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XIV.

Roman imagination was not sufficiently rich and luxu- СНАР. riant. If we remember the strong feeling of nationality which the Romans possessed, and the pride of the noble families, we should be inclined to think that such poetic productions as the tragedy Paullus, by Pacuvius, or Brutus, by Attius, would have been admired and imitated; that the heroic deeds of great ancestors would have been represented to the people, not only in panegyrics and funeral orations, but also on the dramatic stage, and that the historical drama would have been cultivated by Roman Marlowes and Shaksperes. This was not the case. The same poverty of imagination which prevented the creation of a national mythology, a poverty which shows itself in the productions of the annalists by the utter absence of rich and attractive fictions, and which compelled these writers for want of other resources to confine themselves to the feeble trick of exaggeration and repetition, prevented the growth of a genuine national and independent poetry.

needed for the assimi

lation of a foreign literature.

To understand and enjoy the literary productions of a Conditions foreign nation, even if they are clothed in a native dress and assimilated to the tastes and feelings of the adopted country, is by no means easy for the great mass of the people. It demands a considerable amount of acquired knowledge, and cannot be accomplished without study. This knowledge and study are within the reach of the higher classes of society, but not of the uneducated, i.e. of the great mass. It is therefore surprising that the poetical works of Greece were from the very beginning of their introduction so popular in Rome; that the entire mythology, the heroic legends, the social and family life of the Greeks, their political institutions, all the things that furnish subjects for dramatic plays, could attract and amuse the general public in Rome. We may indeed take for granted that on the whole the popular taste was formed by a fashionable minority, i.e. by men of education and social influence. But if the mass of the people do not contribute the warmth of general and hearty

BOOK

VI.

Dramatic poetry.

applause, an imported foreign literature, like an exotic plant, must soon wither and perish in the upper regions of society. The most strenuous efforts made by the courtly circles in the time of Elizabeth failed to secure in England a footing for the drama modelled after the masterpieces of the Athenian poets and the rules of Aristotle. The classical dramas of Daniel and Brandon were coldly received by a small and indifferent public, whilst in the popular theatres of the Globe and Blackfriars crowds of spectators listened with enthusiasm to the works of Shakspere and Fletcher. We must suppose that owing to frequent contact with the Greeks, to the union of the Greek and Italian religion, to the general similarity and simplicity of all ancient forms of state, society, and family, the Romans very soon came to understand the structure and the substance of Greek poetry. Besides, that which is common to all human nature, though dressed up in a foreign costume, is so easily detected that even if some details remain unintelligible the impression of the whole is little impaired.1 Nay, it is well known that what is but half understood often makes upon the half-educated a far deeper impression than that which is altogether plain and comprehensible.2

This is the case more especially with poetry intended not to be read, but to be heard and seen. When the eye assists the understanding, and one scene rapidly follows upon another, the intellect, however conscientious, has no time to meditate on the difficulties, but it advances from place to place propelled by enjoyment. The introduction of Greek poetry in Rome was effected chiefly by

There can be no doubt that those Shaksperian plays the fables of which were borrowed from Italian novels, contained as much that was novel and unintelligible to an English audience as the Latin plays with Greek mythology and Greek domestic manners in them.

2 In all modern poetry, English, French, German, Italian, there is an apparatus of Greek mythology which must be sorely puzzling to the majority of readers. The good sense of our own time begins at last to discredit these false jewels.

means of the stage. Few only were able or inclined to read. Books intended to be read were therefore very scarce. The Odyssey of Livius Andronicus indeed was a reading book, but a reading book only for schools. The epic poems of Ennius were destined to be read aloud in a small circle of distinguished patrons; the Punic War of Nævius was probably not widely circulated. But the dramatic stage was an attraction for the whole people. The Romans, as we have said already, were very fond of all sorts of shows; and thus dramatic representations, especially comedies, became gradually very popular. A large number of dramatic writers found employment. Their productions followed each other in rapid succession. If only a very small portion of them has survived, it is because the manuscript remained in the hands of those who arranged the festive games, and was in fact intended only to be produced on such occasions.

CHAP.

XIV.

As dramatic poetry in Rome served chiefly for popular Plays and entertainment and amusement, we cannot wonder at the stageplayers. little respect felt for playwrights and stage-players. A Roman of good family considered it derogatory to his dignity to occupy himself with poetry; it even involved a kind of dishonour to have friends or companions who were poets. The first men whom the Muse inspired to write in Latin were foreigners, most of them slaves or freedmen, and they earned a scanty livelihood as literary drudges and schoolmasters. Stage-players were stigmatised with public dishonour, and they were liable to the ignominious punishment of the rod. No freeborn Roman could venture to make his livelihood in so dishonourable a profession. Poetry was regarded more as a waste of time than as an amusement; and if theatrical plays had not been a political necessity, they would certainly have been condemned by the censors. The people wished to be entertained, and therefore strict Roman virtue agreed to a compromise. But it unwillingly submitted to what it could not prevent.

1 The popularity of the Elizabethan stage plays and the comparative rarity of printed dramas offer some pointed analogy.

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BOOK
VI.

Gladiatorial spectacles.

The theatres were constructed of wood, and removed as soon as the festive occasion was over. They must have been wretched structures; a mere platform for a stage betokened the infancy of dramatic art. Permanent theatres of stone with seats for the spectators were expressly proscribed, as if the conscience which protested against the frivolous amusement could be quieted by rendering the representations more difficult and expensive, and by diminishing the pleasure and comfort of the spectators.1 A wooden theatre which appears to have been constructed about the year 179 B.C., to serve not as a temporary but a permanent structure, seems to have been pulled down again shortly afterwards. As late as the year 154 B.C. a similar attempt to construct a permanent theatre was frustrated by a senatorial decree. The first theatre built of stone was consecrated by Pompeius in the year 55 B.C.

This want of respect for the dignity of poetry is explained by the coarse nature of the Italians, which was at bottom the cause of the feebleness of their national literature. They were far more pleased by representations in which mere brute force was displayed. Nothing was so popular in Rome as gladiatorial combats and the fights of wild beasts, sights of which it may fairly be said that they are hardly compatible with a genuine taste for real poetry.3

It may appear strange that in spite of this predilection for what was bloody and dangerous the Romans had no

1 Valer. Max. ii. 4, 2: Senatus consulto cautum est, ne quis in urbe propiusve passus mille subsellia posuisse sedensve ludos spectare vellet, ut scilicet remissioni animorum iuncta standi virilitas propria Romanæ gentis nota

esset.

2 Liv. xl. 51, 3: Lepidus theatrum et proscenium ad Apollinis locavit. That this stage (proscenium) and seats for spectators (theatrum) were removed again by the year 154 B.C., is implied by Livy, epit. 48: Cum locatum a censoribus theatrum exstrueretur, P. Cornelio Nasica auctore tanquam inutile et nociturum publicis moribus ex senatus consulto destructum est, populusque aliquamdiu stans ludos spectavit.

Yet bear-baiting and cock-fighting were popular amusements in England at a time when the drama flourished. At present, when dramatic genius is all but extinct, they would fail to attract the better classes even if they were ? tolerated by law.

XIV.

Absence of liking for the chase.

liking for the pleasures of the chase. They were certainly CHAP. not deficient in animal courage nor impatient of bodily exertion; and yet they were not touched by a passion for sport to which all Germanic races have been, and still are, devoted almost to madness. Perhaps it was the practical common-sense of the Romans that kept them from this amusement. It was not lucrative for great gentlemen to preserve and to hunt game; the killing of wild beasts and the catching of fish were therefore regarded simply as trades and menial occupations, a notion which altogether excluded these occupations from the privileged pleasures of the rich.'

rature.

If the Romans were not gifted with poetical feelings, Roman and if they looked upon poetry from a utilitarian point of prose lite view as a superfluous, time-wasting, frivolous occupation, it followed as a matter of course that they saw sufficient reason for the cultivation of prose, which was practically useful in private affairs and in the management of political business. Hence the phenomenon that, if not a prosaic literature, at any rate a prose style applicable to business, was developed in Rome long before the primitive effusions of poetry had acquired artistic forms calculated to stamp them as real literary productions. The Roman administration involved a vast amount of writing; the business of the census alone presupposed familiar acquaintance with

A singular exception is made by Scipio Emilianus. When he accompanied his father Æmilius Paullus on his expedition to Macedonia in the war with Perseus, it so happened that the royal preserves were well stocked with game, because during the war the regular hunting had been intermitted. Scipio, availing himself of this circumstance, practised and became skilled in hunting. Having thus acquired a taste for the chase, he continued the exercise even after his return to Italy, and this habit was one of those which distinguished him from the other young men of his age. Polyb. xxxii. 15. Here we have indeed an exception which proves the rule. The love of sport seems now to have gained ground in Rome, but still very slowly. It is amusing to see how the younger Pliny combined it with literary occupation, He tells Tacitus in a letter (epist. i. 6) that he caught three boars, but that he took care to have his writing tablets at hand, so that if he came home with an empty bag he should at least have something to show in his book (ut si manus vacuas, plenas tamen ceras reportarem). He boasts of the same ingenuity in several letters (v. 18; ix. 36, 6), as if he wished to excuse himself for sacrificing valuable time to frivolous pleasure.

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