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CHAPTER IV. THE HISTORY OF POETRY TO THE CLOSE OF THE REPUBLIC—RISE OF ALEXANDRINISM —LUCRETIUS—CATULLUS.

As long as the drama was cultivated poetry had not ceased to be popular in its tone. But we have already mentioned that coincidentally with the rise of Sulla dramatic productiveness ceased. We hear, indeed, that J. CAESAR STRABO (about 90 B.C.) wrote tragedies, but they were probably never performed. Comedy, as hitherto practised, was almost equally mute. The only forms that lingered on were theAtellanae, and those few plebeian types of comedy known as Togata and Tabernaria. But even these had now withered. The present epoch brings before us a fresh type of composition in the Mime, which now first took a literary shape. Mimes had indeed existed in some sort from a very early period, but no art had been applied to their cultivation, and they had held a position much inferior to that of the national farce. But several circumstances now conspired to bring them into greater prominence. First, the great increase of luxury and show, and with it the appetite for the gaudy trappings of the spectacle ; secondly, the failure of legitimate drama, and the fact that the Atellanae, with their patrician surroundings, were only half popular; and lastly, the familiarity with the different offshoots of Greek comedy, thrown out in rank profusion at Alexandria, and capable of assimilation with the plastic materials of the Mimus. These worthless products, issued under the names of Rhinthon, Sopater, Sciras, and Timon, were conspicuous for the entire absence of restraint with which they treated serious subjects, as well as for a merry-andrew style of humour easily naturalised, if it were not already present, among the huge concourse of idlers who came to sate their appetite for indecency without altogether sacrificing the pretence of a dramatic spectacle. Two things marked off the Mimus from the Atellana or national farce; the players appeared without masks, [1] and women were allowed to act. This opened the gates to licentiousness. We find from Cicero that Mimae bore a disreputable character, [2] but from their personal charms and accomplishments often became the chosen companions of the profligate nobles of the day. Under the Empire this was still more the case. Kingsley, in his Hypatia, has given a lifelike sketch of one of these elegant but dissolute females. To these seductive innovations the Mime added some conservative features. It absorbed many characteristics of legitimate comedy. The actors were not necessarily planipedes in fact, though they remained so in name; [3] they might wear the soccus [4] and the Greek dress [5] of the higher comedy. The Mimes seem to have formed at this time interludes between the acts of a regular drama. Hence they were at once simple and short, seasoned with as many coarse jests as could be crowded into a limited compass, with plenty of music, dancing, and expressive gesture-language. Their plot was always the same, and never failed to please; it struck the key-note of all decaying societies, the discomfiture of the husband by the wife. [6] Nevertheless, popular as was the Mime, it was, even in Caesar's time, obliged to share the palm of attractiveness with bear-fights, boxing matches, processions of strange beasts, foreign treasures, captives of uncouth aspect, and other curiosities, which passed sometimes for hours across the stage, feeding the gaze of an unlettered crowd, to the utter exclusion of drama and interlude alike. Thirty years later, Horace [7] declares that against such competitors no play could get a silent hearing.

This being the lamentable state of things, we are surprised to find that Mime writing was practised by two men of vigorous talent and philosophic culture, whose fragments, so far from betraying any concession to the prevailing depravity, are above the ordinary tone of ancient comic morality. They are the knight D. LABERIUS (106-43 B.C.) and PUBLILIUS SYRUS (fl. 44 B.C.), an enfranchised Syrian slave. It is probable that Caesar lent his countenance to these writers in the hope of raising their art. His patronage was valuable; but he put a great indignity (45 B.C.) on Laberius. The old man, for he was then sixty years of age, had written Mimes for a generation, but had never acted in them himself. Caesar, whom he may have offended by indiscreet allusions, [8] recommended him to appear in person against his rival Syrus. This recommendation, as he well knew, was equivalent to a command. In the prologue he expresses his sense of the affront with great manliness and force of language. We quote some lines from it, as a specimen of the best plebeian Latin;

  “Necessitas, cuius cursus, transversi impetum 
  Voluerunt multi effugere, pauci potuerunt, 
  Quo me detrusit paene extremis sensibus? 
  Quem nulla ambitio, nulla unquam largitio, 
  Nullus timor, vis nulla, nulla auctoritas 
  Movere potuit in inventa de statu, 
  Ecce in senecta ut facile labefecit loco 
  Viri excellentis mente clemente edita 
  Summissa placide blandiloquens oratio! 
  Et enim ipsi di negare cui nil potuerunt, 
  Hominem me denegare quis posset pati? 
  Ego bis tricenis actis annis sine nota, 
  Eques Romanus e lare egressus meo, 
  Domum revertormimus—ni mirum hoc die 
  Uno plus vixi mihi quam vivendum fuit. 
       * * * * * 
  Porro, Quirites, libertatem perdimus.” [9]

In these noble lines we see the native eloquence of a free spirit. But the poet's wrathful muse roused itself in vain. Caesar awarded the prize to Syrus, saying to Laberius in an impromptu verse of polite condescension,

  “Favente tibime victus, Laberi, es a Syro.” [10]

From this time the old knight surrendered the stage to his younger and more polished rival.

Syrus vas a native of Antioch, and remarkable from his childhood for the beauty of his person and his sparkling wit, to which he owed his freedom. His talent soon raised him to eminence as an improvisatore and dramatic declaimer. He trusted mostly to extempore inspiration when acting his Mimes, but wrote certain episodes where it was necessary to do so. His works abounded with moral apophthegms, tersely expressed. We possess 857 verses, arranged in alphabetical order, ascribed to him, of which perhaps half are genuine. This collection was made early in the Middle Ages, when it was much used for purposes of education. We append a few examples of these sayings: [11]

  “Beneficium dando accipit, qui digno dedit.”

  “Furor fit laesa saepius patientia.”

  “Comes facundus in via pro vehiculo est.”

  “Nimium altercando veritas amittitur.”

  “Iniuriarum remedium est oblivio.”

  “Malum est consilium quod mutari non potest.”

  “Nunquam periclum sine periclo vincitar.”

Horace mentions Laberius not uncomplimentarily, though he professes no interest in the sort of composition he represented. [12] Perhaps he judged him by his audience. Besides these two men, CN. MATIUS (about 44 B.C.) also wrote Mimiambi about the same date. They are described as Mimicae fabulae, versibus plerunque iambicis conscriptae, [13] and appear to have differed in some way from the actual mimes, probably in not being represented on the stage. They reappear in the time of Pliny, whose friend VERGINIUS ROMANUS (he tells us in one of his letters) [14] wrote Mimiambitenuiter, argute, venuste, et in hoc genere eloquentissime. This shows that for a long tune a certain refinement and elaboration was compatible with the style of Mime writing. [15]

The Pantomimi have been confused with the Mimi; but they differed in being dancers, not actors; they represent the inevitable development of the mimic art, which, as Ovid says in his Tristia, [16] even in its earlier manifestations, enlisted the eye as much as the ear. In Imperial times they almost engrossed the stage. PYLADES and BATHYLLUS are monuments of a depraved taste, which could raise these men to offices of state, and seek their society with such zeal that the emperors were compelled to issue stringent enactments to forbid it. TIGELLIUS seems to have been the first of these effeminati; he is satirised by Horace, [17] but his influence was inappreciable compared with that of his successors. The pantomimus aspired to render the emotions of terror or love more speakingly by gesture than it was possible to do by speech; and ancient critics, while deploring, seem to have admitted this claim. The moral effect of such exhibitions may be imagined. [18]

It is pleasing to find that in Cicero's time the interpretation of the great dramatists' conceptions exercised the talents of several illustrious actors, the two best-known of whom are AESOPUS, the tragedian (l22-54 B.C.), and ROSCIUS, the comic actor (120-61? B.C.), [19] After the exhaustion of dramatic creativeness a period of splendid representation naturally follows. It was so in Germany and England, it was so at Rome. Of the two men, Roscius was the greater master; he was so perfect in his art that his name became a synonym for excellence in any branch. [20] Neither of them, however, embraced, as Garrick did, both departments of the art; their provinces were and always remained distinct. Both had the privilege of Cicero's friendship; both no doubt lent him the benefit of their professional advice. The interchange of hints between an orator and an actor was not unexampled. When Hortensius spoke, Roscius always attended to study his suggestive gestures, and it is told of Cicero himself that he and Roscius strove which could express the higher emotions more perfectly by his art. Roscius was a native of Solonium, a Latin town, his praenomen was Quintus; Aesopus appears to have been a freedman of the Claudia gens. Of other actors few were well-known enough to merit notice. Some imagine DOSSENNUS, mentioned by Horace, [21] to have been an actor; but he is much more likely to be the Fabius Dossennus quoted as an author of Atellanae by Pliny in his Natural History [22] The freedom with which popular actors were allowed to treat their original is shown by Aesopus on one occasion (62 B.C.?) changing the words Brutus qui patriam stabiliverat to Tullius, a change which, falling in with the people's humour at the moment, was vociferously applauded, and gratified Cicero's vanity not a little. [23] Aesopus died soon after (54 B.C.); Roscius did not live so long. His marvellous beauty when a youth is the subject of a fine epigram by Lutatius Catulus, already referred to. [24] Both amassed large fortunes, and lived in princely style.

While the stage was given up to Mimes, cultured men wrote tragedies for their improvement in command of language. Both Cicero and his brother wrought assiduously at these frigid imitations. Caesar followed in their steps; and no doubt the practice was conducive to copiousness and to an effective simulation of passion. Their appearance as orators before the people must have called out such different mental qualities from their cold and calculating intercourse with one another, that tragedy writing as well as declaiming may have been needful to keep themselves ready for an emergency. Cicero, as is well known, tried hard to gain fame as a poet. The ridicule which all ages have lavished on his unhappy efforts has been a severe punishment for his want of self-knowledge. Still, judging from the verses that remain, we cannot deny him the praise of a correct and elegant versateur. Besides several translations from Homer and Euripides scattered through his works, and a few quotations by hostile critics from his epic attempts, [25] we possess a large part of his translation of Aratus's Phaenomena, written, indeed, in his early days, but a graceful specimen of Latin verse, and, as Munro [26] has shown, carefully studied and often imitated by Lucretius. The most noticeable point of metre is his disregard of the final s, no less than thrice in the first ninety lines, a practice which in later life he stigmatised as subrusticum. In other respects his hexameters are a decided advance on those of Ennius in point of smoothness though not of strength. He still affects Greek caesuras which are not suited to the Latin cadence, [27] and his rhythm generally lacks variety.

Caesar's pen was nearly as prolific. He wrote besides an Oedipus a poem called Laudes Herculis, and a metrical account of a journey into Spain called Iter. [28] Sportive effusions on various plants are attributed to him by Pliny. [29] All these Augustus wisely refused to publish; but there remain two excellent epigrams, one on Terence, already alluded to, which is undoubtedly genuine, [30] the other probably so, though others ascribe it to Germanicus or Domitian. [31] But the rhythm, purity of language, and continuous structure of the couplets seem to point indisputably to an earlier age. It is as follows—

  “Thrax puer, astricto glacie dum ludit in Hebro, 
    Frigore concretas pondere rupit aquas. 
  Quumque imae partes rapido traherentur ab amne, 
    Abscidit, heu! tenerum lubrica testa caput. 
  Orba quod inventum mater dum conderet urna, 
    'Hoc peperi flammis, cetera,' dixit, 'aquis.'“

This is evidently a study from the Greek, probably from an Alexandrine writer.

We have already had occasion more than once to mention the influence of Alexandria on Roman literature. Since the fall of Carthage Rome had had much intercourse with the capital of the Greek world. Her thought, erudition, and style, had acted strongly upon the rude imitators of Greek refinement. But hitherto the Romans had not been ripe for receiving their influence in full. In Cicero's time, however, and in a great measure owing to his labours, Latin composition of all kinds had advanced so far that writers, and especially poets, began to feel capable of rivalling their Alexandrian models. This type of Hellenism was so eminently suited to Roman comprehension that, once introduced, it could not fail to produce striking results. The results it actually produced were so vast, and in a way so successful, that we must pause a moment to contemplate the rise of the city which was connected with them.

Alexander did not err in selecting the mouth of the Nile for the capital that should perpetuate his name. Its site, its associations, religious, artistic, and scientific, and the tide of commerce that was certain to flow through it, all suggested the coast of Egypt as the fittest point of attraction for the industry of the Eastern world, while the rapid fall of the other kingdoms that rose from the ruins of his Empire contributed to make the new Merchant City the natural inheritor of his great ideas. The Ptolemies well fulfilled the task which Alexander's foresight had set before them. They aspired to make their capital the centre not only of commercial but of intellectual production, and the repository of all that was most venerable in religion, literature, and art. To achieve this end, they acted with the magnificence as well as the unscrupulousness of great monarchs. At their command, a princely city rose from the sandhills and rushes of the Canopic mouth; stately temples uniting Greek proportion with Egyptian grandeur, long quays with sheltered docks, ingenious contrivances for purifying the Nile water and conducting a supply to every considerable house; [32] in short, every product of a luxurious civilisation was found there, except the refreshing shade of green trees, which, beyond a few of the commoner kinds, could not be forced to grow on the shifting sandy soil. The great glory of Alexandria, however, was its public library, Founded by Soter (306-285 B.C.), greatly extended by Philadelphus (285-247 B.C.), under whom grammatical studies attained their highest development, enriched by Euergetes (247-212 B.C.) with genuine MSS. of authors fraudulently obtained from their owners to whom he sent back copies made by his own librarians, [33] this collection reached under the last-named sovereign the enormous total of 532,800 volumes, of which the great majority were kept in the museum which formed part of the royal palace, and about 50,000 of the most precious in the temple of Serapis, the patron deity of the city. [34] Connected with the museum were various endowments analogous to our professorships and fellowships of colleges; under the Ptolemies the head librarian, in after times the professor of rhetoric, held the highest post within this ancient university. The librarian was usually chief priest of one of the greatest gods, Isis, Osiris, or Serapis. [35] His appointment was for life, and lay at the disposal of the monarch. Thus the museum was essentially a court institution, and its savants and litterateurs were accomplished courtiers and men of the world. Learning being thus nursed as in a hot-bed, its products were rank, but neither hardy nor natural. They took the form of recondite mythological erudition, grammar and exegesis, and laborious imitation of the ancients. In science only was there a healthy spirit of research. Mathematics were splendidly represented by Euclid and Archimedes, Geography by Eratosthenes, Astronomy by Hipparchus; for these men, though not all residents in Alexandria, all gained their principles and method from study within her walls. To Aristarchus (fl. 180 B.C.) and his contemporaries we owe the final revision of the Greek classic texts; and the service thus done to scholarship and literature was incalculable. But the earlier Alexandrines seem to have been overwhelmed by the vastness of material at their command. Except in pastoral poetry, which in reality was not Alexandrine, [36] there was no creative talent shown for centuries. The true importance of Alexandria in the history of thought dates from Plotinus (about 200 A.D.), who first clearly taught that mystic philosophy which under the name of Neoplatonism, has had so enduring a fascination for the human spirit. It was not, however, for philosophy, science, or theology that the Romans went to Alexandria. It was for literary models which should less hopelessly defy imitation than those of old Greece, and for general views of life which should approve themselves to their growing enlightenment. These they found in the half-Greek, half-cosmopolitan culture which had there taken root and spread widely in the East. Even before Alexander's death there had been signs of the internal break-up of Hellenism, now that it had attained its perfect development. Out of Athens pure Hellenism had at no time been able to express itself successfully in literature. And even in Athens the burden of Atticism, if we may say so, seems to have become too great to bear. We see a desire to emancipate both thought and expression from the exquisite but confining proportions within which they had as yet moved. The student of Euripides observes a struggle, ineffectual it is true, but pregnant with meaning, against all that is most specially recognised as conservative and national. [37] He strives to pour new wine into old bottles; but in this case the bottles are too strong for him to burst. The Atticism which had guided and comprehended, now began to cramp development. To make a world-wide out of a Hellenic form of thought, it is necessary to go outside the charmed soil of Greece. Only on the banks of the Nile will the new culture find a shrine, whose remote and mysterious authority frees it from the spell of Hellenism, now no longer the exponent of the world's thought, while it is near enough to the arena where human progress is fighting its way onward, to inspire and be inspired by the mighty nation that is succeeding Greece as the representative of mankind.

The contribution of Alexandria to human progress consists, then, in its recoil from Greek exclusiveness, in its sifting of what was universal in Greek thought from what was national, and presenting the former in a systematised form for the enlightenment of those who received it. This is its nobler side; the side which men like Ennius and Scipio seized, and welded into a harmonious union with the higher national tradition of Rome, out of which union arose that complex product to which the name humanitas was so happily given. But Alexandrian culture was more than cosmopolitan. It was in a sense anti-national. Egyptian superstition, theurgy, magic, and charlatanism of every sort, tried to amalgamate with the imported Greek culture. In Greece itself they had never done this. The clear light of Greek intellect had no fellowship with the obscure or the mysterious. It drove them into corners and let them mutter in secret. But the moment the lamp of culture was given into other hands, they started up again unabashed and undismayed. The Alexandrine thinkers struggled to make Greek influences supreme, to exclude altogether those of the East; and their efforts were for three centuries successful: neither mysticism nor magic reigned in the museum of the Ptolemies. But this victory was purchased at a severe cost. The enthusiasm of the Alexandrian scholars had made them pedants. They gradually ceased to care for the thought of literature, and busied themselves only with questions of learning and of form. Their multifarious reading made them think that they too had a literary gift. Philetas was not only a profound logician, but he affected to be an amatory poet. [38] Callimachus, the brilliant and courtly librarian of Philadelphus, wrote nearly every kind of poetry that existed. Aratus treated the abstruse investigations of Eudoxus in neat verses that at once became popular. While in the great periods of Greek art each writer had been content to excel in a single branch, it now became the fashion for the same poet to be Epicist, Lyrist, and Elegy-writer at once.

Besides the new treatment of old forms, there were three kinds of poetry, first developed or perfected at Alexandria, which have special interest for us from the great celebrity they gained when imported into Rome. They are the didactic poem, the erotic elegy, and the epigram. The maxim of Callimachus (characteristic as it is of his narrow mind) mega biblion mega kakon, “a great book is a great evil,” [39] was the rule on which these poetasters generally acted. The didactic poem is an illegitimate cross between science and poetry. In the creative days of Greece it had no place. Hesiod, Parmenides, and Empedocles were, indeed, cited as examples. But in their days poetry was the only vehicle of literary effort, and he who wished to issue accurate information was driven to embody it in verse. In the time of the Ptolemies things were altogether different. It was consistent neither with the exactness of science nor with the grace of the Muses to treat astronomy or geography as subjects for poetry. Still, the best masters of this style undoubtedly attained great renown, and have found brilliant imitators, not only in Roman, but in modern times.

ARATUS (280 B.C.), known as the model of Cicero's, and in a later age of Domitian's [40] youthful essays in verse, was born at Soli in Cilicia about three hundred years before Christ. He was not a scientific man, [41] but popularised in hexameter verse the astronomical works of Eudoxus, of which he formed two poems, the Phaenomena and the Diosemia, or Prognostics. These were extravagantly praised, and so far took the place of their original that commentaries were written on them by learned men, [42] while the works of Eudoxus were in danger of being forgotten. NICANDER (230 B.C.?), still less ambitious, wrote a poem on remedies for vegetable and mineral poisons (alexipharmaka), and for the bites of beasts ( thaeriaka), and another on the habits of birds (ornithogonia ). These attracted the imitation of Macer in the Augustan age. But the most celebrated poets were CALLIMACHUS (260 B.C.) and PHILETAS [43] (280 B.C.), who formed the models of Propertius. To them we owe the Erotic Elegy, whether personal or mythological, and all the pedantic ornament of fictitious passion which such writings generally display. More will be said about them when we come to the elegiac poets. Callimachus, however, seems to have carried his art, such as it was, to perfection. He is generally considered the prince of elegists, and his extant fragments show great nicety and finish of expression. The sacrilegious theft of the locks of Berenice's hair from the temple where she had offered them, was a subject too well suited to a courtier's muse to escape treatment. Its celebrity is due to the translation made by Catullus, and the appropriation of the idea by Pope in his Rape of the Lock. The short epigram was also much in vogue at Alexandria, and neat examples abound in the Anthology. But in all these departments the Romans imitated with such zest and vigour that they left their masters far behind. Ovid and Martial are as superior in their way to Philetas and Callimachus as Lucretius and Virgil to Aratus and Apollonius Rhodius. This last-mentioned poet, APOLLONIUS RHODIUS (fl. 240 B.C.), demands a short notice. He was the pupil of Callimachus, and the most genuinely-gifted of all the Alexandrine school; he incurred the envy and afterwards the rancorous hatred of his preceptor, through whose influence he was obliged to leave Alexandria and seek fame at Rhodes. Here he remained all his life and wrote his most celebrated poem, theEpic of the Argonauts, a combination of sentiment, learning, and graceful expression, which is less known than it ought to be. Its chief interest to us is the use made of it by Virgil, who studied it deeply and drew much from it. We observe the passion of love as a new element in heroic poetry, scarcely treated in Greece, but henceforth to become second to none in prominence, and through Dido, to secure a place among the very highest flights of song. [44] Jason and Medea, the hero and heroine, who love one another, create a poetical era. An epicist of even greater popularity was EUPHORION of Chalcis (274-203 B.C.), whose affected prettiness and rounded cadences charmed the ears of the young nobles. He had admirers who knew him by heart, who declaimed him at the baths, [45] and quoted his pathetic passagesad nauseam. He was the inventor of the historical romance in verse, of which Rome was so fruitful. A Lucan, a Silius, owe their inspiration in part to him. Lastly, we may mention that the drama could find no place at Alexandria. Only learned compilations of recondite legend and frigid declamation, almost unintelligible from the rare and obsolete words with which they were crowded, were sent forth under the name of plays. The Cassandra or Alexandra of Lycophron is the only specimen that has come to us. Its thorny difficulties deter the reader, but Fox speaks of it as breathing a rich vein of melancholy. The Thyestesof Varius and the Medea of Ovid were no doubt greatly improved copies of dramas of this sort.

It will be seen from this survey of Alexandrine letters that the better side of their influence was soon exhausted. Any breadth of view they possessed was seized and far exceeded by the nobler minds that imitated it; and all their other qualities were such as to enervate rather than inspire. The masculine rudeness of the old poets now gave way to pretty finish; verbal conceits took the place of condensed thoughts; the rich exuberance of the native style tried to cramp itself into the arid allusiveness which, instead of painting straight from nature, was content to awaken a long line of literary associations. Nevertheless there was much in their manipulation of language from which the Romans could learn a useful lesson. It was impossible for them to catch the original impulse of the divine seer [46]—

  autodidaktos d'eimi, theos de moi en phresin oimas pantoias enephysen.

From poverty of genius they were forced to draw less flowing draughts from the Castalian spring. The bards of old Greece were hopelessly above them. The Alexandrines, by not overpowering their efforts, but offering them models which they felt they could not only equal but immeasurably excel, did real service in encouraging and stimulating the Roman muse. Great critics like Niebuhr and, within certain limits, Munro, regret the mingling of the Alexandrine channel with the stream of Latin poetry, but without it we should perhaps not have had Catullus and certainly neither Ovid nor Virgil.

It may easily be supposed that the national party, whether in politics or letters, would set themselves with all their might to oppose the rising current. The great majority surrendered themselves to it with a good will. Among the stern reactionists in prose, we have mentioned Varro; in poetry, by far the greatest name is LUCRETIUS. But little is known of Lucretius's life; even the date of his birth is uncertain. St. Jerome, in the Eusebian chronicle, [47] gives 95 B.C. Others have with more probability assigned an earlier date. It is from Jerome that we learn those facts which have cast a strong interest round the poet, viz. that he was driven mad by a love potion, that he composed in the intervals of insanity his poem, which Cicero afterwards corrected, and that he perished by his own hand in the forty-fourth year of his age. Jerome does not quote any contemporary authority; his statements, coming 500 years after the event, must go for what they are worth, but may perhaps meet with a qualified acceptance. The intense earnestness of the poem indicates a mind that we can well conceive giving way under the overwhelming thought which stirred it; and the example of a philosopher anticipating the stroke of nature is too often repeated in Roman history to make it incredible in this case. Tennyson with a poet's sympathy has surrounded this story with the deepest pathos, and it will probably remain the accepted, if not the established, version of his death.

Though born in a high position, he seems to have stood aloof from society. From first to last his book betrays the close and eager student. He was an intimate friend of the worthless C. Memmius, whom he extols in a manner creditable to his heart but not to his judgment. [48] But he was no flatterer, nor was Memmius a patron. Poet and statesman lived on terms of perfect equality. Of the date of his work we can so far conjecture that it was certainly unfinished at his death (55 B.C.), and from its scope and information must have extended over some years. The allusion [49]—

  “Nam neque nos agere hoc patriai tempore iniquo 
  Possumus aequo animo, nec Memmi clara propago 
  Talibus in rebus communi desse saluti,”

is considered by Prof. Sellar to point to the praetorship of Memmius (58 B.C.). The work was long thought to have been edited by Cicero after the poet's death; but though he had read the poem, [50] and admitted its talent, he would doubtless have mentioned, at least to Atticus, the fact of the editing, had it occurred. Some critics, arguing from Cicero's silence and known opposition to the Epicurean tenets, have thought that Jerome referred to Q. Cicero the orator's brother, but for this there is no authority. The poem is entitled De Rerum Natura, an equivalent for the Greek peri physeos, the usual title of the pre-Socratic philosophers' works. The form, viz. a poem in heroic hexameters, containing a carefully reasoned exposition, in which regard was had above all to the claims of the subject-matter, was borrowed from the Sicilian thinker Empedocles [51] (460 B.C.). But while Aristotle denies Empedocles the title of poet [52] on account of his scientific subject, no one could think of applying the same criticism to Lucretius A general view of nature, as the Power most near to man, and most capable of deeply moving his heart, a Power whose beauty, variety, and mystery, were the source of his most perplexing struggles as well as of his purest joys; a desire to hold communion with her, and to learn from her lips, opened only to the ear of faith, those secrets which are hid from the vain world; this was the grand thought that stirred the depths of Lucretius's mind, and made him the herald of a new and enduring form of verse. It has been well said that didactic poetry was that in which the Roman was best fitted to succeed. It was in harmony with his utilitarian character. [53] To give a practically useful direction to its labour was almost demanded from the highest poetry. To say nothing of Horace and Lucilius, Virgil's Aeneid, no less than his Georgics, has a practical aim, and to an ardent spirit like Lucretius, poetry would be the natural vehicle for the truths to which he longed to convert mankind.

In the selection of his models, his choice fell upon the older Greek writers, such as Empedocles, Aeschylus, Thucydides, men renowned for deep thought rather than elegant expression; and among the Romans, upon Ennius and Pacuvius, the giants of a ruder past. Among contemporaries, Cicero alone seems to have awakened his admiration. Thus he stands altogether aloof from the fashionable standard of his day, a solitary beacon pointing to landmarks once well known, but now crumbling into decay. [54]

Lucretius is the only Roman in whom the love of speculative truth [55] prevails over every other feeling. In his day philosophy had sunk to an endless series of disputes about words [56] Frivolous quibbles and captious logical proofs, comprised the highest exercises of the speculative faculty. [57] The mind of Lucretius harks back to the glorious period of creative enthusiasm, when Democritus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, and Epicurus, successively believed that they had solved the great questions of being and knowing. Amid the zeal and confidence of that mighty time his soul is at home. To Epicurus as the inventor of the true guide of life he pays a tribute of reverential praise, calling him the pride of Greece, [58] and exalting him to the position of a god. [59] It is clear to one who studies this deeply interesting poet that his mind was in the highest degree reverential. No error could have been more fatal to his enjoyment of that equanimity, whose absence he deplores, than to select a creed, at once so joyless and barren in itself, and so unsuited to his ardent temperament.

When Lucretius wrote, belief in the national religion had among the upper classes become almost extinct. Those who needed conviction as a support for their life had no resource but Greek philosophy. The speculations of Plato, except in his more popular works, were not attractive to the Romans; those of Aristotle, brought to light in Cicero's time by the transference of Apellicon's library to Rome, [60] were a sealed book to the majority, though certain works, probably dialogues after the Platonic manner, gained the admiration of Cicero and Quintilian. The pre-Socratic thinkers, occupied as they were with physical questions which had little interest for Romans, were still less likely to be resorted to. The demand for a supreme moral end made it inevitable that their choice should fall on one of the two schools which offered such an end, those of the Porch and the Garden. Which of the two would a man like Lucretius prefer? The answer is not so obvious as it appears. For Lucretius has in him nothing of the Epicurean in our sense. His austerity is nearer to that of the Stoic. It was the speculative basis underlying the ethical system, and not the ethical system itself, that determined his choice. Epicurus had allied his theory of pleasure [61] with the atomic theory of Democritus. Stoicism had espoused the doctrine of Heraclitus, that fire is the primordial element. Epicurus had denied the indestructibility of the soul and the divine government of the world; his gods were unconnected with mankind, and lived at ease in the vacant spaces between the worlds. Stoicism on the contrary, had incorporated the popular theology, bringing it into conformity with the philosophic doctrine of a single Deity by means of allegorical interpretation. Its views of Divine Providence were reconcilable with, while they elevated, the popular superstition.

Lucretius had a strong hatred for the abuses into which state-craft and luxury had allowed the popular creed to fall; he was also firmly convinced of the sufficiency of Democritus's two postulates (Atoms andthe Void) to account for all the phenomena of the universe. Hence he gave his unreserved assent to the Epicurean system, which he expounds, mainly in its physical outlines, in his work; the ethical tenets being interwoven with the bursts of enthusiastic poetry which break, or the countless touches which adorn, the sustained course of his argument.

The defects of the ancient scientific method are not wanting in him. Generalising from a few superficial instances, reasoning a priori, instead of winning his way by observation and comparison up to the Universal truth, fancying that it was possible for a single mind to grasp, and for a system by a few bold hypotheses to explain, the problem of external nature, of the soul, of the existence of the gods: such are the obvious defects which Lucretius shares with his masters, and of which the experience of ages has taught us the danger as well as the charm. But the atomic system has features which render it specially interesting at the present day. Its materialism, its attribution to nature of power sufficient to carry out all her ends, its analysis of matter into ultimate physical individua incognisable by sense, while yet it insists that the senses are the fountains of all knowledge, [62] are points which bring it into correspondence with hypotheses at present predominant. Its theory of the development of society from the lower to the higher without break and without divine intervention, and of the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence, its denial of design and claim to explain everything by natural law, are also points of resemblance. Finally, the lesson he draws from this comfortless creed, not to sit with folded hands in silent despair, nor to “eat and drink for to-morrow we die,” but to labour steadily for our greater good and to cultivate virtue in accordance with reason, equally free from ambition and sloth, is strikingly like the teaching of that scientific school [63] which claims for its system a motive as potent to inspire self-denial as any that a more spiritual philosophy can give.

Lucretius, therefore, gains moral elevation by deserting the conclusion of Epicurus. While he does full justice to the poetical side of pleasure as an end in itself, [64] he never insists on it as a motive to action. Thus he retains the conception as a noble ornament of his verse, but reserves to himself, as every poet must, the liberty to adopt another tone if he feels it higher or more appropriate. Indeed, logical consistency of view would be out of place in a poem; and Lucretius is nowhere a truer poet that when he sins against his own canons. [65] His instinct told him how difficult it was to combine clear reasoning with a poetical garb, especially as the Latin language was not yet broken to the purposes of philosophy. [66] Nevertheless so complete is his mastery of the subject that there is scarcely a difficulty arising from want of clearness of expression from beginning to end of the poem. There are occasional lacunae, and several passages out of place, which were either stop-gaps intended to be replaced by lines more appropriate, or additions made after the first draft of the work, which, had the author lived, would have been wrought into the context. The first three books are quite or nearly quite finished, and from them we can judge his power of presenting an argument.

His chief object he states to be not the discovery, but the exposition of truth, for the purpose of freeing men's minds from religious terrors. This he announces immediately after the invocation to Venus, “Mother of the Aeneadae,” with which the poem opens. He then addresses himself to Memmius, whom he intreats not to be deterred from reading him by the reproach of “rationalism.” [67] He next states his first principle, which is the denial of creation:

  “Nullam rem e nilo gigni divinitus unquam,”

and asks, What then is the original substance out of which existing things have arisen? The answer is, “Atoms and the Void, and beside them nothing else:” these two principles are solid, self-existent, indestructible, and invisible. He next investigates and refutes the first principles of other philosophers, notably Heraclitus, Empedocles, and Anaxagoras; and the book ends with a short proof that the atoms are infinite in number and space infinite in extent. The Second Book opens with a digression on the folly of ambition; but, returning to the atoms, treats of the combination which enables them to form and perpetuate the present variety of things. All change is ultimately due to the primordial motion of the atoms. This motion, naturally in a straight line, is occasionally deflected; and this deflection accounts for the many variations from exact law. Moreover, atoms differ in form, some being rough, others smooth, some round, others square, &c. They are combined in infinite ways, which combinations give rise to the so-called secondary properties of matter, colour, heat, smell, &c. Innumerable other worlds besides our own exist; this one will probably soon pass away; atoms and the void alone are eternal. In the Third Book the poet attacks what he considers the stronghold of superstition. The soul, mind, or vital principle is carefully discussed, and declared to be material, being composed, indeed, of the finest atoms, as is shown by its rapid movement, and the fact that it does not add to the weight of the body, but in no wise sui generis, or differing in kind from other matter. It is united with the body as the perfume with the incense, nor can they be severed without destruction to both. They are born together, grow together, and perish together. Death therefore is the end of being, and life beyond the grave is not only impossible but inconceivable. Book IV. treats of the images or idols cast off from the surface of bodies, borne continually through space, and sometimes seen by sleepers in dreams, or by sick people or others in waking visions. They are not illusions of the senses; the illusion arises from the wrong interpretation we put upon them. To these images the passion of love is traced; and with a brilliant satire on the effects of yielding to it the book closes. The Fifth Book examines the origin and formation of the solar system, which it treats not as eternal after the manner of the Stoics, but as having had a definite beginning, and as being destined to a natural and inevitable decay. He applies his principle of “Fortuitous Concurrence” to this part of his subject with signal power, but the faultiness of his method interferes with the effect of his argument. The finest part of the book, and perhaps of the whole poem, is his account of the “origin of species,” and the progress of human society. His views read like a hazy forecast of the evolution doctrine. He applies his principle with great strictness; no break occurs; experience alone has been the guide of life. If we ask, however, whether he had any idea of progress as we understand it, we must answer no. He did not believe in the perfectibility of man, or in the ultimate prevalence of virtue in the world. The last Book tries to show the natural origin of the rarer and more gigantic physical phenomena, thunderstorms, volcanoes, earthquakes, pestilence, &c. and terminates with a long description of the plague of Athens, in which we trace many imitations of Thucydides. This book is obviously unfinished; but the aim of the work may be said to be so far complete that nowhere is the central object lost sight of, viz., to expel the belief in divine interventions, and to save mankind from all fear of the supernatural.

The value of the poem to us consists not in its contributions to science but in its intensity of poetic feeling. None but a student will read through the disquisitions on atoms and void. All who love poetry will feel the charm of the digressions and introductions. These, which are sufficiently numerous, are either resting-places in the process of proof, when the writer pauses to reflect, or bursts of eloquent appeal which his earnestness cannot repress. Of the first kind are the account of spring in Book I. and the enumeration of female attractions in Book IV.; of the second, are the sacrifice of Iphigenia, [68] the tribute to Empedocles and Epicurus, [69] the description of himself as a solitary wanderer among trackless haunts of the Muses, [70] the attack on ambition and luxury, [71] the pathetic description of the cow bereft of her calf, [72] the indignant remonstrance with the man who fears to die. [73] In these, as in innumerable single touches, the poet of original genius is revealed. Virgil often works by allusion: Lucretius never does. All his effects are gained by the direct presentation of a distinct image. He has in a high degree the “seeing eye,” which needs only a steady hand to body forth its visions. Take the picture of Mars in love, yielding to Venus's prayer for peace. [74] What can be more truly statuesque?

      “Belli fera moenera Mavors 
  Armipotens regit, in gremium qui saepe tuum se 
  Reiicit aeterno devictus volnere amoris: 
  Atque ita suspiciens tereti cervice reposta 
  Pascit amore avidos inhians in te, dea, visus, 
  Eque tuo pendet resupini spiritus ore. 
  Hunc tu diva tuo recubantem corpore sancto 
  Circumfusa super suavis ex ore loquellas 
  Funde petens placidam Romanis, incluta, pacem.”

Or, again, of nature's freedom:

  “Libera continuo dominis privata superbis.”

Who can fail in this to catch the tones of the Republic? Again, take his description of the transmission of existence,

  “Et quasi cursores vitai; lampada tradunt;”

or of the helplessness of medicine in time of plague,

  “Mussabat tacito medicina timore.”

These are a few examples of a power present throughout, filling his reasonings with a vivid reality far removed from the conventional rhetoric of most philosopher poets. [75] His language is Thucydidean in its chiselled outline, its quarried strength, its living expressiveness. Nor is his moral earnestness inferior. The end of life is indeed nominally pleasure, [76] “dux vitae dia voluptas;” but really it is a pure heart, “At bene non poterat sine puro pectore vivi.” [77] He who first showed the way to this was the true deity. [78] The contemplation of eternal law will produce, not as the strict Epicureans say, indifference, [79] but resignation. [80] This happiness is in our own power, and neither gods nor men can take it away. The ties of family life are depicted with enthusiasm, and though the active duties of a citizen are not recommended, they are certainly not discouraged. But the knowledge of nature alone can satisfy man's spirit, or enable him to lead a life worthy of the immortals, and see with his mind's eye their mansions of eternal rest. [81] Nothing can be further from the light treatment of deep problems current among Epicureans than the solemn earnestness of Lucretius. He cannot leave the world to its vanity and enjoy himself. He seeks to bring men to his views, but at the same time he sees how hopeless is the task. He becomes a pessimist: in Roman language, he despairs of the Republic. He is a lonely spirit, religious even in his anti-religionism, full of reverence, but ignorant what to worship; a splendid poet, feeding his spirit on the husks of mechanical causation.

With regard to his language, there can be but one opinion. It is at times harsh, at times redundant, at times prosaic; but at a time when “Greek, and often debased Greek, had made fatal inroads into the national idiom,” his Latin has the purity of that of Cicero or Terence. Like Lucilius, he introduces single Greek words, [82] a practice which Horace wisely rejects, [83] but which is revived in the poetry of the Empire. [84] His poetical ornaments are those of the older writers. Archaism, [85] alliteration, [86] and assonance abound in his pages. These would not have been regarded as defects by critics like Cicero or Varro; they are instances of his determination to give way in nothing to the fashion of the day.

His style [87] is fresh, strong, and impetuous, but frequently and intentionally rugged. Repetitions occasionally wearisome, and prosaic constructions, occur. Poetry is sacrificed to logic in the innumerable particles of transition, [88] and in the painful precision which at times leaves nothing to the imagination of the reader. But his vocabulary is not prosaic; it is poetical to a degree exceeding that of all other Latin writers. It is to be regretted that he did not oftener allow himself to be carried away by the stroke of the thyrsus, which impelled him to strive for the meed of praise. [89]

He is not often mentioned in later literature. Quintilian characterises him as elegant but difficult; [90] Ovid and Statius warmly praise him; [91] Horace alludes to him as his own teacher in philosophy; [92] Virgil, though he never mentions his name, refers to him in a celebrated passage, and shows in all his works traces of a profound study of, and admiration for, his poetry. [93] Ovid draws largely from him in theMetamorphoses, and Manilius had evidently adopted him as a model. The writer of Etna echoes his language and sentiments, and Tacitus, in a later generation, speaks of critics who even preferred him to Virgil. The irreligious tendency of his work seems to have brought his name under a cloud; and those who copied him may have thought it wiser not to acknowledge their debt. The later Empire and the Middle Ages remained indifferent to a poem which sought to disturb belief; it was when the scepticism of the eighteenth century broke forth that Lucretius's power was first fully felt. Since the time of Boyle he has commanded from some minds an almost enthusiastic admiration. His spirit lives in Shelley, though he has not yet found a poet of kindred genius to translate him. But his great name and the force with which he strikes chords to which every soul at times vibrates must, now that he is once known, secure for him a high place among the masters of thoughtful song.

Transpadane Gaul was at this time fertile in poets. Besides two of the first order it produced several of the second rank Among these M. FURIUS BIBACULUS (103-29? B.C.) must be noticed. His exact date is uncertain, but he is known to have lampooned both Julius and Augustus Caesar, [94] and perhaps lived to find himself the sole representative of the earlier race of poets. [95] He is one of the few men of the period who attained to old age. Some have supposed that the line of Horace [96]—

    “Turgidus Alpinus jugulat dum Memnona,”

refers to him, the nickname of Alpinus having been given him on account of his ludicrous description of Jove “spitting snow upon the Alps.” Others have assigned the eight spurious lines on Lucilius in the tenth satire of Horace to him. Macrobius preserves several verses from his Bellum Gallicum, which Virgil has not disdained to imitate, e.g.

  “Interea Oceani linquens Aurora cubile.”

  “Rumoresque serunt varios et multa requirunt.”

  “Confimat dictis simul atque exsuscitat acres 
  Ad bellandum animos reficitque ad praelia mentes.” [97]

Many of the critics of this period also wrote poems. Among these was VALERIUS CATO, sometimes called CATO GRAMMATICUS, whose love elegies were known to Ovid. He also amused himself with short mythological pieces, none of which have come down to us. Two short poems called Dirae and Lydia, which used to be printed among Virgil's Catalecta, bear his name, but are now generally regarded as spurious. They contain the bitter complaints of one who was turned out of his estate by an intruding soldier, and his resolution to find solace for all ills in the love of his faithful mistress.

The absorbing interest of the war between Caesar and Pompey compelled all classes to share its troubles; even the poets did not escape. They were now very numerous. Already the vain desire to write had become universal among the jeunesse of the capital. The seductive methods by which Alexandrinism had made it equally easy to enshrine in verse his morning reading or his evening's amour, proved too great an attraction for the young Roman votary of the muses. Rome already teemed with the class so pitilessly satirized by Horace and Juvenal, the

  “Saecli incommoda, pessimi poetae.”

The first name of any celebrity is that of VARRO ATACINUS, a native of Gallia Narbonensis. He was a varied and prolific writer, who cultivated with some success at least three domains of poetry. In his younger days he wrote satires, but without any aptitude for the work. [98] These he deserted for the epos, in which he gained some credit by his poem on the Sequanian War. This was a national epic after the manner of Ennius, but from the silence of later poets we may conjecture that it did not retain its popularity. At the age of thirty-five he began to study with diligence the Alexandrine models, and gained much credit by his translation of the Argonautica of Apollonius. Ovid often mentions this poem with admiration; he calls Varro the poet of the sail-tossing sea, says no age will be ignorant of his fame, and even thinks the ocean gods may have helped him to compose his song. [99] Quintilian with better judgment [100] notes his deficiency both in originality and copiousness, but allows him the merit of a careful translator. We gather from a passage of Ovid [101] that he wrote love poems, and from other sources that he translated Greek works on topography and meteorology, both strictly copied from the Alexandrines.

Besides Varro, we hear of TICIDAS, of MEMMIUS the friend of Lucretius, of C. HELVIUS CINNA, and C. LICINIUS CALVUS, as writers of erotic poetry. The last two were also eminent in other branches. Cinna (50 B.C.), who is mentioned by Virgil as a poet superior to himself, [102] gained renown by his Smyrna, an epic based on the unnatural love of Myrrha for her father Cinyras, [103] on which revolting subject he bestowed nine years [104] of elaboration, tricking it out with every arid device that pedantry's long list could supply. Its learning, however, prevented it from being neglected. Until theAeneid appeared, it was considered the fullest repository of choice mythological lore. It was perhaps the nearest approach ever made in Rome to an original Alexandrine poem. Calvus (82-47 B.C.), who is generally coupled with Catullus, was a distinguished orator as well as poet. Cicero pays him the compliment of honourable mention in the Brutus, [105] praising his parts and lamenting his early death. He thinks his success would have been greater had he forgotten himself more. This egotism was probably not wanting to his poetry, but much may be excused him on account of his youth. It is difficult to form an opinion of his style; the epithets, gravis, vehemens, exilis (which apply rather to his oratory than to his poetry), seem contradictory; the last strikes us as the most discriminating. Besides short elegies like those of Catullus, he wrote an epic called Io, as well as lampoons against Pompey and other leading men. We possess none of his fragments.

From Calvus we pass to CATULLUS. This great poet was born at Verona (87 B.C.), and died, according to Jerome, in his thirty-first year; but this is generally held to be an error, and Prof. Ellis fixes his death in 54 B.C. In either case he was a young man when he died, and this is an important consideration in criticising his poems. He came as a youth to Rome, where he mixed freely in the best society, and where he continued to reside, except when his health or fortunes made a change desirable. [106] At such times he resorted either to Sirmio, a picturesque spot on the Lago di Garda, [107] where he had a villa, or else to his Tiburtine estate, which, he tells us, he mortgaged to meet certain pecuniary embarrassments. [108] Among his friends were Nepos, who first acknowledged his genius, [109] to whom the grateful poet dedicated his book; Cicero, whose eloquence he warmly admired; [110] Pollio, Cornificius, Cinna, and Calvus, besides many others less known to fame. Like all warm natures, he was a good hater. Caesar and his friend Mamurra felt his satire; [111] and though he was afterwards reconciled to Caesar, the reconciliation did not go beyond a cold indifference. [112] To Mamurra he was implacably hostile, but satirised him under the fictitious name of Mentula to avoid offending Caesar. His life was that of a thorough man of pleasure, who was also a man of letters. Indifferent to politics, he formed friendships and enmities for personal reasons alone. Two events in his life are important for us, since they affected his genius—his love for Lesbia, and his brother's death. The former was the master-passion of his life. It began in the fresh devotion of a first love; it survived the cruel shocks of infidelity and indifference; and, though no longer as before united with respect, it endured unextinguished to the end, burning with the passion of despair.

Who Lesbia was, has been the subject of much discussion. There can be little doubt that Apuleius's information is correct, and that her real name was Clodia. If so, it is most natural to suppose her the same with that abandoned woman, the sister of P. Clodius Pulcher, whom Cicero brands with infamy in his speech for Caelius. Unwillingness to associate the graceful verse of Catullus with a theme so unworthy has perhaps led the critics to question without reason the identity. But the portrait drawn by the poet when at length his eyes were opened, answers but too truly to that of the orator. Few things in all literature are sadder than the spectacle of this trusting and generous spirit withered by the unkindness, as it had been soiled by the favours, of this evil beauty. [113] The life which began in rapturous devotion ends in hopeless gloom. The poet whose every nerve was strung to the delights of an unselfish though guilty passion, now that the spell is broken, finds life a burden, and confronts with relief the thought of death which, as he anticipated, soon came to end his sorrows.

The affection of Catullus for his only brother, lost to him by an early death, forms the counterpoise to his love for Lesbia. Where this brings remorse, the other brings a soothing melancholy; the memory of this sacred sorrow struggles to cast out the harassing regrets that torment his soul. [114] Nothing can surpass the simple pathos with which he alludes to this event. It is the subject of one short elegy, [115] and enters largely into another. When travelling with the pro-praetor Memmius into Bithynia, he visited his brother's tomb at Rhoeteum in the Troad. It was on his return from this journey, undertaken, but without success, in the hope of bettering his fortune, that he wrote the little poem to Sirmio, [116] which dwells on the associations of home with a sweetness perhaps unequalled in ancient poetry. [117]

In this, and indeed in all his shorter pieces, his character is unmistakably revealed. No writer, ancient or modern, is more frank than he. He neither hides his own faults, nor desires his friends to hide theirs from him; [118] his verses are the honest spontaneous expression of his every-day life. In them we see a youth, ardent, unaffected, impulsive, generous, courteous, and outspoken, but indifferent to the serious interests of life; recklessly self-indulgent, plunging into the grossest sensuality, and that with so little sense of guilt as to appeal to Heaven as witness of the purity of his life: [119] we see a poet, full of delicate fooling and of love for the beautiful, with a strong lyrical impulse fresh as that of Greece, and an appreciation of Greek feeling that makes him revive the very inspiration of Greek genius; [120] with a chaste simplicity of style that faithfully reflects every mood, and with an amount of learning which, if inconsiderable as compared with that of the Augustan poets, much exceeded that of his chief predecessors, and secured for him the honourable epithet of the learned (doctus). [121]

The poems of Catullus fall naturally into three divisions, doubtless made by the poet himself. These are the short lyrical pieces in various metres, containing the best known of those to Lesbia, besides others to his most intimate friends; then come the longer poems, mostly in heroic or elegiac metre, representing the higher flights of his genius; and lastly, the epigrams on divers subjects, all in the elegiac metre, of which both the list and the text are imperfect. In all we meet with the same careless grace and simplicity both of thought and diction, but all do not show the same artistic skill. The judgment that led Catullus to place his lyric poems in the foreground was right. They are the best known, the best finished, and the most popular of all his compositions; the four to Lesbia, the one to Sirmio, and that on Acme and Septimus, are perhaps the most perfect lyrics in the Latin language; and others are scarcely inferior to them in elegance. The hendecasyllabic rhythm, in which the greater part are written, is the one best suited to display the poet's special gifts. Of this metre he is the first and only master. Horace does not employ it; and neither Martial nor Statius avoids monotony in the use of it. The freedom of cadence, the varied caesura, and the licences in the first foot, [122] give the charm of irregular beauty, so sweet in itself and so rare in Latin poetry; and the rhythm lends itself with equal ease to playful humour, fierce satire, and tender affection. Other measures, used with more or less success, are the iambic scazon, [123] the chorianibic, the glyconic, and the sapphic, all probably introduced from the Greek by Catullus. Of these the sapphic is the least perfected. If the eleventh and fifty-first odes be compared with the sapphic odes of Horace, the great metrical superiority of the latter will at once appear. Catullus copies the Greek rhythm in its details without asking whether these are in accordance with the genius of the Latin language. Horace, by adopting stricter rules, produces a much more harmonious effect. The same is true of Catullus's treatment of the elegiac, as compared with that of Propertius or Ovid. The Greek elegiac does not require any stop at the end of the couplet, nor does it affect any special ending; words of seven syllables or less are used by it indifferently. The trisyllabic ending, which is all but unknown to Ovid, occurs continually in Catullus; even the monosyllabic, which is altogether avoided by succeeding poets, occurs once. [124] Another licence, still more alien from Roman usage, is the retention of a short or unelided syllable at the end of the first penthemimer. [125] Catullus's elegiac belongs to the class of half-adapted importations, beautiful in its way, but rather because it recalls the exquisite cadences of the Greek than as being in itself a finished artistic product.

The six long poems are of unequal merit. The modern reader will not find much to interest him in the Coma Berenices, abounding as it does in mythological allusions. [126] The poem to Mallius or Allius, [127] written at Verona, is partly mythological, partly personal, and though somewhat desultory, contains many fine passages. Catullus pleads his want of books as an excuse for a poor poem, implying that a full library was his usual resort for composition. This poem was written shortly after his brother's death, which throws a vein of melancholy into the thought. In it, and still more happily in his two Epithalamia, [128] he paints with deep feeling the joys of wedded love. The former of these, which celebrates the marriage of Manlius Torquatus, is the loveliest product of his genius. It is marred by a few gross allusions, but they are not enough to interfere with its general effect. It rings throughout with joyous exultation, and on the whole is innocent as well as full of warm feeling. It is all movement; the scene opens before us; the marriage god wreathed with flowers and holding the flammeum, or nuptial veil, leads the dance; then the doors open, and amid waving torches the bride, blushing like the purple hyacinth, enters with downcast mien, her friends comforting her; the bridegroom stands by and throws nuts to the assembled guests; light railleries are banded to and fro; meanwhile the bride is lifted over the threshold, and sinks on the nuptial couch, alba parthenice velut, luteumve papaver. The different sketches of Auruneuleia as the loving bride, the chaste matron, and the aged grandame nodding kindly to everybody, please from their unadorned simplicity as well as from their innate beauty.

The second of these Epithalamia is, if not translated, certainly modelled from the Greek, and in its imagery reminds us of Sappho. It is less ardent and more studied than the first, and though its tone is far less elevated, it gains a special charm from its calm, almost statuesque language. [129] The Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis is a miniature epic, [130] such as were often written by the Alexandrian poets. Short as it is, it contains two plots, one within the other. The story of Peleus's marriage is made the occasion for describing the scene embroidered on the coverlet or cushion of the marriage bed. This contains the loves of Theseus and Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Labyrinth, the return of Theseus, his desertion of Ariadne, and her reception into the stars by Iacchus. The poem is unequal in execution; the finest passages are the lament of Ariadne, which Virgil has imitated in that of Dido, and the song of the Fates, which gives the first instances of those refrains taken from the Greek pastoral, which please so much in the Eclogues, and in Tennyson's May Queen. The Atys or Attis stands alone among the poet's works. Its subject is the self-mutilation of a noble youth out of zeal for Cybele's worship, and is probably a study from the Greek, though of what period it would be hard to say. A theme so unnatural would have found little favour with the Attic poets; the subject is more likely to have been approached by the Alexandrian writers, whom Catullus often copies. But these tame and pedantic versifiers could have given no precedent for the wild inspiration of this strange poem, which clothes in the music of finished art bursts of savage emotion. The metre is galliambic, a rhythm proper to the hymns of Cybele, but of which no primitive Greek example remains. The poem cannot be perused with pleasure, but must excite astonishment at the power it displays. The language is tinged with archaisms, especially compounds like hederigera, silvicultrix. In general Catullus writes in the plain unaffected language of daily life. His effects are produced by the freshness rather than the choiceness of his terms, and by his truth to nature and good taste. His construction of sentences, like that of Lucretius, becomes at times prosaic, from the effort to avoid all ambiguity. If the first forty lines of his Epistle to Mallius [131] be studied and compared with any of Ovid's Epistles from Pontus, the great difference in this respect will at once be seen. Later writers leave most of the particles of transition to be supplied by the reader's intelligence: Catullus, like Sophocles, indicates the sequence of thought. Nevertheless poetry lost more than it gained by the want of grammatical connection between successive passages, which, while it adds point, detracts from clearness, and makes the interpretation, for example, of Persius and Juvenal very much less satisfactory than that of Lucretius or Horace.

The genius of Catullus met with early recognition. Cornelius Nepos, in his life of Atticus (ch. xii.), couples him with Lucretius as the first poet of the age (nostra aetas), and his popularity, though obscured during the Augustan period, soon revived, and remained undiminished until the close of Latin literature. During the Middle Ages Catullus was nearly being lost to us; he is preserved in but one manuscript discovered in the fourteenth century. [132]

Catullus is the last of the Republican poets. Separated by but a few years from the Eclogues of Virgil, a totally different spirit pervades the works of the two writers; while Catullus is free, unblushing, and fearless, owing allegiance to no man, Virgil is already guarded, restrained, and diffident of himself, trusting to Pollio or Augustus to perfect his muse, and guide it to its proper sphere. In point of language the two periods show no break: in point of feeling they are altogether different. A few survived from the one into the other, but as a rule they relapsed into silence, or indulged merely in declamation. We feel that Catullus was fortunate in dying before the battle of Aetium; had he lived into the Augustan age, it is difficult to see how he could have found a place there. He is a fitting close to this passionate and stormy period, a youth in whom all its qualities for good and evil have their fullest embodiment.