« IndietroContinua »
Iugurthinum, he took care to have many Carthaginian documents translated for him. To insure greater accuracy he is said to have commissioned a Greek secretary to prepare a complete synopsis of Roman history for use in his daily work.
Finally, he was master of a clear, incisive, picturesque style, peculiarly adapted to the interesting presentation of historical facts.
With such qualifications, it is no wonder that he at once established a high reputation as a historian, and succeeded to some degree in rivalling his Greek model.
It would be idle to claim that Sallust as a historian had no faults. But in considering these, it is only fair to remember that our conception of history differs widely from that of the ancients. In Sallust's time, and for several centuries afterward, history was regarded as merely a branch of rhetoric, i.e. greater emphasis was to be laid on the language and style of the history than on the facts. We must not be surprised, therefore, that Sallust, in common with other Greek and Roman historians who regarded history from this point of view, wrote elaborate introductions, put imaginary speeches into the mouths of his principal. characters, and dared to portray their secret motives and thoughts as minutely as any realistic novelist of our own day would do. We may even understand how the stress laid on the rhetorical side of history would tend to produce that occasional neglect of geography and chronology, which we find, but cannot excuse, in Sallust's writings.
There are, besides, several inaccuracies in his version of Catiline's conspiracy, for which he has been severely criticised. But in this connection it should be remembered that although it was, in one sense, an advantage to treat of a period which came under his personal observation, on the other hand it was a distinct disadvantage to write before sufficient time had elapsed to enable obscure details
to clear up, and the whole truth to be thoroughly sifted out. Yet, when against Sallust's faults we balance his virtues, when we consider his broad philosophy, his freedom from superstition, his respect for the truth, his absolute impartiality, his powerful descriptions of Roman politics and society, his cleverness in character sketching, it is not surprising that he left a profound impression on his age. He was for a time overshadowed by Livy. But the development of a school of historians who took Sallust for their model attests the triumph of his genius over that of his rival, and warrants us in accepting Martial's estimate of him as prīmus Rōmānā Crispus in historiā.
Sallust's style is very different from that of his predecessors, Caesar and Cicero. For while their writing is smooth and regular, Sallust's is strong and abrupt, at times startling in its sudden changes, often almost volcanic in action. In many particulars Sallust resembles Carlyle. He displays the same rugged individuality, the same fondness for unusual words and expressions, the same power of graphic description, the same proneness to moral reflection, the same tone of sarcastic criticism in dealing with men's faults and vices, that characterize the Scotch philosopher.
The picturesqueness, vigor, and intensity of Sallust's style were greatly admired by his countrymen. But the best evidence of the true value of his writings is found in the fact that time only served to increase the appreciation of them, and that they continued to be popular even in the Middle Ages.
Following are the special characteristics of Sallust's style, of which the reader will find abundant illustration in the text of the Bellum Catilinae.
I. Variety of expression, as seen (a) in the use of different forms of the same word, e.g. domi and domui, locative; (b) in the government of different cases by the same word, thus expers is followed by both the genitive and the ablative in the same sentence; (c) in an entire change of construction, as Eis amicis sociisque confisus Catilina, simul quod, etc.; (d) in the combination of both singular and plural verbs with a single subject, cf. iuventus . . . favēbat ・・・ mālēbant; (e) in the alteration of stereotyped expressions, as marī atque terrā, for terrā marīque; (ƒ) in coupling an adverb with an abstract noun governed by per, as honestē . . per turpitudinem.
II. Repetition, (a) of introductory words like igitur; (b) of any rare word shortly after its first occurrence.
III. Brevity, produced partly by the omission of connectives and forms of the verb sum, and partly by a short, pithy manner of expression.
IV. Frequency of the historical infinitive, in order to carry the action swiftly and strongly to a dramatic conclusion.
V. Constant alliteration, as facinus faceret.
VII. Archaisms, (a) in spelling; (b) in obsolete words. These, however, are not so common as to disturb the reader. They give a certain quaintness to the narrative, which is more pleasing than otherwise. Most of the archaisms occur in the speeches, and invest them with dignity and stateliness.
VIII. Colloquialisms. Sallust often drew upon the vigorous every-day speech of the people, but never resorted to anything that could be called vulgar.
For more than a century before the Empire was established, Rome was a republic only in name, since the government was in the hands not of the people, but of the Senate. In earlier times the Senate, composed of the ablest and most experienced men in the state, had exercised a wise and beneficent control over the people. But the conquest of foreign territory, and the subsequent establishment of the provinces, had wrought a great change in the character of its members. Once they had been famous for their integrity and patriotism; now they were a selfish, sordid body of men, whose highest ambition was to enrich themselves by plundering the provinces. Their families constituted an exclusive aristocracy, as proud and arrogant as were the patricians of the early republic.
And yet, although the Senate had shown itself utterly unworthy and incompetent to rule, it took more than a hundred years to overthrow it. C. Gracchus made a vigorous attack upon it, B.C. 121, but he failed to accomplish anything permanent. In 87, the Marian party triumphed for a time, but its rule was worse than that of the Senate, and the inevitable reaction came on the return of Sulla from the far East. Then followed a period in which the Senate seemed to be possessed of all its old-time power. But beneath the surface there was an ever increasing restlessness which found occasional vent in startling plots among the people against the government.
Of the many attempts that were made to wreck the existing order of things, the conspiracy of Catiline must be regarded as by far the most daring and insidious. Its leader, Catiline, was an extraordinary character. Born B.C. 108, of a most noble but impoverished family, he early distinguished himself by his recklessness in crime. His bloodthirstiness during Sulla's proscriptions may be partly explained as the natural effect of such frightful scenes upon a fierce, revengeful disposition. But his subsequent crimes, among which was the deliberate murder of his own son, are evidences of the utter lack of any moral sense. He was, however, a consummate actor, and could play any rôle he chose to assume. This, together with great personal magnetism, gave him a certain popularity and leadership, which encouraged him, notwithstanding his crime-stained career, to hope for the highest honors.
In 68 he was praetor, and in the following year he went as propraetor to govern the province of Africa. Not content with this, he returned before the close of his term, with the expectation of securing the consulship. But, being charged with extortion by representatives from Africa, he failed to obtain the consul's consent to his candidacy. Toward the end of the year, he took some part in the abortive "conspiracy of 66." In 65 he was again prevented from being a candidate for the consulship by the trial for extortion, which was still pending. At last, getting clear of this, he made an active canvass in 64 for the next year's consulship. Fortunately for the government, the senatorial party became alarmed at his radical programme, and cast its votes for Cicero, electing the latter by a large majority. Antonius received a few more votes than Catiline, and became Cicero's colleague. Nothing daunted, Catiline was once more a candidate in 63, but was defeated, mainly through the efforts of Cicero.