CHAPTER VII. ROMAN LITERATURE.
Terence shares with Plautus the throne of Roman comedy. He was a Carthaginian slave, and was born B.C. 160, but was educated by a wealthy Roman, into whose hands he fell, and ever after associated with the best society, and traveled extensively into Greece. He was greatly inferior to Plautus in originality, nor has he exerted a lasting influence like him; but he wrote comedies characterized by great purity of diction, and which have been translated into all modern languages. [Footnote: Coleman's Terence; Dryden, On Dram. Poet.; Mommsen, vol. iii. b. v. ch. xiii.] Anterior to the Augustan age, no tragic production has reached us, although Quintilian speaks highly of Accius, [Footnote: Quint., x. 1. Section 97.] especially of the vigor of his style. But he merely imitated the Greeks. Terence closely copied Menander, whom Mommsen regards as the most polished, elegant, and chaste of all the poets of the newer comedy. Unlike Plautus, he draws his characters from good society, and his comedies, if not moral, were decent. Plautus wrote for the multitude; Terence for the few. Plautus delighted in a noisy dialogue and slang expressions; Terence confines himself to quiet conversation and elegant expressions, for which he was admired by Cicero and Quintilian, and other great critics. He aspired to the approval of the good, rather than the applause of the vulgar; and it is a remarkable fact that his comedies supplanted the more original productions of Plautus in the latter years of the republic, showing that the literature of the aristocracy was more prized than that of the people, even in a degenerate age. The "Thyestes" [Footnote: Hor., Sat. I 9; Martial, viii. 18.] of Varius, was regarded in its day as equal to Greek tragedies. Ennius composed tragedies in a vigorous style, and was regarded by the Romans as the parent of their literature, although most of his works have perished. [Footnote: Born B.C. 239.] Virgil borrowed many of his thoughts, and he was regarded as the prince of Roman song in the time of Cicero. The Latin language is greatly indebted to him. Pacuvius imitated Aeschylus in the loftiness of his style. [Footnote: Born B.C. 170] The only tragedy of the Romans which has reached us was written by Seneca the philosopher.
In epic poetry the Romans accomplished more, though still inferior to the Greeks. The "Aeneid" has certainly survived the material glories of Rome. It may not have come up to the exalted ideal of its author; it may be defaced by political flatteries; it may not have the force and originality of the "Iliad," but it is superior in art, and delineates the passion of love with more delicacy than can be found in any Greek author. In soundness of judgment, in tenderness of feeling, in chastened fancy, in picturesque description, in delineation of character, in matchless beauty of diction, and in splendor of versification, it has never been surpassed by any poem in any language, and proudly takes its place among the imperishable works of genius. "Availing himself of the pride and superstition of the Roman people, the poet traces the origin and establishment of the 'Eternal City,' to those heroes and actions which had enough in them of what was human and ordinary to excite the sympathies of his countrymen, intermingled with persons and circumstances of an extraordinary and superhuman character to awaken their admiration and awe. No subject could have been more happily chosen. It has been admired also for its perfect unity of action; for while the episodes command the richest variety of description, they are always subordinate to the main object of the poem, which is to impress the divine authority under which Aeneas first settled in Italy. The wrath of Juno, upon which the whole fate of Aeneas seems to turn, is at once that of a woman and a goddess; the passion of Dido, and her general character, bring us nearer to the present world; but the poet is continually introducing higher and more effectual influences, until, by the intervention of gods and men, the Trojan name is to be continued in the Roman, and thus heaven and earth are appeased." [Footnote: Thompson, Hist. Rom. Lit., p. 92.] No one work of man has probably had such a wide and profound influence as this poem of Virgil, - a text-book in all schools since the revival of learning, the model of the Carlovingian poets, the guide of Dante, the oracle of Tasso. [Footnote: Virgil was born seventy years before Christ, and was seven years older than Augustus. His parentage was humble, but his facilities of education were great. He was a most fortunate man, enjoying the friendship of Augustus and Maecenas, fame in his own lifetime, leisure to prosecute his studies, and ample rewards for his labors. He died at Brundusium at the age of fifty.]