Part 5 out of 7
nec trucibus fluviis idem sonus; occidit horror
aequoris, et terris maria acclinata quiescunt.
septima iam rediens Phoebe mihi respicit aegras
stare genas; totidem Oetaeae Paphiaeque revisunt
lampades et totiens nostros Tithonia questus
praeterit et gelido spargit miserata flagello.
unde ego sufficiam? non si mihi lumina mille
quae sacer alterna tantum statione tenebat
Argus et haud umquam vigilabat corpore toto.
at nunc heus! aliquis longa sub nocte puellae
bracchia nexa tenens ultro te, Somne, repellit:
inde veni! nec te totas infundere pennas
luminibus compello meis (hoc turba precetur
laetior): extremo me tange cacumine virgae
(sufficit) aut leviter suspenso poplite transi.
By what crime, O Sleep, most gentle of gods, or by what error,
have I, that am young, deserved--woe's me!--that I alone should
lack thy blessing? All cattle and birds and beasts of the wild
lie silent; the curved mountain ridges seem as though they slept
the sleep of weariness, and wild torrents have hushed their
roaring. The waves of the deep have fallen and the seas, reclined
on earth's bosom, take their rest. Yet now Phoebe returning gazes
for the seventh time on my sleepless weary eyes. For the seventh
time the lamps of Oeta and Paphos (i.e. Hesperus and Venus) revisit
me, for the seventh time Tithonus' bride sweeps over my complaint
and all her pity is to touch me with her frosty scourge. How may I
find strength to endure? I needs must faint, even had I the
thousand eyes which divine Argos kept fixed upon his prey in
shifting relays (so only could he wake, nor watched he ever with
all his body). But now--woe's me!--another, his arms locked about
his love, spurneth thee from him all the long night. Leave him, O
Sleep, for me. I bid thee not sweep upon my eyes with all the force
of thy fanning pinions. That is the prayer of happier souls than I.
Touch me only with the tip of thy wand--that shall suffice--or
lightly pass over my head with hovering feet.
Here Statius far surpasses himself. Had all else that he wrote been
merely mediocre, this one short poem would have given him a claim on the
grateful memory of posterity. The note it strikes is one that has never
been heard before in Latin poetry and is never heard again. We have
wavered before as to Statius' title to the name of true poet; this
should turn the balance in his favour. Great he is not for a moment to
be called; Lucan, with all his faults, stands high above him; Valerius
Flaccus, aided largely by his happier choice of subject, is in some
respects his superior; but for finish, dexterity, and fluency, Statius
is unique among the post-Augustans. Just as an actor who has acquired a
perfect mastery of all the tricks and technique of the stage may
sometimes cheat us into believing him to be a great actor, though in
reality neither intellect, presence, nor voice qualify him for such high
praise, so it is with Statius. His facility and cunning workmanship hold
us amazed, and at times the reader is on the verge of yielding up his
saner judgement before such charm. But the revulsion of feeling comes
inevitably. Statius had not learned the art of concealing his art. The
unreality of his work soon makes itself felt, and his skill becomes in
time little better than a weariness and a mockery.
Titus Catius Silius Italicus is best known to us as the author of
the longest and worst of surviving Roman epics. But by a strange irony
of fate we have a fuller knowledge of his life and character than is
granted us in the case of any other poet of the Silver Age, with the
exception of Seneca and Persius. His social position, his personal
character, his cultured and artistic tastes, rather than any merit
possessed by his verse, have won him a place in the picture-gallery of
Pliny the younger. We would gladly sacrifice the whole of the
'obituary notice' transmitted to us by the kindly garrulity of Pliny,
for a few more glimpses into the life of Juvenal, or even of Valerius
Flaccus, but the picture is interesting and even attractive, and awakens
feelings of a less unfriendly nature than are usually entertained for
the plodding poetaster who had the misfortune to write the seventeen
books of _Punica_.
Silius was born in the year 25 or 26 A.D.; of his family and place
of birth we know nothing. He first appears in the unpleasing guise
of a 'delator' in the reign of Nero, in the last year of whose
principate he filled the position of consul (68 A.D.).
In the 'year of the four emperors' (69 A.D.) he is found as the friend
and counsellor of Vitellius; his conduct, we are told, was wise and
courteous. He subsequently won renown by his admirable administration of
the province of Asia, and then retired from the public gaze to the
seclusion of a life of study. The amiability and virtue which
marked the leisure of his later years wiped out the dark stain that had
besmirched his youth. 'Men hastened to salute him and to do him honour.
When not engaged in writing, he would pass the day in learned converse
with the friends and acquaintances--no mere fortune-hunters--who
continually thronged the chambers where he would lie for long hours upon
his couch. His verses, which he would sometimes submit to the judgement
of the critics by giving recitations, show diligence rather than genius.
The increasing infirmities of age led him to forsake Rome for Campania;
not even the accession of a new princeps induced him to quit his
retirement. It is not less creditable to Caesar to have permitted than
to Silius to have ventured on such a freedom. He was a connoisseur even
to the verge of extravagance. He had several country houses in the same
district, and often abandoned those which he already possessed, if some
new house chanced to catch his fancy. He had a large library, and a fine
collection of portraits and statues, and was an enthusiastic admirer of
works of art which he was not fortunate enough to possess. He kept
Vergil's birthday with greater care than his own, especially when he was
at Naples, where he would visit the poet's tomb with all the veneration
due to the temple of a god.' He died in his Neapolitan villa of
self-chosen starvation. His health had failed him. He was afflicted by
an incurable tumour, and ran to meet death with a fortitude that nothing
could shake. 'His life was happy and prosperous to his last hour; his
one sorrow was the death of his younger son; the elder (and better) of
his sons, who survives him, has had a distinguished career, and has even
reached the consulate.' From Epictetus we gather, what we might
infer from the manner of his death, that he was a Stoic. From
Martial, who addresses him in the interested language of flattery
as the leading orator of his day, and as the maker of immortal verse, we
learn that he was the proud possessor of the Tusculan villa of Cicero,
and that he actually owned the tomb of the poet whom he loved so well.
Silius' life is more interesting than his verse. Like Lucan, he elected
to write historical epic, and in his choice of a subject was undoubtedly
wiser than his younger contemporary. For instead of selecting a period
so dangerously recent as the civil strife in which the republic
perished, he went back to the Second Punic War, to a time sufficiently
remote to permit of greater freedom of treatment and to enable him to
avoid the peril of unduly republican ecstasies. In making this choice he
was in all probability influenced by his reverence for Vergil. He, too,
would sing of Rome's rise to greatness, would write a truly national
epic on the great theme which Vergil so inimitably foreshadowed in the
dying words of the Carthaginian queen, would link the most stirring
years of Rome's history with the past, just as Vergil had linked the
epic of Rome's founder to the greatness of the years that were to come.
Ennius had been before him, but he might well aspire to remodel and
develop the rude annalistic work of the earlier poet. The brilliant
history of Livy, with its vivid battle-scenes and its sonorous speeches,
was a quarry that might provide him with the richest material.
Unhappily, less wise than Lucan, he made the fatal mistake of adopting
the principles set forth by Eumolpus, the dissolute poet in the novel of
The intrusion of the mythological method into historical epic is
disastrous. It is barely tolerable in the pseudo-historical epic of
Tasso. In the military narrative of Silius it is monstrous and
insufferable. His reverence for Vergil led him to control, or attempt to
control, every action of the war by divine intervention.
Juno reappears in her old role as the implacable enemy of Rome. It is
she that kindles Hannibal's hatred for Rome, causes the outbreak of the
war, and, disguised as the lake-god Trasimenus, spurs him on to
Rome. It is at her instigation that Anna Perenna kindles him to
fresh effort by the news that Fabius Cunctator is no longer in command
against him, that Somnus moderates his designs after Cannae.
It is Juno that conceals the Carthaginian forces in a cloud at
Cannae, and that rescues Hannibal from the fury of Scipio at
Zama. Against Juno is arrayed Venus, the protector of the sons of
Aeneas. She persuades her husband Vulcan to dry up the Trebia, whose
flood threatens the Romans with yet greater disaster than they have
already suffered, she unnerves and demoralizes the Punic army by
the luxury of Capua. Minerva and Mars play minor parts, the former
favouring Carthage, the latter Rome. Nothing is gained by this
dreary and superannuated mechanism, while the poem is yet further
hampered by the other encumbrances of epic commonplace.
The _Thebais_ of Statius is full of episodes that only find a place
because Vergil had borrowed similar episodes from Homer. But the
_Thebais_ is a professedly mythological epic, and Statius commands a
light touch and brilliant colours. The reader merely groans when the
heavy-handed Silius introduces his wondrously engraven shield, his
funeral games, his Amazon, his dismal catalogues, his
Nekuia. In the latter episode, he even introduces the Vergilian
Sibyl of Cumae; it is a redeeming feature that Scipio does not make a
'personally conducted tour' through the nether world; such a direct
challenge to the Sixth Aeneid was perhaps impossible for so true a lover
of Vergil as Silius. The Homeric method of necromancy is wisely
preferred, and the Sibyl reveals the past and future of Rome as the
spirits pass before them. But there are no illuminating flashes of
imagination; the best feature of the episode is an uninspired and frigid
appropriateness. Nothing serves better than the failure of Silius to
show at once the daring and the genius of Vergil, when he ransacked the
wealth of Homer and
from a greater Greek
Borrowed as beautifully as the moon
The fire o' the sun.
Apart from these unintelligent plagiarisms and vexatious absurdities,
the actual form and composition of the work show some skill. The poet
passes from scene to scene, from battle to battle, with ease and
assurance in the earlier books. It is only with the widening of the
area of conflict that the work loses its connexion. The earlier and
less important exploits of the elder Scipios were wisely dismissed in
a few words. The poet avoided the mistake of undue scrupulosity
in respect of chronology and makes no attempt to pose as a scientific
military historian. But it is a serious defect that he should fail to
show the significance of the successful 'peninsular campaign' of the
younger Scipio. Here, as in the descriptions of the siege of Syracuse,
the reader is haunted by the feeling that these great events are
regarded as merely episodic. Even the thrilling march of Hasdrubal,
ending in the dramatic catastrophe of the Metaurus, is hardly given
its full weight. There is more true historical and dramatic
appreciation in Horace's
Karthagini iam non ego nuntios
mittam superbos: occidit, occidit
spes omnis et fortuna nostri
nominis Hasdrubale interempto
than in all the ill-proportioned verbiage of Silius. The task of setting
forth the course of a conflict that flamed all over the Western
Mediterranean world was not easy, and Silius' failure was
proportionately great. Nay--if it be not merely the hallucination of a
weary reader--he seems to have tired of his task. The first twelve books
take us no further than Hannibal's appearance before the walls of Rome,
and the war is summarily brought to a close in the last five books,
although these, it should be noted, are by no means free from irrelevant
matter. The last three books above all are jejune and perfunctory, and
it has been suggested that they lack the final revision that the rest of
the work had received. Be this as it may, the result of the inadequate
treatment of the close of the war is that the reader lays down the poem
with no feeling of the greatness of Rome's triumph.
Yet even with these faults of composition, a genuine poet might have
wrought a great work from the rough ore of history. The scene is
thronged with figures as remarkable and inspiring as history affords.
There is the fierce irresistible Hannibal, the sagacious Fabius, the
elder Scipios, tragic victims of disaster, the younger Scipio, glorious
with the light of victory as the clouds of defeat are rolled away,
Hasdrubal hurled to ruin at the supreme crisis of the war, Marcellus the
victorious, beleaguered and beleaguerer, the ill-starred Paulus,
the Senate of Rome that thanked the fugitive Varro because he had not
despaired of the republic, and above all the gigantic figure of
Rome herself, unshaken, indomitable, triumphant. These are no dry bones
that the breath of the poet alone should make them live. They breathe
immortal in the prose of Livy, in the verse of Silius they are vain
'shadows of men foredone'. The Hannibal of Silius is not the dazzling
villain of Livy, the incarnation of military daring and 'Punic faith'.
Mistaken patriotism does not lead Silius to blacken the character of
Rome's great antagonist; he strives to do him justice; he is as true a
patriot, as chivalrous a warrior, as any of the Roman leaders. But
he does not live; he is merely the stock warrior of epic, and his
exploits fail to compel belief.
Fabius, the least romantic, though not the least interesting figure in
the war, stands forth more clearly. The prosaic Silius is naturally most
successful with his most prosaic hero. The younger Scipio is the
embodiment of _pietas_, an historical Aeneas, without his prototype's
most distressing weaknesses, but with all his dullness, and lacking the
halo of legend and the splendour of the founder of the race to glorify
him. Paulus has the merit of true courage, and his consciousness of his
colleague's folly invests him with a certain pathos. He makes the best
death of any Silian warrior, and deserves the eulogy passed on him by
Hannibal. The rest are lay-figures, with even less individuality and
life. Silius failed to depict character. He fails, too, to show any true
sense of the political greatness of Rome. The genius of Rome and the
genius of Carthage are never confronted or contrasted; the greatness of
Rome in defeat, the scenes of Rome agonizing in the grip of unexpected
disaster, are never brought home to the reader with the least degree of
vividness. The great battles are described at tedious length and
rendered ridiculous by the lavish introduction of Homeric single
combats. If Silius is rarely bombastic or rendered absurd by the
grossness of his exaggeration, he yet fails to see what Lucan saw
plainly--that for the author of a military historical epic, it is the
issues of the war, big with the fate of generations to come, the temper
of the combatants, the character of the chief actors, that are the
really interesting elements. Almost alone of Silver Latin poets he shows
no real gifts of rhetoric and epigram, no virtuosity of diction, no
brilliance of description. We lack the declamation of Lucan, the
apostrophes on the issues of the war, the vivid character-sketches of
the generals, the political enthusiasm, the thunder of the oratory of
general and statesman. The battle-speeches of Livy, whose glow and
vigour half atone for their theatricality, have been made use of by
Silius, but find only a feeble echo in his lifeless verse. Nothing
stands out sharply defined; the epic lacks impetus and has no salient
points; outlines are blurred in an unpoetic haze. The history of Tacitus
has been described as history 'seen by lightning flashes'. Such should
be the history of historical epic. In its stead Silius presents us with
a confused welter of archaistic battle, learned allusion, and epic
'Aequalis liber est, Cretice, qui malus est,' cries Martial to a
friend. The epigram would apply to the __Punica_. There is scarcely a
passage in the whole work that reveals genuine poetic imagination.
Silius is free from many of the faults of his contemporaries, the faults
that spring from aspirations towards originality. He is content to be an
imitator. In his style, as in his composition, Vergil is an obsession.
But the echoes are muffled or unmusical. Gifted with ease and fluency
and--for his age--comparative lucidity of diction, Silius has no true
ear for music, nor true eye for beauty. His verse moves naturally but
heavily. He is the most spondaic poet of his age, and the spondaic
rhythm is not alleviated by artistic variety of pause or judicious use
of elision. Lucan is heavy, but he hits hard and is weighty in the best
sense. Silius rolls on lumbering and unperturbed, never rising or
falling. He has all the faults of Ovid, and, in spite of his laboured
imitation, none of the merits of Vergil. Nothing can kindle him. The
most heroic and the most tragic of all the stories of the struggle for
the empire of the western world is that of Regulus, the famous captive
of Carthage in the first Punic War. The episode is skilfully and
naturally introduced. The story is told by an aged veteran of the first
Punic War to a descendant of Regulus, who has fled wounded from the rout
of Trasimene. Silius succeeds in making one of the noblest stories in
history lifeless and dull. The narration opens with the description of a
melodramatic struggle between Regulus and a monstrous serpent in Africa,
scarcely an harmonious prelude for the simple and solemn climax of the
hero's life, his return to his home to fix 'the Senate's wavering will',
his departure unmoved to Carthaginian captivity, with the certainty of
death and torture before him. Silius treats this tragic episode simply
and severely; there is nothing to offend the taste, but there is equally
nothing to move the heart; the description is merely dull; it lacks the
fire of life and the finer imagination. Here, again, we turn for relief
to Horace with his brief but incomparable
atqui sciebat quae sibi barbarus
tortor pararet, non aliter tamen
dimovit obstantes propinquos
et populum reditus morantem
quam si clientum longa negotia
diiudicata lite relinqueret,
tendens Venefranos in agros
aut Lacedaemonium Tarentum (iii. 5. 49).
Take the corresponding passage in Silius. Regulus concludes his speech
to the Senate as follows (vi. 485):
exposcunt Libyes nobisque dedere
haec referenda, pari libeat si pendere bellum
foedere et ex aequo geminas conscribere leges.
sed mihi sit Stygios ante intravisse penates
talia quam videam ferientes pacta Latinos,
haec fatus Tyriae sese iam reddidit irae,
nec monitus spernente graves fidosque senatu
Poenorum dimissa cohors. quae maesta repulsa
ac minitans capto patrias properabat ad oras.
prosequitur volgus, patres, ac planctibus ingens
personat et luctu campus. revocare libebat
interdum et iusto raptum retinere dolore.
'The Libyans ask whether you will cease from war on equal
terms and draw up a treaty wherein each side keeps its own.
They bid me bring back your reply. But may I sooner enter the
gates of hell than see the Latins make such a compact!' He
spake, and yielded himself back once more to the mercies of
the Tyrian's hate: the Senate spurned not his words of weight,
his loyal warning. The Punic embassy was dismissed. Cast down
at their rebuff, and threatening their captive, they hastened
homeward to their native shores. The people, the fathers, follow
them: the whole vast plain resounds with weeping and beating of
breasts, and ever and again they strove to recall the hero and
with just grief to retain him as he was snatched away from them.
Criticism is needless. One passage is in the grand style, the other is
not; one is mere verse-making, the other the purest poetry. Silius has
nothing of _curiosa felicitas_ or even of the more common gift of vague
sensuous charm. Even on such hackneyed themes as the choice of Hercules,
with Scipio playing the part of Hercules, he fails to rise to the
conventional prettiness of which even a Calpurnius Siculus would have
been capable. Virtue and pleasure are rendered equally unattractive, and
we pity Scipio for having to make the choice. With the other poets of
the age it is easy to select passages to illustrate their characteristic
merits and defects. But from the dull monotony of Silius it is hard to
choose. He does not read well even in selections. Apart from the general
absurdity of the conception of the poem he is rarely grotesque. His
taste is chastened by his love of Vergil, and the absence of genuine
rhetorical power saves him from dangerous exuberance. The tricks of
rhetoric are there, but the edge of his wit is dull, and he has no speed
nor energy. For similar reasons he never attains sublimity. There are
faint traces of the _Romana gravitas_ in lines such as
iamque tibi veniet tempus quo maxima rerum
nobilior sit Roma mails (iii. 584).
And the time shall come when Rome, the greatest thing in
all the world, shall be yet more ennobled by her woes.
The idea that the trials of Rome shall be as a 'refiner's fire' has a
certain grandeur, but the expression of the idea is commonplace. The
same is true of the elaboration of the Vergilian _parcere subiectis_,
where the poet describes Marcellus' clemency to the vanquished
Syracusans, and makes brief allusion to the unhappy death of Archimedes
sic parcere victis
pro praeda fuit et sese contenta nec ullo
sanguine pollutis plausit Victoria pennis.
tu quoque ductoris lacrimas, memorande, tulisti,
defensor patriae, meditantem in pulvere formas
nec turbatum animi tanta feriente ruina.
So mercy toward the conquered took the place of rapine,
and Victory was content with herself and clapped her wings
unstained by any blood. Thou, too, immortal sage, defender
of thy country, didst win the meed of the conqueror's tears,
thou whom ruin smote down, all unmoved, as thou broodedst
o'er figures traced in the dust.
To find Silius at his best--not a very exalted best--we must turn to the
passage where he depicts the feelings of Hannibal on finding the body of
Paulus on the field of Cannae (x. 513):
quae postquam aspexit, geminatus gaudia ductor
Sidonius 'Fuge, Varro,' inquit 'fuge, Varro, superstes,
dum iaceat Paulus. patribus Fabioque sedenti
et populo consul totas edissere Cannas.
concedam hanc iterum, si lucis tanta cupido est,
concedam tibi, Varro, fugam. at, cui fortia et hoste
me digna haud parvo caluerunt corda vigore,
funere supremo et tumuli decoretur honore.
quantus, Paule, iaces! qui tot mihi milibus unus
maior laetitiae causa est. cum fata vocabunt,
tale precor nobis salva Karthagine letum.'
* * * * *
'i decus Ausoniae, quo fas est ire superbas (572)
virtute et factis animas. tibi gloria leto
iam parta insigni. nostros Fortuna labores
versat adhuc casusque iubet nescire futuros.'
haec Libys, atque repens crepitantibus undique flammis
aetherias anima exultans evasit in auras.
When this he saw, the Sidonian chief was filled with double
joy and cried, 'Fly, Varro, fly and survive defeat; enough that
Paulus lieth low! Go, consul, tell all the tale of Cannae to the
fathers, to laggard Fabius, to the people. If so thou long'st to
live, I will grant thee, Varro, to flee once more as thou fleest
to-day. But let him, whose heart was bold and worthy to be my foe,
and all aflame with mighty valour, be honoured with the last rites
of burial and all the honour of the tomb. How great, Paulus, art
thou in the death! Thy fall alone gives greater cause for joy than
the fall of so many thousands. Such, when the fates shall summon me,
such I pray be my fate, so Carthage stand unshaken.' ... 'Go,
Ausonia's glory, where the souls of those whom valour and noble
deeds make proud may go. _Thou_ hast won great glory by thy death.
For _us_, Fortune still tosses us to and fro in weltering labour
and forbids us to see what chance the future hath in store.' So
spake the Libyan, and straightway from the crackling flame the
exulting spirit soared skyward through the air.
The picture of the soul of Paulus soaring heavenward from the funeral
pyre, exultant at the honour paid him by his great foe, is the nearest
approach to pure poetic imagination in the whole weary length of the
_Punica_. But the pedestrian muse of Silius is more at home in the
ingenious description of the manoeuvres and counter-manoeuvres of Fabius
and Hannibal in the seventh book; the similes with which the passage
closes are hackneyed, but their application is both new and clever:
iam Fabius tacito procedens agmine et arte
bellandi lento similis, praecluserat omnes
fortunaeque hostique vias. discedere signis
haud licitum summumquc decus, quo tollis ad astra
imperil, Romane, caput, parere docebat
* * * * *
cassarum sedet irarum spectator et alti
celsus colle iugi domat exultantia corda
infractasque minas dilato Marte fatigat
sollers cunctandi Fabius, ceu nocte sub atra
munitis pastor stabulis per ovilia clausum
impavidus somni servat pecus: effera saevit
atque impasta truces ululatus turba luporum
exercet morsuque quatit restantia claustra.
inritus incepti movet inde atque Apula tardo
arva Libys passu legit ac nunc valle residit
conditus occulta, si praecipitare sequentem
atque inopinata detur circumdare fraude;
nunc nocturna parat caecae celantibus umbris
furta viae retroque abitum fictosque timores
adsimulat, tum castra citus deserta relicta
ostentat praeda atque invitat prodigus hostem:
qualis Maeonia passim Maeandrus in ora,
cum sibi gurgitibus flexis revolutus oberrat.
nulla vacant incepta dolis: simul omnia versat
miscetque exacuens varia ad conamina mentem,
sicut aquae splendor radiatus lampade solis
dissultat per tecta vaga sub imagine vibrans
luminis et tremula laquearia verberat umbra.
Now Fabius advanced, leading his host in silence and--such was
his cunning--like to a laggard in war; so closed he all the
paths whereby fortune or the foe might fall on him. No soldier
might quit the standards, and he taught that the height of glory,
even that glory, Roman, that raises thine imperial head to the
stars, was obedience.... Fabius sits high on the mountain slopes
watching the foeman's rage and tames his impetuous ardour, humbles
his threats, and, with skilful delay, postpones the day of battle
and wears out his patience: as when through the darkness of the
night a shepherd, fearless and sleepless in his well-guarded byre,
keeps his flock penned within the fold: without, the wolf-pack,
fierce and famished, howls fiercely, and with its teeth shakes the
gates that bar its entrance. Baffled in his enterprise, the Libyan
departs thence and slowly marches across the Apulian fields and
pitches his camp deep in a hidden vale, if perchance he may hurl
the Roman to ruin as he follows in his track and surround him by
hidden guile. Now he prepares a midnight ambush in some dark pass
beneath the shelter of the gloom, and falsely feigns retreat and
fear; then, swiftly leaving his camp and booty, he displays them to
the foe, and lavishly invites a raid. Even as on Maeonian shores
Maeander with winding channel turns upon himself and wanders far
and wide, now here, now there. Naught he attempts, but has some
guile in it. He weighs every scheme, sharpens his mind for divers
exploits, and blends contrivance with contrivance, even as the
gleam of water lit by the sun's torch dances through a house
quivering, and the reflected beam goes wandering and lashes the
roof with tremulous reflection.
There is in this passage nothing approaching real excellence, but its
dexterity may reasonably command some respect. It is dexterity of which
Silius has little to show. He is well-read in history and its bastard
sister mythology. At his best he can string together his incidents with
some skill, and he makes use of his learning in the accepted fashion of
his day. The poem is deluged with proper names and learned
aetiology, though he has no conception of that magical use of proper
names and legendary allusions which is the secret of the masters of
But the absence of any true poetic genius makes him the most tedious of
Latin authors, and his unenviable reputation is well deserved. For the
poetry of the struggle with Carthage for the
plumed troops and the big wars
That make ambition virtue,
for 'all quality, pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war', we
must go to the inspired prose of Livy.
And yet it is well that the _Punica_ should have been preserved. It is
well to know that as France has its _Henriade_ and England its _Madoc_,
so Rome had its _Punica_. It is our one direct glimpse into the work of
that cultured society, devastated by the 'scribendi caccethes', as
Juvenal puts it, or, from the point of view of the facile Pliny, adorned
by the number of its poets. The _Punica_ have won an immortality
far other than that prophesied for them by Martial, but they show
us the work of a cultured Roman gentleman of his day, who, if he had
small capacity, had a high enthusiasm for letters, who had diligence if
he had not genius, and was possessed by a love for the supreme poet in
whose steps he followed, a passion so sincere that it may win from his
scanty readers at least a partial forgiveness for the inadequacy of his
imitation and for the suffering inflicted on all those who have essayed
the dreary adventure of reading the seventeen books that bear his name.
Marcus Valerius Martialis, like Quintilian, Seneca, and Lucan, was a
Spaniard by birth, and, unlike those writers, never became thoroughly
reconciled to life at Rome. He was born at Bilbilis, a small town
of Hispania Tarraconensis. The exact year of his birth is uncertain; but
as the tenth book of his epigrams, written between 95 and 98 A. D.,
contains a reference (24) to his fifty-seventh birthday, he must have
been born between 38 and 41 A. D. His birthday was the 1st of March, a
fact to which he owes his name Martialis. Of the position of his
parents, Valerius Fronto and Flaccilla, we have no evidence. That
they were not wealthy is clear from the circumstances of their son. But
they were able to give him a regular literary education, although,
unlike his fellow-countrymen whom we have mentioned above, he was
educated in his native province. But the life of a provincial did not
satisfy him. Conscious, perhaps, of his literary gifts, he went, in 64
A.D., like so many a young provincial, to make his fortune at Rome.
There he attached himself as client to the powerful Spanish family of
the Senecas, and found a friendly reception also in the house of
Calpurnius Piso. But fortune was against him; as he was
congratulating himself on his good luck in starting life at Rome under
such favourable auspices, the Pisonian conspiracy (65 A.D.) failed, and
his patrons fell before the wrath of Nero. His career must be
commenced anew. Of his life from this point to the reign of Domitian we
know little. But this much is certain, that he endured all the
indignities and hardships of a client's life, and that he chose
this degrading career in preference to the active career of the Roman
bar. He had no taste for oratory, and rejected the advice of his friend
Gaius and his distinguished compatriot Quintilian to seek a
livelihood as an advocate or as a politician. 'That is not life!' he
replies to Quintilian:
vivere quod propero pauper nec inutilis annis,
da veniam: properat vivere nemo satis.
differat hoc patrios optat qui vincere census
atriaque immodicis artat imaginibus (ii. 90. 3).
His ideals and ambitions were low, and his choice had, as we shall see,
a degrading effect upon his poetry. He chose rather to live on such
modest fortune as he may have possessed, on the client's dole, and such
gifts as his complimentary epigrams may have won from his patrons. These
gifts must have been in many cases of a trifling description, but
they may occasionally have been on a more generous scale. At any rate,
by the year 94 A. D., we find him the possessor of a little farm at
Nomentum, and a house on the Quirinal. Although he must
presumably have written a considerable quantity of verse in his earlier
years, it is not till 80 A. D. that he makes an appearance on the stage
of literature. In that year the Flavian amphitheatre was consecrated by
the Emperor Titus, and Martial celebrated the fact by the publication of
his first book, the _Spectaculorum Liber_. It is of small literary
value, but it was his first step on the ladder of fame. Titus conferred
on him the _ius trium liberorum_, although he seems not to have entered
on the enjoyment of this privilege till the reign of Domitian. He
thus first came in touch with the imperial circle. From this time
forward we get a continual stream of verse in fulsome praise of Domitian
and his freedman. But his flattery met with small reward. There are many
poems belauding the princeps, but few that thank him. The most that he
acquired by his flattery was the honorary military tribunate and his
elevation to the equestrian order. Of material profit he got
little, save such as his improved social position may have
conferred on him indirectly.
Four years after the publication of the _Spectaculorum Liber_ (i.e.
later in 84 and 85) he published two books, the thirteenth and
fourteenth, composed of neat but trifling poems on the presents (Xenia
and Apophoreta) which it was customary to give at the feast of the
Saturnalia. From this point his output was continuous and steady, as the
following table will show:
I, II. 85 or early in 86.
III. 87 or early in 88.
IV. December (Saturnalia) 88.
V. Autumn, 89.
VI. Summer or Autumn, 90.
VII. December, 92.
IX. Summer, 94.
X. 1. December, 95.
X. 2. 98.
XII. Late in 101.
His life during this period was uneventful. He lived expensively and
continually complains of lack of funds and of the miseries of a client's
life. Once only (about 88) the discomfort of his existence seems to have
induced him to abandon Rome. He took up his residence at Forum Cornelii,
the modern Imola, but soon returned to Rome. It was not till 98
that he decided to leave the capital for good and to return to his
Spanish home. A new princeps was on the throne. Martial had associated
his work too closely with Domitian and his court to feel at his ease
with Nerva. He sent the new emperor a selection from his tenth and
eleventh books, which we may, perhaps, conjecture to have been
expurgated. He denounced the dead Domitian in a brilliant epigram which
may have formed part of that selection, but which has only been
preserved to us by the scholiast on Juvenal (iv. 38):
Flavia gens, quantum tibi tertius abstulit heres!
paene fuit tanti non habuisse duos.
How much thy third has wronged thee, Flavian race!
'Twere better ne'er to have bred the other brace. ANON.
But he felt that times were changed and that there was no place now for
his peculiar talent for flattery (x. 72. 8):
non est hic dominus sed imperator,
sed iustissimus omnium senator,
per quem de Stygia domo reducta est
siccis rustica Veritas capillis.
hoc sub principe, si sapis, caveto
verbis, Roma, prioribus loquaris.
Is ours, no master as of yore,
Himself the Senate's very crown
Of justice, who has called from down
In her deep Stygian duress
The hoyden Truth, with tangled tress.
Be wise, Rome, see you shape anew
Your tongue; your prince would have it true.
A. E. STREET.
Let flattery fly to Parthia. Rome is no place for her (ib. 4). Martial
had made his name: he was read far and wide throughout the Empire.
He could afford to retire from the city that had given him much fame and
much pleasure, but had balanced its gifts by a thousand vexations and
indignities. Pliny assisted him with journey-money, and after a
thirty-four years' sojourn in Italy he returned to Bilbilis to live a
life of _dolce far niente_. The kindness of a wealthy friend, a Spanish
lady named Marcella, gave him an estate on which he lived in
comfort, if not in affluence. He published but one book in Spain, the
twelfth, written, he says in the preface, in a very few days. He lived
in peace and happiness, though at times he sighed for the welcome of the
public for whom he had catered so long, and chafed under the lack
of sympathy and culture among his Spanish neighbours. He died in
104. 'Martial is dead,' says Pliny, 'and I am grieved to hear it. He was
a man of genius, with a shrewd and vigorous wit. His verses are full of
point and sting, and as frank as they are witty. I provided him with
money for his journey when he left Rome; I owed it to my friendship for
him, and to the verses which he wrote in my honour'--then follows Mart.
x. 20--'Was I not right to speed him on his way, and am I not justified
in mourning his death, seeing that he wrote thus concerning me? He gave
me what he could, he would have given more had he been able. And yet
what greater gift can one man give another than by handing down his name
and fame to all eternity. I hear you say that Martial's verses will not
live to all eternity? You may be right; at any rate, he hoped for their
immortality when he wrote them' (Plin. _Ep._ iii. 21).
Of Martial's character we shall have occasion to speak later. There
is nothing in the slight, but generous, tribute of Pliny that has to
Of the circles in which he moved his epigrams give us a brilliant
picture; of his exact relations with the persons whom he addresses it is
hard to speak with certainty. Many distinguished figures of the day
appear as the objects of his flattery. There are Spaniards, Quintilian,
Lucinianus Maternus and Canius Rufus, all distinguished men of letters,
the poets Silius Italicus, Stertinius Avitus, Arruntius Stella, the
younger Pliny, the orator Aquilius Regulus, Lentulus Sura, the friend of
Trajan, the rich knights, Atedius Melior, and Claudius Etruscus, the
soldier Norbanus, and many others. With Juvenal also he seems to have
enjoyed a certain intimacy. Statius he never mentions, although he must
have moved in the same circles. His intimates--as might be
expected--are for the most part, as far as we can guess, of lower rank.
There are the centurions Varus and Pudens, Terentius Priscus his
compatriot, Decianus the Stoic from the Spanish town of Emerita, the
self-sacrificing Quintus Ovidius, Martial's neighbour at Nomentum and a
fellow-client of Seneca, and, above all, Julius Martialis. His enemies
and envious rivals are attacked and bespattered with filth in many an
epigram, but Martial, true to his promise in the preface to his first
book, conceals their true names from us.
Of his _vie intime_ he tells us little. As far as we may judge, he was
unmarried. It is true that several of his epigrams purport to be
addressed to his wife. But two facts show clearly that this lady is
wholly imaginary. Even Martial could not have spoken of his wife in such
disgusting language as, for instance, he uses in xi. 104, while in
another poem (ii. 92) he clearly expresses his intention not to marry:
natorum mihi ius trium roganti
Musarum pretium dedit mearum
solus qui poterat. valebis, uxor,
non debet domini perire munus.
The honorary _ius trium liberorum_ had given him, he says, all that
marriage could have brought him. He has no intention of making the
emperor's generosity superfluous by taking a wife. He preferred the
untrammelled life of a bachelor. So only could he enjoy the pleasures
which for him meant 'life '. He is neither an impressive nor a very
interesting figure. He has many qualities that repel, even if we do not
take him too seriously; and though he may have been a pleasant and in
many respects most amiable companion, he has few characteristics that
arrest our attention or compel our respect. More will be said of his
virtues and his vices in the pages that follow. It is the artist rather
than the man that wakens our interest.
In Martial we have a poet who devoted himself to the one class of poetry
which, apart from satire, the conditions of the Silver Age were
qualified to produce in any real excellence--the epigram. In a period
when rhetorical smartness and point were the predominant features of
literature, the epigram was almost certain to flourish. But Roman poets
in general, and Martial in particular, gave a character to the epigram
which has clung to it ever since, and has actually changed the
significance of the word itself.
In the best days of the Greek epigram the prime consideration was not
that a poem should be pointed, but that it should be what is summed up
in the untranslatable French epithet _lapidaire_; that is to say, it
should possess the conciseness, finish, and relevance required for an
inscription on a monument. Its range was wide; it might express the
lover's passion, the mourner's grief, the artist's skill, the cynic's
laughter, the satirist's scorn. It was all poetry in miniature. Point is
not wanting, but its chief characteristics are delicacy and charm. 'No
good epigram sacrifices its finer poetical substance to the desire of
making a point, and none of the best depend on having a point at
all.' Transplanted to the soil of Italy the epigram changes. The
less poetic Roman, with his coarse tastes, his brutality, his tendency
to satire, his appreciation of the incisive, wrought it to his own use.
In his hands it loses most of its sensuous and lyrical elements and
makes up for the loss by the cultivation of point. Above all, it becomes
the instrument of satire, stinging like a wasp where the satirist pure
and simple uses the deadlier weapons of the bludgeon and the rapier.
The epigram must have been exceedingly plentiful from the very dawn of
the movement which was to make Rome a city of _belles-lettres_. It is
the plaything of the dilettante _litterateur_, so plentiful under the
empire. Apart from the work of Martial, curiously few epigrams have
come down to us; nevertheless, in the vast majority of the very limited
number we possess the same Roman characteristics may be traced. In the
non-lyrical epigrams of Catullus, in the shorter poems of the _Appendix
Vergiliana_, there is the same vigour, the same coarse humour, the same
pungency that find their best expression in Martial. Even in the
epigrams attributed to Seneca in the _Anthologia Latina_  something
of this may be observed, though for the most part they lack the personal
note and leave the impression of mere juggling with words. It is in this
last respect, the attention to point, that they show most affinity with
Martial. Only the epigrams in the same collection attributed to
Petronius seem to preserve something of the Greek spirit of beauty
untainted by the hard, unlovely, incisive spirit of Rome.
Martial was destined to fix the type of the epigram for the future. For
pure poetry he had small gifts. He was endowed with a warm heart, a real
love for simplicity of life and for the beauties of nature. But he had
no lyrical enthusiasm, and was incapable of genuine passion. He entered
heartwhole on all his amatory adventures, and left them with
indifference. Even the cynical profligacy of Ovid shows more capacity
for true love. At their best Martial's erotic epigrams attain to a
certain shallow prettiness, for the most part they do not rise
above the pornographic. And even though he shows a real capacity for
friendship, he also reveals an infinite capacity for cringing or
impudent vulgarity in his relations with those who were merely patrons
or acquaintances. His needy circumstances led him, as we shall see, to
continual expressions of a peevish mendicancy, while the artificiality
and pettiness of the life in which he moved induced an excessive
triviality and narrowness of outlook.
He makes no great struggle after originality. The slightness of his
themes and of his _genre_ relieved him of that necessity. Some of his
prettiest poems are mere variations on some of the most famous lyrics
of Catullus. He pilfers whole lines from Ovid. Phrase after
phrase suggests something that has gone before. But his plagiarism is
effected with such perfect frankness and such perfect art, that it
might well be pardoned, even if Martial had greater claims to be taken
seriously. As it is, his freedom in borrowing need scarcely be taken
into account in the consideration of our verdict. At the worst his
crime is no more than petty larceny. With all his faults, he has gifts
such as few poets have possessed, a perfect facility and a perfect
finish. Alone of poets of the period he rarely gives the impression of
labouring a point. Compared with Martial, Seneca and Lucan, Statius and
Juvenal are, at their worst, stylistic acrobats. But Martial, however
silly or offensive, however complicated or prosaic his theme, handles
his material with supreme ease. His points may often not be worth
making; they could not be better made. Moreover, he has a perfect ear;
his music may be trivial, but within its narrow limits it is
faultless. He knows what is required of him and he knows his own
powers. He knows that his range is limited, that his sphere is
comparatively humble, but he is proud to excel in it. He has the
artist's self-respect without his vanity.
His themes are manifold. He might have said, with even greater truth
than Juvenal, 'quidquid agunt homines, nostri est farrago libelli.' He
does not go beneath the surface, but almost every aspect of the
kaleidoscopic world of Rome receives his attention at one time or
another. His attitude is, on the whole, satirical, though his satire is
not inspired by deep or sincere indignation. He is too easy in his
morals and too good-humoured by temperament. He is often insulting, but
there is scarcely a line that breathes fierce resentment, while his
almost unparalleled obscenity precludes the intrusion of any genuine
earnestness of moral scorn in a very large number of his satiric
epigrams. On these points he shall speak for himself; he makes no
'I hope,' he says in the preface to his first book, 'that I have
exercised such restraint in my writings that no one who is possessed of
the least self-respect may have cause to complain of them. My jests are
never outrageous, even when directed against persons of the meanest
consideration. My practice in this respect is very different from that
of early writers, who abused persons without veiling their invective
under a pseudonym. Nay more, their victims were men of the highest
renown. My _jeux d'esprit_ have no _arrieres-pensees_, and I hope that
no one will put an evil interpretation on them, nor rewrite my epigrams
by infusing his own malignance into his reading of them. It is a
scandalous injustice to exercise such ingenuity on what another has
written. I would offer some excuse for the freedom and frankness of my
language--which is, after all, the language of epigram--if I were
setting any new precedent. But all epigrammatists, Catullus, Marsus,
Pedo, Gaetulicus, have availed themselves of this licence of speech.
But if any one wishes to acquire notoriety by prudish severity, and
refuses to permit me to write after the good Roman fashion in so much
as a single page of my work, he may stop short at the preface, or even
at the title. Epigrams are written for such persons as derive pleasure
from the games at the Feast of Flowers. Cato should not enter my
theatre, but if he does enter it, let him be content to look on at the
sport which I provide. I think I shall be justified in closing my
preface with an epigram
Once more the merry feast of Flora's come,
With wanton jest to split the sides of Rome;
Yet come you, prince of prudes, to view the show.
Why come you? merely to be shocked and go?'
He reasserts the kindliness of his heart and the excellence of his
hunc servare modum nostri novere libelli;
parcere personis, dicere de vitiis (x. 33).
For in my verses 'tis my constant care
To lash the vices, but the persons spare.
Malignant critics _had_ exercised their ingenuity in the manner which he
deprecated. Worse still, libellous verse had been falsely
circulated as his:
quid prodest, cupiant cum quidam nostra videri
si qua Lycambeo sanguine tela madent,
vipereumque vomant nostro sub nomine virus
qui Phoebi radios ferre diemque negant? (vii. 12. 5).
But what does't avail,
If in bloodfetching lines others do rail,
And vomit viperous poison in my name,
Such as the sun themselves to own do shame?
In this respect his defence of himself is just. When he writes in a vein
of invective his victim is never mentioned by name. And we cannot assert
in any given case that his pseudonyms mask a real person. He may do no
more than satirize a vice embodied and typified in an imaginary
He is equally concerned to defend himself against the obvious charges of
prurience and immorality:
innocuos censura potest permittere lusus:
lasciva eat nobis pagina, vita proba (i. 4. 7).
Let not these harmless sports your censure taste!
My lines are wanton, but my life is chaste.
ANON., seventeenth century.
This is no real defence, and even though we need not take Martial at his
word, when he accuses himself of the foulest vices, there is not the
slightest reason to suppose that chastity was one of his virtues. In
Juvenal's case we have reason to believe that, whatever his weaknesses,
he was a man of genuinely high ideals. Martial at his best shows himself
a man capable of fine feeling, but he gives no evidence of moral
earnestness or strength of character. On the other hand, to give him his
due, we must remember the standard of his age. Although he is lavish
with the vilest obscenities, and has no scruples about accusing
acquaintances of every variety of unnatural vice, it must be pointed out
that such accusations were regarded at Rome as mere matter for laughter.
The traditions of the old _Fescennina locutio_ survived, and with the
decay of private morality its obscenity increased. Caesar's veterans
could sing ribald verses unrebuked at their general's triumph, verses
unquotably obscene and casting the foulest aspersions on the character
of one whom they worshipped almost as a god. Caesar could invite
Catullus to dine in spite of the fact that such accusations formed the
matter of his lampoons. Catullus could insert similar charges against
the bridegroom for whom he was writing an _epithalamium_. The writing of
Priapeia was regarded as a reputable diversion. Martial's defence of his
obscenities is therefore in all probability sincere, and may have
approved itself to many reputable persons of his day. It was a defence
that had already been made in very similar language by Ovid and
Catullus, and Martial was not the last to make it. But the fact
that Martial felt it necessary to defend himself shows that a body of
public opinion--even if not large or representative--did exist which
refused to condone this fashionable lubricity. Extenuating circumstances
may be urged in Martial's defence, but even to have conformed to the
standard of his day is sufficient condemnation; and it is hard to resist
the suspicion that he fell below it. His obscenities, though couched in
the most easy and pointed language, have rarely even the grace--if grace
it be--of wit; they are puerile in conception and infinitely disgusting.
It is pleasant to turn to the better side of Martial's character. No
writer has ever given more charming expression to his affection for his
friends. It is for Decianus and Julius Martialis that he keeps the
warmest place in his heart. In poems like the following there is no
doubting the sincerity of his feeling or questioning the perfection of
si quis erit raros inter numerandus amicos,
quales prisca fides famaque novit anus,
si quis Cecropiae madidus Latiaeque Minervae
artibus et vera simplicitate bonus,
si quis erit recti custos, mirator honesti,
et nihil arcano qui roget ore deos,
si quis erit magnae subnixus robore mentis:
dispeream si non hic Decianus erit (i. 39).
Is there a man whose friendship rare
With antique friendship may compare;
In learning steeped, both old and new,
Yet unpedantic, simple, true;
Whose soul, ingenuous and upright,
Ne'er formed a wish that shunned the light,
Whose sense is sound? If such there be,
My Decianus, thou art he.
PROFESSOR GOLDWIN SMITH
Even more charming, if less intense, is the exhortation to Julius
Martialis to live while he may, ere the long night come that knows
o mihi post nullos, Iuli, memorande sodales,
si quid longa fides canaque iura valent,
bis iam paene tibi consul tricensimus instat,
et numerat paucos vix tua vita dies.
non bene distuleris videas quae posse negari,
et solum hoc ducas, quod fuit, esse tuum.
exspectant curaeque catenatique labores:
gaudia non remanent, sed fugitiva volant.
haec utraque manu complexuque adsere toto:
saepe fluunt imo sic quoque lapsa sinu.
non est, crede mihi, sapientis dicere 'vivam '.
sera nimis vita est crastina: vive hodie (i. 15).
Friend of my heart--and none of all the band
Has to that name older or better right:
Julius, thy sixtieth winter is at hand,
Far-spent is now life's day and near the night.
Delay not what thou would'st recall too late;
That which is past, that only call thine own:
Cares without end and tribulations wait,
Joy tarrieth not, but scarcely come, is flown.
Then grasp it quickly firmly to thy heart,--
Though firmly grasped, too oft it slips away;--
To talk of living is not wisdom's part:
To-morrow is too late: live thou to-day!
PROFESSOR GOLDWIN SMITH
Best of all is the retrospect of the long friendship which has united
him to Julius. It is as frank as it is touching:
triginta mihi quattuorque messes
tecum, si memini, fuere, Iuli.
quarum dulcia mixta sunt amaris
sed iucunda tamen fuere plura;
et si calculus omnis huc et illuc
diversus bicolorque digeratur,
vincet candida turba nigriorem.
si vitare voles acerba quaedam
et tristes animi cavere morsus,
nulli te facias nimis sodalem:
gaudebis minus et minus dolebis (xii. 34).
My friend, since thou and I first met,
This is the thirty-fourth December;
Some things there are we'd fain forget,
More that 'tis pleasant to remember.
Let for each pain a black ball stand,
For every pleasure past a white one,
And thou wilt find, when all are scanned,
The major part will be the bright one.
He who would heartache never know,
He who serene composure treasures,
Must friendship's chequered bliss forego;
Who has no pain hath fewer pleasures.
PROFESSOR GOLDWIN SMITH
He does not pour the treasure of his heart at his friend's feet, as
Persius does in his burning tribute to Cornutus. He has no treasure of
great price to pour. But it is only natural that in the poems addressed
to his friends we should find the statement of his ideals of life:
vitam quae faciunt beatiorem,
iucundissime Martialis, haec sunt:
res non parta labore sed relicta;
non ingratus ager, focus perennis;
lis numquam, toga rara, mens quieta;
vires ingenuae, salubre corpus;
prudens simplicitas, pares amici,
convictus facilis, sine arte mensa;
nox non ebria sed soluta curis.
non tristis torus et tamen pudicus;
somnus qui faciat breves tenebras:
quod sis esse velis nihilque malis;
summum nec metuas diem nee optes (x. 47).
What makes a happy life, dear friend,
If thou would'st briefly learn, attend--
An income left, not earned by toil;
Some acres of a kindly soil;
The pot unfailing on the fire;
No lawsuits; seldom town attire;
Health; strength with grace; a peaceful mind;
Shrewdness with honesty combined;
Plain living; equal friends and free;
Evenings of temperate gaiety:
A wife discreet, yet blythe and bright;
Sound slumber, that lends wings to night.
With all thy heart embrace thy lot,
Wish not for death and fear it not.
PROFESSOR GOLDWIN SMITH.
This exquisite echo of the Horatian 'beatus ille qui procul negotiis'
sets forth no very lofty ideal. It is frankly, though restrainedly,
hedonistic. But it depicts a life that is full of charm and free from
evil. Martial, in his heart of hearts, hates the Rome that he depicts
so vividly. Rome with its noise, its expense, its bustling snobbery,
its triviality, and its vice, where he and his friend Julius waste
nunc vivit necuter sibi, bonosque
soles effugere atque abire sentit,
qui nobis pereunt et imputantur (v. 20. 11).
Dead to our better selves we see
The golden hours take flight,
Still scored against us as they flee.
Then haste to live aright.
PROFESSOR GOLDWIN SMITH
He longs to escape from the world of the professional lounger and the
parasite to an ampler air, where he can breathe freely and find rest. He
is no philosopher, but it is at times a relief to get away from the
rarified atmosphere and the sense of strain that permeates so much of
the aspirations towards virtue in this strange age of contradictions.
Martial at last found the ease and quiet that his soul desired in his
hic pigri colimus labore dulci
Boterdum Plateamque (Celtiberis
haec sunt nomina crassiora terris):
ingenti fruor inproboque somno
quem nec tertia saepe rumpit hora,
et totum mihi nunc repono quidquid
ter denos vigilaveram per annos.
ignota est toga, sed datur petenti
rupta proxima vestis a cathedra.
surgentem focus excipit superba
vicini strue cultus iliceti,
* * * * *
sic me vivere, sic iuvat perire. (xii. 18. 10).
Busy but pleas'd and idly taking pains,
Here Lewes Downs I till and Ringmer plains,
Names that to each South Saxon well are known,
Though they sound harsh to powdered beaux in town.
None can enjoy a sounder sleep than mine;
I often do not wake till after nine;
And midnight hours with interest repay
For years in town diversions thrown away.
Stranger to finery, myself I dress
In the first coat from an old broken press.
My fire, as soon as I am up, I see
Bright with the ruins of some neighbouring tree.
* * * * *
Such is my life, a life of liberty;
So would I wish to live and so to die.
Martial has a genuine love for the country. Born at a time when detailed
descriptions of the charms of scenery had become fashionable, and the
cultivated landscape at least found many painters, he succeeds far
better than any of his contemporaries in conveying to the reader his
sense of the beauties which his eyes beheld. That sense is limited, but
exquisite. It does not go deep; there is nothing of the almost mystical
background that Vergil at times suggests; there is nothing of the
feeling of the open air and the wild life that is sometimes wafted to us
in the sensuous verse of Theocritus. But Martial sees what he sees
clearly, and he describes it perfectly. Compare his work with the
affected prettiness of Pliny's description of the source of the
Clitumnus or with the more sensuous, but over-elaborate, craftsmanship
of Statius in the _Silvae_. Martial is incomparably their superior. He
speaks a more human language, and has a far clearer vision. Both Statius
and Martial described villas by the sea. We have already mentioned
Statius' description of the villa of Pollius at Sorrento; Martial shall
speak in his turn:
o temperatae dulce Formiae litus,
vos, cum severi fugit oppidum Martis
et inquietas fessus exuit curas,
Apollinaris omnibus locis praefert.
* * * * *
hic summa leni stringitur Thetis vento:
nec languet aequor, viva sed quies ponti
pictam phaselon adiuvante fert aura,
sicut puellae lion amantis aestatem
mota salubre purpura venit frigus.
nec saeta longo quaerit in mari praedam,
sed a cubili lectuloque iactatam
spectatus alte lineam trahit piscis.
* * * * *
frui sed istis quando, Roma, permittis?
quot Formianos imputat dies annus
negotiosis rebus urbis haerenti?
o ianitores vilicique felices!
dominis parantur ista, serviunt vobis (x. 30).
O strand of Formiae, sweet with genial air,
Who art Apollinaris' chosen home
When, taking flight from his task-mistress Rome,
The tired man doffs his load of troubling care.
* * * * *
Here the sea's bosom quivers in the wind;
'Tis no dead calm, but sweet serenity,
Which bears the painted boat before the breeze,
As though some maid at pains the heat to ban,
Should waft a genial zephyr with her fan.
No fisher needs to buffet the high seas,
But whiles from bed or couch his line he casts,
May see his captive in the toils below.
* * * * *
But, niggard Rome, thou giv'st how grudgingly!
What the year's tale of days at Formiae
For him who tied by work in town must stay?
Stewards and lacqueys, happy your employ,
Your lords prepare enjoyment, you enjoy.
A. E. STREET.
These are surely the most beautiful _scazons_ in the Latin tongue;
the metre limps no more; a master-hand has wrought it to exquisite
melody; the quiet undulation of the sea, the yacht's easy gliding over
its surface, live before us in its music. Even more delicate is the
homelier description of the gardens of Julius Martialis on the slopes of
the Janiculum. It is animated by the sincerity that never fails Martial
when he writes to his friend:
Iuli iugera pauca Martialis
hortis Hesperidum beatiora
longo Ianiculi iugo recumbunt:
lati collibus imminent recessus
et planus modico tumore vertex
caelo perfruitur sereniore
et curvas nebula tegente valles
solus luce nitet peculiari:
puris leniter admoventur astris
celsae culmina delicata villae.
hinc septem dominos videre montes
et totam licet aestimare Romam,
Albanos quoque Tusculosque colles
et quodcumque iacet sub urbe frigus (iv. 64).
Martial's few acres, e'en more blest
Than those famed gardens of the West,
Lie on Janiculum's long crest;
Above the slopes wide reaches hang recessed.
The level, gently swelling crown
Breathes air from purer heavens blown;
When mists the hollow valleys drown
'Tis radiant with a light that's all its own.
The clear stars almost seem to lie
On the wrought roof that's built so high;
The seven hills stand in majesty,
And Rome is summed in one wide sweep of eye.
Tusculan, Alban hills unfold,
Each nook which holds its store of cold.
A. E. STREET.
Such a picture is unsurpassed in any language. Statius, with all
his brilliance, never came near such perfect success; he lacks
sincerity; he can juggle with words against any one, but he never
learned their truest and noblest use.
There are many other themes beside landscape painting in which the
_Silvae_ of Statius challenge comparison with the epigrams of Martial.
Both use the same servile flattery to the emperor, both celebrate the
same patrons, both console their noble friends for the loss of
relatives, or favourite slaves; both write _propemptica_. Even in the
most trivial of these poems, those addressed to the emperor, Statius is
easily surpassed by his humbler rival. His inferiority lies largely in
the fact that he is more ambitious. He wrote on a larger scale. When the
infinitely trivial is a theme for verse, the epigrammatist has the
advantage of the author of the more lengthy _Silvae_. Perfect neatness
vanquishes dexterous elaboration. Moreover, if taste can be said to
enter into such poems at all, Martial errs less grossly. Even
Domitian--one might conjecture--may have felt that Statius' flattery was
'laid on with a trowel'. Martial may have used the same instrument, but
had the art to conceal it. There are even occasions where his
flattery ceases to revolt the reader, and where we forget the object of
the flattery. In a poem describing the suicide of a certain Festus he
succeeds in combining the dignity of a funeral _laudatio_ with the
subtlest and most graceful flattery of the princeps:
indignas premeret pestis cum tabida fauces,
inque suos voltus serperet atra lues,
siccis ipse genis flentes hortatus amicos
decrevit Stygios Festus adire lacus.
nec tamen obscuro pia polluit ora veneno
aut torsit lenta tristia fata fame,
sanctam Romana vitam sed morte peregit
dimisitque animam nobiliore via.
hanc mortem fatis magni praeferre Catonis
fama potest; huius Caesar amicus erat (i. 78).
When the dire quinsy choked his guiltless breath,
And o'er his face the blackening venom stole,
Festus disdained to wait a lingering death,
Cheered his sad friends and freed his dauntless soul.
No meagre famine's slowly-wasting force,
Nor hemlock's gradual chillness he endured,
But like a Roman chose the nobler course,
And by one blow his liberty secured.
His death was nobler far than Cato's end,
For Caesar to the last was Festus' friend.
HODGSON (slightly altered).
The unctuous dexterity of Statius never achieved such a master-stroke.
So, too, in laments for the dead, the superior brevity and simplicity of
Martial bear the palm away. Both poets bewailed the death of Glaucias,
the child favourite of Atedius Melior. Statius has already been quoted
in this connexion; Martial's poems on the subject, though not quite
among his best, yet ring truer than the verse of Statius. And Martial's
epitaphs and epicedia at their best have in their slight way an almost
unique charm. We must go to the best work of the Greek Anthology to
surpass the epitaph on Erotion (v. 34):
hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
parvola ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
inpletura fuit sextae modo frigora brumae,
vixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
inter tam veteres ludat lasciva patronos
et nomen blaeso garriat ore meum.
mollia non rigidus caespes tegat ossa nec illi,
terra, gravis fueris: non fuit illa tibi.
Fronto, and you, Flaccilla, to you, my father and mother,
Here I commend this child, once my delight and my pet,
So may the darkling shades and deep-mouthed baying of hellhound
Touch not with horror of dread little Erotion dear.
Now was her sixth year ending, and melting the snows of the winter,
Only a brief six days lacked to the tale of the years.
Young, amid dull old age, let her wanton and frolic and gambol,
Babble of me that was, tenderly lisping my name.
Soft were her tiny bones, then soft be the sod that enshrouds her,
Gentle thy touch, mother Earth, gently she rested on thee!
A. E. STREET.
Another poem on a like theme shows a different and more fantastic, but
scarcely less pleasing vein (v. 37):
puella senibus dulcior mihi cycnis,
agna Galaesi mollior Phalantini,
concha Lucrini delicatior stagni,
cui nec lapillos praeferas Erythraeos
nec modo politum pecudis Indicae dentem
nivesque primas liliumque non tactum;
quae crine vicit Baetici gregis vellus
Rhenique nodos aureamque nitellam;
fragravit ore quod rosarium Paesti,
quod Atticarum prima mella cerarum,
quod sucinorum rapta de manu gleba;
cui conparatus indecens erat pavo,
inamabilis sciurus et frequens phoenix,
adhuc recenti tepet Erotion busto,
quam pessimorum lex amara fatorum
sexta peregit hieme, nec tamen tota,
nostros amores gaudiumque lususque.
Little maiden sweeter far to me
Than the swans are with their vaunted snows,
Maid more tender than the lambkins be
Where Galaesus by Phalantus flows;
Daintier than the daintiest shells that lie
By the ripples of the Lucrine wave;
Choicer than new-polished ivory
That the herds in Indian jungles gave;
Choicer than Erythrae's marbles white,
Snows new-fallen, lilies yet unsoiled:
Softer were your tresses and more bright
Than the locks by German maidens coiled:
Than the finest fleeces Baetis shows,
Than the dormouse with her golden hue:
Lips more fragrant than the Paestan rose,
Than the Attic bees' first honey-dew,
Or an amber ball, new-pressed and warm;
Paled the peacock's sheen in your compare;
E'en the winsome squirrel lost his charm,
And the Phoenix seemed no longer rare.
Scarce Erotion's ashes yet are cold;
Greedily grim fate ordained to smite
E'er her sixth brief winter had grown old--
Little love, my bliss, my heart's delight.
Through all the playful affectations of the lines we get the portrait of
a fairy-like child, light-footed as the squirrel, golden-haired and fair
as ivory or lilies. Martial was a child-lover before he was a man
Beautiful as these little poems are, there is in Martial little trace of
feeling for the sorrows of humanity in general. He can feel for his
intimate friends, and his tears are ready to flow for his patron's
sorrows. But the general impression given by his poetry is that of a
certain hardness and lack of feeling, of a limited sympathy, and an
unemotional temperament. It is a relief to come upon a poem such as that
in which he describes a father's poignant anguish for the loss of his
son (ix. 74):
effigiem tantum pueri pictura Camoni
servat, et infantis parva figura manet.
florentes nulla signavit imagine voltus,
dum timet ora pius muta videre pater.
Here as in happy infancy he smiled
Behold Camonus--painted as a child;
For on his face as seen in manhood's days
His sorrowing father would not dare to gaze.
W. S. B.
or to find a sudden outbreak of sympathy with the sorrows of the slave
proscriptum famulus servavit fronte notata,
non fuit haec domini vita sed invidia.
When scarred with cruel brand, the slave
Snatched from the murderer's hand
His proscript lord, not life he gave
His tyrant, but the brand.
PROFESSOR GOLDWIN SMITH.
Of the _gravitas_ or dignity of character specially associated with Rome
he shows equally few traces. His outlook on life is not sufficiently
serious, he shows little interest in Rome of the past, and has nothing
of the retrospective note so prominent in Lucan, Juvenal, or Tacitus; he
lives in and for the present. He writes, it is true, of the famous
suicide of Arria and Caecina Paetus, of the death of Portia the
wife of Brutus, of the bravery of Mucius Scaevola. But in none
of these poems does he give us of his best. They lack, if not sincerity,
at least enthusiasm; emotion is sacrificed to point. He is out of
sympathy with Stoicism, and the suicide doctrinaire does not interest
him. 'Live while you may' is his motto, 'and make the best of
circumstances.' It is possible to live a reasonably virtuous life
without going to the lengths of Thrasea:
quod magni Thraseae consummatique Catonis
dogmata sic sequeris salvus ut esse velis,
pectore nec nudo strictos incurris in enses,
quod fecisse velim te, Deciane, facis.
nolo virum facili redimit qui sanguine famam;
hunc volo, laudari qui sine morte potest (i. 8).
That you, like Thrasea or Cato, great,
Pursue their maxims, but decline their fate;
Nor rashly point the dagger to your heart;
More to my wish you act a Roman's part.
I like not him who fame by death retrieves,
Give me the man who merits praise and lives.
The sentiment is full of common sense, but it is undeniably unheroic.
Martial is not quixotic, and refuses to treat life more seriously than
is necessary. Our complaint against him is that he scarcely takes it
seriously enough. It would be unjust to demand a deep fund of
earnestness from a professed epigrammatist dowered with a gift of humour
and a turn for satire. But it is doing Martial no injustice to style him
the laureate of triviality. For his satire is neither genial nor
earnest. His kindly temper led him to avoid direct personalities, but
his invective is directed against vice, not primarily because it is
wicked, but rather because it is grotesque or not _comme il faut_. His
humour, too, though often sparkling enough, is more often strained and
most often filthy. Many of his epigrams were not worth writing, by
whatever standard they be judged. The point is hard to illustrate,
since a large proportion of his inferior work is fatuously obscene. But
the following may be taken at random from two books:
Eutrapelus tonsor dum circuit ora Luperci
expingitque genas, altera barba subit (vii. 83).
Eutrapelus the barber works so slow,
That while he shaves, the beard anew does grow.
invitas ad aprum, ponis mihi, Gallice, porcum.
hybrida sum, si das, Gallice, verba mihi (viii. 22).
You invite me to partake of a wild boar, you set before me
a home-grown pig. I'm half-boar, half-pig, if you can cheat
pars maxillarum tonsa est tibi, pars tibi rasa est,
pars volsa est. unum quis putet esse caput? (viii. 47).
Part of your jaws is shaven, part clipped, part has the hair
pulled out. Who'd think you'd only one head?
tres habuit dentes, pariter quos expuit omnes,
ad tumulum Picens dum sedet ipse suum;
collegitque sinu fragmenta novissima laxi
oris et adgesta contumulavit humo.
ossa licet quondam defuncti non legat heres:
hoc sibi iam Picens praestitit officium (viii. 57).
Picens had three teeth, which he spat out altogether while he
was sitting at the spot he had chosen for his tomb. He gathered
in his robe the last fragments of his loose jaw and interred
them in a heap of earth. His heir need not gather his bones when
he is dead, Picens has performed that office for himself.
summa Palatini poteras aequare Colossi,
si fieres brevior, Claudia, sesquipede (viii. 60).
Had you been eighteen inches shorter, Claudia, you would have
been as tall as the Colossus on the Palatine.
Without wishing to break a butterfly on the wheel, we may well quote
against Martial the remark made in a different context to a
tanti non erat esse te disertum (xii. 43).
'Twas scarce worth while to be thus eloquent.
There is much also which, without being precisely pointless or silly, is
too petty and mean to be tolerable to modern taste. Most noticeable in
this respect are the epigrams in which Martial solicits the liberality
of his patrons. The amazing relations existing at this period between
patron and client had worked a painful revolution in the manners and
tone of society, a revolution which meant scarcely less than the
pauperization of the middle class. The old sacred and almost feudal tie
uniting client and patron had long since disappeared, and had been
replaced by relations of a professional and commercial character. Wealth
was concentrated in comparatively few hands, and with the decrease of
the number of the patrons the throng of clients proportionately
increased. The crowd of clients bustling to the early morning
_salutatio_ of the patronus, and struggling with one another for the
_sportula_ is familiar to us in the pages of Juvenal and receives fresh
and equally vivid illustration from Martial. The worst results of these
unnatural relations were a general loss of independence of character and
a lamentable growth of bad manners and cynical snobbery. The patron,
owing to the increasingly heavy demands upon his purse, naturally tended
to become close-fisted and stingy, the needy client too often was
grasping and discontented. The patron, if he asked his client to dine,
would regale him with food and drink of a coarser and inferior quality
to that with which he himself was served. The client, on the other
hand, could not be trusted to behave himself; he would steal the table
fittings, make outrageous demands on his patron, and employ every act of
servile and cringing flattery to improve his position. The poor
poet was in a sense doubly dependent. He would stand in the ordinary
relation of _cliens_ to a _patronus_, and would be dependent also for
his livelihood on the generosity of his literary patrons. For, in spite
of the comparative facilities for the publication and circulation of
books, he could make little by the public sale of his works, and living
at Rome was abnormally expensive. The worst feature of all was that such
a life of servile dependence was not clearly felt to be degrading. It
was disliked for its hardship, annoyance, and monotony, but the client
too often seems to have regarded it as beneath his dignity to attempt to
escape from it by industry and manly independence.
As a result of these conditions, we find the pages of Martial full of
allusions to the miserable life of the client. His skill does not fail
him, but the theme is ugly and the historical interest necessarily
predominates over the literary, though the reader's patience is at times
rewarded with shrewd observations on human nature, as, for instance, the
bitter expression of the truth that 'To him that hath shall be given'--
semper pauper eris, si pauper es, Aemiliane;
dantur opes nullis nunc nisi divitibus (v. 81);
Poor once and poor for ever, Nat, I fear,
None but the rich get place and pension here.
or the even more incisive
pauper videri Cinna vult: et est pauper (viii. 19).
But we soon weary of the continual reference to dinners and parasites,
to the snobbery and indifference of the rich, to the tricks of toadyism
on the part of needy client or legacy hunter. It is a mean world, and
the wit and raillery of Martial cannot make it palatable. Without a
moral background, such as is provided by the indignation of Juvenal,
the picture soon palls, and the reader sickens. Most unpleasing of all
are the epigrams where Martial himself speaks as client in a language
of mingled impertinence and servility. His flattery of the emperor we
may pass by. It was no doubt interested, but it was universal, and
Martial's flattery is more dexterous without being either more or less
offensive than that of his contemporaries. His relations towards less
exalted patrons cannot be thus easily condoned. He feels no shame in
begging, nor in abusing those who will not give or whose gifts are not
sufficient for his needs. His purse is empty; he must sell the gifts
that Regulus has given him. Will Regulus buy?
aera domi non sunt, superest hoc, Regule, solum
ut tua vendamus munera: numquid emis? (vii. 16).
I have no money, Regulus, at home. Only one thing is left
to do--sell the gifts you gave me. Will you buy?
Stella has given him some tiles to roof his house; he would like a
cloak as well:
cum pluvias madidumque Iovem perferre negaret
et rudis hibernis villa nataret aquis,
plurima, quae posset subitos effundere nimbos,
muneribus venit tegula missa tuis.
horridus ecce sonat Boreae stridore December:
Stella, tegis villam, non tegis agricolam (vii. 36).
When my crased house heaven's showers could not sustain,
But flooded with vast deluges of rain,
Thou shingles, Stella, seasonably didst send,
Which from the impetuous storms did me defend:
Now fierce loud-sounding Boreas rocks doth cleave,
Dost clothe the farm, and farmer naked leave?
This is not the way a gentleman thanks a friend, nor can modern taste
appreciate at its antique value abuse such as--
primum est ut praestes, si quid te, Cinna, rogabo;
illud deinde sequens ut cito, Cinna, neges.
diligo praestantem; non odi, Cinna, negantem:
sed tu nec praestas nec cito, Cinna, negas (vii. 43).
The kindest thing of all is to comply:
The next kind thing is quickly to deny.
I love performance nor denial hate:
Your 'Shall I, shall I?' is the cursed state.
The poet's poverty is no real excuse for this petulant mendicancy.
He had refused to adopt a profession, though professional
employment would assuredly have left him time for writing, and no one
would have complained if his output had been somewhat smaller. Instead,
he chose a life which involved moving in society, and was necessarily
expensive. We can hardly attribute his choice merely to the love of his
art. If he must beg, he might have done so with better taste and some
show of finer feeling. Macaulay's criticism is just: 'I can make large
allowance for the difference of manners; but it can never have been
_comme il faut_ in any age or nation for a man of note--an accomplished
man--a man living with the great--to be constantly asking for money,
clothes, and dainties, and to pursue with volleys of abuse those who
would give him nothing.'
In spite, however, of the obscenity, meanness, and exaggerated
triviality of much of his work, there have been few poets who could
turn a prettier compliment, make a neater jest, or enshrine the trivial
in a more exquisite setting. Take the beautifully finished poem to
Flaccus in the eighth book (56), wherein Martial complains that times
have altered since Vergil's day. 'Now there are no patrons and
consequently no poets'--
ergo ego Vergilius, si munera Maecenatis
des mihi? Vergilius non ero, Marsus ero.
Shall I then be a Vergil, if you give me such gifts as
Maecenas gave? No, I shall not be a Vergil, but a Marsus.
Here, at least, Martial shows that he could complain of his poverty with
decency, and speak of himself and his work with becoming modesty. Or
take a poem of a different type, an indirect plea for the recall of an
exile (viii. 32):
aera per tacitum delapsa sedentis in ipsos
fluxit Aratullae blanda columba sinus,
luserat hoc casus, nisi inobservata maneret
permissaque sibi nollet abire fuga.
si meliora piae fas est sperare sorori
et dominum mundi flectere vota valent,
haec a Sardois tibi forsitan exulis oris,
fratre reversuro, nuntia venit avis.
A gentle dove glided down through the silent air and
settled even in Aratulla's bosom as she was sitting.
This might have seemed but the sport of chance had it
not rested there, though undetained, and refused to part
even when flight was free. If it is granted to the loving
sister to hope for better things, and if prayers can move
the lord of the world, this bird perchance has come to
thee from Sardinia's shore of exile to announce the speedy
return of thy brother.
Nothing could be more conventional, nothing more perfect in form, more
full of music, more delicate in expression. The same felicity is shown
in his epigrams on curiosities of art or nature, a fashionable and, it
must be confessed, an easy theme. Fish carved by Phidias' hand, a
lizard cast by Mentor, a fly enclosed in amber, are all given
artis Phidiacae toreuma clarum
pisces aspicis: adde aquam, natabunt (iii. 35).
These fishes Phidias wrought: with life by him
They are endowed: add water and they swim.
PROFESSOR GOLDWIN SMITH.
inserta phialae Mentoris manu ducta
lacerta vivit et timetur argentum (iii. 41).
That lizard on the goblet makes thee start.
Fear not: it lives only by Mentor's art.
PROFESSOR GOLDWIN SMITH.
et latet et lucet Phaethontide condita gutta,
ut videatur apis nectare clusa suo.
dignum tantorum pretium tulit illa laborum:
credibile est ipsam sic voluisse mori (iv. 32).
Here shines a bee closed in an amber tomb,
As if interred in her own honey-comb.
A fit reward fate to her labours gave;
No other death would she have wished to have.
Always at home in describing the trifling amenities of life, he is at
his best equally successful in dealing with its trifling follies. An
acquaintance has given his cook the absurd name of Mistyllos in allusion
to the Homeric phrase [Greek: mistyllon t' ora talla]. Martial's comment
si tibi Mistyllos cocus, Aemiliane, vocatur,
dicatur quare non Taratalla mihi? (i. 50).
He complains of the wine given him at a dinner-party with a finished
potavi modo consulare vinum.
quaeris quam vetus atque liberale?
Prisco consule conditum: sed ipse
qui ponebat erat, Severe, consul (vii. 79).
I have just drunk some consular wine. How old, you ask, and
how generous? It was bottled in Priscus' consulship: and he
who set it before me was the consul himself.
Polycharmus has returned Caietanus his IOU's. 'Little good will that do
you, and Caietanus will not even be grateful':
quod Caietano reddis, Polycharme, tabellas,
milia te centum num tribuisse putas?
'debuit haec' inquis. tibi habe, Polycharme, tabellas
et Caietano milia crede duo (viii. 37).
In giving back Caietanus his IOU's, Polycharmus, do you think
you are giving him 100,000 sesterces? 'He owed me that sum,'
you say. Keep the IOU's and lend him two thousand more!
Chloe, the murderess of her seven husbands, erects monuments to their
memory, and inscribes _fecit Chloe_ on the tombstones:
inscripsit tumulis septem scelerata virorum
'se fecisse' Chloe. quid pote simplicius? (ix. 15).
On her seven husbands' tombs she doth impress
'This Chloe did.' What more can she confess?
Vacerra admires the old poets only. What shall Martial do?
miraris veteres, Vacerra, solos
nec laudas nisi mortuos poetas.
ignoscas petimus, Vacerra: tanti
non est, ut placeam tibi, perire (viii. 69).
Vacerra lauds no living poet's lays,
But for departed genius keeps his praise.
I, alas, live, nor deem it worth my while
To die that I may win Vacerra's smile.
PROFESSOR GOLDWIN SMITH.
All this is very slight, _merae nugae_; but even if the humour be not of
the first water, it will compare well with the humour of epigrams of any
age. Martial knows he is not a great poet. He knows, too, that his
work is uneven:
iactat inaequalem Matho me fecisse libellum:
si verum est, laudat carmina nostra Matho.
aequales scribit libros Calvinus et Vmber:
aequalis liber est, Cretice, qui malus est (vii. 90).
Matho makes game of my unequal verse;
If it's unequal it might well be worse.
Calvinus, Umber, write on one dead level,
The book that's got no up and down's the devil!
If there are thirty good epigrams in a book, he is satisfied (vii. 81).
His defence hardly answers the question, 'Why publish so many?' but
should at least mollify our judgement. Few poets read better in
selections than Martial, and of few poets does selection give so
inadequate an idea. For few poets of his undoubted genius have left such
a large bulk of work which, in spite of its formal perfection, is
morally repulsive or, from the purely literary standpoint,
uninteresting. But he is an important figure in the history of
literature, for he is the father of the modern epigram. Alone of Silver
Latin poets is he a perfect stylist. He has the gift of _felicitas_ to
the full, but it is not _curiosa_. Inferior to Horace in all other
points, he has greater spontaneity. And he is free from the faults of
his age. He is no _virtuoso_, eaten up with self-conscious vanity; he
attempts no impossible feats of language; he is clear, and uses his
mythological and geographical knowledge neatly and picturesquely; but he
makes no display of obscure learning. 'I would please schoolmasters,' he
says, 'but not _qua_ schoolmasters' (x. 21. 5). So, too, he complains of
his own education:
at me litterulas stulti docuere parentes:
quid cum grammaticis rhetoribusque mihi? (ix. 73. 7).
My learning only proves my father fool!
Why would he send me to a grammar school?
As a result, perhaps, of this lack of sympathy with the education of his
day, we find that, while he knows and admires the great poets of the
past, and can flatter the rich poetasters of the present, his bent is
curiously unliterary. He gives us practically no literary criticism. It
is with the surface qualities of life that he is concerned, with its
pleasures and its follies, guilty or innocent. He has a marvellously
quick and clear power of observation, and of vivid presentation. He is
in this sense above all others the poet of his age. He either does not
see or chooses to ignore many of the best and most interesting features
of his time, but the picture which he presents, for all its
incompleteness, is wider and more varied than any other. We both hate
him and read him for the sake of the world he depicts. 'Ugliness is
always bad art, and Martial often failed as a poet from his choice of
subject.' There are comparatively few of his poems which we read
for their own sake. Remarkable as these few poems are, the main
attraction of Martial is to be found not in his wit or finish, so much
as in the vividness with which he has portrayed the life of the
brilliant yet corrupt society in which his lot was cast. It lives before
us in all its splendour and in all its squalor. The court, with its
atmosphere of grovelling flattery, its gross vices veiled and tricked
out in the garb of respectability; the wealthy official class, with
their villas, their favourites, their circle of dependants, men of
culture, wit, and urbanity, through all which runs, strangely
intermingled, a vein of extreme coarseness, vulgarity, and meanness; the
lounger and the reciter, the diner-out and the legacy-hunter; the
clients struggling to win their patrons' favour and to rise in the
social scale, enduring the hardships and discomfort of a sordid life
unillumined by lofty ideals or strength of will, a life that under cold
northern skies would have been intolerable; the freedman and the slave,
with all the riff-raff that support a parasitic existence on the vices
of the upper classes; the noise and bustle of Rome, its sleepless
nights, its cheerless tenements, its noisy streets, loud with the sound
of traffic or of revelry; the shows in the theatre, the races in the
circus, the interchange of presents at the Saturnalia; the pleasant life
in the country villa, the simplicity of rural Italy, the sights and
sounds of the park and the farm-yard; and dimly seen beyond all, the
provinces, a great ocean which absorbs from time to time the rulers of
Rome and the leaders of society, and from which come faint and confused
echoes of frontier wars; all are there. It is a great pageant lacking
order and coherence, a scene that shifts continually, but never lacks
brilliance of detail and sharply defined presentment. Martial was the
child of the age; it gave him his strength and his weakness. If we hate
him or despise him, it is because he is the faithful representative of
the life of his times; his gifts we cannot question. He practised a form
of poetry that at its best is not exalted, and must, even more than
other branches of art, be conditioned by social circumstance. Within its
limited sphere Martial stands, not faultless, but yet supreme.
Our knowledge of the life of the most famous of Roman satirists is
strangely unsatisfactory. Many so-called lives of Juvenal have come down
to us, but they are confused, contradictory, inadequate, and
unreliable. His own work and allusions in other writers help us but
little in our attempt to reconstruct the story of the poet's life.
Only by investigating the dates within which the satires seem to fall is
it possible to arrive at some idea of the dates within which falls the
life of their author. The satires were published in five books at
different times. The first book (1-5), which is full of allusions to the
tyranny of Domitian, cannot have been published before 100 A.D., since
the first satire contains an allusion to the condemnation of Marius
Priscus, which took place in that year. The fifth book (13-16)
must, from references in the thirteenth and fifteenth satires to
the year 127, have been published not much later than that date. The
publication of the satires falls, therefore, between 100 and 130.
With these data it is possible to approach the question of the dates of
Juvenal's birth and death. The main facts to guide us are the statements
of the best of the biographies that he did not begin to write satire
till on the confines of middle age, that even then he delayed to
publish, and that he died at the age of eighty. The inference is
that he was born between 50 and 60 A. D., and died between 130 and 140
As to the facts of his life we are on little firmer ground. But
concerning his name and birthplace there is practical certainty.
Decimus Junius Juvenalis was born at Aquinum, a town of
Latium, and is said to have been the son or adopted son of a rich
freedman. His education was of the usual character, literary and
rhetorical, and was presumably carried out at Rome. He acquired
thus early in youth a taste for rhetoric that never left him. For he is
said to have practised declamation up till middle age, not with a view
to obtaining a position as professor of rhetoric or as advocate, but
from sheer love of the art. It is probable that he combined his
passion for rhetoric with service as an officer in the army. Not only
does he show considerable intimacy in his satires with a soldier's
life, but interesting external evidence is afforded by an
inscription discovered near Aquinum. It runs:
D. _IV_NIVS. IVVENALIS
_TRIB_. COH. _I_. DELMATARVM
II. _VIR_. QVINQ. FLAMEN
If this inscription refers, as well it may, to the poet, it will follow
that he served as tribune of the first Dalmatian cohort, probably in
Britain, held high municipal office in his native town, and was
priest of the deified Vespasian. But the _praenomen_ is wanting in the
original, and the inscription may have been erected not by the satirist
but by one of his kinsfolk. That he spent the greater portion of his
life at Rome is evident from his satires. Of his friends we know little.
Umbricius, Persicus, Catullus, and Calvinus are mere names. Of
Quintilian he speaks with great respect, and may perhaps have
studied under him; of Statius he writes with enthusiasm, but there is no
evidence that he had done more than be present at that poet's
recitations. Martial, however, was a personal friend, and writes
affectionately of him and to him in three of his epigrams. Unlike
Martial, whose life was a continual struggle against poverty, Juvenal,
though he had clearly endured some of the discomforts and degradations
involved by a client's attendance on his rich _patronus_, was a man of
some means, possessing an estate at Aquinum, a country house at
Tibur, and a house at Rome. At what date precisely he began to
write is uncertain. We are told that his first effort was a brief poem
attacking the actor Paris, which he afterwards embodied in the seventh
satire. But it was long before he ventured to read his satires even to
his intimate friends. This suggests that portions, at any rate, of
the satires of the first book were composed during the reign of
Domitian. Juvenal had certainly every reason for concealing their
existence till after the tyrant's death. The first satire was probably
written later to form a preface to the other four, and the whole book
may have been published in 101. It is noteworthy, however, that Martial,
writing to him in that year, mentions merely his gifts as a declaimer,
and seems not to know him as a satirist. The second book, containing
only the sixth satire, was probably published about 116, since it
contains allusions to earthquakes in Asia and to a comet boding ill to
Parthia and Armenia (l. 407-12). Such a comet was visible in Rome in
the autumn of 115, on the eve of Trajan's campaign against Parthia,
while in December an earthquake did great damage to the town of Antioch.
The third book (7-9) opens with an elaborate compliment to Hadrian as
the patron of literature at Rome. As Hadrian succeeded to the principate
in 117 and left Rome for a tour of the provinces in 121, this book must
fall somewhere between our dates. The fourth book (10-12) contains no
indication as to its date, but must lie between the publication of the
third book and of the fifth (after 127). Beyond these facts it is hardly
possible to go in our reconstruction of the poet's life. As far as may
be judged it was an uneventful career save for one great calamity. The
ancient biographies assert that Juvenal's denunciation of actors
embodied in the seventh satire offended an actor who was the favourite
of the princeps. They are supported by Apollinaris Sidonius, who
speaks of Juvenal as the 'exile-victim of an actor's anger', and by
Johannes Malala. The latter writer, with certain of the ancient
biographies, identifies the actor with Paris, the favourite of Domitian;
others, again, say that the poet was banished by Nero--a manifestly
absurd statement--others by Trajan, while our best authority
asserts that he was eighty years old when banished, and that he died of
grief and mortification. The place of exile is variously given.
Most of the biographies place it in Egypt, the best of them asserting
that he was given a military command in that province. Others
mention Britain, others the Pentapolis of Libya. Amid such
discrepancies it is impossible to give any certain answer. But it is
certain that the actor who caused Juvenal's banishment was not Paris,
who was put to death by Domitian as early as 83, and almost equally
certain that Domitian is guiltless of the poet's exile. It is, however,
possible that he was banished by Trajan or Hadrian, though it would
surprise us to find Trajan, for all the debauchery of his private life,
so far under the influence of an actor as to sacrifice a Roman
citizen to his displeasure; while as regards Hadrian it is noteworthy
that the very satire said to have offended the _pantomimus_ contains an
eloquent panegyric of that emperor. Further, it is hard to believe the
story that Juvenal was banished to Egypt at the advanced age of eighty
under the pretext of a military command. The problem is insoluble.
The most that can be said is that the persistence of the tradition gives
it some claim to credibility, though the details handed down to us are
wholly untrustworthy, and probably little better than clumsy inferences
from passages in the satires.
The scope of Juvenal's work and the motives that spur him are set forth
in the first satire. He is weary of the deluge of trivial and mechanical
verse poured out by the myriad poetasters of the day:
Still shall I hear and never quit the score,
Stunned with hoarse Codrus' Theseid, o'er and o'er?
Shall this man's elegies and t'other's play
Unpunished murder a long summer's day?
... since the world with writing is possest,
I'll versify in spite; and do my best
To make as much waste-paper as the rest.
He will write in a different vein from his rivals. Satire shall be his
theme. In such an age, when virtue is praised and vice practised, the
age of the libertine, the _parvenu_, the forger, the murderer, it is
hard not to write satire. 'Facit indignatio versum!' he cries. 'All
the daily life of Rome shall be my theme':
quidquid agunt homines votum timor ira voluptas
gaudia discursus nostri est farrago libelli.
What human kind desires and what they shun,
Rage, passion, pleasure, impotence of will,
Shall this satirical collection fill.
Never was vice so rampant; luxury has become monstrous; the rich lord
lives in pampered and selfish ease, while those poor mortals, his
clients, jostle together to receive the paltry dole of the _sportula_;
that is all the help they will get from their patron:
No age can go beyond us; future times
Can add no further to the present crimes.
Our sons but the same things can wish and do;
Vice is at stand and at the highest flow.
Thou, Satire, spread thy sails, take all the winds that blow.
And yet the satirist must be cautious; the days are past when a Lucilius
could lash Rome at his will:
When Lucilius brandishes his pen
And flashes in the face of guilty men,
A cold sweat stands in drops on every part,
And rage succeeds to tears, revenge to smart.
Muse, be advised; 'tis past considering time,
When entered once the dangerous lists of rhyme;
Since none the living villains dare implead,
Arraign them in the persons of the dead.
No better preface has ever been written; it gives a perfect summary of
the motives, the objects, and the methods of the poet's work in language
which for vigour and brilliance he never surpassed. The closing lines
show us his literary parentage. It is Lucilius who inspires him; it is
the fierce invective of the father of Roman satire that appeals to him.
Lucilius had scourged Rome, when the inroads of Hellenism and oriental
luxury, the fruits of foreign conquest, were beginning to make
themselves felt. To Juvenal it falls to denounce the triumph of these
corroding influences. He has nothing of the almost pathetic philosophic
detachment of Persius, nor of the easy-going compromise of Horace. He
does not palter with problems of right and wrong, nor hesitate over his
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