Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

It will be seen that Sallust had at least one qualification for his literary work. He had helped to make history before he tried to write it; he had lived in all the strise of social forces, and was conversant with the intrigues of public life; political ideas and party names were full of life and meaning to him, and not the mere abstractions of the student. Up to his time indeed such history as had been written at Rome was the work chiefly of the statesmen and the soldiers who left behind them personal memoirs or annals of their times; there was no distinct literary class to regulate the canons of historical research, or the forms and methods of procedure. The order of arrangement was determined by the annalistic sequence which grew out of the enlarged almanack put forth in ruder times by the chief pontiff (pontifex maximus). A striking change was introduced by Sallust, who was one of the first to take a subject rather than a period of time, and to aim at greater breadth and unity of treatment. He handled therefore his materials with greater freedom, and could work them up with more eye to their logical effect than writers who were hampered by traditional rules. Rut his love of broad effects and analysis of character was not balanced by any very painstaking research in his preparatory studies. We need not lay great stress indeed upon the help which he received from a trained Greek scholar, Ateius Praetextatus, styled Philologus, who is said to have prepared a manual of Roman history (breviarium rerum omnium Ro- , manarum, Suet. Gramm. 10) for his special use. may belong to an earlier period of his life, or may point only to such assistance in details as literary men may fairly seek from experts in some departments of their work.

He was certainly himself no inexperienced tiro, trusting to his mother wit and natural grace of style. In some Greek literature he was quite at home without a guide ; Thucydides had been studied with such care that incidental phrases recurred to his memory and found an echo in his words, besides the more elaborate descriptions which he often tried to reproduce or rival in his own pictorial efforts. He was familiar with some of the speeches of Demosthenes, and parts of Xenophon, as also with letters which were commonly ascribed to Plato, to speak only of the writings which have stamped themselves most

The story

clearly on his thought and language. But this was natural enough for an educated Roman, whose studies in rhetoric were sure to take him back to the Hellenic models, and give him a quick eye for points and illustrations which might prove useful on occasion. He knew enough of them to recognise their excellence of form and of arrangement, and he was certainly not over-weighted by his learning, though the imitation is at times perhaps somewhat laboured.

To speak at present only of the matter of his work, the facts which were the groundwork of his narrative had to be drawn, of course, from other sources. For the nearer times of the Conspiracy of Catiline there were the memories of living men to be consulted, published speeches such as those of Cicero, the records of the proceedings in the Senate, and other documents lodged in the archives of the state, the memoirs of the public men concerned as agents or as witnesses in affairs of moment, familiar letters which had outlived the writers, and which reflected the shifting fancies and prejudices of Roman gossip. For the earlier times with which he was concerned the materials had been already shaped by other hands, in formal histories like that of L. Cornelius Sisenna, whom he names (Jug. 95. 2), and in chapters of the annalists who had drawn out a connected narrative of past times, among whom may be specified Q. Claudius Quadrigarius and Q. Valerius Antias of the age of Sulla, and C. Licinius Macer, a contemporary of Cicero. More special data might be found in the memoirs written by the men who played a leading part in stirring times, such as M. Aemilius Scaurus and P. Rutilius Rufus, and the greatest of them the dictator Sulla.

We are left indeed almost to conjecture as to the authorities whom Sallust chiefly followed. It was not usual with ancient writers to confess their literary obligations, or to discuss the sources of their information. It is not surprising therefore that be bardly names his predecessors, and makes no comparative statement of their value. The books that were ready to his band are lost to us, and little but their names survives. Of the Jugurthine War no narrative is found at any length save in our author, though Orosius (5. 15) speaks of the opima scriptorum luculentia in connexion with it.

There is little chance therefore of distinguishing his work from that of others whom he may have followed. There are more data to enable us to criticise the use of his materials in the other treatise, and from them, as also from internal evidence, we see that in accuracy and laborious research he fell far short of the highest standard. It may be convenient to notice briefly some of his shortcomings.

(1) In his avoidance of the annalistic order he went to quite an opposite extreme. Chronological details are quite ignored, even when they are most needed to explain the movement of events. The omission of these is a capital defect in his account of the various stages of the Conspiracy of Catiline ; in the Jugurthine War the only indication of the dates is given in the names of the Consular commanders, but there are errors certainly implied in his vague and general statements, for too much work is crowded into the compass of a short campaign, and a whole year at least is left unaccounted for in his description. It is not needful to illustrate this feature further, as it is discussed more at length in the notes upon the text.

(2) Geographical precision is not a strong point of his works. Ancient historians in general took little heed of physical con.' ditions, seldom thought of travelling themselves over the seat of war to understand the military movements and describe more vividly the battlefields. It would be natural to suppose indeed that Sallust had a special interest in the matter, for many of the fragments of his Histories seem to belong to geographical digressions, and his long description of the neighbourhood of the Euxine Sea is referred to with marked praise (inclytam descriptionem, Festus Avienus 37); but at any rate he does not seem to have made great use of his position of Governor of Numidia to get his knowledge at first hand of the scenes which he describes. He sketches indeed in a few telling phrases the main aspects of the country, but he gives us scarcely any names by which to follow the armies on their march, he transports them to and fro with very scanty recognition of the vast distances involved, and contents himself with vague and general statements where ve could wish for definite details. It is natural to suppose that he must have been at Cirta, and the inscription carved in two places on the rock (limes fundi Sallustiani) at Constantine, has been supposed to indicate the boundaries of the property of the proconsul, 'where he was wont to come in his leisure hours to combine the charms of philosophy with the more material pleasures of this life' (Playfair, Handbook to Algiers, 196).

But if so we might expect to hear more of the wonderful strength of the rock fortress, instead of the commonplaces of the operations a siege almost impossible in such a scene. The town itself at that time was in the hands probably of Sittius, the bold condottiere who had done good service in the war, and received in reward from Caesar, as a sort of petty principality, the stronghold which he had taken.

(3) Another weak point is his unwarrantable confidence in his own powers of reading the thoughts and feelings of the chief actors on the scene. He imputes motives without the least reserve, states his inferences as matters of fact, turns slanderous gossip into substantial crimes, and describes the shifting currents of emotion in the heart of a Catiline or a Bocchus where from the nature of the case little or nothing could certainly be known.

(4) In putting laboured speeches of his own into the mouths of others he simply followed the common practice of the Greek historians, and especially of Thucydides his favourite model. They were regarded as rhetorical performances into which they put the strongest arguments that could be urged, or the most emotional appeals in favour of the line of policy which was to be suggested, and like advocates they tried to make the best case for the speaker whatever he might actually have said. It was very rare to find a writer like Pompeius Trogus (Justin, 38. 3. II) objecting to the employment of such speeches on the ground that they were not authentic. Those of Sallust are vigorous and impressive, though the one attributed to Catiline (C. 20) is not quite in keeping with the requirements of the audience supposed, and that of Marius is too rhetorical for an unlettered soldier.

(5) His prefaces have been also criticised, as by Quintilian, for their want of logical connexion with his subject (nihil ad historicom pertinentibus principiis orsus est, 3. 8. 9). They are probably due to imitations of Greek writers, though they agree wite his ideal of history, in which the reflections are more important than the facts. In the shorter work the introduction is certainly of disproportionate length, and we may be weary of pretentious phrases which dress up such platitudes as that the mind is of more value than the body, and the greatness of Rome was due to the hardihood and valour of her sons.

(6) His moral horizon too was somewhat narrow, though he does complain so bitterly of venal statesmen and vicious and self-indulgent nobles, and talks in Pharisaic style of the craft and cruelty of the barbarian Jugurtha. Yet he has no word of blame for the meanness of the Roman when Metellus tried to bribe the Numidian servants to betray their master, or when Sulla ensnared the foe he could not conquer.

He passes coldly over the hard fate of the inhabitants of Capsa, put in cold blood to the sword for a quarrel which was in no way of their making. He looks back without misgiving on the masterful policy of Roman conquest, and even when he dwells on the misrule of the oligarchy, scarcely notices its neglect of duty to the subject world, which the empire was soon to correct and to avenge. His quarrel with the nobility is not that they oppressed the commons, or that they were burdensome to the world, but that they made it impossible for young men to rise by good behaviour' (Simcox, Lat. Lit. i. 223).

(7) Is Sallust to be regarded as a pamphleteer, or can we find an object for his writings in the wish to discredit the old régime and to vindicate the memory of Caesar? (Mommsen, R. Hist. Tr. 4. 2. 184, note). There is little evidence in favour of this view. Rather it would seem that the eager partisan of early days, when he retired from the busy world to live among his books and spacious gardens, breathed a cooler air than the atmosphere of party passions.

He had seen too much of all sides to have much admiration left for any: there were few public men of note who had not stooped to low intrigues in the interest of faction; he thought with some shame of his own antecedents, and his experience of Roman circles may account for the tone of pessimism which may be often noted in his writings, and which is so different from the earnest conviction of a real reformer. There are two characters alone of whom he speaks with any great respect,

[ocr errors]
« IndietroContinua »