« PreviousContinue »
government. If anything could have made the new order of things acceptable to the best representatives of the old Republican traditions, the purity and elevation imparted to the idea of the Empire in the verse of Virgil must have had this effect. The poetical imagination, susceptible as it is in the highest degree of emotions produced by the spectacle of ancient or powerful government or of a people nobly asserting its freedom, has little prophetic insight into the working of political causes.
Nor need it be regarded as a sign of weakness or time-serving in the poets of the Augustan Age that they did not foresee the gloom and oppression which were destined to follow so soon after the prosperous dawn of the Roman Empire.
The establishment of the Empire affected the new poetry also by the personal relations which it established between the leaders of society and the leaders of literature, The early Republican poets were for the most part strangers to Rome, men of comparatively humble position, who by their merit gained the friendship of some of the great families, but who at the same time depended for their success on popular favour. The poets of the last days of the Republic were themselves members of the great ' families, or men intimately associated with them; and they wrote to please themselves and their equals. What remains of their poetry has thus all the independence of the older Republican literature, with the refinement of a literature addressed to a polished society. The poets of the Augustan Age were men born in the country districts or provincial towns of Italy, and the two most illustrious of their number were of humble origin : yet they lived after their early youth in familiar intercourse with the foremost men of their time; they owed their fortunes and position in life to the favour of these men, and thus could not help sharing, and to some extent reproducing their tastes and tone in their writings. ! Among the names of the patrons of literature that of Maecenas has become proverbial, but perhaps even more important than his patronage was that exercised by the
Emperor himself. Not only was he a man of great natural gifts, but he had received a most elaborate education. He was a powerful and accomplished orator, and a practised writer? As was not unusual with men who had received a thorough rhetorical training, he attempted the composition of a tragedy, and had the sense to treat his failure with good-natured humour? He made other attempts in verse, and composed several works in prose, chiefly turning on the history of his own times. He showed in his composition an especial regard for purity and correctness of style. Suetonius tells us that he allowed no composition to be written on himself 'nisi serio et a praestantissimo Horace testifies to this fastidiousness in the line,
Cui male si palpere, recalcitret undique tutus. Suetonius testifies further to his liberal patronage of genius; 'ingenia saeculi sui omnibus modis fovit;' a statement confirmed by Horace's account of his liberality to Virgil and Varius,
Dilecti tibi Vergilius Variusque poetae“. We are told also that in literary works he especially regarded praecepta et exempla publice et privatim salubria,' which may partly account for the didactic and practical aim which the higher poetry of the age set before itself. He corresponded in terms of intimacy with Virgil, and made repeated advances, which were at first somewhat coldly received, to Horace, with the wish to number him among his familiar friends. But there was another side to the temper of Augustus, which those admitted to his favour did well not to forget. If he could · be a liberal patron and genial companion, he could also be
Eloquentiam studiaque liberalia ab aetate prima et cupide et laboriosissime exercuit.' Sueton. ii. 84.
· Augusto prompta ac profluens, quaeque deceret principem, eloquentia fuit.' Tac. Ann. xiii. 3.
2 • Aiacem tragoediam scripserat, eandemque, quod sibi displicuisset, deleverat. Postea L. Varius tragoediarum scriptor interrogabat eum, quid ageret Aiax
Et ille, “ in spongium,” inquit, "incubuit." Macrob. ii. 4. 2. 3 Sat. ii. 1. 20.
4 Ep. ii. 1. 248.
a hard and pitiless master. Literature, like everything else, had to be at his command, obedient to his will, and in harmony with his policy. The fate of Gallus, that of Iulus Antonius, and that of Ovid, prove that neither brilliant genius nor past favours and familiarity could procure indulgence for whatever thwarted his purpose or offended his dignity.
The relation between Maecenas and the members of his literary circle was one of more intimacy and unreserve. This circle included among its members Virgil and Varius, Horace and Propertius. The great works with which the name of Maecenas is inseparably associated,—the Georgics of Virgil, the first three books of the Odes of Horace, and the first book of his Epistles,-entitle him to be honoured as among the most enlightened and fortunate of all the patrons of literature. Virgil addresses him in language not only of loyal admiration, but of acknowledgment for the encouragement and guidance which he owed to him ; and that such an influence may have been really exercised by the inferior over the superior mind is shown by the testimony given by Goethe of the stimulus which his genius derived from the encouragement of the Duke of Weimar?. Horace writes of Maecenas in the language not only of admiration and gratitude, but of warm and disinterested affection; and the favour shown to Propertius, a poet of a very opposite type, shows that his appreciation of genius was not limited by a narrow partisanship. His character seems to have left very different impressions on the minds of his contemporaries, according as they knew him intimately or merely from the outside. It is a proof of his capacity and his honesty that he was the one man thoroughly trusted by Augustus in all affairs of state, as Agrippa was in war: and that his qualities of heart were no less admirable appears not only from the poetical eulogies in the Georgics, the Elegies of Propertius, and the Odes of Horace, but also from the more natural tribute to
Essays Literary and Theological, by R. H. Hutton.
his worth as a man and his sincerity as a friend contained in Horace's Satires and Epistles. On the world outside his own immediate circle he produced the impression of an effeminate devotion to pleasure. His love of pleasure and his effeminate shrinking from death seem to be confirmed by the testimony of Horace :
Cur me querelis, etc. The sketch of him by Velleius Paterculus presents the view of his character suggested by the contrast between his ability as a statesman and the apparent indolence of his private life: 'Vir ubi res vigiliam exigeret sane exsomnis, providens, atque agendi sciens, simul vero aliquid ex negotio remitti posset, otio ac mollitiis paene ultra feminam fluens?' It is remarkable that Tacitus ascribes a similar character to the man in whom, after the death of Maecenas, Augustus most confided-Sallustius Crispus? Perhaps the position of Maecenas, as the trusted confidant of a jealous and imperious master, required him to begin his career by playing a part which afterwards became habitual to him. Among the traits of his character indicated by Horace are knowledge of men, reticence, and indifference to the outward distinctions of birth and rank. Whatever ambition he had was to exercise real power as the minister of Augustus, not to enjoy official titles. He certainly used his position to direct the genius both of Virgil and Horace to public objects. There is no reason to doubt the fact noticed in the Life of Virgil, that he influenced him in the choice of the subject of the Georgics with the view to revive the chief among the ancient arts, 'by which the Latin name and the strength of Italy had grown great.' But it was with Horace that he shared all his public interests and private feelings, and it is not a very hazardous conjecture
1 Velleius, ii. 88.
? Tac. Ann. iii. 30. ' Ille quamquam prompto ad capessendos honores aditu, Maecenatem aemulatus sine dignitate senatoria multos triumphalium consulariumque potentia anteiit, diversus a veterum instituto per cultum et munditias, copiaque et affluentia luxu propior: suberat tamen vigor animi ingentibus negotiis par, eo acrior quo somnum et inertiam magis ostentabat.'
to presume that many of the Odes and familiar writings of the latter poet reflect the tastes and sentiments of Maecenas, perhaps give back the very style and manner of his conversation. The alternation observable in the Odes of Horace between an apparent devotion to the lighter themes of lyrical poetry and the serious interest in great affairs, the irony disclaiming all lofty and austere pretension, the Epicurean taste for simplicity combined with the Epicurean love of pleasure, the indifference to outward state, and the urbanity and knowledge of the world, more conspicuous in Horace than in any other ancient poet, are suggestive of habitual contact with the wordly wisdom, the real power disguised under an appearance of carelessness, the refined enjoyment of life, the genial social nature, which were not only a great power in the State, a great charm in the life of a by-gone age, but have through their action on the literature of the time become a permanent and beneficent influence on human culture.
Other names of men eminent among the lights and leaders' of the time are also intimately connected with its literature. The earliest patron by whom Virgil's genius was recognised was not Maecenas but Asinius Pollio, who in his early youth had lived in the gay circle of Catullus ; who, as the lieutenant of Antony, had governed the province of Cisalpine Gaul ; who had filled the office of Consul, commanded an army, and obtained a triumph; who is mentioned by Horace in one of his early Satires as among the few critics whose appreciation he valued; who in later life obtained great distinction as an orator; to whose talent as a writer of tragedy both Virgil and Horacebear witness; who undertook the composition of a work the loss of which is one of the most irreparable gaps in historical records—a contemporary History of the Civil Wars 'ex Metello consule;'-and who performed the important service to literature of being the first to establish a public library at Rome, and the more questionable service of instituting the practice of public recitations.
M. Valerius Messala, the next in importance among the