A History of Roman Literature
Charles Thomas Cruttwell

Part 8 out of 12

and a heart steeped in nobleness and virtue? Let me but bring these to the
altar, and a sacrifice of meal will be accepted!" In the third and fourth
Satires he complains of the universal ignorance of our true interests, the
ridicule which the world heaps on philosophy, and the hap-hazard way in
which men prepare for hazardous duties. The contemptuous disgust of the
brawny centurion at the (to him) unmeaning problems which philosophy
starts, is vigorously delineated; [17] but some of his _tableaux_ border
on the ridiculous from their stilted concision and over-drawn sharpness of
outline. The undeniable virtue of the poet irritates as much as it
attracts, from its pert precocity and obtrusiveness. What he means for
pathos mostly chills instead of warming: "Ut nemo in se curat descendere,
nemo!" [18] The poet who penned this line must surely have been tiresome
company. Persius is at his best when he forgets for a moment the icy peak
to which as a philosopher he has climbed, and suns himself in the valley
of natural human affections--a reason why the fifth and sixth Satires,
which are more personal than the rest, have always been considered greatly
superior to them. The last in particular runs for more than half its
length in a smooth and tolerably graceful stream of verse, which shows
that Persius had much of the poetic gift, had his warped taste allowed him
to give it play.

We conclude with one or two instances of his language to justify our
strictures upon it. Horace had used the expression _naso suspendis
adunco_, a legitimate and intelligible metaphor; Persius imitates it,
_excusso populum suspendere naso_, [19] thereby rendering it frigid and
weak. Horace had said _clament periisse pudorem Cuncti paene patres_; [20]
Persius caricatures him, _exclamet_ Melicerta _perisse_ Frontem _de
rebus_. [21] Horace had said _si vis me flere, dolendum est Primum ipsi
tibi_; [22] Persius distorts this into _plorabit qui me volet_ incurvasse
_querela_. [23] Other expressions more remotely modelled on him are
_iratum Eupoliden praegrandi cum sene palles_, [24] and perhaps the very
harsh use of the accusative, _linguae quantum sitiat canis_, [25] "as long
a tongue as a thirsty dog hangs out."

Common sense is not to be looked for in the precepts of so immature a
mind. Accordingly, we find the foolish maxim that a man not endowed with
reason (_i.e._ stoicism) cannot do anything aright: [26] that every one
should live up to his yearly income regardless of the risk arising from a
bad season; [27] extravagant paradoxes reminding us of some of the less
educated religious sects of the present day; with this difference, that in
Rome it was the most educated who indulged in them. A good deal of the
obscurity of these Satires was forced upon the poet by the necessity of
avoiding everything that could be twisted into treason. We read in
Suetonius that Nero is attacked in them; but so well is the battery masked
that it is impossible to find it. Some have detected it in the prologue,
others in the opening lines of the first Satire, others, relying on a
story that Cornutus made him alter the line--

"Auriculas asini Mida rex habet,"

to _quis non habet_? have supposed that the satire lies there. But satire
so veiled is worthless. The poems of Persius are valuable chiefly as
showing a good _naturel_ amid corrupt surroundings, and forming a striking
comment on the change which had come over Latin letters.

Another Stoic philosopher, probably known to Persius, was C. MUSONIUS
RUFUS, like him an Etruscan by birth, and a successful teacher of the
young. Like almost all independent thinkers he was exiled, but recalled by
Titus in his old age. The influence of such men must have extended far
beyond their personal acquaintance; but they kept aloof from the court.
This probably explains the conspicuous absence of any allusion to Seneca
in Persius's writings. It is probable that his stern friends, Thrasea and
Soranus disapproved of a courtier like Seneca professing stoicism, and
would show him no countenance. He was not yet great enough to compel their
notice, and at this time confined his influence to the circle of Nero,
whose tutor he was, and to those young men, doubtless numerous enough,
whom his position and seductive eloquence attracted by a double charm. Of
these by far the most illustrious was his nephew Lucan.

M. ANNAEUS LUCANUS, the son of Annaeus Mela and Acilia, a Spanish lady of
high birth, was born at Corduba, 39 A.D. His grandfather, therefore, was
Seneca the elder, whose rhetorical bent he inherited. Legend tells of him,
as of Hesiod, that in his infancy a swarm of bees settled upon the cradle
in which he lay, giving an omen of his future poetic glory. Brought to
Rome, and placed under the greatest masters, he soon surpassed all his
young competitors in powers of declamation. He is said, while a boy, to
have attracted large audiences, who listened with admiration to the
ingenious eloquence that expressed itself with equal ease in Greek or
Latin. His uncle soon introduced him to Nero; and he at once recognised in
him a congenial spirit. They became friendly rivals. Lucan had the address
to conceal his superior talent behind artful flattery, which Nero for a
time believed sincere. But men, and especially young men of genius, cannot
be always prudent. And if Lucan had not vaunted his success, Rome at least
was sure to be less reticent. Nero saw that public opinion preferred the
young Spaniard to himself. The mutual ill-feeling that had already long
smouldered was kindled into flame by the result of a poetical contest, at
which Lucan was declared victorious. [28] Nero, who was present, could not
conceal his mortification. He left the hall in a rage, and forbade the
poet to recite in public, or even to plead in his profession. Thus
debarred from the successes which had so long flattered his self-love,
Lucan gave his mind to worthier subjects. He composed, or at least
finished, the _Pharsalia_ in the following year (65 B.C.); but with the
haste and want of secrecy which characterised him, not only libelled the
emperor, but joined the conspiracy against him, of which Piso was the
head. This gave Nero the opportunity he desired. In vain the unhappy young
man abased himself to humble flattery, to piteous entreaty, even to the
incrimination of his own mother, a base proceeding which he hoped might
gain him the indulgence of a matricide prince. All was useless. Nero was
determined that he should die, and he accordingly had his veins opened,
and expired amid applauding friends, while reciting those verses of his
epic which described the death of a brave centurion. [29]

The genius and sentiments of Lucan were formed under two different
influences. Among the adherents of Caesarism, none were so devoted as
those provincials or freedmen who owed to it their wealth and position.
Lucan, as Seneca's nephew, naturally attached himself from the first to
the court party. He knew of the Republic only as a name, and, like Ovid,
had no reason to be dissatisfied with his own time. Fame, wealth, honours,
all were open to him. We can imagine the feverish delight with which a
youth of three and twenty found himself recognised as prince of Roman
poets. But Lucan had a spirit of truthfulness in him that pined after
better things. At the lectures of Cornutus, in the company of Persius, he
caught a glimpse of this higher life. And so behind the showy splendours
of his rhetoric there lurks a sadness which tells of a mind not altogether
content, a brooding over man's life and its apparent uselessness, which
makes us believe that had he lived till middle life he would have struck a
lofty vein of noble and earnest song. At other times, at the banquet or in
the courts, he must have met young men who lived in an altogether
different world from his, a world not of intoxicating pleasures but of
gloomy indignation and sullen regret; to whom the Empire, grounded on
usurpation and maintained by injustice, was the quintessence of all that
was odious; to whom Nero was an upstart tyrant, and Brutus and Cassius the
watchwords of justice and right. Sentiments like these could not but be
remembered by one so impressionable. As soon as the sunshine of favour was
withdrawn, Lucan's ardent mind turned with enthusiasm towards them. The
_Pharsalia_, and especially the closing books of it, show us Lucan as the
poet of liberty, the mourner for the lost Republic. The expression of
feeling may be exaggerated, and little consistent with the flattery with
which the poem opens; yet even this flattery, when carefully read, seems
fuller of satire than of praise: [30]

"Quod si non aliam venturo fata Neroni
Invenere viam, magnoque aeterna parantur
Regna deis, caelumque suo servire Tonanti
Non nisi saevorum potuit post bella Gigantum;
Iam nihil O superi querimur! Scelera ipsa nefasque
Hac mercede placent!"

The _Pharsalia_, then, is the outcome of a prosperous rhetorical career on
the one hand, and of a bitter disappointment which finds its solace in
patriotic feeling on the other. It is difficult to see how such a poem
could have failed to ruin him, even if he had not been doomed before. The
loss of freedom is bewailed in words, which, if declamatory, are fatally
courageous, and reflect perilous honour on him that used them: [31]

"Fugiens civile nefas redituraque nunquam
Libertas ultra Tigrim Rhenumque [32] recessit,
Ac toties nobis iugulo quaesita, vagatur,
Germanum Scythicumque bonum, nec respicit ultra

It is true that his love for freedom, like that of Virgil, was based on an
idea, not a reality. But it none the less required a great soul to utter
these stirring sentiments before the very face of Nero, the "vultus
instantis tyranni" of which Horace had dreamed.

On the fitness or unfitness of his theme for epic treatment no more need
be added here than was said in the chapter on Virgil. It is, however,
difficult to see what subject was open to the epicist after Virgil except
to narrate the actual account of what Virgil had painted in ideal colours.
The calm march of government under divine guidance from Aeneas to Augustus
was one side of the picture. The fierce struggles and remorseless ambition
of the Civil Wars is the other. Which is the more true? It would be fairer
to ask, which is the more poetical? It was Lucan's misfortune that the
ideal side was already occupied; he had no power to choose. Few who have
read the _Pharsalia_ would wish it unwritten. Some critics have denied
that it is poetry at all. [33] Poetry of the first order it certainly is
not, but those who will forgive artistic defects for energy of thought and
strength of feeling must always retain a strong admiration for its noble

We shall offer a few critical remarks on the _Pharsalia_, referring our
readers for an exhaustive catalogue of its defects to M. Nisard's second
volume of the _Poetes de la Decadence_, and confining ourselves
principally to such points as he has not dwelt upon. In the first place we
observe a most unfortunate attitude towards the greatest problem that can
exercise man's mind, his relation to the Superior Power. Lucan has neither
the reverence of Virgil, the antagonism of Lucretius, nor the awful doubt
of Greek tragedy. His attitude is one of pretentious rebellion and
flippant accusation, except when Stoic doctrines raise him for a time
above himself. He goes on every occasion quite out of his way to assail
the popular ideas of providence. To Lucretius this is a necessity entailed
upon him by his subject; to Lucan it is nothing but petulant rhetorical
outburst. For instance, he calls Ptolemy _Fortunae pudor crimenque
deorum_; [34] he arraigns the gods as caring more for vengeance than
liberty; [35] he calls Septimius a disgrace to the gods, [36] the death of
Pompey a tale at which heaven ought to blush; [37] he speaks of the
expression on Pompey's venerable face as one of anger against the gods,
[38] of the stone that marks his tomb as an indictment against heaven,
[39] and hopes that it may soon be considered as false a witness of his
death as Crete is to that of Jove; [40] he makes young Pompey, speaking of
his father's death, say: "Whatever insult of fate has scattered his limbs
to the winds, I forgive the gods that wrong, it is of what they have left
that I complain;" [41] saddest of all, he gives us that tremendous
epigram: [42]

"Victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa Catoni."

We recognise here a noble but misguided spirit, fretting at the
dispensations it cannot approve, because it cannot understand them.
Bitterly disgusted at the failure of the Empire to fulfil all its promise,
the writers of this period waste their strength in unavailing upbraidings
of the gods. There is a retrograde movement of thought since the Augustan
age. Virgil and Horace take substantially the same view of the Empire as
that which the philosophy of history has taught us is the true one; they
call it a necessity, and express that belief by deifying its
representative. Contrast the spirit of Horace in the third Ode of the
third book:

"Hac arte Pollux hac vagus Hercules
Enisus arces attigit igneas;
Quos inter Augustus recumbens
Purpureo bibit ore nectar,"

with the fierce irony of Lucan: [43]

"Mortalis nulli
Sunt curata deo; cladis tamen huius habemus
_Vindictam_, quantam terris dare numina fas est.
Bella pares superis faciunt civilia divos;
Fulminibus manes radiisque ornabit et astris,
Inque Deum templis iurabit Roma per _umbras_."

Here is the satire of Cicero's second Philippic reappearing, but with
added bitterness. [44] Being thus without belief in a divine providence,
how does Lucan govern the world? By blind fate, or blinder caprice!
_Fortuna_, whom Juvenal ridicules, [45] is the true deity of Lucan. As
such she is directly mentioned ninety-one times, besides countless others
where her agency is implied. A useful belief for a man like Caesar who
fought his way to empire; a most unfortunate conception for an epic poet
to build a great poem on.

Lucan's scepticism has this further disadvantage that it precludes him
from the use of the supernatural. To introduce the council of Olympus as
Virgil does would in him be sheer mockery, and he is far too honest to
attempt it. But as no great poet can dispense with some reference to the
unseen, Lucan is driven to its lower and less poetic spheres. Ghosts,
witches, dreams, visions, and portents, fill with their grisly catalogue a
disproportionate space of the poem. The sibyl is introduced as in Virgil,
but instead of giving her oracle with solemn dignity, she first refuses to
speak at all, then under threats of cruel punishment she submits to the
influence of the god, but in the midst of the prophetic impulse, Apollo,
for some unexplained reason, compels her to stop short and conceal the
gist of her message. [46] Even more unpleasant is the description of
Sextus Pompeius's consultation of the witch Erichtho; [47] horror upon
horror is piled up until the blood curdles at the sickening details, which
even Southey's _Thalaba_ does not approach--and, after all, the feeling
produced is not horror but disgust.

It is pleasant to turn from his irreligion to his philosophy. Here he
appears as an uncertain but yet ardent disciple of the Porch. His
uncertainty is shown by his inability to answer many grave doubts, as: Why
is the future revealed by presages? [48] why are the oracles, once so
vocal, now silent? [49] his enthusiasm by his portraiture of Cato, who was
regarded by the Stoics as coming nearest of all men to their ideal Wise
Man. Cato is to him a peg on which to hang the virtues and paradoxes of
the school. But none the less is the sketch he gives a truly noble one:

"Hi mores, haec duri immota Catonis
Secta fuit, servare modum finemque tenere,
Naturamque sequi, patriaeque impendere vitam,
Nec sibi sed toti genitum se credere mundo."

Nothing in all Latin poetry reaches a higher pitch of ethical sublimity
than Cato's reply to Labienus when entreated to consult the oracle of
Jupiter Ammon: [51] "What would you have me ask? whether I ought to die
rather than become a slave? whether life begins here or after death?
whether evil can hurt the good man? whether it be enough to will what is
good? whether virtue is made greater by success? All this I know already,
and Hammon's voice will not make it more sure. We all depend on Heaven,
and though oracles be silent we cannot act without the will of God. Deity
needs no witness: once for all at our birth he has given us all needful
knowledge, nor has he chosen barren sands accessible to few, or buried
truth in a desert. Where earth, sea, sky, and virtue exist, there is God.
Why seek we Heaven outside?" These, and similar other sentiments scattered
throughout the poem, redeem it from the charge of wanton disbelief, and
show a largeness of soul that only needed experience to make it truly

In discussing political and social questions Lucan shows considerable
insight. He could not, any more than his contemporaries, understand that
the old oligarchy was an anachronism; that the stubborn pride of its
votaries needed the sword to break it. But the influence of individual
genius is well pourtrayed by him, and he seizes character with a vigorous
grasp. As a partisan of the senate, he felt bound to exalt Pompey; but if
we judge by his own actions and his own words, not by the encomiums heaped
on him by the poet, Lucan's Pompey comes very near the genuine historical
man. So the Caesar sketched by Lucan, though meant to be a villain of the
blackest dye--if we except some blood-thirsty speeches--stands out as a
true giant of energy, neither meaner nor more unscrupulous than the Caesar
of history. Domitius, Curio, and Lentulus, are vigorous though somewhat
defective portraits. Cornelia is the only female character that calls for
notice. She is drawn with breadth and sympathy, and bears all the traits
of a great Roman matron. The degradation of the people is a constant theme
of lamentation. It is wealth, luxury, and the effeminacy that comes with
them that have softened the fibre of Rome, and made her willing to bear a
master. This is indeed a common-place of the schools, but it is none the
less a gloomy truth, and Lucan would have been no Roman had he omitted to
complain of it. Equally characteristic is his contempt for the lower
orders [52] and the influx of foreigners, of whom Rome had become the
common sink. Juvenal, who evidently studied Lucan, drew from him the
picture of the Tiber soiled by Orontes's foul stream, and of the
Bithynian, Galatian, and Cappadocian knights. [53]

With regard to the artistic side of the poem the first and most obvious
criticism is that it has no hero. But if this be a fault, it is one which
it shares with the _Divina Commedia_ and _Paradise Lost_. As Satan has
been called the hero of the latter poem, so Caesar, if not the hero, is
the protagonist of the _Pharsalia_. But Cato, Pompey, and the senate as a
body, have all competed for this honour. The fact is this: that while the
primitive epic is altogether personal, the poem whose interest is national
or human cannot always find a single hero. It is after all a narrow
criticism that confines the poet's art within such strict limits. A great
poet can hardly avoid changing or at least modifying the existing canons
of art, and Lucan should at least be judged with the same liberality as
the old annalists who celebrated the wars of the Republic.

In description Lucan is excellent, both in action and still life, but more
in brilliancy of detail than in broad effects. His defect lies in the tone
of exaggeration which he has acquired in the schools, and thinks it right
to employ in order not to fall below his subject. He has a true opinion of
the importance of the Civil War, which he judges to be the final crisis of
Rome's history, and its issues fraught with superhuman grandeur. The
innate materialism of his mind, however, leads him to attach _outward_
magnitude to all that is connected with it. Thus Nero, the offspring of
its throes, is entreated by the poet to be careful, when he leaves earth
to take his place among the immortals, not to seat himself in a quarter
where his weight may disturb the just equilibrium of the globe! [54] And,
similarly, all the incidents of the Civil War exceed the parallel
incidents of every other war in terror and vastness. Do portents presage a
combat? they are such as defy all power to conceive. Pindus mounts upon
Olympus, [55] and others of a more ordinary but still amazing character
follow. [56] Does a naval conflict take place? the horrors of all the
elements combine to make it the most hideous that the mind can imagine.
Fire and water vie with each other in devising new modes of death, and
where these are inactive, it is only because a land-battle with all its
carnage is being enacted on the closely-wedged ships. [57] Has the army to
march across a desert? the entire race of venomous serpents conspires to
torture and if possible extirpate the host! [58] This is a very inartistic
mode of heightening effect, and, indeed, borders closely on that pursued
in the modern _sensation_ novel. It is beyond question the worst defect of
the _Pharsalia_, and the extraordinary ingenuity with which it is done
only intensifies the misconduct of the poet.

Over and above this habitual exaggeration, Lucan has a decided love for
the ghastly and revolting. The instances to which allusion has already
been made, viz. the Thessalian sorceress and the dreadful casualties of
the sea-fight, show it very strikingly, but the account of the serpents in
the Libyan desert, if possible, still more. The episode is of great
length, over three hundred lines, and contains much mythological
knowledge, as well as an appalling power of description. It begins with a
discussion of the question, Why is Africa so full of these plagues? After
giving various hypotheses he adopts the one which assigns their origin to
Medusa's hairs which fell from Perseus's hand as he sailed through the
air. In order not to lure people to certain death by appearing in an
inhabited country, he chose the trackless wastes of Africa over which to
wing his flight. The mythological disquisition ended, one on natural
history follows. The peculiar properties of the venom of each species are
minutely catalogued, first in abstract terms, then in the concrete by a
description of their effects on some of Cato's soldiers. The first bitten
was the standard-bearer Aulus, by a dipsas, which afflicted him with
intolerable thirst; next Sabellus by a seps, a minute creature whose bite
was followed by an instantaneous corruption of the whole body; [59] then
Nasidius by a prester which caused his form to swell to an unrecognisable
size, and so on through the list of serpents, each episode closing with a
brilliant epigram which clenches the effect. [60] Trivialities like these
would spoil the greatest poem ever penned. It need not be said that they
spoil the _Pharsalia_.

Another subject on which Lucan rings the changes is death. The word _mors_
has an unwholesome attraction to his ear. Death is to him the greatest
gift of heaven; the only one it cannot take away. It is sad indeed to hear
the young poet uttering sentiments like this: [61]

"Scire mori sors prima viris, sed proxima cogi,"

and again [62]--

"Victurosque dei celant, ut vivere durent,
Felix esse mori."

So in cursing Crastinus, Caesar's fierce centurion, he wishes him not to
die, but to retain sensibility after death, in other words to be immortal.
The sentiment occurs, not once but a hundred times, that of all pleasures
death is the greatest. He even plays upon the word, using it in senses
which it will hardly bear. _Libycae mortes_ are serpents; _Accessit morti
Libye_, "Libya added to the mortality of the army;" _nulla cruentae tantum
mortis habet_; "no other reptile causes a death so bloody." To one so
unhealthily familiar with the idea, the reality, when it came, seems to
have brought unusual terrors.

The learning of Lucan has been much extolled, and in some respects not
without reason. It is complex, varied, and allusive, but its extreme
obscurity makes us suspect even when we cannot prove, inaccuracy. He is
proud of his manifold acquirements. Nothing pleases him more than to have
an excuse for showing his information on some abstruse subject. The causes
of the climate of Africa, the meteorological conditions of Spain, the
theory of the globes, the geography of the southern part of our
hemisphere, the wonders of Egypt and the views about the source of the
Nile, are descanted on with diffuse erudition. But it is evidently
impossible that so mere a youth could have had a deep knowledge of so many
subjects, especially as his literary productiveness had already been very
great. He had written an _Iliacon_ according to Statius, [63] a book of
_Saturnalia_, ten books of _Silvae_, a _Catachthonion_, an unfinished
tragedy called _Medea_, fourteen _Salticae fabulae_ (no doubt out of
compliment to Nero), a prose essay against Octavius Sagitta, another in
favour of him, a poem _De Incendio Urbis_, in which Nero was satirised, a
_katakausmos_ (which is perhaps different from the latter, but may be only
the same under another title), a series of letters from Campania, and an
address to his wife, Polla Argentaria.

A peculiar, and to us offensive, exhibition of learning consists in those
tirades on common-place themes, embodying all the stock current of
instances, of which the earliest example is found in the catalogue of the
dead in Virgil's _Culex_. Lucan, as may be supposed, delights in dressing
up these well-worn themes, painting them with novel splendour if they are
descriptive, thundering in fiery epigrams, if they are moral. Of the
former class are two of the most effective scenes in the poem. The first
is Caesar's night voyage in a skiff over a stormy sea. The fisherman to
whom he applies is unwilling to set sail. The night, he says, shows many
threatening signs, and, by way of deterring Caesar, he enumerates the
entire list of prognostics to be found in Aratus, Hesiod, and Virgil, with
great piquancy of touch, but without the least reference to the propriety
of the situation. [64] Nothing can be more amusing, or more out of place,
than the old man's sudden erudition. The second is the death of Scaeva,
who for a time defended Caesar's camp single-handed. The poet first
remarks that valour in a bad cause is a crime, and then depicts that of
Scaeva in such colossal proportions as almost pass the limits of
burlesque. After describing him as pierced with so many spears that they
served him _as armour_, he adds: [65]

"Nec quicquam nudis vitalibus obstat
Iam, praeter stantes in _summis ossibus_ hastas."

This is grotesque enough; the banquet of birds and beasts who feed on the
skin of Pharsalia is even worse. [66] The details are too loathsome to
quote. Suffice it to say that the list includes every carrion-feeder among
flesh and fowl who assemble in immense flocks:

"Nunquam tanto se vulture caelum
_Induit_, aut plures _presserunt_ aethere pennae."

We have, however, dwelt too long on points like these. We must now notice
a few features of his style which mark him as the representative of an
epoch. First, his extreme cleverness. In splendid extravagance of
expression no Latin author comes near him. The miniature painting of
Statius, the point of Martial, are both feeble in comparison; for Lucan's
language, though often tasteless, is always strong. Some of his lines
embody a condensed trenchant vigour which has made them proverbs. Phrases
like _Trahimur sub nomine pacis--Momentumque fuit mutatus Curio rerum_,
recall the pen of Tacitus. Others are finer still Caesar's energy is
rivalled by the line--

"Nil actum credens dum quid superesset agendum."

The duty of securing liberty, even at the cost of blood, was never more
finely expressed than by the noble words:

"Ignoratque datos ne quisquam serviat enses."

Curio's treachery is pilloried in the epigram,

"Emere omnes, hic vendidit Urbem." [67]

The mingled cowardice and folly of servile obedience is nobly expressed by
his reproach to the people:

"Usque adeone times, quem tu facis ipse timendum?" [68]

An author who could write like this had studied rhetoric to some purpose.
Unhappily he is oftener diffuse than brief, and sometimes he becomes
tedious to the last degree. His poetical art is totally deficient in
variety. He knows of but one method of gaining effect, the use of strong
language and plenty of it. If Persius was inflated with the vain desire to
surpass Horace, Lucan seems to have been equally ambitious of excelling
Virgil. He rarely imitates, but he frequently competes with him. Over and
over again, he approaches the same or similar subjects. Virgil had
described the victory of Hercules over Cacus, Lucan must celebrate his
conflict with Antaeus; Virgil had mentioned the portents that followed
Caesar's death, Lucan must repeat them with added improbabilities in a
fresh context; his sibyl is but a tasteless counterpart of Virgil's; his
catalogues of forces have Virgil's constantly in view; his deification of
Nero is an exaggeration of that of Augustus, and even the celebrated
simile in which Virgil admits his obligations to the Greek stage has its
parallel in the _Pharsalia_. [69]

Nevertheless Lucan is of all Latin poets the most independent in relation
to his predecessors. It needs a careful criticism to detect his knowledge
and imitation of Virgil. As far as other poets go he might never have read
their works. The impetuous course of the _Pharsalia_ is interrupted by no
literary reminiscences, no elaborate setting of antique gems. He was a
stranger to that fond pleasure with which Virgil entwined his poetry round
the spreading branches of the past, and wove himself a wreath out of
flowers new and old. This lack of delicate feeling is no less evident in
his rhythm. Instead of the inextricable harmonies of Virgil's cadence, we
have a succession of rich, forcible, and polished monotonous lines,
rushing on without a thought of change until the period closes. In formal
skill Lucan was a proficient, but his ear was dull. The same caesuras
recur again and again, [70] and the only merit of his rhythm is its
undeniable originality. [71] The composition of the _Pharsalia_ must,
however, have been extremely hurried, judging both from the fact that
three books only were finished the year before the poet's death, and from
various indications of haste in the work itself. The tenth book is
obviously unfinished, and in style is far more careless than the rest.
Lucan's diction is tolerably classical, but he is lax in the employment of
certain words, _e.g. mors, fatum, pati_ (in the sense of _vivere_), and
affects forced combinations from the desire to be terse, _e.g., degener
toga_, [72] _stimulis negare_, [73] _nutare regna_, "to portend the advent
of despotism;" [74] _meditari Leucada_, "to intend to bring about the
catastrophe of Actium," [75] and so on. We observe also several
innovations in syntax, especially the freer use of the infinitive (_vivere
durent_) after verbs, or as a substantive, a defect he shares with Persius
(_scire tuum_); and the employment of the future participle to state a
possibility or a condition that might have been fulfilled, _e.g., unumque
caput tam magna iuventus Privatum_ factura _timet velut ensibus ipse
Imperet invito_ moturus _milite bellum_. [76] A strong depreciation of
Lucan's genius has been for some time the rule of criticism. And in an age
when little time is allowed for reading any but the best authors, it is
perhaps undesirable that he should be rehabilitated. Yet throughout the
Middle Ages and during more than one great epoch in French history, he was
ranked among the highest epic poets. Even now there are many scholars who
greatly admire him. The false metaphor and exaggerated tone may be
condoned to a youth of twenty-six; the lofty pride and bold devotion to
liberty could not have been acquired by an ignoble spirit. He is of value
to science as a moderately accurate historian who supplements Caesar's
narrative, and gives a faithful picture of the feeling general among the
nobility of his day. He is also a prominent representative of that gifted
Spanish family who, in various ways, exercised so immense an influence on
subsequent Roman letters. His wife is said to have assisted in the
composition of the poem, but in what part of it her talents fitted her to
succeed we cannot even conjecture.

To Nero's reign are probably to be referred the seven eclogues of T.
CALPURNIUS SICULUS, and the poem on Aetna, long attributed to Virgil.
These may bear comparison in respect of their want of originality with the
_Satires_ of Persius, though both fall far short of them in talent and
interest. The MSS. of Calpurnius contain, besides the seven genuine poems,
four others by a later and much inferior writer, probably Nemesianus, the
same who wrote a poem on the chase in the reign of Numerian. These are
imitated from Calpurnius much as he imitates Virgil, except that the
decline in metrical treatment is greater. The first eclogue of Calpurnius
is devoted to the praises of a young emperor who is to regenerate the
world, and exercise a wisdom, a clemency, and a patronage of the arts long
unknown. He is celebrated again in Eclogue IV., the most pretentious of
the series, and, in general, critics are agreed that Nero is intended. The
second poem is the most successful of all, and a short account of it may
be given here. Astacus and Idas, two beauteous youths, enter into a
poetical contest at which Thyrsis acts as judge. Faunus, the satyrs, and
nymphs, "Sicco Dryades pede Naides udo," are present. The rivers stay
their course; the winds are hushed; the oxen forget their pasture; the bee
steadies itself on poised wing to listen. An amoebean contest ensues, in
which the rivals closely imitate those of Virgil's seventh eclogue,
singing against one another in stanzas of four lines. Thyrsis declines to
pronounce either conqueror:

"Este pares: et ab hoc concordes vivite: nam vos
Et decor et cantus et amor sociavit et aetas."

The rhythm is pleasing; the style simple and flowing; and if we did not
possess the model we might admire the copy. The tone of exaggeration which
characterises all the poetry of Nero's time mars the reality of these
pastoral scenes. The author professes great reverence for Virgil, but does
not despair of being coupled with him (vi. 64):

"Magna petis Corydon, si Tityrus esse laboras."

And he begs his wealthy friend Meliboeus (perhaps Seneca) to introduce his
poems to the emperor (Ecl. iv. 157), and so fulfil for him the office that
he who led Tityrus to Rome did for the Mantuan bard. If his vanity is
somewhat excessive we must allow him the merits of a correct and pretty

The didactic poem on Aetna is now generally attributed to LUCILIUS JUNIOR,
the friend and correspondent of Seneca. Scaliger printed it with Virgil's
works, and others have assigned Cornelius Severus as the author, but
several considerations tend to fix our choice on Lucilius. First, the poem
is beyond doubt much later than the Augustan age; the constant
reproduction, often unconscious, of Virgil's form of expression, implies
an interval of at least a generation; allusions to Manilius [77] may be
detected, and perhaps to Petronius Arbiter, [78] but at the same time it
seems to have been written before the great eruption of Vesuvius (69
A.D.), in which Pliny lost his life, since no mention is made of that
event. All these conditions are fulfilled by Lucilius. Moreover, he is
described by Seneca as a man who by severe and conscientious study had
raised his position in life (which is quite what we should imagine from
reading the poem), and whose literary attainments were greatly due to
Seneca's advice and care. "Assero te mihi: meum opus es," he says in one
of his epistles, [79] and in another he asks him for the long promised
account of a voyage round Sicily which Lucilius had made. He goes on to
say, "I hope you will describe Aetna, the theme of so many poets' song.
Ovid was not deterred from attempting it though Virgil had occupied the
ground, nor did the success of both of these deter Cornel. Severus. If I
know you Aetna excites in you the desire to write; you wish to try some
great work which shall equal the fame of your predecessors." [80] As the
poem further shows some resemblances to an essay on Aetna, published by
Seneca himself, the conclusion is almost irresistible that Lucilius is its

Though by no means equal to the reputation it once had, the poem is not
without merit. The diction is much less stilted than Seneca's or
Persius's; the thoughts mostly correct, though rather tame; and the
descriptions accurate even to tediousness. The arrangement of his subject
betrays a somewhat weak hand, though in this he is superior to Gratius
Faliscus; but he has an earnest desire to make truth known, and a warm
interest in his theme. The opening invocation is addressed to Apollo and
the Muses, asking their aid along an unwonted road.

He denies that eruptions are the work of gods or Cyclopes, and laments
over the errors that the genius of poetry has spread (74-92)--

"Plurima pars scaenae fallacia."

The scenes that poets paint are rarely true, and often very hurtful, but
he is moved only with the desire to discover and communicate truth. He
then begins to discuss the power of confined air when striving to force a
passage, and the porous nature of the interior of the earth; and (after a
fine digression on the thirst for knowledge), he examines the properties
of fire, and specially its effect on the different minerals composing the
soil of Aetna. A disproportionate amount (nearly 150 lines) is given to
describing lava, after which his theory is thus concisely summarised--

"Haec operis forma est: sic nobilis uritur Aetna:
Terra foraminibus vires trahit, urget in artum,
Spiritus incendit: vivit per maxima saxa."

The poem concludes with an account of a former eruption, signalised by the
miraculous preservation of two pious youths who ventured into the burning
shower to carry their parents into a place of safety. The poem is
throughout a model of propriety, but deficient in poetic inspiration; the
technical parts, elaborate as they are, impress the reader less favourably
than the digressions, where subjects of human interest are treated, and
the Roman character comes out. Lucilius called himself an Epicurean, and
is so far consistent as to condemn the "fallacia vatum" and the
superstition that will not recognise the sufficiency of physical causes;
but he (v. 537) accepts Heraclitus's doctrine about the universality of
fire, and in other places shows Stoic leanings. He imitates Lucretius's
transitions, and his appeals to the reader, _e.g._ 160: _Falleris et
nondum certo tibi lumine res est_, and inserts many archaisms as _ulli_
for _ullius_, _opus_ governing an accus., _cremant_ for _cremantur_,
_auras_ (gen. sing.) _iubar_ (masc.) _aureus_. [81] His rhythm resembles
Virgil, but even more that of Manilius.

We cannot conclude this chapter without some notice of the tragedies of
Seneca. There can be no reasonable doubt that they are the work of the
philosopher, nor is the testimony of antiquity really ambiguous on the
point. [82] When he wrote them is uncertain; but they bear every mark of
being an early exercise of his pen. Perhaps they were begun during his
exile in Corsica, when enforced idleness must have tasked the resources of
his busy mind, and continued after his return to Rome, when he found that
Nero was addicted to the same pursuit. There are eight complete tragedies
and one praetexta, the _Octavia_, which is generally supposed to be by a
later hand, as well as considerable fragments from the _Thebais_ and
_Phoenissae_. The subjects are all from the well-worn repository of Greek
legend, and are mostly drawn from Euripides. The titles of _Medea_,
_Hercules furens_, _Hippolytus_ and _Troades_ at once proclaim their
origin, but the _Hercules Oetaeus_, _Oedipus Thyestes_, and _Agamemnon_,
are probably based on a comparison of the treatment by the several Attic
masters. The tragedies of Seneca have as a rule been strongly censured for
their rhetorical colouring, their false passion, and their total want of
dramatic interest. They are to the Greek plays as gaslight to sunlight.
But in estimating their poetic value it is fair to remember that the Roman
ideas of art were neither so accurate nor so profound as ours. The deep
analysis of Aristotle, which grouped all poets who wrote on a _theme_
under the title _rhetorical_, and refused to Empedocles the name of poet
at all, would not have been appreciated by the Romans. To them the _form_
was what constituted a work poetical, not the creative idea that underlay
it. To utilise fictitious situations as a vehicle for individual
conviction or lofty declamation on ethical commonplace, was considered
quite legitimate even in the Augustan age. And Seneca did but follow the
example of Varius and Ovid in the tragedies now before us. It is to the
genius of German criticism, so wonderfully similar in many ways to that of
Greece, that we owe the re-establishment of the profound ideal canons of
art over the artificial technical maxims which from Horace to Voltaire had
been accepted in their stead. The present low estimate of Seneca is due to
the reaction (a most healthy one it is true) that has replaced the
extravagant admiration in which his poems were for more than two centuries

The worst technical fault in these tragedies is their violation of the
decencies of the stage. Manto, the daughter of Tiresias and a great
prophetess, investigates the entrails in public. Medea kills her children
_coram populo_ in defiance of Horace's maxim. These are inexcusable
blemishes in a composition which is made according to a prescribed
_recipe_. His "tragic mixture," as it may be called, is compounded of
equal proportions of description, declamation, and philosophical
aphorisms. Thus taken at intervals it formed an excellent tonic to assist
towards an oratorical training. It was not an end in itself, but was a
means for producing a finished rhetor. This is a degradation of the
loftiest kind of poetry known to art, no doubt; but Seneca is not to blame
for having begun it. He merely used the material which lay before him;
nevertheless, he deserves censure for not having brought into it some of
the purer thoughts which philosophy had, or ought to have, taught him.
Instead of this, his moral conceptions fall far below those of his models.
In the _Phaedra_ of Greek tragedy we have that chastened and pathetic
thought, which hangs like a burden on the Greek mind, a thought laden with
sadness, but a sadness big with rich fruit of reflection; the thought of
guilt unnatural, involuntary, imposed on the sufferer for some inscrutable
reason by the mysterious dispensation of heaven. Helen, the queen of
ancient song, is the offspring of this thought; Phaedra in another way is
its offspring too. But as Virgil had degraded Helen, so Seneca degrades
Phaedra. Her love for Hippolytus is the coarse sensual craving of a
common-place adulteress. The language in which it is painted, stripped of
its ornament, is revolting. As Dido dwells on the broad chest and
shoulders of Aeneas, [83] so Phaedra dwells on the healthy glow of
Hippolytus's cheek, his massive neck, his sinewy arms. The Roman ladies
who bestowed their caresses on gladiators and slaves are here speaking
through their courtly mouthpiece. The gross, the animal--it is scarcely
even sensuous--predominates all through these tragedies. Truly the Greeks
in teaching Rome to desire beauty had little conception of the fierceness
of that robust passion for self-indulgence which they had taught to speak
the language of aesthetic love!

A feature worth noticing in these dramas is the descriptive power and
brilliant philosophy of the choruses. They are quite unconnected with the
plot, and generally either celebrate the praises of some god, _e.g._,
Bacchus in the _Oedipus_, or descant on some moral theme, as the advantage
of an obscure lot, in the same play. The _eclat_ of their style, and the
pungency of their epigrams is startling. In sentiment and language they
are the very counterpart of his other works. The doctrine of fate,
preached by Lucan as well as by Seneca in other places, is here inculcated
with every variety of point. [84] We quote a few lines from the _Oedipus_:

Fatis agimur: cedite fatis.
Non sollicitae possunt curae
Mutare rati stamina fusi
Quicquid patimur, mortale genus,
Quicquid facimus venit ex alto;
Servatque suae decreta colus
Lachesis, dura revoluta manu.
Omnia certo tramite vadunt,
Primusque dies dedit extremum.
Non illa deo vertisse licet
Quae nexa suis currunt causis.
It cuique ratus, prece non ulla
Mobilis, ordo.

Here we have in all its naked repulsiveness the Stoic theory of
predestination. Prayer is useless; God is unable to influence events;
Lachesis the wrinkled beldame, or fate, her blind symbol, has once for all
settled the inevitable nexus of cause and effect.

The rhythm of these plays is extremely monotonous. The greater part of
each is in the iambic trimeter; the choruses generally in anapaests, of
which, however, he does not understand the structure. The _synaphea_
peculiar to this metre is neglected by him, and the rule that each system
should close with a _paroemiac_ or _dimeter catalectic_ is constantly

With regard to the _Octavia_, it has been thought to be a product of some
mediaeval imitator; but this is hardly likely. It cannot be Seneca's,
since it alludes to the death of Nero. Besides its style is simpler and
less bombastic and shows a much tenderer feeling; it is also infinitely
less clever. Altogether it seems best to assign it to the conclusion of
the first century.

The only other work of Seneca's which shows a poetical form is the
_Apokolokyntosis_ or "Pumpkinification" of the emperor Claudius, a bitter
satire on the apotheosis of that heavy prince. Seneca had been compelled,
much against the grain, to offer him the incense of flattery while he
lived. He therefore revenged himself after Claudius's death by this sorry
would-be satire. The only thing witty in it is the title; it is a mixture
of prose and verse, and possesses just this interest for us, that it is
the only example we possess of the Menippean satire, unless we refer the
work of Petronius to this head.




Of all the imperial writers except Tacitus, Seneca is beyond comparison
the most important. His position, talents, and influence make him a
perfect representative of the age in which he lived. His career was long
and chequered: his experience brought him into contact with nearly every
phase of life. He was born at Cordova 3 A.D. and brought by his indulgent
father as a boy to Rome. His early studies were devoted to rhetoric, of
which he tells us he was an ardent learner. Every day he was the first at
school, and generally the last to leave it. While still a young man he
made so brilliant a name at the bar as to awaken Caligula's jealousy. By
his father's advice he retired for a time, and, having nothing better to
do, spent his days in philosophy. Seneca was one of those ardent natures
the virgin soil of whose talent shows a luxurious richness unknown to the
harassed brains of an old civilisation. His enthusiasm for philosophy
exceeded all bounds. He first became a Stoic. But stoicism was not severe
enough for his taste. He therefore turned Pythagorean, and abstained for
several years from everything but herbs. His father, an old man of the
world, saw that self-denial like this was no less perilous than his former
triumphs. "Why do you not, my son," he said, "why do you not live as
others live? There is a provocation in success, but there is a worse
provocation in ostentatious abstinence. You might be taken for a Jew (he
meant a Christian). Do not draw down the wrath of Jove." The young
enthusiast was wise enough to take the hint. He at once dressed himself
_en mode_, resumed a moderate diet, only indulging in the luxury of
abstinence from wine, perfumes, warm baths, and made dishes! He was now 35
years of age; in due time Caligula died, and he resumed his pleadings at
the bar. He was appointed Quaestor by Claudius, and soon opened a school
for youths of quality, which was very numerously attended. His social
successes were striking, and brought him into trouble. He was suspected of
improper intimacy with Julia, the daughter of Germanicus, and in 41 A.D.
was exiled to Corsica. This was the second blow to his career. But it was
a most fortunate one for his genius. In the lonely solitudes of a
barbarous island he meditated deeply over the truth of that philosophy to
which his first devotion had been given, and no doubt struck out the germs
of that mild and catholic form of it which has made his teaching, with all
its imperfections, the purest and noblest of antiquity. While there he
wrote many of the treatises that have come down to us, besides others that
are lost. The earliest in all probability is the _Consolatio ad Marciam_,
addressed to the daughter of Cremutius Cordus, which seems to have been
written even before his exile. Next come two other _Consolationes_. The
first is addressed to Polybius, the powerful freedman of Claudius. It is
full of the most abject flattery, uttered in the hope of procuring his
recall from banishment. That Seneca did not object to write to order is
unhappily manifest from his panegyric on Claudius, delivered by Nero,
which was so fulsome that, even while the emperor recited it, those who
heard could not control their laughter. The second _Consolation_ is to his
mother Helvia, whom he tenderly loved; and this is one of the most
pleasing of his works. Already he is beginning to assume the tone of a
philosopher. His work _De Ira_ must be referred to the commencement of
this period, shortly after Caligula's death. It bears all the marks of
inexperience, though its eloquence and brilliancy are remarkable. He
enforces the Stoic thesis that anger is not an emotion, just in itself and
often righteously indulged, but an evil passion which must be eradicated.
This view which, if supported on grounds of mere expediency, has much to
recommend it, is here defended on _a priori_ principles without much real
reflection, and was quite outgrown by him when taught by the experience of
riper years. In the _Constantio Sapientis_ he praises and holds up to
imitation the absurd apathy recommended by Stilpo. In the _De Animi
Tranquillitate_, addressed to Annaeus Serenus, the captain of Nero's body-
guard, [1] he adopts the same line of thought, but shows signs of limiting
its application by the necessities of circumstances. The person to whom
this dialogue is addressed, though praised by Seneca, seems to have been
but a poor philosopher. In complaisance to the emperor he went so far as
to attract to himself the infamy which Nero incurred by his amours with a
courtesan named Acte; and his end was that of a glutton rather than a
sage. At a large banquet he and many of his guests were poisoned by eating
toadstools! [2]

It was Messalina who had procured Seneca's exile. When Agrippina succeeded
to her influence he was recalled. This ambitious woman, aware of his
talents and pliant disposition, and perhaps, as Dio insinuates, captivated
by his engaging person, contrived to get him appointed tutor to her son,
the young Nero, now heir-apparent to the throne. This was a post of which
he was not slow to appropriate the advantages. He rose to the praetorship
(50 A.D.) and soon after to the consulship, and in the short space of four
years amassed an enormous fortune. [3] This damaging circumstance gave
occasion to his numerous enemies to accuse him before Nero; and though
Seneca in his defence [4] attributed all his wealth to the unsought bounty
of his prince, yet it is difficult to believe it was honestly come by,
especially as he must have been well paid for the numerous violations of
his conscience to which out of regard to Nero he submitted. Seneca is a
lamentable instance of variance between precept and example. [5] The
authentic bust which is preserved of him bears in its harassed expression
unmistakable evidence of a mind ill at ease. And those who study his works
cannot fail to find many indications of the same thing, though the very
energy which results from such unhappiness gives his writings a deeper

The works written after his recall show a marked advance in his
conceptions of life. He is no longer the abstract dogmatist, but the
supple thinker who finds that there is room for the philosopher in the
world, at court, even in the inner chamber of the palace. To this period
are to be referred his three books _De Clementia_, which are addressed to
Nero, and contain many beautiful and wholesome precepts; his _De Vita
Beata_, addressed to his brother Novatus (the Gallio of the Acts of the
Apostles), and perhaps the admirable essay _De Beneficiis_. This, however,
more probably dates a few years later (60-62 A.D.). It is full of
digressions and repetitions, a common fault of his style, but contains
some very powerful thought. The animus that dictates it is thought by
Charpentier to be the desire to release himself from all sense of
obligation to Nero. It breathes protest throughout; it proves that a
tyrant's benefits are not kindnesses. It gives what we may call _a
casuistry of gratitude_. Other philosophical works now lost are the
_Exhortationes_, the _De Officiis_, an essay on premature death, one on
superstition, in which he derided the popular faith, one on friendship,
some books on moral philosophy, on remedies for chance casualties, on
poverty and compassion. He wrote also a biography of his father, many
political speeches delivered by Nero, a panegyric on Messalina, and a
collection of letters to Novatus.

The Stoics affected to despise physical studies, or at any rate to
postpone them to morals. Seneca shared this edifying but far from
scientific persuasion. But after his final withdrawal from court, as the
wonders of nature forced themselves on his notice, he reconsidered his old
prejudice, and entered with ardour on the contemplation of physical
phenomena. Besides the _Naturales Quaestiones_, a great part of which
still remain, he wrote a treatise _De Motu Terrarum_, begun in his youth
but revised in his old age, and essays on the properties of stones and
fishes, besides monographs on India and Egypt, and a short fragment on
"the form of the universe." These, however, only occupied a portion of his
time, the chief part was given to self-improvement and those beautiful
letters to Lucilius which are the most important remains of his works.
Since the death of Burrus, who had helped him to influence Nero for good,
or at least to mitigate the atrocious tendencies of his disposition,
Seneca had known that his position was insecure. A prince who had killed
first his cousin and then his mother, would not be likely to spare his
preceptor. Seneca determined to forestall the danger. He presented himself
at the palace, and entreated Nero to receive back the wealth he had so
generously bestowed. Instead of complying, Nero, in a speech full of
specious respect, but instinct with latent malignity, refused to accept
the proffered gift. The ex-minister knew that his doom was sealed. He at
once relinquished all the state in which he had lived, gave no more
banquets, held no more levees, but abandoned himself to a voluntary
poverty, writing and reading, and practising the asceticism of his school.
But this submission did not at all satisfy Nero's vengeance. He made an
insidious attempt to poison his old friend. This was revealed to Seneca,
who henceforth ate nothing but herbs which he gathered with his own hand,
and drank only from a spring that rose in his garden. Soon afterwards
occurred the conspiracy of Piso, and this gave his enemies a convenient
excuse for accusing him. It is impossible to believe that he was guilty.
Nero's thirst for his blood is a sufficient motive for his condemnation.
He was bidden to prepare for death, which he accordingly did with alacrity
and firmness. In the fifteenth book of the Annals of Tacitus is related
with that wondrous power which is peculiar to its author, the dramatic
scene which closed the sage's life. The best testimony to his domestic
virtue is the deep affection of his young wife Paulina. Refusing all
entreaty, she resolutely determined to die with her husband. They opened
their veins together; she fainted away, and was removed by her friends and
with difficulty restored to life; he, after suffering excruciating agony,
which he endured with cheerfulness, discoursing to his friends on the
glorious realities to which he was about to pass, was at length suffocated
by the vapour of a stove. Thus perished one of the weakest and one of the
most amiable of men; one who, had he had the courage to abjure public
life, would have been reverenced by posterity in the same degree that his
talent has been admired. As it is, he has always found severe judges. Dio
Cassius soon after his death wrote a biography, in which all his acts
received a malignant interpretation. Quintilian disliked him, and harshly
criticised his literary defects. The pedant Fronto did the same. Tacitus,
with a larger heart, made allowance for his temptations, and while never
glossing over his unworthy actions, has yet shown his love for the man in
spite of all by the splendid tribute he pays to the constancy of his

The position of Seneca, both as a philosopher and as a man of letters, is
extremely important, and claims attentive consideration in both these
relations. As a philosopher he is usually called a Stoic. In one sense
this appellation is correct. When he places himself under any banner it is
always that of Zeno. Nevertheless it would be a great error to regard him
as a Stoic in the sense in which Brutus, Cato, and Thrasea, were Stoics.
Like all the greatest Roman thinkers he was an Eclectic; he belonged in
reality to no school. He was the successor of such men as Scipio, Ennius,
and Cicero, far more than of the rigid thinkers of the Porch. He himself
says, "Nullius nomen fero." [6] The systematic teachers of the Roman
school, as distinct from those who were rather patriots than philosophers,
had become more and more liberal in their speculative tenets, more and
more at one upon the great questions of practice. Since the time of Cicero
philosophic thought had been flowing steadily in one direction. It had
learnt the necessity of appealing to men's hearts rather than convincing
their intellects. It had become a system of persuasion. Fabianus was the
first who clearly proposed to himself, as an end, to gain over the
affections or to arouse the conscience. He was succeeded, under Tiberius,
by Sotion the Pythagorean and Attalus the Stoic, [7] of both of whom
Seneca had been an ardent pupil. Demetrius the Cynic, in a ruder way, had
worked for the same object. [8] In this gradual convergence of diverse
schools metaphysics were necessarily put aside, and ethics occupied the
first and only place. Each school claimed for itself the best men of all
schools. "He is a Stoic," [9] says Seneca, "even though he denies it." The
great conclusions of abstract thought brought to light in Greece were now
to be tested in their application to life. "The remedies of the soul have
been discovered long ago; it is for us to learn how to apply them." Such
is the grand text on which the system of Seneca is a comment. This system
demands, above all things, a knowledge of the human heart. And it is
astonishing how penetrating is the knowledge that Seneca displays. His
varied experience opened to him many avenues of observation closed to the
majority. His very position, as at once a great statesman and a great
moralist, naturally attracted men to him. And he used his opportunities
with signal adroitness. But his ability was not the only reason of this
peculiar insight. Cicero was as able; but Cicero had it not. His thoughts
were occupied with other questions, and do not penetrate into the recesses
of the soul. The reason is to be found in the circumstances of the time.
For a man to succeed in life under a _regime_ of mutual distrust, which he
himself bitterly compares to the forced friendship of the gladiatorial
school, a deep study of character was indispensable. Wealth could no
longer be imported: [10] it could only be redistributed. To gain wealth
was to despoil one's neighbour. And the secret of despoiling one's
neighbour was to understand his weakness: if possible, to detect his
hidden guilt. Not Seneca only but all the great writers of the Empire show
a marked familiarity with the _pathology_ of mind.

Seneca tells us that he loves teaching above all things else; that if he
loves knowledge it is that he may impart it. [11] For teaching there is
one indispensable prerequisite, and two possible domains. The prerequisite
is certainty of one's self, the domains are those of popular instruction
and of private direction. Seneca tries first of all to ensure his own
conviction. "Not only," he says, "do I believe all I say, but I love it."
[12] He tries to make his published teachings as real as possible by
assuming a conversational tone. [13] They have the piquancy, the
discursiveness, the brilliant flavour of the salon. They recall the
converse of those gifted men who pass from theme to theme, throwing light
on all, but not exhausting any. But Seneca is the last man to assume the
sage. Except pedantry, nothing is so alien from him as the assumption of
goodness. "When I praise virtue do not suppose I am praising myself, but
when I blame vice, then believe that it is myself I blame." [14]

Thus confident but unassuming, he proceeds to the communication of wisdom.
And of the two domains, while he acknowledges both to be legitimate, [15]
he himself prefers the second. He is no writer for the crowd; his chosen
audience is a few selected spirits. To such as these he wished to be
director of conscience, guide, and adviser in all matters, bodily as well
as spiritual. This was the calling for which, like Fenelon, he felt the
keenest desire, the fullest aptitude. We see his power in it when we read
his _Consolations_; we see the intimate sympathy which dives into the
heart of his friend. In the letters to Lucilius, and in the _Tranquillity
of the Soul_, this is most conspicuous. Serenus had written complaining of
a secret unhappiness or malady, he knew not which, that preyed upon his
mind and frame, and would not let him enjoy a moment's peace. Seneca
analyses his complaint, and expounds it with a vivid clearness which
betrays a first-hand acquaintance with its symptoms. If to that anguish of
a spirit that preys on itself could be added the pains of a yearning
unknown to antiquity, we might say that Seneca was enlightening or
comforting a Werther or a Rene. [16]

Seneca's object, therefore, was remedial; to discover the malady and apply
the restorative. The good teacher is _artifex vivendi_. [17] He does not
state principles, he gives minute precepts for every circumstance of life.
Here we see casuistry entering into morals, but it is casuistry of a noble
sort. To be effective precepts must be repeated, and with every variety of
statement. "To knock once at the door when you come at night is never
enough; the blow must be hard, and it must be seconded. [18] Repetition is
not a fault, it is a necessity." Here we see the lecturer emphasising by
reiteration what he has to say.

And what has he to say? His system taken in its main outlines is rigid
enough; the quenching of all emotion, the indifference to all things
external, the prosecution of virtue alone, the mortification of the body
and its desires, the adoption of voluntary poverty. These are views not
only severe in themselves, but views which we are surprised to see a man
like Seneca inculcate. The truth is he does not really inculcate them. In
theory rigid, his system _practises_ easily. It is more full of
concessions than any other system that was ever broached. It is the
inevitable result of an ambitious creed that when applied to life it
should teem with inconsistencies. Seneca deserves praise for the
conspicuous cleverness with which he steers over such dangerous shoals.
The rigours of "virtue unencumbered" might be preached to a patrician
whose honoured name made obscurity impossible; but as for the freedmen,
capitalists, and _nouveaux riches_ [19] of all kinds, who were Seneca's
friends, if poverty was necessary for virtue, where would they be? Their
greatness was owing solely to their wealth. Thus he wisely offered them a
more accommodating doctrine, viz., that riches being indifferent need not
be given up, that the good rich man differs from the bad in spirit, not in
externals, &c., palliatives with which we are all familiar. To take
another instance. The Stoic system forbade all emotion. Yet we find the
philosopher weeping for his wife, for his child, for his slave. But he was
far too sensible not to recognise the nobleness of such expressions of
feeling; so he contents himself with saying "_indulgeantur non
imperentur_." [20]

In reading the letters we are struck by the continual reference to the
insecurity of riches, the folly of fearing death, torture, or infamy, and
are tempted to regard these as mere commonplaces of the schools. They had,
however, a melancholy fitness at the time they were uttered, which we,
fortunately, cannot realise. A French gentleman, quoted by Boissier, [21]
declared that he found the moral letters tedious until the reign of terror
came; that then, being in daily peril of his life, he understood their
searching power. At the same time this power is not consistent; the
vacillation of the author's mind communicates itself to the person
addressed, and the clear grasp of a definite principle which lent such
strength to Zeno and the early Stoics is indefinitely diluted in the far
more eloquent and persuasive reflections of his Roman representative.

Connected with the name of Seneca is a question of surpassing interest,
which it would be unjust to our readers to pass entirely by. We allude to
the belief universal in the Church from the time of Jerome until the
sixteenth century, and in spite of strong disproof, not yet by any means
altogether given up, that Seneca was personally acquainted with St. Paul,
[22] and borrowed some of his noblest thoughts from the Apostle's
teaching. The first testimony to this belief is given by Jerome, [23] who
assigns, as his sole and convincing reason for naming Seneca among the
worthies of the Church that his correspondence with Paul was extant. This
correspondence, which will be found in Haase's edition of the philosopher,
is now admitted on all hands to be a forgery. But we might naturally ask;
Does it not point to an actual correspondence which is lost, the
traditional remembrance of which gave rise to its later fictitious
reproduction? To this the answer must be: Jerome knew of no such early
tradition. All he knew was that the letters existed, and on their
existence, which he did not critically investigate, he founded his claim
to admit Seneca within the Church's pale.

The problem is by no means so simple as it appears. It involves two
separate questions: first, a historical one which has only an antiquarian
interest, Did the philosopher know the Apostle? secondly, a more important
one for the history of religious thought, Do Seneca's writings contain
matter which could have come from no source but the teaching of the first

As regards the first question, the arguments on both sides are as
follows:--On the one hand, Gallio, who saw Paul at Corinth, was Seneca's
brother, and Burrus, the captain of the praetorian cohort, before whom he
was brought at Rome, was Seneca's most intimate friend. What so likely as
that these men should have introduced their prisoner to one whose chief
object was to find out truth? Again, there is a well authenticated
tradition that Acte, once the concubine of Nero, [24] and the only person
who was found to bury him, was a convert to the Christian faith; and if
converted, who so likely to have been her converter as the great Apostle?
Moreover, in the Epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul salutes "them that
are of Caesar's household," and it is thought that Seneca may here be
specially intended. On the other side it is argued that the phrase,
"Caesar's household," can only refer to slaves and freedmen: to apply it
to a great magistrate at a time when as yet noblemen had not become body-
servants or grooms of the chamber to the monarch, would have been nothing
short of an insult; that Seneca, if he had heard of Paul or of Paul's
Master, would naturally have mentioned the fact, communicative as he
always is; that fear of persecution certainly need not have restrained
him, especially since he rather liked shocking people's ideas than
otherwise; that everywhere he shows contempt and nothing but contempt for
the Jews, among whom as yet the Christians were reckoned; in short, that
he appears to know nothing whatever of Christians or their doctrines.

As to this latter point there is room for difference of opinion. It is by
no means clear that Christianity was unknown to the court in Nero's reign.
We find in Suetonius [25] a notice to the effect that Claudius banished
the Jews from Rome for a sedition headed by _Chrestus_. How Suetonius knew
well enough that Christus, not Chrestus, was the name of the Founder of
the new religion; it is therefore reasonable to suppose that in this
passage he is quoting from a police-magistrate's report dating from the
time of Claudius. Again, it is certain that under Nero the Christians were
known as an unpopular sect, on whom he might safely wreak his mock
vengeance for the burning of the city; and it is equally certain that his
abominable cruelty excited a warm sympathy among the people for the
persecuted. [26] The Jews were well known; hundreds practised their
ceremonies in secret; even as early as Horace [27] we know that Sabbaths
were kept, and the Mosaic doctrines taught to noble men and women. The
penalties inflicted on these innocent victims must have been at least
talked of in Rome, and it is more than probable that Seneca must have been
familiar with the name of the despised sect. [28] So far, therefore, we
must leave the question open, only stating that while the balance of
probability is decidedly against Seneca's having had any personal
knowledge of the Apostle, it is in favour of his having at least heard of
the religion he represented.

With regard to the second question, whether Seneca's teaching owes
anything to Christianity, we must first observe, that philosophy to him
was altogether a question of practice. Like all the other thinkers of the
time he cared nothing for consistency of opinion, everything for
impressiveness of application. He was Stoic, Platonist, Epicurean, as
often as it suited him to employ their principles to enforce a moral
lesson. Thus in his _Naturales Quaestiones_, [29] where he has no moral
object in view, he speaks of the Deity as _Mens Universi_, or _Natura
ipsa_, quite in accordance with Stoic pantheism. But in the letters to
Lucilius, which are wholly moral, he uses the language of religion: "The
great soul is that which yields itself up to God;" [30] "All that pleases
Him is good;" [31] "He is a friend never far off;" [32] "He is our
Father;" [33] "It is from Him that great and good resolutions come;" [34]
"He is worshipped and loved;" [35] "Prayer is a witness to His care for
us." [36] There is no doubt in these passages a strong resemblance to the
teaching of the New Testament. There are other points of contact hardly
less striking. The Stoic doctrine of the soul affirms the cessation of
existence after death. So Zeno taught; but Chrysippus allowed the souls of
the good an existence until the end of the world, and Cleanthes extended
this privilege to all souls alike. Seneca sometimes speaks as a Stoic,
[37] and denies immortality: sometimes he admits it as an ennobling
belief; [38] sometimes he declares it to be his own conviction, [39] and
uses the beautiful expression, so common in Christian literature, that the
day of death is the birth-day of eternity. [40] The coincidence, if it is
nothing more than a coincidence, is marvellous. But before assuming any
closer connection we must take these passages with their respective
contexts, and with the principles which, whether consistently maintained
or not, undoubtedly underlie his whole teaching. We must remember that if
Seneca had known the Gospel, the day he first heard of it must have been
an epoch in his life. [41] And yet we meet with no allusion which could be
construed into an admission of such a debt. And besides, the expressions
in question do not all belong to one period of the philosopher's life;
they occur in his earliest as well as in his latest compositions, though
doubtless far more frequently in the latter. Hence we may explain them
partly by the natural progress in enlightenment and gentleness during the
century from Cicero to Seneca, and partly also by the moral development of
the philosopher himself. [42] Resemblances of terms, however striking,
must not count for more than they are worth. It is more important to ask
whether the _spirit_ of Seneca's teaching is at all like that of the
Gospel. Are his ideas Christian? We meet with strong recommendations to
charity, kindness, benevolence. To a splenetic acquaintance, out of humour
with the world, he cries out, _ecquando amabis_? "When will you learn to
love?" [43] But with him charity is not an end; it is but a means to
fortify the sage, to render him absolutely self-sufficient. _Egoism_ is at
the bottom of this high precept; [44] and this at once removes it from the
Christian category. And the same is true of his account of the wise man's
relations to God. They are based on _pride_, not humility; they make him
an equal, not a servant, of the Deity: _Sapiem cum dis ex pari trivit_;
[45] and again, _Deo socius non supplex_. [46] Nothing could be further
from the New Testament than this. If therefore Seneca borrowed anything
from Christianity, it was the morality, not the doctrines, that he
borrowed. But this is no sooner stated than it is seen to be altogether
inconceivable. To suppose that he took from it precepts of life and
neglected the higher truths it announced, is to regard him as foolish or
blind. With his intense yearning to penetrate to the mysteries of our
being, it is impossible that the only solution of them offered as certain
to the world should have been neglected by him as not worth a thought.

We therefore conclude that Seneca received no assistance from the
preachers of the new religion, that his philosophy was the natural
development of the thoughts of his predecessors in a mind at once
capacious and smitten with the love of virtue. He cannot be regarded as an
isolated phenomenon; he was made by the ages, as he in his turn helped to
make the ages that followed; and if we possessed the writings of those
intermediate thinkers who busily wrought among the citizens of Rome,
striving by persuasion, precept, and example, to wean them from their
sensuality and violence, we should probably see in Seneca's thoughts a
less astounding individuality than we do.

It has often been said that he prepared the way for Christianity. But even
this is hard to defend. In his enunciation of the brotherhood of man, [48]
of the unholiness of war, [49] of the sanctity of human life, [50] of the
rights of slaves, [51] and their claims to our affection, [52] in his
reprobation of gladiatorial shows, he holds the place of a moral pioneer,
the more honourable, since none of those before him, except Cicero, had
had largeness of heart enough to recognise these truths. By his fierce
attacks on paganism, [53] for which (not being a born Roman) he has no
sympathy and no mercy, he did good service to the pure creed that was to
follow. By his contempt of science, [54] in which he asserts we can never
be more than children, he paved the way for a recognition of the supremacy
of the moral end; but at the same time his own mind is sceptical quite as
much as it is religious. He resembles Cicero far more than Virgil. The
current after Augustus ran towards belief and even credulity. Seneca
arrests rather than forwards it. His philosophy was the proudest that ever
boasted of its claims, "Promittit ut parem Deo faciat." [55] His
popularity was excessive, especially with the young and wealthy members of
the new nobility of freedmen. The old Romans avoided him, and his great
successors in philosophy, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, never even
mention his name.

As a man of letters Seneca wielded an incalculable influence. What Lucan
did for poetry, he did for prose, or rather, he did far more; while Lucan
never superseded Virgil as a model except for expression, Seneca not only
superseded Cicero, but set the style in which every succeeding author
either wrote, tried to write, or tried _not_ to write. To this there is
one exception--the younger Pliny. But Florus, Tacitus, Pliny the elder,
and Curtius, are deeply imbued with his manner and style. Quintilian,
though anxiously eschewing all imitation of him, continually falls into
it; there was a charm about those short, incisive sentences which none who
had read them could resist; as Tacitus well says, there was in him
_ingenium amoenum et temporis eius auribus accommodatum_. It is in vain
that Quintilian goes out of his way to bewail his broken periods, his
wasted force, his sweet vices. The words of Seneca are like those
described in Ecclesiastes, "they are as goads or as nails driven in."
There is no possibility of missing their point, no fear of the attention
not being arrested. If he repeats over and over again, that is after all a
fault that can be pardoned, especially when each repetition is more
brilliant than its predecessor. And considering the end he proposed to
himself, viz., to teach those who as yet were "novices in wisdom," we can
hardly regard such a mode of procedure as beside the mark. Where it fails
is in what touches Seneca himself, not in what touches the reader. It is a
style which does injustice to its author's heart. Its glitter strikes us
as false because too brilliant to be true; a man in earnest would not stop
to trick his thoughts in the finery of rhetoric; here as ever, the showy
stands for the bad. We do not intend to defend the character of the man;
if style be the true reflex of the soul, as in all great writers without
doubt it is, we allow that Seneca's style shows a mind wanting in gravity,
that is, in the highest Roman excellence. His is the bright enthusiasm of
display, not the steady one of duty; but though it be lower it need not be
less real. There are warriors who meet their death with a song and a gay
smile; there are others who meet it with stern and sober resolve. But
courage calls both her children. Christian Europe has been kinder and
juster to Seneca than was pagan Rome. Rome while she copied, abused him.
Neither as Spaniard nor as Roman can he claim the name of sage. The higher
philosophy is denied to both these nations. But in brilliancy of touch, in
delicious _abandon_ of sparkling chat, all the more delightful because it
does us good in genial human feeling, none the less warm, because it is
masked by quaint apophthegms and startling paradoxes, Seneca stands
_facile princeps_ among the writers of the Empire. His works are a mine of
quotation, of anecdote, of caustic observations on life. In no other
writer shall we see so speaking a picture of the struggle between duty and
pleasure, between virtue and ambition; from no other writer shall we gain
so clear an insight into the hopes, fears, doubts, and deep, abiding
dissatisfaction which preyed upon the better spirits of the age.




We have dwelt fully on Seneca because he is of all the Claudian writers
the one best fitted to appear as a type of the time. There were, however,
several others of more or less note who deserve a short notice. There is
the historian DOMITIUS CORBULO, [1] who wrote under Caligula (39 A.D.) a
history of his campaigns in Asia, and to whom Pliny refers as an authority
on topographical and ethnographical questions. He was executed by Nero (67
A.D.) and his wealth confiscated to the crown.

Another historian is QUINTUS CURTIUS, whose date has been disputed, some
placing him as early as Augustus, in direct contradiction to the evidence
of his style, which is moulded on that of Seneca, and of his political
ideas, which are those of hereditary monarchy. Others again place him as
late as the time of Severus, an opinion to which Niebuhr inclined. But it
is more probable that he lived in the time of Claudius and the early years
of Nero. [2] His work is entitled _Historiae Alexandri Magni_, and is
drawn from Clitarchus, Timagenes, and Ptolomaeus. It consisted of ten
books, of which all but the first two have come down to us. He paid more
attention to style than matter, showing neither historical criticism nor
original research, but putting down everything that looked well in the
relating, even though he himself did not believe it.

Spain was at this time very rich in authors. For more than half a century
she gave the Empire most of its greatest names. The entire epoch has been
called that of Spanish Latinity. L. JUNIUS MODERATUS COLUMELLA was born at
Gades, probably [3] near the beginning of our era. His grandfather was a
man of substance in that part of the province, and a most successful
farmer; it was from him that he imbibed that love of agricultural pursuits
which led him to write his learned and elegant treatise. This treatise,
which has come down to us entire, and consists of twelve books, was
intended to form part of an exhaustive treatment of the subject of
agriculture, including the incidental questions (_e.g._ those of religion)
[4] connected with it. It was expanded and improved from a smaller essay,
of which we still possess certain fragments. The work is written in a
clear, comprehensive way, drawn not only from the best authorities, but
from the author's personal experience. Like a true Roman (it is
astonishing how fully these provincials entered into the mind of Rome) he
descants on the dignity of the subject, on the lapse from old virtue, on
the idleness of men who will not labour on their land and draw forth its
riches, and on the necessity of taking up husbandry in a practical
business-like way. The tenth book, which treats of gardens, is written in
smooth verse, closely imitated from the _Georgics_. It is in fact intended
as a fifth _Georgic. Virgil had said [5] with reference to gardens:

"Verum haec ipse equidem spatiis exclusus iniqnis
Praetereo, atque aliis post me memoranda relinquo."

These words are an oracle to Columella. "I should have written my tenth
book in prose," he says, "had not your frequent requests that I would fill
up what was wanting to the _Georgics_ got the better of my resolution.
Even so, I should not have ventured on poetry if Virgil had not indicated
that he wished it to be done. Inspired, therefore, by his divine
influence, I have approached my slender theme." The verses are good,
though their poetical merit is somewhat on the level of a university prize
poem. They conclude thus:

"Hactenus arvorum cultus Silvine docebam
Siderei referens vatis praecepta Maronis."

Among scientific writers we possess a treatise by SCRIBONIUS LARGUS (47
A.D.) on _Compositiones Medicae_, which is characterised by Teuffel as
"not altogether nonsensical, and in tolerable style, although tinged with
the general superstition of the period." The critic Q. ASCONIUS PEDIANUS
(3-88 A.D.) is more important. He devoted his life to an elaborate
exegesis of the great Latin classics, more particularly Cicero. His
commentary on the _Orations_, of which we possess considerable fragments,
[6] is written with sound sense, and in a clear pointed style. Some
commentaries on the _Verrine Speeches_ which bear his name, are the work
of a much later hand, though perhaps drawn in great part from him. Another
series of notes, extending to a considerable number of orations, was
discovered by Mai, [7] but these also have been retouched by a later hand.

An interesting treatise on primitive geography, manners and customs
(_Chronographia_) which we still possess, was written by POMPONIUS MELA,
of Tingentera in Spain. Like Curtius he has obviously imitated Seneca; his
account is too concise, but he intended and perhaps carried out elsewhere
a fuller treatment of the subject.

The two studies which despotism had done so much to destroy, oratory and
jurisprudence, still found a few votaries. The chief field for speaking
was the senate, where men like Crispus, Eprius Marcellus, and Suillius the
accuser of Seneca, exercised their genius in adroit flattery. Thrasea,
Helvidius, and the opposition, were compelled to study repression rather
than fulness. As jurists we hear of few eminent names: Proculus and
Cassius Longinus are the most prominent.

Grammar was successfully cultivated by VALERIUS PROBUS, who undertook the
critical revision of the texts of the Latin classics, much as the
Alexandrine grammarians had done for those of Greece. He was originally
destined for public life, but through want of success betook himself to
study. After his arrival at Rome he gave public lectures on philology,
which were numerously attended, and he seems to have retained the
affection of all his pupils. His oral notes were afterwards edited in an
epistolary form. The work _De Notis Antiquis_, or at least a portion of
it, _De Iuris Notis_, has come down to us in a slightly abridged form;
also a short treatise called _Catholica_, treating of the noun and verb,
though it is uncertain whether this is authentic. [8] Another work on
grammar is attributed to him, but as it is evidently at least three
centuries later than this date, several critics have supposed it to be by
a second Probus, also a grammarian, who lived at that period.

We shall conclude the chapter with a notice of an extraordinary book, the
_Satires_, which pass under the name of PETRONIUS ARBITER. Who he was is
not certainly known; but there was a Petronius in the time of Nero, whose
death (66 A.D.), is recorded by Tacitus, [9] and who is generally
identified with him. This account has often been quoted; nevertheless we
may insert it here: "His days were passed in sleep, his nights in business
and enjoyment. As others rise to fame by industry, so he by idleness; and
he gained the reputation, not like most spendthrifts of a profligate or
glutton, but of a cultured epicure. His words and deeds were welcomed as
models of graceful simplicity in proportion as they were morally lax and
ostentatiously indifferent to appearances. While proconsul, however, in
Bithynia he showed himself vigorous and equal to affairs. Then turning to
vice, or perhaps simulating it, he became a chosen intimate of Nero, and
his prime authority (_arbiter_) in all matters of taste, so that he
thought nothing delicate or charming except what Petronius had approved.
This raised the envy of Tigellinus, who regarded him as a rival purveyor
of pleasure preferred to himself. Consequently he traded on the cruelty of
Nero, a vice to which all others gave place, by accusing Petronius of
being a friend to Scaevinus, having bribed a slave to give the
information, and removed the means of defence by hurrying almost all
Petronius's slaves into prison. Caesar was then in Campania, and
Petronius, who had gone to Cumae, was arrested there. He determined not to
endure the suspense of hope and fear. But he did not hurry out of life; he
opened his veins gently, and binding them up from time to time, chatted
with his friends, not on serious topics or such as might procure him the
fame of constancy, nor did he listen to any conversation on immortality or
the doctrines of philosophers, but only to light verses on easy themes. He
pensioned some of his slaves, chastised others. He feasted and lay down to
rest, that his compulsory death might seem a natural one. In his will he
did not, like most of the condemned, flatter Nero, or Tigellinus, or any
of the powerful, but satirized the emperor's vices under the names of
effeminate youths and women, giving a description of each new kind of
debauchery. These he sealed and sent to Nero." Many have thought that in
the _Satires_ we possess the very writing to which Tacitus refers. But to
this it is a sufficient answer that they consisted of sixteen books, far
too many to have been written in two days. They must have been prepared
before, and perhaps the most caustic of them were selected for the
emperor's perusal. The fragment that remains is from the fifteenth and
sixteenth books, and is a mixture of verse and prose in excellent
Latinity, but deplorably and offensively obscene. Nothing can give a
meaner idea of the social culture of Rome than this production of one of
her most accomplished masters of self-indulgence. As, however, it is
important from a literary, and still more from an antiquarian point of
view, we add a short analysis of its contents.

The hero is one Encolpius, who begins by bewailing to a rhetor named
Agamemnon the decline of native eloquence, which his friend admits, and
ascribes to the general laxity of education. While the question is under
discussion Encolpius is interrupted and carried off through a variety of
adventures, of which suffice it to say that they are best left in
obscurity, being neither humorous nor moral. Another day, he is invited to
dine with the rich freedman Trimalchio, under whom, doubtless, some court
favourite of Nero is shadowed forth. The banquet and conversation are
described with great vividness. After some preliminary compliments, the
host, eager to display his learning, turns the discourse upon philology;
but he is suddenly called away, and topics of more general interest are
introduced, the guests giving their opinions on each in a sufficiently
interesting way. The remarks of one Ganymedes on the sufferings of the
lower classes, the insufficiency of food, and the lack of healthy
industries, are pathetic and true. Meanwhile, Trimalchio returns, orders a
boar to be killed and cooked, and while this is in preparation entertains
his friends with discussions on rhetoric, medicine, history, art, &c. The
scene becomes animated as the wine flows; various ludicrous incidents
ensue, which are greeted with extemporaneous epigrams in verse, some
rather amusing, others flat and diffuse. The conversation thus turns to
the subject of poetry. Cicero and Syrus are compared with some ability of
illustration. Jests are freely bandied; ghost stories are proposed, and
two marvellous fables related, one on the power of owls to predict events,
the other on a soldier who was changed into a wolf. The supernatural is
then about to be discussed, when a gentleman named Habinnas and his portly
wife Scintilla come in. This lady exhibits her jewels with much
complacency, and Trimalchio's wife Fortunata, roused to competition, does
the same. Trimalchio has now arrived at that stage of the evening's
entertainment when mournful views of life begin to present themselves. He
calls for the necessary documents, and forthwith proceeds to make his
will. His kind provision for his relatives and dependants, combined with
his after-dinner pathos, bring out the softer side of the company's
feelings; every one weeps, and for a time festivities are suspended. The
terrible insecurity of life under Nero is here pointedly hinted at.

The will read, Trimalchio takes a bath, and soon returns in excellent
spirits, ready to dine again. At this his good lady takes umbrage, and
something very like a quarrel ensues, on which Trimalchio bids the
musicians strike up a dead march. The tumult with which this is greeted is
too much for many of the guests. Encolpius, the narrator, leaves the room,
and the party breaks up.

Encolpius on leaving Trimalchio's meets a poet, Eumolpus, who complains
bitterly of poverty and neglect. A debate ensues on the causes of the
decline in painting and the arts; it is attributed to the love of money. A
picture representing the sack of Troy gives occasion for a mock-tragic
poem of some length, doubtless aimed at Nero's effusions. The poet is
pelted as a bore, and has to decamp in haste. But he is incorrigible. He
returns, and this time brings a still longer and more pretentious poem.
Some applaud; others disapprove. Encolpius, seized with a fit of
melancholy, thinks of hanging himself, but is persuaded to live by the
artless caresses of a fair boy whom he has loved. Several adventures of a
similar kind follow, and the book, which towards the end becomes very
fragmentary, ends without any regular conclusion. Enough has been given to
show its general character. It is something between a Menippean satire and
a _Milesian fable_, such as had been translated from the Greek long before
by Sisenna, and were to be so successfully imitated in a later age by
Apuleius. The narrative goes on from incident to incident without any
particular connexion, and allows all kinds of digressions. Poetical
insertions are very frequent, some original, others quoted, many of
considerable elegance. From its central and by many degrees most
entertaining incident the whole satire has been called _The Supper of
Trimalchio_. We have a few short passages remaining from the lost books,
and some allusions in these we possess enable us to reconstruct to some
extent their argument. It does not seem to have contained anything
specially attractive. If only the book were less offensive, its varied
literary scope and polished conversational style would make it truly
interesting. As it is, the student of ancient manners finds it a mine of
important and out-of-the-way information.


NOTE I.--_The Testamentum Porcelli._

Connected with the Milesian fables were the Testamentum Porcelli, short
_jeux d'esprit_, generally in the form of comic anecdotes, as a rule
licentious, but sometimes harmless, and intended for children. A specimen
of the unobjectionable sort is here given. St Jerome, who quotes it, says
(contra Rufinum, i. 17, p. 473) "_Quasi non cirratorum turba Milesiarum in
scholis figmenta decantet et testamentum suis Bessorum cachinno membra
concutiat, atque inter scurrarum epulas nugae istiusmodi frequententur._"

"_Testamentum Porcelli._

"Incipit testamentum porcelli.

"M. Grunnius Corocotta porcellus testamentum fecit; quoniam manu mea
scribere non potui, scribendum dictavi. Magirus cocus dixit 'veni huc,
eversor domi, solivertiator, fugitive porcelle, et hodie tibi dirimo
vitam.' Corocotta porcellus dixit 'si qua feci, si qua peccavi, si qua
vascella pedibus meis confregi, rogo, domine coce, vitam peto, concede
roganti.' Magirus cocus dixit 'transi, puer affer mihi de cocina cultrum,
ut hunc porcellum faciam cruentum.' Porcellus comprehenditur a famulis,
ductas sub die xvi. kal. luceminas, ubi abundant cymae, Clibanato et
Piperato consulibus, et ut vidit se moriturum esse, horae spatium petiit
et cocum rogavit ut testamentum facere posset, clamavit ad se suos
parentes, ut de cibariis suis aliquid dimitteret eis. Quid ait:

"'Patri meo Verrino Lardino do lego dari glandis modios xxx. et matri meae
Veturinae Scrofae do lego dari Laeonicae siliginis modios xl. et sorori
meae Quirinae, in euius votum interesse non potui, do lego dari hordei
modios xxx. et de meis visceribus dabo donabo sutoribus saetas, rixoribus
capitinas, surdis auriculas, causidicis et verbosis linguam, bubulariis
intestina, isiciariis femora, mulieribus lumbulos, pueris vesicam, puellis
caudam, cinaedis musculos, cursoribus et venatoribus talos, latronibus
ungulas, et nec nominando coco legato dimitto popiam et pistillum, quae
mecum attuleram: de Tebeste usque ad Tergeste liget sibi collo de reste,
et volo mihi fieri monumentum aureis litteris scriptum:' M. Grunnius
Corocotta porcellus vixit annis DCCCC.XC.VIIII.S. quod si semissem
vixisset, mille annos implesset, 'optimi amatores mei vel consules vitae,
rogo vos ut cam corpore meo bene faciatis, bene condiatis de bonis
condimentis nuclei, piperis et mellis, ut nomen meum in sempiternum
nominetur, mei domini vel consobrini mei, qui in medio testamento
interfuistis, iubete signari.'

"Lardio signavit, Ofellicus signavit, Cyminatus signavit, Tergillus
signavit, Celsinus signavit, Nuptialisus signavit.

"Explicit testamentum porcelli sub die xvi. kal. lucerninas Clibanato et
Piperato consulibus feliciter."

Such ridiculous compositions were extremely popular in court circles
during the corrupter periods of the Empire. Suetonius (Tib. 42) tells us
that Tiberius gave one Asellius Sabinus L1400 for a dialogue in which the
mushroom, the beccaficoe, the oyster, and the thrush advanced their
respective claims to be considered the prince of delicacies. To this age
also belong the collection of epigrams on Priapus called _Priapea_, and
including many poems attributed to Virgil, Tibullus, and Ovid. They are
mostly of an obscene character, but some few, especially those by Tibullus
and Catullus which close the series, are simple and pretty. It is almost
inconceivable to us how so disgusting a cultus could have been joined with
innocence of life; but as Priapus long maintained his place as a rustic
deity we must suppose that the hideous literalism of his surroundings must
have been got over by ingenious allegorising, or forgotten by rustic

NOTE 2.--_On the MS. of Petronius._

From Thomson's Essay on the Post-Augustan Latin Poets, from the
_Encyclopaedia Metropolitana_ (_Roman Literature_).

Fragments of Petronius had been printed by Bernardinus de Vitalibus at
Venice in 1499, and by Jacobus Thanner at Leipsig in 1508; but in the year
1632, Petrus Petitus, or as he styled himself, Marinus Statilius, a
literary Dalmatian, discovered at Traw a MS. containing a much more
considerable fragment, which was afterwards published at Padua and
Amsterdam, and ultimately purchased at Rome for the library of the King of
France in the year 1703. The eminent Mr. J. B. Gail, one of the curators
of this library, politely allowed M. Guerard, a young gentleman of
considerable learning employed in the MS. department, to afford us the
following circumstantial information respecting this valuable codex,
classed in the library as 7989:--"It is a small folio two fingers thick,
written on very substantial paper, and in a very legible hand. The titles
are in vermillion; the beginnings of the chapters, &c. are also in
vermillion or blue. It contains the poems of Tibullus, Propertius and
Catullus, as we have them in the ordinary printed editions; then appears
the date of the 20th Nov. 1423. After these comes the letter of Sappho,
and then the work of Petronius. The extracts are entitled 'Petronii
Arbitri satyri fragmenta et libro quinto decimo et sexto decimo,' and
begin thus: 'cum (not 'num,' as in the printed copies) in alio genere
furiarum declamatores inquietantur,' &c. After these fragments, which
occupy twenty-one pages of the MS. we have a piece without title or
mention of its author, which is _The Supper of Trimalcio_. It begins thus:
'Venerat iam tertius dies,' and ends with the words. 'tam plane quam ex
incendio fugimus.' This piece is complete by itself, and does not recur in
the other extracts. Then follows the _Moretum_, attributed to Virgil, and
afterwards the _Phoenix_ of Claudian. The latter piece is in the character
of the seventeenth century, while the rest of the MS. is in that of the
fifteenth." The publication of this fragment excited a great sensation
among the learned, to great numbers of whom the original was submitted,
and by far the majority of the judges decided in favour of its antiquity.
Strong as was this external evidence, the internal is yet more valuable;
since it is scarcely possible to conceive a forgery of this length, which
would not in some point or other betray itself. The difficulty of forging
a work like the _Satyricon_ will better appear, when it is considered that
such attempts have been actually made. A Frenchman, named Nodot, pretended
that the entire work of Petronius had been found at Belgrade in the siege
of that town in 1688. The forged MS. was published; but the contempt it
excited was no less universal than the consideration which was shown to
the MS. of Statilius. Another Frenchman, Lallemand, printed a pretended
fragment, with notes and a translation, in 1800, but no one was deceived
by it.




With the extinction of the Claudian dynasty we enter on a new literary
epoch. The reigns of Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian produced a series of
writers who all show the same characteristics, though necessarily modified
by the tyranny of Domitian's reign as contrasted with the clemency of
those of his two predecessors. Under Vespasian and Titus authors might say
what they chose; both these princes disdained to curb freedom of speech or
to punish it even when it clamoured for martyrdom. Yet such was the
reaction from the excitement of the last epoch, that no writer of genius
appeared, and only one of the first eminence in learning. There now comes
into Roman literature an unmistakable evidence of reduced talent as well
as of decayed taste. Hitherto power at least has not been wanting; but for
the future all is on a weaker scale. Only the two great names of Juvenal
and Tacitus redeem the ninth century of Rome from total want of creative
genius. All other writers move in established grooves, and, as a rule,
imitate or feebly rival some of the giants of the past. Learning was still
cultivated with assiduity if not with enthusiasm; but the grand hopeful
spirit, sure of discovering truth, which animates the erudition of a
better age, has now given place to a querulous depreciation even of the
labour to which the authors have devoted their lives. This is conspicuous
from the first in the otherwise noble pages of the elder PLINY, and is the
secret of that want of critical insight which, in a mind so capaciously
stored, strikes us at first as inexplicable.

This laborious and interesting writer was born at Como [1] in the year 23
A.D. He came, it is not known exactly when, to Rome and studied under the
rhetorical grammarian Apion, whom Tiberius in mockery of his sounding
periods had called "the drum" (_tympanum_). Till his forty-sixth year
Pliny's genius remained unknown. An allusion in his work to Lollia Paulina
has given rise to the opinion that he was admitted to the court of
Caligula, but the grounds for this conclusion are manifestly insufficient.
His nephew states that he composed his treatise _On Doubtful Words_ [2] to
escape the jealousy of Nero, who suspected him of less unambitious
pursuits. But the evidence of the younger Pliny serves better to establish
facts than motives; he is always anxious to swell the importance of his
friends; and it is far more likely from Pliny's own silence that he
remained in comparative obscurity until Nero's death. At the age of
twenty-two he served his first campaign in Africa, and soon after in
Germany under Lucius Pomponius, who gave him a cavalry troop, and seems to
have befriended him in various other ways. His promotion was perhaps due
to the treatise _On Javelin-throwing_ [3] which be wrote about this time.
He showed his gratitude towards Pomponius at a later date by writing his

Pliny had always felt a strong interest in science, and determined as soon
as opportunity offered to make its advancement the object of his life.
With this end in view he made careful observations of all the countries he
visited, and used his military position to secure information that
otherwise might have been hard to obtain. He inspected the source of the
Danube and travelled among the Chauci on the shores of the German Ocean.
He visited the mouths of the Eber and Weser, the North Sea and the
Cimbrian Chersonese, and spent some time among the Roman provinces west of
the Rhine. While in Germany he had a vision in which he saw or thought he
saw the shade of Drusus, which appeared to him by night and bade him tell
the history of all the German wars. Accordingly, he collected materials
with industry, and worked them up into a large volume, which is now
unfortunately lost. At twenty-nine he left the army and returned to Rome,
where he studied for the bar. But his talents were not suitable for
forensic display, and he found a more lucrative field in teaching grammar
and rhetoric. At what time he was sent out as procurator to Spain is
uncertain, but when he returned he found Vespasian on the throne. Pliny,
who had known him in Germany, and had been on intimate terms with his son
Titus, was now received with the greatest favour. Every morning before
day-break, when the busy Emperor rose to finish his correspondence before
the work of the day began, he called Pliny to his side, and the two
friends chatted awhile together in the plain, homely fashion that
Vespasian much preferred to the measured style of court etiquette. Nor was
his favour confined to familiar intercourse. He made him admiral of the
fleet stationed at Misenum and charged with guarding the Mediterranean
ports. It was while here that news was brought him of the eruption of
Vesuvius. He sailed to Resina determined to investigate the phenomenon,
and, as his nephew in a well-known letter tells us, paid the price of his
scientific curiosity with his life. The letter is so charming, and affords
so good an example of Pliny the younger's style, that we may be excused
for inserting: it here. [4]

"He was at Misenum in command of the fleet. On the 24th August (79
A.D.), about 1 P.M., my mother pointed out to him a cloud of unusual
size and shape. He had then sunned himself, had his cold bath, tasted
some food, and was lying down reading. He at once asked for his shoes,
and mounted a height from which the best view might be obtained. The
cloud was rising from a mountain afterwards ascertained to have been
Vesuvius; its form was more like a pine-tree than anything else. It
was raised into the air by what seemed its trunk, and then branched
out in different directions; the reason probably was that the blast,
at first irresistible, but afterwards losing strength or unable to
counteract gravity, spent itself by spreading out on either side. The
cloud was either bright, or dark and spotty, according as earth or
ashes were thrown up. As a man of science he determined to inspect the
phenomenon more closely. He ordered a light vessel to be prepared, and
offered to take me with him. I replied that I would rather study; as
it happened, he himself had set me something to write. He was just
starting, when a letter was brought from Rectina imploring aid for
Naseus who was in imminent danger; his villa lay below, and no escape
was possible except by sea. He now changed his plan, and what he had
begun, from scientific enthusiasm he carried out with self-sacrificing
courage. He launched some quadriremes, and embarked with the intention
of succouring not only Rectina but others who lived on that populous
and picturesque coast. Thus he hurried to the spot from which all
others were flying, and steered straight for the danger, so absolutely
devoid of fear that he dictated an account with full comments of all
the movements and changing shapes of the phenomenon, each as it
presented itself. Ashes were now falling on the decks, and became
hotter and denser as the vessel approached. Scorched and blackened
pumice-stones and bits of rock split by fire were mingled with them.
The sea suddenly became shallow, and fragments from the mountain
filled the coast seeming to bar all further progress. He hesitated
whether to return; but on the master strongly advising it, he cried,
'Fortune favours the brave: make for Pomponianus's house.' This was at
Stabiae, and was cut off from the coast near Vesuvius by an inlet,
which had been gradually scooped out by encroachments of the sea. The
owner was in sight, intending, should the danger (which was visible,
but not immediate) approach so near as to be urgent, to escape by
ship. For this purpose he had embarked all his effects and was waiting
for a change of wind. My uncle, whom the breeze favoured, soon reached
him, and, embracing him with much affection, tried to console his
fears. To show his own unconcern he caused himself to be carried to a
bath; and having washed, sat down to dinner with cheerfulness or (what
is equally creditable to him) with the appearance of it. Meanwhile
from many parts of the mountain broad flames burst forth; the blaze
shone back from the sky, and a dark night enhanced the lurid glare. To
soothe his friend's terror he declared that what they saw was only the
deserted villages which the inhabitants in their flight had set on
fire. Then he retired to rest, and there can be no doubt that he
slept, since the sound of his breathing (which a broad chest made deep
and resonant), was clearly heard by those watching at the door. Soon
the court which led to the chamber was so choked with cinders and
stones that longer delay would have made escape impossible. He was
aroused from sleep, and went to Pomponianus and the rest who had sat
up all night. They debated whether to stay indoors or to wander about
in the open. For on the one hand constant shocks of earthquake made
the houses rock to and fro, and loosened their foundations; while on
the other, the open air was rendered dangerous by the fall of pumice-
stones, though these were light and very porous. On the whole they
preferred the open air, but what to the rest had been a weighing of
fears had to him been a balancing of reasons. They tied cushions over
their heads to guard them from the falling stones. Though it was now
day elsewhere it was here darker than the darkest night, though the
gloom was broken by torches and other lights. They next walked to the
sea to try whether it would admit of vessels being launched, but it
was still a waste of raging waters. He then spread a linen cloth, and,
reclining on it, asked several times for water, which he drank; soon,
however, the flames and that sulphurous vapour which preceded them put
his companions to flight and compelled him to arise. He rose by the
help of two slaves, but immediately fell down dead. His death no doubt
arose from suffocation by the dense vapour, as well as from an
obstruction of his stomach, apart which had been always weak and
liable to inflammation and other discomforts. When daylight returned,
_i.e._ after three days, his body was found entire, just as it
was, covered with the clothes in which he had died; his appearance was
that of sleep rather than of death."

This interesting letter, which was sent to Tacitus for insertion in his
history, gives a fine description of the eruption. Another, still more
graphic, is given in a later letter of the same book. [5] A third [6]
informs us of the extraordinary studiousness and economy of time practised
by the philosopher, which enabled him in a life by no means long to
combine a very active business career with an amount of reading and
writing only second to that of Varro. Pliny's admiration for his uncle's
unwearied diligence makes him delight to dwell on these particulars:

"After the Vulcanalia (the 23d of August) he always began work at dead
of night, in winter at 1 A.M., never later than 2 A.M., often at
midnight. He was most sparing of sleep; at times it would catch him
unawares while studying. After his interview with Vespasian was over,
he went to business, then to study for the rest of the day. After a
light meal, which like our ancestors he ate by day, he would in
summer, if he had any leisure, lie in the sun, while some one read to
him and he made notes or extracts. He never read without making
extracts; no book, he said, was so bad but that something might be
gained from it. After sunning himself he would take a cold bath, then
a little food, then a short nap. Then, as if it were a new day, he
studied till supper. During this meal a book was read, he all the
while making notes. I remember once, when the reader mispronounced a
word, that one of our friends compelled him to repeat it. My uncle
asked him if he had not understood the word. On his replying, yes, my
uncle said sharply, 'Then why did you interrupt him? we have lost more
than ten lines;' so frugal was he of his time. He rose from supper
before dark in summer, before 7 P.M. in winter; and this habit was law
to him. Such was his life in town; but in the country his one and only
interruption from study was the bath. I mean the actual _bathing_; for
while he was being rubbed he always either dictated, or listened to
reading. On a journey, having nothing else to do, he gave himself
wholly to study; at his side was an amanuensis, who in winter wore
gloves, that his master's work might not be interrupted by the cold.
Even in Rome he always travelled in a sedan. I remember his chiding me
for taking a walk, saying, "you might have saved those hours"--for
every moment not given to study he thought lost time. By this
application he contrived to compose that vast array of volumes which
we possess, besides bequeathing to me 160 rolls of selected notes,
each roll written on both sides and in the smallest possible hand,
which practically doubles their number. To call myself studious with
his example before me is absurd; compared with him, I am an idle

In the earlier part of this letter, Pliny gives a list of his uncle's
works. Besides those mentioned in the text, we find a treatise on
eloquence called _Studiosus_, and a continuation of the history of
Aufidius Bassus in thirty books, dedicated to the emperor Titus. The
_Natural History_, in thirty-seven books, is the sole monument of Pliny's
industry that has descended to us. The fortunes of this portentous work
have greatly varied; while in the Middle Ages it was reverenced as a kind
of encyclopaedia of all secular knowledge, in our own day, except to
antiquarians, it is an unknown book. Many who know Virgil almost by heart
have never read through its tiresome and conceited preface. Yet there is
an immensity of interesting matter discussed in the work. Independently of
its vast learning, for it contains, according to its author's statement,
twenty thousand facts, and excerpts or redactions from two thousand books
or treatises, its range of subjects is such as to include something
attractive to every taste. Strictly speaking, many topics enter which do
not belong to natural history at all, _e.g._, the account of the use made
of natural substances in the applied sciences and the useful or fine arts;
but as these are decidedly the best-written parts of the work, and full of
chatty, pleasant anecdotes, we should be much worse off if they had been
omitted. The confused arrangement also, which mars its utility as a
compendium of knowledge, may be due in great measure to the indefinite
state of science at the time, to the gaps in its affinities which the
discovery of so many new sciences has helped to fill up, and the
consequent mingling together of branches which are separate and distinct.

It is questionable whether Pliny ever had any originality. If he had, it
was stamped out long before he began his book by the weight of his
cumbrous erudition. He cannot compare his materials, nor select them, nor
analyse them, nor make them explain themselves by lucid arrangement. Nor
has his review of human knowledge taught him the great truth that science
is progressive, that each age corrects the errors of the past, and
prepares the way for the improvements of the next. Seneca, with all his
affected contempt for science, learnt the lesson of it better than Pliny.
He has in the first place no fixed canon of truth. One thing does not seem
to him more probable than another. A statement has only to come forward
under the testimony of a respectable ancient, and it is at once put down
as a fact. Here, however, we must make a distinction, for fear of
invalidating Pliny's authority beyond what is just. It is only in strictly
scientific matters that this credulity and lack of penetration is found.
Where he deals with historical, biographical, or agricultural questions,
he is a competent, and for the most part trustworthy, compiler. His work
is a most valuable storehouse for the antiquarian or historian of ancient
literature or art, and generally for the current opinions on nearly every
topic. Though genuinely devoted to learning, he has still enough of the
"old Adam" of rhetoric about him to complain of the dryness of his
material, and its unsuitableness for ornamental treatment; but this cannot
surprise us, when we remember that even Tacitus with infinitely less
reason bewailed the monotony of the events he had taken upon him to

What partly accounts for Pliny's uncritical credulity is the
unsatisfactory theory of the universe which he adopts, and with
commendable candour sets before us at the outset. [7] He is a
materialistic pantheist. The world is for him deity, self-created and
eternal, incomprehensible by man, moving ceaselessly without reference to
him. So far there is nothing unscientific, except the hypothesis of self-
creation; but he goes on to imply that the laws of its action, being
incomprehensible, need not be regular, at any rate, as we consider
regularity. The things which militate against our experience may be the
result of other laws, or of chance contingencies of which no account can
be given. Hence he never rejects a fact on the ground of its being
marvellous. The most ludicrous and inconceivable monstrosities find an
easy place in his system. He does not attach any superstitious meaning to
them; on the contrary, he ridicules the idea that omens or portents are
sent by the gods, but he has no touchstone by which to test the rare but
possible results of real experience as distinguished from the figments of
the imagination or ordinary travellers' stories. In the zoological part he
gives the reins to his love of the marvellous; all kinds of absurdities
are narrated with the utmost gravity; and his accounts descended through
the mediaeval period as the accredited authority on the subject. In the
literature of Prester John will be seen many a reflection from the
writings of Pliny; in the fables of the _Arabian Nights_ many more, with
characteristic additions equally creditable to human weakness or
ingenuity. It is truly lamentable to reflect that while the rational and
on the whole truthful descriptions of Aristotle and Theophrastus were
extant and accessible, Pliny's nonsense should in preference have gained
the ear of mankind.

As a stylist Pliny recalls two very different writers, Seneca and Cato. In
those parts where he speaks as a moralist (and they are extremely
numerous), he strives to reproduce the point of Seneca; in those where he
treats of husbandry, which are perhaps the most naturally written in the
work, his stern brevity often recalls the old censor. Like Seneca, he
considers physical science as food for edification; continually he deserts
his theme to preach a sermon on the folly or ignorance of mankind. And
like Cato he is never weary of extolling the wisdom and virtues of the
harsh infancy of the Republic, and blaming the degeneracy of its feeble
and luxurious descendants who refuse to till the soil, and add acre to
acre of their overgrown estates.

Pliny has a strong vein of satire, and its effect is increased by a
certain sententious quaintness which gives a racy flavour to many
otherwise dull enumerations of facts. But his satire is not of a pleasing
type; it is built too much on despair of his kind; his whole view of the
universe is querulous, and shows a mind unequal to cope with the knowledge
it has acquired.

He was considered the most learned man of his day, and with reason. He at
least knew the value of first-hand acquaintance with the original
authorities, instead of drawing a superficial culture from manuals and
abridgments, or worse still, the empty declamations of the rhetorical
schools. And after all it is his age which must bear the blame of his
failure rather than himself. For while he was not great enough to rise
above his surroundings and investigate, compare, and conclude on a method
planned by himself, he was just the man who would have profited to the
full by being trained in a sound public system of education, and perhaps,
had he lived in the Ciceronian period, would have risen to a much higher
place as a permanent contributor to the journal of human knowledge.

Among the younger contemporaries of Pliny, the most celebrated is M.
FABIUS QUINTILIANUS (35-95 A.D.), [8] a native of Calagurris in Spain, but
educated in Rome, and long established there as a popular and influential
public professor of eloquence. He was intrusted by Domitian with the
education of his two grand-nephews, an honour to which he owed his
subsequent elevation to the consulship. His time had been so fully
occupied with lecturing as to allow no leisure for publishing anything
until the closing years of his career. This gave him the great advantage
of being a ripe writer before he challenged the judgment of the world;
and, in truth, Quintilian's knowledge and love of his subject are thorough
in the highest degree. His first essay was a treatise on the causes of the
decay of eloquence, [9] and the last (which we still possess) a work in
twelve books on the complete training of an orator. [10] This celebrated
work, to which Quintilian devoted the assiduous labour of two whole years,
interrupted only by the lessons given to his royal pupils, represents the
maturest treatment of the subject which we possess. The author was modest
enough to express a strong unwillingness to write it, either fearing to
come forward as an author so late in life, or judging the ground
preoccupied already. However, it was produced at last, and no sooner known
than it at once assumed the high position that has been accorded to it
ever since. The treatment is exhaustive; as much more thorough than the
popular treatises of Cicero as it is more attractive than the purely
technical one of Cornificius. At the same time it has the defects
inseparable from the unreal age in which its author lived. While minutely
providing for all the future orator's formal requirements, it omits the
material one without which the finished rhetorician is but a tinkling
cymbal, how to _think_ as an orator. No one knew better than Quintilian
that this comes from zest in life, not from rules of art. There will be
more stimulus given to one who pants for distinction in the delightful
pages of Cicero's _Brutus_, than in all that Quintilian and such as he
ever wrote or ever will write. But this is not the fault of the man; as a
formal rhetorician of good principle, sound orthodoxy, and love for his
art, Quintilian stands high in the list of classical authors.

He begins his orator's training from the cradle. He rightly ascribes the
greatest importance to early impressions, even the very earliest;
illustrating his position by the influence of Cornelia who trained her
sons to eloquence from childhood, and other similar cases known to Roman
history. A good nurse must be selected; an _eloquent_ one would,
doubtless, be hard to find. The boy who is destined to greatness has now
outgrown the nursery, and the great question arises, Is he to be sent to
school? With the Romans as with us this difficulty admitted of two
solutions. The lad might be educated at home under tutors, or he might be
sent to learn the world at a public school. Those who at the present day
shrink from sending their children to school generally profess to base
their unwillingness on a fear lest the influence of bad example may
corrupt the purity of youth; Quintilian on the very same ground, strongly
recommends a parent to send his son to school. By this means, he says,
_his tender years will be saved from the daily contamination which the
scenes of home life afford_. A sad commentary on the state of Roman
society and the pernicious effects of slave-labour!

After school, the youth is to attend the lectures of a rhetorician. This
is of course a matter of great importance, and in the second book the
writer handles its various bearings with excellent judgment. Having
described the duties of the professor and his pupil, and the various tasks
which will be gone through, he proceeds in the next book to discuss the
different departments of oratory. In this great subject he follows
Aristotle, here, as always, going back to the most established
authorities, and adapting them with signal tact to the changed
requirements of a later age and a different nation. The points connected
with this, the central theme of the treatise, carry us through the five
next books. They are the most technical in the work, and not adapted for
general reading. The eighth begins the interesting topic of style, which
is continued in the ninth, where trope, metaphor, amplification, and other
_figurae orationis_ are illustrated at length. Throughout these books
there are a large number of quotations, and continual references to the
practice of celebrated masters in the art, besides frequent introduction
of passages from the poets and historians. But it is in the tenth book
that these are concentrated into one focus. To acquire a "firm facility"
(_exis_) of speech it is necessary to have read widely and with
discernment. This leads him to enumerate the Greek and Roman authors
likely to be most useful to an orator. The criticisms he offers on the
salient qualities of almost all the great classics may seem to us trite
and common-place. They certainly are not remarkable for brilliancy, but
they are just and sober, and have stood the test of ages, and perhaps


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