenas bestowed upon the poet a Sabine farm, sufficient to maintain him in ease, comfort, and even in content, during the rest of his life. The situation of this farm was in the valley of Ustica, within view of the mountain Lucretilis, and near the Digentia, about 15 miles from Tibur (Tivoli). A site exactly answering to the villa of Horace, and on which were found ruins of buildings, has been discovered in modern times. Besides this estate, his admiration of the beautiful scenery in the neighborhood of Tibur inclined him either to hire or to purchase a small cottage in that romantic town; and all the later years of his life were passed between the metropolis and these two country residences. He died, B.C. 8, in his 57th year. He was buried on the slope of the Esquiline Hill, close to his friend and patron Mæcenas, who had died before him in the same year. Horace has described his own person. He was of short stature, with dark eyes and dark hair, but early tinged with gray. In his youth he was tolerably robust, but suffered from a complaint in his eyes. In more advanced life he grew fat, and Augustus jested about his protuberant belly. His health was not always good, and he seems to have inclined to be a valetudinarian. In dress he was rather careless. His habits, even after he became richer, were generally frugal and abstemious; though on occasions, both in youth and maturer age, he seems to have indulged in conviviality. He liked choice wine, and in the society of friends scrupled not to enjoy the luxuries of his time. He was never married. The Odes of Horace want the higher inspirations of lyric verse. His amatory verses are exquisitely graceful, but they have no strong ardor, no deep tenderness, nor even much light and joyous gayety; but as works of refined art, of the most skillful felicities of language and of measure, of translucent expression, and of agreeable images embodied in words which imprint themselves indelibly on the memory, they are unrivaled. In the Satires of Horace there is none of the lofty moral indignation, the fierce vehemence of invective, which characterized the later satirists. It is the folly rather than the wickedness of vice which he touches with such playful skill. In the Epodes there is bitterness provoked, it should seem, by some personal hatred or sense of injury; but the Epistles are the most perfect of the Horatian poetry, the poetry of manners and society, the beauty of which consists in its common sense and practical wisdom. The Epistles of Horace are, with the Poem of Lucretius, the Georgics of Virgil, and, perhaps, the Satires of Juvenal, the most perfect and the most original form of Roman verse. The Art of Poetry was probably intended to dissuade one of the younger Pisos from devoting himself to poetry, for which he had little genius, or, at least, to suggest the difficulties of attaining to perfection.

Three celebrated Elegiac poets - Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid - also belong to the Augustan age.

ALBIUS TIBULLUS was of equestrian family, and possessed an hereditary estate between Tibur and Præneste. His great patron was Messala, whom he accompanied in B.C. 31 into Aquitania, whither Messala had been sent by Augustus to suppress a formidable insurrection which had broken out in this province. In the following year (B.C. 30) Messala, having pacified Gaul, was sent into the East. Tibullus set out in his company, but was taken ill, and obliged to remain in Corcyra, from whence he returned to Rome. So ceased the active life of Tibullus. He died at an early age soon after Virgil. The poetry of his contemporaries shows Tibullus as a gentle and singularly amiable man. To Horace especially he was an object of warm attachment. His Elegies, which are exquisite small poems, celebrate the beauty and cruelty of his mistresses.

SEXTUS AURELIUS PROPERTIUS was a native of Umbria, and was born about B.C. 51. He was deprived of his paternal estate by an agrarian division, probably that in B.C. 33, after the Sicilian War. He began to write poetry at a very early age, and the merit of his productions soon attracted the attention and patronage of Mæcenas. The year of his death is altogether unknown. As an elegiac poet a high rank must be awarded to Propertius, and among the ancients it was a disputed point whether the preference should be given to him or to Tibullus. To the modern reader, however, the elegies of Propertius are not nearly so attractive as those of Tibullus. This arises partly from their obscurity, but in a great measure, also, from a certain want of nature in them. The fault of Propertius was too pedantic an imitation of the Greeks. His whole ambition was to become the Roman Callimachus, whom he made his model. He abounds with obscure Greek myths, as well as Greek forms of expression, and the same pedantry infects even his versification.

P. OVIDIUS NASO, usually culled OVID, was born at Sulmo, in the country of the Peligni, on the 20th of March, B.C. 43. He was descended from an ancient equestrian family, and was destined to be a pleader; but the bent of his genius showed itself very early. The hours which should have been spent in the study of jurisprudence were employed in cultivating his poetical talent. It is a disputed point whether he ever actually practiced as an advocate after his return to Rome. The picture Ovid himself draws of his weak constitution and indolent temper prevents us from thinking that he ever followed his profession with perseverance, if, indeed, at all. He became, however, one of the Triumviri Capitules; and he was subsequently made one of the Centumviri, or judges who tried testamentary, and even criminal causes. Till his 50th year he continued to reside at Rome, where he had a house near the Capitol, occasionally taking a trip to his Pelignian farm. He not only enjoyed the friendship of a large circle of distinguished men, but the regard and favor of Augustus and the imperial family; notwithstanding, in A.D. 9, he was suddenly commanded by an imperial edict to transport himself to Tomi, a town on the Euxine, near the mouths of the Danube, on the very border of the empire. He underwent no trial, and the sole reason for his banishment stated in the edict was his having published his poem on the Art of Love (Ars Amatoria). The real cause of his banishment is unknown, for the publication of the Art of Love was certainly a mere pretext. Ovid draws an affecting picture of the miseries to which he was exposed in his place of exile. He complains of the inhospitable soil, of the severity of the climate, and of the perils to which he was exposed, when the barbarians plundered the surrounding country, and insulted the very walls of Tomi. In the midst of all his misfortunes he sought some relief in the exercise of his poetical talents. He died at Tomi in the 60th year of his age, A.D. 18. Besides his amatory poems, Ovid wrote the Metamorphoses in 15 books, which consist of such legends or fables as involved a transformation, from the Creation to the time of Julius Cæsar, the last being that emperor's change into a star; the Fasti in 12 books, of which only the first six are extant, a sort of poetical Roman calendar, with its appropriate festivals and mythology; and the Elegies, written during his banishment. Ovid undoubtedly possessed a great poetical genius, which makes it the more to be regretted that it was not always under the control of a sound judgment. He exhibits great vigor of fancy and warmth of coloring, but he was the first to depart from that pure and correct taste which characterizes the Greek poets and their earlier Latin imitators.

We now turn to the history of prose literature among the Romans. The earliest prose works were Annals, containing a meagre account of the principal events in Roman history, arranged under their respective years. The earliest Annalists who obtained reputation were Q. FABIUS PICTOR and L. CINCIUS ALIMENTUS, both of whom served in the Second Punic War, and drew up an account of it, but they wrote in the Greek language. The first prose writer in the Latin language, of whom any considerable fragments have been preserved, is the celebrated Censor, M. Porcius Cato, who died B.C. 149, and of whose life an account has been already given. He wrote an important historical work entitled Origines. The first book contained the history of the Roman kings; the second and third treated of the origin of the Italian towns, and from these two books the whole work derived its title; the fourth book treated of the First Punic War, the fifth book of the Second Punic War, and the sixth and seventh continued the narrative to the year of Cato's death. There is still extant a work on agriculture (De Re Rustica) bearing the name of Cato, which is probably substantially his, though it is certainly not exactly in the form in which it proceeded from his pen. There were many other annalists, of whom we know little more than the names, and whose works were used by Livy in compiling his Roman history.

Oratory was always cultivated by the Romans as one of the chief avenues to political distinction. Cicero, in his work entitled Brutus, has given a long list of distinguished Orators whose speeches he had read, but he himself surpassed all his predecessors and contemporaries. In his works the Latin language appears in the highest perfection. Besides his numerous orations he also wrote several treatises on Rhetoric, of which the most perfect is a systematic treatise on the art of Oratory (De Oratore), in three books. His works on Philosophy were almost the first specimens of this kind of literature ever presented to the Romans in their own language. He does not aim at any original investigation or research. His object was to present, in a familiar and attractive form, the results at which the Greek philosophers had arrived, not to expound any new theories. His Epistles, of which more than eight hundred have come down to us, are among the most valuable remains of antiquity. Cicero, during the most important period of his life, maintained a close correspondence with Atticus, and with a wide circle of political friends and connections. These letters supply the most ample materials for a history of the Roman Republic during its last struggles, and afford a clear insight into the personal dispositions and motives of its chief leaders.

The most learned Roman under the Republic was M. TERENTIUS VARRO, a contemporary and friend of Cicero. He served as Pompey's lieutenant in Spain in the Civil Wars, but was pardoned by Cæsar after the battle of Pharsalia, and was employed by him in superintending the collection and arrangement of the great library designed for public use. Upon the formation of the second Triumvirate, Varro's name appeared upon the list of the proscribed; but he succeeded in making his escape, and, after having remained for some time in concealment, he obtained the protection of Octavian. His death took place B.C. 28, when he was in his 80th year. Not only was Varro the most learned of Roman scholars, but he was likewise the most voluminous of Roman authors. We have his own authority for the assertion that he had composed no less than 490 books, but of these only two have come down to us, and one of them in a mutilated form: 1. De Re Rustica, a work on Agriculture, in three books, written when the author was 80 years old; 2. De Lingua Latina, a grammatical treatise which extended to 24 books, but six only have been preserved, and these are in a mutilated condition. The remains of this treatise are particularly valuable. They have preserved many terms and forms which would otherwise have been altogether lost, and much curious information connected with the ancient usages, both civil and religious, of the Romans.

C. JULIUS CÆSAR, the great Dictator, was also distinguished as an author, and wrote several works, of which the Commentaries alone have come down to us. They relate the history of the first seven years of the Gallic War in seven books, and the history of the Civil War down to the commencement of the Alexandrine in three books. Neither of these works completes the history of the Gallic and Civil Wars. The history of the former was completed in an 8th book, which is usually ascribed to Hirtius. The history of the Alexandrine, African, and Spanish Wars was written in three separate books, which are also ascribed to Hirtius, but their authorship is uncertain. The purity of Cæsar's Latin and the clearness of his style have deservedly obtained the highest praise.

C. SALLUSTIUS CRISPUS, a contemporary of Cæsar, and one of his supporters, was also distinguished as a historian. He was born B.C. 86 at Amiternum, in the country of the Sabines, and died in B.C. 34. After the African War (B.C. 46) he was left by Cæsar as governor of Numidia, where he acquired great riches by his oppression of the people. Two of his works have come down to us, the Catilina, the history of the suppression of Catiline's conspiracy, and the Jugurtha, the history of the war against Jugurtha. Sallust made Thucydides his model, and took great pains with his style.

CORNELIUS NEPOS, the contemporary and friend of Cicero and Atticus, was the author of numerous works, all of which are lost, with the exception of the well-known Lives of Distinguished Commanders (Vitæ Excellentium Imperatorum). But even these Lives, with the exception of that of Atticus, are probably an abridgment of the original work of Nepos, made in the fourth century of the Christian era.

Of the prose writers of the Augustan age the most distinguished was the historian TITUS LIVIUS, usually called LIVY. He was born at Patavium (Padua), B.C. 59. The greater part of his life appears to have been spent in Rome, but he returned to his native town before his death, which happened at the age of 76, in the fourth year of Tiberius, A.D. 17. His literary talents secured the patronage and friendship of Augustus; and his reputation became so widely diffused, that a Spaniard traveled from Cadiz to Rome solely for the purpose of beholding him; and, having gratified his curiosity in this one particular, he immediately returned home. Livy's "History of Rome" extended from the foundation of the city to the death of Drusus, B.C. 9, and was comprised in 142 books. Of these 35 have descended to us. The whole work has been divided into decades, containing 10 books each. The First decade (bks. i.-x.) is entire. It embraces the period from the foundation of the city to the year B.C. 294, when the subjugation of the Samnites may be said to have been completed. The Second decade (bks. xi.-xx.) is altogether lost. It included the period from B.C. 294 to B.C. 219, comprising an account, among other matters, of the invasion of Pyrrhus and of the First Punic War. The Third decade (bks. xxi.-xxx.) is entire. It embraces the period from B.C. 219 to B.C. 201, comprehending the whole of the Second Punic War. The Fourth decade (bks. xxxi.-xl.) is entire, and also one half of the Fifth (bks. xli.-xlv.). These 15 books continue the history from B.C. 201 to B.C. 167, and develop the progress of the Roman arms in Cisalpine Gaul, in Macedonia, Greece, and Asia, ending with the triumph of Æmilius Paullus. Of the remaining books nothing is extant except inconsiderable fragments. The style of Livy may be pronounced almost faultless. In judging of his merits as a historian, we are bound to ascertain, if possible, the end which he proposed to himself. No one who reads his work with attention can suppose that he ever conceived the project of drawing up a critical history of Rome. His aim was to offer to his countrymen a clear and pleasing narrative, which, while it gratified their vanity, should contain no startling improbabilities or gross amplifications. To effect this purpose, he studied with care the writings of some of his more celebrated predecessors in the same field; but in no case did he ever dream of ascending to the fountain-head, and never attempted to test the accuracy of his authorities by examining monuments of remote antiquity.


Aureus of Augustus Caesar
Aureus of Augustus Cæsar
Roman Empire History

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