Quintilian's Account of the Roman Authors.
We subjoin a translation of Quintilian's criticism of the chief Roman authors as very important for the student of Latin literature, premising, however, that he judged them solely as regards their utility to one who is preparing to become an orator. The criticism, although thus special, has a permanent value, as embracing the best opinion of the time, temperately stated (Inst. Or. xi. 85-131):—“The same order will be observed in treating the Roman writers. As Homer among the Greeks, so Virgil among our own authors will best head the list; he is beyond doubt the second epic poet of either nation. I will use the words I heard Domitius Afer use when I was a boy. When I asked him who he considered came nearest to Homer, he replied, 'Virgil is the second, but he is nearer the first than the third;' and in truth, while Rome cannot but yield to that celestial and deathless genius, yet we can observe more care and diligence in Virgil; for this very reason, perhaps, that he was obliged to labour more. And so it is that we make up for the lack of occasional splendour by consistent and equable excellence. All the other epicists will follow at a respectful distance. Macer and Lucretius are indeed worth reading, but are of no value for the phraseology, which is the main body of eloquence. Each is good in his own subject; but the former is humble, the latter difficult. Varro Atacinus, in those works which have gained him fame, appears as a translator by no means contemptible, but is not rich enough to add to the resources of eloquence. Ennius let us reverence as we should groves of holy antiquity, whose grand and venerable trees have more sanctity than beauty. Others are nearer our own day, and more useful for the matter in hand. Ovid in his heroics is as usual wanton, and too fond of his own talent, but in parts he deserves praise. Cornelius Severus, though a better versifier than poet, would still claim the second place, if only he had written all his Sicilian War as well as the first book. But his early death did not allow his genius to be matured. His boyish works show a great and admirable talent, and a desire for the best style rare at that time of life. We have lately lost much in Valerius Flaccus. The inspiration of Salcius Bassus was vigorous and poetical, but old age never succeeded in ripening it. Rabirius and Pedo are worth reading, if you have time. Lucan is ardent, earnest, and full of admirably expressed sentiments, and, to give my real opinion, should be classed with orators rather than poets. We have named these because Germanicus Augustus (Domitian) has been diverted from his favourite pursuit by the care of the world, and the gods thought it too little for him to be the first of poets. Yet what can be more sublime, learned, matchless in every way, than the poems in which, giving up empire, he spent the privacy of his youth? Who could sing of wars so well as he who has so successfully waged them? To whom would the goddesses who watch over studies listen so propitiously? To whom would Minerva, the patroness of his house, more willingly reveal the mysteries of her art? Future ages will recount these things at greater length. For now this glory is obscured by the splendour of his other virtues. We, however, who worship at the shrine of letters will crave your indulgence, Caesar, for not passing the subject by in silence, and will at least bear witness, as Virgil says,
'That ivy wreathes the laurels of your crown.'
“In elegy, too, we challenge the Greeks. The tersest and most elegant author of it is in my opinion Tibullus. Others prefer Propertius. Ovid is more luxuriant, Gallus harsher, than either. Satire is all our own. In this Lucilius first gained great renown, and even now has many admirers so wedded to him, as to prefer him not only to all other satirists but to all other poets. I disagree with them as much as I disagree with Horace, who thinks Lucilius flows in a muddy stream, and that there is much that one would wish to remove. For there is wonderful learning in him, freedom of speech with the bitterness that comes therefrom, and an inexhaustible wit. Horace is far terser and purer, and without a rival in his sketches of character. Persius has earned much true glory by his single book. There are men now living who are renowned, and others who will be so hereafter. That earlier sort of satire not written exclusively in verse was founded by Terentius Varro, the most learned of the Romans. He composed a vast number of extremely erudite treatises, being well versed in the Latin tongue as well as in every kind of antiquarian knowledge; he will, however, contribute much more to science than to oratory.
“The iambus is not much in vogue among the Romans as a separate form of poetry; it is more often interspersed with other rhythms. Its bitterness is found in Catullus, Bibaculus, and Horace, though in the last the epode breaks its monotony.
“Of lyricists Horace is, I may say, the only one worth reading; for he sometimes rises, and he is always full of sweetness and grace, and most happily daring in figures and expressions. If any one else be added, it must be Caesius Bassus, whom we have lately seen, but there are living lyricists far greater than he.
“Of the ancient tragedians Accius and Pacuvius are the most renowned for the gravity of their sentiments, the weight of their words, and the dignity of their characters. But brilliancy of touch and the last polish in completing their work seems to have been wanting, not so much to themselves as to their times. Accius is held to be the more powerful writer; Pacuvius (by those who wish to be thought learned) the more learned. Next comes the Thyestes of Varius, which may be compared with any of the Greek plays. The Medea of Ovid shows what that poet might have achieved if he had but controlled instead of indulging his inspiration. Of those of my own day Pomponius Secundus is by far the greatest. The old critics, indeed, thought him wanting in tragic force, but they confessed his learning and brilliancy.
“In comedy we halt most lamentably. It is true that Varro declares (after Aelius Stilo) that the muses, had they been willing to talk Latin, would have used the language of Plautus. It is true also that the ancients had a high respect for Caecilius, and that they attributed the plays of Terence to Scipio—plays that are of their kind most elegant, and would be even more pleasing if they had kept within the iambic metre. We can scarcely reproduce in comedy a faint shadow of our originals, so that I am compelled to believe the language incapable of that grace, which even in Greek is peculiar to the Attic, or at any rate has never been attained in any other dialect. Afranius excels in the national comedy, but I wish he had not defiled his plots by licentious allusions.
“In history at all events, I would not yield the palm to Greece. I should have no fear in matching Sallust against Thucydides, nor would Herodotus disdain to be compared with Livy—Livy, the most delightful in narration, the most candid in judgment, the most eloquent in his speeches that can be conceived. Everything is perfectly adapted both to the circumstances and personages introduced. The affections, and, above all, the softer ones, have never (to say the least) been more persuasively introduced by any writer. Thus by a different kind of excellence he has equalled the immortal rapidity of Sallust. Servilius Nonianus well said to me: 'They are not like, but they are equal.' I used often to listen to his recitations; a man of lofty spirit and full of brilliant sentiments, but less condensed than the majesty of history demands. This condition was better fulfilled by Aufidius Bassus, who was a little his senior, at any rate in his books on the German War, in which the author was admirable in his general treatment, but now and then fell below himself. There still survives and adorns the literary glory of our age a man worthy of an immortal record, who will be named some day, but now is only alluded to. He has many to admire, none to imitate him, as if freedom, though he clips her wings, had injured him. But even in what he has allowed to remain you can detect a spirit full lofty, and opinions courageously stated. There are other good writers; but at present we are tasting, as it were, the samples, not ransacking the libraries.
“It is the orators who more than any have made Latin eloquence a match for that of Greece. For I could boldly pitch Cicero against any of their champions. Nor am I ignorant how great a strife I should be stirring up (especially as it is no part of my plan), were I to compare him with Demosthenes. This is the less necessary, since I think Demosthenes should be read (or rather learnt by heart) above every one else. Their excellences seem to me to be very similar; there is the same plan, order of division, method of preparation, proof, and all that belongs to invention. In the oratorical style there is some difference. The one is closer, the other more fluent; the one draws his conclusion with more incisiveness, the other with greater breadth; the one always wields a weapon with a sharp edge, the other frequently a heavy one as well; from the one nothing can be taken, to the other nothing can be added; the one shows more care, the other more natural gift. In wit and pathos, both important points, Cicero is clearly first. Perhaps the custom of his state did not allow Demosthenes to use the epilogue, but then neither does the genius of Latin oratory allow us to employ ornaments which the Athenians admire. In their letters, of which both have left several, there can be no comparison; nor in their dialogues, of which Demosthenes has not left any. In one point we must yield: Demosthenes came first, and of course had a great share in making Cicero what he was. For to me Cicero seems in his intense zeal for imitating the Greeks to have united the force of Demosthenes, the copiousness of Plato, and the sweetness of Isocrates. Nor has he only acquired by study all that was best in each, but has even exalted the majority if not the whole of their excellences by the inexpressible fertility of his glorious talent. For, as Pindar says, he does not collect rain-water, but bursts forth in a living stream; born by the gift of providence that eloquence might put forth and test all her powers. For who can teach more earnestly or move more vehemently? to whom was such sweetness ever given? The very concessions he extorts you think he begs, and while by his swing he carries the judge right across the course, the man seems all the while to be following of his own accord. Then in everything he advances there is such strength of assertion that one is ashamed to disagree; nor does he bring to bear the eagerness of an advocate, but the moral confidence of a juryman or a witness; and meanwhile all those graces, which separate individuals with the most constant care can hardly obtain, flow from him without any premeditation; and that eloquence which is so delicious to listen to seems to carry on its surface the most perfect freedom from labour. Wherefore his contemporaries did right to call him 'king of the courts;' and posterity to give him such renown that Cicero stands for the name not of a man but of eloquence itself. Let us then fix our eyes on him; let his be the example we set before us; let him who loves Cicero well know that his own progress has been great. In Asinius Pollio there is much invention, much, according to some, excessive, diligence; but he is so far from the brilliancy and sweetness of Cicero that he might be a generation earlier. But Messala is polished and open, and in a way carries his noble birth into his style of eloquence, but he lacks vigour. If Julius Caesar had only had leisure for the forum, he would be the one we should select as the rival of Cicero. He has such force, point, and vehemence of style, that it is clear he spoke with the same mind that he warred. Yet all is covered with a wondrous elegance of expression, of which he was peculiarly studious. There was much talent inCaelius, and in accusations chiefly he showed a great urbanity; he was a man worthy of a better mind and a longer life. I have found those who prefer Calvus to any orator; I have found others who thought with Cicero that by too strict criticism of himself he lost real power; but his style is weighty and noble, guarded, and often vehement. He was an enthusiastic atticist, and his early death may be considered a misfortune, if we can believe that a longer life would have added something to his over concise manner. Servius Sulpicius has earned considerable fame by his three speeches. Cassius Severus will give many points for imitation if he be read judiciously; if he had added colour and weight to his other good qualities of style, he would be placed extremely high. For he has great talent and wonderful power of satire. His urbanity, too, is great, but he gave himself up to passion rather than reason. And as his wit is always bitter, so the very bitterness of it sometimes makes it ludicrous. I need not enumerate the rest of this long list. Of my own contemporaries Domitius Afer and Julius Africanus are far the greatest; the former in art and general style, the latter in earnestness, and the sorting of words, which sorting, however, is perhaps excessive, as his arrangements are lengthy and his metaphors immoderate. There have been lately some great masters in this line. Trachalus was often sublime, and very open in his manner, a man to whom you gave credit for good motives; but he was much greater heard than read. For he had a beauty of voice such as I have never known in any other, an articulation good enough for the stage, and grace of person and every other external advantage were at their height in him. Vibius Crispus was neat, elegant, and pleasing, better for private than public causes. Had Julius Secundus lived longer, his renown as an orator would be first-rate. For he would have added, as indeed he had already began to add, all the desiderata for the highest ideal. He would have been more combative, and more attentive to the subject, even to an occasional neglect of the manner. Cut off as he was, he nevertheless merits a high place; such is his facility of speech, his charm in explaining what he has to say; his open, gentle, and specious style, his perfect selection of words, even those which are adopted on the spur of the moment; his vigorous application of analogies extemporaneously suggested. My successors in rhetorical criticism will have a rich field for praising those who are now living. For there are now great talents at work who do credit to the bar, both finished patrons, worthy rivals of the ancients, and industrious youths, following them in the path of excellence.
“There remain the philosophers, few of whom have attained to eloquence. Cicero, here as ever, is the rival of Plato. Brutus stands in this department much higher than as an orator; he suffices for the weight of his matter; you can see he feels what he says. Cornelius Celsus, following the Sextii, has written a good deal with point and elegance. Plancus among the Stoics is useful for his knowledge. Among Epicureans, Catius though a light is a pleasant writer. I have purposely deferred Seneca until the end, because of the false report current that I condemn him, and even personally dislike him. This results from my endeavour to recal to a severer standard a corrupt and effeminate taste. When I began my crusade, Seneca was almost the only writer in the hands of the young. Nor did I try to 'disestablish' him altogether, but only to prevent his being placed above better men, whom he continually attacked, from a consciousness that his special talents would never allow him to please in the way they pleased. And then his pupils loved him better than they imitated him, and in their imitations fell as much below him as he had fallen below the ancients. I only wish they could have been equals or seconds to such a man. But he pleased them solely through his faults; and it was to reproduce these that they all strove with their utmost efforts, and then, boasting that they spoke in his style, they greatly injured his fame. He, indeed, had many and great excellences; an easy and fertile talent, much study, much knowledge, though in this he was often led astray by those he employed to 'research' for him. He treated nearly the whole cycle of knowledge. For he has left speeches, poems, letters, and dialogues. In philosophy he was not very accurate, but he was a notable rebuker of vice. Many brilliant apophthegms are scattered through his works; much, too, may be read with a moral purpose. But from the point of view of eloquence his style is corrupt, and the more pernicious because he abounds in pleasant faults. One could wish he had used his own talent and another person's judgment. For had he despised some modes of effect, had he not striven after others (partem), if he had not loved all that was his own, if he had not broken the weight of his subjects by his short cut- up sentences, he would be approved by the consent of the learned rather than by the enthusiasm of boys. For all this, he should be read, but only by those who are robust and well prepared by a course of stricter models; and for this object, to exercise their judgment on both sides. For there is much that is good in him, much to admire; only it requires picking out, a thing he himself ought to have done. A nature which could always achieve its object was worthy of having striven after a better object than it did.”