Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

sense, and the care of the body to that of the mind. It is

allowed as a salutary maxim, that the light and frivolous suspicion of a contagious malady, is of sufficient weight to excuse the visits of the most intimate friends; and even the servants, who are despatched to make the decent inquiries,

are not suffered to return home, till they have undergone

the ceremony of a previous ablution. Yet this selfish and unmanly delicacy occasionally yields to the more imperious passion of avarice. The prospect of gain will urge a rich

and gouty senator as far as Spoleto; every sentiment of arrogance and dignity is subdued by the hopes of an inheritance, or even of a legacy; and a wealthy childless citizen

is the most powerful of the Romans. The art of obtaining

the signature of a favorable testament, and sometimes of hastening the moment of its execution, is perfectly under

stood; and it has happened, that in the same house, though

in different apartments, a husband and a wife, with the

laudable design of overreaching each other, have summoned

their respective lawyers, to declare, at the same time, their

mutual, but contradictory, intentions. The distress which

follows and chastises extravagant luxury, often reduces the

great to the use of the most humiliating expedients. When

they desire to borrow, they employ the base and supplica

ting style of the slave in the comedy; but when they are

called upon to pay, they assume the royal and tragic dec

lamation of the grandsons of Hercules. If the demand is

repeated, they readily procure some trusty sycophant, in

structed to maintain a charge of poison, or magic, against

the insolent creditor; who is seldom released from prison,

till he has signed a discharge of the whole debt. These

vices, which degrade the moral character of the Romans,

are mixed with a puerile superstition, that disgraces their

understanding. They listen with confidence to the predictions of haruspices, who pretend to read, in the entrails of

victims, the signs of future greatness and prosperity; and there are many who do not presume either to bathe, or to dine, or to appear in public, till they have diligently con

sulted, according to the rules of astrology, the situation of Mercury, and the aspect of the moon.” It is singular enough, that this vain credulity may often be discovered among the profane skeptics, who impiously doubt, or deny, the existence of a celestial power.”

49 Macrobius, the friend of these Roman nobles, considered the stars as the cause, or at least the signs, of suture events ‘de Somn. Scipion. l. i. e. 19, p. 68). . 50 The histories of Livy (see particularly vi. 36) are full of the extortions of the rich, and the o of the poor debtors. The melancholy story of a brave old soldier (Dionys. Hal. 1. vi. c. 26, p. 347, edit. Hudson, and Livy, ii. 23) must have been frequently repeated in those primitive times, which have been so undeservedly praised.

In populous cities, which are the seat of commerce and manufactures, the middle ranks of inhabitants, who derive their subsistence from the dexterity or labor of their hands, are commonly the most prolific, the most useful, and, in that sense, the most respectable part of the community. But the plebeians of Rome, who disdained such sedentary and servile arts, had been oppressed from the earliest times by the weight of debt and usury; and the husbandman, during the term of his military service, was obliged to abandon the cultivation of his farm.” The lands of Italy, which had been originally divided among the families of free and indigent proprietors, were insensibly purchased or usurped by the avarice of the nobles; and in the age which preceded the fall of the republic, it was computed that only two thousand citizens were possessed of an independent substance.” Yet as long as the people bestowed, by their suffrages, the honors of the state, the command of the legions, and the administration of wealthy provinces, their conscious pride alleviated, in some measure, the hardships of poverty; and their wants were seasonably supplied by the ambitious liberality of the candidates, who aspired to secure a venal majority in the thirty-five tribes, or the hundred and ninety-three centuries, of Rome. But when the prodigal commons had imprudently alienated not only the use, but the inheritance of power, they sunk, under the reign of the Caesars, into a vile and wretched populace, which must, in a few generations, have been totally extinguished, if it had not been continually recruited by the manumission of slaves, and the influx of strangers. As early as the time of Hadrian, it was the just complaint of the ingenuous natives, that the capital had attracted the vices of the universe, and the manners of the most opposite nations. The intemperance of the Gauls, the cunning and levity of the Greeks, the savage obstinacy of the Egyptians and Jews, the servile temper of the Asiatics, and the dissolute, effeminate prostitution of the Syrians, were mingled in the various multitude, which, under the proud and false denomination of Romans, presumed to despise their fellow-subjects, and even their sovereigns, who dwelt beyond the precincts of the ETERNAL CITY.” Yet the name of that city was still pronounced with respect: the frequent and capricious tumults of its inhabitants were indulged with impunity; and the successors of Constantine, instead of crushing the last remains of the democracy by the strong arm of military power, embraced the mild policy of Augustus, and studied to relieve the poverty, and to amuse the idleness, of an innumerable people.” I. For the convenience of the lazy plebeians, the monthly distributions of corn were converted into a daily allowance of bread; a great number of ovens were constructed and maintained at the public expense; and at the appointed hour, each citizen, who was furnished with a ticket, ascended the flight of steps, which had been assigned to his peculiar quarter or division, and received, either as a gift, or at a very low price, a loaf of bread of the weight of three pounds, for the use of his family. II. The forest of Lucania, whose acorns fattened large droves of wild hogs,” afforded, as a species of tribute, a plentiful supply of cheap and wholesome meat. During five months of the year, a regular allowance of bacon was distributed to the poorer citizens; and the annual consumption of the capital, at a time when it was much declined from its former lustre, was ascertained, by an edict of Walentinian the Third, at three millions six hundred and twenty-eight thousand pounds.” III. In the manners of antiquity, the use of oil was indispensable for the lamp, as well as for the bath; and the annual tax, which was imposed on Africa for the benefit of Rome, amounted to the weight of three millions of pounds, to the measure, perhaps, of three hundred thousand English gallons. IV. The anxiety of Augustus to provide the metropolis with sufficient plenty of corn, was not extended beyond that necessary article of human subsistence; and when the popular clamor accused the dearness and scarcity of wine, a proclamation was issued, by the grave reformer, to remind his subjects that no man could reasonably complain of thirst, since the aqueducts of Agrippa had introduced into the city so many copious streams of pure and salubrious water.” This rigid sobriety was insensibly relaxed; and, although the generous design of Aurelian" does not appear to have been executed in its full extent, the use of wine was allowed on very easy and liberal terms. The administration of the public cellars was delegated to a magistrate of honorable rank; and a considerable part of the vintage of Campania was reserved for the fortunate inhabitants of Rome. The stupendous aqueducts, so justly celebrated by the praises of Augustus himself, replenished the Thermae, or baths, which had been constructed in every part of the city, with Imperial magnificence. The baths of Antoninus Caracalla, which were open, at stated hours, for the indiscriminate service of the senators and the people, contained above sixteen hundred seats of marble; and more than three thousand were reckoned in the baths of Diocletian.” The walls of the lofty apartments were covered with curious mosaics, that imitated the art of the pencil in the elegance of design, and the variety of colors. The Egyptian granite was beautifully encrusted with the precious green marble of Numidia; the perpetual stream of hot water was poured into the capacious basins, through so many wide mouths of bright and massy silver; and the meanest Roman could purchase, with a small copper coin, the daily enjoyment of a scene of pomp and luxury, which might excit the envy of the kings of Asia.” From these stately palaces issued a swarm of dirty and ragged plebeians, without shoes and without a mantle; who loitered away whole days in the street or Forum, to hear news and to hold disputes; who dissipated, in extravagant gaming, the miserable pittance of their wives and children; and spent the hours of the night in obscure tarvens, and brothels, in the indulgence of gross and vulgar sensuality.” But the most lively and splendid amusement of the idle multitude, depended on the frequent exhibition of public games and spectacles. The piety of Christian princes had suppressed the inhuman combats of gladiators; but the Roman people still considered the Circus as their home, their temple, and the seat of the republic. The impatient crowd rushed at the dawn of day to secure their places, and there were many who passed a sleepless and anxious night in the adjacent porticos. From the morning to the evening, careless of the sun, or of the rain, the spectators, who sometimes amounted to the number of four hundred thousand, remained in eager attention; their eyes fixed on the horses and charioteers, their minds agitated with hope and fear, for the success of the colors which they espoused: and the happiness of Rome appeared to hang on the event of a race.” The same immoderate ardor inspired their clamors, and their applause, as often as they were entertained with the hunting of wild beasts, and the various modes of theatrical representation. These representations in modern capitals may deserve to be considered as a pure and elegant school of taste, and perhaps of virtue. But the Tragic and Comic Muse of the Romans, who seldom aspired beyond the imitation of Attic genius, * had been almost totally silent since the fall of the republic; * and their place was unworthily ^ Ammianus (l. xiv. c. 6, and l. xxviii. c. 4), after describing the luxury and Fo of the nobles of Rome, exposes, with equal indigmation, the vices and folies of the common people.

*1 Non esse in civitate duo millia hominum qui rem haberent. Cicero. Offic. Ii. 21, and Comment. Paul. Manut. in edit. Graev... This vague computation was made A. U. C. 649, in a speech of the tribune Philippus, and it was his object, as well as that of the Gracchi (see Plutarch), to deplore, and perhaps to exaggerate, the unisery of the common people.

* See the third Satire (60–125) of Juvenal, who indignantly complaims,

——— Quamvis quota portio fascis Achaei ! Jampriden Syrus in Tiberem defluxit Orontes; Et linguam et mores, &c.

Seneca, when he proposes to comfort his mother (Consolat. ad Helv. c. 6.) by the reflection that a great part of mankind were in a state of exile, reminds her how few of the inhabitants of Rome were born in the city. ** Almost all that is said of the bread, bacon, oil, wine, &c., may be found in the fourteenth book of the Theodosian Code; which expressly treats of the police of the great cities. See particularly the titles iii. iv. xv. xvi. xvii. xxiv. The collateral testimonies are produced in Godefroy's Commentary, and it is needless to transcribe them. According to a law of Theodosius, which appreciates in money the military allowance, a F. of gold (eleven shillings) was equivalent to eighty pounds of bacon, or to eighty pounds of oil, or to twelve modii (or pecks) of salt, (Cod. Theod. i. iii. it. iv. leg. 17). This equation, compared with another of seventy pounds of bacon for an amphora (Cod. Theo. l. xiv. tit. iv. leg. 4) fixes the price of wine at about sixteenpence the gallon. * The anonymous author of the Description of the World (p. 14, in tom. iii. Geograph. Minor. Hudson) observes of Lucania, in his barbarous Latin, Regio optima, et jpsa omnibus habundans, et landum multum foras emittit. Propter Quod est in montibus, cujus aescam animalium variam, &c. * See Novell. ad calcem Cod. Theod. D. Wale:nt. l. i. tit.xv. This law was Published at Rome, June 29th, A. D. 452.

56 Sueton. in August. c. 42. The utmost debauch of the emperor himself, in his favorite wine of Rhaetia, never exceeded a sea-tarius (an English pint). Id. c. 77. Torrentius ad loc. and Arbuthnot's Tables, p. 86.

of His design was to plant vineyards along the sea-coast of Hetruria (Vopiscus in Hist. August. p. 225); the dreary, unwholesome, uncultivated Maremme o Modern Tuscany.

58 Olympiodor. o Phot. p. 197.

59 Seneca (epistol. lxxxvi.) compares the baths of Scipio Africanus, at his villa of Liternum, with the magnificence (which was continually .#, of the public baths of Rome, long before the stately. Thermae of Antoninus and Diocletian were erected. The quadrams paid for admission was the quarter of the as, about one-eightli of an English penny.

ol. Juvenal. Satir. xi. 191, &c. The expressions of the historian Ammianus are not less strong and animated than those of the satirist ; and both the one and the other painted from the life. The numbers which the great Circus was capable of receiving are taken from the original Notitiae of the city. The differences between thern prove that they did not transcribe each other; but the sum may appeal in

credible, though the country on these occasions flocked to the city. * Sometimes indeed they composed original pieces.

-- Westigia Graeca Ausi deserere et celebrare domestica facta.

Horat. Epistol. ad Pisones, 285, and the learned, though perplexed note of Dacier who might have allowed the name of tragedies to the Brutus and the Decius o Pacuvius, or to the Cato of Maternus. The Octavia, ascribed to one of the Senecas, still remains a very unfavorable specimen of Roman tragedy. * In the time of Quintilian and Pliny, a tragic poet was reduced to the imperfect method of hiring a great room, and reading his play to the company, whom

łojor that purpose. (See Dialog. de Oratoribus, c. 9, 11, and I’lin. Epis

« ForrigeFortsett »