V. THE ELOCUTIO NOVELLA.
Though the partial renascence in art and letters which took place in the long peaceful reign of Hadrian was on the whole a Greek, or, at all events, a Graeco-Roman movement, an attempt at least towards a corresponding movement in purely Latin literature, both in prose and verse, was made about the same time, and might have had important results had outward circumstances allowed it a reasonable chance of development. As it is, Apuleius and Fronto in prose, and the new school of poets, of whom the unknown author of the Pervigilium Veneris is the most striking and typical, represent not merely a fresh refinement in the artificial management of thought and language, but the appearance on the surface of certain native qualities in Latin, long suppressed by the decisive supremacy of the manner established as classical under the Republic, but throughout latent in the structure and temperament of the language. Just when Latin seemed to be giving way on all hands to Greek, the signs are first seen of a much more momentous change, the rise of a new Latin, which not only became a common speech for all Europe, but was the groundwork of the Romance languages and of half a dozen important national literatures. The decay of education, the growth of vulgarisms, and the degradation of the fine, but extremely artificial, literary language of the classical period, went hand in hand towards this change with the extreme subtleties and refinements introduced by the ablest of the new writers, who were no longer content, like Quintilian and Pliny, to rest satisfied with the manner and diction of the Golden Age. The work of this school of authors is therefore of unusual interest; for they may not unreasonably be called a school, as working, though unconsciously, from different directions towards the same common end.
The theory of this new manner has had considerable light thrown upon it by the fragments of the works of Marcus Cornelius Fronto, recovered early in the present century by Angelo Mai from palimpsests in the Vatican and Ambrosian libraries at Rome and Milan. Fronto was the most celebrated rhetorician of his time, and exercised a commanding influence on literary criticism. The reign of the Spanish school was now over; Fronto was of African origin; and though it does not follow that he was not of pure Roman blood, the influence of a semi-tropical atmosphere and African surroundings altered the type, and produced a new strain, which we can trace later under different forms in the great African school of ecclesiastical writers headed by Tertullian and Cyprian, and even to a modified degree in Augustine himself. He was born in the Roman colony of Cirta, probably a few years after the death of Quintilian. He rose to a conspicuous position at Rome under Hadrian, and was highly esteemed by Marcus Antoninus, who not only elevated him to the consulship, but made him one of the principal tutors of the joint-heirs to the Empire, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. He died a few years before Marcus Aurelius. The recovered fragments of his writings, which are lamentably scanty and interrupted, are chiefly from his correspondence with his two imperial pupils. With both of them, and Marcus Aurelius especially, he continued in later years to be on the most intimate and affectionate relations. The elderly rhetorician, a martyr, as he keeps complaining, to gout, and the philosophic Emperor write to each other with the effusiveness of two school-girls. It is impossible to suspect Marcus Aurelius of insincerity, and it is easy to understand what a real fervour of admiration his saintly character might awaken in any one who had the privilege of watching and aiding its development; but the endearments exchanged in the letters that pass between “my dearest master” and “my life and lord” are such as modern taste finds it hard to sympathise with, or even to understand.
The single cause for complaint that Fronto had against his pupil was that, as he advanced in life, he gradually withdrew from the study of literature to that of philosophy. To Fronto, literature was the one really important thing in the world; and in his perpetual recurrence to this theme, he finds occasion to lay down in much detail his own literary theories and his canons of style. The Elocutio Novella, which he considered it his great work in life to expound and to practise, was partly a return upon the style of the older Latin authors, partly a new growth based, as theirs had been, on the actual language of common life. The prose of Cato and the Gracchi had been, in vocabulary and structure, the living spoken language of the streets and farms, wrought into shape in the hands of men of powerful genius. To give fresh vitality to Latin, Fronto saw, and saw rightly, that the same process of literary genius working on living material must once more take place. His mistake was in fancying it possible to go back again to the second century before Christ, and make a fresh start from that point as though nothing had happened in the meantime. In our own age we have seen a somewhat similar fallacy committed by writers who, in their admiration of the richness and flexibility of Elizabethan English, have tried to write with the same copiousness of vocabulary and the same freedom of structure as the Elizabethans. Between these and their object lies an insuperable barrier, the formed and finished prose of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; between Fronto and his lay the whole mass of what, in the sustained and secure judgment of mankind, is the classical prose of the Latin language, from Cicero to Tacitus. In the simplicity which he pursued there was something ineradicably artificial, and even unnatural, and the fresh resources from which he attempted to enrich the literary language and to form his new Latin resembled, to use his own striking simile, the exhausted and unwilling population from which the legions could only now be recruited by the most drastic conscription.
Yet if Fronto hardly succeeded in founding a new Latin, he was a powerful influence in the final collapse and disappearance of the old. His reversion to the style and language of pre-Ciceronian times was only a temporary fashion; but in the general decay of taste and learning it was sufficient to break the continuity of Latin literature. The bronze age of Ennius and Cato had been succeeded, in a broad and stately development, by the Golden and Silver periods. Under this fresh attack the Latin of the Silver Age breaks up and goes to pieces, and the failure of Fronto and his contemporaries to create a new language opens the age of the base metals. The collapse of the imperial system after the death of Marcus Aurelius is not more striking or more complete than the collapse of literature after that of his tutor.
Of the actual literary achievement of this remarkable critic, when he turned from criticism and took to construction, the surviving fragments give but an imperfect idea. Most of the fragments are from private letters; the rest are from rhetorical exercises, including those of the so-called Principia Historiae, a panegyric upon the campaigns and administration of Verus in the Asiatic provinces. But among the letters there are some of a more studied eloquence, which show pretty clearly the merits and defects of their author as a writer. In narrative he is below mediocrity: his attempt, for instance, to tell the story of the ring of Polycrates is incredibly languid and tedious. Where his style reaches its highest level of force and refinement is in the more imaginative passages, and in the occasional general reflections where he makes the thought remarkable by an unexpected cadence of language. A single characteristic passage may be quoted, the allegory of the Creation of Sleep. It occurs in a letter urging the Emperor to take a brief rest from the cares of government during a few days that he was spending at a little seaside town in Etruria. The admirably sympathetic rendering given by the late Mr. Pater in Marius the Epicurean will show more clearly than abstract criticism the distinctively romantic or mediaeval note which, except in so far as it had been anticipated by the genius of Plato and Virgil, appears now in literature almost for the first time.
“They say that our father Jupiter, when he ordered the world at the beginning, divided time into two parts exactly equal; the one part he clothed with light, the other with darkness; he called them Day and Night; and he assigned rest to the night and to the day the work of life. At that time Sleep was not yet born, and men passed the whole of their lives awake: only, the quiet of the night was ordained for them, instead of sleep. But it came to pass, little by little, being that the minds of men are restless, that they carried on their business alike by night as by day, and gave no part at all to repose. And Jupiter, when he perceived that even in the night-time they ceased not from trouble and disputation, and that even the courts of law remained open, resolved to appoint one of his brothers to be the overseer of the night and have authority over man's rest. But Neptune pleaded in excuse the gravity of his constant charge of the seas, and Father Dis the difficulty of keeping in subjection the spirits below: and Jupiter, having taken counsel with the other gods, perceived that the practice of nightly vigils was somewhat in favour. It was by night, for the most part, that Juno gave birth to her children; Minerva, the mistress of all art and craft, loved the midnight lamp; Mars delighted in the night for his plots and sallies; and the favour of Venus and Bacchus was with those who roused by night. Then it was that Jupiter formed the design of creating Sleep; and he added him to the number of the gods, and gave him the charge over night and rest, putting into his hands the keys of human eyes. With his own hands he mingled the juices wherewith Sleep should soothe the hearts of mortals— herb of Enjoyment and herb of Safety, gathered from a grove in Heaven; and, from the meadows of Acheron, the herb of Death; expressing from it one single drop only, no bigger than a tear that one might hide. 'With this juice,' he said, 'pour slumber upon the eyelids of mortals. So soon as it hath touched them they will lay themselves down motionless, under thy power. But be not afraid: they will revive, and in a while stand up again upon their feet.' After that, Jupiter gave wings to Sleep, attached, not to his heels like Mercury's, but to his shoulders like the wings of Love. For he said, 'It becomes thee not to approach men's eyes as with the noise of a chariot and the rushing of a swift courser, but with placid and merciful flight, as upon the wings of a swallow—nay! not so much as with the fluttering of a dove.'“
Alike in the naive and almost childlike simplicity of its general structure, and in its minute and intricate ornament, like that of a diapered wall or a figured tapestry, where hardly an inch of space is ever left blank—this new style is much more akin to the manner of the thirteenth or fourteenth century than to that of the classical period. A similar quality is shown, not more strikingly, but on a larger scale and with a more certain touch, in the celebrated prose romance of Fronto's contemporary, Lucius Apuleius.
Like Fronto, Apuleius was of African origin. He was born at the Roman colony of Madaura in Numidia, and educated at Carthage, from which he proceeded afterwards to the university of Athens. The epithets of semi- Numida and semi-Gaetulus, which he applies to himself, indicate that he fully felt himself to belong to a civilisation which was not purely European. Together with the Graeco-Syrian Lucian, this Romano-African represents the last extension which ancient culture took before finally fading away or becoming absorbed in new forms. Both were by profession travelling lecturers; they were the nearest approach which the ancient world made to what we should now call the higher class of journalist. Lucian, in his later life—like a journalist nowadays who should enter Parliament—combined his profession with high public employment; but Apuleius, so far as is known, spent all his life in writing and lecturing. Though he was not strictly either an orator or a philosopher, his works include both speeches and philosophical treatises; but his chief distinction and his permanent interest are as a novelist both in the literal and in the accepted sense of the word—a writer of prose romances in which he carried the novella elocutio to the highest point it reached. He was born about the year 125; the Metamorphoses, his most famous and his only extant romance, was written at Rome before he was thirty, soon after he had completed his course of study at Athens. The philosophical or mystical treatises of his later life, On the Universe, On the God of Socrates, On Plato and his Doctrine, do not rise above the ordinary level of the Neo-Platonist school, Platonism half understood, mixed with fanciful Orientalism, and enveloped in a maze of verbiage. That known as the Apologia, an elaborate literary amplification of the defence which he had to make before the proconsul of Africa against an accusation of dealing in magic, is the only one which survives of his oratorical works; and his miscellaneous writings on many branches of science and natural history, which are conjectured to have formed a sort of encyclopedia like those of Celsus and Pliny, are all but completely lost: but the Florida, a collection, probably made by himself, of twenty-four selected passages from the public lectures which he delivered at Carthage, give an idea of his style as a lecturer, and of the scope and variety of his talent. The Ciceronian manner of Quintilian and his school has now completely disappeared. The new style may remind one here and there of Seneca, but the resemblance does not go far. Fronto, who speaks of Cicero with grudging and lukewarm praise, regards Seneca as on the whole the most corrupt among Roman writers, and Apuleius probably held the same view. He produces his rhetorical effects, not by daring tropes or accumulations of sonorous phrases, but by a perpetual refinement of diction which keeps curiously weighing and rejecting words, and giving every other word an altered value or an unaccustomed setting. The effect is like that of strange and rather barbarous jewellery. A remarkable passage, on the power of sight possessed by the eagle, may be cited as a characteristic specimen of his more elaborate manner. Quum se nubium tenus altissime sublimavit, he writes, evecta alis totum istud spatium, qua pluitur et ningitur, ultra quod cacumen nec fulmini nec fulguri locus est, in ipso, ut ita dixerim, solo aetheris et fastigio hiemis ... nutu clementi laevorsum vel dextrorsum tota mole corporis labitur ... inde cuncta despiciens, ibidem pinnarum eminus indefesso remigio, ac paulisper cunctabundo volatu paene eodem loco pendula circumtuetur et quaerit quorsus potissimum in praedam superne se proruat fulminis vice, de caelo improvisa simul campis pecua, simul montibus feras, simul urbibus homines, uno obtutu sub eodem impetu cernens. The first thing that strikes a reader accustomed to classical Latin in a passage like this is the short broken rhythms, the simple organism of archaic prose being artificially imitated by carefully and deliberately breaking up all the structure which the language had been wrought into through the handling of centuries. The next thing is that half the phrases are, in the ordinary sense of the word, barely Latin. Apuleius has all the daring, though not the genius, of Virgil himself in inventing new Latin or using old Latin in new senses. But Virgil is old Latin to him no less than Ennius or Pacuvius; in this very passage, with its elaborate archaisms, there are three phrases taken directly from the first book of the Aeneid.
In the Metamorphoses the elaboration of the new style culminates. In its main substance this curious and fantastic romance is a translation from a Greek original. Its precise relation to the version of the same story, extant in Greek under the name of Lucian, has given rise to much argument, and the question cannot be held to be conclusively settled; but the theory which seems to have most in its favour is that both are versions of a lost Greek original. Lucian applied his limpid style and his uncommon power of narration to rewrite what was no doubt a ruder and more confused story. Apuleius evidently took the story as a mere groundwork which he might overlay with his own fantastic embroidery. He was probably attracted to it by the supernatural element, which would appeal strongly to him, not merely as a professed mystic and a dabbler in magic, but as a decadent whose art sought out strange experiences and romantic passions no less than novel rhythms and exotic diction. Under the light touch of Lucian the supernaturalism of the story is merely that of a fairy-tale, not believed in or meant to be believed; in the Metamorphoses a brooding sense of magic is over the whole narrative. In this spirit he entirely remodels the conclusion of the story. The whole of the eleventh book, from the vision of the goddess, with which it opens, to the reception of the hero at the conclusion into the fellowship of her holy servants, is conceived at the utmost tension of mystical feeling. “With stars and sea-winds in her raiment,” flower-crowned, shod with victorious palm, clad, under the dark splendours of her heavy pall, in shimmering white silk shot with saffron and rose like flame, an awful figure rises out of the moonlit sea: En adsum, comes her voice, rerum natura parens, elementorum omnium domina, seculorum progenies initialis, summa numinum, regina manium, prima caelitum, deorum dearumque facies uniformis, quae caeli luminosa culmina, maris salubria flamina, inferorum deplorata silentia nutibus meis dispenso. It was in virtue of such passages as that from which these words are quoted that Apuleius came to be regarded soon after his death as an incarnation of Antichrist, sent to perplex the worshippers of the true God. Already to Lactantius he is not a curious artist in language, but a magician inspired by diabolical agency; St. Augustine tells us that, like Apollonius of Tyana, he was set up by religious paganism as a rival to Jesus Christ.
Of the new elements interwoven by Apuleius in the story of the transformations and adventures of Lucius of Patrae (Lucius of Madaura, he calls him, thus hinting, to the mingled awe and confusion of his readers, that the events had happened to himself), the fervid religious enthusiasm of the conclusion is no doubt historically the most important; but what has made it immortal is the famous story of Cupid and Psyche, which fills nearly two books of the Metamorphoses. With the strangeness characteristic of the whole work, this wonderful and exquisitely told story is put in the mouth of a half crazy and drunken old woman, in the robbers' cave where part of the action passes. But her first half-dozen words, the Erant in quadam civitate rex et regina, lift it in a moment into the fairy world of pure romance. The story itself is in its constituent elements a well-known specimen of the maerchen, or popular tale, which is not only current throughout the Aryan peoples, but may be traced in the popular mythology of all primitive races. It is beyond doubt in its essential features of immemorial antiquity; but what is unique about it is its sudden appearance in literature in the full flower of its most elaborate perfection. Before Apuleius there is no trace of the story in Greek or Roman writing; he tells it with a daintiness of touch and a wealth of fanciful ornament that have left later story- tellers little or nothing to add. The version by which it is best known to modern readers, that in the Earthly Paradise, while, after the modern poet's manner, expanding the descriptions for their own sake, follows Apuleius otherwise with exact fidelity.
In the more highly wrought episodes, like the Cupid and Psyche, the new Latin of Apuleius often approximates nearly to assonant or rhymed verse. Both rhyme and assonance were to be found in the early Latin which he had studied deeply, and may be judged from incidental fragments of the popular language never to have wholly disappeared from common use during the classical period. Virgil, in his latest work, as has been noticed, shows a tendency to experiment in combining their use with that of the Graeco-Latin rhythms. The combination, in the writing of the new school, of a sort of inchoate verse with an elaborate and even pedantic prose was too artificial to be permanent; but about the same time attempts were made at a corresponding new style in regular poetry. Rhymed verse as such does not appear till later; the work of the novelli poetae, as they were called by the grammarians, partly took the form of reversion to the trochaic metres which were the natural cadence of the Latin language, partly of fresh experiments in hitherto untried metres, in both cases with a large employment of assonance, and the beginnings of an accentual as opposed to a quantitative treatment. Of these experiments few have survived; the most interesting is a poem of remarkable beauty preserved in the Latin Anthology under the name of the Pervigilium Veneris. Its author is unknown, nor can its date be determined with certainty. The worship of Venus Genetrix, for whose spring festival the poem is written, had been revived on a magnificent scale by Hadrian; and this fact, together with the internal evidence of the language, make it assignable with high probability to the age of the Antonines. The use of the preposition de, almost as in the Romance languages, where case-inflexions would be employed in classical Latin, has been held to argue an African origin; while its remarkable mediaevalisms have led some critics, against all the other indications, to place its date as low as the fourth or even the fifth century.
The Pervigilium Veneris is written in the trochaic septenarian verse which had been freely used by the earliest Roman poets, but had since almost dropped out of literary use. With the revival of the trochaic movement the long divorce between metrical stress and spoken accent begins to break down. The metre is indeed accurate, and even rigorous, in its quantitative structure; but instead of the prose and verse stresses regularly clashing as they do in the hexameter or elegiac, they tend broadly towards coinciding, and do entirely coincide in one-third of the lines of the poem. We are on the very verge of the accentual Latin poetry of the Middle Ages, and the affinity is made closer by the free use of initial and terminal assonances, and even of occasional rhyme. The use of stanzas with a recurring refrain was not unexampled; Virgil, following Theocritus and Catullus, had employed the device with singular beauty in the eighth Eclogue; but this is the first known instance of the refrain being added to a poem in stanzas of a fixed and equal length; it is more than halfway towards the structure of an eleventh-century Provencal alba. The keen additional pleasure given by rhyme was easily felt in a language where accidental rhymes come so often as they do in Latin, but the rhyme here, so far as there is any, is rather incidental to the way in which the language is used, with its silvery chimes and recurrences, than sought out for its own sake; there is more of actual rhyming in some of the prose of Apuleius. The refrain itself-
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit, quique amavit cras amet—
has its internal recurrence, the folding back of the musical phrase upon itself; and as it comes over and over again it seems to set the whole poem swaying to its own music. In one of the most remarkable of his lyrics (like this poem, a song of spring), Tennyson has come very near, as near perhaps as it is possible to do in words, towards explaining the actual process through which poetry comes into existence: The fairy fancies range, and lightly stirr'd, Ring little bells of change from word to word. In the Pervigilium Veneris with its elaborate simplicity— partly a conscious literary artifice, partly a real reversion to the childhood of poetical form—this process is, as it were, laid bare before our eyes; the ringing phrases turn and return, and expand and interlace and fold in, as though set in motion by a strain of music.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit, quique amavit cras amet;
Ver novum, ver iam canorum, ver renatus orbis est;
Vere concordant amores, vere nubunt alites
Et nemus comam resolvit de maritis imbribus:
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit, quique amavit cras amet—
in these lines of clear melody the poem opens, and the rest is all a series of graceful and florid variations or embroideries upon them; the first line perpetually repeating itself through the poem like a thread of gold in the pattern or a phrase in the music. In the soft April night the tapering flame-shaped rosebud, soaked in warm dew, swells out and breaks into a fire of crimson at dawn.
Facta Cypridis de cruore deque Amoris osculo
Deque gemmis deque flammis deque solis purpuris
Cras ruborem qui latebat veste tectus ignea
Unico marita nodo non pudebit solvere.
Cras amet qui nunquam amavit, quique amavit cras amet.
Flower-garlanded and myrtle-shrouded, the Spring worshippers go dancing through the fields that break before them into a sheet of flowers; among them the boy Love goes, without his torch and his arrows; amid gold- flowered broom, under trees unloosening their tresses, in myrtle-thicket and poplar shade, the whole land sings with the voices of innumerable birds. Then with a sudden sob the pageant ceases:—
Ilia cantat, nos tacemus: quando ver venit meum?
Quando fiam uti chelidon ut tacere desinam?
A second spring, in effect, was not to come for poetry till a thousand years later; once more then we hear the music of this strange poem, not now in the bronze utterance of a mature and magnificent language, but faintly and haltingly, in immature forms that yet have notes of new and piercing sweetness.
Bels dous amicx, fassam un joc novel
Ins el jardi on chanton li auzel—
so it rings out in Southern France, “in an orchard under the whitethorn leaf;” and in England, later, but yet a century before Chaucer, the same clear note is echoed, bytuene Mershe ant Averil, whan spray bigineth to spring.
But in the Roman Empire under the Antonines the soil, the race, the language, were alike exhausted. The anarchy of the third century brought with it the wreck of the whole fabric of civilisation; and the new religion, already widely diffused and powerful, was beginning to absorb into itself on all sides the elements of thought and emotion which tended towards a new joy and a living art.