CHAPTER VII. ROMAN LITERATURE.
Elegiac poetry has an honorable place in Roman literature. To this school belongs Ovid, [Footnote: Born B.C. 43. Died A.D. 18.] whose "Metamorphoses" will always retain their interest. He, with that self-conscious genius common to poets, declares that his poem would be proof against sword, fire, thunder, and time, - a prediction, says Bayle, [Footnote: Bayle, Dict.] which has not yet proved false. Niebuhr [Footnote: Lect., vol. ii. p. 166.] thinks that, next to Catullus, he was the most poetical of his countrymen. Milton thinks he could have surpassed Virgil had he attempted epic poetry. He was nearest to the romantic school of all the classical authors, and Chaucer, Ariosto, and Spenser owe to him great obligations. Like Pope, his verses flowed spontaneously. His "Tristia" were more admired by the Romans than his "Amores" or "Metamorphoses," - probably from the doleful description of his exile, - a fact which shows that contemporaries are not always the best judges of real merit. His poems, great as was their genius, are deficient in the severe taste which marked the Greeks, and are immoral in their tendency. He had great advantages, but was banished by Augustus for his description of licentious love, "Carmina per libidinosa." Nor did he support exile with dignity. He died of a broken heart, and languished, like Cicero, when doomed to a similar fate. But few intellectual men have ever been able to live at a distance from the scene of their glories, and without the stimulus of high society. Chrysostom is one of the few exceptions. Ovid, as an immoral man, was justly punished.
Tibullus was also a famous elegiac poet, and was born the same year as Ovid, and was the friend of Horace. He lived in retirement, and was both gentle and amiable. At his beautiful country seat he soothed his soul with the charms of literature and the simple pleasures of the country. Niebuhr pronounces his elegies doleful, [Footnote: Lect., vol. iii. p. 143.] but Merivale [Footnote: Hist, vol. iv. p. 602.] thinks that "the tone of tender melancholy in which he sung his unprosperous loves had a deeper and purer source than the caprices of three inconstant paramours." "His spirit is eminently religious, though it bids him fold his hands in resignation rather than open them in hope. He alone of all the great poets of his day remained undazzled by the glitter of the Caesarian usurpation, and pined away in unavailing despondency, in beholding the subjugation of his country."
His contemporary, Propertius, [Footnote: Born B.C. 51.] was, on the contrary, the most eager of all the flatterers of Augustus, - a man of wit and pleasure, whose object or idolatry was Cynthia, a poetess and a courtesan. He was an imitator of the Greeks, but had a great contemporary fame, [Footnote: Quint., x. 1. Section 93.] and shows great warmth of passion, but he never soared into the sublime heights of poetry, like his rival. Such were among the great elegiac poets of Rome, generally devoted to the delineation of the passion of love. The older English poets resembled them in this respect, but none of them have soared to such lofty heights as the later ones, like Wordsworth and Tennyson. It is in lyric poetry that the moderns have chiefly excelled the ancients, in variety, in elevation of sentiment, and in imagination. The grandeur and originality of the ancients were displayed rather in epic and dramatic poetry.
In satire the Romans transcended both the Greeks and the moderns. There is nothing in any language which equals the fire, the intensity, and the bitterness of Juvenal, - not even Swift and Pope. But he flourished in the decline of literature, and has neither the taste nor elegance of the Augustan writers. He was the son of a freedman, and was born A.D. 38, and was the contemporary of Martial. He was banished by Domitian on account of a lampoon against a favorite dancer, but under the reign of Nerva he returned to Rome, and the imperial tyranny was the subject of his bitterest denunciation, next to the degradation of public morals. His great rival in satire was Horace, who laughed at follies; but he, more austere, exaggerated and denounced them. His sarcasms on women have never been equaled in severity, and we cannot but hope that they were unjust. In an historical point of view, as a delineation of the manners of his age, his satires are priceless, even like the epigrams of Martial. Satire arose with Lucilius, [Footnote: Born B.C. 148.] in the time of Marius, an age when freedom of speech was tolerated. Horace was the first to gain immortality in this department. Persius comes next, born A.D. 34, the friend of Lucan and Seneca in the time of Nero; and he painted the vices of his age when it was passing to that degradation which marked the reign of Domitian when Juvenal appeared, who, disdaining fear, boldly set forth the abominations of the times, and struck without distinction all who departed from duty and conscience. This uncompromising poet, not pliant and easy like Horace, animadverted, like an incorruptible censor, on the vices which were undermining the moral health and preparing the way for violence; on the hypocrisy of philosophers and the cruelty of tyrants; on the weakness of women and the debauchery of men. He discourses on the vanity of human wishes with the moral wisdom of Dr. Johnson, and urges self-improvement like Socrates and Epictetus. [Footnote: The best translations of Juvenal are those of Dryden, Gifford, and Badham.]