The arena swims around him: he is gone,
E're ceas'd the inhuman shout that hail'd the wretch who won!

He heard, but heeded not; his eyes
Were with his heart, and that was far away:
He reck'd not of the life he lost, nor prize,
But where his rude hut by the Danube lay;
There were his young barbarians all at play-
There was their Dacian mother; he, their sire,
Butcher'd to make a Roman holiday!

Child. Har.

Such is the influence of example when our propensities are left free and uncontrolled by the principles of humanity; and so callous do we become to the most bloody scenes by frequent exhibitions, that, according to Tacitus, the faithful and elegant historian of the times, Roman knights, senators, and even women of illustrious rank, laying aside the modesty of their sex, descended into the arena, and engaged in combat. How sadly depraved must the state of society have been, when such scenes were permitted, and how greatly inferior was the Roman to the Grecian character. The latter never permitted such foul and bloody exhibitions to pollute their theatres, nordid the lowest and most abandoned of their women ever expose their persons, as prizefighters in the arena. The only practice among the Greeks, that approached the shows of gladiators, was considered a religious rite. . In the heroic ages, according to the then usages of war, captives were sometimes slain upon a warrior's tomb, not to amuse the assembled crowd, but to appease the manes of the departed. Thus Homer relates, that at the funeral of Patroclus, Achilles slew twelve Trojan captives on his tomb:

Then, last of all, and horrible to tell,
Sad sacrifice! twelve Trojan captives fell.*

Pope. .

* Schlegel's Lec.; Ken. Rom. Ant.; Cours de Lit; Gif. Pers.; Gif. Juv.; Mad. de Stael. Inf. of Lit.; Fer, Rome.


Literature of the Romans. Roman Historians : Pictor, Cæsar, Ne

pos, Livy, Paterculus, Tacitus, Quintus Curtius, Suetonius, Justin, Arrian, Pausanias.

[ocr errors]

In the present bighly improved state of human knowledge in all its various departments, the importance of accurate historical records or details is so apparent to all, that their study forms a prominent portion of a polite education. We who thus feel their value, are astonished how any nation, possessing a knowledge of alphabetic writing, and consequently a certain means of preserving a record of events, should neglect a matter of so much interest, not only to themselves, but to posterity, as a faithful and connected historical narrative of the affairs of their own country. An acquaintance with the .wars and revolutions which have shaken and overturned empires, and with the motives which influenced the great actors, not only affords subjects for interesting speculation, but has a tendency to banish many of the prejudices and illiberal feelings too often indulged by one nation towards another; and from this source too, we derive much of that pleasure and satisfaction which constitute the charm of social intercourse, while we are also able to distinguish virtues and qualities, which before were not perceptible, because of the fałse medium through which we received them. The Romans, although, no doubt, fully aware of these advantages, and of the necessity of preserving an account of the great events which were constantly transpiring, had no regular historian, of whom we have any knowledge, until the time of Quintus Fabius Pictor, who flourished about 225 years before the Christian era. Previously to that period, they were satisfied with their preservation in the public records, and in the detached and unconnectcd works of chroniclers and annalists; and most of these, embracing a period of 363 years, were burnt by the Gauls, when they gained possession of the city, about 390 years before Christ. This destruction is much to be regretted, because we are compelled to rely, for a great portion of the early civil and military history of the Roman people, upon the uncertainty of tradition,

and are consequently unable to trace with accuracy, their gradual advances from barbarism to refinement-from humble origin to imperial grandeur.

Quintus Fabius Pictor, by the aid of such public records and chronicles as had escaped the destroying hand of barbarian vio· lence, and such traditionary accounts as he was enabled to collect from the venerable fathers of the state, composed a history of Rome from the foundation of the city to the year 217 before Christ, embracing a period of 536 years. What were his peculiar merits as a writer, with regard to style and manner of compoşition, cannot now be determined, as his works are not extantthose which pass under his name being considered spurious. That he was regarded as a faithful historian, so far as his means of information enabled him to be so, may be safely inferred from the fact, that this is the work on which the magnificent superstructures of Livy and others are erected. To his industry in collecting and arranging in chronological order, the events of the first ages of the republic, are they chiefly indebted. He collected the materials which they afterwards polished and applied to their own use. The name, then, of Fabius Pictor, should occupy, if not a very splendid, at least a very honorable distinction, on the roll of fame.

From the time of Fabius until near the period of the extinction of Roman liberty, by the usurpation of Julius Cæsar, there was no historian of distinction. About 86 years before Christ, Sallust, who holds a very honorable rank among Roman historians, was born at Amiternum, a town of Italy, celebrated in the time of Æneas, for the assistance rendered by the inhabitants to Turnus, king of the Rutuli. He was educated at Rome, was a senator, and held the offices of questor and consul, but being depraved and licentious in his manners, he was degraded from the rank of senator, to which he was afterwards restored when he embraced the cause of Cæsar. Being made governor of Numidia, he did not scruple to use his power for the purpose of enriching himself, and so successful was he in his system of extortion, that on his return to Rome he built a magnificent house, which he adorned with all the elegance that wealth could purchase. The site is still pointed out, and is known by the name of the “Gardens of Sallust.” Sallust composed a history of Rome more philosophic and more extensive in its researches, than that

of Fabius, but all we have left, are the histories of the conspiracy of Cataline and the Jugurthine war. In these works are exhibited a vigorous intellect, and a nervous and animated style, well calculated for historical composition, and he has given a faithful and impartial narrative of the events which form the main subjects of his work. He is, however, charg ed by learned critics, with the fault we have ascribed to Thucydides, namely, of putting long and labored harangues into the mouths of his principal characters, merely for the purpose of showing his great command of language, and his talent for that species of composition--these harangues, however, being used to embellish, do not impair the fidelity of the narrative, or affect his credibility as an historian. That he deserves the reputation of a faithful historian, appears from the fact, that when he was engaged in writing the history of the Punic wars, he not only examined the best authorities, but actually visited many places where engagements had taken place, that he might be accurate in his descriptions. Sallust married Terentia, the divorced wife of Cicero, which caused an irreconcilable quarrel between them, and will account for the manner in which Sallust passes over some circumstances in the life of Cicero that reflect the greatest honor upon him. Sallust died-35 years before Christ, in the fifty-first year of his age.

In the list of Roman historians is found the name of Julius Cæsar, renowned for his learning and eloquence, and that skill in politics and arms which overturned the Roman republic, and laid the foundation of the Roman empire. On the present occasion it is not our intention to speak of his military achievements, or to follow him in that victorious career by which he attained to sovereign power; we mean only to speak of him as a man of letters, as an historian, and the historian of wars in whichi, he himself bore a prominent part. „The times when, and circumstances under which, he composed his “Commentaries,” are striking evidences of the energy of his mind and the vigor of his talents. It was not in the calm retirement of his closet, where he heard only the dulcet notes of peace, but amidst the tumult: of war, the noise and bustle of camps, and the distraction of civil feuds. In this history he speaks of himself in the third person, and it is remarkable with what perfect coolness, selfpossesion and impartiality he records his own actions. To this

[ocr errors]

valuable work, we are indebted for much of the information we possess, with respect to the early history of Britain, Gaul and Germany, and of the manners and customs of the inhabitants of the respective countries. The fame of Cæsar principally rests upon his warlike achievements—when he is spoken of, or alluded to, it is generally as a hero and a general, or as the subverter of Roman liberty, scarcely ever as a historian and accomplished orator-his civil virtues and talents are lost in the blaze of his glory as a military chieftain. Were he only known as the author of the “Commentaries," his name would deserve to be held in veneration, and indeed, so anxious was Cæsar for his literary fame, that when he was near being lost in the bay of Alexandria, he siam ashore with his commentaries in one hand and his arms in the other. Cæsar is said to have written a tragedy entitled Edepus, founded upon events in the history of that royal family of Thebes, whose misfortunes have been the foundation of many tragedies from the time of Sophocles to the present. Somewhat associated with the name of Cæsar, is Hirtius, who is supposed to have written the 8th book of the “Wars of Gaul," and the history of the wars in Spain. After the death of Cæsar he was made consul, and was killed at the battle of Mutina.

Cornelius Nepos, another historian of these times, was born at Hostilia, a town situated on the Po. Attracted and encouraged by the munificence of Augustus to learned men, he removed to Rome, where he enjoyed the favor and shared the patronage of the emperor. He is said to have written several historical works, which are no longer extant. His lives of distinguished Greek and Roman generals and statesmen are still extant, and if they have not the popularity of the lives of Plutarch, they are at least equal for elegance of style and perspicuity of narration, and exhibit a faithful epitome of the principal transactions of the respective periods spoken of. A Roman writer, in the reign of Theodosius, A. D. 380, desirous of conciliating the favor of the emperor, endeavored to rob Nepos of the honor to which he was entitled, by publishing his “Lives.” The cheat, however, was soon detected, and the property restored to its right owner.

One of the brightest ornaments of the times which we are reviewing, was Titus Livy. He was a native of Padua, and was born about 50 years before Christ and died 17 years after. His great work on Roman history, which has rendered his name im

« ForrigeFortsett »