« AnteriorContinuar »
LAYS OF ANCIENT ROME.
THAT what is called the history of the kings and early consuls of Rome is to a great extent fabulous, few scholars have, since the time of Beaufort, ventured to deny. It is certain that, more than three hundred and sixty years after the date ordinarily assigned for the foundation of the city, the public records were, with scarcely an exception, destroyed by the Gauls. It is certain that the oldest annals of the commonwealth were compiled more than a century and a half after the destruction of the records. It is certain, therefore, that the great Latin writers of a later period did not possess those materials, without which a trustworthy account of the infancy of the republic could not possibly be framed. They own, indeed, that the chronicles to which they had access were filled with battles that were never fought and consuls that were never inaugurated; and we have abundant proof that, in those chronicles, events of the greatest importance, such as the issue of the war with Porsena, and the issue of the war with Brennus were grossly misrepresented. Under these circumstances a wise man will look with great suspicion on the
in the sacred grove, the fight of the three Romans and the three Albans, the purchase of the Sibyline books, the crime of Tullia, the simu lated madness of Brutus, the ambiguous reply of the Delphian oracle to the Tarquins, the wrongs of Lucretia, the heroic actions of Horatius Cocles, of Scævola, and of Clalia, the battle of Regillus won by the aid of Castor and Pollux, the fall of Cremera, the touching story of Coriolanus, the still more touching story of Virginia, the wild legion about the draining of the Alban lake, the combat between Valerius Corvus and the gigantic Gaul, are among the many instances which will at once suggest themselves to every reader.
In the narrative of Livy, who was a man of fine imagination, these stories retain much of their genuine character. Nor could even the tasteless Dionysius distort and mutilate them into mere prose. The poetry shines, in spite of him, through the dreary pedantry of his eleven books. It is discernible in the most te dious and in the most superficial modern works on the early times of Rome. It enlivens the dulness of the Universal History, and gives a charm to the most meager abridgments of Goldsmith.
end which has come down to us. He will, <rhaps, be inclined to regard the princes who are said to have founded the civil and religious Even in the age of Plutarch there were disinstitutions of Rome, the son of Mars, and the cerning men who rejected the popular account husband of Egeria, as mere mythological per- of the foundation of Rome, because that acsonages, of the same class with Perseus and count appeared to them to have the air, not of Ixion. As he draws nearer and nearer to the a history, but of a romance or a drama. Plu confines of authentic history, he will become tarch, who was displeased at their incredulity, less and less hard of belief. He will admit had nothing better to say in reply to their arthat the most important parts of the narrative guments than that chance sometimes turns have some foundation in truth. But he will poet, and produces trains of events not to be distrust almost all the details, not only because distinguished from the most elaborate plots they seldom rest on any solid evidence, but which are constructed by art." But though also because he will constantly detect in them, the existence of a poetical element in the early even when they are within the limits of physi-history of the Great City was detected so many cal possibility, that peculiar character, more ages ago, the first critic who distinctly saw easily understood than defined, which distin- from what source that poetical element had guishes the creations of the imagination from been derived was James Perizonius, one of the the realities of the world in which we live. most acute and learned critics of the seventeenth century. His theory, which, in his own
The early history of Rome is indeed far more poetical than any thing else in Latin lite-age, attracted little or no notice, was revived in rature. The loves of the Vestal and the God the present generation by Niebuhr, a man who of War, the cradle laid among the reeds of Tiber, the fig tree, the she-wolf, the shepherd's où dei de ATLOTELY, THY FOXY batas, e *. Ὕποπτον μὲν ἐνίοις τὸ δραματικὴν καὶ πλασμαcabin, the recognition, the fratricide, the rape pár dnpinupys tort.-Plut. Rom. viii. This remarkof the Sabines, the death of Tarpeia, the fallable passage has been more grossly misinterpreted than of Hostus Hostilius, the struggle of Mettus any other in the Greek language, where the sense was Curtius through the marsh, the women rushing version of Amyot, the old English version by several with torn raiment and dishevelled hair between hands, and the later English version by Langhorne, are their fathers and their husbands, the nightly all equally destitute of every trace of the meaning of the original. None of the translators saw even that zvíqua meetings of Numa and the Nymph by the well is a poem. They all render it an event 533
so obvious. The Latin version of Cruserius, the French
2 x 2
would have been the first writer of his time, through many revolutions, minstrelsy retained if his talent for communicating truths had its influence over both the Teutonic and the borne any proportion to his talent for investi- Celtic race. The vengeance exacted by the gating them. It has been adopted by several spouse of Attila for the murder of Siegfried eminent scholars of our own country, particu- was celebrated in rhymes, of which Germany larly by the Bishop of St. David's, by Professor is still justly proud. The exploits of Athelstane Malden, and by the lamented Arnold. It ap- were commemorated by the Anglo-Saxons, and pears to be now generally received by men those of Canute by the Danes, in rude poems, conversant with classical antiquity; and in- of which a few fragments have come down to deed it rests on such strong proofs, both in-us. The chants of the Welsh harpers preternal and external, that it will not be easily served, through ages of darkness, a faint and subverted. A popular exposition of this theory doubtful memory of Arthur. In the highlands and of the evidence by which it is supported of Scotland may still be gleaned some reliques may not be without interest even for readers of the old songs about Cuthullin and Fingal who are unacquainted with the ancient lan- The long struggle of the Servians against the guages. Ottoman power was recorded in lays full of martial spirit. We learn from Herrera that, when a Peruvian Inca died, men of skill were appointed to celebrate him in verses which all the people learned by heart, and sang in public on days of festival. The feats of Kur roglou, the great freebooter of Turkistan, recounted in ballads composed by himself, are known in every village of Northern Persia Captain Beechey heard the bards of the Sandwich Islands recite the heroic achievements of Tamehameha, the most illustrious of their kings. Mungo Park found in the heart of Africa a class of singing men, the only annalists of their rude tribes, and heard them tell the story of the great victory which Damel, the negró prince of the Jaloffs, won over Abdulkader, the Mussulman tyrant of Foota Torra. This spe cies of poetry attained a high degree of excel lence among the Castilians, before they began to copy Tuscan patterns. It attained a still higher degree of excellence among the English and the Lowland Scotch, during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. But it reached its full perfection in ancient Greece; for there can be no doubt that the great Homeric poems are generically ballads, though widely indeed distinguished from all other ballads, and, indeed, from almost all other human compositions, by transcendant merit.
The Latin literature which has come down to us is of later date than the commencement of the second Punic war, and consists almost exclusively of words fashioned on Greek models. The Latin metres, heroic, elegiac, lyric, and dramatic, are of Greek origin. The best Latin epic poetry is the feeble echo of the Iliad and Odyssey. The best Latin eclogues are imitations of Theocritus. The plan of the most finished didactic poem in the Latin tongue was taken from Hesiod. The Latin tragedies are bad copies of the master-pieces of Sophocles and Euripides. The Latin comedies are free translations from Demophilus, Menander, and Apollodorus. The Latin philosophy was borrowed, without alteration, from the Portico and the Academy; and the great Latin orators constantly proposed to themselves as patterns the speeches of Demosthenes and Lysias.
But there was an earlier Latin literature, a literature truly Latin, which has wholly perished-which had, indeed, almost wholly perished long before those whom we are in the habit of regarding as the greatest Latin writers were born. That literature abounded with metrical romances, such as are found in every country where there is much curiosity and intelligence, but little reading and writing. All human beings, not utterly savage, long for some information about past times, and are delighted by narratives which present pictures to the eye of the mind. But it is only in very enlightened communities that books are readily accessible. Metrical composition, therefore, which, in a highly civilized nation, is a mere luxury, is, in nations imperfectly civilized, almost a necessary of life, and is valued less on account of the pleasure which it gives to the ear than on account of the help which it gives to the memory. A man who can invent or embellish an interesting story, and put it into a form which others may easily retain in their recollection, will always be highly esteemed by a people eager for amusement and information, but destitute of libraries. Such is the origin of ballad-poctry, a species of composition which scarcely ever fails to spring up and flourish in every society, at a certain point in the progress towards refinement. Tacitus informs us that songs were the only memorials of the past which the ancient Germans posscssed. We learn from Lucan and from Âmmianus Marcellinus, that the brave actions of the ancient Gauls were commemorated in the verses of Bards. During many ages, and
As is agreeable to general experience that, at a certain stage in the progress of society, ballad-poetry should flourish, so is it also agreeable to general experience that, at a subsequent stage in the progress of society, balladpoetry should be undervalued and neglected. Knowledge advances: manners change: great foreign models of composition are studied and imitated. The phraseology of the old minstrels becomes obsolete. Their versification, which, having received its laws only from the ear, abounds in irregularities, seems licentious and uncouth. Their simplicity appears beggarly when compared with the quaint forms and gaudy colouring of such artists as Cowley and Gongora. The ancient lays, unjustly despised by the learned and polite, linger for a time in the memory of the vulgar, and are at length too often irretrievably lost. We cannot wonder that the ballads of Rome should have altogether disappeared, when we remember how very narrowly, in spite of the invention of printing, those of our own country and those of Spain escaped the same fate. There is, indeed, little doubt that oblivion covers many English songs equal to any that were published by Bishop
Percy, and many Spanish songs as good as the best of those which have been so happily translated by Mr. Lockhart. Eighty years ago England possessed only one tattered copy of Childe Waters and Sir Čauline, and Spain only one tattered copy of the noble poem of the Cid. The snuff of a candle, or a mischievous dog, might in a moment have deprived the world for ever of any of those fine compositions. Sir Walter Scott, who united to the fire of a great poet the mirute curiosity and patient diligence of a great antiquary, was but just in time to save the precious reliques of the Minstrelsy of the Border. In Germany, the lay of the Nibelungs had been long utterly forgotten, when, in the eighteenth century, it was, for the first time, printed from a manuscript in the old Library of a noble family. In truth, the only people who, through their whole passage from simplicity to the highest civilization, never for a moment ceased to love and admire their old ballads, were the Greeks.
That the early Romans should have had ballad-poetry, and that this poetry should have perished, is, therefore, not strange. It would, on the contrary, have been strange if it had not come to pass; and we should be justified in pronouncing them highly probable, even if we had no direct evidence on the subject. But we have direct evidence of unquestionable authority.
Ennius, who flourished in the time of the Second Punic War, was regarded in the Augustan age as the father of Latin poetry. He was, in truth, the father of the second school of Latin poetry,-of the only school of which the works have descended to us. But from Ennius himself we learn that there were poets who stood to him in the same relation in which the author of the romance of Count Alarcos stood to Garcilaso, or the author of the “Lytell Geste of Robin Hode" to Lord Surrey. Ennius speaks of verses which the Fauns and the Bards were wont to chant in the old time, when none had yet studied the graces of speech, when none had yet climbed the peaks sacred to the Goddesses of Grecian song. "Where," Cicero mournfully asks, "are those old verses now ?"
Contemporary with Ennius was Quintus Fabius Pictor, the earliest of the Roman annalists. His account of the infancy and youth of Romulus and Remus has been preserved by
"Quid? Nostri veteres versus ubi sunt? 'Quos olim Fauni vatesque canebant, Cum neque Muearum scopulos quisquam superârat, Nec dicti studiosus erat."" Cic. in Bruto, cap. xviii. The Muses, it should be observed, are Greek divinities. The Italian Goddesses of verse were the Camone. At a later period, the appellations were used indiscriminateJy; but in the age of Ennius there was probably a distinction. In the epitaph of Nævius who was the representative of the old Italian school of poetry, the Camæne, not the Muses, are represented as grieving for the loss of their votary. The "Musarum scopuli" are evidently the peaks of Parnassus.
Scaliger, in a note on Varro (De Lingua Latina, lib. vi.) suggests, with great ingenuity, that the Fauns who were represented by the superstition of later ages as a race of monsters, half gods and half brutes, may really have been a class of men who exercised in Latium, at a very remote period, the same functions which belonged to the Magians in Persia and to the Bards in Gaul.
Dionysius, and contains a very remarkable re. ference to the old Latin poetry. Fabius says that, in his time, his countrymen were still in the habit of singing ballads about the Twins. "Even in the hut of Faustulus,”— -so these old lays appear to have run," the children of Rhea and Mars were, in port and in spirit, not like unto swineherds or cowherds, but such that men might well guess them to be of the blood of kings and gods."*
Cato the Censor, who also lived in the days of the Second Punic War, mentioned this lost literature in his lost work on the antiquities of his country. Many ages, he said, before his time, there were ballads in praise of illustrious
* Οἱ δὲ ἀνδρωθέντες γίνονται, κατά τε ἀξίωσιν μορφῆς καὶ φρυνήματος ὄγκον, οὐ συοφορβοῖς καὶ βουκόλοις έσιΦύντας γένους, καὶ ἀπὸ δαιμόνων σπορᾶς γενέσθαι νομιζος κότες, ἀλλ ̓ οἷους ἄν τις ἀξιώσειε τοὺς ἐκ βασιλείου τε μένους, ὡς ἐν τοῖς πατρίοις ὕμνοις ὑπὸ 'Ρωμαίων ἔτι καὶ viva derai.-Dion. Hal. i. 79. This passage has sometimes been cited as if Dionysius had been speaking in his own person, and had, Greek as he was, been so industrious or so fortunate as to discover some valuable remains of that early Latin poetry which the greatest Latin writers of his age regretted as hopelessly lost. Such a supposition is highly improbable; and indeed it seems clear from the context that Dionysius, as Reiske and other bius Pictor. The whole passage has the air of an extract editors evidently thought, was merely quoting from Fafrom an ancient chronicle, and is introduced by the words, Κόϊντος μὲν Φάβιος ὁ Πίκτωρ λεγόμενος, τῆδε γράφει.
stood between Mount Palatine and the Circus. This
Another argument may be urged which seems to deserve consideration. The author of the passage in question mentions a thatched hut which, in his time hut, he says, was built by Romulus, and was constantly kept in repair at the public charge, but never in any respect embellished. Now, in the age of Dionysius there certainly was at Rome a thatched hut, said to have been that of Romulus. But this hut, as we learn from Vitruvius, stood, not near the Circus, but in the Capitol. (Vit. in his own person, we can reconcile his statemen, with ii. 1.) If, therefore, we understand Dionysius to speak that of Vitruvius only by supposing that there were at Rome, in the Augustan age, two thatched huts, both believed to have been built by Romulus, and both carefully repaired, and held in high honour. The objections to such a supposition seem to be strong. Neither Dionysius nor Vitruvius speaks of more than one such hut. Dio tration of Augustus, the hut of Romulus caught fire. Cassius informs us that twice, during the long adminis(xlviii. 43. liv. 29.) Had there been two such huts, would he not have told us of which he spoke ? An EngQueen's College without saying whether it was at lish historian would hardly give an account of a fire at Queen's College, Oxford, or at Queen's College, Cambridge. Marcus Seneca, Macrobius, and Conon, a Greek writer from whem Photius has made large extracts,
mention only one hut of Romulus, that in the Capitol. (M. Seneca, Contr. i. 6; Macrobius, Sat. i. 15; Photius, Bibl. 186.) Ovid, Petronius, Valerius Maximus, Lucius Seneca, and St. Jerome mention only one hut of Romuus without specifying the site. (Orid, Fasti, iii. 183, Petronius, Fragm.; Val. Max. iv. 4; L. Seneca, Consolatio ad Helviam; D. Hieron. ad Paulinianum de Didymo. The whole difficulty is removed, if we suppose that Dionysius was merely quoting Fabius Pictor. Nothing of Fabius stood near the Circus, might, long before the is more probable than that the cabin, which in the time age of Augustus, have been transported to the Capitol, as the place fittest, by reason both of its safety and of its sanctity, to contain so precious a relique.
The language of Plutarch confirms this hypothesis. He describes, with great precision, the spot where Romulus dwelt between the Palatine Mount and the Circus: but he says not a word implying that the dwelling was still to be seen there. Indeed, his expressions imply that it was no longer there. The evidence of Solt nus is still more to the point. He, like Plutarch, describes the spot where Romulus ad resided, and says expressly that the hut had been there, but that, in his time, it was there no longer. The site, it is certain, was well remembered; and probably retained its old name, as Charing Cross and the Haymarket have done. This is probably the explanation of the words, "cass Romuli" in Victor's description of the Tenth Region of Rome, under Valentinian.
men; and these ballads it was the fashion for the guests at banquets to sing in turn while the piper played. "Would," exclaims Cicero," that we still had the old ballads of which Cato speaks!"*
Valerius Maximus gives us exactly similar information, without mentioning his authority, and observes that the ancient Roman ballads were probably of more benefit to the young than all the lectures of the Athenian schools, and that to the influence of the national poetry were to be ascribed the virtues of such men as Camillus and Fabricius.t
Varro, whose authority on all questions connected with the antiquities of his country is entitled to the greatest respect, tells us that at banquets it was once the fashion for boys to sing, sometimes with and sometimes without instrumental music, ancient ballads in praise of men of former times. These young performers, he observes, were of unblemished character, a circumstance which he probably mentioned because, among the Greeks, and indeed in his time among the Romans also, the morals of singing boys were in no high repute.+
The testimony of Horace, though given incidentally, confirms the statements of Cato, Valerius Maximus, and Varro. The poet predicts that, under the peaceful administration of Augustus, the Romans will, over their full goblets, sing to the pipe, after the fashion of their fathers, the deeds of brave captains, and the ancient legends touching the origin of the city.§
The proposition, then, that Rome had balladpoetry is not merely in itself highly probable, but it is fully proved by direct evidence of the greatest weight.
This proposition being established, it becomes easy to understand why the early tory of the city is unlike almost every thing else in Latin literature-native where almost every thing else is borrowed, imaginative where almost every thing else is prosaic. We can scarcely hesitate to pronounce that the magnificent, pathetic, and truly national le
* Cicero refers twice to this important passage in Cato's Antiquities:-" Gravissimus auctor in Originibus dixit Cato, morem apud majores hunc epularum fuisse, ut deinceps, qui accubarent, canerent ad tibiam clarorum virorum laudes atque virtutes. Ex quo spicuum est, et cantus tum fuisse rescriptos vocum sonis, et carmina."-Tusc Quæst. iv. 2. Again: "Utinam exstarent illa carmina quæ multis sæculis ante suam ætatem in epulis esse cantitata a singulis convivis de clarorum virorum laudibus in Originibus' scriptum reliquit Cato."-Brutus, cap. xix.
+"Majores natu in conviviis ad tibias egregia supeforum opera carmine comprehensa pangebant, quo ad ea imitanda juventutem alacriorum redderent. Quas Athenas, quam scholam, quæ alienigena studia huic domesticæ disciplinæ prætulerim? Inde oriebantur Camilli, Scipiones, Fabricii, Marcelli, Fabii." — Val. Max. ii. 1.
* See the Preface to the Lay of the Battle of Regillus. + Cicero speaks highly in more than one place of this poem of Nævius; Ennius sneered at it, and stole from it As to the Saturnian measure, see Herman's Elementa Doctrine Metricæ, iii. 9.
The Saturnian line consisted of two parts. The first was a catalectic dimeter iambic; the second was com posed of three trochees. But the license taken by the early Latin poets seems to have been almost boundless. The most perfect Saturnian line which has been prehis-served by the grammarians was the work, not of a professional artist, but of an amateur;
"Dabunt malum Metelli Navio poeta."
"In conviviis pueri modesti ut cantarent carmina antiqua, in quibus laudes erant majorum, et assa voce, et cum tibicine." Nonius, Assa voce pro sola.
"Nosque et profestis lucibus et sacris, Inter jocosi munera Libeli,
Cum prole matronisque nostris, Rite Deos prius apprecati, Virtute functos, MORE PATRUM, duces, Lydis remixto carmine tibiis, Trojamque, et Anchisen, et almæ Progeniem Veneris canemus.”
There has been much difference of opinion among That it is the same with a Greek measure used by Arlearned men respecting the history of this measure chilochus is indisputable. (Bentley, Phalaris, xi.) But in spite of the authority of Terentianus Maurus, and of the still higher authority of Bentley, we may venture to doubt whether the coincidence was not fortuitous. We constantly find the same rude and simple numbers in different countries, under circumstances which make impossible to suspect that there has been imitation on either side. Bishop Heber heard the children of a vil per-lage in Bengal singing "Radha, Radha," to the tune of "My boy Billy." Neither the Castilian nor the German minstrels of the middle ages owed any thing to Pares cr to ancient Rome. Yet both the poem of the Cid and the poem of the Nibelungs contain many Saturnian verses;
gends, which present so striking a contrast to all that surrounds them, are broken and des faced fragments of that early poetry which, even in the age of Cato the Censor, had be come antiquated, and of which Tully had never heard a line.
That this poetry should have been suffered to perish will not appear strange when we consider how complete was the triumph of the Greek genius over the public mind of Italy; It is probable that, at an early period, Homer, Archilochus, and Herodotus, furnished some hints to the Latin minstrels: but it was not till after the war with Pyrrhus that the poetry of Rome began to put off its old Ausonian character. The transformation was soon con summated. The conquered, says Horace, led captive the conquerors. It was precisely at the time at which the Roman people rose to unrivalled political ascendency, that they stooped to pass under the intellectual yoke.
was precisely at the time at which the sceptre departed from Greece that the empire of her language and of her arts became uni versal and despotic. The revolution indeed was not effected without a struggle. Nævius seems to have been the last of the ancient line of poets. Ennius was the founder of a new dynasty. Nævius celebrated the First Punie War in Saturnian verse, the old national verse of Italy. Ennius sang the Second Punic War
Carm. iv. 51.
"Estas nuevas a mio Cid eran venidas." "A mi lo dicen; a ti dan las orejadas."
"Man möhte michel wunder von Sifride sagen." "Wa ich den Künic inde daz sol man mir sager." Indeed, there cannot be a more perfect Saturnian line than one which is sung in every English nursery"The queen was in her parlour eating bread and honey," yet the author of this line, we may be assured, borrowed nothing from either Nævius or Archilochus.
On the other hand, it is by no means improbable that, two or three hundred years before the time of Ennius, some Latin minstrels may have visited Sybaris or Crotona, may have heard some versts of Archilochus sung, may have been pleased with the metre, and may have introduced it at Rome. Thus much is certain, that the Saturnian measure, if not a native of Italy, was at least so early and so completely naturalized there that its foreign origin was forgotten.