« PreviousContinue »
sented to the establishment of the Empire in the interests of peace. The generation to which Virgil, Horace, Tibullus, and Propertius belonged had passed through one of the worst crises of this long period of suffering. The victors of Philippi, so far from following the example of clemency set to them by the great victor of Pharsalia, had emulated the worst excesses of the times of Marius and Sulla. The poets whose works record the various phases of feeling through which that age passed had in their own person experienced the consequences of the general insecurity. Virgil, in addition to the loss of his paternal farm, had incurred imminent danger from the violence of the soldier to whom his land had been allotted. The language of Horace indicates that his life had been more than once in jeopardyat the rout of Philippi, and in his subsequent wanderings by land and sea-till he found himself a needy adventurer, 'humilem decisis pennis,' again at Rome. Tibullus lost the greater part of the estates which his ancestors had enjoyed for generations 2. A similar calamity befell Propertius 3. Their own experience must thus have deepened the horror of prolonged war and bloodshed natural to men of humane and unwarlike temper, as they all were; for Horace, who alone among them took part in the civil war, describes himself, a few years later, as
Imbellis et firmus parum ;
and Tibullus pleads his effeminacy and timidity as a justification of a life devoted to indolent enjoyment. The works of that age, composed between the dates of the battles of Philippi and Actium, express the deep longing of the world for rest; those written later express the deep thankfulness for its attainment. In Virgil the recoil from
the cruel and violent passions of the time in which his early manhood was cast draws forth his tender compassion for all human suffering, and creates in his imagination the ideal of a life of peace-' procul discordibus armis,' the vision of a place of rest after toil and danger-' sedes ubi fata quietas ostendunt;' just as the recoil from the political anarchy of his own age and from the cruel memories of the Marian times deepens the sense of human misery in Lucretius, and forces on his mind the ideal refuge from the storms of life in the high and serene temples well bulwarked by the learning of the wise.' In Horace the feeling of insecurity arising out of his early experience confirms the lessons of Epicurean wisdom, and teaches him not to expect too much from life, but to enjoy thankfully whatever good the passing hour brought to him. In all of them the sense of the real miseries from which the world had escaped, and of the real blessings which it enjoyed after the battle of Actium, induces an acquiescence in the extinction of liberty and in the establishment of a form of government which had been for centuries most repugnant to Roman sentiment.
Another influence reconciling men to the great political change which took place in that era was the restored sense of national union. With whatever feelings Octavianus may have been regarded in the early years of the Triumvirate, after the final departure of Antony from Rome he was looked upon both as the main pillar of order and as the champion of the national cause, the true representative of Italy and of the 'Senatus Populusque Romanus' against the motley hosts of the East, arrayed under the standards of Antony and his Egyptian queen :
Hinc Augustus agens Italos in proelia Caesar
With the Romans in the later age of the Republic the feeling of the glory and greatness, the ancient and unbroken tradition, of their State was a more active sentiment than the love of political liberty. The care for the 'Respublica Romana' as a free commonwealth was in the last century of its existence confined to the leaders of the Senatorian aristocracy; the pride in the 'Imperium Romanum' was a feeling in which all classes could share, and which could especially unite to Rome the people of Italy, who had been admitted too late into citizenship, and were separated by too great a distance from the capital, to make the exercise of the political franchise an object of value in their eyes. They probably felt themselves more truly in the position of equal citizenship after the establishment of the monarchy than before it. This feeling of the pride of empire asserts itself much more strongly in the poets of the Augustan Age than in the writers of the preceding generation. It is scarcely, if at all, apparent in Lucretius and Catullus. It is only in the idealising oratory of Cicero, who, with all his devoted attachment to the forms of the constitution and the traditions of political freedom, still had a strong sympathy with the imperial spirit of Rome, that we find the expression of the same kind of sentiment which suggested to Virgil such lines as
Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento,
and inspired the national Odes of Horace.
The majesty of the State, moreover, impressed the imagination more immediately and more deeply when it was visibly and permanently embodied in a single person than when the administration of affairs and the government of the Provinces were distributed for a brief tenure of office among many competitors. By enabling them to realise the unity and vast extent of their dominion, Augustus reconciled the prouder spirits of his countrymen to his rule, as by restoring peace, order, and material prosperity he enlisted their interests in his favour. At the same time the success of his arms over the still unsubdued
tribes of the West, and of his diplomacy in wiping out the stain left on the Roman standards by the disastrous campaign of Crassus, continued to gratify the passion for military glory, without endangering the security and prosperity of Italy.
The national sentiment of Rome was further gratified by the maintenance of the old forms of the constitution, by the revival of ancient usages and ceremonies, and by the creation of a new interest in the early traditions of the city, and in the manners and men of the olden time1.' In his brief summary of the glories of the Augustan Age, Horace specifies this return to the ancient ways—
Et veteres revocavit artes
Per quas Latinum nomen et Italae
as one of the best results of Caesar's administration. The revolution effected in the first century before our era, so far from seeking, as other revolutions have done, abruptly to sever the connexion between the old and the new, strove to re-establish the continuity of national existence. The Augustan Age impressed itself on the minds of those living under it as an era not of destruction but of restoration. Though in the early part of his career Augustus availed himself of the revolutionary passions of his time to overthrow the Senatorian oligarchy, yet he sought to establish his own power on the conservative instincts of society, and especially on the religious traditions intimately connected with these instincts2. The powerful hold which these instincts and the feeling of the vital relation subsisting between the past and the present had on the Roman nature was the secret of the great stability of the Republic and Empire. We shall find how largely this sentiment enters into the poetry of the age, how it is especially the animating principle of the great
1 'Moribus antiquis stat res Romana virisque.' Ennius.
2 In the Ancyraean inscription we find the following passage (Bergk's reading):- Legibus novis latis multa revocavi exempla maiorum exolescentia iam ex nostra civitate,' etc.
national Epic, as it was of the national commemorative poem of Ennius.
But the age witnessed a restoration of the past, not only in its action on the imagination, but in a more direct influence on opinion and conduct. Horace says of it, in the same passage as that referred to above,—
Rectum evaganti fraena licentiae
The licence of the previous age in speculation, as in life, had provoked a moral and religious reaction. The idea of a return to a simpler and better life, and of a revived faith in the gods and in the forms and ceremonies of religion, existed at least as an aspiration, if it did not bear much fruit in action. This ideal aspiration finds its expression not only in the two great poems of Virgil, whose whole nature was in thorough harmony with it, who may be regarded almost as the prophet of a new and purer religion, but in many of the Odes of the sceptical disciple of Aristippus. It was part of the policy of Augustus, whether from sincere conviction or as an instrument of social and political regeneration, to revive religion and morality. Among the great acts of his reign commemorated by himself he especially mentions the building and restoration of the temples 1. The 'Julian laws' aimed also at a social and moral restoration. There is no ground for attributing to Augustus in his legislation, or to Horace in celebrating that legislation, any motive of conscious hypocrisy, though neither the life of the Emperor nor that of his panegyrist showed much conformity with the objects of these laws. Yet, if it failed to re-establish the ancient faith in the minds of the educated classes and to restore a primitive austerity of life, this revival affected the best
1 Cf. Ancyraean inscription: ‘Templum Apollinis in Palatio cum porticibus, aedem Divi Iulii, Lupercal,' etc. (where we notice the recognition of the divinity of Julius Caesar, along with the old Olympian and national gods, Apollo, Jupiter Tonans and Feretrius, Quirinus, the Lares and Penates, and with the deified abstractions Libertas and Juventas).