Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
[ocr errors]

THE earlier poetry of all countries is essentially unborrowed and original. The Scalds of Scandinavia and the minnesingers of Germany, the harpers of Ireland and the bards of Wales, were *;E7 not beholden to trouveres and troubadours ' of France and Italy. Scottish songs and English ballads bear no trace of foreign imitation or admixture ; and the traditional ** Lays of Ancient Rome,” which have heen preserved by Livy, and retouched by Macaulay, are not copies, whether of Greek or of barbariam models. But the Roman literature underwent a change nearly as rapid and complete as that which was wrought in the language of the Norse pirates who settled on the shores of Neustria. Rollo and his savage followers speedily exchanged their native tongue for French, and their hereditary faith in Odin for the religion of Christ. The Romans, too, after the fall of Carthage (B. c. 146) and the subjugation of Greece, admitted the Grecian deities to their Pantheon, combined the Hellenic theology with their own, and adopted, ifnot the Greek language, at least the forms of Greek literature, both in prose and verse, and the principles of Greek philosophy, whether physical, mathematical, or ethical. In the three great departments of poetical composition—epic, lyric, and dramatic —the entire series of Roman poets, from Ennius to Ovid, were avowed imitators of the Greciam masters, and valued themselves in exact proportion to their success in exemplifying the Grecian modes of thought, style of expression, and varieties of metre.

[graphic]

Cn. Naevius, who described the first Punic war in Saturniam verse, is generally regarded as the last of the Roman poets who owed nothing to the poetic art and inspiration of the Greeks (died B. c. 203); but all his successors, without exception, Ennius, Lucilius, Lucretius, Catullus, Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid, exerted the utmost power of their genius in Graecising the poetry of Rome.

In one kind of composition, however, two ofthe writers now mentioned show complete independence in respect of plan, if not absolute originality of invention. Formal satire, as distinguished from the comic drama, appears to have been unknown to the Greeks, but was cultivated with great assiduity by Lucilius, and brought to perfection by Horace. The rich humour, the playful but pungent sarcasm, the gay and sparkling wit, the deep insight into human nature in its diversified forms, the thorough acquaintance with society and manners, the strong sense, the sound morality, the vein of pleasant egotism, and the careless yet inimitable grace of style which distinguish the Horatian satires and epistles, have not been equalled by any satirist of subsequent times; while the odes and epodes, though in form and structure directly imitative of Grecian archetypes, are Roman in spirit as well as in language, and, at the same time, display brilliancy of fancy, felicity of expression, and mastery of verse, which are not surpassed in the literature of the world.

The era ofRoman history which immediately

preceded the birth of Horace was scarcely less remarkable than that which followed it.

In his boyhood, the poet might have heard the stirring tale of the Cimbric invasion* from a veteran soldier of

Preceding
History.

' Marius defeated the Teutones near Aquae Sextiae, B. c. 102. Marius and Catulus defeated the Cimbri nenr Verona, b. c. 101.

the army which had massacred the northerm barbarians o by thousands, under Marius at Aix. | . Townsmen of his native Venusium, still in the prime of • , manhood, B. C. 90—88, had joined that great 'revolt, in which Marsic herdsmen and Samnite mountainee . λύ backed by all the fighting men of Central Italy, Š> their charter of isopolity from Rome at the sword's point, after a series of exterminating defeats, and in defiance of consular armies, led by Marius and Sylla, B. C. 87—79. The deadly struggle which afterwards arose betweem these two redoubted chiefs, the proscriptions, murders, robberies, and social outrages that disgraced it, must have been witnessed, shared in, and described to the poet by men coeval with his own father, B. C. 87—63; while the details of that long, bloody, and doubtful war, which the Romans waged with Mithridates, the ablest of Eastern kings, and the mightiest enemy of the Roman power in Asia, were doubtless listened to byyoung Horace with as deep an interest as that which a British Schoolboy of the present generation testifies in reading or hearing of the campaigns of Napoleon, or the conquests of Wellington. The period of Horace's own life, on the other hand (B. c. 65 to B. c. 8), is crowded with events, which are not only the most memorable in the amnals of Rome, but landmarks in the history of our race. Two years after his birth, B. c. 63, the Catilinarian conspiracy, which had been organized by a profligate desperado and congenial accomplices, some of whom were connected with the noblest families in Rome, was crushed by the patriotic energy and incomparable eloquence of Cicero. In his fifth year, B. c. 60, the first partition of the empire was made between the three political chiefs, Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.

Contemporary
History.

Then, at an interval of two years, B. C. 58—50, followed the splendid achievements of that great commander, who appears to have combined Hannibal's genius for war and Napoleon's for government, with the oratory of Cicero, the literary skill of Xenophon, and the historical precision of Polybius. The imagination of the boy-poet must have been fired in following the career of that extraordinary man, who, “ casting on one side all petty considerations, went into exile, that he might return master. Italy was then exhausted, and Spain unruly. Gaul could alone subdue Rome.” Survivors of the Gallic and British campaigns might have set before the wondering boy, with the graphic accuracy of personal observation, a living picture of ** that pale countenance, withered before its time by the debauches of Rome ; that delicate and epileptic man, walking at the head of his legions under the rains of Gaul, swimming across its rivers, or riding on horseback among the litters in which his secretaries were borne, and dictating four or six letters at a time ; agitating Rome from the remotest parts of Belgium ; sweeping away two millions of men on his path ; and, in the space often years, subduing Gaul, the Rhine, and the Northern Ocean.”* Horace was in his sixteenth year (B. c. 49) when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon at the head of those Roman and barbariam legions which he had trained to conquest, and was then leading on to a new war against the constitution and liberties of his country. The poet assumed the manly gown in the following year (B. c. 48), when the army of Pompey was routed by Caesar at Pharsalia, the republicam party hopelessly overthrown, and the whole empire laid prostrate at the feet of one military dictator. Four years later, the reign of the great conqueror and statesman ended, B. c. 44. He died by the- hands of

1 Michelet.

those republican chiefs whose lives he had spared, but whose friendship he had striven in vain to conciliate. In the next year, B. C. 43, the empire was again divided, nominally between Octavianus, Antony, and Lepidus; really Between Octavianus and Antony. Octavianus, as the grand-nephew, and Mark Antony, as the friend of the murdered emperor, placed themselves at the head of the imperial faction. The republican party rallied, for the last time, under Brutus, Cassius, and the. other assassins of Caesar ; and among their adherents none was more zealous and eager than Horace, who then happened to be studying at Athens, but was impelled by political enthusiasm to join the republican army, which was defeated and dispersed at Philippi (B. c. 42), never again to combine in defence of the ancient institutions and traditionary freedom of Rome. The two principal triumvirs, as might have been foreseen, after annihilating their republican opponents, and ridding themselves of the imbecile Lepidus, quarrelled with each other about the exclusive possession of their common spoil, and again embroiled the Roman world in a civil war, which ended in the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra in the naval. battle of Actium, B. C. 31, and in the final establishment, of the Roman empire by Augustus, B. c. 29. Horace survived this result for twenty-one years, and accordingly lived to see not only the decline and fall of the Romam Republic, but the triumph of Romam arms and policy, and the gradual advance of Roman civilization, from Caucasus to Calpe, and from the Tagus to the Rhine. From this outline of the literary development and political history of Rome, before and during our author's lifetime, we pass, by a natural transition, to a short biography of himself. Q. HORATIUS FLACcUs was born on the 8th of December, B. c. 65, A. U. c. 689, during the consul

Eersonal History.

« ZurückWeiter »