Page images
PDF
EPUB

ber how very narrowly, in spite of the invention of printing, those of our own country and those of Spain escaped the same fate. There is, indeed, little doubt that oblivion covers many English songs equal to any that were published by Bishop Percy, and many Spanish songs as good as the best of those which have been so happily translated by Mr. Lockhart. Eighty years ago England possessed only one tattered copy of Childe Waters and Sir Cauline, and Spain only one tattered copy of the noble poem of the Cid. The snuff of a candle, or a mischievous dog, might in a moment have deprived the world for ever of any of those fine compositions. Sir Walter Scott, who united to the fire of a great poet the minute curiosity and patient diligence of a great antiquary, was but just in time to save the precious reliques of the Minstrelsy of the Border. In Germany, the lay of the Nibelungs had been long utterly forgotten, when, in the eighteenth century, it was, for the first time, printed from a manuscript in the old library of a noble family. In truth, the only people who, through their whole passage from simplicity to the highest civilization, never for a moment ceased to love and admire their old ballads, were the Greeks.

That the early Romans should have had ballad-poetry, and that this poetry should have perished, is, therefore, not strange. It would, on the contrary, have been strange if it had not come to pass; and we should be justified in pronouncing them highly probable, even if we had no direct evidence on the subject. But we have direct evidence of unquestionable authority,

Ennius, who flourished in the time of the Second Punic War, was regarded in the Augustan age as the father of

He was, in truth, the father of the second school of Latin poetry,—of the only school of which the works have descended to us. But from Ennius himself we learn that there were poets who stood to him in the same relation in which the author of the romance of Count Alarcos stood to Garcilaso, or the author of the “Lytell Geste of Robin Hode” to Lord Surrey. Ennius speaks of verses which the Fauns and the Bards were wont to chant in the old time, when none had yet studied the graces of speech, when none had yet climbed the peaks sacred to the Goddesses

Latin poetry.

of Grecian song.

" Where,” Cicero mournfully asks, "are those old verses now ?"'*

Contemporary with Ennius was Quintus Fabius Pictor, the earliest of the Roman annalists. His account of the infancy and youth of Romulus and Remus has been preserved by Dionysius, and contains a very remarkable reference to the old Latin poetry. Fabius says that, in his time, his countrymen were still in the habit of singing ballads about the Twins. “Even in the hut of Faustulus,” s0 these old lays appear to have run,—the children of Rhea and Mars were, in port and in spirit, not like unto swineherds or cowherds, but such that men might well guess them to be of the blood of kings and gods.”+

* «Quid : Nostri veteras versus ubi sunt?

Quos olim Fauni vatesque canebant,
Cum neque Musarum scopulos quisquam superârat,
Nec dicti studiosus erat.'"

Cic. in Bruto. cap. xviii.

The Muses, it should be observed, are Greek divinities. The Italian Goddesses of verse were the Camænæ. At a later period, the appellations were used indiscriminately ; but in the age of Ennius there was probably a distinction. In the epitaph of Nævius, who was the representative of the old Italian school of poetry, the Camænæ, not the Muses, are represented as grieving for the loss of their votary. The “Musarum scopuli” are evidently the peaks of Parnassus.

Scaliger, in a note on Varro (De Lingua Latina, lib. vi.), suggests, with great ingenuity, that the Fauns, who were represented by the superstition of later ages as a race of monsters, half gods and half brutes, may really have been a class of men who exercised in Latium, at a very remote period, the same functions which belonged to the Magians in Persia, and to the Bards in Gaul.

+ Οι δε ανδρωεθεντες γινονται, κατα τε αξιωσιν ηορφης και φρονηματος ογκον, ου συοφορβούς και βουκολoις εoικoτες, αλλ' οιους αν τις αξιωσειε τους εκ βασιλειου τε φυντας γενους, και απο δυιμονων σπορας γενεαθαι νομιζομενους, ως εν τοις πατριοις υμνοις υπο “Ρωμαιων ετι και νονα δεται.-Dion. Hil. i. 79. This passage has sometimes been cited as if Dionysius had been speaking in his own person, and had, Greek as he was, been so industrious or so fortunate as to discover some valuable remains of that early Latin poetry which the greatest Latin writers of his age regretted as hopelessly lost. Such a supposition is highly improbable ; and indeed it seems clear from the context that Diva nysius, as Reiske and other editors evidently thought, was merely quoting from Fabius Pictor. The whole passage has the air of an

ܪ

Cato the Censor, who also lived in the days of the Second Punic War, mentioned this lost literature in his lost work on the antiquities of his country. Many ages, he said, beextract from an ancient chronicle, and is introduced by the words, Κοιυτος με φάβιος δ Πικτωρ λεγόμενος, τηνε γραφει.

Another argument may be urged which seems to deserve consideration. The author of the passage in question mentions a thatched hut which, in his time, stood between Mount Palatine and the Circus. This hut, he says, was built by Romulus, and was constantly kept in repair at the public charge, but never in any respect embellished. Now, in the age of Dionysius there certainly was at Rome a thatched hut, said to have been that of Romulus. But this hut, as we learn from Vitruvius, stood, not near the Circus, but in the Capitol. (Vit. ii. 1.) If, therefore, we understand Dionysius to speak in his own person, we can reconcile his statement with that of Vitruvius only by supposing that there were at Rome, in the Augustan age, two thatched huts, both believed to have been built by Romulus, and both carefully repaired, and held in high honour. The objections to such a supposition seem to be strong. Neither Dionysius nor Vitruvius speaks of more than one such hut. Dio Cassius informs us that twice, during the long administration of Augustus, the hut of Romulus caught fire, (xlviii. 43. liv. 29.) Had there been two such huts, would he not have told us of which he spoke ? An English historian would hardly give an account of a fire at Queen's College without saying whether it was at Queen's College, Oxford, or at Queen's College, Cambridge. Marcus Seneca, Macrobius, and Conon, a Greek writer from whom Photius has made large extracts, mention only one hut of Romulus, that in the Capitol. (M. Seneca. Contr. 1. 6; Macrobius, Sal. 1. 15; Photius. Bibl. 186.) Ovid, Petronius, Valerius Maximus, Lucius Seneca, and St. Jerome, mention only one hut of Romulus without specifying the site. (Ovid, Fasti, iii. 183, Petronius, Fragm. ; Val. Max. iv. 4; L. Seneca, Con. solatio ad Helviam; D. Hieron. ad Paulinianum de Didymo.

The whole difficulty is removed, if we suppose that Dionysius was merely quoting Fabius Pictor. Nothing is more probable than that the cabin which in the time of Fabius stood near the Circus, might, long before the age of Augustus, have been transported to the Capitol, as the place fittest, by reason both of its safety and of its sanctity, to contain so precious a relic.

The language of Plutarch confirms this hypothesis. He describes, with great precision, the spot where Romulus dwelt between the Palatine Mount and the Circus: but he says not a word implying that the dwelling was still to be seen there. Indeed, his expressions imply that it was no longer there. The evidence of Solinus is still more to the point. He, like Plutarch, describes the spot where Romulus had resided, and says expressly that the hut had been there, but that, in his time, it was there no longer. The site, it is certain, was well remembered ; and probably re

fore his time, there were ballads in praise of illustrious men; and these ballads it was the fashion for the guests at banquets to sing in turn while the piper played. “ Would," exclaims Cicero, “that we still had the old ballads of which Cato speaks!"*

Valerius Maximus gives us exactly similar information, without mentioning his authority, and observes that the ancient Roman ballads were probably of more benefit to the young than all the lectures of the Athenian schools, and that to the influence of the national poetry were to be ascribed the virtues of such men as Camillus and Fabricius.

Varro, whose authority on all questions connected with the antiquities of his country is entitled to the greatest respect, tells us that at banquets it was once the fashion for boys to sing, sometimes with and sometimes without instrumental music, ancient ballads in praise of men of former times. These young performers, be observes, were of unblemished character, à circumstance which he probably mentioned because, among the Greeks, and indeed in his time

among the Romans also, the morals of singing boys were in no high repute. I

The testimony of Horace, though given incidentally, confirms the statements of Cato, Valerius Maximus, and Varro. tained its old name, as Charing Cross and the Haymarket have done. This is probably the explanation of the words,Romuli” in Victor's description of the Tenth Region of Rome, under Valentinian.

* Cicero refers twice to this important passage in Cato’s Antiquities :

:-“Gravissimus auctor in Originibus' dixit Cato, morem apud majores hunc epularum fuisse, ut deinceps, qui accubarent, canerent ad tibiam clarorum virorum laudes atque virtutes. Ex quo perspicuum est, et cantus tum fuisse rescriptos vocum sonis, et carmina.”Tusc. Quæst. iy. 2. Again: “Utinam exstarent illa carmine quæ multis sæculis ante suam ætatem in epulis esse cantitata a singulis convivis de clarorum virorum laudibus in • Originibus' scriptum reliquit Cato.Brutus. cap. xix.

† “ Majores natu in conviviis ad tibias egregia superiorum opera carmine comprehensa pangebant, quo ad ea imitanda juventutem alacriorum redderent.

Quas Athenas, quam scholam, quæ alienigena studia huic domesticæ disciplinæ prætulerim ? Inde oriebantur Camilli, Scipiones, Fabricii, Marcelli, Fabii.”- Val. Max. ii. 1.

| “In conviviis pueri modesti ut cantarent carmina antiqua, in quibus laudes erant majorum, et assa voce, et cum tibicine." Nonius, Assa voce pro sola.

casa

The poet predicts that, under the peaceful administration of Augustus, the Romans will, over their full goblets, sing to the pipe, after the fashion of their fathers, the deeds of brave captains, and the ancient legends touching the origin of the city.*

The proposition, then, that Rome had ballad-poetry is not merely in itself highly probable, but it is fully proved by direct evidence of the greatest weight.

This proposition being established, it becomes easy to understand why the early history of the city is unlike almost everything else in Latin literature-native where almost everything

else is borrowed, imaginative where almost everything else is prosaic. We can scarcely hesitate to pronounce that the magnificent, pathetic, and truly national legends, which present so striking a contrast to all that surrounds them, are broken and defaced fragments of that early poetry which, even in the age of Cato the Censor, had become antiquated, and of which Tully had never heard a line.

That this poetry should have been suffered to perish will not appear strange when we consider how complete was the triumph of the Greek genius over the public mind of Italy. It is probable that, at an early period, Homer, Archilochus, and Herodotus, furnished some hints to the Latin minstrels :t but it was not till after the war with Pyrrhus that the poetry of Rome began to put off its old Ausonian character. The transformation was soon consummated. The conquered, says Horace, led captive the conquerors. It was precisely at the time at which the Roman people rose to unrivalled political ascendancy, that they stooped to pass under the intellectual yoke. It was precisely at the time at which the sceptre departed from Greece that the empire of her language and of her arts became universal and despotic. The revolution indeed was not effected without a struggle. Næ

Nosque et profestis lucibus et sacris,
Inter jocosi munera Liberi,
Cum prole matronisque nostris,

Rite Deos prius apprecati,
Virtute functos, MORE PATRUM, duces,
Lydis remixto carmine tibiis,
Trojamque, et Anchisen, et almæ
Progeniem Veneri canemus.”

Carm. iv. 51. | See the Preface to the Lay of the Battle of Regillus.

* 66

« PreviousContinue »