« AnteriorContinuar »
And far away the battle
Went roaring through the pass.
Sate in the Eastern Gate.
Each in his chair of state;
Was no such Pontiff found.
And all around the portal,
And maids with faces pale.
Of horse-hoofs from the east. The mist of eve was rising,
The sun was hastening down,
When he was aware of a princely pair
Saw twins so like before;
"Hail to the great Asylum! Hail to the hill-tops seven!
Hail to the fire that burns for aye,
And the shield that fell from heaven!
This day, by Lake Regillus,
Under the Porcian height,
All in the lands of Tusculum
Was fought a glorious fight. To-morrow your Dictator
Shall bring in triumph home The spoils of thirty cities
To deck the shrines of Rome!"
Then burst from that great concourse
And some ran north, and some ran south,
But on rode these strange horsemen,
And none who saw their bearing
While laurel-boughs and flowers, From housetops and from windows, Fell on their crests in showers. When they drew nigh to Vesta,
They vaulted down amain, And washed their horses in the well That springs by Vesta's fane. And straight again they mounted, And rode to Vesta's door; Then, like a blast, away they passed, And no man saw them more.
And all the people trembled,
Alone found voice to speak: "The Gods who live forever
Have fought for Rome to-day!
Hath seen the Great Twin Brethren
Through billows and through gales
Marked evermore with white,
Be hung with garlands all,
Before the sacred dome,
Where dwell the Great Twin Brethren Who fought so well for Rome."
of the Patrician money-lenders. Children often became slaves in consequence of the misfor tunes of their parents. The debtor was imprisoned, not in a public jail under the care of impartial public functionaries, but in a private workhouse belonging to the creditor. Frightful stories were told respecting these dungeons. It was said that torture and brutal violation were common; that tight stocks, heavy chains, scanty measures of food, were used to punish wretches guilty of nothing but poverty; and that brave soldiers, whose breasts were covered with honourable scars, were often mark
A COLLECTION Consisting exclusively of warsongs would give an imperfect, or rather an erroneous notion of the spirit of the old Latin ballads. The Patricians, during about a century and a half after the expulsion of the kings, held all the high military commands. A Plebeian, even though, like Lucius Siccius, he were distinguished by his valour and knowledge of war, could serve only in subordinate posts. A minstrel, therefore, who wished to celebrate the early triumphs of his country, could hardly take any but Patricians for his heroes. The warriors who are mentioned in the two preceding lays, Horatius, Lartius, Her-ed still more deeply on the back by the scourges minius, Aulus Posthumius, butius Elva, Sempronius Atratinus, Valerius Poplicola, were all members of the dominant order; and a poet who was singing their praises, whatever his own political opinions might be, would naturally abstain from insulting the class to which they belonged, and from reflecting on the sys-able though not proportioned to their numerical tem which had placed such men at the head of the legions of the commonwealth.
of high-born usurers.
The Plebeians were, however, not wholly without constitutional rights. From an early period they had been admitted to some share of political power. They were enrolled in the centuries, and were allowed a share, consider
strength, in the disposal of those high dignities from which they were themselves excluded. Thus their position bore some resemblance to that of the Irish Catholics during the interval between the year 1792 and the year 1829. The Plebeians had also the privilege of annually appointing officers, named Tribunes, who had no active share in the government of the Commonwealth, but who, by degrees, acquired a power which made them formidable even to the ablest and most resolute Consuls and Dietators. The person of the Tribune was inviola ble; and, though he could directly effect little, he could obstruct every thing.
But there was a class of compositions in which the great families were by no means so courteously treated. No parts of early Roman history are richer with poetical colouring than those which relate to the long contest between the privileged houses and the commonalty. The population of Rome was, from a very early period, divided into hereditary castes, which, indeed, readily united to repel foreign enemies, but which regarded each other, during many years, with bitter animosity. Between those castes there was a barrier hardly less strong than that which, at Venice, parted the mem- During more than a century after the institubers of the Great Council from their country-tion of the Tribuneship, the Commons strugmen. In some respects indeed, the line which separated an Icilius or a Duilius from a Posthumius or a Fabius was even more deeply marked than that which separated the rower of a gondola from a Contarini or a Morosini. At Venice the distinction was merely civil. At Rome it was both civil and religious. Among the grievances under which the Plebeians suffered three were felt as peculiarly severe. They were excluded from the highest magistracies; they were excluded from all share in the public lands; and they were ground down to the dust by partial and barbarous legislation touching pecuniary contracts. The ruling class in Rome was a moneyed class; and it made and administered the laws with a view solely to its own interest. Thus the relation | between lender and borrower was mixed up with the relation between sovereign and sub ject. The great men held a large portion of the community in dependence by means of advances at enormous usury. The law of debt, framed by creditors, and for the protection of craitors, was the most horrible that has ever been known among men. The liberty, and even the life, of the insoivent were at the mercy
gled manfully for the removal of grievances under which they laboured; and, in spite of many checks and reverses, succeeded in wringing concession after concession from the stubborn aristocracy. At length, in the year of the city 378, both parties mustered their whole strength for their last and most desperate conflict. The popular and active Tribune, Caius Licinius, proposed the three memorable laws which are called by his name, and which were intended to redress the three great evils of which the Plebeians complained. He was supported, with eminent ability and firmness, by his colleague, Lucius Sextius. The strug gle appears to have been the fiercest that ever in any community terminated without an appeal to arms. If such a contest had raged in any Greek city, the streets would have run with blood. But, even in the paroxysms of faction, the Roman retained his gravity, his respect for law, and his tenderness for the lives of his fellow-citizens. Year after year Licinius and Sextius were re-elected Tribunes. Year after year, if the narrative which has come down to us is to be trusted, they continued to exert, to the full extent, their power of stopping
the whole machine of government. No curule | truth, naturally from the constitution of the magistrates could be chosen; no military mus- Roman government and from the spirit of the ter could be held. We know too little of the Roman people; and, though it submitted to state of Rome in those days to be able to con- metrical rules derived from Greece, it retained jecture how, during that long anarchy, the to the last its essentially Roman character. Lupeace was kept, and ordinary justice adminis- cilius was the earliest satirist whose works tered between man and man. The animosity were held in esteem under the Cæsars. But, of both parties rose to the greatest height. The many years before Lucilius was born, Nævius excitement, we may well suppose, would have had been flung into a dungeon, and guarded been peculiarly intense at the annual election there with circumstances of unusual rigour of Tribunes. On such occasions there can be till the Tribunes interfered in his behalf, on little doubt that the great families did all that account of the bitter lines in which he had atcould be done, by threats and caresses, to tacked the great Cæcilian family.* The ge. break the union of the Plebeians. That union, nius and spirit of the Roman satirists survived however, proved indissoluble. At length the the liberties of their country, and were not exgood cause triumphed. The Licinian laws tinguished by the cruel despotism of the Julian were carried. Lucius Sextius was the first and Flavian emperors. The great poet who Plebeian Consul, Caius Licinius the third. told the story of Domitian's turbot was the legitimate successor of those forgotten minstrels whose songs animated the factions of the infant Republic.
Those minstrels, as Niebuhr has remarked, appear to have generally taken the popular side. We can hardly be mistaken in suppos ing that, at the great crisis of the civil conflict, they employed themselves in versifying all the most powerful and virulent speeches of the Tribunes, and in heaping abuse on the chief's of the aristocracy. Every personal defect, every domestic scandal, every tradition dis honourable to a noble house, would be sought
The results of this great change were singularly happy and glorious. Two centuries of prosperity, harmony, and victory followed the reconciliation of the orders. Men who remembered Rome engaged in waging petty wars almost within sight of the Capitol lived to see her the mistress of Italy. While the disabilities of the Plebeians continued, she was scarcely able to maintain her ground against the Volscians and Hernicans. When those disabilities were removed, she rapidly became more than a match for Carthage and Macedon. During the great Licinian contest the F.e-out, brought into notice, and exaggerated. The beian poets were, doubtless, not silent. Even in modern times songs have been by no means without influence on public affairs; and we may therefore infer, that, in a society where printing was unknown, and where books were rare, a pathetic or humorous party-ballad must have produced fects such as we can but faintly conceive. It is certain that satirical poems were common at Rome from a very early period. The rustics who lived at a distance from the seat of government, and took little part in the strife of factions, gave vent to their petty local animosities in coarse Fescennine verse. The lampoons of the city were doubtless of a higher order; and their sting was early felby the nobility. For in the Twelve Tables, long before the time of the Licinian laws, a severe punishment was denounced against the citizen who should compose or recite verses reflecting on another. Satire is, indeed, the only sort of composition in which the Latin poets, whose works have come down to us, were not mere imitators of foreign models; and it is therefore the only sort of composition in which they had never been rivalled. It was not, like their tragedy, their comedy, their epic and lyric poetry, a hot-house plant which, in return for assiduous and skilful culture, yielded only scanty and sickly fruits. It was hardy, and full of sap; and in all the various juices which it yielded might be distinguished the flavour of the Ausonian soil. "Satire," said Quintilian, with just pride, “is all our own." It sprang, in
Cicero justly infers from this law that there had been early Latin poets whose works had been lost be fore his time. "Quamquam id quidem etiam xii tabulæ declarant; condi jam tum solitum esse carmen, quod ne liceret fleri ad alterius injuriam lege sanxerunt."Tusc. iv. 2.
illustrious head of the aristocratical party,
* Plautus, Miles Gloriosus. Aulus Gellius iii 3
great agitators. He would naturally, there- | Tribuneship was re-established; and Appíus fore, be the favourite mark of the Plebeian escaped the hands of the executioner only by satirists; nor would they have been at a loss a voluntary death. to find a point on which he was open to attack.
His grandfather, named like himself, Appius Claudius, had left a name as much detested as that of Sextus Tarquinius. He had been Consul more than seventy years before the introduction of the Licinian laws. By availing himself of a singular crisis in public feeling, he had obtained the consent of the Commons to the abolition of the Tribuneship, and had been the chief of that Council of Ten to which the whole direction of the State had been cominitted. In a few months his administration had become universally odious. It was swept away by an irresistible outbreak of popular fury; and its memory was still held in abhorrence by the whole city. The immediate cause of the downfall of this execrable government was said to have been an attempt made by Appius Claudius on the chastity of a beautful young girl of humble birth. The story ran, that the Decemvir, unable to succeed by bribes and solicitations, resorted to an outrageous act of tyranny. A vile dependant of the Claudian house laid claim to the damsel as his slave. The cause was brought before the tribunal of Appius. The wicked magistrate, in defiance of the clearest proofs, gave judgment for the claimant; but the girl's father, a brave soldier, saved her from servitude and dishonour by stabbing her to the heart in the sight of the whole Forum. That blow was the signal for a general explosion. Camp and city rose at once; the Ten were pulled down; the
It can hardly be doubted that a story so admirably adapted to the purposes both of the poet and of the demagogue would be eagerly seized upon by minstrels burning with hatred against the Patrician order, against the Clandian house, and especially against the grandson and namesake of the infamous Decemvir.
In order that the reader may judge fairly of these fragments of the lay of Virginia, he must imagine himself a Plebeian who has just voted for the re-election of Sextius and Licinius. All the power of the Patricians has been exerted to throw out the two great champions of the Commons. Every Posthumius, Æmilius, and Cornelius has used his influence to the utmost. Debtors have been let out of the workhouses on condition of voting against the men of the people; clients have been posted to hiss and interrupt the favourite candidates; Appius Claudius Crassus has spoken with more than his usual eloquence and asperity; all has been in vain; Licinius and Sextus have a fifth time carried all the tribes; work is suspended; the booths are closed; the Plebeians bear on their shoulders the two champions of liberty through the Forum. Just at this moment it is announced that a popular poet, a zealous adherent of the Tribunes, has made a new song which will cut the Claudian family to the heart. The crowd gathers round him, and calls on him to recite it. He takes his stand on the spot where, according to tradition, Virginia, more than seventy years ago, was seized by the pander of Appius, and he begins his story.
FRAGMENTS OF A LAY SUNG IN THE FORUM ON THE DAY WHEREON LUCIUS SEXTIUS SEXTI-
YE good men of the Commons, with loving hearts and true,
A tale of what Rome once hath borne; of what Rome yet may bear.
Of maids with snaky tresses, or sailors turned to swine.
Here, in this very Forum, under the noonday sun,
In sight of all the people, the bloody deed was done.
Old men still creep among us who saw that fearful day,
Just seventy years and seven ago, when the wicked Ten bare sway.
Of all the wicked Ten still the names are held accursed,
The townsmen shrank to right and left, and eyed askance with fear
With outstretched chin and crouching pace, the client Marcus steals,
His loins girt up to run with speed, be the errand what it may,
Just then, as through one cloudless chink in a black stormy sky Shines out the dewy morning-star, a fair young girl came by. With her small tablets in her hand, and her satchel on her arm,
Home she went bounding from the school, nor dreamed of shame or harm
With bright, frank brow that had not learned to blush at gaze of man;
And Appius heard her sweet young voice, and saw her sweet young face,
And all along the Forum, and up the Sacred Street,
His vulture eye pursued the trip of those small glancing feet.
Over the Alban mountains the light of morning broke;
From all the roofs of the Seven Hills curled the thin wreaths of smoke: The city gates were opened; the Forum, all alive,
With buyers and with sellers was humming like a hive.
Blithely on brass and timber the craftsman's stroke was ringing,
Ah! wo for young Virginia, the sweetest maid in Rome!
With her small tablets in her hand, and her satchel on her arm,
All came in wrath and wonder; for all knew that fair child;
The caitiff reeled three paces back, and let the maiden go.
Yet glared he fiercely round him, and growled in harsh, fell tone,
She is my slave, born in my house, and stolen away and sold,
Let him who works the client wrong, beware the patron's ire !"
So spake the varlet Marcus; and dread and silence came
Which makes the rich man tremble, and guards the poor man's right
Who clung tight to Muræna's skirt, and sobbed, and shrieked for aid,