Imagens da página

which have become household words, like “In se magna ruunt,’ ‘Stat magni nominis umbra,' ‘Victrix causa deis placuit sed victa Catoni, ‘Nulla fides regni sociis,” “Multis utile bellum,” ‘Nil actum reputans si quid superesset agendum.' But it is this gift which has often betrayed him into wild exaggeration, as in the episode, over three hundred lines long, of the African serpents and the deaths which they inflicted, and in the loathsome banquet of the carrion birds and beasts on the field of Pharsalia, which reminds one of a horrible passage in Byron's “Siege of Corinth,’ beginning— “And he saw the lean dogs 'neath the wall Hold o'er the dead their carnival.’

Lucan is a perfect type of Silver Poetry, because his strong point is his power of description. For it is in their descriptions that the Gold and Silver Ages present to us a most marked contrast. The Golden Age is subjective, and detail is subservient to a spiritual delineation; description is rather a sketch than a picture, and addresses itself more to the mind than to the eye. The Silver Age revels in objective detail, and dwells more on repulsive than attractive qualities, for the former are more obvious to a less keen insight. Beauty, except to the eye of genius, is uniform, while ugliness presents even to a commonplace observation a multitude of different features, and a wide field for detailed elaboration. M. Nisard has well illustrated this contrast by comparing Virgil's Sibyl in the sixth book of the “AFneid’ and Lucan's in the fifth of the ‘Pharsalia.’ Virgil paints, Lucan anatomises. The same will be the result of putting side by side a picture of a shipwreck by each poet. A faculty for minutely describing natural objects, to which may be added erudition (if that is a good quality in a poet), constitutes the chief merit of Lucan, and perhaps the only merit of the ‘Thebaid ' and “Achilleid’ of Statius, the * Argonautica” of Valerius Flaccus, the ‘Punica' of Silius

Italicus, and the ‘AEtna' whose author is unknown. The other poet of the reign of Nero, if poet he can be called, is Seneca the younger. No fewer than six Senecas have been postulated at different times in the history of literature, but we have no reason to believe that there were more than two, -the father who wrote works on rhetoric, and the son who not only cultivated his father's favourite studies but was the author of several tragedies, which, there is reason to believe, were never put upon the stage. Martial congratulates Corduba on having produced two Senecas, meaning doubtless the rhetorician and the tragic poet. Sidonius Apollinaris speaks of one Seneca who who cultivates ‘scabrous’ Plato, while the other “makes the stage of Euripides shake beneath his tread.’" Opinions differ widely not only concerning the merits of the tragedies as a whole, but also concerning the relative excellence of each as compared with the others. One critic calls the ‘CEdipus' a great work, a precious jewel, while the ‘Troades' he pronounces utterly worthless; and of the “Octavia’ he says, “If it is not the work of a child, I am a child myself.’ Another calls the ‘Troades’ divine, the “Octavia’ below it but still excellent, while the ‘GEdipus’ in his judgment is so lacking in all inspiration that it can hardly be reckoned among tragedies at all. Teuffel writes, ‘The praeterta entitled “Octavia” is certainly not by Seneca.” On the question of the merits of the tragedies as works of art there can hardly be two opinions. They were evidently written for the arm-chair, not the stage, but even as such they are worthless as studies of the human mind. The philosophy of Seneca reappears in his plays. The oft-quoted lines f—

‘Where you were your birth before,
There you'll be when you're no more’—

afford a good example of the kind of moralizing which prevails in his plays. Their key-note is Stoicism. No virtues are found in them but the virtues of the Schools. All the softer traits of humanity disappear. Modesty, pure love, filial affection no longer have any interest, but must make way for the virtues that can strut and rant. Love in Seneca is sensual and shameless. The Phaedra of Euripidest struggles against the burden that is laid upon her, but Aphrodite is greater than she. She speaks of her mother Pasiphaë with pity, and though dissuaded by her nurse persists in her resolve to die. The Latin Phaedra exults in her passion for Hippolytus, envies the monstrous love of Pasiphaë, and pretends a resolution to die, that she may deceive her nurse and gain her as an accomplice. And while laboriously unfolding the unnatural aberrations of a distorted passion, Seneca imagines that he is doing what Euripides did and analysing a woman's heart. In the same way he transforms the loving yet patient Deianira of Sophocles

* ‘Quorum alter colit hispidum Platonem, Orchestram quatit alter Euripidis.’ The extreme infelicity of the epithet hispidum as applied to Plato almost prePares us for the metrical monstrosity in the next verse. f * Quaeris quo jaceas post obitum loco. Quo non mata jacent.” {_Hippol. 337 ff.

[ocr errors]

into a furious virago, and Antigone into a special pleader, who
discusses with her father CEdipus the question how far his
relations with his mother can be held to involve real guiltiness.
The death of Polyxena in Euripides, put beside that of Iphi-
genia in AEschylus and his imitator Lucretius, shows a great
lowering of tone. But in Euripides we have only to complain
that Polyxena is too collected when she thinks how she must
arrange her robes so as to fall with decency and decorum; in
Seneca, Polyxena rivals Cato in her stoical contempt of death,
and dashes herself to the ground, invoking mother Earth's
vengeance on her sacrificers. There is the same exaggeration
in his male characters. His Hercules dies in the attitude of a
gladiator, and his CEdipus has only to be set beside that of
Sophocles, and it will at once be seen how completely all
refinement has left the portrait.
Though Petronius Arbiter has transmitted to us a good deal
more prose than verse, we may perhaps include in our review
of the poetry of the Decline one who has left us a poem on the
Civil War in three hundred verses, which good authorities
have pronounced to outweigh in the critical balance the whole
of the ‘Pharsalia,” and a fragment of five-and-sixty lines on the
‘Capture of Troy,” containing the Laocoön episode, and baulked
(it has been said) of its place among the masterpieces only by
the inevitable comparison with the incomparable “Aeneid.'
We own that we have not formed so high an opinion of these
poems or of the other metrical jeux d'esprit scattered through
the ‘Satyricon, but we gladly embrace the opportunity of
making a few observations on one of the most singular legacies
to us from the ancient world. Whether this strange medley
(resembling in some respects the Satura Menipped) was written
as a satire on Nero or Tigellinus, or on the other hand was
merely a study in the social life of the writer's time, and who
that writer was, and where he lived—these are questions which
have been often asked and have received various answers. The
belief long prevailed that the author of the ‘Satyricon' was the
consul Petronius of whose life and character Tacitus has given
us such a brilliant sketch in the “Annals,’t and who, according
to that historian, while his life-blood in obedience to the
tyrant's mandate was flowing from his veins, wrote a full
account of the profligacy of Nero and his court, and sent it

* Mr. Heitland, in his very able introduction to Mr. Haskins' excellent edition of the ‘Pharsalia, regards this little poem as thrown off half in rivalry, half in imitation of. Lucan, like our ‘Rejected Addresses,’ though less definitely intended for ridicule.

f xvi. 18, 19.


[ocr errors][graphic]

under his seal to the Emperor. And it was maintained that we have in the ‘Satyricon, a part of which is extant, this very document. But it is absolutely extravagant to suppose that even the fragment of the ‘Satyricon' which we possess (and there is good reason to believe that it is not a tenth part of the whole work) could have been composed and dictated in a single day by a man bleeding to death. Besides, the ‘Satyricon' is not such a work as the death-bed chronique scandaleuse of the consular victim of Nero's tyranny must have been. What character in the fragment could possibly stand for the tyrant, and why should the writer have been careful to veil his invective behind so impenetrable a screen, when, destined not to survive his work, he might have made all the debauchery and cruelty of the imperial monster burn naked in letters of fire before the eyes of his countrymen But we have already said too much on a subject on which we should not have touched, were it not that histories and dictionaries of literature still treat this extravagant hypothesis as tenable. Mr. Crutwell's excellent “History of Roman Literature’ rightly repudiates it. Petronius has been placed in the time of Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, Marcus Aurelius, Severus, Zenobia, Constantine, Julian. He has even been identified with a Bishop of Bologna who died and was canonised in the fifteenth century. If he was the author of the “Satyricon,’ we cannot help feeling a want of confidence in the efficacy of the intercession of

St. Petronius. The chief interest of the “Satyricon’ for us is the specimen which it affords us of everyday manners and conversation under the Empire. We find all the usual features of the sermo volgaris, and what especially strikes us is, that familiar discourse at this period reproduces the archaic language of the Comic Drama far more conspicuously than even the familiar correspondence of Cicero. We meet the characteristic irregularities of gender, such as vinus, fatus, caelus, schema: ; old forms like lacte for lac and frunisci for frui; anomalies of verbal inflexion, as mirat, Edgat, pudeatur; and late uses of words, as querela, “a quarrel,’ lutrocinium, “larceny,” largus and even ambitiosus in the sense of "abundant.” Again, as in Cicero's letters, we meet conversational phrases presenting a curious similarity to the slang of to-day-urcealim pluere, “to rain bucketfuls, olla male fervet, “it is hard to keep the pot boiling, fides male ambulans, “tottering Credit,' habet hape res panem, “there's money in this, præ litteras (sic) fatuus, ‘mad after books.” Broadly, the Latinity is on the Verge of Low Latin, a fact which must be insisted on because the purity of the Petronian Latinity has often been praised. K 2 Even Even Lipsius has styled Petronius epigrammatically, but in our opinion erroneously, auctor purissimae impuritatis.

As the ‘Satyricon' is not in the hands of many, and indeed ought by no means to be recommended for general perusal, we may perhaps lay before our readers a specimen of the conversation at Trimalchio's table, which will show how little this feature of social life has undergone any real change since the days of the Roman Empire. We pass over the more serious table-talk in which Cicero and Publilius Syrus are compared, ghost stories are told, and impromptus thrown off, as well as the pretentious monologues in which Trimalchio amusingly displays his ignorance of mythology, history, and science. These passages are too formal for our purpose, which is to exhibit in a free and abridged translation the ordinary giveand-take of commonplace conversation between average and undistinguished guests during the temporary absence of the host from the room.”

‘As his departure delivered us from his usurpation of the talk, we tried to draw our neighbours into conversation. “What is a day?” cried Dama, after calling for a larger glass. “Nothing. Before you have time to turn round it is might. One should therefore go straight from the bedroom to the dining-room. And what a regular freezing we have been having of late 1 I could scarcely get hot in my bath. However, a hot drink is as good as a great coat. I’ve had some stiff ones [staminatas], and I am about full; it has got into my head.” Here Seleucus broke in with, “I don't take a bath every day. Constant washing wears out the body as well as the clothes; but when I’ve put down my good posset of mead, I can tell the cold go hang. However, I could not have bathed to-day in any case, as I had to attend a funeral. Poor Chrysanthus, you know, a nice fellow, has just slipped his wind [animam ebulliit). It was only the other day he said how d'ye do to me. I can fancy I am talking to him now. Ah, we are only air-balloons, summer flies; this life's a bubble. And it's not as if he hadn't tried the fasting cure. For five days neither bit nor suppassed his lips, and yet he's gone. Too many doctors did for him, or else it was to be. A doctor's really no use except to feel you did the right thing. An excellent funeral it was, superior bier and trappings, and the mourners first-class.” He was becoming a bore, and Phileros interrupted him with “Oh, let us leave the dead alone. He's all right. He had a decent life and a decent death. What has he to complain of ? He rose from the gutter, and was once so poor that he

* Sat. XLI.-XLVI. The conversation is so steeped in the slang of the period

that we have thought it would be interesting to add the Latin in some cases.

Without the Latin we should be suspected of exaggerating the colloquial

character of the language. We have followed the text of Bücheler, under whose

hands Petronius emerged from chaos into cosmos. The interpretation is nearly

always that of Friedländer's admirable edition. uld WO

[ocr errors][graphic]
« AnteriorContinuar »