Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 timel.' In his brief summary of the glories of the Augustan Age, Horace specifies this return to the ancient ways

[ocr errors]

Et veteres revocavit artes
Per quas Latinum nomen et Italae
Crevere vires-

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 instincts. 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.

a

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,–

Ordinem
Rectum evaganti fraena licentiae

Iniecit, amovitque culpas. 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. 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

[ocr errors]

* 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).

literature of the time by the influence which it exercised on the deeper and more serious feeling of Virgil and the manlier sympathies of Horace, and by imposing at least some restraint on Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid in the record of their pleasures ?.

The poets with whom our enquiry is concerned, and especially the two most illustrious of their number, thoroughly represent, as they helped to call forth, the spirit in which the Roman world passed through the great change from the Republic to the Empire. They give expression to the weariness and longing for rest, to the revival of Roman and Italian feeling, to the pride of empire, the charm of ancient memories and associations, the aspiration after a better life and a firmer faith. But, further, the expression of these feelings is made subordinate to the personal glory of Augustus, who stands out as the central and commanding figure in all their representations :

[ocr errors]

In medio mihi Caesar erit templumque tenebit.

He is celebrated as the restorer of the golden Saturnian age?; the closer of the gateway of Janus 3; the leader of the men and the gods of Italy against the swarms of the East and her monstrous divinities 4 ; the 'father of his country 5;' the ruler destined to extend the empire, on which 'the sun never set,' 'beyond the Garamantians and Indians 6,' the descendant and true representative of the mythical author of the Roman State?; the man in whom the great destiny of Rome and the great labours of all her sons were summed up and

6

1 A similar influence is attributed by M. Sainte-Beuve to Louis XIV. After speaking of the freedom and licence of French literature under the patronage of Fouquet, he adds, ' Le jeune roi vint, et il amena, il suscita avec lui sa jeune literature; il mit le correctif à l'ancienne, et sauf des infractions brillantes, il imprima à l'ensemble des productions de son temps un caractère de solidité, et finalement de moralité, qui est aussi celui qui règne dans ses propres écrits, et dans l'habitude de sa pensée.' 2 Aen. vi. 795.

3 Hor. Od. iv. 15. 9. 4 Aen. viii. 678 et seq.

5 Hor. Od. i. 2. 50. 6 Aen. i. 287; vi. 796; Hor. Od. iv. 15. 15. 7 Aen. i. 288.

fulfilled ; the conqueror who raised three hundred shrines to the gods of Italy?; the legislator who by his life and his laws had reformed the corrupt manners of the States. The sense of gratitude for the rest and prosperity enjoyed under Augustus, the admiration for the real power of intellect and character which made him the most successful ruler that the world has ever seen, the confidence in the unbroken good fortune which marked all his earlier career, may account, without the necessity of attributing any unworthy motive, for the eulogies bestowed upon him as a ruler and organiser of empire. But the language of admiration goes beyond these into a region in which modern sympathies can with difficulty follow it.

follow it. Modern criticism may partially explain, but it cannot enable us to enter with sympathy into that peculiar phase of the latter days of Paganism which first appears in the literature and the historical monuments of the Augustan Age as the Deification of the Emperors. In the pages of Tacitus the worship of the Emperor appears as an established 'cultus,' as the symbol and the instrument of Roman domination over foreign nations 4. The cities of Spain vie with the cities of · the Asiatic Greeks in their desire to raise temples in honour of the living Emperor. Tacitus seems to regard it as even something discreditable in Tiberius that he disclaims divine attributes 5. The origin of this 'cultus,' which first firmly established itself in the Greek cities of Asia, may be referred to the combined action of three distinct modes of feeling,-a survival of the old Greek hero-worship, which led even in the Republican times to the offering of divine honours to Roman Proconsuls; the excess of the monarchical sentiment among Asiatics, which had led to the worship of the successors of Alexander, and had prompted Alexander himself to claim a divine origin ; the strong

1 Georg. ii. 170.

2 Aen. viii. 716. 3 Hor. Od. iv. 5. 20; Ep. ii. 1. 2.

4 • Ad hoc templum divo Claudio constitutum quasi arx aeternae dominationis aspiciebatur.' Tac. Ann. xiv. 31.

5 Tac. Ann. iv. 38.

6

Roman faith in a secret invisible power watching over the destiny of the State, and revered as "Fortuna Urbis.' This secret invisible divinity became as it were incarnate in the person of the supreme ruler of the world, wielding the whole power, representing the whole majesty of Rome.

The feeling with which the contemporary poets attribute to Augustus a divine function in the world, and anticipate for him a place and high office among the gods after death, is something different from this literal adoration of a living man as invested with the full power and attributes of Deity. But it is difficult to find any rational explanation of the tone adopted by them in such passages as Georg. i. 24-42, or Horace, Ode iii. 3. 11-12. There is, however, a striking coincidence in the manner in which Virgil and Horace suggest the blending of the mortal with the immortal, which seems to imply a common source of inspiration. Horace asserts the divinity of Augustus by claiming for him qualities and services equal to, or greater than, those which raised Castor, Pollux, Hercules, Bacchus, and Romulus to the dwelling-place of the gods1. Virgil, in one of the cardinal passages of the Aeneid, in which the action is projected into his own age, claims, for the restorer of order then, a vaster range of beneficent influence than that over which the civilising labours and conquests of Bacchus and Hercules had extended 2. In another passage Horace speaks of the Roman as worshipping the 'numen' of Caesar along with the Lares :

uti Graecia Castoris, Et magni memor Herculis 3.

In all these passages the idea implied is that, as great services to the human race have in other times raised mortals from earth to heaven, so it shall be with Augustus after the beneficent labours of his life are over. Probably the earliest suggestion of the idea in its manifestation at

1 Od. iii. 3. 9, etc.; Ep. ii. 1. 5. 2 Aen. vi. 801.

3 Od. iv. 5.

« PreviousContinue »