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"The manly virtues were undoubtedly to be found among them; but to the perfection of the human character it is necessary that these should be softened by humanity and dignified by knowledge." -SMYTH, Lect. I. on Modern History.
It is probably because a people, like a man, are obliged to put forth every possible energy to win the triumph at which they aim, that it appears, when won, to have kindled of itself an uncommon and a various ardor in them. Yet the glow which shines at any period of success in their annals is but the illumination of faculties that have long been travailing in obscurity, and that come forth, at last, in more or less resplendence, because the other faculties to which they have hitherto ministered cease to be of so exclusive development as to prevent their apparition by themselves. The conquest of Italy and of Carthage seems to have filled the Romans with impulses they had never known before. Dearly as it cost them, it had aroused new desires and new capacities, of which the free play promised to be an abundant compensation in respect both to culture and renown. But the truth may rather have been, that the powers which then appear to have been stirred for the first time had long existed, not dormant so much as unapparent, in the minds of the people, previously absorbed in works of war, of wealth, or, as more recently, of luxury. The powers which sooner or later with every nation find their way into the shaded haunts of poetry or philosophy have been already toiling and striving upon the open fields, though the blaze of the sun or the dust arising from the tread of men may have concealed them, as if they had not been there or anywhere.
It is not, therefore, merely to discover the achievements of a few individuals that we turn a new leaf in our history, on arriving at the times which seem to have inspired the first poets of Rome to strike their rudely strung lyres. If there were any thing in them which differed from what existed in other men, it was the impulse to which they yielded when they proved that the powers which their people had hitherto employed in the struggles of the household, the Forum, or the distant campaign might find a more peaceful expression in the voice of song. The enthusiasm for warfare, for law, and for superstition, which, so confounded, has been the characteristic of preceding generations, will not be lost from view, though we leave the only places where it has as yet been found. One new point, however, will lie before us, — that, namely, of the liberty there was in Rome for the intellectual powers to develop themselves in congenial works and ways.
Even in the years that went before the great conquests which we have supposed to stimulate the genius of the Romans, there were traces of inclination
towards new entertainments, if they deserved no higher name, of an intellectual cast. The introduction of public spectacles from Etruria,' of burlesques from Atella in Campania, and, subsequently, of dramatic poems, the compositions of Livius Andronicus, a freedman from Tarentum, betrays the changes in the tastes that had been content before with the bloody games of the Circus or the boisterous ceremonies of the religious festival. The names of the poets who now succeed are to be more slowly recounted, and the thought or temper manifest in them, individually or collectively, is to be cautiously examined, as a ray from the spirit which had the liberty of existence under the memories, the interests, and the destinies of Rome.
Cneius Nævius, probably born in some part of Campania, came to Rome at so early an age as to become a Roman in character and fortune. Catching the excitement which prevailed during the first war with Carthage, he enlisted in one or more of the armies of the Commonwealth, with whose cause his own, atom though it were, was thus identified. He is distinguished, amongst the crowds who crossed the seas to perish or to return with fame that has long since departed, by the triumphs he achieved without
1 A. C. 361, or thereabouts. Schlegel, “ owed the first idea of a Liv., VII. 2.
play to the Etruscans, of the effu2 Hence called the Atellanæ sions of a sportive humor to the Fabulæ. Ibid.
Oscans, and of a higher class of 3 Whose first play was acted A. dramatic works to the Greeks." C. 240. Aul. Gell., XVII. 21. Dramat. Liter., Lect. XV.
“ The Romans,” says A. W.
the stains of blood or the cries of anguish which then appeared the only allurements of renown. His first adventures were dramatic,4 and, like those of Andronicus the Greek, upon Grecian themes, from which, if we judge by titles merely, he sometimes departed, for the sake of giving a Roman name to the characters that could scarcely have been Greek, whatever were the scenes wherein they were arrayed.
The great work, however, of Nævius was his poem on the first Punic war, in which he had served, and to which it was natural for him to recur in his old age, whether inspired to keep its glories warm in the presence of the more thrilling incidents of the second war, or else to animate the generation succeeding his own, by the rehearsal of their fathers victories over the same enemies with whom they were then contending. Hardly a fragment remains of this aspiring work, nor even one by which its form can be reconstructed; but the fervor that reared and filled it need not be taken entirely upon trust.5 It seems that the mournful admiration with which Nævius regarded the departed heroes disposed him against the living, as too inferior, in his eyes, to be respected; and the stories of his hardihood in assail. ing the great family of the Metelli, and even Scipio,
4 Aul. Gell., XVII. 21.
Ascon. in Cic., In Verr. Act. I. 10. 5“ Nævius qui fervet.” Sedigi- Aulus Gellius (III. 3) says that tus, ap. Aul. Gell., XV. 24. Nævius was imprisoned, “ ob assi
6 He wrote a bitter line : - duam maledicentiam et probra in "Fato Metelli Romæ fiunt Consules”; principes civitatis." to which one of the Metelli re- 7 Aul. Gell., VI. 8. plied:
"Dabunt malum Metelli Nævio poetæ."
describe the ardent nature that must have chanted the battles of former days with all the daring vigor which was of natural growth amongst a tumultuous and pugnacious people. The days of the poet, too bold even for his bold countrymen to bear, were ended in banishment.
Maccius Plautus, by birth an Umbrian, was al. ready an established dramatist in Rome when Nævi. us died in exile. In earlier years, while struggling with poverty and discouraging occupations, he wrote some plays, whose rapid sale to the conductors of the great games raised him, from being a poor laborer at a hand-mill, to the highest place in the favor of the people amongst the ministers to their entertainment on the stage. The rude experiences of the life he had led, coupled with the rude tastes he was principally obliged to consult, left little chance of refinement or of ideality in him or in his dramas. Even if the dramatist himself were sensitive to the gentler characters or the loftier thoughts his art was able to portray, the temptation, that proves so strong with many still, to raise a shout of applause at the sight of absurdities, misfortunes, or crimes, was irresistible. Much the more vivid, therefore, is the picture of the audience which the plays preserve; and the indifference or corruption of heart, on the one side, are the characteristics of the multitude, as well as the affection and the manliness which are often to be found on the other side. The poet laments, or makes
8 Somewhere about A, C. 200.