Roman History in Modern Education.
When I announced my intention to write a new history of Rome, many people manifested a sense of astonishment similar to what they would have felt had I said that I meant to retire to a monastery. Was it to be believed that the hurrying modern age, which bends all its energies toward the future, would find time to look back, even for a moment, at that past so far away? That my attempt was rash was the common opinion not only of friends and critics, but also of publishers, who everywhere at first showed themselves skeptical and hesitating. They all said that the public was quite out of touch with Roman affairs. On the contrary, facts have demonstrated that also in this age, in aspect so eager for things modern, people of culture are willing to give attention to the events and personages of ancient Rome.
The thing appears strange and bizarre, as is natural, to those who had not considered it possible; consequently, few have seen how simple and clear is its explanation. To those who showed surprise that the history of Rome could become fashionable in Paris salons, I have always replied: My history has had its fortune because it was the history of Rome. Written with the same method and in the same style, a history of Venice, or Florence, or England, would not have had the same lot. One must not forget that the story of Rome occupies in the intellectual world a privileged place. Not only is it studied in all the schools of the civilised world; not only do nearly all states spend money to bring to light all the documentary evidence that the earth still conceals; but while all other histories are studied fitfully, that of Rome is, so to speak, remade every fifty years, and whoever arrives at the right time to do the making can gain a reputation broader than that given to most historians.
There is, so to speak, in the history of Rome an eternal youth, and for the mind in what is commonly called European-American civilisation, it holds a peculiar attraction. From what deep sources springs this perennial youth? In what consists this particular force of attraction and renewal? It seems to me that the chief reason for the eternal fascination of the history of Rome is this, that it includes, as in a miniature drawn with simple lines, well defined, all the essential phenomena of social life; so that every age is able there to find its own image, its gravest problems, its intensest passions, its most pressing interests, its keenest struggles; therefore Roman history is forever modern, because every new age has only to choose that part which most resembles it, to find its own self.
In the intellectual history of the nineteenth century this leading phenomenon of our culture is clearly evident. If any one asked me why, during the past century, Roman history has proved so interesting, I should not hesitate to reply, "Because Europeans and Americans find, there more than elsewhere what has been the greatest political upheaval of the hundred years that followed the French Revolution - the struggle between monarchy and republic." From the fervid admiration for the Roman Republic which animated the men of the French Revolution to the unmeasured Caesarian apologies of Duruy and of Mommsen, from the ardent cult of Brutus to the detailed studies on the Roman administration of the first two centuries, all historians have studied and regarded Roman history mainly from the point of view of the struggle between the two principles that yet to-day rend in incurable discord the mind of old Europe and from which you have emerged fortunate! You are free, in a new world; you have ended the combat between the Latin principle of the impersonal state and the Oriental principle of the dynastic state; between the state conceived as the thing of all, belonging to every one and therefore of no one, and the state personified in a family of an origin higher and nobler than the common in which all authority derives from some hero-founder by a mysterious virtue unaccountable to reason and human philosophy; you have done with the conflict between the human state, simple, without pomp, without dramatic symbols - the republic as we men of the twentieth century understand it, and as you Americans conceive and practise it - and the monarchy of divine right, vainglorious, full of ceremonies and etiquette, despotic in internal constitution, which still exists in Europe under more or less spurious forms. Now it is easy to explain how, in an age in which the contest between these two conceptions and these two forms of the State was so warm, the history of Rome should so stir the mind.
In no other history do these two political forms meet each other in a more irreconcilable opposition of characters in extreme. The Republic, as Rome had founded it, was so impersonal that, in contrast with modern more democratic republics, it had not even a fixed bureaucracy, and all the public functions were exercised by elective magistrates - even the executive - from public works to the police-system. In the ancient monarchy which the Orient had created, the dynastic principle was so strong that the State was considered by inherent right the personal property of the sovereign, who might expand it, contract it, divide it among his sons and relatives, bequeathing his kingdom and his subjects as a land-owner disposes of his estate and his cattle. Furthermore, although to-day the sovereigns of Europe are pleased to treat quite familiarly with the good Lord, the rulers in the Orient were held to be gods in their own right.