Monday, May 31, 2010

The Italian Niche: Rome, Italy and the Provinces, First Century B.C. (7)

(Continued from Page:6)

In this respect a very different picture is presented by Italy during this period. A vigorous and independent civilization grew up there, a distinct branch of the Hellenistic tree. We have seen already how Greek culture inundated Rome in the third century B.C., and how the next century gave it a Latin aspect. In the first century Roman culture finally ceased to be a thing borrowed from foreigners, and became truly national. This is shown most clearly by the literature. The Latin literature of this age is fresher and more direct than contemporary Greek literature. Among the poets we find such mighty geniuses as Catullus the lyric poet, Lucilius the satirist, and lucretius the poet and philosopher. These men created the metre and rhythm of latin poetry, and the poetic vocabulary. They did not invent new forms of verse, but they poured into the traditional forms the brilliance of their youthful genius. The same is true of prose, which was created mainly by Cicero. His predecessors were the great political orators of the past hundred and fifty years, the jurists who had forged the exact terminology of the civil law, and the historians who had celebrated the Roman state and its victorious arms. What they had done Cicero made use of. He proved the capacity latent in the Latin tongue for expressing shades of meaning as abstruse and elusive as those in which Greek philosophy is so rich. it is remarkaable that at this time the chief authors belong to the higher class of Romans and italians, and that the south Italians of humble origin who laid the foundations of Latin literature have no successors. Among the prominent men at Rome there are few who are not authors. Sulla writes 'Memoirs'; Caesar has left to us 'Commentaries,' describing his campaigns in Gaul and during the Civil war; Cicero was at once a statesman, an advocate, and a man of letters. Special attention was paid to history, as a handy weapon for political strife and party propaganda. I have spoken already of Sallust's Jugurthine War; his other extant work is a narrative of Catiline's conspiracy, equally brilliant in style, and equally devoid of either h istorical impartiality or scientific method.

Science kept pace with literature. it is true that the Romans paid little attention to the exact and minute discoveries of Greece in mathematics, medicine, physiology, astronomy, geography, and the natural sciences. But grammar, rhetoric, archaeology, jurisprudence, philosophy, the history of religion and law__all these became favourite subjects of study with educated Romans. The works of M. Terentius Varro submitted to a careful scrutiny the development of the national literature, religion, and public institutions; Cicero wrote a number of popular works on philosophy and rhetoric; and Lucretius expounded the doctrine of Epicurus in a poetic form. But perhaps the chief monument of Latin genius is the steady growth of that juristic literature in which the living Roman law is interpreted.

In the domain of art less was accomplished. Greek sculpture, Greek paintings, and the products of Greek art generally, abounded in italy and Rome; and much work was turned out at Rome by Greek artists. But Roman art was still unborn: it was a child of the empire. The Romans may have contributed something to the development of realistic portraiture; but this can hardly be called an original disco very; it was rather an advance along the path already trodden by the Hellenistic sculptors and painters. Roman architecture, too, showed no originality but contented itself with reproducing Hellenistic models.

The general aspect of life in Italy, and especially at Rome, was almost entirely Greek. Thus Greek was the language of fashionable society; or, at any rate, a knowledge of Greek was indispensable for a gentleman. This external aspect of life is well known to us from Cicero's Letters. It was a full life that was lived by the grandees of Roman society. Every self-respecting member of that body owned a splendid palace in Rome with a horde of domestic slaves and hundreds of clients; and he had two or three or more luxurious country houses, with parks and gardens; and many of these houses were built on the seashore. A brilliant social life went on there in town and country; there were banquets with music and dancing; new literary works were recited; lectures were delivered by philosophers or orators from Greece; or, if the party was small, gossip and scandal enlivened it. Women were not excluded__indeed they played a chief part on that stage. The tattle of these great people turned on romantic actions and love affairs, on marriages and still more on divorces. Politics were very fashionable. From time to time the thundercloud of civil war fills the sky. But no sooner has it passed by than the old life begins again with all its interests and follows the familiar round. The provincial towns tried to follow the example set by Rome. Of the life led by the lower classes at this time we know nothing; but it is unlikely that it was specially attractive.

Source of Information: A History of the Ancient World by M. Rostovtzeff; Volume II Rome (Translated from the Russian by J.D. Duff. Oxford at the Clarendon Press Published: 1927 Great Britain.

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