Rome and the Roman Empire
The legendary story of
the founding of Rome by the twins Romulus and Remus
is a strange Founding Myth. According to its account, Remus
mocked Romulus' work by jumping over the scarcely-begun walls;
Romulus then killed his brother and founded Rome alone, giving
it his own name. The twins, said to have been suckled by a wolf
as babies, were later described as descendants of Aeneas from
Troy. That reflects a desire to connect Rome with the splendours
of ancient Greek tradition and mythology. The traditional date for the founding
of Rome was 753 B.C. Archeology shows that by 575, if
not earlier, small villages on the site of Rome were beginning
to coalesce into a larger city-state (in Latin urbs,) with
advances in civilized living being made under Etruscan
first temple, of Jupiter on the Capitol, was built at this time.
The Etruscans, whose
still-undeciphered language was
not of Indo-European origin, lived in areas near Rome and
their artistic culture has left some remarkable clay statues of
adult couples. They were finally completely assimilated into the
expanding Roman culture.
Seven hills of Rome
Early Roman History
In 510, the
last king (Rex), Tarquin the Proud, was driven
out of Rome and an aristocratic republic established,
with the imperium (supreme power) vested in two
magistrates, later called consuls, elected each year. The kings had naturally had a Council and
this developed into the Senate, which was the main
governing body of Rome, composed of men who had held public
office, so similar to the Athenian Boule. The Senate
served as the symbol and voice of the State, even when its power
was reduced under the emperors. In times of crisis a dictator
(similar to a Greek tyrant) might be appointed by the
Senate to lead the people.
Etruscan painting (showing Greek influence)
citizens of Rome were divided into two classes, the aristocratic
patrician families and the mass of the plebians,
and much of the constitution of Rome arose in the struggle for
power, as the lower class plebs established their right
to representation, such as tribunes, and an Assembly. In the end,
compromise led to solutions which, in Greece, were never
found, partly perhaps because the expansion of Roman power over
the Italian peninsula always gave the lower classes chances of
becoming rich. The city soon developed a system of food
subsidies, by which each citizen was entitled to free bread, as
a means of reducing social tensions.
Greek attempts to assert
power in Italy obliged Rome to exercise its military power
across Italy and
by the end of wars against the Greek Pyrrhus in 275,
Rome had taken control of the whole Italian mainland. Pyrrhus
gained two "Pyrrhic victories"
against Rome between 280 and 278. (A "Pyrrhic victory" is one in
which, although you win a battle, you lose the war). The Romanizing of
Italy was done slowly, by colonizing, by treaty and by
influence, until most people were speaking Latin, using Roman
laws, and seeing the advantage of being Roman citizens. In 273, Ptolemaic
Egypt recognized the importance of Rome. The expansion of
Roman control over the Greek settlements in Southern Italy and
Sicily by 241, brought Greek culture fully into Roman life. The Romans organized,
first Sicily, then other overseas territories, as provinces,
the units of government that were to compose the Empire.
The First Punic War
(240 BC) was fought in Sicily
against the power of Carthage, Rome's main rival
(the word Punic is the same as Phoenician, for Carthage was a
Phoenician colony). It
ended in Roman triumph, Carthage being forced to leave Sicily. Then Rome drove the
Carthaginians out of the western islands of Sardinia and Corsica
Between 237 and 219, the Carthaginian generals
Hamilcar, Hasdrubal and Hannibal took
control of Spain and in 218 Hannibal launched an attack across
southern Gaul against Northern Italy. His exploit in marching an army of 30,000
men over the Alps in winter provoked the admiration of
the Romans. The Romans sent an army to
Spain to prevent reinforcements arriving. They drove the
Carthaginians out of Spain and thus isolated Hannibal while
avoiding direct battle. They
then invaded Africa and at last Hannibal was recalled to defend
Carthage itself in 203. He
had spent 16 years in Italy and left undefeated. He died by his own
hand in 183 while Carthage was finally destroyed in 146, after a
third Punic war; but Rome had already ensured in the Second
Punic War its international superiority for centuries.
After the destruction of Carthage, Rome took control of the
fertile lands of North Africa, then slowly expanded control
north of the Alps and towards what is now Yugoslavia. In about 120, the southern area of Gaul
(now part of France) was formed into a province (it is still
known as Provence).
After serving for 20 years, each Roman soldier was
entitled to a grant of farming land to which he could retire.
Such provinces provided the land needed. Meanwhile, the
Romans had been drawn into Greece, where they sacked Corinth in
146 and transported vast masses of Greek art to Rome,
where Greek philosophers were already lecturing by 155,
although there was never a true university in Rome.
The Civil War
With the wealth of
Greece and Carthage, Rome became immensely rich, and this led to
increasing corruption across the empire, which in turn led to
widespread resentment of the "greedy Italians." The
structures of administration had still to be created. In Italy, unrest came
mainly from the slaves
and the rural poor (uprisings in 135, 103). Germanic
tribes, too, were already invading Italy and had to be
pushed back (102). The
discontent built up into civil war, which could only be won
by concessions. By
about 90 B.C., all Italians were automatically Roman citizens, but all of
this had made the Army, especially the Commander, immensely
powerful. For many
years, the Commander, and consul was Marius. But in 88 Sulla
marched on Rome, opposing Marius, and the period of Civil
War began, the Republic having already lost much of its
83 Sulla set himself up as dictator, in place of Cinna,
but soon they both had to retire.
In 70, the general Pompey
was consul with Crassus,
and these two military leaders imposed their rule against that
of the Senate. In
67 Pompey became Tribune, war-leader, and established the
Province of Syria in
64. At the same
time Julius Caesar (born in 100 B.C.) was rising in
power at Rome. In
63, the consul Cicero unmasked a revolutionary
conspiracy by a group led by Cataline, but by now Crassus
and Julius Caesar were plotting to share power while Pompey had
retired into private life.
Since the Senate would not accept their demands, the
result was a coalition uniting Crassus,
Pompey and Caesar, called the First Triumvirate
chosen as consul in 59, left to capture the northern parts of Gaul in a long campaign
(58-50) which he described in his great book "The Gallic War"
(Caesar is one of the greatest prose writers of ancient times). Gaul (now France) became
part of the Empire, stretching from the English Channel to the
Rhine. Caesar even
crossed into Britain in 55 and 54, but did not establish
any lasting control.
It was Julius Caesar
who finally established the modern (solar) calendar with
365 days (or 366 in leap years)
and twelve months. The Romans called the first day of the
month the Kalends, the 5th or 7th the Nones, and
the 13th or 15th the Ides (the later date for the 31-day
months) and calculated dates by counting back from those, which
had their origin in the older lunar calendar. The year began on
March 1st, and this was only changed in the 18th century, which
explains why the names of the months September - December do not
now correspond to their position in the calendar (Sept = 7, Oct
= 8, Nov = 9, Dec = 10). Roman years were often numbered by
counting from 753 (the foundation of the city, in Latin Ab
urbe condita, AUC)
Crassus having died in
53, the conflict between Caesar
and Pompey became open war. Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon,
entering Italy without the Senate's permission, which signified
civil war, and then defeated Pompey's armies in Spain (49) and
Greece (48). He
followed Pompey to Egypt, where he spent the winter fighting
Ptolemy XIII, and having an affair with Cleopatra, whom
he installed as Queen of Egypt and who bore his only son. He then returned to
Asia Minor, for a victory at Zela
(47), where he said the famous veni,
vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). In Africa (46)
and Spain again (45), he won other battles, each victory
weakening the Republican cause.
Caesar, as dictator, was clearly a personal ruler,
whether or not he intended to change the basic constitution and
become king. In
44, after he had been made Dictator for life, he received almost
all the royal honours. At
last, a group of conspirators under Cassius and Brutus
assassinated Caesar in the Senate House on the Ides of March
(March 15) 44 B.C.. He
fell at the foot of Pompey's statue.
From Plutarch : The
Death of Julius Caesar
When Caesar entered, the senate stood up to show their respect to
him, and of Brutus's confederates, some came about his chair and
stood behind it, others met him, pretending to add their petitions
to those of Tillius Cimber, in behalf of his brother, who was in
exile; and they followed him with their joint applications till he
came to his seat. When he was sat down, he refused to comply with
their requests, and upon their urging him, further began to
reproach them severely for their importunities, when Tillius,
laying hold of his robe with both his hands, pulled it down from
his neck, which was the signal for the assault.
gave him the first cut in the neck, which was not mortal nor
dangerous, as coming from one who at the beginning of such a bold
action was probably very much disturbed; Caesar immediately turned
about, and laid his hand upon the dagger and kept hold of it. And
both of them at the same time cried out, he that received the
blow, in Latin, "Vile Casca, what does this mean?" and he that
gave it, in Greek to his brother, "Brother, help!"
Upon this first onset, those who were not privy to the design were
astonished, and their horror and amazement at what they saw were
so great that they durst not fly nor assist Caesar, nor so much as
speak a word. But those who came prepared for the business
enclosed him on every side, with their naked daggers in their
hands. Which way soever he turned he met with blows, and saw their
swords levelled at his face and eyes, and was encompassed like a
wild beast in the toils on every side. For it had been agreed they
should each of them make a thrust at him, and flesh themselves
with his blood; for which reason Brutus also gave him one stab in
Some say that he fought and resisted all the rest, shifting his
body to avoid the blows, and calling out for help, but that when
he saw Brutus's sword drawn, he covered his face with his robe and
submitted, letting himself fall, whether it were by chance or that
he was pushed in that direction by his murderers, at the foot of
the pedestal on which Pompey's statue stood, and which was thus
wetted with his blood.
So that Pompey himself seemed
to have presided, as it were, over the revenge done upon his
adversary, who lay here at his feet, and breathed out his soul
through his multitude of wounds, for they say he received
three‑and‑twenty. And the conspirators themselves were many of
them wounded by each
other, whilst they all levelled their blows at the same person.
Julius Caesar had
named the son of his niece,
Caius Octavius (born 63, died A.D. 14), to be his
heir, since he himself had no legal sons. In 43, he was
recognized as Caesar's "son" with the name Octavianus
and in the same year he, Mark Antony (he had been the
colleague of Caesar as consul) and Lepidus, were named Triumvirs.
In 42 they defeated the Republicans under Brutus and Cassius, both of
whom killed themselves. In
41, Antony was in Egypt, where he met Cleopatra, with
whom he too began an affair, although he made a political
marriage with Octavian's sister Octavia in 40.
In 36, Lepidus fell
and, while Antony was busy in the East, Octavian took power over
Italy and the West. In
31, at the naval Battle of Actium, Antony and Cleopatra
were defeated. They killed themselves and Octavian became
supreme ruler, the Empire was at peace.
This Augustan Peace which lasted throughout his reign
was marked by the construction
of the Ara Pacis in Rome, and the Augustan
Age was later felt to have been a Golden Age. In 29, the
Senate confirmed the title of Imperator (Emperor)
which Octavian had been using since 38. His power was based
on his prestige, but he tried to make the Empire aware of the
values of Roman tradition by encouraging writers to express the
imperial vision. Among
them were Virgil and Horace. In 27 he received the
title Augustus, indicating his de
facto position, and the month August got its name at this time. He had become a
"constitutional emperor," ruling with the support of the
Senate and Roman People (Senatus Populus que Romanus SPQR
was the symbol carried at the head of the armies), but as he was
more and more honoured as a god, his position was quite unique. Under his rule, the
provinces became truly an Empire.
In A.D. 6, Judea (the
became a minor Province by annexation, after the deposition of
Archelaus who had succeeded Herod the Great (died 4 B.C.). It
was to be ruled by Procurators, nominated for 10
years. In 27,
Pontius Pilate became Procurator. Galilee was not part
of Roman Judaea, it was ruled as a Tetrarchy by Herod
Antipas, under whose rule Jesus of Nazareth lived, and by
whose command John the Baptist was executed.
Rome has nothing to
compare with Homer and Hesiod, Plato and Aristotle. It developed
no great literary or philosophical tradition. There are the
plays written by Terence
and Plautus from the
period 200-150, which greatly influenced the Renaissance
comedies of Shakespeare etc. but otherwise nothing of note
from before the time of Caesar and Augustus. At the time of
Caesar, the leading Roman statesman was Cicero (born
106) whose full name was Marcus Tullius Cicero, so that
he was also known (in Shakespeare etc.) as "Tully". He was opposed to
Antony after the assassination of Caesar and he was murdered by
Antony's agents in 43 B.C.. He had studied at the Academy in
Athens, where he learned to present mostly Stoic morality in a
simple, undogmatic way. Cicero's main works are
his Orations (speeches made in the course of his career
as a lawyer and political figure), his 931 letters to 99
different people, and writings on rhetoric and style. As a philosophical
figure, he wrote on political theory (De Republica, a
dialogue), on ethical and on theological questions. He was deeply
influenced by the Stoics but adopted an independent
line on some questions. His
main doctrine is that of humanitas, the
qualities of mind and character that make a man civilized. A true Man should
respect all men because humanity is worthy of respect. (The
Stoics taught the universal Brotherhood of Man, based on
the notion that each individual contains a spark of the same
divine fire). No
law, he said, can make a wrong thing right or a right thing
wrong. The moral
thought of Cicero has deeply marked the thinkers of
Europe: Luther, Montaigne, Locke, Hume. He was mainly familiar
as a moral thinker in the Middle Ages, but at the Renaissance
his influence as a stylist in prose, as the model of Latin
style, was enormous.
If every one of us seizes and appropriates for himself other
people's property, the human community, the brotherhood of
is natural enough for a man to prefer earning a living for himself
rather than for someone else; but what nature forbids is that we
should increase our means, property, and resources by robbing
This idea that one must not injure anybody for one's own advantage
is not only natural law, an internationally valid principle; it is
also incorporated in the laws which individual communities
have drawn up. (... )
Magnanimity, and loftiness of soul, and courtesy, and justice, and
generosity, are far more natural than self-indulgence, or wealth,
or even life itself.
to despise these latter things, to attach no importance to
them in comparison with the common good, really does need a great
and lofty heart.
In the same way, it is more truly natural to model oneself on
Hercules and undergo the most terrible labours and troubles to
help and save all the nations of the earth than to live a
secluded, untroubled life with plenty of money and pleasures.
Mankind was grateful to
Hercules for his services... So the finest and noblest characters
prefer a life of dedication to a life of self-indulgence: and one
may go further, and conclude that such men conform with nature and
will therefore do no harm to their fellow-men. (... )
Everyone ought to have the same purpose: to make the interest of
each the same as the interest of all.
For if men grab for themselves, it will mean
the complete collapse of human society.
If Nature prescribes that every human being must help every other
is, just precisely because they are human beings, then by the same
authority all men have identical interests.
interests means that we are all subject to one and the same Law of
Nature: that being so, the very least that such a law must enjoin
is that we may not wrong one another. (... )
People are not talking sense if they claim that
they will not rob their parents or brothers, but that robbing
their other compatriots is a different matter.
That is the same as
denying any common interest with their fellow-countrymen, or any
consequent legal or social obligations.
And such a denial
shatters the whole fabric of national life.
Another attitude is that one ought to take account of compatriots
but not of foreigners.
who argue like this subvert the whole basis of the human community
itself-and when that is gone, kind actions, generosity, goodness,
and justice are annihilated.
And their annihilation is a sin against the immortal gods.
For it was they who
established the society which such men are undermining.
And the tightest bond
of that society is the belief that it is more unnatural for one
man to rob another for his own benefit than to endure any loss
whatsoever, whether to his person or to his property, or even to
his very soul, provided that no consideration of justice or
injustice is involved: for justice is the queen and sovereign of
all the virtues.
Let us consider possible objections.
(1) Suppose a man of great wisdom were starving to death: would he
not be justified in taking food belonging to someone who was
(2) Suppose an honest man had the chance to steal the clothes of a
cruel and inhuman tyrant, and needed them to avoid freezing to
death, should he not do it?
These questions are very easy to answer.
For if you rob even a completely useless man
for your own advantage, it is an unnatural, inhuman action. (... )
As for the tyrant, we have nothing in common with autocrats; in
fact we and they are totally set apart.
There is nothing unnatural about robbing, if
you can, a man whom it is morally right to kill, and the whole
sinful and pestilential gang of dictatorial rulers ought to be
cast out from human society... these ferocious, bestial monsters
in human form ought to be severed from the body of mankind.
Catullus (84-54) is above all
remembered for the 25 poems in which he celebrates his lady
"Lesbia" (surely not her real name, even if she was a real
person). He was
influenced by the Hellenic epigram, but made it into
something personal and vivid.
In this way he influenced the poets who came after him,
and wrote some of the most perfect short lyrics in any language,
full of intensity and vitality.
Many of his poems are love-elegies, based on Greek models
but Roman in feeling.
My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love,
And though the sager sort our deeds reprove,
Let us not weigh them; heaven's great lamps do dive
Unto their west, and straight again revive
But soon as once set is our little light,
must we sleep
one ever-during night.
Thomas Campion, 1601)
Sallust (86-35) was one of
the first Roman historians, writing about the period of
Marius and the first stages of the decline of the Republic.
himself wrote "Commentaries" on his wars, seven books on the
campaign in Gaul, three more on the Civil War, describing each
stage in clear, simple prose.
These have been much studied, for Caesar was one of the
greatest generals ever, a master-strategist.
The Augustan Age was
later often seen as a Golden Age, because of the quality
of the writers, because it was a age of peace, because Rome was
rebuilt in imperial style.
Yet it was also an age of failure and disappointment,
because Augustus was an authoritarian dictator, an
autocrat who swept away the last democratic forms of the
Republic and took control of every sector of life. Augustus established
the Empire as it was to survive for 400 years, with a broadly
unified culture that would spread across Western Europe,
bringing many of the best things that had first been discovered
by Greece. Augustus
wished to give his people a higher vision of morality, of human
dignity, and used art for that purpose.
Maro (known as Virgil or Vergil) (70-19) was born near
Mantua, studied at Cremona, Milan, Rome. He was deeply
influenced by the poems of Catullus and by the perfections of
rhythms and form practiced by the Alexandrians. At the time of
Caesar's death he went to live in the countryside near Naples,
and here he began his bucolic (pastoral) Eclogues. These caught
the attention of Octavian's rich and powerful advisor, Maecenas,
the model rich patron of literature, who brought Virgil into the
service of the rising future Augustus. The Eclogues were followed soon by
the Georgics, written after he had met
Horace. Later he
began to write the Aeneid for Augustus. He went to finish it
and study in Athens, from which he returned with Augustus in 19,
but fell ill and died on the way home.
are modelled on the Idylls of Theocritus, but blend
the Greek and the Italian landscapes. The action is located in Arcadia,
an idealized land of shepherds acting as a symbolic contrast to
the corruptions of the contemporary city, so that
"pastoral" poetry is satiric as well as escapist. The delicate
sentiments and the pure music of Virgil's Eclogues have
inspired many later poets, including Sidney and Spenser. The mysterious 4th
Eclogue was long thought by Christians to be a "prophecy" of the
birth of Christ.
From Virgil's "Pollio"
: the Fourth
Eclogue of the Bucolics
Christians later believed prophesied the birth of Christ)
We have reached the last Era in Sibylline song.
Time has conceived and the great sequence of the Ages starts
Justice, the Virgin, comes back to dwell with us,
and the rule of Saturn is restored.
The Firstborn of the New Age is already on his way
from high heaven down to earth.
With him, the Iron Age shall end
and Golden Man inherit all the world.
Smile on the Baby's birth, immaculate Lucina;
your own Apollo is enthroned at last.
And it is in your consulship, yours, Pollio,
that this glorious Age will dawn
and the Procession of the great Months begin.
Under your leadership all traces that remain of our iniquity will
and, as they vanish, free the world from its long night of horror.
He will meet with the gods;
he will see the great men of the past consorting with them,
and be himself observed by these guiding a world
to which his father's virtues have brought peace.
E. V. Rieu)
The Georgics are
presented as a guide to being a good farmer, but the quality of
the poetry shows that this is no mere handbook. These poems underlie
many others written later about the details of ordinary daily
life, especially working life, and the pleasures of rural
activity. But they
also show that there is a religious mystery revealed by contact
with nature. For
Dryden these were "the best poems of the best poet."
relates the story of Aeneas in 12 books. An epic of the
legendary origins of Rome, with a strong unity of action,
inspired by Homer. The
style is highly polished, artificial, quite unlike the popular
style of Homer. During
the Middle Ages, it was read as an allegory of the human life
but from Petrarch on, it was also seen as a model to be imitated
by Renaissance writers of epic.
For Western culture,
no work is more influential than the Aeneid. Homer was unknown for
centuries, the Middle Ages knew only his name and had no Latin
translation of his epics, in fact he was taken for a liar
because there existed better-known Latin prose stories of the
same events told from the Trojan point of view. These stories,
bearing the names of Dares Phrygius ("The Fall of Troy") and
Dictys of Crete ("Diary of the Trojan War"), were the main
source of stories about Troy until the mid-17th century.
The Aeneid is
equally a continuation of the Trojan side, Aeneas being shown as
the son of Venus and a Trojan father, Anchises, in the Iliad,
where he is second to Hector.
The Aeneid is written with intense artistry,
with all Virgil's sensitivity and compassion. It shows the
foundation of Rome being prepared through great suffering,
near-despair, and human weakness, thanks to a scheme of divine
Since printing began
in Western Europe, the Aeneid has been published
in at least one new edition every year; from Roman times until
then it had been read continuously, even when no other classical
poetry was esteemed. Virgil
was considered to have been a Prophet of Christ, and was given
religious respect. He
is a basic influence for Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope,
Victor Hugo, Tennyson...
The Aeneid (Summary)
In Book 1 the
Trojan survivors, led by Aeneas, escape a terrible storm and
arrive in North Africa. There they are brought by Venus to the
court of Dido, Queen of Carthage, who falls in love with Aeneas. She asks to hear his
story, which occupies Books 2 and 3, with
the destruction of Troy and his travels. They have settled
down into a quiet life together, but without any wedding
ceremony. In Book
4 Mercury is sent with a message from the gods,
urging Aeneas to remember his mission to go to Italy and found a
new Troy there. His
departure causes Dido to commit suicide and is given as the
reason for the centuries of war between Carthage and Rome in the
Arriving back in
Sicily, Aeneas the "True" organizes Games to commemorate
the first anniversary of his father's death there, before the
journey to Carthage (Book 5). From there they
sail up to Cumae, near Naples, and visit the Sibyl (oracle of
Apollo) in her cave. After
an oracle on their future plans, Aeneas asks permission to go
down into the Underworld and meet his father's spirit. He is given
instructions and makes the journey (Book 6), one
of the most famous parts of the Aeneid.
Once at the Tiber,
difficulties and fighting return (Book 7), but
the spirit of Tiber encourages Aeneas to enter Latium. He sails up to the
site of future Rome, where Arcadians are living, and visits the
Capitol and the Forum, still just rocks and fields. For future battle,
Venus obtains armour from Vulcan, with a shield picturing the
future story of Rome (Book 8). The remaining
books (Books 9-12) describe the great battles and
struggle between Aeneas and Turnus for control of the land, with
Aeneas' last gesture of killing Turnus an unnecessary act of
revenge for the death of Pallas, when Turnus was already beaten. The poem was left
incomplete at Virgil's death.
The morality of the Aeneid
is "Avoid excess, be true." Its basic theme is the
importance of harmony and reconciliation, true nobility in
living. The opening lines have often been imitated:
Arms, and the man I sing,
who, forced by fate,
And haughty Juno's
exiled, left the Trojan shore.
Long labors, both
by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful
war, before he won
The Latian realm,
and built the destined town;
His banished gods
restored to rites divine,
And settled sure
succession in his line,
From whence the
race of Alban fathers come,
And the long
glories of majestic Rome.
the causes and the crimes relate;
What goddess was
provoked, and whence her hate;
For what offense
the Queen of Heaven began
To persecute so
brave, so just a man;
anxious life in endless cares,
Exposed to wants,
and hurried into wars!
Can heavenly minds
such high resentment show,
Or exercise their
spite in human woe?
the Tiber's mouth, but far away,
An ancient town was
seated on the sea;
A Tyrian colony;
the people made
Stout for the war,
and studious of their trade:
Carthage the name;
beloved by Juno more
Than her own Argos,
or the Samian shore.
Here stood her
chariot; here, if Heav'n were kind,
The seat of awful
empire she designed.
Yet she had heard
an ancient rumor fly,
(Long cited by the
people of the sky,)
That times to come
should see the Trojan race
Her Carthage ruin,
and her towers deface;
Nor thus confined,
the yoke of sovereign sway
Should on the necks
of all the nations lay.
She pondered this,
and feared it was in fate;
Nor could forget
the war she waged of late
Greece against the Trojan state.
causes working in her mind,
And secret seeds of
envy, lay behind;
Deep graven in her
heart the doom remained
Of partial Paris,
and her form disdained;
The grace bestowed
on ravished Ganymed,
glories, and her injured bed.
Each was a cause
alone; and all combined
To kindle vengeance
in her haughty mind.
For this, far
distant from the Latian coast
She drove the
remnants of the Trojan host;
And seven long
years the unhappy wand'ring train
Were toss'd by
storms, and scatter'd thro' the main.
Such time, such
toil, requir'd the Roman name,
Such length of
labor for so vast a frame.
From Book VI of the
Aeneid: The Underworld
Hence leads a road to Acheron, vast flood
Of thick and restless slime: all that foul ooze
It belches in Cocytus.
That wild and filthy pilot of the march
Charon, from whose rugged old chin trails down
The hoary beard of centuries: his eyes
Are fixed, but flame.
grimy cloak hangs loose
Rough-knotted at the shoulder: his own hands
Pole on the boat, or
tend the sail that wafts
His dismal skiff and its fell freight along.
Ah, he is old, but with that toughening age
That speaks his godhead!
the bank and him
All a great multitude came pouring down,
Brothers and husbands, and the proud-souled heroes,
Life's labours done: and boys and unwed maidens
And the young men by whose flame-funeral
Parents had wept.
as leaves that fall
Gently in autumn when the sharp cold comes
Or all the birds that flock at the turn o' the year
Over the ocean to the lands of light.
They stood and prayed each one to be first taken:
They stretched their hands for love of the other side.
But the grim sailor takes now these, now those:
And some he drives a distance from the shore.
Aeneas, moved and marvelling at this stir,
Cried - 'O chaste Sibyl, tell me why this throng
That rushes to the river?
Have all these phantoms? and what rule's award
Drives these back from the marge, lets these go over
Sweeping the livid shallows with the oar?'
The old priestess replied in a few words:
'Son of Anchises of true blood divine,
Behold the deep Cocytus and dim Styx
By whom the high gods fear to swear in vain.
This shiftless crowd all is unsepulchred:
The boatman there is Charon: those who embark
leave this beach of horror
To cross the growling stream before that hour
That hides their white bones in a quiet tomb.
A hundred years they flutter round these shores:
Then they may cross the waters long desired.'
J. E. Flecker)
Flaccus (always known in English as Horace) (65-8) was born in a
simple family, went to study at the University of Athens, then
served under Brutus, but survived the defeat at Philippi (42)
and was introduced to Maecenas by Virgil and entered the service
of Octavian, who enjoyed his company. His combination of great poetic skill with
a basically humorous attitude to life made him the great model
for English writers such as Pope.
are the earlier works, iambic poems in which Horace adopts a
tone of bitterness, ferocity, which is often found not to be
"real"; they are about love problems, politics, or are humorous
show refined techniques in epigram etc., derived from the
Hellenistic Greek poetry.
The Satires follow
a genre invented by Lucilius (died 101), the personal,
autobiographical satire, about opinions, adventures, food,
family, friends, morality, but Horace is much less bitter, far
more humorous; a stream of anecdotes interrupts the flow of
ideas, and we never know when Horace is being ironic because he
mocks himself as much as everyone else. He uses a form of the
epic hexameter, passing from the high style to the very relaxed,
and this link between epic and satire is recalled in the 17-18th
century English "mock-epic."
(Carmina) are designed to display Horace's great
technical skill, modelled on the Greek poets, both Sappho and
the Alexandrians. They
are not "pure" lyrics, but explore many forms and situations,
often expressing directly political comments, which until this
were only found in epic forms of poetry. For Petrarch as for
Ben Jonson, these were a major model, and they inspired
Marvell's "Horatian Ode."
(letters) are his own inventions, written after the Odes
(from 20 B.C.), verse letters in which it is possible to deal
with any subject in a personal, conversational way: how to get
on with great men, the dangers of avarice, the value of the
simple life, town versus country etc. They are not "real" letters, addressed to
a particular person, but exercises in style. They were very
influential from the Renaissance period onwards, from Donne to
Ars Poetica (Art of Poetry) is also a
verse epistle, skillful and humorous, but although it talks
about epic and drama, it is not quite clear what message it
based his "Essay on Criticism" on it, and it was very important
for theorists such as Boileau. The following texts are both free
versions of parts of the Ars Poetica:
'Tis hard, to speak things common, properly:
And thou mayst better bring a Rhapsody
Of Homer's forth in acts, than of thine own
First publish things unspoken, and unknown.
Yet, common matter thou thine own mayst make,
If thou the vile, broad‑trodden ring forsake.
For, being a Poet, thou mayst feign, create,
Not care, as thou wouldst faithfully translate,
To render word for word: nor with thy sleight
Of imitation, leap into a straight
From whence thy modesty, or Poem's Law
Forbids thee forth again thy foot to draw.
Nor so begin, as did that Circler, late:
I sing a noble War, and Priams fate.
What doth this promiser, such great gaping worth
Mountains travailed, and brought forth
A trifling Mouse! O, how much better this,
Who nought assays, unaptly, or amiss?
Speak to me, Muse, the man, who, after Troy was sacked
Saw many towns, and men, and could their manners tract.
He thinks not how to give you smoke from light,
But light from smoke...
(Ben Jonson, 1604)
Observe what Characters your persons fit,
Whether the Master speak, or Jodelet:
Whether a man, that's elderly in growth,
Or a brisk Hotspur in his boiling youth:
A roaring Bully, or a shirking Cheat,
A Court‑bred Lady, or a tawdry Cit:
A prating Gossip, or a jilting Whore,
A travelled Merchant, or an homespun Bore:
Spaniard, or French, Italian, Dutch, or Dane;
Native of Turkey, India, or Japan.
History your Persons take,
Or let them nothing inconsistent speak:
If you bring great Achilles on the Stage,
Let him be fierce and brave, all heat and rage,
Inflexible, and head‑strong to all Laws,
But those, which Arms and his own will impose.
Cruel Medea must no pity have,
Ixion must be treacherous, Ino grieve,
Io must wander, and Orestes rave.
But if you dare to tread in paths unknown
And boldly start new persons of your own
Be sure to make them in one strain agree
And let the end like the beginning be.
(John Oldham, 1681)
Livy (64-A.D. 12?) is the great
historian of Rome. He
wrote a history from the beginnings, in 142 books, of which only
35 have survived. He
exposes the history of Rome in vivid prose, full of
descriptions, that make it a "prose epic," a form of literature. It is given a basic
moral structure (Livy came from a very strict family in Padua)
by the idea of old Rome as a place of discipline, simplicity,
piety, virtue, all values lost in later corruption by luxury and
Propertius (54-16), the most
"artistic" of the Latin poets, elaborate, witty and energetic
like John Donne, is difficult.
He gave the name "Cynthia" to his lady, who seems to be
Naso (known as Ovid) (43-A.D. 17) became famous as a poet in the
generation after the death of Virgil and Horace, by 8 A.D. he
was the most famous poet in Rome, but then he displeased
Augustus (How? We
have no clear information) and he was exiled to Tomis on
the Black Sea, a dangerous place on the edge of the Empire,
where he died.
Ovid wrote all his
works except the Metamorphoses in elegiac couplets. The Amores,
a collection of love poems, suggesting a final rejection of
love-conventions, translated by Marlowe, influenced Donne.
(Epistles from Heroic Women) are mostly verse epistles or
dramatic monologues written/spoken by famous women to absent
husbands or lovers; a second group has pairs of letters in which
the man writes/speaks first.
These are explorations of the psychology of passion, of
what we call "romantic love," the oppositions between the sexes
exist in unresolved tension.
Pope's "Eloisa to Abelard" is one of many modern
Amatoria (Art of Loving) is a parody of
normal didactic poetry, teaching the arts of seduction and
intrigue to men (books 1 & 2) and women (book 3). It must have shocked,
but Ovid's "apology" or retraction, the Remedia Amoris
(the Cure for Love), is no more serious. In the Middle Ages,
Ovid's psychology of Love was immensely popular, especially in
France, where it underlies what is often known as "courtly
Metamorphoses (Transformations), an epic
poem in 15 books in epic hexameters, show the transformations
found in old legends, from the beginnings of time until Julius
wished to be made immortal by this work, which is inspired by
Alexandrian poetry. It
is essentially a collection of fragmentary stories, anecdotes
united by an overall thematic framework and by Ovid's narrative
skill. The more
philosophical theme of "mutability and permanence" stands to
affirm a basically optimistic outlook. These stories are the
main source of medieval and Renaissance knowledge of Greek
mythology, interpreted in the Middle Ages in a moralizing,
allegorical way. The
Metamorphoses was often read and translated in England,
especially by Caxton (1480) and by Arthur Golding (1567-7) whose
translation had a great influence on Elizabethan poetry,
including Shakespeare, who probably also read the original
Ovid, with Virgil, is
one the first "literary poets," his poems show how much he had
read of other poets. But
he is writing about human emotions, exploring the heart and its
passions. He has
enormous technical skills over language and metre, but
above all a marvellous imagination, which may be serious or
amused. In any
case, he teaches us to be more human at every point. Compared with the
other Augustans, he is a man of freedom and sensitivity, aware
of the good that exists in life.
He and Virgil are the two poets who were read
continuously, who were as familiar in the 12th century as in the
The beginning of
The golden age was first; when man, yet new,
No rule but uncorrupted reason knew;
And with a native bent, did good pursue.
Unforced by punishment, unawed by fear,
His words were simple, and his soul sincere:
Needless was written law, where none oppressed;
The law of man was written on his breast;
No suppliant crowds before the judge appeared;
No court erected yet, nor cause was heard;
But all was safe, for conscience was their guard....
The teeming earth, yet guiltless of the plough,
And unprovoked, did fruitful stores allow:
Content with food which nature freely bred,
On wildlings and on strawberries they fed....
From veins of valleys milk and nectar broke,
And honey sweating through the pores of oak.
But when good Saturn, banished from above,
Was driven to Hell, the world was under Jove.
Succeeding times a silver age behold,
Excelling brass, but more excelled by gold.
Then Summer, Autumn, Winter did appear;
And Spring was but a season of the year.
The sun his annual course obliquely made,
Good days contracted, and enlarged the bad.
Then air with sultry heats began to glow,
The wings of winds were clogged with ice and snow;
And shivering mortals, into houses driven,
Sought shelter from the inclemency of heaven.
Those houses then were caves, or homely sheds,
With twining osiers fenced, and moss their beds.
Then ploughs, for seed, the fruitful furrows broke,
And oxen laboured first beneath the yoke.
To this next came in course the brazen age:
A warlike offspring prompt to bloody rage,
Not impious yet-Hard steel succeeded then;
And stubborn as the metal were the men.
Truth, Modesty, and Shame the world forsook:
Fraud, Avarice, and Force their places took....
Then landmarks limited to each his right:
For all before was common as the light.
Nor was the ground alone required to bear
Her annual income to the crooked shear:
But greedy mortals, rummaging her store,
Digged from her entrails first the precious ore,
Which next to hell the prudent gods had laid;
And that alluring ill to sight displayed.
Thus cursed steel, and more accursed gold,
Gave mischief birth, and made that mischief bold:
And double death did wretched man invade,
By steel assaulted, and by gold betrayed.
Now, brandished weapons glittering in their hands,
Mankind is broken loose from moral bands;
No rights of hospitality remain:
The guest, by him who harboured him, is slain;
The son-in-law pursues the father's life;
The wife her husband murders, he the wife.
The step-dame poison for the son prepares;
The son inquires into his father's years.
Faith flies, and Piety in exile mourns;
And Justice, here oppressed, to heaven returns.
The end of the Metamorphoses,
All things do change; but nothing sure doth perish.
This same sprite
Doth fleet, and frisking here and there doth swiftly take his
From one place to another place, and entereth every wight,
Removing out of man to beast, and out of beast to man;
But yet it never perisheth nor never perish can.
And even as supple wax with ease receiveth figures strange,
And keeps not aye one shape, nor bides assured aye from change,
And yet continueth always wax in substance; so
The soul is aye the selfsame thing it was, and yet astray
It fleeteth into sundry shapes...
In all the world there is not that standeth at a stay.
Things ebb and flow, and every shape is made to pass away.
The time itself continually is fleeting like a brook:
For neither brook nor lightsome time can tarry still.
As every wave drives other forth, and that which comes behind
Both thrusteth and is thrust itself, even so the times by kind
Do fly and follow both at once, and evermore renew,
For that that was before is left, and straight there doth ensue
Another that was never erst.
Now have I brought a work to end which neither Jove's fierce
Nor sword, nor fire, nor fretting age with all the force it hath
Are able to abolish quite.
come that fatal hour
Which, saving of this brittle flesh, hath over me no power,
And at his pleasure make an end of my uncertain time;
Yet shall the better part of me assured be to climb
Aloft above the starry sky; and all the world shall never
Be able for to quench my name; for look! how far so ever
The Roman Empire by the right of conquest shall extend,
So far shall all folk read this work; and time without all end,
If poets as by prophecy about the truth may aim,
My life shall everlastingly be lengthened still by fame.
Sir John Harrington)
The Emperors after
"I found Rome brick, I
left it marble" said Augustus.
The Rome of the empire, of which we see the remains
still, was begun under Augustus. But he had no son or
grandson to succeed him. Tiberias,
a brilliant general, was chosen and adopted, and became Emperor
when Augustus died in 14 A.D.. In his reign there was already a
feeling of insecurity, there were mutinies in the provinces. Tiberias withdrew to
the island of Capri in 26 and never returned to Rome. He died there,
insane, in 37, in a climate of terror. Under his rule Pontius Pilate had Jesus
executed in Jerusalem.
Tiberias was followed
by Gaius whose
universally-known name is Caligula (little
boot). He is the
first of the monster-emperors, of immense cruelty, probably insane,
accepting honors which made him equal to a god in his lifetime,
stirring up revolt among the Jews by a plan to put a statue of
himself in the temple at Jerusalem. He was assassinated in 41, to be followed
by the more reasonable Claudius. He was handicapped
and physically weak, and became emperor by chance when the
soldiers who had killed Caligula found him hiding in the Palace. He was interested in
his days, in 43, Britain became a province of the Roman
Empire and the city of London
was founded on the Thames at the lowest place where a crossing
could be made; London was to become the largest Roman city north
of the Alps.
Claudius had at least
four wives, the last of whom was his niece, Agrippina,
who had already a son, Nero, whom Claudius adopted in 50
as guardian to his own son Britannicus. Agrippina, at
first very powerful, but later rejected by Nero, turned to
Britannicus, who should have become Emperor, as Claudius' son. In 54 Claudius died,
perhaps thanks to some mushrooms given him by Agrippina, and
Nero became Emperor.
Britannicus had lost his right to the throne, and was
poisoned, probably on Nero's orders, in 55. Nero was interested
in poetry and art, thanks to his tutor Seneca who became
his main advisor for a time. In 59, encouraged by his mistress Poppaea, the
wife of his friend Otho (who was to be emperor for 2 months in
69), Nero arranged the murder of his mother, who had perhaps
been plotting his death. In
62 Seneca retired from imperial service, leaving Nero completely
out of control. He
then divorced and murdered his wife, Octavia, in order to marry
Poppaea (whom Otho had wisely divorced, he himself going to live
in Spain). In 65
Poppaea died of a kick Nero gave her.
Nero was fond of Greek
styles in art, and of gymnastics.
He built a Gymnasium and founded Games for young
men (Juvenalia) in Rome.
He also wrote poetry which was loudly acclaimed. In 64 a fire
destroyed one half of the city; there is a report that he caused
it ("Nero fiddled while Rome burned"), at least he took over a
lot of the land thus cleared to build a vast palace, and decided
quite arbitrarily to blame the few Christians already living
Rome for the blaze, slaughtering many. According to widely
accepted legend the martyrs included the apostles Peter
and Paul (cf. the film Quo Vadis). Peter
is said to have been crucified while Paul was beheaded.
In 65, a plot to
assassinate Nero was betrayed and many were executed or
forced to commit suicide, including the great Stoic and writer
of tragedies, Seneca,
and the epic poet Lucan. By 66 the Jews were
in revolt, Nero sent Vespasian to pacify them and left for
Greece. By now
Nero could not tolerate any rivalry, and forced generals to
commit suicide because they were successful! In Greece he won the
top prize in all the Games and Festivals, while there was a
famine in Rome. Executions
broke out in Gaul, Spain, Africa.
At last Nero fled from Rome and committed suicide in June
Literary Figures of
the Post-Augustan Period
Phaedrus (15 B.C.-50) ought to be
known for his adaptations into Latin of Aesop's Fables
since his work established the fable, especially the beast
fable, as a serious genre.
Seneca (known as Seneca) (4 B.C.-65) was above all a philosopher,
Stoic and moralizing, but many of his works are lost. He is notable in
literary history because his Latin versions of nine tragedies
(Hercules Furens, Medea, Troades, Phaedra, Agamemnon,
Oedipus, Hercules Oetaeus, Phoenissae, Thyestes) showed
the Renaissance a form of classical tragedy that it found more
congenial than the austere Greek originals. Seneca's tragedies
are designed to be read in 'closet performance', not acted in a
theatre. They are static, and in high style. The presence of
ghosts, tyrants, madmen, nurses, traitors, of high emotions
expressed in elaborate rhetoric, of violent events, and other
such elements in Renaissance tragedy are all signs of Senecan
influence. His work is designed to illustrate the Stoic idea
that passion is essentially destructive; passion and revenge
unleash the hounds of hell, and the innocent suffer as much as
the guilty, while the gods remain above, indifferent.
Seneca's prose works
are marked by noble humanism and moral enlightenment. His style is
epigrammatic, curt, and influenced the change in English prose
style in about 1600. Until then, Cicero had been the model.
Erasmus edited him, Montaigne chose him and Plutarch as his
favorite writers. The
English Essays of Francis Bacon show strong Senecan
influence in their use of philosophical epigrams.
From Seneca's Moral
We need not lift our hands to heaven, we need persuade no one to
let us approach the ear of some statue, as if by so doing we made
ourselves more audible.
is near you, with you, in you.
Yes, Lucullus, within us a holy spirit has its seat, our watcher
and guardian in evil and in good.
As we treat him so he treats us.
The good man, in fact, is never without God.
Can any one rise
superior to Fortune without his aid?
Is he not the source of every generous and
every good person "Dwells nameless, dimly seen, a god" (Aeneid).
If you are confronted by some dense grove of aged and giant trees
shutting out every glimpse of sky with screen upon screen of
branches, the towering stems, the solitude, the sense of
strangeness in a dusk so deep and unbroken, where no roof is, will
make God real to you.
the cavern that holds a hillside poised on its deep-tunnelled
galleries of rock, hollowed into that roomy vastness by nature's
toils, not man's, will strike some hint of sanctity into your
soul. So if you see a man undismayed by dangers, untroubled by
desires, happy in adversity, calm in the midst of storm, eying
mankind from above and the gods on their own plane, will you not
be touched with awe before him?
Into that body a divine force has descended.
The splendid and
disciplined soul, which leaves the little world unheeded and
smiles at the objects of all our hopes and fears, draws its
driving force from heaven.
great a creation cannot stand without God for its stay... Thus a
spirit, great and holy, sent down to give us a nearer knowledge of
the divine, lives among us but cleaves to the fountain of its
existence: from this it is pendant, on this its gaze is fixed,
thither it strives, and moves among our concerns as a superior.
(... ) And what, you ask, is that?
His spirit, and Reason as perfected in that spirit.
For man is a creature
does this Reason demand of him?
A very easy thing-to live in accord with his own nature.
But it is made hard by
the universal insanity.
push each other into vices.
E. Phillips Barker)
Petronius, too, committed suicide in
65 after loosing Nero's favour.
He is the author of one work, the Satyricon,
which many consider the first novel. It
is a kind of Menippean Satire, combining lyric and mock
epic, poetry with prose.
It is full of low-class and disreputable heroes, humour
of situation and lively, realistic dialogue that reminds one of
Charles Dickens. Its structure is episodic, like the picaresque
Empire survived the excesses of Nero; the administration laid
down by Augustus and Claudius did its job, even in the confusion
that followed them. At
first, after Nero's death, the Praetorian Guard (in charge of
imperial security at Rome) and the Senate, chose Galba
from Spain as emperor. The
next year the Guard acclaimed Otho and killed Galba. The armies along the
Rhine chose Vitellius,
there was a battle which Otho lost, he committed suicide. In the East, the
armies had chosen Vespasian; they marched on Rome, there
was fierce fighting and Vitellius was killed. Vespasian ruled as
Emperor for 10 years.
The long Jewish
Revolt, centered in Jerusalem, was finally crushed by a
Roman army led by Vespasian's son Titus who in 70 captured Jerusalem, destroying
the city and the Temple, removing the veil and sacred ornaments
to Rome. This
event was recorded on the Arch of Titus that still
stands near the Colosseum in Rome. From this moment, the Jewish
identity could only continue in Diaspora (dispersion). In fact, since the
deportation by Nebuchadnezzar in 587, there had been large
communities of Jews living in Babylon; they remained
there until the 20th century when most if not all went to live
in Israel. In Alexandria one third of the population was
Jewish at the time of Claudius.
The destruction of the temple did not mean the end
of Judaism, which continued with the local Synagogue
as the centre of worship, with community rituals marking each
stage of life, and with the annual festivals including the
family-centered Passover Meal with its final "Next year
in Jerusalem!" Finally, in 135, exasperated by continuing Jewish
revolts, Hadrian built a Graeco-Roman city on top of the ruins
of Jerusalem and forbade Jews to live in it.
the Empire knew peace and ordered government, which could be
continued because he left two sons who followed him as emperor,
Titus (emperor 79-81) and Domitian (emperor
81-96). The role
of the emperor now became clearer; he was effectively a monarch
with absolute powers. Under
Vespasian and Titus, this was expressed in good government, but
Domitian, Titus' younger brother, after a good beginning began a
reign of terror from 93, in which philosophers were banished
from Italy and many people were executed. The emperor saw plots
everywhere but at last his wife and others succeeded in
murdering him in 96.
Hadrian's Wall, N. England
new emperor is counted as the first of the "Five Good Emperors":
Nerva (only ruled for 2 years), Trajan (98-117),
Hadrian (117-138), Antoninus (138-161), Marcus
One important factor was that all these men chose their
successor as "the best man available," having no sons of their
own. As soon as
Marcus Aurelius made his son his successor, corruption returned. In this time, the
Roman presence in Britain was being confirmed, and
Hadrian is still remembered for Hadrian's Wall (built
122-7), which divides England from the lands to the north,
stretching originally from coast to coast at the level of modern
Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The fierce Pictish tribes of the North were
too strong for the legions.
This is the great age
of the Roman cities across the Empire. Peace meant that
economic development became possible, the great road system
was expanded, trade went beyond the frontiers, to Scandinavia
and China. This is
the age that built the Colosseum, Trajan's Forum,
the Pantheon in Rome, while theatres, baths, aqueducts,
schools and libraries spread across Europe, the Middle East, and
North Africa. This
is the Silver Age of Latin Literature. At the same time, the
Empire was becoming more international, more Oriental too, and
Christianity was not the only Eastern religion spreading at this
time, but it was to outlive all the rest.
The Writers of the
Quintillian (30-100?) is only known by
one work, "On the Training of an Orator," in which he outlines a
traditional system of education based on speech-making. In the Renaissance,
many scholars were tutors to high-class children and his ideas
appealed to Erasmus, Vives etc.
At the end, he gives a picture of the finished product, a
Roman gentleman perfect in morals and diction. Pope refers to his
suggestions about good reading in the Essay on Criticism.
Statius (40-96) left only one
work that has survived, the epic Thebaid which
was highly esteemed in the Middle Ages by Dante and Chaucer. It
tells of the fratricidal conflict between Eteocles and Polynices
for control of Thebes, ending in their deaths (they kill each
other). Creon refuses burial to Polynices but Antigone and his
wife perform the rites. Theseus of Athens intervenes, kills Creon, and
destroys Thebes. The work is no longer admired or read.
Martial (40-104) has left us
fifteen books with more than 1500 epigrams, often a single
couplet. Some have a "sting" that is closer to satire than the
Greek epigrams had ever been.
But the humour ("wit") goes with deep understanding of
epigrams were essential for the art of 17th-century poetry: Ben
Jonson, John Donne, Herrick, Cowley. Renaissance critics
distinguished between different tones of epigram: honeyed,
pungent, mordant, ridiculous and foul.
Pliny the Younger (61-114) is best known for
his 10 books of letters, 247 letters to 105 people. They were prepared
for publication, so are more artificial than those of Cicero,
but it is Pliny who taught the West the art of literary letters,
a form of essay. One
of the most famous letters contains his description of the
eruption of Vesuvius in 79 which destroyed Pompeii, in
which his uncle died. Equally
important is his letter to the Emperor Trajan, in which he asks
how he should deal with the Christians in the province
of Asia Minor he had been sent to govern.
Juvenal (50-127) is the greatest
of the ancient satirists, fierce where Horace was
amused, considering the evils of his age with "harsh, wild
laughter." Some of the topics of his poems are: hypocritical
philosophers, the difficulties of being poor, the faults of
women, the evils of pride and ambition, the cruelties of people. He was popular in the
Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Donne and other young men of his time enjoyed his caustic
was the first to translate him while adapting his references to
contemporary situations, Boileau in France, Pope and Dr.
Johnson, Burke, Hugo, Flaubert, Byron, all drew on his 16
surviving poems. His
vision of the world is always on the darker side, his struggle
is to remain human despite all the wickedness he sees.
Tacitus (55-117?) is a chronicler,
a historian. He
tells us almost all we know about the events between the death
of Augustus and the death of Nero in his Annals,
and is the source for Robert Graves' novels about Claudius,
for the film "Quo Vadis," as well as for Racine's Britannicus,
Ben Jonson's Sejanus (in which Shakespeare acted)
etc. He is also a
vital source of knowledge about
the Germanic tribes in his Germania; some of them were
later to cross the Channel and become the Anglo-Saxons while
others took control of Italy.
He even describes Britain in his Agricola.
Suetonius (69-140) is the founder of
modern biography, in his lost De Viris
Illustribus, in his "Lives of the Poets" and his "Lives
of the Twelve Caesars." After him, history came to be seen in a
biographical perspective, and thus he inspired St. Jerome's De
Viris Illustribus (392), Einhard's Life of
Charlemagne (820), William of Malmesbury's History
of the English Kings (1127) and all that follow. His lives are told
without prejudice or rhetoric, facts speak for themselves, and
since the people he describes were so fascinating, his lives are
reported like "case-histories."
At the same time, but
living in Greece and writing in Greek, lived Plutarch (50-120). For the last thirty
years of his fife he was priest at Delphi and wished to revive
the ancient Greek spirit.
He is most famous for his Lives, although
he wrote very many other works, mostly philosophical as
with his Moralia. His Lives contain
biographical portraits of 50 great men, some legendary like
Theseus and Romulus, some almost contemporary like Julius Caesar
and Brutus. Mostly they are written in pairs, with moralizing
comparisons attached. The
stories he tells are vivid, the narrative memorable, the
style varied. Many
of the Lives follow a pattern of family background - education -
youth - climax - change of fortune, which helped to inspire the
Renaissance historical tragedy.
In France, he was translated by Amyot in 1559, this
was then put into English by Sir Thomas North (1579), giving
Shakespeare his material for Julius Caesar and other
Dryden, Rousseau and the French Revolutionaries all drew on
him. In Plutarch's
Lives, history is seen becoming literature.
Marcus Aurelius is unique among the
emperors in being also famous as a writer. He was much engaged
in provincial wars, in Syria and Egypt, etc. During his spare time
he made notes on thoughts which struck him. Because of his own
personality, and the difficulties surrounding him, these
have great intensity, although the Stoic ideas expressed in
these Meditations are not very new. It is a work which
has appealed to thoughtful men of action over the centuries.
The Decline and Fall
After 200, civil war and
chaos returned, although for most people normal life continued. The slaves remained
slaves, the poor remained poor.
Many emperors came and went, now from many countries, as
they were imposed by military coups in different areas. Germanic tribes were
pressing on the Eastern frontiers, and there were many problems. At last Diocletian
(emperor 284-305) decided to divide the Empire into two parts, Greek-speaking
to the East, Latin-speaking to the West, establishing two "junior
Caesars," Galerius and Constantius, who would take power when he
retired. This did
not work, and by 324 Constantine (his English name) was
Emperor of the whole Empire. In 330, he dedicated the new
city of Constantinople, on the site of the old Byzantium,
to be the "New Rome," the capital in the East where the Emperor
had to spend most of the time.
It was modelled on Rome, with a Senate and free grain for
the citizens, but there were no great temples in it, for
Constantine had already chosen Christianity for his
personal religion, although he was only baptized on his deathbed
in 337. After him, the supremacy of Christianity in the Empire was
almost guaranteed, although Julian 'the Apostate'
(360-3) made one last attempt to bring back the old paganism.
Theodosius became emperor in 379 and only died in 395. It was
during his reign that Christianity became the official religion
and, especially from 391, many laws were passed that gradually
closed down the 'pagan' temples.
Before Constantine, many
emperors had tried to find a mythical basis for their authority in
religion. It was
Constantine who realized that the emperor could be seen as the
earthly representative of the heavenly Lord found in the Christian
Bible. In 282, Carus
had declared that the emperor was Dominus (Lord), not
merely princeps (first). Aurelian (270-5) had gone farther
by proclaiming himself dominus et deus, Lord and god, and
under Constantine the imperial liturgy was finally organized as it
continued at Constantinople until 1453. The emperor was considered
to be sacred; he dressed in purple and gold vestments similar to
those of priests, with incense before him, and all approaching had
to fall prostrate before him.
The economical and
political structure of the Empire gradually grew weaker and
the main place of new vigour was the Church as it confronted
its task of evangelizing the Empire. Already in 325, Constantine had
presided over a Council of the Church's bishops at Nicaea,
in Turkey, asking them to overcome their doctrinal disagreements,
centered on the so-called Arian heresy. This combination of Church
and State marks one beginning of the Middle Ages. Most of the great
writers of this age are found in the Church: Ambrose, Jerome,
Hilary, Augustine, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Gregory of
Nazianzus, Basil. Christianity spread quickly
In the deserts of Syria
and Egypt, groups of men and women, fearing the corruptions of
urban life, began to live alone as hermits or together in
cenobitic communities, in lives consecrated entirely to God in
prayer. Their single-minded consecration to God was expressed by
the Greek word monos (single, one) and this is the origin
of the English word 'monk'. The monastic life had begun,
and would later yield the European monasteries whose libraries
were to be the key to the survival of Roman literary culture
during the coming Dark Age.
By about 404 the Roman
legions left Britain to help defend Italy and after about
450 its eastern regions began
to be occupied by new settlers: Saxons,
Angles, Jutes from North Germany.
(who gave their name to France) and Burgundians, all Germanic,
occupied much of Gaul, where they learned to speak the current
form of Latin, that was to become French. In 410, the Gothic
leader Alaric captured Rome and sacked it, marking
the start of virtual end of the Roman Empire in the West. From far away to the
East, the Huns had been advancing westwards for centuries. Under the leadership of
Attila the Huns advanced into Gaul and Italy, sacking Rome
in 452. Suddenly
Attila died and the Huns disappeared from history.
The Vandal king
Gaeseric again plundered Rome in 455, and from this time
on, Italy became the scene of Ostrogothic (Lombard)
kingdoms whose rulers acknowledged the Emperor in Constantinople
and did as they wished. They used colloquial forms of Latin (romanice)
and followed Roman laws, customs and culture. The Church continued
to use the strict Latin language (grammatica), and in many
cases was the only place in which writing was practiced, while the
developed new, relaxed forms of talking that became Italian,
Slowly a new dynasty arose in northern Gaul, tracing its
beginning from the Frankish leader Clovis (466 -
511) who made Paris his
capital, became a Christian and extended his rule over all of what
had been Gaul and was now becoming France. This 'Merovingian'
dynasty ruled until they were ousted in 751. Pepin was crowned king, and
when he died in 768, his son Charles (742-814) succeeded
him as the greatest figure of the Carolingian Dynasty. He
extended his kingdom to include vast areas of northern Germany, and also fought the
Islamic Moors in northern Spain.
In 800, on Christmas Day, Charles was crowned by the Pope
in St. Peter's church at Rome as the new Holy Roman Emperor,
but his throne was in Aachen, in Northern Germany; he is better
known as Charlemagne.