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Title: Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius
Author: Dill, Samuel
Language: English
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                              ROMAN SOCIETY


                                  FROM

                        NERO TO MARCUS AURELIUS


                                   BY
                            SAMUEL DILL, M.A.
  HON. LITT.D. DUBLIN, HON. LL.D. EDINBURGH, HON. FELLOW AND LATE TUTOR,
                             C.C.C., OXFORD;
PROFESSOR OF GREEK IN QUEEN’S COLLEGE, BELFAST; AUTHOR OF “ROMAN SOCIETY
                IN THE LAST CENTURY OF THE WESTERN EMPIRE”



MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN’S STREET, LONDON
1925



                                COPYRIGHT


                           _First Edition 1904_

                          _Second Edition 1905_

            _Reprinted December 1905, 1911, 1919, 1920, 1925_



                         PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN



                                 PREFACE


There must always be something arbitrary in the choice and isolation of a
period of social history for special study. No period can, from one point
of view, be broken off and isolated from the immemorial influences which
have moulded it, from the succession of coming ages which it will help to
fashion. And this is specially true of the history of a race at once so
aggressive, yet so tenacious of the past, as the Roman. The national fibre
was so tough, and its tone and sentiment so conservative under all
external changes, that when a man knows any considerable period of Roman
social history, he may almost, without paradox, be said to know a great
deal of it from Romulus to Honorius.

Yet, as in the artistic drama there must be a beginning and an end,
although the action can only be ideally severed from what has preceded and
what is to follow in actual life, so a limited space in the collective
history of a people may be legitimately set apart for concentrated study.
But as in the case of the drama, such a period should possess a certain
unity and intensity of moral interest. It should be a crisis and
turning-point in the life of humanity, a period pregnant with momentous
issues, a period in which the old order and the new are contending for
mastery, or in which the old is melting into the new. Above all, it should
be one in which the great social and spiritual movements are incarnate in
some striking personalities, who may give a human interest to dim forces
of spiritual evolution.

Such a period, it seems to the writer of this book, is that which he now
presents to the reader. It opens with the self-destruction of lawless and
intoxicated power; it closes with the realisation of Plato’s dream of a
reign of the philosophers. The revolution in the ideal of the principate,
which gave the world a Trajan, a Hadrian, and a Marcus Aurelius in place
of a Caligula and a Nero, may not have been accompanied by any change of
corresponding depth in the moral condition of the masses. But the world
enjoyed for nearly a century an almost unexampled peace and prosperity,
under skilful and humane government. The civic splendour and social
charities of the Antonine age can be revived by the imagination from the
abundant remains and records of the period. Its materialism and social
vices will also sadden the thoughtful student of its literature and
inscriptions. But if that age had the faults of a luxurious and highly
organised civilisation, it was also dignified and elevated by a great
effort for reform of conduct, and a passion, often, it is true, sadly
misguided, to rise to a higher spiritual life and to win the succour of
unseen Powers. To the writer of this book, this seems to give the Antonine
age its great distinction and its deepest interest for the student of the
life of humanity. The influence of philosophy on the legislation of the
Antonines is a commonplace of history. But its practical effort to give
support and guidance to moral life, and to refashion the old paganism, so
as to make it a real spiritual force, has perhaps hardly yet attracted the
notice which it deserves. It is one great object of this book to show how
the later Stoicism and the new Platonism, working in eclectic harmony,
strove to supply a rule of conduct and a higher vision of the Divine
world.

But philosophy failed, as it will probably fail till some far-off age, to
find an anodyne for the spiritual distresses of the mass of men. It might
hold up the loftiest ideal of conduct; it might revive the ancient gods in
new spiritual power; it might strive to fill the interval between the
remote Infinite Spirit and the life of man with a host of mediating and
succouring powers. But the effort was doomed to failure. It was an
esoteric creed, and the masses remained untouched by it. They longed for a
Divine light, a clear, authoritative voice from the unseen world. They
sought it in ever more blind and passionate devotion to their ancient
deities, and in all the curiosity of superstition. But the voice came to
them at last from the regions of the East. It came through the worships of
Isis and Mithra, which promised a hope of immortality, and provided a
sacramental system to soothe the sense of guilt and prepare the trembling
soul for the great ordeal on the verge of another world. How far these
eastern systems succeeded, and where they failed, it is one great purpose
of this book to explain.

The writer, so far as he knows himself, has had no _arrière pensée_ in
describing this great moral and spiritual movement. As M. Boissier has
pointed out, the historian of the Antonine age is free to treat paganism
apart from the growth of the Christian Church. The pagan world of that age
seems to have had little communication with the loftier faith which,
within a century and a half from the death of M. Aurelius, was destined to
seize the sceptre. To Juvenal, Tacitus, and Pliny, to Plutarch, Dion
Chrysostom, Lucian, and M. Aurelius, the Church is hardly known, or known
as an obscure off-shoot of Judaism, a little sect, worshipping a
“crucified Sophist” in somewhat suspicious retirement, or more favourably
distinguished by simple-minded charity. The modern theologian can hardly
be content to know as little of the great movement in the heathen world
which prepared or deferred the victory of the Church.

It will be evident to any critical reader that the scope of this book is
strictly limited. As in a former work on the Society of the later Empire,
attention has been concentrated on the inner moral life of the time, and
comparatively little space has been given to its external history and the
machinery of government. The relation of the Senate to the Emperor in the
first century, and the organisation of the municipal towns have been dwelt
on at some length, because they affected profoundly the moral character of
the age. On the particular field which the writer has surveyed, Dean
Merivale, Dr. Mahaffy, Professor Bury, and Mr. Capes have thrown much
light by their learning and sympathy. But these distinguished writers have
approached the period from a different point of view from that of the
present author, and he believes that he has not incurred the serious peril
of appearing to compete with them. He has, as a first duty, devoted
himself to a complete survey of the literature and inscriptions of the
period. References to the secondary authorities and monographs which he
has used will be found in the notes. But he owes a special obligation to
Friedländer, Zeller, Réville, Schiller, Boissier, Martha, Peter, and
Marquardt, for guidance and suggestion. He must also particularly
acknowledge his debt to M. Cumont’s exhaustive work on the monuments of
Mithra. Once more he has to offer his warmest gratitude to his learned
friend, the Rev. Charles Plummer, Fellow of C.C.C., Oxford, for the
patience and judgment with which he has revised the proof sheets. His
thanks are also due to the Messrs. R. and R. Clark’s reader, for the
scrupulous accuracy which has saved the author much time and labour.

_September 19, 1904._



                                 CONTENTS


                                  BOOK I

                                CHAPTER I

                     THE ARISTOCRACY UNDER THE TERROR

How far the Antonine age is marked by a moral and spiritual
revolution—Light which Seneca throws on the moral condition of his class
in Nero’s reign—Value of his testimony—His pessimism—Human degeneracy the
result of selfish greed and luxury—Picture of contemporary society—Cruel
selfishness and the _taedium vitae_—The _Ardelio_—The terror under which
Seneca lived—Seneca’s ideal of the principate expounded to Nero in the _De
Clementia_—The character of Nero—Taint in the blood of the Domitii—Nero at
first showed glimpses of some better qualities—How he was injured by the
ambition to be an artist—False aestheticism and insane profusion—Feeling
of Tacitus as to his time—His career—Views as to his impartiality as a
historian—He was under complex influences—His chief motive as a
historian—He is not a political doctrinaire—He is avenging a moral, not a
political ideal—His pessimism—His prejudices and limitations—His ideal of
education and character—His hesitating religious faith—His credulity and
his scepticism—His view of the corrupting influence of despotic power—The
influence of imperial example—Profusion of the early Caesars, leading to
murder and confiscation in order to replenish their treasury—Dangers of
life about the court from espionage—Causes of delation—Its temptations and
its great rewards—The secret of the imperial terror—Various theories of
it—Was the Senate a real danger?—Its impotence in spite of its prestige
and claims—The philosophic opposition—Was it really
revolutionary?—“Scelera sceleribus tuenda”—The undefined position of the
principate—Its working depended greatly on the character of the Emperor
for the time—Pliny’s ideal of the principate—The danger from
pretenders—Evil effects of astrology—The degradation of the aristocracy
under Nero and Domitian illustrated from the Pisonian conspiracy—and the
Year of the Four Emperors—The reign of Domitian—Its puzzling character—Its
strange contrasts—The terrors of its close—Confiscation and massacre—The
funereal banquet

                                                                Pages 1-57

                                CHAPTER II

                        THE WORLD OF THE SATIRIST

Juvenal and Tacitus compared—Social position and experience of
Juvenal—Juvenal and Martial deal with the same features of society—Their
motives compared—Character of Martial—The moral standard of Juvenal—His
humanity and his old Roman prejudices—He unites the spirit of two
different ages—His rhetorical pessimism—His sweeping
generalisations—Abnormal specimens become types—Roman luxury at its
height—Yet similar extravagance is denounced for five centuries—Such
judgments need qualification—The great social changes depicted by Juvenal,
some of which he misunderstands—Roman respect for birth—The decay of the
aristocracy and its causes—Aristocratic poverty and servility—How the
early Emperors lowered senatorial dignity—Aristocratic gladiators and
actors—Nero made bohemianism the fashion—“The Legend of Bad Women”—Its
untrustworthiness and defects of treatment—High ideals of womanhood among
contemporaries of Juvenal—He is influenced by old Roman prejudice—Juvenal
hates the “new woman” as much as the vicious woman—The emancipation of
women began in the second century B.C.—Higher culture of women and their
growing influence on public affairs—Juvenal’s dislike of the oriental
worships and their female devotees—This is another old movement—The
influence of Judaism at Rome, even in the Imperial household—Women in
Juvenal’s day were exposed to serious dangers—The corruptions of the
theatre and the circus—Intrigues with actors and slaves—The invasion of
Hellenism—Its history—The Hellenism of the Emperors—The lower Hellenism
which Juvenal attacks—Social and economic causes of the movement—Greek
tutors and professors—The medical profession chiefly recruited from
foreigners—The character of the profession in those days—The astrologer
and the parasite—The client of the early Empire—His degradation and his
hardships—General poverty—The contempt for trade and industry—The growth
of captation—The worship of wealth—The cry of the poor

                                                               Pages 58-99

                               CHAPTER III

                       THE SOCIETY OF THE FREEDMEN

The rise of the freedmen a great movement—Roman prejudice against them
expressed in the literature of the age—Economic and social causes of the
movement—Trade and industry despised—The freedmen occupied a vacant
place—Causes of the contempt for them—Their many vices and vulgar
taste—Yet their rise was a hopeful sign—The freedmen in imperial
office—The policy of the early Emperors to employ freedmen in their
bureaux—Vitellius the first Emperor to employ Equites as imperial
secretaries—Hadrian confined the three great ministries to men of
equestrian rank—The great imperial freedmen—Polybius, Claudius Etruscus,
and Abascantus—Their career and their immense power described by
Statius—The intrigues and crimes of the freedmen of Claudius—The insolence
of Pallas—The wealth of the freedmen and its sources—Their luxurious
display—The baths of Cl. Etruscus and the gardens of Entellus—Yet the
freedmen were seldom admitted to equal rank with the aristocracy—The
Senate flattered and despised them—The doubtful position of
freedwomen—Plebeian Aspasias—The influence of Acte, Caenis, and
Panthea—Manumission—It was often not a very abrupt change—The better side
of slave life—Trusted and favourite slaves—How they could obtain their
freedom—Slaves employed in offices of trust—The growing _peculium_—The
close tie between patron and freedman—The freedman gets a start in
trade—His rapid rise in wealth—His vulgar ostentation—The _Satiricon_ of
Petronius—Theories as to its motive, date and authorship—Its author
probably the C. Petronius of Nero’s reign—His character in Tacitus—His
probable motive—The literary character and scene of the _Satiricon_—The
character of the Greek adventurers—Trimalchio’s dinner, to which they are
invited—Sketch of Trimalchio’s career—The dinner—Carving to music—Dishes
descend from the ceiling—Wine 100 years old—Confused recollections of
Homer—Hannibal at the Trojan war—Rope-dancers and tales of witchcraft—The
manners of Fortunata—The conversation of some of the guests—True bourgeois
vulgarity—Grumbling about the management of the aediles—“Everything is
going back—It all arises from neglect of religion”—The coming gladiatorial
show, when there will be plenty of blood—The education of a freedman’s
son—“You learn for profit”—Fast and furious—The ladies get drunk, and
Trimalchio gives an unflattering account of his wife’s history—He gives
directions to his friend, the stone-cutter, for the erection of his
monument—He has himself laid out for dead, and the horn-blowers sound his
lament

                                                             Pages 100-137

                                 BOOK II

                                CHAPTER I

                     THE CIRCLE OF THE YOUNGER PLINY

The contrast between the pictures of society in Juvenal and in Pliny—They
belonged to different worlds—They were also of very different
temperaments—Moral contrasts side by side in every age—There were puritan
homes in Italy, even in the worst days—Influence of old Roman tradition
and country life—The circle at Como—Pliny’s youth and early
training—Character of the Elder Pliny—His immense industry—Retreats of old
Roman virtue—The character and reforms of Vespasian—His endowment of
education—The moral influence of Quintilian on Roman youth—Pliny’s student
friends—His relations with the Stoic circle—His reverence for Fannia—His
career at the Bar—He idealises the practice in the Centumviral
court—Career of M. Aquilius Regulus, the great delator and
advocate—Pliny’s passion for fame—The crowd of literary amateurs in his
day—Pliny and Martial—Pliny’s relation to the literary movement of his
time—His admiration for Cicero—His reverence for Greece—He once wrote a
Greek tragedy—His apology for his loose verses—His ambition as an orator,
and canons of oratorical style—Pliny’s Letters compared with Cicero’s—The
merits and fame of the Letters—Their arrangement—They are a memorial of
the social life and literary tone of the time—The character of Silius
Italicus—Literary coteries—Pliny’s friendship with Suetonius—The devotion
of literary amateurs to poetic composition and its causes—The influence of
the great Augustan models read at school—Signs of decay in literature—The
growing love of the archaic style—Immense literary ambition of the
time—Attempts of Nero and Domitian to satisfy it by public literary
competitions—The plague of recitations—Pliny believes in the duty of
attending them—The weariness and emptiness of life in the capital—The
charm of the country—Roman country seats on the Anio or the Laurentine and
Campanian shores—The sites of these villas—Their furniture and
decorations—Doubtful appreciation of works of art—The gardens of the
villa—The routine of a country gentleman’s day—The financial management of
an estate—Difficulties with tenants—Pliny’s kindness to freedmen and
slaves—The darker side of slavery—Murder of a master—Pliny’s views on
suicide—Tragedies in his circle—Pliny’s charity and optimism—The
solidarity of the aristocratic class—Pliny thinks it a duty to assist the
career of promising youth—The women of his circle—His love for Calpurnia
and his love letters—The charity and humanitarian sentiment of the
age—_Bene fac, hoc tecum feres_—The wealthy recognise the duties of
wealth—Charitable foundations of the emperors—Pliny’s lavish generosity,
both private and public—Yet he is only a shining example among a crowd of
similar benefactors in the Antonine age

                                                             Pages 141-195

                                CHAPTER II

                              MUNICIPAL LIFE

Little known of country town life from Roman literature—Yet the love of
the country was strong—A relief from the strain of the capital, which,
however, always maintained its attraction—The Empire a realm of
cities—Immense development of urban life in the first two centuries—The
rise of Thamugadi in Numidia—Great tolerance of municipal freedom under
the early Empire—Yet there was a general drift to uniformity of
organisation—Influence of the capital—The rage for travel—Travelling
became easy and luxurious—Posting facilities on the great roads—The speed
of travelling by land and sea—Growth of towns—Many sprang from the
_canabae legionis_—History of Lambesi—Aristocratic or timocratic character
of municipal organisation—Illustrated by the _album Canusii_—The sharp
demarcation of social grades—Yet, in the first century, the Commons had
still considerable power—Examples from Pompeii—The magistracies and
popular election—The _honorarium_ payable on admission to office—The power
of the duumvirs—Position of the Curia—The mode of filling its ranks—Local
Equites—The origin and position of the Augustales—Their organisation and
their importance in the Roman world—Municipal finance—Direct taxation in
the first century almost unknown—Sources of municipal revenue—The objects
of expenditure—Municipal mismanagement, as in Bithynia—Signs of decay in
Trajan’s reign—First appointment of _Curatores_—Immense private
munificence—Examples from Pompeii, which was only a third rate town—Other
instances—Pliny—The Stertinii—Herodes Atticus, the prince of
benefactors—Testimony of the Inscriptions—Example of imperial
liberality—The public works of the Flavian and Antonine Emperors—Feasts to
the populace—Distributions of money, graduated according to social
rank—The motives of this munificence were mixed—Yet a high ideal of the
duties of wealth—The better side of municipal life—Local patriotism and
general kindly feeling—But there is another side to the picture—Immense
passion for amusement, which was often debasing—Games and spectacles on
135 days in the year—Description of a scene in the amphitheatre in the
Antonine age—Passion for gladiatorial shows especially in Campania—Remains
of gladiatorial barracks at Pompeii—Advertisements of games—Pictures on
tombs and on the walls—The shows in small country towns—Shows at Cremona a
few days after the battle of Bedriacum—Greece was little infected with the
taste—The feeling of the philosophers—Statistics as to the cost of a
gladiatorial show—How the ranks of the profession were recruited—Its
attractions—Organisation of the gladiatorial schools—The gladiator in
retirement—How municipal benefactors were honoured—Municipal life begins
to lose its attractions—The causes of this—Plutarch on municipal duty—The
growth of centralisation—The beginning of the end

                                                             Pages 196-250

                               CHAPTER III

                      THE COLLEGES AND PLEBEIAN LIFE

The _plebs_ of the municipal town chiefly known from the
Inscriptions—Great development of a free proletariat—The effects of
manumission—The artisan class in the Inscriptions—Their pride in their
callings—Emblems on their tombs—Early history of the _Collegia_—Rigorous
restraint of their formation by Julius and Augustus—The evidence of
Gaius—Dangers from the colleges not imaginary—Troubles in the reign of
Aurelian—Yet the great movement could not be checked—The means of evading
the law—Extended liberty in reigns of M. Aurelius and Alexander
Severus—The social forces behind the movement of combination—The wish for
funeral rites and lasting remembrance—Evidence of the Inscriptions—The
horror of loneliness in death—The funerary colleges—That of Lanuvium shows
how the privilege granted to them might be extended—Any college might
claim it—Description of the college at Lanuvium—Its foundation deed—The
fees—The grants for burial—The college of Aesculapius and Hygia—Its
organisation for other objects than burial—Any college might assume a
quasi-religious character—The influence of religion on all ancient social
organisation—The colleges of traders—Wandering merchants organise
themselves all over the world—And old soldiers—Colleges of youth for
sporting purposes—Every branch of industry was organised in these
societies—Evidence from Ostia, Lyons, and Rome, in the Inscriptions—Clubs
of slaves in great houses, and in that of the Emperor—They were encouraged
by the masters—The organisation of the college was modelled on the
city—Its officers bear the names of republican magistrates—The number of
members limited—Periodical revision of the _Album_—Even in the plebeian
colleges the gradation of rank was observed—Patrons carefully sought
for—Meeting-place of the college—Description of the _Schola_—Sacred
associations gathered round it—Even the poorest made presents to decorate
it—The poor college of Silvanus at Philippi—But the colleges relied on the
generosity of patrons—Their varying social rank—Election of a patron—A man
might be a patron of many colleges—The college often received bequests to
guard a tomb, and perform funerary rites for ever—The common feasts of the
colleges—The division of the _sportula_ by ranks—Regulations as to decorum
at college meetings—The college modelled on the family—Mommsen’s
opinion—Fraternal feeling—The slave in the college, for the time, treated
as an equal—Yet the difference of rank, even in the colleges, was probably
never forgotten—Were the colleges really charitable foundations?—The
military colleges—Their object, not only to provide due burial, but to
assist an officer throughout his career—The extinction of a college—The
college at Alburnus in Dacia vanishes probably in the Marcomannic invasion

                                                             Pages 251-286

                                 BOOK III

                                CHAPTER I

                         THE PHILOSOPHIC DIRECTOR

The great change in the motive and character of philosophy—The schools
forsook metaphysical speculation, and devoted themselves to the
cultivation of character—Why faith in abstract thought declined, and the
conduct of life became all important—The effect of the loss of free civic
life and the establishment of world-empires—The commonwealth of man—The
great _ars vivendi_—Spiritual directors before the imperial times—They are
found in every great family—The power of Seneca as a private director of
souls—How his career and experience prepared him for the office—He had
seen the inner life of the time, its sensuality, degradation, and
remorse—He was himself an ascetic, living in a palace which excited Nero’s
envy—His experience excited an evangelistic passion—His conception of
philosophy as the art of saving souls—His contempt for unpractical
speculation—Yet he values Physics for its moral effect in elevating the
mind to the region of eternal truth—Curious examples of physical study for
moral ends—The pessimism of Seneca—Its causes in the inner secrets of his
class—It is a lost world which must be saved by every effort—Stoicism
becomes transfigured by moral enthusiasm—Yet can philosophic religion
dispense with dogma?—Empirical rules of conduct are not enough—There must
be true theory of conduct—Seneca not a rigorous dogmatist—His varying
conceptions of God—Often mingles Platonic conceptions with old Stoic
doctrine—But all old Stoic doctrine can be found in him—“The kingdom of
Heaven is within”—Freedom is found in renunciation, submission to the
Universal Reason—Whence comes the force of self-reform?—The problem of
freedom and necessity—How man may attain to moral freedom—The struggle to
recover a primeval virtue—Modifications of old Stoic theory—The ideal
_sapiens_—Instantaneous conversion—Ideas fatal to practical moral
reform—For practical purposes, Stoic theory must be modified—The _sapiens_
a mythical figure—There may be various stages of moral
progress—Aristotelian ideas—Seneca himself far from the ideal of the Stoic
sage—The men for whom Seneca is providing counsel—How their weaknesses
have to be dealt with—The “ars vitae” develops into casuistry in the hands
of the director—Obstacles in the way to the higher life—Seneca’s skill in
dealing with different cases—His precepts for reform—Necessity of
confession, self-examination, steadiness of purpose, self-denial—_Vivere
militare est_—The real victor—The mind can create its own world, and
triumph even over death—Seneca’s not the Cynic ideal of moral
isolation—Competing tendencies in Stoicism—Isolated renunciation and
social sympathy—A citizen of two cities—The great commonwealth of
humanity—The problem of serving God and man variously solved by the
Stoics—Seneca’s ideas of social duty—Social instinct innate—Duty of help,
forgiveness, and kindness to others—The example of the Infinite
Goodness—The brotherhood of man includes the slave—Seneca’s attitude to
slavery—His ideal of womanhood—Women may be the equals of men in culture
and virtue—The greatness of Seneca as a moral teacher—He belongs to the
modern world, and was claimed by the Church—A pagan Thomas à Kempis

                                                             Pages 289-333

                                CHAPTER II

                        THE PHILOSOPHIC MISSIONARY

Seneca the director of an aristocratic class—The masses needed a
gospel—Their moral condition—The Antonine age produced a great movement
for their moral elevation—Lucian’s attitude to the Cynics—His kindred with
them—Detached view of human life and its vanity—Gloomy view of the moral
state of the masses—The call for popular evangelism—Can philosophy furnish
the gospel?—Lucian’s Hermotimus—The quarrels of the schools—Yet they show
real agreement on the rule of life—The fashionable sophist—Rhetorical
philosophy despised by more earnest minds—Serious preaching—The sermons of
Apollonius of Tyana—Sudden conversions—The preaching of Musonius,
Plutarch, and Maximus of Tyre—The mystic fervour of Maximus—Dion’s view of
the Cynic preacher—The “mendicant monks of paganism”—Lucian’s caricature
of their vices—Many vulgar impostors adopt the profession—It offered a
tempting field—Why the charges against the Cynics must be taken with
reserve—S. Augustine’s testimony—Causes of the prejudice against
Cynicism—Lucian’s treatment of Peregrinus—The history of Peregrinus—The
credibility of the charges which Lucian makes against him—He is about to
immolate himself at Olympia when Lucian arrives—Lucian treats the
self-martyrdom as a piece of theatrical display—Yet Peregrinus may have
honestly desired to teach contempt for death—Stoic suicide—The scene at
the pyre—The last words of Peregrinus—Lucian creates a myth and sees it
grow—Testimony of A. Gellius as to Peregrinus—The power of the later
Cynicism—The ideal Cynic in Epictetus—An ambassador of God—Kindred of
Cynicism and Monasticism—Cultivated Cynics—The character of Demetrius, a
leader of the philosophic opposition—Cynic attitude to popular
religion—Oenomaus a pronounced rationalist—Disbelief in oracles—The
character of Demonax—His great popular influence—Prosecuted for neglect of
religious observances—His sharp sayings—Demonstrations of reverence for
him at his death—The career of Dion Chrysostom—His conversion during his
exile—Becomes a preacher with a mission to the Roman world—The character
of his eighty orations—He is the rhetorical apostle of a few great
truths—His idea of philosophy—His pessimism about the moral state of the
world—A materialised civilisation—Warning to the people of Tarsus—Rebukes
the feuds of the Bithynian cities—A sermon at Olbia on the Black Sea—The
jealousies of the Asiatic towns—Prusa and Apamea—Sermon on civic
harmony—He assails the vices and frivolity of the Alexandrians—His prose
idyll—Simple pastoral life in Euboea—The problems and vices of city life
exposed—Dion on true kingship—The vision of the Two Peaks—The ideal
king—The sermon at Olympia inspired by the Zeus of Pheidias—Its majesty
and benignity—Sources of the idea of God—The place of art in
religion—Relative power of poetry and sculpture to express religious
truth—Pheidias defends his anthropomorphism—His Zeus a God of mercy and
peace

                                                             Pages 334-383

                               CHAPTER III

                        THE PHILOSOPHIC THEOLOGIAN

The pagan revival and the growth of superstition called for a theodicy—Old
Roman religion was still powerful—But there was an immense accretion of
worships from the conquered countries—And an immense growth in the belief
in genii, dreams, omens, and oracles—Yet amid the apparent chaos, there
was a tendency, in the higher minds, to monotheism—The craving for a moral
God in sympathy with man—The ideas of Apuleius, Epictetus, M. Aurelius—The
change in the conception of God among the later Stoics—God no longer mere
Force or Fate or impersonal Reason—He is a Father and Providence, giving
moral support and comfort—The attitude of the later Stoics to external
worship and anthropomorphic imagery—How was the ancient worship to be
reconciled with purer conceptions of the Divine?—God being so remote,
philosophy may discover spiritual help in all the religions of the
past—The history of Neo-Pythagoreanism—Apollonius of Tyana—His attitude to
mythology—His mysticism and ritualism—Plutarch’s associations and early
history—His devotion to Greek tradition—His social life—His Lives of the
great Greeks and Romans—He is a moralist rather than a pure
philosopher—The tendency of philosophy in his day was towards the
formation of character—The eclecticism of the time—Plutarch’s attitude to
Platonism and Stoicism—His own moral system was drawn from various
schools—Precepts for the formation of character—Plutarch on freedom and
necessity—His contempt for rhetorical philosophy—Plutarch on
Tranquillity—How to grow daily—The pathos of life—The need for a higher
vision—How to reconcile the God of philosophy with the ancient mythology
was the great problem—Plutarch’s conception of God—His cosmology mainly
that of the _Timaeus_—The opposition between the philosophic idea of God
and the belief of the crowd was an old one—Yet great political and
spiritual changes had made it a more urgent question—The theology of
Maximus of Tyre—His pure conception of God, combined with tolerance of
legend and symbolism—Myth not to be discarded, but interpreted by
philosophy, to discover the kernel of truth which is reverently veiled—The
effort illustrated by the treatise of Plutarch on Isis and Osiris—Its
theory of Evil and daemonic powers—The Platonist daemonology—The history
of daemons traced from Hesiod—The conception of daemons justified by
Maximus—The daemonology of the early Greek philosophers—The nature of
daemons as conceived by Maximus and Plutarch—The ministering spirits of
Maximus—The theory of bad daemons enabled Plutarch to explain the
grossness of myth and ritual—The bad daemons a _damnosa hereditas_—The
triumphant use made of the theory by the Christian Apologists—The
daemonology of Plutarch was also used to explain the inspiration or the
silence of the ancient oracles—“The oracles are dumb”—Yet in the second
century, to some extent, Delphi revived—Questions as to its inspiration
debated—The quality of Delphic verse—The theory of inspiration—Concurrent
causes of it—The daemon of the shrine may depart—The problem of
inspiration illustrated by a discussion on the daemon of Socrates—What was
it?—The result of the inquiry is that the human spirit, at its best, is
open to influences from another world

                                                             Pages 384-440

                                 BOOK IV

                                CHAPTER I

                               SUPERSTITION

Superstition a term of shifting meaning—Plutarch’s treatise on
Superstition—Why it is worse than atheism—Immense growth of superstition
in the first century, following on a decay of old religion—Forgotten rites
and fallen temples—The revival of Augustus—The power of astrology—The
Emperors believed in it and dreaded it—Tiberius and Thrasyllus at
Capreae—The attitude of Nero, Otho, and Vitellius to astrology—The
superstition of the Flavian Emperors—And of Hadrian and M. Aurelius—The
superstition of the literary class—The Elder Pliny—Suetonius—Tacitus—His
wavering treatment of the supernatural—How it may be explained by the
character of the age—Epictetus on divination—The superstition of Aelian of
Praeneste—His credulity and his anathemas on the sceptics—P. Aelius
Aristides—His history and character—His illness of thirteen years—Was he a
simple devotee?—The influence of rhetorical training on him—The temples of
healing in his time—Their organisation and routine—Recipes by dreams in
the temples of Asclepius, Isis, and Serapis—Medical skill combined with
superstition—The amusements and cheerful social life of these
temple-hospitals were powerful healers—The ailments of Aristides and his
journeys in quest of health—Strange divine prescriptions astonish the
medical attendants—Their own heroic remedies—Epiphanies of the Gods—The
return of his rhetorical power—The debt is repaid in the Sacred
Orations—The treatise on dreams by Artemidorus—His idea of founding a
science of dreams—His enormous industry in collecting materials—His
contempt for less scientific interpreters—His classification of dreams and
methods of interpretation—The new oracles—The failure of the old was not
so complete as it is sometimes represented—The revival of Delphi—The
history of the oracle of Alexander of Abonoteichos—His life and
character—How he played on the superstition of the Paphlagonians—The
business-like management of the oracle—Its fees and revenue—Its secret
methods—Its fame spreads everywhere—Oracles in many tongues—Rutilianus, a
great noble, espouses Alexander’s daughter—The Epicureans resist the
impostor, but in vain—The mysteries of Glycon—Alexander, a second
Endymion—Immense superstition of the time—Apotheosis in the air—The cult
of Antinous—And of M. Aurelius—In Croton there were more gods than
men!—The growing faith in daemons and genii—The evidence of inscriptions
as to the adoption of local deities all over the world—Revived honours of
classic heroes—The belief in recurring miracle—Christian and pagan were
equally credulous—The legend of the “Thundering Legion”—Sorcery in
Thessaly—The lawless romance of Apuleius

                                                             Pages 443-483

                                CHAPTER II

                          BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY

The conception of immortality determined by the idea of God—Religion
supplies the assurance denied by philosophy—Vagueness of the conception
natural and universal—“It doth not yet appear what we shall be”—Confused
and various beliefs on the subject in the Early Empire—The cult of the
Manes in old Italian piety—The guardianship of the tomb, and call for
perpetual remembrance—The eternal sleep—The link between the living and
the dead—The craving for continued human sympathy with the shade in its
eternal home—The Lemures and the Lemuria—Visitations from the other
world—The _Mundus_ in every Latin town—The general belief in apparitions
illustrated from the _Philopseudes_ of Lucian, from the Younger Pliny,
Suetonius, Dion Cassius, and Maximus of Tyre—The eschatology of Virgil a
mixture of different faiths—Scenes from the Inferno of the _Aeneid_—Its
Pythagorean elements—How Virgil influenced later conceptions of the future
state—Scepticism and credulity in the first century—Perpetuity of heathen
beliefs—The inscriptions, as to the future state, must be interpreted with
care and discrimination—The phrases often conventional, and springing from
different orders of belief—Inscriptions frankly atheistic or
sensualist—Ideas of immortality among the cultivated class—The influence
of Lucretius—The Stoic idea of coming life, and the Peripatetic—The
influence of Platonism—In the last age of the Republic, and the first of
the Empire, educated opinion was often sceptical or negative—J. Caesar,
the Elder Pliny, Tacitus—The feeling of Hadrian—Epictetus on
immortality—Galen—His probable influence on M. Aurelius—The wavering
attitude of M. Aurelius on immortality—How he could reconcile himself by a
saintly ideal to the resignation of the hope of a future life—His sadness
and pessimism fully justified by the circumstances of the time—“Thou hast
come to shore, quit the ship”—Change in the religious character long
before M. Aurelius—Seneca’s theology as it moulded his conception of
immortality—A new note in Seneca—The influence of Pythagorean and Platonic
conceptions in modifying Stoicism—The revival of Pythagoreanism in the
first century—Its tenets and the secret of its power—Apollonius of Tyana
on immortality—His meeting with the shade of Achilles—Plutarch and Maximus
of Tyre on immortality—Plutarch’s arguments for the faith in it—The Delays
of Divine Vengeance—But, like Plato, Plutarch feels that argument on such
a subject must be reinforced by poetic imagination—The myths of Thespesius
of Soli and Timarchus in Plutarch—Mythic scenery of the eternal world

                                                             Pages 484-528

                               CHAPTER III

                          THE OLD ROMAN RELIGION

The decay of old religion in the last age of the Republic—Its
causes—Influence of Greek philosophy and rationalism—Distinction drawn
between the religion of philosophy and that of the State—The moral and
religious results—Sceptical conformity or desuetude of ancient rites—The
religious revival of Augustus—How far a matter of policy—Ancient temples
and worships restored—The position of Pontifex Maximus—How the Emperors
utilised the dignity and kept a firm hold on the old religion—The
religious character of the early Emperors—The force of antiquarian
sentiment in the second century—The Inscriptions plainly show that the
popular faith in old Latin religion was still strong—The revival of the
Arval brotherhood—Its history and ritual described—A stronghold of
imperial power—How the Arval College supported and flattered the
Emperors—How the cultivated class reconciled themselves to the rudest
forms of the ancient religion—The philosophic reconciliation—The influence
of patriotism in compelling men to support a religion which was
intertwined with all social and political life—The sentiment powerful down
to the end of paganism—But other religious ideas were in the air,
preparing the triumph of the cults of the East

                                                                   529-546

                                CHAPTER IV

                               MAGNA MATER

The fascination of the worship of the Great Mother—It was still powerful
in the days of S. Augustine—Its arrival from Pessinus in 204 B.C.—The
history of its growing influence—The taurobolium in the second century—The
legend and its interpretations—The Megalesia in spring—The priesthood—The
sacred colleges of the worship—Evidence of the Inscriptions—The worship in
country places—Vagabond priests in Thessaly described by Apuleius—Picture
of their wild orgies—The problem of these eastern cults—From a gross
origin, they became transmuted into a real spiritual power—The elevation
of Magna Mater—The rite of the taurobolium—Its history in Asia Minor—Its
immense influence in the last age of the Empire—A challenge to the
Church—The history of the taurobolium in the West from the
Inscriptions—Description of the scene from Prudentius—The connection of
Magna Mater with Mithra and other deities

                                                             Pages 547-559

                                CHAPTER V

                             ISIS AND SERAPIS

Their long reign in Europe—Established at Peiraeus in the fourth century
B.C.—And in Asia Minor—How the Egyptian cults had been transformed under
Greek influences—Greek settlers, soldiers, and travellers in Egypt from
the seventh century B.C.—Greek and Egyptian gods identified—The new
propaganda of the Ptolemies—Theories of the origin of Serapis—The new
Egyptian Trinity—The influence of Greek mysticism—The worship probably
established in Campanian towns before 150 B.C.—The religious excitement in
Italy in the early part of the second century B.C.—The Bacchanalian
scandal—The apocryphal books of Numa—Efforts of the Government in the
first century B.C. to repress the worship—A violent struggle with varying
fortunes—The triumvirs in 42 B.C. erect a temple of Isis—Persecution of
eastern worships in the reign of Tiberius—Thenceforth there was little
opposition—Attitude of the Flavian Emperors—Domitian builds a temple of
Isis, 92 A.D.—The Egyptian worship propagated from Alexandria by slaves,
officials, philosophers, and savants—Votaries in the imperial
household—Spread of Isiac worship through Europe—It reaches York—The
secret of its fascination—The cult appealed to many kinds of mind—Its
mysticism—Its charm for women—Its pomp and ceremonial—How a religion
originally gross may be transformed—The zoolatry of Egypt justified as
symbolism by Greek philosophers—But there is little trace of it in the
Isiac worship of the West—Isis becomes an all-embracing spiritual
power—And Serapis is regarded by Aristides as sovereign lord of life—Yet
the worship never broke away from the traditions of idolatry—It fostered
an immense superstition—The Petosiris—But there was undoubted spiritual
power in the worship—The initiation of Lucius—The faith in
immortality—_εὐψύχει_ on tombs—Impressive ritual—Separation of the
priesthood from the world—Description of the daily offices—Matins and
Vespers—Silent meditation—The great festivals of the Isiac
calendar—Ascetic preparation—The blessing of the sacred ship—Description
of the procession in Apuleius—The grades of priests—The sacred guilds—The
place of women—The priesthood an aggressive power—The Isiac
presbytery—Priestly rule of life—Tertullian holds it up as an example—The
popular charm of the Divine Mother

                                                             Pages 560-584

                                CHAPTER VI

                          THE RELIGION OF MITHRA

The causes which in the second century A.D. prepared the triumph of
Mithra—Heliolatry the natural goal of heathenism—Early history of Mithra
in the Vedas and Avestas—He is a moral power from the beginning—His place
in the Zoroastrian hierarchy—His relation to Ormuzd—The influence of
Babylon on the Persian worship—Mithra identified with the Sun—The astral
lore of Babylonia inseparable from Mithraism—Yet Mithra and the Sun are
distinct in the later Inscriptions—How Mithra worship was modified in Asia
Minor—The influence of Greek mythology, philosophy, and art—The group of
the Tauroctonus probably first fashioned by a Pergamene artist—Mithra in
literature—Herodotus—Xenophon—The _Thebaid_ of Statius—Plutarch—Lucian may
have heard the Mazdean litany—Mithra’s first coming to the West probably
in the reign of Tiberius—The earliest inscriptions of Mithraism belong to
the Flavian age—At the same time, the worship is established in
Pannonia—The earliest temples at Ostia and Rome—The power of Mithra in the
capital—The secret of the propaganda—Soldiers were the most effective
missionaries of Mithra—Slaves and imperial officials of every degree
propagate the Persian faith—Its progress traced around Rome and through
various regions of Italy, especially to the north—Mithra’s chapels in the
valleys of the Alps and on the roads to the Danube from Aquileia—Along the
line of the Danube—His remains abundant in Dacia and Pannonia—Chapels at
Aquincum and Carnuntum—The enthusiasm of certain legions—The splendid
remains of Mithra worship in Upper Germany in the early part of the second
century A.D.—Mithra passes on, through Cologne and Boulogne, to London,
Chester, York and the wall of Hadrian—Mithra made least impression on W.
Gaul, Spain, and N. Africa—In spite of tolerance and syncretism, Mithraism
never ceased to be a Persian cult—The influence of astrology—The share of
Babylonia in moulding the worship—Yet Greek mystic influences had a large
part in it—The descent and ascent of the soul—Yet, although Mithraism came
to be a moral creed, it never ceased to be a cosmic symbolism—The great
elemental powers—The daemonology of Mithraism—Its affinity with the later
Neo Platonism—The evil effect of belief in planetary influences—The
struggle between formal and spiritual ideals of religion—The craving for
mediatorial sympathy in the moral life was urgent—Mithra was a mediator
both in a cosmic and a moral sense—He stands between Cautes and
Cautopates, and between Ormuzd and Ahriman—The legend of Mithra as faintly
recovered from the monuments—The _petra genetrix_—The adoration of the
shepherds—The fountain gushing at the arrow stroke—The legend of the
mystic bull—Its chase and slaughter—Its death as the source of resurgent
life—The mysterious reconciliation of Mithra and the Sun—Their solemn
agape—Various interpretations of the legend—Yet there was a real spiritual
meaning under it all—A religion of strenuous combat—How it touched the
Roman soldier on the Danube—Its eschatology—Its promise of immortality and
final triumph over evil—The sacramental mystery of Mithraism—The daily
offices, and the annual festivals—The mysteries of Mithra and the seven
grades of initiation—Symbolic ceremonies—The colleges of Mithra—Their
influence in levelling social distinctions—The suspicions of the
Apologists—Description of a chapel of Mithra—The form of the cave always
preserved—The scene of full initiation—Mithraism as an imperial cult and a
support of imperial power—Sketch of the history of imperial apotheosis—The
historic causes which aided it—The influence of Egypt and Persia on the
movement—The Persian attitude to kings—The Fortune of the monarch—How
these ideas blended with old Roman conceptions—The influence of
Sun-worship in the third century, in stimulating theocratic ideas—The
Emperors appropriate the titles and insignia of the Sun—The imperial house
consecrate a temple to Mithra at Carnuntum, twenty years before the
conversion of Constantine—Could Mithra ever have become the god of western
Europe?—His chances of success in the chaos of belief seemed promising—His
syncretism and tolerance, yet his exclusive claims—His moral charm—The
fears of the Fathers—Parallels between his legend and the Bible—His
sacramental system a travesty of the mysteries of the medieval church—Yet
there was a great gulf between the two religions—The weaknesses of
Mithraism—It did not appeal to women—It had no Mater Dolorosa—It offered
little human sympathy—And in its tolerance of other heathen systems lay
its great weakness—A Mithraist might be a votary of all the ancient
gods—Mithraism was rooted in nature-worship, and remained the patron of
the worst superstitions—Mithra belonged to the order which was passing
away

                                                             Pages 585-626



                                 BOOK I.


                       _INFESTA VIRTUTIBUS TEMPORA_



                                CHAPTER I


                     THE ARISTOCRACY UNDER THE TERROR


The period of social history which we are about to study is profoundly
interesting in many ways, but not least in the many contrasts between its
opening and its close. It opens with the tyranny of one of the worst men
who ever occupied a throne; it ends with the mild rule of a Stoic saint.
It begins in massacre and the carnage of civil strife; it closes in the
apparent triumph of the philosophic ideal, although before the end of the
reign of the philosophers the shadows have begun to fall. The contrast of
character between the two princes is generally supposed to find a
correspondence in the moral character and ideals of the men over whom they
ruled. The accession of Vespasian which, after a deadly struggle, seemed
to bring the orgies of a brutal despotism to a close, is regarded as
marking not only a political, but a moral, revolution. It was the dawn of
an age of repentance and amendment, of beneficent administration, of a
great moral revival. We are bound to accept the express testimony of a
contemporary like Tacitus,(1) who was not prone to optimist views of human
progress, that along with the exhaustion of the higher class from massacre
and reckless extravagance, the sober example of the new emperor, and the
introduction of fresh blood and purer manners from the provinces, had
produced a great moral improvement. Even among the old noblesse, whose
youth had fallen on the age of wild licence, it is probable that a better
tone asserted itself at the beginning of what was recognised by all to be
a new order. The crushed and servile, who had easily learnt to imitate the
wasteful vices of their oppressors, would probably, with equal facility,
at least affect to conform to the simpler fashions of life which Vespasian
inherited from his Sabine ancestors and the old farm-house at Reate.(2)
The better sort, represented by the circles of Persius, of Pliny and
Tacitus, who had nursed the ideal of Stoic or old Roman virtue in some
retreat on the northern lakes or in the folds of the Apennines, emerged
from seclusion and came to the front in the reign of Trajan.

Yet neither the language of Tacitus nor the testimony from other sources
justify the belief in any sudden moral revolution. The Antonine age was
undoubtedly an age of conscientious and humane government in the interest
of the subject; it was even more an age of religious revival. But whether
these were accompanied by a corresponding elevation of conduct and moral
tone among the masses may well be doubted. On the other hand the pessimism
of satirist and historian who had lived through the darkness of the Terror
has probably exaggerated the corruption of the evil days. If society at
large had been half as corrupt as it is represented by Juvenal, it would
have speedily perished from mere rottenness. The Inscriptions, the Letters
of the younger Pliny, even the pages of Tacitus himself, reveal to us
another world from that of the satirist. On countless tombs we have the
record or the ideal of a family life of sober, honest industry, and pure
affection. In the calm of rural retreats in Lombardy or Tuscany, while the
capital was frenzied with vicious indulgence, or seething with conspiracy
and desolated by massacre, there were many families living in almost
puritan quietude, where the moral standard was in many respects as high as
among ourselves. The worst period of the Roman Empire was the most
glorious age of practical Stoicism. The men of that circle were ready, at
the cost of liberty or life, to brave an immoral tyranny; their wives were
eager to follow them into exile, or to die by their side.(3) And even in
the palace of Nero there was a spotless Octavia, and slave-girls who were
ready to defend her honour at the cost of torture and death.(4) In the
darkest days, the violence of the bad princes spent itself on their
nobles, on those whom they feared, or whom they wished to plunder. The
provinces, even under a Tiberius, a Nero, or a Domitian, enjoyed a freedom
from oppression which they seldom enjoyed under the Republic.(5) Just and
upright governors were the rule and not the exception, and even an Otho or
a Vitellius, tainted with every private vice, returned from their
provincial governments with a reputation for integrity.(6) Municipal
freedom and self-government were probably at their height at the very time
when life and liberty in the capital were in hourly peril. The great Stoic
doctrine of the brotherhood and equality of men, as members of a
world-wide commonwealth, which was destined to inspire legislation in the
Antonine age, was openly preached in the reigns of Caligula and Nero. A
softer tone—a modern note of pity for the miserable and succour for the
helpless—makes itself heard in the literature of the first century.(7) The
moral and mental equality of the sexes was being more and more recognised
in theory, as the capacity of women for heroic action and self-sacrifice
was displayed so often in the age of the tyranny and of the Stoic martyrs.
The old cruelty and contempt for the slave will not give way for many a
generation; but the slave is now treated by all the great leaders of moral
reform as a being of the same mould as his master, his equal, if not his
superior, in capacity for virtue.

The peculiar distinction of the Antonine age is not to be sought in any
great difference from the age preceding it in conduct or moral ideals
among the great mass of men. Nor can it claim any literary distinction of
decided originality, except in the possession of the airy grace and
half-serious mockery of Lucian. Juvenal, Tacitus, and the younger Pliny,
Suetonius and Quintilian, Plutarch and Dion Chrysostom, were probably all
dead before Antoninus Pius came to the throne. After Hadrian’s reign pure
Roman literature, in any worthy sense, is extinct; it dies away in that
Sahara of the higher intellect which stretches forward to the Fall of the
Empire. There is no great historian after Tacitus; there is no
considerable poet after Statius and Juvenal, till the meteor-like
apparition of Claudian in the ominous reign of Honorius.

The material splendour and municipal life of the Antonine age are
externally its greatest glory. It was pre-eminently a sociable age, an age
of cities. From the wall of Hadrian to the edge of the Sahara towns sprang
up everywhere with as yet a free civic life. It was an age of engineers
and architects, who turned villages into cities and built cities in the
desert, adorned with temples and stately arches and basilicas, and feeding
their fountains from the springs of distant hills. The rich were powerful
and popular; and never had they to pay so heavily for popularity and
power. The cost of civic feasts and games, of forums and temples and
theatres, was won by flattery, or extorted by an inexorable force of
public opinion from their coffers. The poor were feasted and amused by
their social superiors who received a deference and adulation expressed on
hundreds of inscriptions. And it must be confessed that these records of
ambitious munificence and expectant gratitude do not raise our conception
of either the economic or the moral condition of the age.

The glory of classic art had almost vanished; and yet, without being able
to produce any works of creative genius, the inexhaustible vitality of the
Hellenic spirit once more asserted itself. After a long eclipse, the
rhetorical culture of Greece vigorously addressed itself in the reign of
Hadrian to the conquest of the West. Her teachers and spiritual directors
indeed had long been in every family of note. Her sophists were now seen
haranguing crowds in every town from the Don to the Atlantic. The
influence of the sophistic discipline in education will be felt in the
schools of Gaul, when Visigoth and Burgundian will be preparing to assume
the heritage of the falling Empire.(8) From the early years of the second
century can be traced that great combined movement of the Neo-Pythagorean
and Platonist philosophies and the renovated paganism which made a last
stand against the conquering Church in the reigns of Julian and
Theodosius. Philosophy became a religion, and devoted itself not only to
the private direction of character and the preaching of a higher life, but
to the justification and unification of pagan faith. In spite of its
rather bourgeois ideal of material enjoyment and splendour, the Antonine
age, at least in its higher minds, was an age of a purified moral sense
and religious intuition. It was, indeed, an age of spiritual
contradictions. On the one hand, not only was the old ritual of classical
polytheism scrupulously observed even by men like Plutarch and M.
Aurelius, but religious imagination was appropriating the deities of every
province, almost of every canton, embraced by the Roman power. At the same
time the fecundity of superstition created hosts of new divinities and
genii who peopled every scene of human life.(9) On the other hand
syncretism was in the air. Amid all the confused ferment of devotion a
certain principle of unity and comprehension was asserting itself, even in
popular religion. The old gods were losing their sharp-cut individuality;
the provinces and attributes of kindred deities tended to fade into one
another, and melt into the conception of a single central Power. The
religions of Egypt and the remoter East, with their inner monotheism,
supported by the promise of sacramental grace and the hope of immortality,
came in to give impetus to the great spiritual movement. The simple
peasant might cling to his favourite god, as his Neapolitan descendant has
his favourite saint. But an Apuleius, an Apollonius, or an Alexander
Severus(10) sought a converging spiritual support in the gods and
mysteries of every clime.

Platonist philosophy strove to give rational expression to this movement,
to reconcile cultivated moral sense with the worships of the past, to find
a bond between the vagrant religious fancies of the crowd and the remote
esoteric faith of the philosophic few. On the higher minds, from whatever
quarter, a spiritual vision had opened, which was strange to the ancient
world, the vision of One who is no longer a mere Force, but an infinite
Father, Creator, Providence and Guardian, from whom we come, to whom we go
at death. Prayer to Him is a communion, not the means of winning mere
temporal blessings; He is not gratified by bloody sacrifice; He is
dishonoured by immoral legend.(11) He cannot be imaged in gold or ivory
graven by the most cunning hand, although the idealised human form may be
used as a secondary aid to devotion. These were some of the religious
ideas current among the best men, Dion Chrysostom, Plutarch, Maximus of
Tyre, which the Neo-Platonic school strove to harmonise with the rites and
legends of the past. The means by which they tried to do so, and the
measure of their success, it is one purpose of this book to explain.

The Antonine age saw for a brief space the dream of Plato realised, when
kings should be philosophers, and philosophers should be kings. Philosophy
had given up its detached and haughty reserve, or outspoken opposition to
imperial power. In the second century it lent all its forces to an
authority which in the hands of the Antonine princes seemed to answer to
its ideals.(12) The votaries of the higher life, after their persecution
under the last cruel despot, rose to an influence such as they had never
wielded save in the Pythagorean aristocracies of southern Italy.
Philosophy now began to inspire legislation and statesmanship.(13) Its
professors were raised to the consulship and great prefectures. Above all,
it was incarnate, as it were, in the ruler who, whatever we may think of
his practical success, brought to the duties of government a loftiness of
spiritual detachment which has never been equalled by any ruler of men.
Whether there was any corresponding elevation of conduct or moral tone in
the mass of men may well be doubted by any one who has studied the
melancholy thoughts of the saintly emperor. Lucian and M. Aurelius seem to
be as hopeless about the moral condition of humanity as Seneca and
Petronius were in the darkest days of Nero’s tyranny.(14) Such opinions,
indeed, have little scientific value. They are often the result of
temperament and ideals, not of trustworthy observation. But it would be
rash to assume that heightened religious feeling and the efforts of
philosophy had within a hundred years worked any wide-spread
transformation of character. It was, however, a great step in advance that
the idea of the principate, expounded by Seneca, and the younger Pliny, as
a clement, watchful, infinitely laborious earthly providence had been
realised since the accession of Trajan. It was easier to be virtuous in
the reign of M. Aurelius than in the reign of Nero, and it was especially
easier for a man of the highest social grade. The example of the prince
for good or evil must always powerfully influence the class who are by
birth or office nearest to the throne. And bad example will be infinitely
more corrupting when it is reinforced by terror. A fierce, capricious
tyranny generates a class of vices which are perhaps more degrading to
human dignity, and socially more dangerous, than the vices of the flesh.
And the reign of such men as Caligula, Nero, and Domitian not only
stimulated the grossness of self-indulgence, but superadded the treachery
and servility of cowardice. In order to appreciate fully what the world
had gained by the mild and temperate rule of the princes of the second
century, it is necessary to revive for a moment the terrors of the
Claudian Caesars.

The power of Seneca as a moral teacher has, with some reservations, been
recognised by all the ages since his time. But equal recognition has
hardly been given to the lurid light which he throws, in random flashes,
on the moral conditions of his class under the tyranny of Caligula and
Nero. This may be due, perhaps, to a distrust of his artificial
declamation, and that falsetto note which he too often strikes even in his
most serious moments. Yet he must be an unsympathetic reader who does not
perceive that, behind the moral teaching of Seneca, there lies an awful
experience, a lifelong torture, which turns all the fair-seeming blessings
of life, state and luxury and lofty rank, into dust and ashes. There is a
haunting shadow over Seneca which never draws away, which sometimes
deepens into a horror of darkness. In whatever else Seneca may have been
insincere, his veiled references to the terrors of the imperial despotism
come from the heart.

Seneca’s life almost coincides with the Julio-Claudian tyranny. He had
witnessed in his early manhood the gloomy, suspicious rule of Tiberius,
when no day passed without an execution,(15) when every accusation was
deadly, when it might be fatal for a poet to assail Agamemnon in tragic
verse, or for a historian to praise Brutus and Cassius,(16) when the
victims of delation in crowds anticipated the mockery of justice by
self-inflicted death, or drank the poison even in the face of the judges.
Seneca incurred the jealous hatred of Caligula by a too brilliant piece of
rhetoric in the Senate,(17) and he has taken his revenge by damning the
monster to eternal infamy.(18) Not even in Suetonius is there any tale
more ghastly than that told by Seneca of the Roman knight whose son had
paid with his life for a foppish elegance which irritated the tyrant.(19)
On the evening of the cruel day, the father received an imperial command
to dine. With a face betraying no sign of emotion, he was compelled to
drink to the Emperor, while spies were eagerly watching every expression
of his face. He bore the ordeal without flinching. “Do you ask why? He had
another son.” Exiled to Corsica in the reign of Claudius,(20) Seneca bore
the sentence with less dignity than he afterwards met death. He witnessed
the reign of the freedmen, the infamies of Messalina, the intrigues of
Agrippina, and the treacherous murder of Britannicus; he knew all the
secrets of that ghastly court. Installed as the tutor of the young Nero,
he doubtless, if we may judge by the treatise on Clemency, strove to
inspire him with a high ideal of monarchy as an earthly providence. He
probably at the same time discovered in the son of Cn. Domitius
Ahenobarbus and Agrippina the fatal heritage of a vicious blood and the
omens of a ghastly reign. The young tiger was held on leash for the famous
quinquennium by Burrus and Seneca. It seemed only the device of a divine
tragic artist, by a brief space of calm and innocence, to deepen the
horror of the catastrophe. And, for Seneca, life darkened terribly towards
its close. With high purposes for the commonweal, he had probably lent
himself to doubtful means of humouring his wayward pupil, perhaps even to
crime.(21) His enormous wealth, whether won from imperial favour, or
gained by usury and extortion,(22) his power, his literary brilliance,
aroused a host of enemies, who blackened his character and excited the
fears or the jealousy of Nero. He had to bear the unenviable distinction
of a possible pretender to the principate.(23) He withdrew into almost
monastic seclusion, and even offered to resign his wealth.(24) He strove
to escape the evil eyes of calumny and imperial distrust by the most
abject renunciation. But he could not descend from the precipice on which
he hung; his elevation was a crucifixion.(25) Withdrawn to a remote corner
of his palace, which was crowded with the most costly products of the
East, and surrounded by gardens which moved the envy of Nero,(26) the
fallen statesman sought calm in penning his counsels to Lucilius, and
bracing himself to meet the stealthy stroke which might be dealt at any
moment.(27) In reading many passages of Seneca, you feel that you are
sitting in some palace on the Esquiline, reading the _Phaedo_ or listening
to the consolations of a Stoic director, while the centurion from the
palace may at any moment appear with the last fateful order.

Seneca, like Tacitus, has a remarkable power of moral diagnosis. He had
acquired a profound, sad knowledge of the pathology of the soul. It was a
power which was almost of necessity acquired in that time of terror and
suspicion, when men lived in daily peril from seeming friends. There never
was a period when men more needed the art of reading the secrets of
character. Nor was there ever a time when there were greater facilities
for the study. Life was sociable almost to excess. The Roman noble, unless
he made himself deliberately a recluse, spent much of his time in those
social meeting-places of which we hear so often,(28) where gossip and
criticism dealt mercilessly with character, where keen wits were pitted
against one another, sometimes in a deadly game, and where it might be a
matter of life or death to pierce the armour of dissimulation.(29) Seneca
had long shone in such circles. In his later years, if he became a
recluse, he was also a spiritual director. And his Letters leave little
doubt that many a restless or weary spirit laid bare its secret misery to
him, for advice or consolation. Knowing well the wildest excesses of
fantastic luxury, all the secrets of the philosophic confessional, the
miseries of a position oscillating between almost princely state and
monastic renunciation, the minister of Nero, with a self-imposed cure of
souls, had unrivalled opportunities of ascertaining the moral condition of
his class.

Seneca is too often a rhetorician, in search of striking effects and vivid
phrase. And, like all rhetoricians, he is often inconsistent. At times he
appears to regard his own age as having reached the very climax of insane
self-indulgence. And yet, in a calmer mood, he declares his belief that
the contemporaries of Nero were not worse than the contemporaries of
Clodius or Lucullus, that one age differs from another rather in the
greater prominence of different vices.(30) His pessimism extends to all
ages which have been allured by the charm of ingenious luxury from the
simplicity of nature. In the fatal progress of society, the artificial
multiplication of human wants has corrupted the idyllic innocence of the
far-off Eden, where the cope of heaven or the cave was the only shelter,
and the skin-clad savage made his meal on berries and slaked his thirst
from the stream.(31) It is the revolutionary dream of Rousseau, revolting
from the oppression and artificial luxury of the _Ancien Régime_. Seneca’s
state of nature is the antithesis of the selfish and materialised society
in which he lived. Our early ancestors were not indeed virtuous in the
strict sense.(32) For virtue is the result of struggle and philosophic
guidance. But their instincts were good, because they were not tempted.
They enjoyed in common the natural bounties of mother earth.(33) Their
fierceness of energy spent itself on the beasts of the chase. They lived
peaceably in willing obedience to the gentle paternal rule of their wisest
and best, with no lust of gold or power, no jealousy and hatred, to break
a contented and unenvious harmony. The great disturbers of this primeval
peace were avarice and luxury.(34) The moment when the first nugget
flashed its baleful temptations on the eyes of the roaming hunter was the
beginning of all human guilt and misery.(35) Selfish greed, developing
into insatiable appetite, is the original sin which turned the garden into
wilderness. In individualist cravings men lost hold on the common wealth
of nature. Luxury entered on its downward course, in the search for fresh
food and stimulus for appetite, till merely superfluous pleasures led on
to those from which untainted nature recoils.(36) Man’s boasted conquests
over nature, the triumphs of his perverted ingenuity, have bred an
illimitable lust, ending in wearied appetite; they have turned those who
were brothers into cunning or savage beasts.

Such a theory of society has, of course, no value or interest in itself.
Its interest, like that of similar _à priori_ dreams, lies in the light
which it sheds on the social conditions which gave it birth. Like the
Germany of Tacitus, and the Social Contract of Rousseau, Seneca’s theory
of the evolution of humanity is an oblique satire on the vices of his own
age. And not even in Tacitus or Suetonius are to be found more ghastly
revelations of a putrescent society, and the ennui and self-loathing which
capricious sensualism generates in spirits born for something higher. It
may be worth noting that the vices which Seneca treats as most prevalent
and deadly are not so much those of sexual impurity, although they were
rife enough in his day, as those of greed, gross luxury, treacherous and
envious cruelty, the weariness of jaded nerves and exhausted capacities of
indulgence.(37) It is not the coarse vices of the Suburra, but the more
deadly and lingering maladies of the Quirinal and the Esquiline which he
is describing. There is a universal lust of gold:(38) riches are the one
ornament and stay of life. And yet in those days a great fortune was only
a splendid servitude.(39) It had to be guarded amid perpetual peril and
envy. The universal greed and venality are worthily matched by the endless
anxiety of those who have won the prize. Human life has become a scene of
cruel and selfish egotism, a ferocious struggle of beasts of prey, eager
for rapine, and heedless of those who go down in the obscene struggle.(40)
It is an age when men glorify the fortunate and trample on the fallen. The
cunning and cruelty of the wild beast on the throne have taught a lesson
of dissimulation to the subject. At such a court it is a miracle to reach
old age, and the feat can only be accomplished by accepting insult and
injury with a smiling face.(41) For him who goes undefended by such armour
of hypocrisy there is always ready the rack, the poisoned cup, the order
for self-murder. It is characteristic of the detachment of Seneca that he
sees the origin of this hateful tyranny. No modern has more clearly
discerned the far-reaching curse of slavery.(42) Every great house is a
miniature of the Empire under a Caligula or Nero, a nursery of pretenders
capable of the same enormities. The unchecked power of the master, which
could, for the slightest faults, an ill-swept pavement, an unpolished
dish, or a sullen look, inflict the most brutal torture,(43) produced
those cold hearts which gloated over the agony of gallant men in the
arena, and applauded in the Senate the tyrant’s latest deed of blood. And
the system of household slavery enervated character while it made it
heartless and cruel. The Inscriptions confirm Seneca’s picture of the
minute division of functions among the household, to anticipate every
possible need or caprice of the master.(44) Under such a system the master
became a helpless dependent. There is real truth, under some ludicrous
exaggeration, in the tale of a Roman noble, taking his seat in his sedan
after the bath, and requiring the assurance of his slave that he was
really seated.(45)

It is little wonder that on such lives an utter weariness should settle,
the disgust of oversated appetite, which even the most far-fetched
luxuries of the orient, the most devilish ingenuity of morbid vice, could
hardly arouse. Yet these jaded souls are tortured by an aimless
restlessness, which frets and chafes at the slow passing of the hours,(46)
or vainly hopes to find relief in change of scene.(47) The more energetic
spirits, with no wholesome field for energy, developed into a class which
obtained the name of “Ardeliones.” Seneca,(48) Martial,(49) and the
younger Pliny(50) have left us pictures of these idle busybodies, hurrying
round the forums, theatres, and great houses, in an idle quest of some
trivial object of interest, waiting on patrons who ignore their existence,
following some stranger to the grave, rushing pell-mell to the wedding of
a much-married lady, or to a scene in the law courts, returning at
nightfall, worn out with these silly labours, to tread the same weary
round next day. Less innocent were they who daily gathered in the
_circuli_,(51) to hear and spread the wildest rumours about the army on
the frontier, to kill a woman’s reputation with a hint, to find a sinister
meaning in some imperial order, or to gloat in whispers over the last
highly-coloured tale of folly or dark guilt from the palace. It was a
perilous enjoyment, for, with a smiling face, some seeming friend was
probably noting every hint which might be tortured into an accusation
before the secret tribunal on the Palatine, or angling for a sneer which
might cost its author a fortune, or send him to the rocks of Gyarus.

In reading Seneca’s writings, especially those of his last years, you are
conscious of a horror which hardly ever takes definite shape, a thick
stifling air, as it were, charged with lightning. Again and again, you
feel a dim terror closing in silently and stealthily, with sudden glimpses
of unutterable torture, of cord and rack and flaming tunic.(52) You seem
to see the sage tossing on his couch of purple under richly panelled
ceilings of gold, starting at every sound in the wainscot,(53) as he
awaits the messenger of death. It is not so much that Seneca fears death
itself, although we may suspect that his nerves sometimes gave the lie to
his principles. He often hails death as welcome at any age, as the
deliverer who strikes off the chain and opens the prison door, the one
harbour on a tempestuous and treacherous sea.(54) He is grateful for
having always open this escape from life’s long torture, and boldly claims
the right to anticipate the executioner. The gloom of Seneca seems rather
to spring from a sense of the terrible contrast between wealth and state
and an ignominious doom which was ever ready to fall. And to his fevered
eye all stately rank seems at last but a precipice overhanging the abyss,
a mark for treacherous envy or the spitefulness of Fortune.(55) “A great
fortune is a great servitude,”(56) which, if it has been hard to win, is
harder still to guard. And all life is full of these pathetic contrasts.
Pleasure is nearest neighbour to pain; the summer sea in a moment is
boiling in the tempest; the labour of long years is scattered in a day;
there is always terror lurking under our deepest peace. And so we reach
the sad gospel of a universal pessimism; “nothing is so deceitful and
treacherous as the life of man.”(57) No one would knowingly accept such a
fatal gift, of which the best that can be said is that the torture is
short, that our first moment of existence is the first stage to the
grave.(58) Thus to Seneca, with all his theoretical indifference to things
external to the virtuous will, with all his admiration for the
invulnerable wisdom, withdrawn in the inner citadel of the soul, and
defying the worst that tyrants or fortune could inflict, the _taedium
vitae_ became almost unendurable. The interest of all this lies, not in
Seneca’s inconsistency, but in the nightmare which brooded on such minds
in the reign of Nero.

Something of the gloom of Seneca was part of the evil heritage of a class,
commanding inexhaustible wealth and assailed by boundless temptations to
self-indulgence, which had been offered by the conquest of East and West.
The weary senses failed to respond to the infinite sensual seductions
which surrounded the Roman noble from his earliest years. If he did not
succeed in squandering his fortune, he often exhausted too early his
capacity for healthy joy in life, and the nemesis of sated appetite and
disillusionment too surely cast its shadow over his later years. Prurient
slander was rife in those days, and we are not bound to accept all its
tales about Seneca. Yet there are passages in his writings which leave the
impression that, although he may have cultivated a Pythagorean asceticism
in his youth,(59) he did not altogether escape the taint of his time.(60)
His enormous fortune did not all come by happy chance or the bounty of the
emperor.(61) His gardens and palace, with all its priceless furniture,
must have been acquired because at one time he felt pleasure in such
luxuries. A soul so passionate in its renunciation may, according to laws
of human nature, have been once as passionate in indulgence. In his case,
as so often in the history of the Church, the saint may have had a
terrible repentance.

It is probable, however, that this pessimism is more the result of the
contrast between Seneca’s ideal of the principate, and the degradation of
its power in the hands of his pupil Nero. Seneca may have been regarded
once as a possible candidate for the throne, but he was no conspirator or
revolutionary.(62) He would have condemned the visionaries whose rudeness
provoked even the tolerant Vespasian.(63) In a letter, which must have
been written during the Neronian terror, he emphatically repudiates the
idea that the votaries of philosophy are refractory subjects. Their great
need is quiet and security. They should surely reverence him who, by his
sleepless watch, guards what they most value, just as, on a merchantman,
the owner of the most precious part of the cargo will be most grateful for
the protection of the god of the sea.(64) Seneca would have his
philosophic brethren give no offence by loud self-assertion or a parade of
superior wisdom.(65) In that deceitful dawn of his pupil’s reign, Seneca
had written a treatise in which he had striven to charm him by the ideal
of a paternal monarchy, in the consciousness of its god-like power ever
delighting in mercy and pity, tender to the afflicted, gentle even to the
criminal. It is very much the ideal of Pliny and Dion Chrysostom under the
strong and temperate rule of Trajan.(66) Addressed to one of the worst
emperors, it seems, to one looking back, almost a satire. Yet we should
remember that, strange as it may seem, Nero, with all his wild depravity,
appears to have had a strange charm for many, even to the end. The men who
trembled under the sombre and hypocritical Domitian, regretted the wild
gaiety and bonhomie of Nero, and each spring, for years after his death,
flowers were laid by unknown hands upon his grave.(67) The charm of
boyhood, with glimpses of some generous instincts, may for a time have
deceived even the experienced man of the world and the brooding analyst of
character. But it is more probable that the piece is rather a warning than
a prophecy. Seneca had watched all the caprices of an imperial tyrant,
drunk with a sense of omnipotence, having in his veins the maddening taint
of ancestral vice,(68) with nerves unstrung by maniacal excesses, brooding
in the vast solitudes of the Palatine till he became frenzied with terror,
striking down possible rivals, at first from fear or greed,(69) in the end
from the wild beast’s lust for blood, and the voluptuary’s delight in
suffering. The prophecy of the father as to the future of Agrippina’s
son(70) found probably an echo in the fears of his tutor. But, in spite of
his forebodings, Seneca thought the attempt to save him worth making. He
first appeals to his imagination. Nero has succeeded to a vicegerency of
God on earth.(71) He is the arbiter of life and death, on whose word the
fortunes of citizens, the happiness or misery of whole peoples depend.
His innocence raises the highest hopes.(72) But the imperial task is
heavy, and its perils are appalling. The emperor is the one bond by which
the world-empire is held together;(73) he is its vital breath. Man, the
hardest of all animals to govern,(74) can only be governed long by love,
and love can only be won by beneficence and gentleness to the frowardness
of men. In his god-like place, the prince should imitate the mercy of the
gods.(75) Wielding illimitable power, he is yet the servant of all, and
cannot usurp the licence of the private subject. He is like one of the
heavenly orbs, bound by inevitable law to move onward in a fixed orbit,
unswerving and unresting. If he relies on cruel force, rather than on
clemency, he will sink to the level of the tyrant and meet his proper
fate.(76) Cruelty in a king only multiplies his enemies and envenoms
hatred. In that fatal path there is no turning back. The king, once
dreaded by his people, loses his nerve and strikes out blindly in
self-defence.(77) The atmosphere of treachery and suspicion thickens
around him, and, in the end, what, to his maddened mind, seemed at first a
stern necessity becomes a mere lust for blood.

It has been suggested that Seneca was really, to some extent, the cause of
the grotesque or tragic failure of Nero.(78) The rhetorical spirit, which
breathes through all Seneca’s writings, may certainly be an evil influence
in the education of a ruler of men. The habit of playing with words, of
aiming at momentary effect, with slight regard to truth, may inspire the
excitable vanity of the artist, but is hardly the temper for dealing with
the hard problems of government. And the dazzling picture of the boundless
power of a Roman emperor, which Seneca put before his pupil, in order to
heighten his sense of responsibility, might intoxicate a mind naturally
prone to grandiose visions, while the sober lesson would be easily
forgotten. The spectacle of “the kingdoms of the world and all the glory
of them” at his feet was a dangerous temptation to a temperament like
Nero’s.(79) Arrogance and cruelty were in the blood of the Domitii. Nero’s
grandfather, when only aedile, had compelled the censor to give place to
him; he had produced Roman matrons in pantomime, and given gladiatorial
shows with such profusion of cruelty, as to shock that not very
tender-hearted age.(80) The father of the emperor, in addition to crimes
of fraud, perjury, and incest, had, in the open forum, torn out the eye of
a Roman knight, and deliberately trampled a child under his horse’s feet
on the Appian Way.(81) Yet such is the strange complexity of human nature,
that Nero seems by nature not to have been destitute of some generous and
amiable qualities. We need not lay too much stress on the innocence
ascribed to him by Seneca.(82) Nor need we attribute to Nero’s initiative
the sound or benevolent measures which characterised the beginning of his
reign. But he showed at one time some industry and care in performing his
judicial work.(83) He saw the necessity, in the interests of public health
and safety, of remodelling the narrow streets and mean insanitary
dwellings of Rome.(84) His conception of the Isthmian canal, if the
engineering problem could have been conquered, would have been an immense
boon to traders with the Aegean. Even his quinquennial festival, inspired
by the Greek contests in music and gymnastic,(85) represented a finer
ideal of such gatherings, which was much needed by a race devoted to the
coarse realism of pantomime and the butchery of the arena. Fierce and
incalculably capricious as he could be, Nero, at his best, had also a
softer side. He had a craving for love and appreciation(86); some of his
cruelty was probably the revenge for the denial of it. He was singularly
patient of lampoons and invective against himself.(87) Although he could
be brutal in his treatment of women, he also knew how to inspire real
affection, and perhaps in a few cases return it. He seems to have had
something of real love for Acte, his mistress. His old nurses consoled him
in his last hour of agony, and, along with the faithful Acte, laid the
last of his race in the vault of the Domitii.(88) Nero must have had
something of that charm which leads women in every age to forget faults,
and even crimes in the men whom they have once loved. And the strange,
lingering superstition, which disturbed the early Church, and which looked
for his reappearance down to the eleventh century, could hardly have
gathered around an utterly mean and mediocre character.(89)

When Nero uttered the words “Qualis artifex pereo,”(90) he gave not only
his own interpretation of his life, he also revealed one great secret of
its ghastly failure. It may be admitted that Nero had a certain artistic
enthusiasm, a real ambition to excel.(91) He painted with some skill, he
composed verses not without a certain grace. In spite of serious natural
defects, he took endless pains to acquire the technique of a singer. Far
into the night he would sit in rapt enthusiasm listening to the effects of
Terpnus, and trying to copy them.(92) His artistic tour in Greece, which
lowered him so much in the eyes of the West, was really inspired by the
passion to find a sympathetic audience which he could not find at Rome.
And, in spite of his arrogance and vanity, he had a wholesome deference
for the artistic judgment of Greece. Yet it is very striking that in the
records of his reign, the most damning accusation is that he disgraced the
purple by exhibitions on the stage. His songs to the lyre, his
impersonation of the parturient Canace or the mad Hercules, did as much to
cause his overthrow as his murders of Britannicus and Agrippina.(93) The
stout Roman soldier and the Pythagorean apostle have the same scorn for
the imperial charioteer and actor. A false literary ambition, born of a
false system of education, was the bane of Roman culture for many ages.
The dilettante artist on the throne in the first century had many a
successor in the literary arts among the grand seigneurs of the fifth.
They could play with their ingenious tricks of verse in sight of the
Gothic camp-fires. He could contend for the wreath at Olympia when his
faithful freedman was summoning him back by the news that the West was
seething with revolt.(94)

Nero’s mother had dissuaded him from the study of philosophy; his tutor
debarred him from the study of the manly oratory of the great days.(95)
The world was now to learn the meaning of a false artistic ambition,
divorced from a sense of reality and duty. Aestheticism may be only a love
of sensational effects, with no glimpse of the ideal. It may be a
hypocritical materialism, screening itself under divine names. In this
taste Nero was the true representative of his age. It was deeply tainted
with that mere passion for the grandiose and startling, and for feverish
intellectual effects, which a true culture spurns as a desecration of
art.(96) Mere magnitude and portentousness, the realistic expression of
physical agony, the coarse flush of a half-sensual pleasure, captivated a
vulgar taste, to which crapulous excitement and a fever of the senses took
the place of the purer ardours and visions of the spirit.(97) Nero paid
the penalty of outraging the conventional prejudices of the Roman. And yet
he was in some respects in thorough sympathy with the masses. His lavish
games and spectacles atoned to some extent for his aberrations of
Hellenism. He was generous and wasteful, and he encouraged waste in
others,(98) and waste is always popular till the bill has to be paid. He
was a “cupitor incredibilium.”(99) The province of Africa was ransacked to
find the fabled treasure of Dido.(100) Explorers were sent to pierce the
mysterious barrier of the Caucasus, and discover the secret sources of the
Nile. He had great engineering schemes which might seem baffling even to
modern skill, and which almost rivalled the wildest dreams of the lunatic
brain of Caligula.(101) His Golden House, in a park stretching from the
Palatine to the heights of the Esquiline, was on a scale of more than
oriental magnificence. At last the master of the world was properly
lodged. With colonnades three miles long, with its lakes and pastures and
sylvan glades, it needed only a second Nero in Otho to dream of adding to
its splendour.(102) To such a prince the astrologers might well predict
another monarchy enthroned on Mount Zion, with the dominion of the
East.(103) The materialist dreamer was, like Napoleon I., without a
rudimentary moral sense. Stained with the foulest enormities himself, he
had a rooted conviction that virtue was a pretence, and that all men were
equally depraved.(104) His surroundings gave him some excuse for thinking
so. He was born into a circle which believed chiefly in “the lust of the
eye and the pride of life.” He formed a circle many of whom perished in
the carnage of Bedriacum. With a treasury drained by insane profusion,
Nero resorted to rapine and judicial murder to replenish it.(105) The
spendthrift seldom has scruples in repairing his extravagance. The temples
were naturally plundered by the man who, having no religion, was at least
honest enough to deride all religions.(106) The artistic treasures of
Greece were carried off by the votary of Greek art; the gold and silver
images of her shrines were sent to the melting-pot.(107) Ungrateful
testators paid their due penalty after death; and delation, watching every
word or gesture, skilfully supplied the needed tale of victims for
plunder. It is all a hackneyed story. Yet it is perhaps necessary to
revive it once more to explain the suppressed terror and lingering agony
of the last days of Seneca.

The impressions of the Terror which we receive from Seneca are powerful
and almost oppressive. A thick atmosphere of gloom and foreboding seems to
stifle us as we turn his pages. But Seneca deals rather in shadowy hint
and veiled suggestion than in definite statement. For the minute picture
of that awful scene of degradation we must turn to Tacitus. He wrote in
the fresh dawn of an age of fancied freedom, when the gloom of the tyranny
seemed to have suddenly vanished like an evil dream. Yet he cannot shake
off the sense of horror and disgust which fifteen years of ignoble
compliance or silent suffering have burnt into his soul. Even under the
manly, tolerant rule of Trajan, he hardly seems to have regained his
breath.(108) He can scarcely believe that the light has come at last. His
attitude to the tyranny is essentially different from that of Seneca. The
son of the provincial from Cordova views the scene rather as the
cosmopolitan moralist, imperilled by his huge fortune and the
neighbourhood of the terrible palace. Tacitus looks at it as the Roman
Senator, steeped in all old Roman tradition, caring little for philosophy,
but caring intensely for old Roman dignity and the prestige of that great
order, which he had seen humbled and decimated.(109) The feeling of Seneca
is that of a Stoic monk, isolated in a corner of his vast palace, now
trembling before the imperial jealousy, which his wealth and celebrity may
draw down upon him, and again seeking consolation in thoughts of God and
eternity which might often seem to belong to Thomas à Kempis. The tone of
Tacitus is sometimes that of a man who should have lived in the age of the
Samnite or the Carthaginian wars, before luxury and factious ambition had
sapped the moral strength of the great aristocratic caste, while his
feelings are divided between grim anger at a cruel destiny, and scornful
regret for the weakness and the self-abandonment of a class which had been
once so great. The feelings of Seneca express themselves rather in
rhetorical self-pity. The feelings of Tacitus find vent in words which
sometimes veil a pathos too proud for effusive utterance, sometimes cut
like lancet points, and which, in their concentrated moral scorn, have
left an eternal brand of infamy on names of historic renown.

More than forty years had passed between the date of Seneca’s last letters
to Lucilius and the entry of Tacitus on his career as a historian.(110) He
was a child when Seneca died.(111) His life is known to us only from a few
stray glimpses in the Letters of Pliny,(112) eked out by the inferences of
modern erudition. As a young boy, he must have often heard the tales of
the artistic follies and the orgies of Nero, and the ghastly cruelties of
the end of his reign. As a lad of fifteen, he may have witnessed something
of the carnival of blood and lust which appropriately closed the régime of
the Julio-Claudian line. He entered on his _cursus honorum_ in the reign
of Vespasian, and attained the praetorship under Domitian.(113) A military
command probably withdrew him from Rome for three years during the tyranny
of the last Flavian.(114) He was consul suffectus in 97, and then held the
proconsulship of Asia. It cannot be doubted from his own words that, as a
senator, he had to witness tamely the Curia beset with soldiery, the
noblest women driven into exile, and men of the highest rank and virtue
condemned to death on venal testimony in the secret tribunal of the Alban
Palace. His hand helped to drag Helvidius to the dungeon, and was stained
with the blood of Senecio. He lived long enough under a better prince to
leave an unfading picture of the tragedy of solitary and remorseless
power, but not long enough to forget the horrors and degradation through
which he had passed.

The claim of Tacitus to have been uninfluenced by passion or
partiality(115) has been disputed by a modern school of critics.(116)
Sometimes, from a love of Caesarism and strong government, sometimes from
the scholarly weakness for finding a new interpretation of history, the
great historic painter of the Julio-Claudian despotism has been
represented as an acrid rhetorician of the Senatorial reaction, a dreamer
who looks back wistfully to the old Republic, belonging to one of those
haughty circles of the old régime which were always in chronic revolt,
which lived in an atmosphere of suspicion and poisonous gossip, and
nourished its dreams and hatreds till fiction and fact melted into one
another in gloomy retrospect.(117) He is the great literary avenger of the
Senate after its long sanguinary conflict with the principate, using the
freedom of the new order to blacken the character of princes who had been
forced, in the interests of the world-wide empire, to fight and to crush a
selfish and narrow-minded caste.(118)

The weakness of all such estimates of Tacitus lies in their failure to
recognise the complex nature of the man, the mingled and crossing
influences of training, official experience, social environment, and lofty
moral ideals(119); it lies even more in a misconception of his aims as a
historian. Tacitus was a great orator, and the spirit of the rhetorical
school, combined with the force and dexterity of style which it could
communicate, left the greatest Roman historians with a less rigorous sense
of truth than their weakest modern successors often possess.(120) No Roman
ever rose to the Thucydidean conception of history. Moreover Tacitus,
although originally not of the highest social rank,(121) belonged to the
aristocratic class by sympathy and associations. Like Suetonius, he
necessarily drew much of his information from the memories of great houses
and the tales of the elders who had lived through the evil days.(122) He
acquired thus many of the prejudices of a class which, from its history,
and still more from its education, sought its ideals in the past rather
than in the future. He mingled in those circles, which in every age
disguise the meanness and bitterness of gossip by the airy artistic touch
of audacious wit, polished in many social encounters. He had himself
witnessed the triumph of delation and the cold cruelty of Domitian. He had
shared in the humiliation of the Senate which had been cowed into
acquiescence in his worst excesses. And the spectacle had inspired him
with a horror of unchecked power in the hands of a bad man, and a gloomy
distrust of that human nature which could sink to such ignoble
servility.(123) Yet on the other hand Tacitus had gained practical
experience in high office, both as soldier and administrator, which has
always a sobering effect on the judgment. He realised the difficulties of
government and the unreasonableness of ordinary men. Hence he has no
sympathy with a doctrinaire and chimerical opposition even under the worst
government.(124) However much he might respect the high character of the
philosophic enthusiasts of the day, he distrusted their theatrical
defiance of power, and he threw his shield over a discreet reserve, which
could forget that it was serving a tyrant in serving the
commonwealth.(125) Tacitus may at times express himself with a stern
melancholy bitterness, which might at first seem to mark him as a
revolutionary dreamer, avenging an outraged political ideal. Such an
interpretation would be a grave mistake, which he would himself have been
the first to correct. The ideal which he is avenging is not a political,
but a moral ideal.(126) The bitter sadness is that of the profound analyst
of character, with a temperament of almost feverish intensity and nervous
force. The interest of history to Thucydides and Polybius lies in the
political lessons which it may teach posterity. Its interest to Tacitus
lies in the discovery of hidden motives and the secret of character, in
watching the stages of an inevitable degeneracy, the moral preparation for
a dark, inglorious end. And the analyst was a curiously vivid painter of
character, the character of individuals, of periods, and of peoples. His
portraits burn themselves into the imaginative memory, so that the
impression, once seized, can never be lost. Tiberius and Claudius and
Nero, Messalina and Agrippina, in spite of the most mordant criticism,
will live for ever as they have been portrayed by the fervid imagination
of Tacitus. Nor is he less searching and vivid in depicting the collective
feeling and character of masses of men. We watch the alternating fury and
repentance of the mutinous legions of Germanicus,(127) or the mingled
fierceness and sorrow with which they wandered among the bleaching bones
on the lost battlefield of Varus,(128) or the passion of grief and
admiration with which the praetorian cohorts kissed the self-inflicted
wounds of Otho.(129) Or, again, we follow the changing moods of the Roman
populace, passing from anger and grief to short-lived joy, and then to
deep silent sorrow, at the varying rumours from the East about the health
of Germanicus.(130) In Tacitus events are nearly always seen in their
moral setting. The misery and shame of the burning of the Capitol by the
Vitellians are heightened by the thought that the catastrophe is caused by
the madness of civil strife.(131) In the awful conflict which raged from
street to street, the horror consists in the mixture of cruelty and
licence. The baths and brothels and taverns are crowded at the very hour
when the neighbouring ways are piled with corpses and running with blood;
the rush of indulgence paused not for a moment; men seemed to revel in the
public disasters. There was bloodshed enough in the days of Cinna and
Sulla, but the world was at least spared such a carnival of lust.(132)
Even in reporting or imagining the speech of Galgacus to his warriors on
the Grampians,(133) even in the pictures of the German tribes,(134) the
ethical interest is always foremost. The cruel terror of the prince, the
effeminacy and abandoned adulation of the nobles, the grossness and
fierceness of the masses, contrasted with the loyalty, chastity, and
hardihood of the German clans, seem to have dimly foreshadowed to Tacitus
a danger from which all true Romans averted their eyes till the end.(135)

The key to the interpretation of Tacitus is to regard him as a moralist
rather than a politician. And he is a moralist with a sad, clinging
pessimism.(136) He is doomed to be the chronicler of an evil time,
although he will save from oblivion the traces and relics of ancient
virtue.(137) He has Seneca’s pessimist theory of evolution. The early
equality and peace and temperance have been lost through a steady growth
of greed and egotistic ambition.(138) It is in the past we must seek our
ideals; it is from the past we derive our strength. With the same gloomy
view of his contemporaries as M. Aurelius had,(139) he holds vaguely a
similar view of cycles in human affairs.(140) And probably the fairest
hope which ever visited the mind of Tacitus was that of a return to the
simplicity of a long gone age. He hailed the accession of Vespasian and of
Trajan as a happy change to purer manners and to freedom of speech.(141)
But the reign of Vespasian had been followed by the gloomy suspicious
despotism of Domitian. Who could be sure about the successors of Trajan?
Tacitus hardly shared the enthusiasm and exuberant hopes expressed by his
friend Pliny in his _Panegyric_. It was a natural outbreak of joy at
escaping from the dungeon, and the personal character of Trajan succeeded
in partially veiling the overwhelming force of the emperor under the
figment of the freely accepted rule of the first citizen. Tacitus no doubt
felt as great satisfaction as his friend at the suppression of the
informers, the restored freedom of speech, the recovered dignity of the
Senate, the prince’s respect for old republican forms and etiquette.(142)
He felt probably even keener pleasure that virtue and talent had no longer
to hide themselves from a jealous eye, and that the whole tone of society
was being raised by the temperate example of the emperor. But he did not
share Pliny’s illusions as to the prince’s altered position under the new
régime. The old Republic was gone for ever.(143) It was still the rule of
one man, on whose character everything depended. He would never have
joined Plutarch and Dion in exalting the emperor to the rank of vicegerent
of God. With his experience and psychologic skill, he was bound to regard
all solitary power as a terrible danger both to its holder and his
subjects.(144) “Capax imperii, nisi imperasset” condenses a whole
disquisition on imperialism. In truth, Tacitus, like many thoughtful
students of politics, had little faith in mere political forms and
names.(145) They are often the merest imposture: they depend greatly on
the spirit and social tone which lie behind them. In the abstract,
perhaps, Tacitus would have given a preference to aristocracy. But he saw
how easily it might pass into a selfish despotism.(146) He had no faith in
the people or in popular government, with its unstable excitability. He
admitted that the conquests of Rome, egotistic ambition, and the long
anarchy of the Civil Wars had made the rule of one inevitable. But
monarchy easily glides into tyranny, and he accepts the Empire only as a
perilous necessity which may be justified by the advent of a good prince.
The hereditary succession, which had been grafted on the principate of
Augustus, had inflicted on the world a succession of fools or monsters.
The only hope lay in elevating the standard of virtue, and in the choice
of a worthy successor by the forms of adoption.(147) The one had in his
own time given the world a Domitian, and was destined within three
generations to give it a Commodus. The other secured to it the peace and
order of the age of which Tacitus saw the dawn.(148)

The motive of Tacitus was essentially ethical, and his moral standard was
in many respects lofty. Yet his standard was sometimes limited by the
prejudices of his class. He cherished the old Roman ideal of “virtus”
rather than the Stoic gospel of a cosmopolitan brotherhood of man.(149)
Like Pliny, he felt little horror at gladiatorial combats,(150) although
he may have had a certain contempt for the rage for them. He had probably
far less humane feelings than Pliny on the subject of slavery.(151) While
he admired many of the rude virtues of the Germans, he prayed Heaven that
their tribal blood-feuds might last for ever.(152) He has all the faith of
Theognis in the moral value of blood and breeding. He feels a proud
satisfaction in recording the virtues of the scion of a noble race, and
degeneracy from great traditions moves his indignant pity.(153) He
sometimes throws a veil over the degenerates.(154) The great economic
revolution which was raising the freedman, the petty trader, the obscure
provincial, to the top, he probably regarded with something of Juvenal’s
suspicion and dislike. The new man would have needed a fine character, or
a great record of service, to commend him to Tacitus.(155) But, with all
these defects of hard and narrow prejudice, Tacitus maintains a lofty
ideal of character, a severe enthusiasm for the great virtues which are
the salt of every society.

Of the early nurture of Tacitus nothing is directly known. But we may be
permitted to imagine him tenderly yet strictly guarded from the taint of
slave nurses(156) by a mother who was as unspotted as Julia Procilla, the
mother of his hero Agricola.(157) What importance he attached to this
jealous care of a good woman, what a horror he had of the incitements to
cruelty and lust which surrounded the young Roman from his cradle, are to
be traced in many a passage coming from the heart. His ideal of youthful
chastity and of the pure harmony of a single wedded union, reveals to us
another world from the scene of heartless, vagrant intrigue, on which Ovid
wasted his brilliant gifts. His taste, if not his principles, revolted
against the coarse seductions of the spectacles and the wasteful grossness
of the banquets of his time.(158) He envies the Germans their freedom from
these great corrupters of Roman character, from the lust for gold, and the
calculating sterility which cut itself from nature’s purest pleasure, to
be surrounded on the deathbed by a crowd of hungry, shameless sycophants.
While Tacitus had a burning contempt for the nerveless cowardice and
sluggishness which degraded so many of his order,(159) he may have valued
even to excess, although it is hardly possible to do so, the virtues of
the strenuous soldier. Proud submission to authority, proud, cold
endurance in the face of cruel hardship and enormous odds, readiness to
sacrifice even life at the call of the State, must always tower over the
safe aspirations of an untried virtue. The soldier, though he never knows
it, is the noblest of idealists. The ideal of Tacitus, although he sees
his faults of temper,(160) was probably the character of his
father-in-law, Agricola, grave, earnest and severe, yet with a mingled
clemency, free from all vulgar avarice or ostentation of rank, from all
poisonous jealousy, an eager ambitious warrior, yet one knowing well how
to temper audacious energy with prudence.(161) Tacitus would probably have
sought his ideal among those grey war-worn soldiers on a dangerous
frontier, half warrior and half statesman, just and clement, stern in
discipline, yet possessing the secret of the Roman soldier’s love, the men
who were guarding the Solway, the Rhine, and the Danube, while their
brethren in the Senate were purchasing their lives or their ease by
adulation and treachery. Yet, after all, Tacitus was too great for such a
limited ideal. He could admire faith and courage and constancy in any
rank.(162) With profound admiration and subdued pathos, he tells how the
freedwoman Epicharis, racked and fainting in every limb with the extremity
of torture, refused to tell the secret of the Pisonian conspiracy, and by
a voluntary death shamed the knights and nobles who were ready to betray
their nearest kin.(163) The slave girls of the empress, who defiantly
upheld her fair fame, under the last cruel ordeal, are honoured by a like
memorial.(164)

The deepest feeling of Tacitus about the early Empire seems to have been
that it was fatal to character both in prince and subject. This conviction
he has expressed with the burning intensity of the artist. He could never
have penned one of those laborious paragraphs of Suetonius which seem
transcribed from a carefully kept note-book, with a lifeless catalogue of
the vices, the virtues, and the eccentricities of the subject. For
Tacitus, history is a living and real thing, not a matter of mere
antiquarian interest. He has seen a single lawless will, unchecked by
constitutional restraints or ordinary human feeling, making sport of the
lives and fortunes of men. He has seen the sons of the proudest houses
selling their ancestral honour for their lives, betraying their nearest
and dearest, and kissing the hand which was reeking with innocent
blood.(165) When he looked back, he saw that, for more than fifteen years,
with brief intervals, virtue had been exiled or compelled to hide itself
in impotent seclusion, and that power and wealth had been the reward of
perfidy and grovelling self-abasement.(166) The brooding silence of those
years of humiliating servitude did not extinguish the faith of Tacitus in
human virtue, but it almost extinguished his faith in a righteous God.
Tacitus is no philosopher, with either a reasoned théodicée or a
consistent repudiation of faith.(167) He uses popular language about
religion, and often speaks like an old Roman in all things touching the
gods.(168) He is, moreover, often as credulous as he is sceptical in his
treatment of omens and oracles.(169) But, with all his intense faith in
goodness, the spectacle of the world of the Caesars has profoundly shaken
his trust in the Divine justice. Again and again, he attributes the long
agony of the Roman world to mere chance or fate,(170) or the anger of
Heaven, as well as to the madness of men.(171) Sometimes he almost denies
a ruling power which could permit the continuance of the crimes of a
Nero.(172) Sometimes he grimly notes its impartial treatment of the good
and the evil.(173) And again, he speaks of the Powers who visit not to
protect, but only to avenge. And so, by a curse like that which haunted
the Pelopidae in tragic legend, the monarchy, cradled in ambition and
civil strife, has gone on corrupting and corrupted. The lust of despotic
power which Tacitus regards as the fiercest and most insatiable of human
passions, has been intensified by the spectacle of a monarchy commanding,
with practically unlimited sway, the resources and the fortunes of a
world.

It was a dazzling prize, offering frightful temptations both to the holder
and to possible rivals and pretenders. The day on which a Nero or a
Caligula awoke to all the possibilities of power was a fateful one. And
Tacitus, with the instinct of the tragic artist, has painted the steady,
fatal corruption of a prince’s character by the corroding influence of
absolute and solitary sway. Of all the Caesars down to his time, the only
one who changed for the better was the homely Vespasian. In Tiberius,
Caligula, and Nero, some of this deterioration of character must be set
down to the morbid strain in the Julio-Claudian line, with its hard and
cruel pride, and its heritage of a tainted blood, of which Nero’s father
knew the secret so well. Much was also due to the financial exhaustion
which, in successive reigns, followed the most reckless waste. It would be
difficult to say whether the emperors or their nobles were the most to
blame for the example of spendthrift extravagance and insane luxury. Two
generations before the foundation of the Empire, the passion for profusion
had set in, which, according to Tacitus, raged unchecked till the
accession of Vespasian.(174) Certainly, the man who would spend £3000 on a
myrrhine vase, £4000 on a table of citrus-wood, or £40,000 on a richly
wrought carpet from Babylon, had little to learn even from Nero.(175) Yet
the example of an emperor must always be potent for good or evil. We have
the testimony of Pliny and Claudian,(176) separated by an interval of
three hundred years, that the world readily conforms its life to that of
one man, if that man is head of the State. Nero’s youthful enthusiasm for
declamation gave an immense impulse to the passion for rhetoric.(177) His
enthusiasm for acting and music spread through all ranks, and the
emperor’s catches were sung at wayside inns.(178) M. Aurelius made
philosophy the mode, and the Stoic Emperor is responsible for some of the
philosophic imposture which moved the withering scorn of Lucian. The
Emperor’s favourite drug grew so popular that the price of it became
almost prohibitory.(179) If the model of Vespasian’s homely habits had
such an effect in reforming society, we may be sure that the evil example
of his spendthrift predecessors did at least as much to deprave it.

And what an example it was! The extravagance of the Claudian Caesars and
the last Flavian has become a piece of historic commonplace. Every one has
heard of the unguent baths of Caligula, his draughts of melted pearls, his
galleys with jewel-studded sterns and gardens and orchards on their decks,
his viaduct connecting the Palatine with the Capitoline, his bridge from
Bauli to Puteoli, and many another scheme of that wild brain, which had in
the end to be paid for in blood.(180) In a single year Caligula scattered
in reckless waste more than £20,000,000.(181) Nero proclaimed that the
only use of money was to squander it, and treated any prudent calculation
as meanness.(182) In a brief space he flung away nearly £18,000,000. The
Egyptian roses for a single banquet cost £35,000.(183) He is said never to
have made a progress with less than a thousand carriages; his mules were
shod with silver.(184) He would stake HS.400,000 on a single throw of the
dice. The description of his Golden House is like a vision of lawless
romance.(185) The successors of Galba were equally lavish during their
brief term. Otho, another Nero, probably regarded death in battle as a
relief from bankruptcy.(186) Within a very few months, Vitellius had flung
away more than £7,000,000 in vulgar luxury.(187) Vespasian found the
exhaustion of the public treasury so portentous(188) that he had to resort
to unpopular economies and taxation on a great scale. Under Domitian, the
spectacles and largesses lavished on the mob undid all the scrupulous
finance of his father,(189) and Nerva had to liquidate the ruinous
heritage by wholesale retrenchment, and the sale even of the imperial
furniture and plate,(190) as M. Aurelius brought to the hammer his
household treasures, and even the wardrobe and jewels of the empress, in
the stress of the Marcomannic war.(191)

But the great imperial spendthrifts resorted to more simple and primitive
methods of replenishing their coffers. Self-indulgent waste is often seen
linked with meanness and hard cruelty. The epigram of Suetonius on
Domitian, _inopia rapax, metu saevus_,(192) sums up the sordid history of
the tyranny. The cool biographer of Caligula, Nero, and Domitian, when in
his methodical fashion, he has recorded their financial difficulties,
immediately proceeds to describe the unblushing rapine or ingenious
chicanery by which the needy tyrants annexed a coveted estate. The
emperors now generally protected the provinces from plunder,(193) but they
applied all the Verrine methods to their own nobles. It was not hard with
the help of the sleuth hounds who always gather round the despot, to find
plausible grounds of accusation. The vague law of majesty, originally
intended to guard the security of the commonwealth, was now used to throw
its protection around the sacrosanct prince in whom all the highest powers
of government were concentrated.(194) The slightest suspicion of
disloyalty or discontent, the most insignificant act or word, which a
depraved ingenuity could misinterpret, was worked up into a formidable
indictment by men eager for their share of the plunder. To have written
the memoir of a Stoic saint or kept the birthday of a dead emperor, to
possess an imperial horoscope or a map of the world, to call a slave by
the name of Hannibal or a dish by that of Lucullus, might become a fatal
charge.(195) “Ungrateful testators” who had failed to remember the emperor
in their wills had to pay heavily for the indiscreet omission.(196) The
materials for such accusations were easily obtained in the Rome of the
early Caesars. Life was eminently sociable. A great part of the day was
spent at morning receptions, in the Forum, the Campus Martius, the
barber’s or bookseller’s shops, or in the colonnades where crowds of
fashionable idlers gathered to relieve the tedium of life by gossip and
repartee. It was a city, says Tacitus, which knew everything and talked of
everything.(197) Never was curiosity more eager or gossip more reckless.
Men were almost ready to risk their lives for a _bon mot_. And in the
reign of Nero or Domitian, the risk was a very real one. The imperial
espionage, of which Maecenas in Dion Cassius recognised at once the danger
and the necessity,(198) was an organised system even under the most
blameless emperors It can be traced in the reigns of Nerva, Hadrian, and
Antoninus Pius.(199) But under the tyrants, voluntary informers sprang up
in every class. Among the hundreds of slaves attached to a great
household, there were in such times sure to be spies, attracted by the
lure of freedom and a fortune, who might report and distort what they had
observed in their master’s unguarded hours. Men came to dread possible
traitors even among their nearest of kin, among their closest friends of
the highest rank.(200) Who can forget the ignominy of those three
Senators, one of them bearing the historic name of Cato, who, to win the
consulship from Sejanus, hid themselves between the ceiling and the roof,
and caught, through chinks and crannies, the words artfully drawn from the
victim by another member of the noble gang? The seventh book of the _Life
of Apollonius_ by Philostratus is a revelation of the mingled caution and
truculence of the methods of Domitian. Here at least we have left the
world of romance behind and are on solid ground. We feel around us, as we
read, the hundred eyes of an omnipresent tyranny. We meet in the prison
the magistrate of Tarentum who had been guilty of a dangerous omission in
the public prayers, and an Acarnanian who had been guilty of settling in
one of the Echinades.(201) A spy glides into the cells, to listen to the
prisoners’ talk, and is merely regaled by Apollonius with a description of
the wonders he has seen in his wanderings. When we are admitted to the
secret tribunal on the Palatine, after Domitian has paid his devotion to
Athene, we have before us a cruel, stealthy despot, as timid as he is
brutally truculent. In spite of all scepticism about Philostratus, we are
there at the heart of the Terror.

Compared with this base espionage, even the trade of the delator becomes
almost respectable. Like everything in Roman social organisation, delation
had a long history, too long to be developed within the space of this
work. The work of impeachment, which might be wholesome and necessary
under the Republic, in exposing the enormities of provincial government,
became the curse of the Empire. The laws of Augustus for the restoration
of social morality gave the first chance to the professional delator. The
jealous, secretive rule of Tiberius welcomed such sinister support,(202)
and although the dark, tortuous policy of the recluse of Capreae might
punish the excess of zeal in the informers, it was also ready to reward
them for opportune displays of energy.(203) The open and daring tyranny of
Caligula and Nero often dispensed with the hypocrisy of judicial forms of
assassination. It was reserved for the last Flavian to revive the methods
of Tiberius.(204) Domitian was at once timid and cruel. He was also a
pedant who concealed from himself his own baseness by a scrupulous
devotion to ancient forms even in religion. The obscene libertine, who
chose the Virgin Goddess as his patroness,(205) could easily make the
forms of old Roman justice a cloak for confiscation and massacre. In
theory the voluntary accuser, without a commission from authority, was a
discredited person. And successive emperors punished or frowned upon the
delators of a previous reign.(206) Yet the profession grew in reputation
and emolument. It is a melancholy proof of the degradation of that society
that the delator could be proud of his craft and even envied and admired.
Men of every degree, freedmen, schoolmasters, petty traders, descendants
of houses as old as the Republic, men from the rank of the shoemaker
Vatinius(207) to a Scaurus, a Cato, or a Regulus, flocked to a trade which
might earn a fabulous fortune and the favour of the prince. There must
have been many a career like that of Palfurius Sura, who had fought in the
arena in the reign of Nero, who had been disgraced and stripped of his
consular rank under Vespasian, who then turned Stoic and preached the
gospel of popular government, and, in the reign of Domitian, crowned his
career by becoming a delator, and attempting to found a juristic theory of
absolute monarchy.(208)

The system of Roman education, which was profoundly rhetorical, became a
hot-bed of this venal oratory. It nourished its pupils on the masterpieces
of free speech; it inflamed their imaginations with dreams of rhetorical
triumph. When they went forth into the world of the Empire, they found the
only arena for displaying their powers to be the dull court of the
Centumviri, or the hired lecture hall, where they might dilate on some
frigid or silly theme before a weary audience. It was a tempting
excitement to exert the arts learnt in the school of Quintilian in a real
onslaught, where the life or liberty of the accused was at stake. And the
greatest orators of the past had never offered to them such a splendid
material reward. One fourth of the estate of the condemned man had been
the old legal fee of the accuser.(209) But this limit was left far behind
in the judicial plunder of the early Caesars. Probably in no other way
could a man then so easily make himself a millionaire. The leading
accusers of Thrasea and Soranus in the reign of Nero received each £42,000
as their reward.(210) These notorious delators, Eprius Marcellus and
Vibius Crispus, accumulated gains reaching, in the end, the enormous
amount of £2,400,000. The famous, or infamous, Regulus, after the most
prodigal expenditure, left a fortune of half a million.(211) His career is
a striking example of the arts by which, in a debased society, men may
rise to fortune, and the readiness with which such a society will always
forgive anything to daring and success. Sprung from an illustrious but
ruined race,(212) Regulus possessed shameless audacity and ruthless
ambition,(213) which were more valuable than birth and fortune. He had
every physical defect for a speaker, yet he made himself an orator, with a
weird power of strangling his victims.(214) He was poor, but he resolved
to be wealthy, and he reached the fortune which he proposed to himself as
his goal. He was vain, cruel, and insolent, a slave of superstition,(215)
stained with many a perfidious crime. He was a peculiarly skilful and
perfectly shameless adept in the arts of captation.(216) Yet this cynical
agent of judicial murder, who began his career in the reign of Nero, lived
on in peace and wealth into the reign of Trajan. He even enjoyed a certain
consideration in society.(217) The humane and refined Pliny at once
detested and tolerated him. The morning receptions of Regulus, in his
distant gardens on the Tiber, were thronged by a fashionable crowd.

The inner secret of the imperial Terror will probably always perplex the
historian. The solution of the question depends, not only on the value
which is to be attached to our authorities, but on the prepossessions and
prejudices which are brought to their interpretation. To one critic
Tacitus, although liable to the faults which spring from rhetorical
training and fervid temperament, seems fairly impartial and
trustworthy.(218) Another treats the great historian as essentially a
partisan who derived his materials from the memoirs and traditions of a
class inflamed with reactionary dreams and saturated with a hatred of
monarchy.(219) Some regard the tragedy of the early Empire as the result
of a real peril from a senatorial conspiracy which perpetually surrounded
the emperor. Others trace it to the diseased brains of princes, giddy with
the sense of omnipotence, and often unstrung by vicious excesses, natures
at once timorous and arrogant, anticipating danger by a maniacal cruelty
which ended in creating the peril that they feared. Is it not possible
that there may be truth in both theories? It may be admitted that there
probably was never a powerful opposition, with a definitely conceived
purpose of overthrowing the imperial system, as it had been organised by
Augustus, and of restoring the republican rule of the Senate. It may be
admitted that, while so many of the first twelve Caesars died a violent
death, the violence was used to rid the world of a monster, and not to
remodel a constitution; it was the emperor, not the Empire, that was
hated. Yet these admissions need to be qualified by some reservations. The
effect of the rhetorical character of Roman education in moulding the
temper and ideals of the upper classes, down to the very end of the
Western Empire, has hardly yet been fully recognised. It petrified
literature by the slavish imitation of unapproachable models. It also
glorified the great ages of freedom and republican government; it exalted
Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Brutus and Cassius, to a moral height which
might suggest to generous youth the duty or the glory of imitating them.
When a rhetor’s class, in the reign of Caligula or of Nero, applauded the
fall of a historic despot, is it not possible that some may have applied
the lesson to the reigning emperor? Although it is evident that
philosophic debates on the three forms of government were not unknown, yet
probably few ever seriously thought of a restoration of the republic. None
but a maniac would have entrusted the nerveless, sensual mob of Rome with
the destinies of the world. As a matter of fact, the mob themselves very
much preferred the rule of a lavish despot, who would cater for their
pleasures.(220) But the Senate was still a name of power. In the three or
four generations which had passed since the death of the first Caesar, men
had forgotten the weakness and perfidy which had made senatorial
government impossible. They thought of the Senate as the stubborn, haughty
caste which had foiled the strategy of Hannibal, which had achieved the
conquest of the world. The old families might have been more than
decimated; new men of doubtful origin might have filled their places.(221)
But ancient institutions possess a prestige and power which is often
independent of the men who work them. Men are governed largely through
imagination and mere names. Thus the Senate remained an imaginative symbol
of the glory of Roman power, down to the last years of the Western Empire.
The accomplished Symmachus cherishes the phantasm of its power under
Honorius. And although a Caligula or Nero might conceive a feverish hatred
of the assembly which they feared,(222) while they affected to despise it,
the better emperors generally made almost a parade of their respect for
the Senate.(223) The wisest princes had a feeling that, although they
might have at their back the devotion of the legions, and an immense
material force, still it was wiser to conciliate old Roman feeling by a
politic deference to a body which was surrounded by the aureole of
antiquity, which had such splendid traditions of conquest and
administration.

The Senate was thus the only possible rival of the Emperor. The question
is, was the Senate ever a dangerous rival? The true answer seems to be
that the Senate was dangerous in theory, but not in fact. There can be
little doubt that, in the reigns of Caligula and Nero, there were men who
dreamed of a restored senatorial power.(224) It is equally certain that
the Senate was incapable of asserting it. Luxury, self-indulgence, and
conscription had done their work effectually. There were many pretenders
to the principate in the reign of Nero, and even some in the reign of
Vespasian.(225) But they had not a solid and determined Senate at their
back. The world, and even the Senate, were convinced that the Roman Empire
needed the administration of one man. How to get the one man was the
problem. Hereditary succession had placed only fools or monsters on the
throne. There remained the old principle of adoption. An emperor, feeling
that his end was approaching, might, with all his vast experience of the
government of a world, with all his knowledge of the senatorial class,
with no fear of offence in the presence of death,(226) designate one
worthy of the enormous charge. If such an one came to the principate, with
a generous desire to give the Senate a share of his burdens and his glory,
that was the highest ideal of the Empire, and that was the ideal which
perhaps was approached in the Antonine age. Yet, outside the circle of
practical statesmen, there remained a class which was long irreconcilable.
It has been recently maintained with great force that the Stoic opposition
was only the opposition of a moral ideal, not the deliberate propaganda of
a political creed.(227) This may be true of some of the philosophers: it
is certainly not true of all. Thrasea was a genial man of the world, whose
severest censure expressed itself in silence and absence from the
Senate,(228) who could even, on occasion, speak with deference of Nero.
But his son-in-law, Helvidius Priscus, seemed to exult in flouting and
insulting a great and worthy emperor such as Vespasian.(229) And the life
of Apollonius by Philostratus leaves the distinct impression that
philosophy, in the reign of Nero and Domitian, was a revolutionary force.
Apollonius, it is true, is represented by Philostratus as supporting the
cause of monarchy in a debate in the presence of Vespasian.(230) But he
boasted of having been privy to conspiracies against Nero,(231) and he was
deeply involved with Nerva and Orfitus in a plot against Domitian.(232) He
was summoned before the secret tribunal to answer for speeches against the
emperor delivered to crowds at Ephesus.(233) It may be admitted that the
invective or scorn of philosophy was aimed at unworthy princes, rather
than at the foundations of their power. Yet Dion Cassius evidently regards
Helvidius Priscus as a turbulent agitator with dangerous democratic
ideals,(234) and he contrasts his violence with the studied moderation,
combined with dignified reserve, displayed by Thrasea in the reign of
Nero. The tolerant Vespasian, who bore so long the wanton insults of the
philosophers, must have come at length to think them not only an offence
but a real danger when he banished them. In the first century there can be
little doubt that there were members of the philosophic class who
condemned monarchy, not only as a moral danger, but as a lamentable
aberration from the traditions of republican freedom. There were probably
some, who, if the chance had offered itself, might even have ventured on a
republican reaction.

With a gloomy recognition of the realities of life, Domitian used to say
that conspiracy against an emperor was never believed till the emperor was
killed.(235) Of the first twelve Caesars seven died a violent death. Every
emperor from Tiberius to M. Aurelius was the mark of conspiracy. This was
often provoked by the detestable character of the prince. But it sometimes
sprang from other causes than moral disgust. The mild rule of Vespasian
was generally popular; yet even he had to repel the conspiracy of Aelianus
and Marcellus.(236) The blameless Nerva, the emperor after the Senate’s
own heart, was twice assailed by risings organised by great nobles of
historic name.(237) The conspiracy of Nigrinus against Hadrian received
formidable support, and had to be sternly crushed.(238) M. Aurelius had to
endure with sad resignation the open rebellion of Avidius Cassius.(239)
The better emperors, strong in their character and the general justice of
their administration, might afford to treat such opposition with
comparative calmness. But it was different in the case of a Nero or a
Domitian. The conspiracy of Piso and the conspiracy of Saturninus formed,
in each case, a climax and a turning-point. Springing from real and
justified impatience, they were ruthlessly crushed and followed up with a
cruel and suspicious repression which only increased the danger of the
despot. “Scelera sceleribus tuenda” sums up the awful tale, in the words
of Tacitus, “of the wrath of God and the madness of men.”

There were many causes which rendered the tragedy of the early Empire
inevitable. Probably the most potent was the undefined position of the
prince and the dreams of republican power and freedom which for ages were
cherished by the Senate. Carefully disguised under ancient forms, the
principate of Augustus was really omnipotent, through the possession of
the proconsular imperium in the provinces, and the tribunician prerogative
at home.(240) In the last resort there was no legal means of challenging
the man who controlled the legions, nominated the magistrates, and
manipulated a vast treasury at his pleasure. The fiction of Augustus, that
he had restored the Republic to the hands of the Senate and people, is
unlikely to have deceived his own astute intellect.(241) The hand which,
of its grace could restore the _simulacra libertatis_, might as easily
withdraw them. The Comitia lost even the shadow of constitutional power in
the following reign.(242) Henceforth the people is the army.(243) The
holders of the great republican magistracies are mere creatures of the
prince and obedient ministers of his power. The Senate alone retained some
vestiges of its old power, and still larger pretensions and antiquarian
claims. In theory, during a vacancy in the principate, the Senate was the
ultimate seat of authority, and the new emperor received his prerogatives
by a decree of the Senate. In the work of legislation, its decisions
divided the field with the edicts of the prince,(244) and it claimed a
parallel judicial power. But all this was really illusory. The working of
such a system manifestly depends on the character and ideas of the man who
for the time wields the material force of the Empire. And “the share of
the Senate in the government was in fact determined by the amount of
administrative activity which each emperor saw fit to allow it to
exercise.”(245)

The half-insane Caligula had really a clearer vision of the emperor’s
position than the reactionary dreamers, when he told his grandmother
Antonia, “_Memento omnia mihi in omnes licere_.”(246) He did not need the
lessons of Agrippa and Antiochus to teach him the secret of tyranny.(247)
Yet institutions can never be separated from the moral and social forces
which lie behind and around them. The emperor had to depend on agents and
advisers, many of them of social rank and family traditions equal to his
own. He had by his side a Senate with a history of immemorial antiquity
and glory, which cast a spell on the conservative imagination of a race
which recoiled from any impiety to the past. Above all, he was surrounded
by a populace which took its revenge for the loss of its free Comitia by a
surprising licence of lampoon and epigram and mordant gossip and clamorous
appeal in the circus and theatre.(248) And even the soldiers, who were the
sworn supporters of the prince, and who often represented better than any
other class the tone of old Roman gravity and manly virtue, could
sometimes make their Imperator feel that there was in reserve a power
which he could not safely defy. Hence it was that, with the changing
character of the prince, the imperial power might pass into a lawless
tyranny, only to be checked by assassination, while again it might veil
its forces under constitutional forms, adopt the watchwords of the
Republic, exalt the Senate to a place beside the throne, and make even
accomplished statesmen fancy for the time that the days of ancient liberty
had returned.

Such a dream, not altogether visionary, floated before Pliny’s mind when
he delivered his _Panegyric_ in the presence of Trajan. That speech is at
once an act of thanksgiving and a manifesto of the Senate. The tone of
fulsome extravagance is excused by the joy at escaping from a treacherous
tyranny, which drove virtue into remote retreat, which made friendship
impossible, which poisoned the security of household life by a continual
fear of espionage.(249) The confidence which Pliny expresses in the
majestic strength, mingled with modesty and self-restraint, which Trajan
brought to the task of the principate, was amply justified. The
overwhelming force of the emperor seemed, in the new age, to pass into the
freely accepted rule of the great citizen.(250) Pliny indeed does not
conceal from himself the immense actual power of the emperor. He is the
vicegerent of God, an earthly Providence.(251) His power is not less than
Nero’s or Domitian’s, but it is a power no longer wielded wildly by
selfish or cruel self-will; it is a power inspired by benevolence,
voluntarily submitting itself to the restraints of law and ancient
sentiment.(252) Founded on service and virtue, it can fearlessly claim the
loving support of the citizens, while it recalls the freedom of the old
Republic. A prince who is hedged by the devotion of his people may
dispense with the horde of spies and informers, who have driven virtue
into banishment and made a crowd of sneaks and cowards. Free speech has
been restored. The Senate, which has so long been expected to applaud with
grovelling flattery the most trivial or the most flagitious acts of the
emperor, is summoned to a share in the serious work of government.(253) A
community of interest and feeling secures to it a free voice in his
counsels, without derogating from his dignity.(254) All this is expressed
by a scrupulous observance of old republican forms. The commander of
conquering legions, the Caesar, Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, has actually
condescended to take the oath of office, standing before the consul seated
in his chair!(255) Here we seem to have the key to the senatorial
position. They were ready to recognise the overwhelming power of the
prince, if he, for his part, would only respect in form, if not in
substance, the ancient dignity of the Senate. Tolerance, affability,
politic deference to a great name, seemed to Pliny and his kind a
restoration of the ancient freedom, almost a revival of the old Republic.
Fortunately for the world a succession of wise princes perceived that, by
deference to the pride of the Senate, they could secure the peace of their
administration, without diminishing its effective power.

Yet, even from Pliny’s _Panegyric_, we can see that the recognition of the
prerogatives, or rather of the dignity, of the Senate, the coexistence of
old republican forms side by side with imperial power, depended entirely
on the grace and tolerance of the master of the legions. Nothing could be
more curious than Pliny’s assertion of the senatorial claims, combined
with the most effusive gratitude to Trajan for conceding them. The emperor
is only _primus inter pares_, and yet Pliny, by the whole tone of his
speech, admits that he is the master who may equally indulge the
constitutional claims or superstitions of his subjects or trample on them.
In the first century a power, the extent of which depended only on the
will of the prince, and yet seemed limited by shadowy claims of ancient
tradition, was liable to be distrustful of itself and to be challenged by
pretenders. In actual fact, the prince was so powerful that he might
easily pass into a despot; in theory he was only the first of Roman
nobles, who might easily have rivals among his own class. Pliny
congratulates Trajan on having, by his mildness and justice, escaped the
terror of pretenders which haunted the earlier emperors, and was often
justified and cruelly avenged.(256) In spite of the lavish splendour of
Nero or Caligula, the imperial household, till Hadrian’s reorganisation,
was still modelled on the lines of other great aristocratic houses. Nero’s
suspicions were more than once excited by the scale of establishments like
that of the Silani, by wealth and display like Seneca’s, by the lustre of
great historic traditions in a gens like the Calpurnian.(257) The loyalty
of Corbulo could not save him from the jealousy aroused by his exploits in
eastern war.(258) And the power of great provincial governors, in command
of great armies, and administering realms such as Gaul or Spain or Syria,
was not an altogether imaginary danger. If Domitian seemed distrustful of
Agricola in Britain, we must remember that he had in his youth seen Galba
and Vindex marching on Rome, and his father concentrating the forces of
the East for the overthrow of Vitellius in the great struggle on the Po.

The emperor’s fears and suspicions were immensely aggravated by the adepts
in the dark arts of the East. The astrologers were a great and baneful
power in the early Empire. They inspired illicit ambitions, or they
stimulated them, and they often suggested to a timorous prince the danger
of conspiracy. These venal impostors, in the words of Tacitus, were always
being banished, but they always returned. For the men who drove them into
temporary exile had the firmest faith in their skill. The prince would
have liked to keep a monopoly of it, while he withdrew from his nobles the
temptation which might be offered to their ambition by the mercenary
adept.(259) Dion Cassius and Suetonius, who were themselves eager
believers in this superstition, never fail to record the influence of the
diviners. The reign of Tiberius is full of dark tales about them.(260)
Claudius drove Scribonianus into exile for consulting an astrologer about
the term of his reign.(261) On the appearance of a flaming comet, Nero was
warned by his diviner, Bilbilus, that a portent, which always boded ill to
kings, might be expiated by the blood of their nobles.(262) Otho’s
astrologer, Seleucus, who had promised that he should survive Nero,(263)
stimulated his ambition to be the successor of Galba. Vitellius, as
superstitious as Nero or Otho, cruelly persecuted the soothsayers and
ordered their expulsion from Italy.(264) He was defied by a mocking edict
of the tribe, ordaining his own departure from earth by a certain
day.(265) Vespasian once more banished the diviners from Rome, but,
obedient to the superstition which cradled the power of his dynasty, he
retained the most skilful for his own guidance.(266) The terror of
Domitian’s last days was heightened by a horoscope, which long before had
foretold the time and manner of his end.(267) Holding such a faith as
this, it is little wonder that the emperors should dread its effect on
rivals who were equally credulous, or that superstition, working on
ambitious hopes, should have been the nurse of treason. Thus the emperor’s
uncertain position made him ready to suspect and anticipate a treachery
which may often have had no existence. The objects of his fears in their
turn were driven into conspiracy, sometimes in self-defence, sometimes
from the wish to seize a prize which seemed not beyond their grasp.
Gossip, lampoon, and epigram redoubled suspicion, while they retaliated
offences. And cruel repression either increased the danger of revolt in
the more daring, or the degradation of the more timorous.

In the eyes of Tacitus, the most terrible result of the tyranny of the bad
emperors was the fawning servility of a once proud order, and their craven
treachery in the hour of danger. He has painted it with all the
concentrated power of loathing and pity. It is this almost personal
degradation which inspires the ruthless, yet haughtily restrained, force
with which he blasts for ever the memory of the Julio-Claudian despotism.
It was in this spirit that he penned the opening chapters of his chronicle
of the physical and moral horrors of the year in which that tyranny
closed. The voice of history has been silenced or perverted, partly by the
ignorance of public affairs, partly by the eagerness of adulation, or the
bitterness of hatred. It was an age darkened by external disasters, save
on the eastern frontier, by seditions and civil war, and the bloody death
of four princes. The forces of nature seemed to unite with the rage of men
to deepen the universal tragedy. Italy was overwhelmed with calamities
which had been unknown for many ages; Campania’s fairest cities were
swallowed up; Rome itself had been wasted by fire; the ancient Capitol was
given to the flames by the hands of citizens. Polluted altars, adultery in
high places, the islands of the sea crowded with exiles, rank and wealth
and virtue made the mark for a cruel jealousy, all this forms an awful
picture.(268) But even more repulsive is the spectacle of treachery
rewarded with the highest place, slaves and clients betraying their master
for gain, and men without an enemy ruined by their friends. When the
spotless Octavia, overwhelmed by the foulest calumnies, had been tortured
to death, to satisfy the jealousy of an adulteress, offerings were voted
to the temples.(269) And Tacitus grimly requests his readers to presume
that, as often as a banishment or execution was ordered by Nero, so often
were thanksgivings offered to the gods. The horrors of Nero’s remorse for
the murder of Agrippina were soothed by the flatteries and congratulations
of his staff, and the grateful sacrifices which were offered for his
deliverance by the Campanian towns.(270) Still, the notes of a funereal
trumpet and ghostly wailings from his mother’s grave were ever in his
ears,(271) and he long doubted the reception which he might meet with on
his return to the capital. He need not have had any anxiety. Senate and
people vied with one another in self-abasement. He was welcomed by all
ranks and ages with fawning enthusiasm as he passed along in triumphal
progress to return thanks on the Capitol for the success of an unnatural
crime.

The Pisonian conspiracy against Nero was undoubtedly an important and
serious event. Some of the greatest names of the Roman aristocracy were
involved in it, and the man whom it would have placed on the throne, if
not altogether untainted by the excesses of his time, had some imposing
qualities which might make him seem a worthy competitor for the
principate.(272) But, to Tacitus, the conspiracy seems to be chiefly
interesting as a damning proof of the degradation of the aristocracy under
the reign of terror. Epicharis, the poor freedwoman of light character,
who bore the accumulating torture of scourge and rack and fire, and the
dislocation of every limb, is brought into pathetic contrast with the
high-born senators and knights, who, without any compulsion of torture,
betrayed their relatives and friends.(273) Scaevinus, a man of the highest
rank, knowing himself betrayed by his freedman and a Roman knight,
revealed the whole plot.(274) The poet Lucan tried in vain to purchase
safety by involving his own mother. But Nero was inexorable, and the poet
died worthily, reciting some verses from the _Pharsalia_, which describe a
similar end.(275) The scenes which followed the massacre are an awful
revelation of cowardly sycophancy. While the streets were thronged with
the funerals of the victims, the altars on the Capitol were smoking with
sacrifices of gratitude. One craven after another, when he heard of the
murder of a brother or a dear friend, would deck his house with laurels,
and, falling at the emperor’s feet, cover his hand with kisses.(276) The
Senate prostrated themselves before Nero when, stung by the popular
indignation, he appeared to justify his deed. The august body voted him
thanksgivings and honours.(277) The consul elect, one of the Anician
house, proposed that a temple should be built with all speed to the divine
Nero! Tacitus relieves this ghastly spectacle of effeminate cowardice by a
scene which is probably intended, by way of contrast, to save the
tradition of Roman dignity. Vestinus, the consul of that fatal year, had
been a boon companion of the emperor, and had shown contempt for his
cowardice in dangerous banter. Nero was eager to find him implicated in
the plot, but no evidence of his guilt could be obtained. All legal forms
at length were flung aside, and a cohort was ordered to surround his
house. Vestinus was at dinner in his palace which towered over the Forum,
surrounded by guests, with a train of handsome slaves in waiting, when he
received the mandate. He rose at once from table, and shut himself in his
chamber with his physician, lancet in hand, by his side. His veins were
opened, and, without a word of self-pity, Vestinus allowed his life to ebb
away in the bath.(278)

Vestinus, after all, only asserted, in the fashion of the time, his right
to choose the manner of a death which could not be evaded. But Tacitus,
here and there, gives glimpses of self-sacrifice, courageous loyalty and
humanity, which save his picture of society from utter gloom. The love and
devotion of women shine out more brightly than ever against the background
of baseness. Tender women follow their husbands or brothers into exile, or
are found ready to share their death.(279) Even the slave girls of Octavia
brave torture and death in their hardy defence of her fair fame.(280)
There is no more pathetic story of female heroism than that of Politta,
the daughter of L. Vetus. He had been colleague of the emperor in the
consulship, but he had the misfortune to be father-in-law of Rubellius
Plautus, whose lofty descent and popularity drew down the sentence of
death, even in distant exile.(281) Politta had clasped the bleeding neck
of Plautus in her arms, and nursed her sorrow in an austere
widowhood.(282) She now besieged the doors of Nero with prayers, and even
menaces, for her father’s acquittal. Vetus himself was of the nobler sort
of Roman men, who even then were not extinct. When he was advised, in
order to save the remnant of his property for his grandchildren, to make
the emperor chief heir, he spurned the servile proposal, divided his ready
money among his slaves, and prepared for the end.(283) When all hope was
abandoned, father, grandmother, and daughter opened their veins and died
together in the bath. Plautius Lateranus met his end with the same stern
dignity. Forbidden even to give a last embrace to his children, and
dragged to the scene of servile executions, he died in silence by the hand
of a man who was an undiscovered partner in the plot.(284) Even the mob of
Rome, for whose fickle baseness Tacitus has a profound scorn, now and then
reveal a wholesome moral feeling. When Octavia, on a trumped-up charge of
adultery, was divorced and banished by Nero, the clamour of the populace
forced him to recall her for a time, and the mob went so far in their
virtuous enthusiasm as to overthrow the statues of the adulteress Poppaea,
and crown the images of Octavia with flowers.(285) Perhaps even more
striking is the humane feeling displayed towards the slaves of the urban
prefect, Pedanius Secundus. He had been murdered by a slave, and the
ancient law required, in such a case, the execution of the whole
household. The proposal to carry out the cruel custom drove the populace
almost to revolt. And it is a relief to find that a strong minority of the
Senate were on the side of humanity.(286) But the army, above all other
classes, still bred a rough, honest virtue. It was left, amid the general
effeminate cowardice, for a tribune of a pretorian cohort to tell Nero to
his face that he loathed him as a murderer and an incendiary.(287) Again
and again, in that terrible year, when great nobles were flattering the
Emperor, whom in a few days or hours they meant to desert, the common
soldiers remained true to the death of their unworthy chiefs. When Otho
redeemed a tainted life by a not ignoble end, the pretorians kissed his
wounds, bore him with tears to burial, and many killed themselves over his
corpse.(288) In the storming of the pretorian camp by the troops of
Vespasian, the soldiers of Vitellius, outnumbered and doomed to certain
defeat, fell to a man with all their wounds in front.(289)

To these faithful, though often bloodthirsty, warriors the senators and
knights of those days offered a contemptible contrast. Often the
inheritors of great names and great traditions, the mass of them knew
nothing of arms or the military virtue of their ancestors.(290) Sunk in
sloth and enervated by excess, they followed Otho to the battlefield on
the Po with their cooks and minions and all the apparatus of luxury.(291)
In the rapid changes of fortune, from Galba to Otho, from Otho to
Vitellius, from Vitellius to Vespasian, the great nobles had one guiding
principle, the determination to be on the winning side. It was indeed a
puzzling and anxious time for a calculating selfishness, when a reign
might not last for a month, and when the adulation of Otho or Vitellius in
the Senate-house was disturbed by the sound of the legions advancing from
East and West. But the supple cowards of the Senate proved equal to the
strain. They had the skill to flatter their momentary master without any
compromising word against his probable successor. They soothed the
anxieties of Vitellius with unstinted adulation, yet carefully refrained
from anything reflecting on the Flavianist leaders.(292) Within a few
months, full of joy and hope, which were now at last well founded, they
were voting all the customary honours of a new principate to
Vespasian.(293) The terror of Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero had done its
work effectually. And its worst result was the hopeless self-abandonment
and sluggish cowardice of a class, whose chief _raison d’être_ in every
age is to maintain a tradition of gallant dignity. It is true that many of
the scions of great houses were mere mendicants, ruined by confiscation or
prodigality, and compelled to live on the pension by which the emperor
kept them in shameful dependence,(294) or on the meaner dole of some
wealthy patron.(295) A Valerius Messala, grandson of the great Corvinus,
had to accept a pension from Nero.(296) A grandson of Hortensius had to
endure the contempt of Tiberius in obtaining a grant for his sons.(297)
Others were unmanned by the voluptuous excesses of an age which had
carried the ingenuity of sensual allurement to its utmost limits. The
hopelessness of any struggle with a power so vast as that of the emperor,
so ruthless and wildly capricious as that of the Claudian Caesars, reduced
many to despairing apathy.(298) And while, from a safe historic distance,
we pour our contempt on the cringing Senate of the first century, it might
be well to remind ourselves of their perils and their tortures. There was
many a senatorial house, like that of the Pisos, whose leading members
were never allowed to reach middle age.(299) Much should be forgiven to a
class which was daily and hourly exposed to such danger, so sudden in its
onsets, so secret and stealthy, so all-pervading. It might come in an open
circumstantial indictment, with all the forms of law and the weight of
suborned testimony; it might appear in a quiet order for suicide; the
stroke might descend at the farthest limits of the Empire,(300) in some
retreat in Spain or Asia. The haunting fear of death had an unnerving
effect. But not less degrading were the outrages to Roman, or ordinary
human dignity to which the noble order had to submit for more than a
generation. They had seen their wives defiled or compelled to expose
themselves as harlots in a foul spectacle, to gratify the diseased
prurience of the emperor.(301) They had been forced to fight in the arena
or to exhibit themselves on the tragic stage.(302) Men who had borne the
ancient honours of the consulship had been ordered to run for miles beside
the chariot of Caligula, or to wait at his feet at dinner.(303) Fathers
had had to witness without flinching the execution of their sons, and
drink smilingly to the emperor on the evening of the fatal day.(304) The
only safety at such a court lay in calmly accepting insults with affected
gratitude. The example of Nero’s debauchery, and the seductive charm which
he undoubtedly possessed, were probably as enfeebling and demoralising as
the Terror. He formed a school, which laughed at all virtue and made
self-indulgence a fine art. Men who had shared in these obscene revels
were the leaders in the awful scenes of perfidy, lust, and cruelty which
appropriately followed the death of their patron.(305) Some of them,
Petronius, Otho, Vitellius, closed their career appropriately by a tragic
death. But others lived on into the age of reformation, to defame the
stout Sabine soldier who saved the Roman world.(306)

In spite of the manly virtue and public spirit of Vespasian, the Roman
world had to endure a fierce ordeal before it entered on the peace of the
Antonine age. Even Vespasian’s reign was troubled by conspiracy.(307) His
obscure origin moved the contempt of the great senatorial houses who still
survived. His republican moderation gave the philosophic doctrinaires a
chance of airing their impossible dream of restoring a municipal Republic
to govern a world. His conscientious frugality, which was absolutely
needed to retrieve the bankruptcy of the Neronian régime, was despised and
execrated both by the nobles and the mob. Another lesson was needed both
by the Senate and the philosophers. Society had yet to be purged as by
fire, and the purging came with the accession of Domitian.

The inner secret of that sombre reign will probably remain for ever a
mystery. There is the same question about Domitian as there is about
Tiberius. Was he bad from the beginning, or was he gradually corrupted by
the consciousness of immense power,(308) and the fear of the great order
who might challenge it? Our authorities do not furnish a satisfying
answer. We know Domitian only from the narrative of men steeped in
senatorial traditions and prejudices,(309) and, some of them, intoxicated
by the vision of a reconciliation of the principate with the republican
ideals. The dream was a noble one, and it was about to be partially
realised for three generations, under a succession of good emperors. But
the men inspired with such an ideal were not likely to be impartial judges
of an emperor like Domitian. And even from their narrative of his reign,
we can see that he was not, at least in the early years of his reign,(310)
the utter monster he has been painted. Even severe judges in modern days
admit that he was an able and strenuous man, with a clear, cold, cynical
intellect,(311) which recognised some of the great problems of the time,
and strove to solve them. He was indefatigable in judicial work.(312) In
spite of the sneers at his mock triumphs,(313) his military and provincial
administration was probably guided by a sound conception of the resources
and the dangers of the Empire. His recall of Agricola, after a seven
years’ command in Britain, was attributed to jealousy and fear.(314) It is
more probable that it was dictated by a wish to stop a campaign which was
diverting large sums to the conquest of barren mountains. Domitian was an
orator and verse writer of some merit, and he gave his patronage, although
not in a very liberal way, to men like Quintilian, Statius, and
Martial.(315) Like Nero, he felt the force of the new Hellenist movement,
and, under forms sanctioned by Roman antiquarians, he established a
quinquennial festival in which literary genius was pompously
rewarded.(316) He had the public libraries, which had been devastated by
fires in the previous reigns, liberally restocked with fresh stores of
MSS. from Alexandria.(317) He gave close attention, whatever we may think
of his science, to the economic problems of the Empire. And his
discouragement of the vine, in favour of a greater acreage of corn, would
find sympathy in our own time, as it was applauded by Apollonius of
Tyana.(318) The man who decimated the Roman aristocracy towards the end of
his reign, advanced to high positions some of those who were destined to
be his bitterest defamers. Pliny and Tacitus and Trajan’s father rose to
high office in the earlier part of Domitian’s reign.(319) He designated to
the consulship such men as Nerva, Trajan, Verginius Rufus, Agricola, and
the grandfather of Antoninus Pius.(320) This strange character was also a
moral reformer of the antiquarian type. He punished erring Vestals, _more
majorum_. He revived the Scantinian law against those enormities of the
East, of which Statius shows that the emperor was not guiltless
himself.(321) Yet a voluptuary, with a calm outlook on his time, may have
a wish to restrain vices with which he is himself tainted. A statesman may
be a puritan reformer, both in religion and morals, without being
personally severe and devout. Domitian may have had a genuine, if a
pedantic, desire to restore the old Roman tone in morals and religion. He
was, after all, sprung from a sober Sabine stock,(322) although he may
have sadly degenerated from it in his own conduct. And his attempt to
reform Roman society may perhaps have been as sincere as that of Augustus.

But there can be little doubt that Domitian, although he was astute and
able, was also a bad man, with the peculiar traits which always make a man
unpopular. He was disloyal as a son and as a brother. He was morose, and
he cultivated a suspicious solitude,(323) around which evil rumour is sure
to gather. The rumour in his case may have been well-founded, although we
are not bound to believe all the tales of prurient gossip which Suetonius
has handed down. It is the penalty of high place that peccadilloes are
magnified into sins, and sins are multiplied and exaggerated. It was a
recognised and effective mode of flattering a new emperor to blacken the
character of his predecessors; Domitian himself allowed his court poets to
vilify Caligula and Nero.(324) And Pliny in his fulsome adulation of
Trajan, finds his most effective resource in a perpetual contrast with
Domitian. Tacitus could never forgive the recall and humiliation of his
father-in-law. The Senate as a whole bore an implacable hatred to the man
who carried to its furthest point the assertion of imperial
prerogative.(325) Still the authorities are so unanimous that we are bound
to believe that Domitian, with some strength and ability, had many
execrable qualities. He shows the contradictions of a nature in which the
force of a sturdy rural ancestry has not been altogether sapped by the
temptations of luxury and power. He had a passionate desire to rival the
military glory of his father and brother, yet he was too cautious and
self-indulgent to attain it. He had some taste for literature, but he kept
literature in leading-strings, and put one man to death for his delight in
certain speeches in Livy, and another for a too warm eulogy of Thrasea and
Helvidius Priscus.(326) He threw his whole strength into a moral and
religious reaction, while he was the bitterest enemy of the republican
pretensions and dreams of the Senate. Great historical critics have called
him a hypocrite.(327) It may be doubted whether any single phrase or
formula could express the truth about such a twisted and perverse
character. Probably his dominant passion was vanity and love of grandiose
display. He assumed the consulship seventeen times, a number quite
unexampled.(328) His pompous triumphs for unreal victories were a subject
of common jest. He filled the Capitol with images of himself, and a
colossal statue towered for a time over the temple roofs.(329) The son and
brother of emperors, already exalted to divine honours, he went farther
than any of his predecessors in claiming divinity for himself, and he
allowed his ministers and court poets to address him as “our Lord
God.”(330) His lavish splendour in architecture was to some extent
justified by the ravages of fire in previous reigns. But the £2,400,000
expended on the gilding of a temple on the Capitol,(331) was only one item
in an extravagance which drained the treasury. Its radiance, which dazzled
the eyes of Rutilius in the reign of Honorius,(332) was paid for in blood
and tears. The emperor, who was the ruthless enemy of the nobles, like all
his kind, was profusely indulgent to the army and the mob. The legions had
their pay increased by a fourth. The populace of Rome were pampered with
costly and vulgar spectacles,(333) as they were to the end of the Western
Empire. Domitian’s indulgence of that fierce and obscene proletariat was
only a little more criminal than that of other emperors, because it ended
in a bankruptcy which was followed by robbery and massacre. While the rich
and noble were assailed on any trivial accusation, in order to fill an
empty treasury, the beasts of Numidia were tearing their victims,
gladiators were prostituting a noble courage in dealing inglorious wounds
in the arena, and fleets of armed galleys charged and crashed in mimic,
yet often deadly, battle in the flooded Flavian amphitheatre.(334)

To repair this waste the only resource was plunder. But Domitian was a
pettifogger as well as a plunderer; he would fleece or assassinate his
victims under forms of law. The law of majesty, and the many laws for
restoring old Roman morality, needed only a little ingenuity and
effrontery to furnish lucrative grounds for impeachment.(335) The tribe of
delators were ready to his hand. He had punished them for serving Nero;
they were now to reap a richer harvest under Domitian. Every fortune which
rose above mediocrity, every villa with rich pastures and woodlands in the
Apennines, or on the northern lakes, was marked for plunder.(336) Domitian
was the first and only emperor who assumed the censorship for life.(337)
The office made him absolute master of the lives and fortunes of his
nobles. A casual word, a thoughtless gesture, might be construed into an
act of treason; and the slave households furnished an army of spies. Nay,
even kindred and near friends were drawn into this vast conspiracy against
domestic peace and security. It may be admitted that Domitian had to face
a real peril. The rebellion of Antonius Saturninus was an attempt which no
prince could treat lightly, and the destruction of the correspondence in
which so many men of rank were involved, may well have heightened
Domitian’s alarm.(338) He struck out blindly and savagely. He compelled
the Senate to bear a part in the massacre, and Tacitus has confessed, with
pathetic humiliation, his silent share in the murder of the upright and
innocent.(339) Yet the imperial inquisitor was himself racked with terror
in his last hours. He walked in a corridor where the walls were lined with
mirrors,(340) so that no unseen hand might strike him from behind. On his
last morning he started in terror from his bed and called for the diviner
whom he had summoned from Germany.(341) But, amid all his terror, Domitian
had a deep natural love of cruelty. He was never more dangerous than when
he chose to be agreeable;(342) he loved to play with his victims. What a
grim delight in exquisite torture, what a cynical contempt for the Roman
nobles, are revealed in the tale of his funereal banquet!(343) The select
company were ushered into a chamber draped from floor to ceiling in black.
At the head of each couch stood a pillar like a tombstone, with the
guest’s name engraved upon it, while overhead swung a cresset such as men
hang in vaults of the dead. A troop of naked boys, black as all around,
danced an awful measure, and then set on the dismal meal which was
offered, by old Roman use, to the spirits of the departed. The guests were
palsied with terror, expecting every moment to be their last. And the
death-like silence was only broken by the voice of the Emperor as he told
a gruesome tale of bloody deaths. In such cynicism of lawless power, in
such meek degradation of a once proud order, did the tyranny of the first
century reach its close.



                                CHAPTER II


                        THE WORLD OF THE SATIRIST


Juvenal and Tacitus, although they moved in different circles and probably
never met, have much in common. Both were released from an ignominious
silence by the death of Domitian. Both were then at the age which combines
the ripeness of experience and reflection with a fire and energy still
unflagging.(344) They were, from different causes, both filled with hatred
and disgust for the vices of their time, and their experience had
engendered in both a pessimism which darkened their faith. Tacitus
belonged to the senatorial order who had held high office, and had seen
its ranks decimated and its dignity outraged under the tyranny. Juvenal
sprang from the lower middle class, which hated alike the degenerate noble
and the insolent _parvenu_ far more than it hated even a Domitian. Yet
both Juvenal and Tacitus are united in a passionate admiration for the old
Roman character. Their standards and ideals are drawn from the
half-mythical ages of the simple warriors and farmer-statesmen of the old
Republic. And their estimate of their time needs to be scrutinised in the
light both of their hatreds and of their ideals.

The life of Juvenal is wrapt in obscurity, although nine lives of him are
extant.(345) Scholars are still at variance as to the date of his birth,
the date of many of his satires, and especially as to the time and
circumstances of his banishment, about which there is so uniform a
tradition. But, for our purpose, some facts are clear enough. Juvenal was
the son of a well-to-do freedman of Aquinum, and rose to the highest
magisterial office in his native town at some time of his career.(346) He
carefully hides his personal history from us; but we might gather from his
Satires that he belonged to the lower middle class,(347) that he was in
temper and tone an old plebeian of the times of the Republic, although
vividly touched by the ideas of a new morality which had been afloat for
more than two generations. But, like Tacitus, he has little sympathy with
the great philosophic movement which was working a silent revolution. He
had the rhetorical training of the time, with all its advantages and its
defects. And he is more a rhetorician than a poet. We can well believe the
report that his early literary enthusiasm found vent in declamation on
those mythical or frivolous themes which exercised the youth in the Roman
schools for many centuries. Although he was hardly a poor man(348) in the
sense in which Martial, his friend, was poor, yet he had stooped to bear
the ignominy and hardships of client dependence. He had hurried in rain
and storm in the early morning to receptions at great houses on the
Esquiline, through the squalor and noises and congested traffic of the
Suburra.(349) He had doubtless often been a guest at those “unequal
dinners,” where the host, who was himself regaled with far-fetched
dainties and old crusted Alban or Setine wine, insulted his poorer friends
by offering them the cheapest vintage and the meanest fare.(350) He had
been compelled, as a matter of social duty, to sit through the recitation
of those ambitious and empty Theseids and Thebaids, with which the rich
amateur in literature in those days afflicted his long-suffering
friends.(351) He may have been often elbowed aside by some supple, clever
Greek, with versatile accomplishments and infinite audacity. He may have
been patronised or insulted by a millionaire _parvenu_, like the
Trimalchio of Petronius, tainted with the memories of a shameful
servitude. He saw new vulgar wealth everywhere triumphant, while the
stiff, yet, in many ways, wholesome conventionality of old Roman life was
defied and trampled upon by an aggressive vulgarity. In such a world there
was little room for the man whose wealth is in his genius, and who clings
to the traditions of ages which believed that men had a soul as well as a
body. A man like Juvenal, living in such a society, almost necessarily
becomes embittered. Like Johnson, in his Grub Street days, he will have
his hours when bitterness passes into self-abandonment, and he will sound
the depths of that world of corruption which in his better moods he
loathes. Some of the associates of Juvenal were of very doubtful position,
and more than doubtful morals;(352) and the warmth of some of his
realistic painting of dark sides of Roman life arouses the suspicion that
he may have at times forgotten his moral ideal. He certainly knows the
shameful secrets of Roman life almost as well as his friend Martial does.
But his knowledge, however gained, was turned to a very different purpose
from that which inspired Martial’s brilliant prurience.(353)

The Satires of Juvenal were probably not given to the world till after the
death of Domitian.(354) The date of the earliest is about 100 A.D., that
of the latest probably 127. Juvenal cautiously disguises his attacks on
his own time. He whets his sword against the sinners whose ashes have long
reposed beside the Flaminian and the Latin ways.(355) Very few of his
contemporaries appear in his pages,(356) and the scenery is often that of
the reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, or Nero. But his deepest and most vivid
impressions must have come to Juvenal in that period which has been
photographed with such minute exactness by Martial. And there is a
striking correspondence between the two writers, not only in many of the
characters whom they introduce, but in their pictures of the whole state
of morals and letters.(357) They both detested that frigid epic which
laboriously ploughed the sands of conventional legend, and they turned
with weariness from the old-world tales of Thebes or Argos to the real
tragedy or comedy of Roman life around them. Although they were friends
and companions, it is needless to assume any close partnership in their
studies. Starting with the same literary impulse, they deal to a large
extent with the same vices and follies, some of them peculiar to their own
age, others common to all ages of Rome, or even of the world of
civilisation. A long list might easily be compiled of their common stock
of subjects, and their common antipathies. In both writers we meet the
same grumbling of the needy client against insolent or niggardly patrons,
the complaints of the struggling man of letters about the extravagant
rewards of low vulgar impostors. Both are bored to death, like the patient
Pliny, by the readings of wealthy scribblers, or by tiresome pleadings in
the courts, measured by many a turn of the clepsydra. They feel an equal
disgust for the noise and squalor of the narrow streets, an equal love for
the peace and freshness and rough plenty of the country farm. In both may
be seen the scions of great houses reduced to mendicancy, ambitious
poverty betaking itself to every mean or disreputable device, the
legacy-hunter courting the childless rich with flattery or vicious
compliance. You will often encounter the sham philosopher, as you meet him
sixty years afterwards in the pages of Lucian, with his loud talk of
virtue and illustrious names, while his cloak covers all the vices of dog
and ape. Both deal rather ungently with the character of women,—their
intrigues with actors, gladiators, and slaves, their frequent divorces and
rapid succession of husbands, their general abandonment of antique
matronly reserve. Both have, in fact, with different motives, uncovered
the secret shame of the ancient world; and, more even than by that shame,
was their indignation moved by the great social revolution which was
confusing all ranks, and raising old slaves, cobblers, and auctioneers to
the benches of the knights.

Yet with this resemblance in the subjects of their choice, there is the
widest difference between the two writers in their motive and mode of
treatment. Martial, of course, is not a moralist at all; the mere
suggestion excites a smile. He is a keen and joyous observer of the faults
and follies, the lights and shades, of a highly complex and artificial
society which is “getting over-ripe.” In the power of mere objective
description and minute portraiture of social life, Martial is almost
unique. Through his verses, we know the society of Domitian as we know
hardly any other period of ancient society. But this very vividness and
truthfulness is chiefly due to the fact that Martial was almost without a
conscience. He was indeed personally, perhaps, not so bad as he is often
painted.(358) He knows and can appreciate a good woman;(359) he can love,
with the simplest, unsophisticated love, an innocent slave-child, the poor
little Erotion,(360) whom he has immortalised. He can honour a simple
manly character, free from guile and pretence.(361) He has a genuine,
exuberant love of the fresh joys of country life, sharpened, no doubt, by
the experience of the client’s sordid slavery, amid the mingled poverty
and lavish splendour of the capital.(362) Where could one find a fresher,
prettier idyll than his picture of the farm of Faustinus, with its packed
granaries, and its cellars fragrant with the juice of many an old autumn
vintage, the peacock spreading his jewelled plumage, and the ring-dove
cooing overhead from the towers? The elegant slaves of the great house in
the city are having a holiday, and busy, under the bailiff’s care, with
rural toils, or fishing in the stream. The tall daughters of the
neighbouring cottages bring in their well-stocked baskets to the villa,
and all gather joyously at evening to a plenteous meal.(363) Martial has,
moreover, one great virtue, which is a powerful antidote for many moral
faults, the love of the far-off home of his childhood, the rugged
Bilbilis, with its iron foundries near the sources of the Tagus, to which
he retreated from the crush and din of plebeian life at Rome, and where he
rests.(364) But when charity or justice has done its best for Martial, and
no scholar will repudiate the debt, it still remains true that he
represents, perhaps better than any other, that pagan world, naked and
unabashed, and feels no breath of inspiration from the great spiritual
movement which, in paganism itself, was setting towards an ideal of purity
and self-conquest.

Juvenal, at least in his later work, reveals a moral standard and motive
apparently unknown to Martial.(365) It may be admitted, indeed, that
Juvenal did not always write under the same high impulse. He had the
rhetorician’s love of fine, telling phrases, and startling effects. He had
a rare gift of realistic painting, and he exults in using it. He has also
burning within him an old plebeian pride which looked down at once on the
degenerate son of an ancient house, and on the _nouveaux riches_, whose
rise seemed to him the triumph of vulgar opulence without the restraint of
traditions or ideals. Conscious of great talents, with a character almost
fierce in its energy, he felt a burning hatred of a society which seemed
to value only material success, or those supple and doubtful arts which
could invent some fresh stimulus for exhausted appetite. In Juvenal a
great silent, sunken class, whom we hardly know otherwise than from the
inscriptions on their tombs,(366) finds for once a powerful voice and a
terrible avenger. But, along with this note of personal or class feeling,
there is in Juvenal a higher moral intuition, a vision of a higher life,
which had floated before some Roman minds long before his time,(367) and
which was destined to broaden into an accepted ideal. Juvenal, indeed, was
no philosopher, and he had, like Tacitus, all the old Roman distrust of
the theories of the schools.(368) He had probably little respect for such
teaching as Seneca’s.(369) Yet in important points he and Seneca belong to
the same order of the elect. Although, perhaps, a less spotless character
than Tacitus, he is far more advanced and modern in his breadth of
sympathy and moral feeling. He feels acutely for the conquered provinces
which have been fleeced and despoiled of their wealth and artistic
treasures, and which are still exposed to the peculation and cruelty of
governors and their train.(370) He denounces, like Seneca, the contempt
and cruelty often shown to slaves. The man whose ideal seems often to be
drawn from the hard, stern warriors who crushed the Samnites and baffled
the genius of Hannibal, in his old age has come to glorify pity and
tenderness for suffering as the best gift of God, the gift that separates
him most widely from the brute creation.(371) He preaches sympathy and
mutual help, in an age torn by selfish individualist passions. He
denounces the lust for revenge almost in the tones of a Christian
preacher.(372) What heathen moralist has painted more vividly the horrors
of the guilty conscience, that unseen inquisitor, with sterner more
searching eyes than Rhadamanthus? Who has taught with greater power that
the root of sin is in the evil thought?(373) Juvenal realises, like
Tacitus and Quintilian, the curse of a tainted ancestry, and the
incalculable importance of pure example in the education of youth.(374)
He, who knew so well the awful secrets of Roman households, sets an
immense value on the treasure of an untainted boyhood, like that of the
ploughman’s son, who waits at Juvenal’s simple meal “and sighs for his
mother, and the little cottage, and his playmates the kids.”(375)
Observation of character had also taught him the fatal law that the
downward path in conduct, once entered on, is seldom retraced. And this
moral insight seems to come to Juvenal not from any consciously held
philosophic doctrine, nor from a settled religious faith. His faith, like
that of many of his time, was probably of the vaguest. He scorns and
detests the Eastern worships which were pouring in like a flood, and
carrying away even loose women of the world.(376) He pillories the venal
star-reader from the East and the Jewish hag who interprets dreams. But he
has also scant respect for classic mythologies, and regrets the simple,
long-gone age, before heaven became crowded with divinities, before Saturn
had exchanged the diadem for the sickle, when Juno was still a little
maid,(377) when the terrors of Tartarus, the wheel, the vulture, and the
lash of the Furies had not taken the place of a simple natural
conscience.(378)

Juvenal’s moral tone then appears to unite the spirit of two different
ages. In some of his later Satires you catch the accent of the age which
was just opening when Juvenal began to write, its growing sense of the
equality and brotherhood of man, its cosmopolitan morality, its ideals of
spiritual culture. But there are other elements in Juvenal, derived from
old Roman prejudice and conventionality, or the result of personal
temperament and experience, which are quite as prominent. Juvenal is an
utter pessimist about his time, more extreme even than Tacitus. His age,
if we believe him, has attained the climax of corruption, and posterity
will never improve upon its finished depravity.(379) His long practice as
a declaimer had given him a habit of exaggeration, and of aiming rather at
rhetorical brilliancy than truth. Whole passages in his poems read like
declamatory exercises turned into verse.(380) A mere hanger-on of great
society, one of the obscure crowd who flocked to the rich man’s levée, and
knowing the life of the aristocracy only by remote observation or the
voice of scandalous gossip, he hardly deserves the implicit trust which
has been often accorded to his indictments of the society of his day. His
generalisations are of the most sweeping kind; the colours are all dark.
He thinks that the number of decent people in his day is infinitesimally
small. And yet we may reasonably suspect, from his own evidence, that he
often generalised from single cases, that he treated abnormal specimens as
types. His moral ideals cannot have been a monopoly of his own. In the
palace of Nero in the worst days, there was a pure Octavia as well as a
voluptuous Poppaea. The wife and mother of the gross Vitellius were women
of spotless fame.(381) And in reading the fierce, unmeasured declamation
of Juvenal, we should never forget that he knew nothing personally of
Pliny or Tacitus, or of the circle which surrounded Verginius Rufus and
Spurinna. He has the same pessimist theory of human declension which was
held by Seneca and by Tacitus. Every form of crime and sensuality has been
rampant since Rome lost the treasure of poverty, since the days when
silver shone only on the Roman’s arms.(382) Juvenal’s ideal lies in that
mythical past when a Curius, thrice consul, strode homeward from the
hills, mattock on shoulder, to a meal of home-grown herbs and bacon served
on earthenware.(383) It is the luxury of the conquered lands which has
relaxed the Roman fibre, which has introduced a false standard of life,
degraded great houses, and flooded the city with an alien crew of
astrologers and grammarians, parasites and pimps.

Modern criticism has laboured hard to correct some of the harsher
judgments on the luxury and self-indulgence of the period of the early
Empire. Perhaps the scholarly reaction against an indictment which had
degenerated sometimes into ignorant commonplace, may have been carried
here and there too far. The testimony of Tacitus is explicit that the
luxury of the table reached its height in the hundred years extending from
the battle of Actium to the accession of Vespasian.(384) It was a period
of enormous fortunes spent in enormous waste. Seneca or Pallas or
Narcissus had accumulated wealth probably three or four times greater than
even the fortune of a Crassus or a Lucullus. The long peace, the safety of
the seas, and the freedom of trade, had made Rome the entrepôt for the
peculiar products and the delicacies of every land from the British
Channel to the Ganges. The costly variety of these foreign dainties was
vulgarly paraded at every great dinner-party. Palaces, extending almost
over the area of a town, were adorned with marbles from the quarries of
Paros, Laconia, Phrygia, or Numidia,(385) with gilded ceilings and curious
panels changing with the courses of the banquet,(386) with hundreds of
tables of citrus-wood, resting on pillars of ivory, each costing a
moderate fortune, with priceless bronzes and masterpieces of ancient
plate. Nearly a million each year was drained away to the remoter East, to
purchase aromatics and jewels for the elaborate toilette of the Roman
lady.(387) Hundreds of household slaves, each with his minute special
function, anticipated every want, or ministered to every passion of their
masters. Every picturesque or sheltered site on the great lakes, on the
Anio, or the Alban hills, in the Laurentine pine forests, or on the bays
of Campania, was occupied by far-spreading country seats. Lavish
expenditure and luxurious state was an imperious duty of rank, even
without the precept of an emperor.(388) The senator who paid too low a
rent, or rode along the Appian or Flaminian Way with too scanty a train,
became a marked man, and immediately lost caste.(389) These are the merest
commonplace of the social history of the time.

Yet in spite of the admitted facts of profusion and self-indulgence, we
may decline to accept Juvenal’s view of the luxury of the age without some
reserve. It is indeed no apology for the sensuality of a section of the
Roman aristocracy in that day, to point out that the very same excesses
made their appearance two centuries before him, and that they will be
lamented both by Pagan and Christian moralists three centuries after his
death. But these facts suggest a doubt whether the cancer of luxury had
struck so deep as satirists thought into the vitals of a society which
remained for so many centuries erect and strong. Before the end of the
third century B.C., began the long series of sumptuary laws which Tiberius
treated as so futile.(390) The elder Pliny and Livy date the introduction
of luxurious furniture from the return of the army in 188 B.C., after the
campaign in Asia.(391) Crassus, who left, after the most prodigal
expenditure, a fortune of £1,700,000, had a town house which cost over
£60,000.(392) The lavish banquets of Lucullus were proverbial, and his
villa at Misenum was valued at £24,000. It was an age when more than £1000
was given for a slave-cook or a pair of silver cups.(393) Macrobius has
preserved the menu of a pontifical banquet, at which Julius Caesar and the
Vestals were present, and which in its costly variety surpassed, as he
says, any epicurism of the reign of Honorius.(394) And yet Ammianus and S.
Jerome level very much the same charges against the nobles of the fourth
century,(395) which satire makes against the nobles of the first. When we
hear the same anathemas of luxury in the days of Lucullus and in the reign
of Honorius, separated by an interval of more than five centuries, in
which the Roman race stamped itself on the page of history and on the face
of nature by the most splendid achievements of military virtue and of
civilising energy, we are inclined to question either the report of our
authorities, or the satirist’s interpretation of the social facts.

The good faith of the elder Pliny, of Seneca and Juvenal, need not,
indeed, be called in question. But the first two were men who led by
preference an almost ascetic life. The satirist was a man whose culinary
tastes were satisfied by the kid and eggs and asparagus of his little farm
at Tibur.(396) And the simple abstemious habits of the south, which are
largely the result of climate, tended to throw into more startling
contrast any indulgence of superfluous appetite. It is true that the
conquests which unlocked the hoarded treasures of eastern monarchies, gave
a great shock to the hardy frugality and self-restraint of the old Roman
character, just as the stern simplicity of Spartan breeding was imperilled
by contact with the laxer life of the Hellespontine towns and the wealth
of the Persian court.(397) The Roman aristocracy were for two centuries
exposed to the same temptations as the treasures of the Incas offered to
Pizarro,(398) or the treasures of the Moguls to Clive. In the wild
licence, which prevailed in certain circles for more than a century, many
a fortune and many a character were wrecked. Yet the result may easily be
exaggerated. Extravagant luxury and self-indulgence is at all times only
possible to a comparatively small number. And luxury, after all, is a
relative term. The luxuries of one age often become the necessities of the
next. There are many articles of food or dress, which free-trade and
science have brought to the doors of our cottagers, which would have
incurred the censure of the elder Pliny or of Seneca. There are aldermanic
banquets in New York or the city of London in our own day, which far
surpass, in costliness and variety, the banquets of Lucullus or the
pontiff’s feast described by Macrobius. The wealth of Pallas, Narcissus,
or Seneca, was only a fraction of many a fortune accumulated in the last
thirty years in the United States.(399) The exaggerated idea of Roman
riches and waste has been further heightened by the colossal extravagance
of the worst emperors and a few of their boon companions and imitators.
But we are apt to forget that these were the outbreaks of morbid and
eccentric character, in which the last feeble restraints were sapped and
swept away by the sense of having at command the resources of a world.
Nero is expressly described by the historian as a lover of the
impossible;(400) and both he and Caligula had floating before their
disordered imaginations the dream of astounding triumphs, even over the
most defiant forces and barriers of nature. There was much in the
extravagance of their courtiers and imitators, springing from the same
love of sensation and display. Rome was a city of gossip, and the ambition
to be talked about, as the inventor of some new freak of prodigality, was
probably the only ambition of the blasé spendthrift of the time.

Yet, after all the deductions of scrupulous criticism, the profound moral
sense of Juvenal has laid bare and painted with a realistic power, hardly
equalled even by Tacitus, an unhealthy temper in the upper classes, which
was full of peril. He has also revealed, alongside of this decline, a
great social change, we may even call it a crisis, which the historian,
generally more occupied with the great figures on the stage, is apt to
ignore. The decay in the morale and wealth of the senatorial order,
together with the growing power of a new moneyed class, the rise to
opulence of the freedman and the petty trader, the invasion of Greek and
Oriental influences, and the perilous or hopeful emancipation, especially
of women, from old Roman conventionality, these are the great facts in the
social history of the first century which, under all his rhetoric, stand
out clearly to the eye of the careful student of the satirist.

The famous piece, in which Juvenal describes an effeminate Fabius or
Lepidus, before the mutilated statues and smoke-stained pedigree of his
house, rattling the dice-box till the dawn, or sunk in the stupor of
debauch at the hour when his ancestors were sounding their trumpets for
the march,(401) has, for eighteen centuries, inspired many a homily on the
vanity of mere birth. Its moral is now a hackneyed one. But, when the
piece was written, it must have been a powerful indictment. For the
respect for long descent was still deep in the true Roman, and was
gratified by fabulous genealogies to the end. Pliny extols Trajan for
reserving for youths of illustrious birth the honours due to their
race.(402) Suetonius recounts the twenty-eight consulships, five
dictatorships, seven censorships, and many triumphs which were the glory
of the great Claudian house,(403) and the similar honours which had been
borne by the paternal ancestors of Nero.(404) Tacitus, although not
himself a man of old family, has a profound belief in noble tradition, and
sometimes speaks with an undisguised scorn of a low alliance.(405) As the
number of the “Trojugenae” dwindled, the pride of the vanishing remnant
probably grew in proportion, and a clan like the Calpurnian reluctantly
yielded precedence even to Tiberius or Nero.(406) It is a sign of the
social tone that the manufacture of genealogies for the new men, who came
into prominence from the reign of Vespasian, went on apace. A Trojan
citizen in the days of Apollonius traced himself to Priam.(407) Herodes
Atticus claimed descent from the heroes of Aegina,(408) just as some of
the Christian friends of S. Jerome confidently carried their pedigree back
to Aeneas or Agamemnon.(409) Juvenal would certainly not have accepted
such fables, but he was no leveller. He had a firm belief in moral
heredity and the value of tradition. Plebeian as he was, he had, like
Martial, his own old Roman pride, which poured contempt on the upstarts
who, with the stains of servile birth or base trade upon them, were
crowding the benches of the knights. He would, indeed, have applauded the
_mot_ of Tiberius, that a distinguished man was his own ancestor;(410) he
recalls with pride that one humble son of Arpinum had annihilated the
hordes of the Cimbri, and another had crushed the rising of Catiline.(411)
But he had the true Roman reverence for the Curii, Fabii, and Scipios, and
would gladly salute any of their descendants who reproduced their virtues.

It is a melancholy certainty that a great many of the senatorial class in
Juvenal’s day had fallen very low in all things essential to the strength
of a great caste. Their numbers had long been dwindling,(412) owing to
vicious celibacy or the cruel proscriptions of the triumvirate and the
four Claudian Caesars, or from the unwillingness or inability of many to
support the burdens of their rank. It was a rare thing in many great
houses to reach middle age.(413) Three hundred senators and two thousand
knights had fallen in the proscription of the second triumvirate.(414) The
massacre of old and young of both sexes, which followed the fall of
Sejanus, must have extinguished many an ancient line; not a day passed
without an execution.(415) Three hundred knights and thirty-five senators
perished in the reign of Claudius.(416) Very few of the most ancient
patrician houses were left when Claudius revised the lists of the Senate,
and introduced a fresh element from Gaul.(417) Who can tell the numbers of
those who fell victims to the rage or greed or suspicion of Caligula,
Nero, and Domitian? The list must have been enormously swelled by the
awful year of the four emperors. Vespasian found it necessary to recruit
the ranks of the aristocracy from Italy and the provinces.(418)

At the same time, prodigality or confiscation had rendered many of those
who survived unable to maintain their rank, and to bear the social and
official burdens which, down to the end of the Western Empire were
rigorously imposed on the great order. The games of the praetorship in the
first century, as in the fifth,(419) constituted a tax which only a great
fortune could easily bear. Aristocratic poverty became common. As early as
the reign of Augustus, the emperor had found it politic to subsidise many
great families.(420) The same policy had been continued by Tiberius, Nero,
and Vespasian.(421) Tiberius, indeed, had scrutinised and discouraged some
of these claims on grounds which the treasury officials of every age would
applaud.(422) A grandson of the great orator Hortensius once made an
appeal in the Senate for the means of supporting the dignity of his name.
He had received a grant from Augustus to enable him to rear a family, and
four sons were now waiting at the doors of the Curia to second his prayer.
Hortensius, who was the great rival of Cicero, had possessed immense
wealth. He had many splendid villas, he used to give dinners in his park,
around which the deer would troop to the lute of a slave-Orpheus; he left
10,000 casks of old Chian in his cellars. His mendicant and spiritless
descendant had to go away with a cold withering refusal from Tiberius,
softened by a contemptuous dole to his sons. The revision of the
senatorial roll by Claudius in 48 A.D., revealed a portentous
disappearance of old houses of the Republic, and the gaps had to be filled
up from the provinces in the teeth of aristocratic exclusiveness.(423)
Among the boon companions of Nero there must have been many loaded with
debt, like Otho and Vitellius. The Corvinus in Juvenal who is keeping
sheep on a Laurentine farm, and his probable kinsman who obtained a
subsidy from Nero, the Fabii and Mamerci who were dancing and playing the
harlequin on the comic stage, or selling their blood in the arena, must
represent many a wreck of the great houses of the Republic.(424) Among the
motley crowd who swarm in the hall of the great patron to receive the
morning dole, the descendants of houses coeval with the Roman State are
pushed aside by the freedmen from the Euphrates.(425) But aristocratic
poverty knew no lower depth of degradation than in the hungry adulation
which it offered to the heirless rich. Captation became a regular
profession in a society where trade, industry, and even professional
skill, were treated as degrading to the men of gentle blood.(426) It is
characteristic of Juvenal that he places on the same level the
legacy-hunter, who would stoop to any menial service or vicious
compliance, with the honest tradesfolk, in whose ranks, if we may judge by
their funerary inscriptions, was to be found, perhaps, the wholesomest
moral tone in the society of the early Empire.

In a satire written after Domitian’s death,(427) Juvenal has described a
scene of fatuous adulation which, if not true in fact, is only too true to
the character of the time. A huge mullet, too large for any private table,
had been caught in a bay of the Adriatic. Its captor hastens through
winter storms to lay his spoil at the emperor’s feet. The kitchen of the
Alban palace had no dish large enough for such a monster, and a council of
trembling senators is hastily summoned to consult on the emergency.
Thither came the gentle Crispus, that Acilius, whose son was to be the
victim of the despot’s jealousy, Rubrius tainted with a nameless crime,
the bloated Montanus, and Crispinus, once an Egyptian slave, now a vulgar
exquisite, reeking with unguents. There, too, was the informer whose
whisper stabbed like a stiletto, the lustful, blind Catullus, and the arch
flatterer Veiento, who had revelled at the Gargantuan feasts of Nero from
noon till midnight. These are worthy brethren of the assembly who stabbed
Proculus to death with their stiles at the nod of the freedman of
Caligula,(428) and led Nero home in triumphal procession after his
mother’s murder.(429)

Many things had contributed to the degradation of the senatorial
character. The dark and tortuous policy of Tiberius tended, indeed, to
absolutism; yet he still maintained a tone of deference to the Senate, and
sometimes, with cold good sense, repelled a too eager adulation.(430) But,
in the reigns of Caligula and Nero, the great order had to submit to the
deepest personal degradation, and were tempted, or compelled by their
masters to violate every instinct of Roman dignity. The wild epileptic
frenzy of Caligula, who spared not the virtue of his sisters,(431) as he
boasted of his own incestuous birth,(432) who claimed divine honours,(433)
temples, and costly sacrifices, who, as another Endymion, called the Moon
to his embraces, who dreamt of obliterating the memory of Homer and Virgil
and Livy, was not likely to spare the remnant of self-respect still left
in his nobles.(434) He gave an immense impetus to the rage for singing,
dancing, and acting,(435) for chariot-driving and fighting in the arena,
not unknown before, which Juvenal and Tacitus brand as the most flagrant
sign of degenerate morals. There was indeed a great conflict of sentiment
under the early Empire as to some of these arts. Julius Caesar had
encouraged or permitted Roman senators and knights to fight in the
gladiatorial combats, and a Laberius to act in his own play.(436) But a
decree of the Senate, not long afterwards, had placed a ban on these
exhibitions by men of noble rank.(437) Tiberius, who was, beyond anything,
a haughty aristocrat, at a later date intervened to save the dignity of
the order.(438) But the rage of the rabble for these spectacles had
undoubtedly caught many in the ranks of the upper class. And Caligula and
Nero(439) found, only too easily, youths of birth and breeding, but ruined
fortune, who were ready to exhibit themselves for a welcome _douceur_, or
to gain the favour of the prince, or even to bring down the applause of
the crowded benches of the amphitheatre or the circus. Yet the old Roman
feeling must have been very persistent, when a man like Domitian, who
posed as a puritan, found it politic to remove from the Senate one who had
disgraced his order by dancing in the pantomime, and even laid his
interdict on all public theatrical performances.(440) The revels and
massacres and wild debauchery of Nero did not so much to hasten his
destruction as his singing his catches to the lute, or appearing in the
parts of the incestuous Canace and the matricide Orestes.(441) From every
part of the world, in all the literature of the time, there is a chorus of
astounded indignation against the prince who could stoop to pit himself
against Greek players and singers at Delphi or Olympia. Juvenal has been
reproached for putting the chariot-driving of Damasippus in the same
category with the Verrine plunder of provinces.(442) He is really the
exponent of old Roman sentiment. And it may be doubted whether, from the
Roman point of view, Juvenal might not justify himself to his critics.
Even in our own emancipated age, we might be pardoned for feeling a shock
if an English prime minister rode his own horse at the Derby, or appeared
in a risky part on the boards of the Gaiety. And the collective sense of
senatorial self-respect was too precious to a Roman patriot and moralist,
to be flung away for mere love of sport, or in a fit of spurious artistic
enthusiasm. Nero, and in an even lower fashion Caligula, were rebels
against old Roman conventional restraints, and it is possible that some of
the hideous tales about them, which were spread in the “circuli,” may have
been the vengeance of Roman pride on shameless social revolutionaries, who
paraded their contempt for old-fashioned dignity and for social tradition.
Nero was never so happy as when he was deafened with applause, and
smothered with roses at the Greek festivals. He had once predicted for him
a monarchy in those regions of the East,(443) where he would have escaped
from the tradition of old Roman puritanism, and combined all the ingenious
sensuality of Syria with the doubtful artistic taste of a decadent
Hellenism. The cold haughty refinement of senatorial circles of the old
régime, and the rude honest virtue of the plebeian soldiery,(444) rightly
mistrusted this false sensational artist on the throne of the world.

Art, divorced from moral ideals, may become a dangerous thing. The emperor
might spend the morning with his favourites in patching up lilting verses
which would run well to the lute.(445) But the scene soon changed to a
revel, where the roses and music hardly veiled the grossness of excess.
The “noctes Neronis” made many a debauchee and scattered many a senatorial
fortune.(446) And amid all this elaborate luxury and splendour of
indulgence, there was a strange return to the naturalism of vice and mere
blackguardism. A Messalina or a Nero or a Petronius developed a curious
taste for the low life that reeks and festers in the taverns and in the
stews. Bohemianism for a time became the fashion.(447) Its very grossness
was a stimulant to appetites jaded with every diabolical refinement of
vicious ingenuity. The distinguished dinner party, with the emperor at
their head, sallied forth to see how the people were living in the slums.
Many a scene from these midnight rambles has probably been preserved in
the tainted, yet brilliant, pages of the _Satiricon_. Petronius had
probably often plunged with Nero after night-fall into those low dens,
where slave minions and sailors and the obscene priests of the great
Mother were roistering together, or sunk in the slumber of debauch.(448)
These elegant aristocrats found their sport in rudely assaulting quiet
citizens returning from dinner, or plundering some poor huckster’s stall
in the Suburra, or insulting a lady in her chair. In the fierce faction
fights of the theatre, where stones and benches were flying, the Emperor
had once the distinction of breaking a praetor’s head.(449) It was nobles
trained in this school, experts in vice, but with no nerve for arms, who
encumbered the train of Otho on his march to the sanguinary conflict on
the Po.(450)

The demoralisation of a section of the upper class under the bad emperors
must have certainly involved the degradation of many women. And one of the
most brilliant and famous of Juvenal’s Satires is devoted to this
unsavoury subject. The “Legend of Bad Women” is a graphic picture, and yet
it suffers from a defect which spoils much of Juvenal’s work. Full of
realistic power, with an undoubted foundation of truth, it is too vehement
and sweeping in its censures to gain full credence. It is also strangely
wanting in balance and due order of idea.(451) The problem of marriage is
illustrated by a series of sketches of female manners, which are very
disconnected, and, indeed, sometimes inconsistent. Thorough depravity,
superstition, and ignorant devotion, interest in literature and public
affairs, love of gymnastic and decided opinions on Virgil—in fact, vices,
innocent hobbies, and laudable tastes are all thrown together in a
confused indictment. The bohemian man of letters had heard many a scandal
about great ladies, some of them true, others distorted and exaggerated by
prurient gossip, after passing through a hundred tainted imaginations. In
his own modest class, female morality, as we may infer from the
Inscriptions and other sources, was probably as high as it ever was, as
high as the average morality of any age.(452) There were aristocratic
families, too, where the women were as pure as Lucretia or Cornelia, or
any matron of the olden days.(453) The ideal of purity, both in men and
women, in some circles was actually rising. In the families of Seneca, of
Tacitus, of Pliny and Plutarch, there were, not only the most spotless and
high minded women, there were also men with a rare conception of
temperance and mutual love, of reverence for a pure wedlock, to which S.
Jerome and S. Augustine would have given their benediction. Even Ovid,
that “debauchee of the imagination,” writes to his wife, from his exile in
the Scythian wilds, in the accents of the purest affection.(454) And, amid
all the lubricity of his pictures of gallantry, he has not lost the ideal
of a virgin heart, which repels and disarms the libertine by the spell of
an impregnable purity.(455) Plutarch’s ideal of marriage, at once severe
and tender, would have satisfied S. Paul.(456) Favorinus, the friend and
contemporary of Plutarch, thought it not beneath the dignity of
philosophic eloquence to urge on mothers the duty of suckling and
personally caring for their infants.(457) Seneca and Musonius, who lived
through the reign of Nero, are equally peremptory in demanding a like
continence from men and from women. And Musonius severely condemns
concubinage and vagrant amours of every kind, the man guilty of seduction
sins not only against another, but against his own soul.(458) Dion
Chrysostom was probably the first of the ancients to raise a clear voice
against the traffic in frail beauty which has gone on pitilessly from age
to age. Nothing could exceed the vehemence with which he assails an evil
which he regards as not only dishonouring to human nature, but charged
with the poison of far spreading corruption.(459) Juvenal’s ideal of
purity, therefore, is not peculiar to himself. The great world was bad
enough, but there was another world beside that whose infamy Juvenal has
immortalised.

It is also to be observed that Juvenal seems to be quite as much under the
influence of old Roman conventionality as of permanent moral ideals. He
condemns eccentricities, or mere harmless aberrations from old-fashioned
rules of propriety, as ruthlessly as he punishes lust and crime. The
blue-stocking who is a purist in style, and who balances, with deafening
volubility, the merits of Homer and Virgil,(460) the eager gossip who has
the very freshest news from Thrace or Parthia, or the latest secret of a
tainted family,(461) the virago who, with an intolerable pride of virtue,
plays the household tyrant and delivers curtain lectures to her lord,(462)
seem to be almost as detestable in Juvenal’s eyes as the doubtful person
who has had eight husbands in five years, or one who elopes with an ugly
gladiator,(463) or tosses off two pints before dinner.(464) We may share
his disgust for the great ladies who fought in the arena and wrestled in
the ring,(465) or who order their poor tire-women to be flogged for
deranging a curl in the towering architecture of their hair.(466) But we
cannot feel all his contempt for the poor penitent devotee of Isis who
broke the ice to plunge thrice in the Tiber on a winter morning, and
crawled on bleeding knees over the Campus Martius, or brought a phial of
water from the Nile to sprinkle in the fane of the goddess.(467) Even
lust, grossness, and cruelty, even poisoning and abortion, seem to lose
some of their blackness when they are compared with an innocent literary
vanity, or a pathetic eagerness to read the future or to soothe the pangs
of a guilty conscience.

The truth is that Juvenal is as much shocked by the “new woman” as he is
by the vicious woman. He did not understand, or he could not acquiesce in
the great movement for the emancipation of women, which had set in long
before his time, and which, like all such movements, brought evil with it
as well as good. There is perhaps nothing more striking in the social
history of Rome than the inveterate conservatism of Roman sentiment in the
face of accomplished change. Such moral rigidity is almost necessarily
prone to pessimism. The Golden Age lies in the past; the onward sweep of
society seems to be always moving towards the abyss. The ideal past of the
Roman woman lay more than two centuries and a half behind the time when
Juvenal was born. The old Roman matron was, by legal theory, in the power
of her husband, yet assured by religion and sentiment a dignified position
in the family, and treated with profound, if somewhat cold, respect; she
was busied with household cares, and wanting in the lighter graces and
charms, austere, self-contained, and self-controlled. But this severe
ideal had begun to fade even in the days of the elder Cato.(468) And there
is hardly a fault or vice attributed by Juvenal to the women of Domitian’s
reign, which may not find parallel in the nine or ten generations before
Juvenal penned his great indictment against the womanhood of his age. The
Roman lady’s irritable pride of birth is at least as old as the rivalry of
the two Fabiae in the fourth century.(469) The elder Cato dreaded a rich
wife as much as Juvenal,(470) and satirised as bitterly the pride and
gossip and luxury of the women of his time. Their love of gems and gold
ornaments and many-coloured robes and richly adorned carriages, is
attested by Plautus and the impotent legislation of C. Oppius.(471)
Divorce and ghastly crime in the noblest families were becoming common in
the days of the Second Punic War. About the same time began that
emancipation of women from the jealous restraints of Roman law, which was
to be carried further in the Antonine age.(472) The strict forms of
marriage, which placed the wife in the power of her husband, fell more and
more into desuetude. Women attained more absolute control over their
property, and so much capital became concentrated in their hands that,
about the middle of the second century B.C., the Voconian law was passed
to prohibit bequests to them, with the usual futile result of such
legislation.(473) Yet the old ideal of the industrious housewife never
died out, and Roman epitaphs for ages record that the model matron was a
wool-worker and a keeper at home. A senator of the reign of Honorius
praises his daughter for the same homely virtues.(474) But from the second
century B.C. the education of the Roman girl of the higher classes
underwent a great change.(475) Dancing, music, and the higher
accomplishments were no longer under a ban, although they were still
suspected by people of the old-fashioned school. Boys and girls received
the same training from the grammarian, and read their Homer and Ennius
together.(476) There were women in the time of Lucretius, as in the time
of Juvenal, who interlarded their conversation with Greek phrases.(477)
Cornelia, the wife of Pompey, was trained in literature and mathematics,
and even had some tincture of philosophy.(478) The daughter of Atticus,
who became the wife of Agrippa, was placed under the tuition of a
freedman, who, as too often happened, seems to have abused his trust.(479)
Even in the gay circle of Ovid, there were learned ladies, or ladies who
wished to be thought so.(480) Even Martial reckons culture among the
charms of a woman. Seneca maintained that women have an equal capacity for
cultivation with men.(481) Thus the blue-stocking of Juvenal, for whom he
has so much contempt, had many an ancestress for three centuries, as she
will have many a daughter till the end of the Western Empire.(482) Even in
philosophy, usually the last study to attract the female mind, Roman
ladies were asserting an equal interest. Great ladies of the Augustan
court, even the empress herself, had their philosophic directors,(483) and
the fashion perhaps became still more general under M. Aurelius. Epictetus
had met ladies who were enthusiastic admirers of the Platonic Utopia, but
the philosopher rather slyly attributes their enthusiasm to the absence of
rigorous conjugal relations in the Ideal Society.(484) Even in the field
of authorship, women were claiming equal rights. The _Memoirs of
Agrippina_ was one of the authorities of Tacitus.(485) The poems of
Sulpicia, mentioned by Martial,(486) were read in Gaul in the days of
Sidonius.(487) Greek verses, of some merit in spite of a pedantic
affectation, by Balbilla, a friend of the wife of Hadrian, can still be
read on the Colossus of Memnon.(488) Calpurnia, the wife of Pliny, may not
have been an author; but she shared all Pliny’s literary tastes; she set
his poems to music, and gave him the admiration of a good wife, if not of
an impartial critic.

Juvenal feels as much scorn for the woman who is interested in public
affairs and the events on the frontier,(489) as he feels for the woman who
presumes to balance the merits of Virgil and Homer. And here he is once
more at war with a great movement towards the equality of the sexes. From
the days of Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, to the days of Placidia,
the sister of Honorius, Roman women exercised, from time to time, a
powerful, and not always wholesome, influence on public affairs. The
politic Augustus discussed high matters of state with Livia.(490) The
reign of Claudius was a reign of women and freedmen. Tacitus records, with
a certain distaste for the innovation, that Agrippina sat enthroned beside
Claudius on a lofty tribunal, to receive the homage of the captive
Caractacus.(491) Nero emancipated himself from the grasping ambition of
his mother only by a ghastly crime. The influence of Caenis on Vespasian
in his later days tarnished his fame.(492) The influence of women in
provincial administration was also becoming a serious force. In the reign
of Tiberius, Caecina Severus, with the weight of forty years’ experience
of camps, in a speech before the Senate, denounced the new-fangled custom
of the wives of generals and governors accompanying them abroad, attending
reviews of troops, mingling freely with the soldiers, and taking an active
part in business, which was not always favourable to pure
administration.(493) In the inscriptions of the first and second
centuries, women appear in a more wholesome character as “mothers of the
camp,” or patronesses of municipal towns and corporations.(494) They have
statues dedicated to them for liberality in erecting porticoes or adorning
theatres or providing civic games or feasts.(495) And on one of these
tablets we read of a _Curia mulierum_ at Lanuvium.(496) We are reminded of
the “chapter of matrons” who visited Agrippina with their censure,(497)
and another female senate, under Elagabalus, which dealt with minute
questions of precedence and graded etiquette.(498) On the walls of Pompeii
female admirers posted up their election placards in support of their
favourite candidates.(499) Thus Juvenal was fighting a lost battle, lost
long before he wrote. For good or evil, women in the first and second
centuries were making themselves a power.

Although he was probably a very light believer in the old mythology,(500)
and treated its greatest figures with scant respect, Juvenal had all the
old Roman prejudice against those eastern worships which captivated so
many women of his day. And, here again, the satirist is assailing a
movement which had set in long before he wrote, and which was destined to
gain immense impetus and popularity in the two following centuries. The
eunuch priests of the Great Mother, with their cymbals and Phrygian
tiaras, had appeared in Italy in the last years of the Hannibalic
War.(501) The early years of the second century B.C. were convulsed by the
scandals and horrors of the Dionysiac orgies, which fell on Rome like a
pestilence.(502) The purity of women and the peace of families were in
serious danger, till the mischief was stamped out in blood. The worship of
Isis found its way into the capital at least as early as Sulla, and defied
the hesitating exclusion of Augustus.(503) At this distance, we can see
the _raison d’être_ of what the satirist regarded as religious
aberrations, the full treatment of which must be reserved for another
chapter. The world was in the throes of a religious revolution, and
eagerly in quest of some fresh vision of the Divine, from whatever quarter
it might dawn. The cults of the East seemed to satisfy cravings and
emotions, which found no resting-place in the national religion. Their
ritual appealed to the senses and imagination, while their mysteries
seemed to promise a revelation of God and immortality. Their strange
mixture of the sensuous and the ascetic was specially adapted to fascinate
weak women who had deeply sinned, and yet occasionally longed to repent.
The repentance indeed was often shallow enough; the fasting and
mortification were compatible with very light morals.(504) There were the
gravest moral abuses connected with such worships as that of Magna Mater.
It is well known that the temples of Isis often became places of
assignation and guilty intrigue.(505) An infatuated Roman lady in the
reign of Tiberius had been seduced by her lover in the pretended guise of
the god Anubis.(506) The Chaldaean seer or the Jewish hag might often
arouse dangerous hopes, or fan a guilty passion by casting a horoscope or
reading a dream.(507) But Juvenal’s scorn seems to fall quite as heavily
on the innocent votary who was striving to appease a burdened conscience,
as on one who made her superstition a screen for vice.

In spite of the political extinction of the Jewish race, its numbers and
influence grew in Italy. The very destruction of the Holy Place and the
external symbols of Jewish worship threw a more impressive air of mystery
around the dogmas of the Jewish faith, of which even the most cultivated
Romans had only vague conceptions.(508) The Jews, from the time of the
first Caesar, had worked their way into every class of society.(509) A
Jewish prince had inspired Caligula with an oriental ideal of
monarchy.(510) There were adherents of Judaism in the household of the
great freedmen of Claudius, and their growing influence and turbulence
compelled that emperor to expel the race from the capital.(511) The
worldly, pleasure-loving Poppaea had, perhaps, yielded to the mysterious
charm of the religion of Moses.(512) But it was under the Flavians, who
had such close associations with Judaea, that Jewish influences made
themselves most felt. And in the reign of Domitian, two members of the
imperial house, along with many others, suffered for following the Jewish
mode of life.(513) Their crime is also described as “atheism,” and Clemens
is, in the old Roman spirit, said to have been a man of the most
“contemptible inactivity.” In truth, the “Jewish life” was a description
which might cover many shades of belief and practice in religion,
including Christianity itself. The secret worship of a dim, mysterious
Power, Who was honoured by no imposing rites, a spirit of detachment and
quietism, which shrank from games and spectacles and the scenes of
fashion, and nursed the dream of a coming kingdom which was not of this
world, excited the suspicion and contempt of the coarse, strenuous Roman
nature. Yet, in the gloom and deep corruption of that sombre time, such a
life of retreat and renunciation had a strange charm for naturally pious
souls, especially among women. There were indeed many degrees of
conformity to the religion of Palestine. While some were attracted by its
more spiritual side, others confined themselves to an observance of the
Sabbath, which became very common in some quarters of Rome under the
Empire. The children, as Juvenal tells us, were sometimes trained to a
complete conformity to the law of Moses.(514) But Juvenal is chiefly
thinking of the mendicant population from Palestine who swarmed in the
neighbourhood of the Porta Capena and the grove of the Muses, practising
all the arts which have appealed in all ages to superstitious women. Thus
the Judaism of the times of Nero or Domitian might cover anything from the
cunning of the gipsy fortune-teller to the sad, dreaming quietism of
Pomponia Graecina.(515)

Yet it must be admitted that, although Juvenal, in his attacks on women,
has mixed up very real vice with superstition and mere innocent
eccentricity, or the explosive energy of a new freedom, the real vices of
many women of his time are a melancholy fact. The Messalinas and Poppaeas
had many imitators and companions in their own class. It is true that even
the licentious fancy of Ovid and Martial generally spares the character of
the unmarried girl. She was, in the darkest times, as a rule, carefully
guarded from the worst corruptions of the spectacles,(516) or from the
reckless advances of the hardened libertine, although an intrigue with a
tutor was not unknown.(517) Her marriage was arranged often in mere
childhood, seldom later than her seventeenth year. A girl was rarely
betrothed after nineteen.(518) Her temptations and danger often began on
her wedding-day. That there was a high ideal of pure and happy marriage,
even in the times of the greatest licence, we know from Pliny and
Plutarch, and from Martial himself.(519) But there were serious perils
before the child-bride, when she was launched upon the great world of
Roman society. A marriage of convenience with some member of a tainted
race, _blasé_ with precocious and unnatural indulgence, and ready to
concede the conjugal liberty which he claimed, was a perilous trial to
virtue. The bonds of old Roman marriage had, for ages, been greatly
relaxed, and the Roman lady of independent fortune and vigorous, highly
trained intellect, could easily find consolation for marital neglect. From
Seneca to S. Jerome, the foppish procurator of the great lady was a
dangerous and suspected person,(520) and not always without good cause.
Surrounded by an army of slaves and the other obsequious dependents of a
great house, treated with profound deference, and saluted with the pompous
titles of _domina_ and _regina_, the great lady’s lightest caprice became
law.(521) Costly jewels and the rarest luxuries of the toilet poured in
upon her from regions which were only visited by the captains of Red Sea
merchantmen, or by some Pythagorean ascetic seeking the fountains of the
wisdom of the East.(522)

The political life of Rome had been extinguished by a jealous despotism,
but social life in the higher ranks was never so intense and so seductive,
and women had their full share in it. Ladies dined out regularly with
their husbands, even at the emperor’s table,(523) and they were liable to
be assailed by the artistic wiles of which Ovid taught the secret, or by
the brutal advances of the lawless Caligula.(524) It was a time when
people loved to meet anywhere, under the trees of the Campus Martius, in
the colonnades of the theatre, or round the seats of the public squares.
Everywhere were to be seen those groups which spared no reputation, not
even the emperor’s. And behind the chair of the young matron often hovered
the dangerous exquisite, who could hum in a whisper the latest suggestive
song from Alexandria or Gades,(525) who knew the pedigree of every
racehorse and the secret of every intrigue. It is at such scenes that
Tacitus is probably glancing when he says that in Germany no one makes a
jest of vice, or calls the art of corruption the fashion of the
world;(526) chastity is not sapped by the seductions of the spectacles.
Augustus had, indeed, set apart the upper seats for women in the theatre
and amphitheatre,(527) but on the benches of the circus the sexes freely
mingled. It was there, while the factions of the red and blue were
shouting themselves hoarse, Ovid pointed out to his pupil in gallantry,
that he had his fairest chance of making a dangerous impression.(528) Yet
even Ovid is half inclined to be shocked at the scenes on the stage which
were witnessed by women and young boys.(529) The foulest tales of the old
mythology, the loves of Pasiphae or the loves of Leda, were enacted to the
life, or told with a nakedness of language, compared with which even
Martial might seem chaste.(530) Not less degrading were the gladiatorial
shows, so lavishly provided by Augustus and Trajan, as well as by Caligula
and Domitian, at which the Vestals had a place of honour.(531) It is
little wonder that women accustomed to take pleasure in the sufferings and
death of brave men, should be capable of condemning their poor slave women
to torture or the lash for a sullen look, or a half-heard murmur. The
grossness with which Juvenal describes the effect of the stage on the
morals of women savours of the Suburra.(532) But of the poisonous
character of these performances there can be no doubt. And actors,
musicians, and gladiators became a danger to the peace of households, as
well as to the peace of the streets. The artistes of the pantomime were
sternly suppressed both by Tiberius and Domitian, and not without good
cause.(533) One famous dancer had the fatal honour of captivating
Messalina.(534) The empress of Domitian was divorced for her love of
Paris.(535) And the scandals which darkened the fame of the younger
Faustina, and impeached the legitimacy of Commodus, even if they were
false, must have rested on a certain ground of probability.(536) It is
melancholy to hear that M. Aurelius had to restrain the excesses of Roman
matrons even under the reign of the philosophers.(537) To all these perils
must be added the allurements of household slavery. While a Musonius or a
Seneca was demanding equal chastity in man and woman, the new woman of
Juvenal boldly claims a vicious freedom equal to her husband’s.(538) The
testimony of Petronius is tainted by a suspicion of prurient imagination.
But the student of other sources can hardly doubt that, in the first
century, as in the fourth, the Roman lady of rank sometimes degraded
herself by a servile _liaison_. A decree of Vespasian’s reign, which his
biographer tells us was called for by the general licence, punished the
erring matron with the loss of her rank.(539)

These illustrations from other authorities may serve towards a judicial
estimate of Juvenal’s famous satire on women. That it is not a prurient
invention is proved by the pages of Tacitus and Suetonius and the records
of Roman morals for more than two centuries. On the other hand, it must be
read with some reservations. Juvenal is a rhetorician with a fiery
temperament, who will colour and exaggerate, if he will not invent. He is
intensely prejudiced and conventional, a man to whom desertion of ancient
usage is almost as bad as a breach of the moral law, a man incapable of
seeing that the evils of a new social movement may be more than
compensated by the good which it brings. Moreover, the graver vices which
he depicts with so much realistic power were certainly not so general as
he implies. It is to be suspected that single instances of abnormal
depravity have swelled in his heated imagination till they have become
types of whole classes of sinners. At the worst, these vices infected only
a comparatively small class, idle, luxurious, enervated by the slave
system, depraved by the example of a vicious court. The very scorn and
indignation with which Juvenal pillories the aristocratic debauchee reveal
the existence of a higher standard of virtue. Both the literature and the
inscriptions of that age make us acquainted with a very different kind of
woman. Over against the Hippia or Saufeia or Messalina of Juvenal we must
set the pure and cultivated women whom we meet in the pages of Pliny or
Tacitus, or the poor soldier’s concubine in the Inscriptions, who has all
the self-denying love and virtue of our own cottagers’ wives.(540)

Just as Juvenal misunderstood the movement of female emancipation, which
was to culminate in the legislation of the Antonine age, so has he
misconceived some other great social movements of his time. Two in
particular, the invasion of the new Hellenism and the rise of the
Freedmen, he anathematises with the scorn and old Roman prejudice of the
elder Cato.

There was nothing new in the invasion of Hellenism in the time of Juvenal.
Nearly three hundred years before his day, the narrow conservatism of
ancient Rome was assailed by the cosmopolitan culture of Hellas, which it
alternately hated and admired. The knowledge of Greek was widely diffused
in Italy in the time of the Hannibalic war.(541) Almost the last Roman of
the ancient breed stooped in his old age to learn Greek, in order to train
his son in the culture of the world.(542) But there were two different
aspects of Hellenism. There was the Hellenism represented by Homer and
Plato and Chrysippus; and there was the Hellenism of the low comic stage,
of the pimp and parasite. And there were reactions against the lower Greek
influences long before the days of Juvenal. Cicero, who did more than any
man of his race to translate Greek thought into Roman idiom, yet expressed
as bitter a contempt as Juvenal’s for the fickle, supple, histrionic Greek
adventurer.(543) Juvenal is not waging war with that nobler Hellenism
which had furnished models and inspiration to the great writers of the
Augustan age, and which was destined to refashion Italian culture in the
generation following his death. The emperors, from Julius Caesar to M.
Aurelius, were, with few exceptions, trained in the literature of Greece,
and some of them gave a great impetus to Greek culture in the West.
Augustus delighted in the Old Comedy, entertained Greek philosophers in
his house, and sprinkled his private letters to Tiberius with Greek
quotations.(544) Tiberius, although he had lived at Rhodes in his youth,
seems to show less sympathy for the genius of Greece.(545) Caligula also
can hardly be claimed as a Hellenist. Although he had once a wild dream of
restoring the palace of Polycrates, and one, more sane, of a canal through
the Corinthian Isthmus, he also thought of wiping out the memory of the
poems of Homer.(546) Dr. Mahaffy is probably right in treating Claudius as
the first really Hellenist emperor.(547) Like our own James I., Claudius
was a learned and very ludicrous person. Yet he was perhaps not so
contemptible a character as he is painted by Suetonius. He had, at any
rate, the merit of being a lover of Greek literature,(548) and he heaped
honour on the country which gave it birth.(549) He used to quote Homer in
his speeches in the Senate, and he composed histories in the Greek
language, which, by an imperial ordinance, were to be read aloud regularly
in the Museum of Alexandria.(550) In spite of the vices and pompous
follies of Nero, his phil-Hellenism seems to have been a genuine and
creditable impulse. His visits to the Greek festivals, and his share in
the competitions, were not all mere vanity. He had a futile passion for
fame as an artist, and he sought the applause of the race which had a real
artistic tradition.(551) When we reach the plebeian Flavian race,
Hellenism is still favoured. The bluff soldier, Vespasian, had an adequate
command of the Greek language, and was the first emperor who gave liberal
endowments to Greek rhetoric.(552) His son Domitian, that puzzling enigma,
the libertine who tried to revive the morality of the age of Cato, the man
who was said, but most improbably, to confine his reading to the memoirs
of Tiberius, founded a quinquennial festival, with competitions, on the
Greek model, in music, gymnastic, and horsemanship. By drawing on the
inexhaustible stores of Alexandria, he also repaired the havoc which had
been wrought in the Roman libraries by fire.(553) Already in Juvenal’s
life the brilliant sophistic movement had set in which was destined to
carry the literary charm of Hellenism throughout the West. From the close
of the first century there appeared in its full bloom that ingenious
technique of style, that power of conquering all the difficulties of a
worn-out or trifling subject, that delicate command of all varieties of
rhythm, which carried the travelling sophist through a series of triumphs
wherever he wandered. Classical Latin literature about the same time came
to a mysterious end. The only authors of any merit in the second century
wrote in both languages indifferently.(554) And the great Emperor, who
closes our period, preferred to leave his inner thoughts to posterity in
Greek.

Juvenal, however, was not thinking of this great literary movement. Like
so many of his literary predecessors, who had been formed by the loftier
genius of the Greek past, like Plautus and Cicero, he vented his rage on a
degenerate Hellenism. His shafts were levelled at the suttlers and
camp-followers of the invading army from the East. The phenomena of Roman
social history are constantly repeating themselves for centuries. And one
of the most curious examples of perpetuity of social sentiment is the
hatred and scorn for the Greek or Levantine character, from the days of
Plautus and the elder Cato to the days of the poet Claudian.(555) For more
than 600 years, the Roman who had borrowed his best culture, his polish
and ideas from the Greek, was ready to sneer at the “Greekling.” The
conquerors of Macedon could never forgive their own conquest by Greek
knowledge and versatility, by which old Roman victories in the field had
been avenged. And, as the pride of the imperial race grew with the
consciousness of great achievements, the political degradation and
economic decay of Greece and Greek-speaking lands produced a type of
character which combined the old cleverness and keenness of intellect with
the moral defects of an impoverished and subject race. Something of Roman
contempt for the Greek must be set down to that national prejudice and
difference of temperament, which made our ancestors treat the great French
nation, with all its brilliant gifts and immense contributions to European
culture, as a race of posturing dancing-masters.(556) Such prejudices are
generally more intense in the lower than in the upper and the cultivated
classes. Juvenal, indeed, was a cultivated man, who knew Greek literature,
and had been formed by Greek rhetors in the schools. But he was also a
Roman plebeian, with that pride of race which is often as deep in the
plebeian as in the aristocrat. He gives voice to the feeling of his class
when he indignantly laments that the true-born Roman, whose infancy has
drunk in the air of the Aventine, should have to yield place to the
supple, fawning stranger, who has come with the same wind as the figs and
prunes. The Orontes is pouring its pollutions into the Tiber.(557) Every
trade and profession, from the master of the highest studies down to the
rope-dancer and the pander, is crowded with hungry, keen-witted
adventurers from the East. Every island of the Aegean, every city of Asia,
is flooding Rome with its vices and its venal arts.(558) Quickness of
intellect and depravity of morals, the brazen front and the ready tongue
are driving into the shade the simple, unsophisticated honesty of the old
Roman breed. At the morning receptions of the great patron, the poor Roman
client, who has years of honest, quiet service to show, even the
impoverished scion of an ancient consular line, are pushed aside by some
sycophant from the Euphrates,(559) who can hardly conceal the brand of
recent servitude upon him. These men, by their smooth speech, their
effrontery and ready wit, their infinite capacity for assuming every mood
and humouring every caprice of the patron, are creeping into the recesses
of great houses, worming out their secrets, and mastering their
virtue.(560) Rome is becoming a Greek town,(561) in which there will soon
be no place for Romans.

Much of this indictment, as we have said, is the offspring of prejudice
and temperament. But there was a foundation of truth under the declamation
of Juvenal. The higher education of Roman youth had for generations been
chiefly in the hands of men of Greek culture, from the days of Ennius and
Crates of Mallus, before the third Punic War.(562) The tutor’s old title
_literatus_ had early given place to that of _grammaticus_.(563) And, of
the long line of famous _grammatici_ commemorated by Suetonius, there are
few who were not by origin or culture connected with the Greek east. Most
of them had been freedmen of savants or great nobles.(564) Some had
actually been bought in the slave market.(565) The profession was
generally ill-paid and enjoyed little consideration, and it was often the
last resort of those who had failed in other and not more distinguished
callings. Orbilius, the master of Horace, had been an attendant in a
public office.(566) Others had been pugilists or low actors in
pantomime.(567) Q. Remmius Palaemon, whose vices made him infamous in the
reign of Tiberius and Claudius, had been a house-slave, and was originally
a weaver.(568) He educated himself while attending his young master at
school, and by readiness, versatility, and arrogant self-assertion, rose
to an income of more than £4000 a year. Sometimes they attained to rank
and fortune by being entrusted with the tuition of the imperial
children.(569) But the grammarian, to the very end, as a rule never
escaped the double stigma of doubtful origin and of poverty.

The medical profession, according to the elder Pliny, was a Greek art
which was seldom practised by Romans.(570) Julius Caesar, by giving civic
rights to physicians from Egypt and Hellenic lands,(571) while he raised
the status of the medical calling, also stimulated the immigration of
foreign practitioners. The rank and fortune attained by the court
physicians of the early Caesars, Antonius Musa, the Stertinii,(572) and
others, which almost rivalled the medical successes of our own day, seemed
to offer a splendid prize. Yet the profession was generally in low
repute.(573) It was long recruited from the ranks of old slaves, and men
of the meanest callings. Carpenters and smiths and undertakers flocked
into it, often with only a training of six months.(574) Galen found most
of his medical brethren utterly illiterate, and recommends them to pay a
little attention to grammar in dealing with their patients.(575) They
compounded in their own shops, and touted for practice.(576) They called
in the aid of spells and witchcraft to reinforce their drugs. We need not
believe all the coarse insinuations of Martial against their morality, any
more than the sneers of Petronius against their skill. But we are bound to
conclude that the profession held a very different place in public esteem
from that which it enjoys and deserves in our own time.

Astrology, which was the aristocratic form of divination, and involved in
many a dark intrigue of the early Empire, was a Greek as well as a
Chaldaean art. The name of the practitioner often reveals his nationality.
The Seleucus(577) and Ptolemaeus who affected to guide the fate of Otho,
and the Ascletarion of Domitian’s reign,(578) are only representatives of
a nameless crowd. And their strange power is seen in that tale of a Greek
diviner, Pammenes, in the last years of Nero, whose horoscopes led to the
tragic end of P. Anteius and Ostorius Scapula.(579) In other countless
arts of doubtful repute, which ministered to the pleasure or amusement of
the crowd, the Greek was always an adept. But it was his success as a
courtier and accomplished flatterer of the great, which chiefly roused the
scornful hatred of Juvenal and his fellows. The “adulandi gens
prudentissima,” would hardly have been guilty of the simple and obvious
grossness of flattery which the rhetoric of Juvenal attributes to
them.(580) They knew their trade better than the Roman plebeian. It was an
old and highly rewarded profession in Greece, and had often been the theme
of Greek moralists. Plutarch wrote an elaborate treatise on the difference
between the sycophant and the true friend, in which he seems almost to
exhaust the wily resources of the pretender. Lucian, with his delicate
irony, seems almost to raise the Greek skill in adulation to the level of
a fine art.(581) And the polished and versatile Greek, with his lively
wit, his delicate command of expression, his cool audacity, and his
unscrupulousness, was a formidable rival of the coarser Roman parasite
celebrated in Latin comedy. We can well imagine that the young Greek,
fresh from the schools of Ionia, was a livelier companion at dinner than
the proud Roman man of letters who snatched the dole and disdained himself
for receiving it.

There is perhaps no phase of Roman society in Domitian’s day which we know
more intimately than the life of the client. It is photographed, in all
its sordid slavery, by both Juvenal and Martial. And Martial himself is
perhaps the best example of a man of genius submitting, with occasional
intervals of proud rebellion,(582) to a degradation which in our eyes no
poverty could excuse. The client of the early Empire was a totally
different person from the client of Republican times. In the days of
freedom, the tie of patron and client was rather that of clansman and
chief; it was justified by political and social necessity, and ennobled by
feelings of loyalty and mutual obligation. Under the Empire, the relation
was tainted by the selfish materialism of the age; it had seldom any trace
of sentiment. The rich man was expected to have a humble train of
dependents to maintain his rank and consequence. There was a host of needy
people ready to do him such service. The hungry client rushed to his
patron’s morning reception, submitted to all his coldness and caprice, or
to the insolence of his menials, followed his chair through the streets,
and ran on his errands, for the sake of a miserable alms in money or in
kind.(583) The payment was sometimes supplemented by a cast-off cloak, or
an invitation at the last moment to fill a place at dinner, when perhaps
it could not be accepted.(584) In the train which the great man gathered
about him, to swell his importance, were to be seen, not only the starving
man of letters, the loafer and mere mendicant, but the sons of ruined
houses “sprung from Troy,” and even senators and men of consular rank who
had a clientèle of their own.(585)

Nothing throws a more lurid light on the economic condition of Italy in
the time of the early Empire than this form of pensioned dependence. The
impression which we derive from Juvenal and Martial is that of a society
divided between a small class of immensely wealthy people, and an almost
starving proletariat.(586) Poverty seems almost universal, except in the
freedman class, who by an industrial energy and speculative daring, which
were despised by the true-born Roman, were now rapidly rising to opulence.
The causes of this plebeian indigence can only be glanced at here. The
agricultural revolution, which ruined the small freeholders and created
the plantation system,(587) had driven great numbers of once prosperous
farmers to the capital, to depend on the granaries of the State, or on the
charity of a wealthy patron. Such men were kept in poverty and dependence
by that general contempt for trade and industrial pursuits which always
prevails in a slave-owning society. Many of the greatest families had been
reduced to poverty by proscription and confiscation. A great noble might
be keeping sheep on a Laurentine farm, if he could not win a pension from
the grace of the Emperor. At the same time, from various causes, what we
should call the liberal professions, with the doubtful exception of
medicine, tortured those engaged in them by the contrast between ambitious
hopes and the misery of squalid poverty. “Make your son an auctioneer or
an undertaker rather than an advocate or a man of letters” is the advice
of Martial and Juvenal, and of the shrewd vulgar guests of
Trimalchio.(588) Any mean and malodorous trade will be more lucrative than
the greatest knowledge and culture. The rich literary amateur, who should
have been a Maecenas, in that age became an author himself, composed his
own Thebaid or Codrid, and would only help the poor man of genius by the
loan of an unfurnished hall for a reading.(589) The unabashed mendicancy
of Martial shows the mean straits to which the genuine literary man was
reduced.(590) The historian will not earn as much as the reader of the
_Acta Diurna_.(591) It is the same with education. What costs the father
least is the training of his son. The man who will expend a fortune on his
baths and colonnades, can spare a Quintilian only a fraction of what he
will give for a pastry cook.(592) The grammarian, who is expected to be
master of all literature, will be lucky if he receives as much for the
year as a charioteer gains by a single victory.(593) If the rhetor, weary
of mock battles, descends into the real arena of the courts, he fares no
better.(594) The bar is overcrowded by men to whom no other career of
ambition is open, by old informers who find their occupation gone, by the
sons of noble houses who parade the glory of their ancestors in order to
attract vulgar clients. They are carried in a litter, surrounded by slaves
and dependents, down to the courts of the Centumviri. The poor pleader
must hire or borrow purple robes and jewelled rings, if he is to compete
with them. And in the end, he may find his honorarium for a day’s hard
pleading to be a leg of pork, a jar of tunnies, or a few flasks of cheap
wine. In this materialised society all the prizes go to the coarser
qualities; there is nothing but neglect and starvation before taste and
intellect. And poverty is punished by being forced to put on the show of
wealth.(595) That stately person in violet robes who stalks through the
forum, or reclines in a freshly decorated chair, followed by a throng of
slaves, has just pawned his ring to buy a dinner.(596) That matron, who
has sold the last pieces of her ancestral plate, will hire splendid dress,
a sedan chair, and a troop of attendants, to go in proper state to the
games.(597) Thus you have the spectacle of a society divided between the
idle, luxurious rich and the lazy, hungry poor, who imitate all the vices
of the rich, and although too proud to work, are not ashamed to borrow or
to beg.

In such a society, where the paths of honest industry seemed closed to the
poor, or as yet undiscovered, the great problem was how to secure without
labour a share of the wealth which was monopolised by the few. The problem
was solved by the obsequiousness of the client, or by the arts of the
will-hunter. Owing to celibacy and vice, childlessness in that age was
extraordinarily common in the upper class. In a society of “ambitious
poverty,” a society where poverty was unable, or where it disdained, to
find the path to competence through honest toil, the wealthy, without
natural heirs, offered a tempting prey to the needy adventurer. Captation
by every kind of mean flattery, or vicious service, became a recognised
profession. In the Croton of Petronius there are only two classes, the
rich and the sycophant, the hunters and the hunted.(598) Even men of high
position, with no temptation from want, would stoop to this detestable
trade.(599) And the social tone which tolerated the captator, made it
almost an honour to be beset on a sick-bed by these rapacious sycophants.
One of the darkest and most repulsive features in that putrescent society
was the social value which attached to a vicious and shameful
childlessness. A morose and unlovely old age could thus gather around it a
little court of dependents and pretended friends, such as a career of
great achievement would hardly attract. There have been few more loathsome
characters than the polished hypocrite by the sick-bed of his prey,
shedding tears of feigned sympathy, while with eager eyes he is noting
every symptom of the approaching end.(600)

Juvenal and Petronius, the embittered plebeian, and the cynical,
fastidious epicure of Nero’s court, alike treat their age as utterly
corrupted and vulgarised by the passion for money; “inter nos sanctissima
divitiarum Majestas.”(601) No virtue, no gifts, no eminence of service,
will be noticed in the poor.(602) A great fortune will conceal the want of
talent, sense, or common decency. Everything is forgiven to the master of
money bags, even the brand of the slave prison.(603) In Juvenal and
Martial probably the most resonant note is the cry of the poor—“How long.”
Yet, after all, it is not a fierce cry of revolt; against that highly
organised and centralised society the disinherited never dreamed of
rebellion, even when the Goths were under the walls. It is rather an
appeal, though often a bitter and angry appeal, for pity and a modest
share in a wasted abundance. In the poems of Juvenal and Martial, as in
the sentiment of the colleges and municipalities for generations, the one
hope for the mass of helpless indigence lay in awaking the generosity and
charity of the rich. The rich, as we shall see in another chapter,
admitted the obligation, and responded to the claim, often in the most
lavish fashion. A long line of emperors not only fed the mob of the
capital, but squandered the resources of the State in providing gross and
demoralising amusements for them.(604) Under the influence of the Stoic
teaching of the brotherhood of man and the duty of mutual help, both
private citizens and benevolent princes, from Nero to M. Aurelius, created
charitable foundations for the orphan and the needy.(605) Public
calamities were relieved again and again by imperial aid and private
charity.(606) The love of wealth was strong, but a spirit of benevolence
was in the air, even in the days of Juvenal; and the constant invectives
of poet or philosopher against wealth and luxury are not so much the sign
of a growing selfishness, as of a spreading sense of the duty of the
fortunate to the miserable. Although the literary men seem never to have
thought of any economic solution of the social problem, through the
tapping of fresh sources of wealth from which all might draw, yet there
can be no doubt that there was, at least in provincial cities, a great
industrial movement in the Antonine age, which gave wealth to some, and a
respectable competence to many. The opulent freedman and the contented
artisan have left many a memorial in the inscriptions. Yet the movement
had not solved the social problem in the days of Lucian, as it has not
solved it after seventeen centuries. The cry of the poor against the
selfish rich, which rings in the ears of the detached man of letters at
the end of the Antonine age, will still ring in the ears of the ascetic
Salvianus, when the Germans have passed the Rhine.(607)

The scorn and hatred of Juvenal for wealth and its vices is natural to a
class which was too proud to struggle out of poverty, by engaging in the
industries which it despised. And the freedman, who occupied the vacant
field, and rose to opulence, is even more an object of hatred to Juvenal
and Martial than the recreant noble or the stingy patron. He was an alien
of servile birth, and he had made himself wealthy by the usual method of
thinking of nothing but gold. These men, who were not even free Romans,
had mastered the power which commands the allegiance of the world. The
rise of this new class to wealth and importance probably irritated men of
Juvenal’s type more than any other sign of social injustice in their time.
And the Trimalchio of Petronius, a man of low, tainted origin, the
creature of economic accident, whose one faith is in the power of money,
who boasts of his fortune as if it had been won by real talent or
honourable service, who expends it with coarse ostentation and a ludicrous
affectation of cultivated taste, may be tolerated in literature, if not in
actual life, for the charm of a certain kindly bonhomie and honest
vulgarity, which the art of Petronius has thrown around him. Yet, after
all, we must concede to Juvenal and Martial, that such a person is always
a somewhat unpleasing social product. But the subject is so important that
it claims a chapter to itself. And, fortunately for us and our readers,
the new freedmen were not all of the type of Trimalchio.



                               CHAPTER III


                       THE SOCIETY OF THE FREEDMEN


The historian, who is occupied with war and politics, and the fate of
princes and nobles, is apt to lose sight of great silent movements in the
dim masses of society. And, in the history of the early Empire, the deadly
conflict between the Emperor and the Senate, the carnival of luxury, and
the tragic close of so many reigns, have diverted attention from social
changes of immense moment. Not the least important of these was the rise
of the freedmen, in the face of the most violent prejudice, both popular
and aristocratic. And literature has thrown its whole weight on the side
of prejudice, and given full vent alike to the scorn of the noble, and to
the hate and envy of the plebeian. The movement, indeed, was so swift and
far spreading that old conservative instincts might well be alarmed.
Everywhere in the inscriptions freedmen are seen rising to wealth and
consequence throughout the provinces, as well as in Italy, and winning
popularity and influence by profuse benefactions to colleges and
municipalities. In almost every district of the Roman Empire the order of
the Augustales, which was composed to a great extent of wealthy
freedmen,(608) has left its memorials. “Freedman’s wealth” in Martial’s
day had become a proverb.(609) Not only are they crowding all the meaner
trades, from which Roman pride shrank contemptuously, but, by industry,
shrewdness, and speculative daring, they are becoming great capitalists
and landowners on a senatorial scale. The Trimalchio of Petronius, who has
not even seen some of his estates,(610) if we allow for some artistic
exaggeration, is undoubtedly the representative of a great class. In the
reign of Nero, a debate arose in the Senate on the insolence and
misconduct of freedmen.(611) And it was argued by those opposed to any
violent measures of repression, that the class was widely diffused; they
were found in overwhelming numbers in the city tribes, in the lower
offices of the civil service, in the establishments of the magistrates and
priests; a considerable number even of the knights and Senate drew their
origin from this source. If freedmen were marked off sharply as a separate
grade, the scanty numbers of the freeborn would be revealed. In the reigns
of Claudius and Nero especially, freedmen rose to the highest places in
the imperial service, sometimes by unquestionable knowledge, tact, and
ability, sometimes by less creditable arts. The promotion of a Narcissus
or a Pallas was also a stroke of policy, the assertion of the prince’s
independence of a jealous nobility. The rule of the freedmen was a bitter
memory to the Senate.(612) The scorn of Pliny for Pallas expresses the
long pent-up feelings of his order; it is a belated vengeance for the
humiliation they endured in the evil days when they heaped ridiculous
flattery on the favourite, and voted him a fortune and a statue.(613) Some
part of the joy with which the accession of Trajan was hailed by the
aristocracy was due to the hope that the despised interlopers would be
relegated to their proper obscurity. Tacitus is undoubtedly glancing at
the Claudian régime when he grimly congratulates the Germans on the fact
that their freedmen are little above the level of slaves, that they have
seldom any power in the family, and never in the State.(614)

It shows the immense force of old Roman conservatism and of social
prejudice which is the same from age to age, when men so cultivated, yet
of such widely different temperament and associations as Pliny and
Tacitus, Juvenal and Martial(615) and Petronius, denounce or ridicule an
irresistible social movement. We can now see that the rise of the
emancipated slave was not only inevitable, but that it was, on the whole,
salutary and rich in promise for the future. The slave class of antiquity
really corresponded to our free labouring class. But, unlike the mass of
our artisans, it contained many who, from accident of birth and education,
had a skill and knowledge which their masters often did not possess.(616)
The slaves who came from the ancient seats of civilisation in the East are
not to be compared with the dark gross races who seem to be stamped by
nature as of an inferior breed. This frequent mental and moral equality of
the Roman slave with his master had forced itself upon men of the detached
philosophic class, like Seneca, and on kindly aristocrats, like
Pliny.(617) It must have been hard to sit long hours in the library beside
a cultivated slave-amanuensis, or to discuss the management of lands and
mines and quarries with a shrewd, well-informed slave-agent, or to be
charmed by the grace and wit of some fair, frail daughter of Ionia,
without having some doubts raised as to the eternal justice of such an
institution. Nay, it is certain that slaves were often treated as
friends,(618) and received freedom and a liberal bequest at their master’s
death. Many educated slaves, as we have seen, rose to distinction and
fortune as teachers and physicians.(619) But the field of trade and
industry was the most open and the most tempting. The Senator was
forbidden, down to the last age of the Empire, both by law and sentiment,
to increase his fortune by commerce.(620) The plebeian, saturated with
Roman prejudice, looking for support to the granaries of the state or the
dole of the wealthy patron, turned with disdain from occupations which are
in our days thought innocent, if not honourable. Juvenal feels almost as
much scorn for the auctioneer and undertaker as he has for the pander, and
treats almost as a criminal the merchant who braves the wintry Aegean with
a cargo of wine from Crete.(621) His friend Umbricius, worsted in the
social struggle, and preparing to quit Rome for a retreat in Campania,
among the other objects of his plebeian scorn, is specially disgusted with
the low tribe who contract for the building of a house, or who farm the
dues of a port or undertake to cleanse a river-bed.(622) There is no room
left in Rome for men who will not soil themselves with such sordid trades.
Manifestly, if the satirist is not burlesquing the feeling of his class,
there was plenty of room left for the vigorous freedman who could accept
Vespasian’s motto that no gain is unsavoury.(623) But those men had not
only commercial tact and ability, the wit to see where money was to be
made by seizing new openings and unoccupied fields for enterprise; they
had also among them men of great ambitions, men capable of great affairs.
It required no common deftness, suppleness, and vigilant energy for an old
slave to work his way upwards through the grades of the imperial chancery,
to thread the maze of deadly intrigue, in the reigns of Claudius or Nero,
and to emerge at last as master of the palace. Yet one of these freedmen
ministers, when he died, had served ten emperors, six of whom had come to
a violent end.(624) That a class so despised and depressed should rise to
control the trade, and even the administration of the Empire, furnishes a
presumption that they were needed, and that they were not unworthy of
their destiny.

Yet however inevitable, or even desirable, this great revolution may seem
to the cool critic of the twentieth century, it is possible that, had he
lived in the first, he might have denounced it as vigorously as Juvenal.
The literary and artistic spirit, often living in a past golden age, and
remotely detached from the movements going on around it, is prone to
regard them with uneasy suspicion. It is moved by sacred sentiment, by
memories and distant ideals, by fastidious taste, which expresses itself
often with passionate hatred for what seems to it revolutionary sacrilege.
It is also apt to fasten on the more grotesque and vulgar traits of any
great popular movement, and to use a finished skill in making it
ridiculous. It was in this way that literature treated the freedmen. They
had many gross and palpable faults; they were old slaves and Orientals; as
they rose in the world they were eager for money, and they got it; they
were, many of them, naturally vulgar, and they paraded their new wealth
with execrable taste, and trampled on better, though poorer, men than
themselves, Juvenal and Martial, by birth and associations, have little in
common with that accomplished exquisite of the Neronian circle who has
painted with the power of careless genius the household of the _parvenu_
Trimalchio. Yet they have an equal scorn or detestation for the new man
who was forcing his way from the lowest debasement of servile life to
fortune and power. But the embittered man of letters, humiliated by
poverty, yet brimful of Roman pride, avenges his ideals with a rougher,
heavier hand than the Epicurean noble, who had joined in the “Noctes
Neronis” with a delicate, scornful cynicism, who was too disillusioned,
and too fastidiously contemptuous, to waste anger on what he despised.
Juvenal would blast and wither the objects of his hatred. Petronius takes
the surer method of making these people supremely ridiculous. The feeling
of men like Juvenal and Martial is a mixture of contempt and envy and
outraged taste. The Grub Street man of letters in those days despised
plodding industry because he dearly loved fits of idleness; he hated
wealth because he was poor. The polished man of the world was alternately
amused and disgusted by the spectacle of sudden fortune accumulated by
happy chance or unscrupulous arts, with no tradition of dignity to gild
its grossness, yet affecting and burlesquing the tastes of a world from
which it was separated by an impassable gulf. There is more moral
sentiment, more old Roman feeling, in the declamation of Juvenal than in
the cold artistic scorn of the _Satiricon_; there is also more personal
and class feeling. The triumph of mere money is to Juvenal a personal
affront as well as a moral catastrophe. Poverty now makes a man
ridiculous.(625) It blocks the path of the finest merit. The rich freedman
who claims the foremost place at a levée is equally objectionable because
he was born on the Euphrates, and because he is the owner of five taverns
which yield HS.400,000 a year.(626) The impoverished knight must quit his
old place on the benches to make way for some auctioneer or pimp, some old
slave from the Nile who stalks in with purple robes and bejewelled
fingers, and hair reeking with unguents.(627) The only refuge will soon be
some half-deserted village on old-fashioned Sabine ground, where the
country folk sit side by side in the same white tunics with their aediles
in the grassy theatre.(628) It is evident from Juvenal, Martial, and
Petronius that the popular hostility to the new men was partly the result
of envy at their success, partly of disgust at their parade of it. Juvenal
and Martial are often probably dressing up the rough epigrams of the
crowd. We can almost hear the contemptuous growl as one of these people,
suspected of a dark crime, sweeps by in his downy sedan. That other noble
knight used to hawk the cheap fish of his native Egypt, and now possesses
a palace towering over the Forum, with far-spreading colonnades and acres
of shady groves.(629) A eunuch minister has reared a pile which out-tops
the Capitol.(630) Fellows who used to blow the horn in the circus of
country towns now give gladiatorial shows themselves.(631) Prejudice or
envy may not improbably have invented some of the tales of crime and
turpitude by which these fortunes had been won. Rome was a city of
poisonous rumour. Yet slavery was not a nursery of virtue, and the
_Satiricon_ leaves the impression that the emancipated slave too often
imitated the vices of his master. The poisoner, the perjurer, the minion,
were probably to be found in the rising class. After their kind in all
ages, they looked down with vulgar insolence on those less fortunate or
more scrupulous. When they rose to the highest place, the imperial
freedmen were often involved in peculation and criminal intrigue.(632)
Yet, after all reservations, the ascent of the freedmen remains a great
and beneficent revolution. The very reasons which made Juvenal hate it
most are its best justification to a modern mind. It gave hope of a future
to the slave; by creating a free industrial class, it helped to break down
the cramped social ideal of the slave-owner and the soldier; it planted in
every municipality a vigorous mercantile class, who were often excellent
and generous citizens. Above all, it asserted the dignity of man. The
vehement iteration of Juvenal is the best testimony to the sweep and force
of the movement. And the later student of Roman society cannot afford to
neglect a great social upheaval which, in an aristocratic society,
dominated by pride of class and race, made an Oriental slave first
minister of the greatest monarchy in history, while it placed men of
servile origin in command of nearly all the industrial arts and commerce
of the time.

The reign of the freedman in public affairs began with the foundation of
the Empire, when Julius Caesar installed some of his household as officers
of the mint.(633) The emperor in the first century was, theoretically at
least, only the first citizen, and his household was modelled on the
fashion of other great houses. In the management of those vast senatorial
estates, which were often scattered over three continents, there was need
of an elaborate organisation, and freedmen of education and business
capacity were employed to administer such private realms. And in the
organisation of a great household, there was a hierarchy of office which
offered a career to the shrewd and trustworthy slave. Many such careers
can be traced in the inscriptions, from the post of valet or groom of the
bedchamber, through the offices of master of the jewels and the wardrobe,
superintendent of the carriages or the vineyards, up to the highest
financial control.(634)

During the first century the same system was transferred to the imperial
administration. It suited the cautious policy of Augustus to disguise his
vast powers under the quiet exterior of an ordinary noble; and the
freedmen of his household carried on the business of the State. He sternly
punished any excesses or treachery among his servants.(635) Tiberius gave
them little power, until his character began to deteriorate.(636) Under
Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, the imperial freedmen attained their
greatest ascendency. Callistus, Narcissus, and Pallas rose to the rank of
great ministers, and, in the reign of Claudius, were practically masters
of the world. They accumulated enormous wealth by abusing their power, and
making a traffic in civic rights, in places or pardons. Polyclitus, who
was sent to compose the troubles in Britain in 61 A.D., travelled with an
enormous train, and gave the provinces an exhibition of the arrogance of
their servile masters.(637) Helius was left to carry on the government
during Nero’s theatrical travels, and the exhibitions of his artistic
skill in Greece.(638) Galba put to death two of the great freedmen of
Nero’s reign, but himself fell under the influence of others as corrupt
and arrogant, and he showered the honours of rank on the infamous
Icelus.(639)

It is curious that it was left for Vitellius to break the reign of the
freedmen by assigning offices in the imperial bureaux to the knights, the
policy which was said to have been recommended by Maecenas,(640) and which
was destined to prevail in the second century. But the change was very
incomplete, and the brief tragic reign of Vitellius was disgraced by the
ascendency for a time of his minion Asiaticus, whom the Emperor raised to
the highest honours, then sold into a troop of wandering gladiators, and
finally received back again into freedom and favour.(641) The policy of
the Flavian dynasty in the employment of freedmen is rather ambiguous.
Vespasian is charged with having elevated Hormus, a disreputable member of
the class, and with having appointed to places of trust the most rapacious
agents.(642) But this is probably a calumny of the Neronian and Othonian
circle who defamed their conqueror. Under Domitian, the freedmen, Entellus
and Abascantus, held two of the great secretaryships. But it is distinctly
recorded that Domitian distributed offices impartially between the
freedmen and the knights.(643) On the accession of Trajan, Pliny, in his
Panegyric, exults in the fall of the freedmen from the highest place.(644)
Yet Hadrian is said to have procured his selection as emperor by carefully
cultivating the favour of Trajan’s freedmen. Hadrian, in reorganising the
imperial administration, and founding the bureaucratic system, which was
finally elaborated by Diocletian and Constantine, practically confined the
tenure of the three great secretaryships to men of equestrian rank. Among
his secretaries was the historian Suetonius.(645) Antoninus Pius severely
repressed men of servile origin in the interest of pure
administration;(646) but they regained some influence for a time under M.
Aurelius, and rose still higher under his infamous son.

The position of freedmen in the imperial administration was partly, as we
have seen, a tradition of aristocratic households. The emperor employed
his freedmen to write his despatches and administer the finances of the
Empire, as he would have used them to write his private letters or to
manage his private estates. But, in the long conflict between the prince
and the Senate, the employment of trusted freedmen in imperial affairs was
also a measure of policy. It was meant to teach the nobles that the Empire
could be administered without their aid.(647) Nor was the confidence of
the Emperor in his humble subordinates unjustified. The eulogies of the
great freedmen in Seneca and Statius, even if they be exaggerated, leave
the impression that a Polybius, a Claudius Etruscus, or an Abascantus
were, in many respects, worthy of their high place. The provinces were, on
the whole, well governed and happy in the very years when the capital was
seething with conspiracy, and racked with the horrors of confiscation and
massacre. This must have been chiefly due to the knowledge, tact, and
ability of the great officials of the palace. Although of servile origin,
they must have belonged to that considerable class of educated slaves who,
along with the versatility and tact of the Hellenic East, brought to their
task also a knowledge and a literary and linguistic skill which were not
common among Roman knights. The three imperial secretaryships, _a
rationibus_, _a libellis_, and _ab epistulis_, covered a vast field of
administration, and the duties of these great ministries could only have
been performed by men of great industry, talent, and diplomatic
adroitness.(648) The Polybius to whom Seneca, from his exile in Sardinia,
wrote a consolatory letter on the death of his brother, was the successor
of Callistus, as secretary of petitions, in the reign of Claudius, and
also the emperor’s adviser of studies. Seneca magnifies the dignity, and
also the burden, of his great rank, which demands an abnegation of all the
ordinary pleasures of life.(649) A man has no time to indulge a private
grief who has to study and arrange for the Emperor’s decision thousands of
appeals coming from every quarter of the world. Yet this busy man could
find time for literary work, and his translations from the Greek are
lauded by the philosopher with an enthusiasm of which the cruelty of time
does not allow us to estimate the value.(650) The panegyric on Claudius
Etruscus, composed by Statius, records an even more remarkable
career.(651) Claudius Etruscus died at the age of eighty, in the reign of
Domitian, having served in various capacities under ten emperors,(652) six
of whom had died by a violent death. It was a strangely romantic life, to
which we could hardly find a parallel in the most democratic community in
modern times. Claudius, a Smyrniote slave,(653) in the household of
Tiberius, was emancipated and promoted by that Emperor. He followed the
train of Caligula to Gaul,(654) rose to higher rank under Claudius, and,
probably in Nero’s reign, on the retirement of Pallas, was appointed to
that financial office of which the world-wide cares are pompously
described by the poet biographer.(655) The gold of Iberian mines, the
harvests of Egypt, the fleeces of Tarentine flocks, pearls from the depths
of Eastern seas, the ivory tribute of the Indies, all the wealth wafted to
Rome by every wind, are committed to his keeping. He had also the task of
disbursing a vast revenue for the support of the populace, for roads and
bulwarks against the sea, for the splendour of temples and palaces.(656)
Such cares left space only for brief slumber and hasty meals; there was
none for pleasure. Yet Claudius had the supreme satisfaction of wielding
enormous power, and he occasionally shared in its splendour. The poor
slave from the Hermus had a place in the “Idumaean triumph” of Vespasian,
which his quiet labours had prepared, and he was raised by that emperor to
the benches of the knights.(657) The only check in that prosperous course
seems to have been a brief exile to the shores of Campania in the reign of
Domitian.(658)

Abascantus,(659) the secretary _ab epistulis_ of Domitian’s reign, has
also been commemorated by Statius. That great office which controlled the
imperial correspondence with all parts of the world, was generally held by
freedmen in the first century. Narcissus, in the reign of Claudius, first
made it a great ministry.(660) Down to the reign of Hadrian the despatches
both in Greek and Latin were under a single superintendence. But in the
reorganisation of the service in the second century, it was found
necessary, from the growing complication of business, to create two
departments of imperial correspondence.(661) Men of rank held the
secretaryship from the end of the first century. Titinius Capito, one of
Pliny’s circle, filled the office under Domitian; Suetonius was appointed
by Hadrian.(662) And during the Antonine age, the secretaries were often
men of literary distinction.(663) Abascantus, the freedman secretary in
the Silvae, had upon his shoulders, according to the poet, the whole
weight of the correspondence with both East and West.(664) He received the
laurelled despatches from the Euphrates, the Danube, and the Rhine; he had
to watch the distribution of military grades and commands. He must keep
himself informed of a thousand things affecting the fortunes of the
subject peoples. Yet this powerful minister retained his native modesty
with his growing fortune. His household was distinguished by all the
sobriety and frugality of an Apulian or Sabine home.(665) He could be
lavish, however, at the call of love or loyalty. He gave his wife
Priscilla an almost royal burial.(666) Embalmed with all the spices and
fragrant odours of the East, and canopied with purple, her body was borne
to her last stately home of marble on the Appian Way.(667)

Some of the great imperial freedmen were of less unexceptionable character
than Claudius Etruscus and Abascantus, and had a more troubled career.
Callistus, Narcissus, and Pallas, were deeply involved in the intrigues
and crimes connected with the history of Messalina and Agrippina.
Callistus had a part in the murder of Caligula, and prolonged his power in
the following reign. Narcissus revealed the shameless marriage of
Messalina with Silius, and, forestalling the vacillation of Claudius, had
the imperial harlot ruthlessly struck down as she lay grovelling in the
gardens of Lucullus.(668) But he incurred the enmity of a more formidable
woman even than Messalina, and his long career of plunder was ended by
suicide.(669) Pallas had an even longer and more successful, but a not
less infamous and tragic career.(670) Of all the great freedmen, probably
none approached him in magnificent insolence. When he was impeached along
with Burrus, on a groundless charge of treason, and when some of his
freedmen were called in evidence as his supposed accomplices, the old
slave answered that he had never degraded his voice by speaking in such
company.(671) Never, even in those days of self-abasement, did the Senate
sink so low as in its grovelling homage to the servile minister. At a
meeting of the august body in the year 52, the consul designate made a
proposal, which was seconded by a Scipio, that the praetorian insignia,
and a sum of HS.15,000,000, should be offered to Pallas, together with the
thanks of the state that the descendant of the ancient kings of Arcadia
had thought less of his illustrious race than of the common weal, and had
deigned to be enrolled in the service of the prince!(672) When Claudius
reported that his minister was satisfied with the compliment, and prayed
to be allowed to remain in his former poverty, a senatorial decree,
engraved on bronze, was set up to commemorate the old-fashioned frugality
of the owner of HS.300,000,000! His wealth was gained during a career of
enormous power in the worst days of the Empire. He was one of the lovers
of Agrippina,(673) and, when he made her empress on the death of
Messalina, two kindred spirits for a time ruled the Roman world. He
gratified his patroness by securing the adoption of Nero by Claudius, and
he was probably an accomplice in that emperor’s murder. But his fate was
involved with that of Agrippina. When Nero resolved to shake off the
tyranny of that awful woman, his first step was to remove the haughty
freedman from his offices.(674) Pallas left the palace in the second year
of Nero’s reign. For seven years he lived on undisturbed. But at last his
vast wealth, which had become a proverb, became too tempting to the
spendthrift prince, and Pallas was quietly removed by poison.(675)

The wealth of freedmen became proverbial, and the fortunes of Pallas and
Narcissus reached a figure hardly ever surpassed even by the most colossal
senatorial estates.(676) The means by which this wealth was gained might
easily be inferred by any one acquainted with the inner history of the
times. The manner of it may be read in the life of Elagabalus, whose
freedman Zoticus, the son of a cook at Smyrna, piled up vast riches by
levying a payment, each time he quitted the presence, for his report of
the emperor’s threats or promises or intentions.(677) In the
administration of great provinces, in the distribution of countless places
of trust, in the chaos of years of delation, confiscation, and massacre,
there must have been endless opportunities for self-enrichment, without
incurring the dangers of open malversation. Statius extols the simple
tastes and frugality of his heroes Abascantus and Claudius Etruscus, and
yet he describes them as lavishing money on baths and tombs and funeral
pomp. The truth is that, as a mere matter of policy, these wealthy aliens,
who were never loved by a jealous aristocracy, had to justify their huge
fortunes by a sumptuous splendour. The elder Pliny has commemorated the
vapour baths of Posides, a Claudian freedman, and the thirty pillars of
priceless onyx which adorned the dining saloon of Callistus.(678) A bijou
bath of the younger Claudius Etruscus seems to have been a miracle of
costly beauty. The dome, through which a brilliant light streamed upon the
floor, was covered with scenes in rich mosaic. The water gushed from pipes
of silver into silver basins, and the quarries of Numidia and Synnada
contributed the various colours of their marbles.(679) The gardens of
Entellus, with their purple clusters which defied the rigours of winter,
seemed to Martial to outrival the legendary gardens of Phaeacia.(680) In
the suburbs, hard by the Tiburtine way, rose that defiant monument of
Pallas, bearing the decree of the Senate, which aroused the angry scorn of
the younger Pliny.(681)

The life of one of these imperial slave ministers was a strangely romantic
career which has surely been seldom matched in the history of human
fortunes. Exposed and sold in early youth in the slave markets of Smyrna,
Delos, or Puteoli, after an interval of ignominious servitude, installed
as groom of the chambers, thence promoted, according to his aptitudes, to
be keeper of the jewels, or tutor of the imperial heir, still further
advanced to be director of the post, or to a place in the financial
service, the freedman might end by receiving the honour of knighthood, the
procuratorship of a province, or one of those great ministries which
placed him in command of the Roman world. Yet we must not deceive
ourselves as to his real position.(682) To the very end of the Empire, the
fictions on which aristocratic power is largely based, retained their
fascination. In the fifth century a Senate, whose ancestors were often
originally of servile race, could pour their scorn on the eunuch ministers
of the East.(683) And the decaying or _parvenu_ Senate of the Flavians
had, when they were free to express it, nothing but loathing for the reign
of the freedmen.(684) These powerful but low-born officials are a curious
example of what has been often seen in later times, the point-blank
refusal, or the grudging concession, of social status to men wielding vast
and substantial power. The younger Pliny, in his Panegyric on Trajan,
glories in the preference shown under the new régime for young men of
birth, and in his letters he vents all the long-suppressed scorn of his
order for the Claudian freedmen. Even the emperors who freely employed
their services, were chary of raising them to high social rank. Freedmen
ministers were hardly ever admitted to the ranks of the Senate(685); they
were rarely present at its sittings, even at the very time when they were
governing the world. Sacerdotal and military distinctions were seldom
conferred upon any of them. They were sometimes invested with the insignia
of praetorian or quaestorian rank.(686) A few were promoted to the dignity
of knighthood, Icelus, Asiaticus, Hormus, and Claudius Etruscus(687); but
many a passage in Martial or Juvenal seems to show that ordinary
equestrian rank was in those days a very doubtful distinction.(688) The
emperors, as raised above all ranks, might not have been personally
unwilling to elevate their creatures to the highest social grade.(689) But
even the emperors, in matters of social prejudice, were not omnipotent.

Still, the men who could win the favours of an Agrippina and a Messalina,
could not be extinguished by the most jealous social prejudice. The Roman
Senate were ready, on occasion, to fawn on a Pallas or a Narcissus, to
vote them money and insignia of rank, nor did they always refuse them
their daughters in marriage. In the conflict which is so often seen
between caste pride and the effective power of new wealth, the wealth and
power not unfrequently prevail. The lex Julia prohibited the union of
freedmen with daughters of a senatorial house.(690) Yet we know of several
such marriages in the first century. The wife of the freedman Claudius
Etruscus, was the sister of a consul who had held high command against the
Dacians.(691) Priscilla, the wife of Abascantus, another minister of
servile origin, belonged to the great consular family of the Antistii.
Felix, the brother of Pallas, had married in succession three ladies of
royal blood, one of them the granddaughter of Cleopatra.(692)

The women of this class, for generations, wielded, in their own way, a
power which sometimes rivalled that of the men. These plebeian Aspasias
are a puzzling class. With no recognised social position, with the double
taint of servile origin and more than doubtful morals, they were often
endowed with many charms and accomplishments, possessing a special
attraction for bohemian men of letters. Their morals were the result of an
uncertain social position, combined with personal attractions and
education. To be excluded from good society by ignoble birth, yet to be
more than its equal in culture, is a dangerous position, especially for
women. Often of oriental extraction, these women were the most prominent
votaries of the cults or superstitions which poured into Rome from the
prolific East. Loose character and religious fervour were easily combined
in antiquity. And the _demi-monde_ of those days were ready to mourn
passionately for Adonis and keep all the feasts of Isis or Jehovah,
without scrupling to make a temple a place of assignation.(693) The
history of the early Empire, it has been rather inaccurately said, shows
no reign of mistresses. Yet some of the freedwomen have left their mark on
that dark page of history. Claudius was the slave of women, and two of his
mistresses lent their aid to Narcissus to compass the ruin of
Messalina.(694) The one woman whom Nero really loved, and who loved him in
return, was Acte, who had been bought in a slave market in Asia. She
captured the heart of the Emperor in his early youth, and incurred the
fierce jealousy of Agrippina, as she did, at a later date, that of the
fair, ambitious Poppaea.(695) Acte was faithful to his memory even after
the last awful scene in Phaon’s gardens.(696) And, along with his two
nurses, the despised freedwoman guarded his remains and laid the last of
his line beside his ancestors. Caenis, the mistress who consoled Vespasian
after his wife’s death, without any attractions of youth or beauty, suited
well the taste of the bourgeois Emperor. It was a rather sordid and
prosaic union. And Caenis is said to have accumulated a fortune, and
besmirched the honest Emperor’s name, by a wholesale traffic in State
secrets and appointments.(697) In the last years of our period a very
different figure has been glorified by the art of Lucian. Panthea, the
mistress of L. Verus, completely fascinated the imagination of Lucian when
he saw her at Smyrna, during the visit of her lover to the East.(698)
Lucian pictures her delicately chiselled beauty and grace of form by
recalling the finest traits in the great masterpieces of Pheidias and
Praxiteles and Calamis, of Euphranor and Polygnotus and Apelles; Panthea
combines them all. She has a voice of a marvellous and mellow sweetness,
which lingers in the ear with a haunting memory. And the soul was worthy
of such a fair dwelling-place. In her love of music and poetry, combined
with a masculine strength of intellect capable of handling the highest
problems in politics or dialectic, she was a worthy successor of those
elder daughters of Ionia whose charm and strength drew a Socrates or a
Pericles to their feet.(699) Surrounded by luxury and the pomp of imperial
rank, and linked to a very unworthy lover, Panthea never lost her natural
modesty and simple sweetness.

The great freedmen, who held the highest offices in the imperial service
till the time of Hadrian with almost undisputed sway, are interesting by
reason of the strangely romantic career of some of them. But these are
very exceptional cases. In the bureaux of finance, it has been discovered
from the inscriptions that the officials were all of equestrian rank. On
the other hand, a great number of the provincial procurators were
freedmen. And the agents of the Emperor’s private fisc seem to have been
nearly always drawn from this class. The lower grades of the civil service
were full of them.(700) But to the student of society, the official
freedmen are, as a class, not so interesting as their brethren who in
these same years were making themselves masters of the trade and
commercial capital of the Roman world. And the interest is heightened by
the vivid art with which Petronius has ushered us into the very heart of
this rather vulgar society. The _Satiricon_ is to some extent a
caricature. There were hosts of modest, estimable freedmen whose only
record is in two or three lines on a funeral slab. Yet a caricature must
have a foundation of truth, and a careful reader may discover the truth
under the humorous exaggeration of Petronius.

The transition from the status of slave to that of freedman was perhaps
not so abrupt and marked as we might at first sight suppose. It is
probable that many a slave of the better and more intelligent class found
little practical change in the tenor of his life when he received the
touch of the wand before the praetor. Some, like Melissus, the free-born
slave of Maecenas, actually rejected the proffered boon.(701) There was,
of course, much cruelty to slaves in many Roman households, and the
absolute power of a master, unrestrained by principle or kindly feeling,
was an unmitigated curse till it was limited by the humane legislation of
the second century.(702) But there must have been many houses, like that
of the younger Pliny, where the slaves were treated, in Seneca’s phrase,
as humble friends and real members of the family, where their marriages
were fêted with general gaiety,(703) where their sicknesses were tenderly
watched, and where they were truly mourned in death. The inscriptions
reveal to us a better side of slave life, which is not so prominent in our
literary authorities. There is many an inscription recording the love and
faithfulness of the slave husband and wife, although not under those
honoured names. And it is significant that on many of these tablets the
honourable title of _conjunx_ is taking the place of the old servile
_contubernalis_. The inscriptions which testify to the mutual love of
master and servant are hardly less numerous. In one a master speaks of a
slave-child of four years as being dear to him as a son.(704) Another
contains the memorial of a learned lady erected by her slave
librarian.(705) Another records the love of a young noble for his
nurse,(706) while another is the pathetic tribute of the nurse to her
young charge, who died at five years of age. The whole city household of
another great family subscribe from their humble savings for an
affectionate memorial of their young mistress.(707) Seneca, in his
humanitarian tone about slavery, represents a great moral movement, which
was destined to express itself in legislation under the Antonines. And the
energy with which Seneca denounced harsh or contemptuous conduct to these
humble dependents had evidently behind it the force of a steadily growing
sentiment. The master who abused his power was already beginning to be a
marked man.(708)

Frequent manumissions were swelling the freedman class to enormous
dimensions. The emancipation of slaves by dying bequest was not then,
indeed, inspired by the same religious motive as in the Middle Ages. But
it was often dictated by the natural, human wish to make some return to
faithful servants, and to leave a memory of kindness behind. But without
the voluntary generosity of the master, the slave could easily purchase
his own freedom. The price of slaves varied enormously, according to their
special aptitude and grade of service. It might range from £1700, in rare
cases, to £10, or even less, in our money.(709) But taking the average
price of ordinary slaves, one careful and frugal might sometimes save the
cost of his freedom in a few years. The slave, especially if he had any
special gift, or if he occupied a prominent position in the household, had
many chances of adding to his _peculium_. But the commonest drudge might
spare something from the daily allowance of food.(710) Others, like the
cooks in Apuleius, might sell their perquisites from the remains of a
banquet.(711) The door-keepers, a class notorious for their insolence in
Martial’s day,(712) often levied heavy tolls for admission to their
master’s presence. And good-natured visitors would not depart without
leaving a gift to those who had done them service. It must also be
remembered that the slave system of antiquity covered much of the ground
of our modern industrial organisation. A great household, or a great
estate, was a society almost complete in itself. And intelligent slaves
were often entrusted with the entire management of certain
departments.(713) The great rural properties had their quarries,
brickworks, and mines; and manufactures of all kinds were carried on by
servile industry, with slaves or freedmen as managers. The merchant, the
banker, the contractor, the publisher, had to use, not only slave labour,
but slave skill and superintendence.(714) The great household needed to be
organised under chiefs. And on rural estates, down to the end of the
Western Empire, the villicus or procurator was nearly always a man of
servile origin.(715) In these various capacities, the trusted slave was
often practically a partner, with a share of the profits, or he had a
commission on the returns. Such a fortunate servant, by hoarding his
_peculium_, might soon become a capitalist on his own account, and well
able, if he chose, to purchase his freedom. His _peculium_, like that of
the son _in manu patris_, was of course by law the property of his master.
But the security of the _peculium_ was the security for good service.(716)
Thus a useful and favourite slave often easily became a freedman,
sometimes by purchase, or, as often happened in the case of servants of
the imperial house, by the free gift of the lord. There are even cases on
record where a slave was left heir of his master’s property. Trimalchio
boasted that he had been made by his master joint heir with the
Emperor.(717)

The tie between patron and freedman was very close. The emancipated slave
had often been a trusted favourite, and even a friend of the family, and
his lord was under an obligation to provide for his future. The freedman
frequently remained in the household, with probably little real change in
his position. His patron owed him at least support and shelter. But he
often gave him, besides, the means of an independent life, a farm, a shop,
or capital to start in some trade.(718) In the time of Ovid, a freedman of
M. Aurelius Cotta had more than once received from his patron the fortune
of a knight, besides ample provision for his children.(719) A similar act
of generosity, which was recklessly abused, is recorded by Martial.(720)
By ancient law, as well as by sentiment, senators were forbidden to soil
themselves by trade or usury.(721) But so inconvenient a prohibition was
sure to be evaded. And probably the most frequent means of evasion was by
entrusting senatorial capital to freedmen or clients, or even to the
higher class of slaves.(722) When Trimalchio began to rise in the social
scale, he gave up trade, and employed his capital in financing men of the
freedman class.(723) These people, generally of Levantine origin, had the
aptitude for commerce which has at all times been a characteristic of
their race. And, in the time of the Empire, almost all trade and industry
was in their hands. The tale of Petronius reveals the secret of their
success. They value money beyond anything else; it is the one object of
their lives. They frankly estimate a man’s worth and character in terms of
cash.(724) Keen, energetic, and unscrupulous, they will “pick a farthing
out of a dung-heap with their teeth”; “lead turns to gold in their
hands.”(725) They are entirely of Vespasian’s opinion that gold from any
quarter, however unsavoury, “never smells.” Taking the world as it was, in
many respects they deserved to succeed. They were not, indeed, encumbered
with dignity or self-respect. They had one goal, and they worked towards
it with infinite industry and unfailing courage and self-confidence.
Nothing daunts or dismays them. If a fleet of merchantmen, worth a large
fortune, is lost in a storm, the freedman speculator will at once sell his
wife’s clothes and jewels, and start cheerfully on a fresh venture.(726)
When his great ambition has been achieved, he enjoys its fruits after his
kind in all ages. Excluded from the great world of hereditary culture,
these people caricature its tastes, and imitate all its vices, without
catching even a reflection of its charm and refinement. The selfish
egotism of the dissipated noble might be bad enough, but it was sometimes
veiled by a careless grace, or an occasional deference to lofty tradition.
The selfishness and grossness of the upstart is naked and not ashamed, or
we might almost say, it glories in its shame. Its luxury is a tasteless
attempt to vie with the splendour of aristocratic banquets. The carver and
the waiter perform their tasks to the beat of a deafening music. Art and
literature are prostituted to the service of this vulgar parade of new
wealth, and the divine Homer is profaned by a man who thinks that Hannibal
fought in the Trojan War.(727) The conversation is of the true bourgeois
tone, with all its emphasis on the obvious, its unctuous moralising, its
platitudes consecrated by their antiquity.

It is this society which is drawn for us with such a sure, masterly hand,
and with such graceful ease, by Petronius. The _Satiricon_ is well known
to be one of the great puzzles and mysteries in Roman literature. Scholars
have held the most widely different opinions as to its date, its author,
and its purpose. The scene has been laid in the reign of Augustus or of
Tiberius, and, on the strength of a misinterpreted inscription, even as
late as the reign of Alexander Severus.(728) Those who have attributed it
to the friend and victim of Nero have been confronted with the silence of
Quintilian, Juvenal, and Martial, with the silence of Tacitus as to any
literary work by Petronius, whose character and end he has described with
a curious sympathy and care.(729) It is only late critics of the lower
empire, such as Macrobius,(730) and a dilettante aristocrat like Sidonius
Apollinaris,(731) who pay any attention to this remarkable work of genius.
And Sidonius seems to make its author a citizen of Marseilles.(732) Yet
silence in such cases may be very deceptive. Martial and Statius never
mention one another, and both might seem unknown to Tacitus. And Tacitus,
after the fashion of the Roman aristocrat, in painting the character of
Petronius, may not have thought it relevant or important to notice a light
work such as the _Satiricon_, even if he had ever seen it. He does not
think it worth while to mention the histories of the Emperor Claudius, the
tragedies of Seneca, or the _Punica_ of Silius Italicus.(733) Tacitus,
like Thucydides, is too much absorbed in the social tragedy of his time to
have any thought to spare for its artistic efforts. The rather shallow,
easy-going Pliny has told us far more of social life in the reigns of
Domitian and Trajan, its rural pleasures and its futile literary
ambitions, than the great, gloomy historian who was absorbed in the
vicissitudes of the deadly duel between the Senate and the Emperors. One
thing is certain about the author of this famous piece—he was not a
plebeian man about town, although it may be doubted whether M. Boissier is
safe in maintaining that such a writer would not have chosen his own
environment of the Suburra as the field for his imagination.(734) It is
safer to seek for light on the social status of the author in the tone of
his work. The _Satiricon_ is emphatically the production of a cultivated
aristocrat, who looks down with serene and amused scorn on the vulgar
bourgeois world which he is painting. He is interested in it, but it is
the interest of the detached, artistic observer, whose own world is very
far off. Encolpius and Trimalchio and his coarse freedman friends are
people with whom the author would never have dined, but whom, at a safe
social distance, he found infinitely amusing as well as disgusting. He saw
that a great social revolution was going on before his eyes, that the old
slave minion, with estates in three continents, was becoming the rival of
the great noble in wealth, that the new-sprung class were presenting to
the world a vulgar caricature of the luxury in the palaces on the
Esquiline. Probably he thought it all bad,(735) but the bad became worse
when it was coarse and vulgar. The ignorant assumption of literary and
artistic taste in Trimalchio must have been contrasted in the author’s
mind with many an evening at the palace, when Nero, in his better moods,
would recite his far from contemptible verses, or his favourite passages
from Euripides, and when the new style of Lucan would be balanced against
that of the great old masters.(736) And the man who had been charmed with
the sprightly grace of the stately and charming Poppaea may be forgiven
for showing his hard contempt for Fortunata, who, in the middle of dinner,
runs off to count the silver and deal out the slaves’ share of the
leavings, and returns to get drunk and fight with one of her guests.(737)

The motive of the work has been much debated. It has been thought a satire
on the Neronian circle, and again an effort to gratify it, by a revelation
of the corruptions of the plebeian world, the same impulse which drove
Messalina to the brothel, and Nero to range the taverns at midnight.(738)
It has been thought a satire on the insolence and grossness of Pallas and
the freedmen of the Claudian régime which Nero detested, to amuse him with
all their vulgar absurdities. Is it not possible that the writer was
merely pleasing himself—that he was simply following the impulse of
genius? Since the seventh century the work has only existed in
fragments.(739) Who can tell how much the lost portions, if we possessed
them, might affect our judgment of the object of the work? One thing is
certain, its author was a very complex character, and would probably have
smiled at some of the lumbering efforts to read his secret. Even though he
may have had no lofty purpose, a weary man of pleasure may have wished to
display, in its grossest, vulgarest form, the life of which he had tasted
the pleasures, and which he had seen turning into Dead Sea fruit. He was
probably a bad man in his conduct, worse perhaps in his imagination; and
yet, by a strange contradiction, which is not unexampled in the history of
character, he may have had dreams of a refined purity and temperance which
tortured and embittered him by their contrast with actual life.

Out of the smoke of controversy, the conclusion seems to have emerged that
the _Satiricon_ is a work of Nero’s reign, and that its author was in all
probability that Caius Petronius who was Nero’s close companion, and who
fell a victim to the jealousy of Tigellinus. Not the least cogent proof of
this is the literary criticism of the work. It is well known that Lucan,
belonging to the Spanish family of the Senecas, had thrown off many of the
conventions of Roman literature, and discarded the machinery of epic
mythology in his _Pharsalia_. He had also incurred the literary jealousy
of Nero. The attack in the _Satiricon_ on Lucan’s literary aberrations can
hardly be mistaken. The old poet Eumolpus is introduced to defend the
traditions of the past. And he gives a not very successful demonstration,
in 285 verses, of the manner in which the subject should have been
treated, with all the scenery and machinery of orthodox epic.(740) This
specimen of conservative taste is the least happy part of the work.

Such evidence is reinforced by the harmony of the whole tone of the
_Satiricon_ with the clear-cut character of Petronius in Tacitus. There
was evidently a singular fascination about this man, which, in spite of
his wasted, self-indulgent life, was keenly felt by the severe historian.
Petronius was capable of great things, but in an age of wild licence he
deliberately devoted his brilliant talent to making sensuality a fine art.
Like Otho, who belonged to the same circle, he showed, as consul and in
the government of Bithynia, that a man of pleasure could be equal to great
affairs.(741) After this single digression from the scheme of the
voluptuary, he returned to his pleasures, and became an arbiter in all
questions of sensual taste, from whose decision there was no appeal. His
ascendency over the Emperor drew upon him the fatal enmity of Tigellinus.
Petronius was doomed. It was a time when not even the form of justice was
used to veil the caprices of tyranny, and Petronius determined not to
endure a long suspense when the issue was certain. He had gone as far as
Cumae to attend the Emperor. There he was stopped. He retired to his
chamber and had his veins alternately opened and rebound, meanwhile
conversing with his friends or listening to light verses, not, as the
fashion then was, seeking consolation from a Stoic director on the issues
of life and death. He rewarded some of his slaves; others he had flogged
before his eyes. After a banquet he fell calmly into his last sleep In his
will there was none of the craven adulation by which the victim often
strove to save his heirs from imperial rapacity. He broke his most
precious myrrhine vase, to prevent its being added to Nero’s
treasures.(742) His only bequest to the Emperor was a stinging catalogue
of his secret and nameless sins.(743)

The _Satiricon_, as we have it, is only a fragment, containing parts of
two books, out of a total of sixteen. It is full of humorous exaggeration
and wild Aristophanic fun, along with, here and there, very subtle and
refined delineation of character. But, except in the famous dinner of
Trimalchio, there are few signs of regular construction or closeness of
texture in plot and incident. Even if we had the whole, it might have been
difficult to decipher its motive or to unlock the secret of the author’s
character. We can only be sure that he was a man of genius, and that he
was interested in the intellectual pursuits and tendencies of his time, as
well as in its vices and follies. We may perhaps surmise that he was at
once perverted and disillusioned, alternately fascinated and disgusted by
the worship of the flesh and its lusts in that evil time. He is not, as
has been sometimes said, utterly devoid of a moral sense. Occasionally he
shows a gleam of nobler feeling, a sense of the _lacrimae rerum_, as in
that passage where the corpse of the shipwrecked Lichas is washed ashore.
“Somewhere a wife is quietly awaiting him, or a father or a son, with no
thought of storm; some one whom he kissed on leaving.... He had examined
the accounts of his estates, he had pictured to himself the day of his
return to his home. And now he lies, O ye gods, how far from the goal of
his hopes. But the sea is not the only mocker of the hopes of men. If you
reckon well, there is shipwreck everywhere.”(744) There is also a curious
note of contempt for his own age in a passage on the decay of the fine
arts. The tone is, for the moment, almost that of Ruskin. The glories of
the golden age of art were the result of simple virtue. An age like the
Neronian, an age abandoned to wine and harlotry, which dreams only of
making money by any sordid means, cannot even appreciate what the great
masters have left behind, much less itself produce anything worthy. Even
the gods of the Capitol are now honoured by an offering of crude bullion,
not by the masterpieces of a Pheidias or an Apelles. And the race which
created them are now for us, forsooth, silly Greeklings!(745)

Yet side by side with a passage like this, there are descriptions of
abnormal depravity so coarsely realistic that it has often been assumed,
and not unnaturally, that the writer rioted in mere filth. It should be
remembered, however, that there was a tradition of immorality about the
ancient romance,(746) and Petronius, had he cared to do so, might have
made the same apology as Martial, that he provided what his readers
demanded.(747) That Petronius was deeply tainted is only too probable from
his associations, although Tacitus implies that he was rather a fastidious
voluptuary than a gross debauchee. Yet a sensualist of the intellectual
range of Petronius may have occasionally visions of a better world than
that to which he has sunk. Is it not possible that the gay elegant trifler
may sometimes have scorned himself as he scorned his time? Is it not
possible that, along with other illusions, he had parted with the
illusions of vice, and that in the “noctes Neronis” he had seen the adder
among the roses? He has written one of the keenest satires ever penned on
the vulgarity of mere wealth, its absurd affectations, its vanity, its
grossness. May he not also have wished, without moralising in a fashion
which so cultivated a trifler would have scorned, to reveal the abyss
towards which a society lost to all the finer passions of the spirit was
hurrying? In the half comic, half ghastly scene in which Trimalchio, in a
fit of maudlin sentiment, has himself laid out for dead, while the horns
blare out his funeral lament, we seem to hear the knell of a society which
was the slave of gold and gross pleasure, and seemed to be rotting before
its death.

But it need hardly be said that the prevailing note of the _Satiricon_ is
anything but melancholy. The author is intensely amused with his subject,
and the piece is full of the most riotous fun and humour. It belongs
formally to the medley of prose and verse which Varro introduced into
Roman literature on the model of Menippus of Gadara.(748) It contains
disquisitions on literary tendencies of the day in poetry and oratory,
anecdotes and desultory talk. But Petronius has given a new character to
the old “Satura,” more in the manner of the Greek romance. There probably
was no regular plot in the complete work, no central motive, such as the
wrath of Priapus,(749) to bind it together. Yet there is a certain bond of
union in the narrative of lively, and often questionable, adventures
through which Petronius carries his very disreputable characters. In this
life and movement, this human interest, the _Satiricon_ is the distant
ancestor of _Gil Blas_, _Roderick Random_, and _Tom Jones_.

The scene of the earlier part, long since lost, may have been laid at
Massilia.(750) In the two books partially preserved to us, it lies in
southern Italy, at Cumae or Croton, in those Greek towns which had plenty
of Greek vice, without much Greek refinement.(751) The three strangers,
whose adventures are related, Encolpius, Ascyltus, and Giton, if we may
judge by their names, are also Greek, with the literary culture of their
time, and deeply tainted with its worst vices. At the opening of our
fragment, Encolpius, a beggarly, wandering sophist, is declaiming in a
portico on the decay of oratory.(752) He is expressing what was probably
Petronius’s own judgment, as it was that of Tacitus,(753) as to the evil
effects of school declamation on musty or frivolous subjects. He is met by
a rival lecturer, Agamemnon, who urges, on behalf of the unfortunate
teachers of this conventional rhetoric, that the fault lies not with them,
but with the parents and the public, the same excuse, in fact, which Plato
had long before made for the maligned sophist of the fifth century
B.C.(754) But Encolpius and his companions, in spite of these literary
interests, are the most disreputable adventurers, educated yet hopelessly
depraved. They are even more at home in the reeking slums than in the
lecture hall. Encolpius has been guilty of murder, theft, seduction. The
party are alternately plunderers and plundered. They riot for the moment
in foul excesses, and are tortured by jealousy and the miseries of squalid
vice. Only those who have a taste for pornography will care to follow them
in these dark paths. Reduced to the last pinch of poverty, they are
invited to dine at the all-welcoming table of Trimalchio, and this is for
us the most interesting passage in their adventures. But, on leaving the
rich freedman’s halls they once more pass into scenes where a modern pen
cannot venture to follow them. Yet soon afterwards, Encolpius is found in
a picture gallery discussing the fate of literature and art with
Eumolpus,(755) an inveterate poet, as vicious as himself. Presently the
party are on shipboard off the south Italian coast. They are shipwrecked
and cast ashore in a storm near the town of Croton.(756) A friendly
peasant informs them that, if they are honest merchants, that is no place
for their craft. But if they belong to the more distinguished world of
intrigue, they may make their fortune. It is a society which has no care
for letters or virtue, which thinks only of unearned gain. There are only
two classes, the deceivers and their victims. Children are an expensive
luxury, for only the childless ever receive an invitation or any social
attention. It is like a city ravaged by the plague; there are only left
the corpses and the vultures.(757) The adventurers resolve to seize the
rare opportunity; they will turn the tables on the social birds of prey.
The pauper poet is easily translated into a millionaire with enormous
estates in Africa.(758) A portion of his wealth has been engulfed in the
storm, but a solid HS.300,000,000, with much besides, still remains. He
has a cough, moreover, with other signs of debility. There is no more
idiotic person, as our Stock Exchange records show, than a man eager for
an unearned fortune. The poor fools flocked around Eumolpus, drinking in
every fresh rumour about his will. He was loaded with gifts;(759) great
ladies made an easy offer of their virtue and even that of their
children.(760) Meanwhile he, or Petronius, plays with their follies or
tortures their avidity. In one of his many wills, the heirs of the
pretended Croesus are required not to touch their booty till they have
devoured his remains before the people!(761) The tales of barbarian tribes
in Herodotus, the memories of the siege of Saguntum and Numantia, are
invoked in brutal irony to justify the reasonableness of the demand.
“Close your eyes,” the cynic enjoins, “and fancy that instead of devouring
human flesh, you are swallowing a million of money.” Petronius could be
very brutal as well as very refined in his raillery. The combined
stupidity and greed of the fortune-hunter of all ages are perhaps best met
by such brutality of contempt.

The really interesting part of their adventure is the dinner at the house
of Trimalchio, a rich freedman, to which these rascals were invited.
Trimalchio is probably in many traits drawn from life, but the picture of
himself, of his wife and his associates, is a work of genius worthy of
Fielding or Smollett or Le Sage. Petronius, it is clear, enjoyed his work,
and, in spite of his contempt for the vulgar ambition and the coarseness
and commonness of Trimalchio’s class, he has a liking for a certain
simplicity and honest good nature in Trimalchio. The freedman tells the
story of his own career(762) without reserve, and with a certain pride in
the virtue and frugality, according to his standards, which have made him
what he is. He also exults in his shrewdness and business capacity. His
motto has always been, “You are worth just what you have.” “Buy cheap and
sell dear.” Coming as a little slave boy from Asia, probably in the reign
of Augustus,(763) he became the favourite of his master, and more than the
favourite of his mistress. He found himself in the end the real master of
the household, and, on his patron’s death, he was left joint-heir to his
property with the emperor. But he had ambitions beyond even such a
fortune. He became a ship-owner on a great scale. He lost a quarter of a
million in a single storm, and at once proceeded to build more and larger
ships. Money poured in; all his ventures prospered. He bought estates in
Italy, Sicily, and Africa. Some of his purchases he had never seen.(764)
He built himself a stately house, with marble porticoes, four great
banqueting-halls, and twenty sleeping-rooms.(765) Everything to satisfy
human wants was produced upon his lands. He was a man of infinite
enterprise. He had improved the breed of his flocks by importing rams from
Tarentum. He had bees from Hymettus in his hives. He sent to India for
mushroom spawn.(766) A gazette was regularly brought out, full of
statistics, and all the daily incidents on his estates;(767) the number of
slave births and deaths; a slave crucified for blaspheming the genius of
the master; a fire in the bailiff’s house; the divorce of a watchman’s
wife, who had been caught in adultery with the bathman; a sum of
HS.100,000 paid into the chest, and waiting for investment—these are some
of the items of news. Trimalchio, who bears now, after the fashion of his
class, the good Roman name of Caius Pompeius, has risen to the dignity of
Sevir Augustalis in his municipality;(768) he is one of the foremost
persons in it, with an overwhelming sense of the dignity of wealth, and
with a ridiculous affectation of artistic and literary culture, which he
parades with a delightful unconsciousness of his blunders.

When the wandering adventurers arrive for dinner,(769) they find a bald
old man in a red tunic playing at ball, with eunuchs in attendance. While
he is afterwards being rubbed down with unguents in the bath, his servants
refresh themselves with old Falernian. Then, with four richly dressed
runners preceding him, and wrapped in a scarlet mantle, he is borne to the
house in his sedan along with his ugly minion. On the wall of the
vestibule, as you entered, there were frescoes, one of which represented
the young Trimalchio, under the leadership of Minerva, making his entry
into Rome, with other striking incidents of his illustrious career, while
Fortune empties her flowing horn, and the Fates spin the golden thread of
his destiny.(770) The banquet begins; Alexandrian boys bring iced water
and delicately attend to the guests’ feet, singing all the while.(771)
Indeed, the whole service is accompanied by singing, and the blare of
instruments. To a great, deafening burst of music, the host is at last
borne in buried in cushions, his bare shaven head protruding from a
scarlet cloak, with a stole around his neck, and lappets falling on each
side; his hands and arms loaded with rings.(772) Not being just then quite
ready for dinner, he, with a kindly apology, has a game of draughts, until
he feels inclined to eat, the pieces on the terebinthine board being,
appropriately to such a player, gold and silver coins.(773) The dinner is
a long series of surprises, on the artistic ingenuity of which Trimalchio
plumes himself vastly. One course represents the twelve signs of the
Zodiac, of which the host expounds at length the fateful
significance.(774) Another dish was a large boar, with baskets of
sweetmeats hanging from its tusks. A huge bearded hunter pierced its sides
with a hunting knife, and forthwith from the wound there issued a flight
of thrushes which were dexterously captured in nets as they flew about the
room.(775) Towards the end of the meal the guests were startled by strange
sounds in the ceiling, and a quaking of the whole apartment. As they
raised their eyes, the ceiling suddenly opened, and a great circular tray
descended, with a figure of Priapus, bearing all sorts of fruit and
bon-bons.(776) It may be readily assumed that in such a scene the wine was
not stinted. Huge flagons, coated with gypsum, were brought in shoulder
high, each with a label attesting that it was the great Falernian vintage
of Opimius, one hundred years old.(777) As the wine appeared, the genial
host remarked with admirable frankness, “I did not give as good wine
yesterday, although I had a more distinguished company!”

The amusements of the banquet were as various, and some of them as coarse
or fantastic, as the dishes. They are gross and tasteless exaggerations of
the prevailing fashion. In a literary age, a man of Trimalchio’s position
must affect some knowledge of letters and art. He is a ludicrous example
of the dogmatism of pretentious ignorance in all ages. He has a Greek and
Latin library,(778) and pretends to have once read Homer, although his
recollections are rather confused. He makes, for instance, Daedalus shut
Niobe into the Trojan horse; Iphigenia becomes the wife of Achilles; Helen
is the sister of Diomede and Ganymede.(779) One of the more refined
entertainments which are provided is the performance of scenes from the
Homeric poems, which Trimalchio accompanied by reading in a sonorous voice
from a Latin version.(780) He is himself an author, and has his poems
recited by a boy personating the Bacchic god.(781) As a connoisseur of
plate he will yield to no one,(782) although he slyly confesses that his
“real Corinthian” got their name from the dealer Corinthus. The metal came
from the fused bronze and gold and silver which Hannibal flung into the
flames of captured Troy. But Trimalchio’s most genuine taste, as he
naïvely confesses, is for acrobatic feats and loud horn-blowing. And so, a
company of rope-dancers bore the guests with their monotonous
performances.(783) Blood-curdling tales of the wer-wolf, and corpses
carried off by witches, are provided for another kind of taste.(784) A
base product of Alexandria imitates the notes of the nightingale, and
another, apparently of Jewish race, equally base, in torturing dissonant
tones spouted passages from the _Aeneid_, profaned to scholarly ears by a
mixture of Atellan verses.(785) Trimalchio, who was anxious that his wife
should display her old powers of dancing a _cancan_, is also going to give
an exhibition of his own gifts in the pantomimic line,(786) when the
shrewd lady in a whisper warned him to maintain his dignity. How far she
preserved her own we shall see presently.

The company at this strange party were worthy of their host. And Petronius
has outdone himself in the description of these brother freedmen, looking
up to Trimalchio as the glory of their order, and giving vent to their
ill-humour, their optimism, or their inane moralities, in conversation
with the sly observer who reports their talk. They are all old slaves like
their host, men who have “made their pile,” or lost it. They rate
themselves and their neighbours simply in terms of cash.(787) The only
ability they can understand is that which can “pick money out of the
dung-heap,” and “turn lead to gold.”(788) These gross and infinitely
stupid fellows have not even the few saving traits in the character of
Trimalchio. He has, after all, an honourable, though futile, ambition to
be a wit, a connoisseur, a patron of learning. His luxury is coarse
enough, but he wishes, however vainly, to redeem it by some ingenuity, by
interspersing the mere animal feeding with some broken gleams, or, as we
may think, faint and distorted reflections, of that great world of which
he had heard, but the portals of which he could never enter. But his
company are of mere clay. Trimalchio is gross enough at times, but,
compared with his guests, he seems almost tolerable. And their dull
baseness is the more torturing to a modern reader because it is an
enduring type. The neighbour of the Greek observer warns him not to
despise his company;(789) they are “warm” men. That one at the end of the
couch, who began as a porter, has his HS.800,000. Another, an undertaker,
has had his glorious days, when the wine flowed in rivers;(790) but he has
been compelled to compound with his creditors, and he has played them a
clever trick. A certain Seleucus, whose name reveals his origin, explains
his objections to the bath, especially on this particular morning, when he
has been at a funeral.(791) The fate of the departed friend unfortunately
leads him to moralise on the weakness of mortal men, mere insects, or
bubbles on the stream. As for medical aid, it is an imaginary comfort; it
oftener kills than cures.(792) The great consolation was that the funeral
was respectably done, although the wife was not effusive in her
grief.(793) Another guest will have none of this affected mourning for one
who lived the life of his choice and left his solid hundred thousand.(794)
He was after all a harsh quarrelsome person, very different from his
brother, a stout, kindly fellow with an open hand, and a sumptuous table.
He had his reverses at first, but he was set up again by a good vintage
and a lucky bequest, which he knew, by a sly stroke, how to increase; a
true son of fortune, who lived his seventy years and more, as black as a
crow, a man who lustily enjoyed all the delights of the flesh to the very
end.(795)

But the most interesting person for the modern student is the grumbler
about the management of town affairs, and here a page or two of the
_Satiricon_ is worth a dissertation. The price of bread has gone up, and
the bakers must be in league with the aediles. In the good old times, when
the critic first came from Asia, things were very different.(796) “There
were giants in those days. Think of Safinius, who lived by the old arch, a
man with a sharp, biting tongue, but a true friend, a man who, in the town
council, went straight to his point, whose voice in the forum rang out
like a trumpet. Yet he was just like one of us, knew everybody’s name, and
returned every salute. Why, in those days corn was as cheap as dirt. You
could buy for an as a loaf big enough for two. But the town has since gone
sadly back.(797) Our aediles now think only how to pocket in a day what
would be to some of us a fortune. I know how a certain person made his
thousand gold pieces. If this goes on, I shall have to sell my cottages.
Neither men nor the gods have any mercy. It all comes from our neglect of
religion. No one now keeps a fast, no one cares a fig for Jove. In old
days when there was a drought, the long-robed matrons with bare feet,
dishevelled hair, and pure hearts, would ascend the hill to entreat
Jupiter for rain, and then it would pour down in buckets.”(798) At this
point the maundering, pious pessimist is interrupted by a rag dealer(799)
of a more cheerful temper. “Now this, now that, as the rustic said, when
he lost his speckled pig. What we have not to-day will come to-morrow; so
life rubs along. Why, we are to have a three days’ show of gladiators on
the next holiday, not of the common sort, but many freedmen among them.
And our Titus has a high spirit; he will not do things by halves. He will
give us cold steel without any shirking, a good bit of butchery in full
view of the amphitheatre. And he can well afford it. His father died and
left him HS.30,000,000. What is a paltry HS.400,000 to such a
fortune?(800) and it will give him a name for ever. He has some tit-bits,
too, in reserve, the lady chariot-driver, and the steward of Glyco, who
was caught with his master’s wife; poor wretch, he was only obeying
orders. And the worthless Glyco has given him to the beasts; the lady
deserved to suffer. And I have an inkling that Mammaea is going to give us
a feast, where we shall get two denarii apiece. If she does the part
expected of her, Norbanus will be nowhere. His gladiators were a wretched,
weedy, twopenny-halfpenny lot, who would go down at a mere breath. They
were all cut to pieces, as the cowards deserved, at the call of the crowd,
‘give it them.’ A pretty show indeed! When I applauded, I gave far more
than I got. But friend Agamemnon, you are thinking ‘what is all this
long-winded chatter.’(801) Well, you, who dote on eloquence, why won’t you
talk yourself, instead of laughing at us feeble folk. Some day I may
persuade you to look in at my farm; I daresay, though the times are bad,
we shall find a pullet to eat. And I have a young scholar ripening for
your trade. He has good wits and never raises his head from his task. He
paints with a will. He has begun Greek, and has a real taste for Latin.
But one of his tutors is conceited and idle. The other is very
painstaking, but, in his excess of zeal, he teaches more than he knows. So
I have bought the boy some red-letter volumes, that he may get a tincture
of law for domestic purposes. That is what gives bread and butter. He has
now had enough of literature. If he gives it up, I think I shall teach him
a trade, the barber’s or auctioneer’s or pleader’s,(802) something that
only death can take from him. Every day I din into his ears, Primigenius,
my boy, what you learn you learn for profit. Look at the lawyer Philero.
If he had not learnt his business, he could not keep the wolf from the
door. Why, only a little ago, he was a hawker with a bundle on his back,
and now he can hold his own with Norbanus. Learning is a treasure, and a
trade can never be lost.”

To all this stimulating talk there are lively interludes. A guest thinks
one of the strangers, in a superior way, is making game of the company,
and assails him with a shower of the choicest abuse, in malodorous Latin
of the slums, interlarded with proud references to his own rise from the
slave ranks.(803) Trimalchio orders the house-dog, Scylax, to be brought
in, but the brute falls foul of a pet spaniel, and, in the uproar, a lamp
is overthrown, the vases on the table are all smashed, and some of the
guests are scalded with the hot oil.(804) In the middle of this lively
scene, a lictor announces the approach of Habinnas, a stone-cutter, who is
also a great dignitary of the town. He arrives rather elevated from
another feast of which he has pleasant recollections. He courteously asks
for Fortunata,(805) who happens to be just then looking after the plate
and dividing the remains of the feast among the slaves. That lady, after
many calls, appears in a cherry coloured tunic with a yellow girdle,
wiping her hands with her neckerchief. She has splendid rings on her arms,
legs, and fingers, which she pulls off to show them to the stone-cutter’s
lady. Trimalchio is proud of their weight, and orders a balance to be
brought in to confirm his assertions. It is melancholy to relate that, in
the end, the two ladies get hopelessly drunk, and fall to embracing one
another in a rather hysterical fashion. Fortunata even attempts to
dance.(806) In the growing confusion the slaves take their places at
table, and the cook begins to give imitations of a favourite actor,(807)
and lays a wager with his master on the chances of the green at the next
races. Trimalchio, who by this time was becoming very mellow and
sentimental, determines to make his will, and to manumit all his slaves,
with a farm to one, a house to another. He even gives his friend the
stone-cutter full directions about the monument which is to record so
brilliant a career. There is to be ample provision for its due keeping, in
the fashion so well known from the inscriptions, with a fair space of
prescribed measurements, planted with vines and other fruit trees.
Trimalchio wishes to be comfortable in his last home.(808) On the face of
the monument ships under full sail are to figure the sources of his
wealth.(809) He himself is to be sculptured, seated on a tribunal, clothed
with the _praetexta_ of the Augustalis, with five rings on his fingers,
ladling money from a bag, as in the great banquet with which he had once
regaled the people.(810) On his right hand there is to be the figure of
his wife holding a dove and a spaniel on a leash. A boy is to be graved
weeping over a broken urn. And, finally, in the centre of the scene, there
is to be a horologe, that the passer-by, as he looks for the hour, may
have his eyes always drawn to the epitaph which recited the dignities and
virtues of the illustrious freedman. It told posterity that “C. Pompeius
Trimalchio Maecenatianus was pious, stout, and trusty, that he rose from
nothing, left HS.30,000,000, and never heard a philosopher.” The whole
company, along with Trimalchio himself, of course wept copiously at the
mere thought of the close of so illustrious a career. After renewing their
gastric energy in the bath, the company fell to another banquet. Presently
a cock crows, and Trimalchio, in a fit of superstition, spills his wine
under the table,(811) passes his rings to the right hand, and offers a
reward to any one who will bring the ominous bird. The disturber was soon
caught and handed over to the cook for execution. Then Trimalchio excites
his wife’s natural anger by a piece of amatory grossness, and, in
retaliation for her very vigorous abuse, flings a cup at her head. In the
scene which follows he gives, with the foulest references to his wife’s
early history, a sketch of his own career and the eulogy of the virtues
that have made him what he is.(812) Growing more and more sentimental, he
at last has himself laid out for dead;(813) the horn-blowers sound his
last lament, one of them, the undertaker’s man, with such a good will,
that the town watch arrived in breathless haste with water and axes to
extinguish a fire. The strangers seized the opportunity to escape from the
nauseous scene. Their taste raised them above Trimalchio’s circle, but
they were quite on the level of its morals. Encolpius and his companions
are soon involved in other adventures, in which it is better not to follow
them.

The lesson of all this purse-proud ostentation and vulgarity, the moral
which Petronius may have intended to point, is one which will be taught
from age to age by descendants of Trimalchio, and which will be never
learnt till a far off future. But we need not moralise, any more than
Petronius. We have merely given some snatches of a work, which is now
seldom read, because it throws a searching light on a class which was
rising to power in Roman society. We have now seen the worst of that
society, whether crushed by the tyranny of the Caesars, or corrupted and
vulgarised by sudden elevation from ignominious poverty to wealth and
luxury. But there were great numbers, both among the nobles and the
masses, who, in that evil time, maintained the traditions of old Roman
soberness and virtue. The three following chapters will reveal a different
life from that which we have hitherto been describing.



                                 BOOK II


                        _RARA TEMPORUM FELICITAS_



                                CHAPTER I


                     THE CIRCLE OF THE YOUNGER PLINY


It is a great relief to turn from the picture of base and vulgar luxury in
the novel of Petronius to the sobriety and refinement of a class which has
been elaborately painted by a less skilful artist, but a better man. The
contrast between the pictures of Petronius and those of Pliny, of course,
raises no difficulty. The writers belonged indeed to the same order, but
they were describing two different worlds. The difficulty arises when we
compare the high tone of the world which Pliny has immortalised, with the
hideous revelations of contemporary licence in the same class which meet
us in Juvenal, Martial, and Tacitus. And historical charity or optimism
has often turned the contrast to account. But there is no need to pit the
quiet testimony of Pliny against the fierce invective of Juvenal. Indeed
to do so would indicate an imperfect insight into the character of the men
and the associations which moulded their views of the society which
surrounded them. The friends of Pliny were for the most part
contemporaries of the objects of Juvenal’s wrath and loathing.(814) But
although the two men lived side by side during the same years, and
probably began to write for the public about the same date,(815) there is
no hint that they ever met. They were socially at opposite poles; they
were also as widely separated by temperament. Pliny was a charitable,
good-natured man, an aristocrat, living among the _élite_, with an assured
position and easy fortune—a man who, as he admits himself, was inclined to
idealise his friends.(816) He probably shut his eyes to their moral
faults, just as he felt bound in honour to extol their third-rate literary
efforts. Juvenal was, as in a former chapter we have seen reason to
believe, a soured and embittered man, who viewed the society of the great
world only from a distance, and caught up the gossip of the servants’
hall. With the heat of an excitable temperament, he probably magnified
what he heard, and he made whole classes responsible for the folly and
intemperance of a few. Martial, the friend of Juvenal, lived in the same
atmosphere, but, while Juvenal was inspired by a moral purpose, Martial
caters, unabashed, for a prurient taste.(817) Both the charitable optimist
and the gloomy, determined pessimist, by limiting their view, can find
ample materials for their respective estimates of pagan society towards
the end of the first century. A judicial criticism will combine or balance
the opposing evidence rather than select the witnesses.

The truth is that society in every age presents the most startling moral
contrasts, and no single comprehensive description of its moral condition
can ever be true. This has been too often forgotten by those who have
passed judgment on the moral state of Roman society, both in the first age
of the Empire and in the last. That there was stupendous corruption and
abnormal depravity under princes like Caligula, Nero, and Domitian, we
hardly need the testimony of the satirists to induce us to believe. That
there were large classes among whom virtuous instinct, and all the sober
strength and gravity of the old Roman character, were still vigorous and
untainted, is equally attested and equally certain. Ingenious immorality
and the extravagance of luxury were no doubt rampant in the last century
of the Republic and in the first century of the Empire, and their enormity
has been heightened by the perverted and often prurient literary skill
with which the orgies of voluptuous caprice have been painted to the last
loathsome details. Yet even Ovid has a lingering ideal of womanly dignity
which may repel, by refined reserve, the audacity of libertinism.(818) He
was forced, by old-fashioned scruple or imperial displeasure, to make an
elaborate apology for the lubricities of the _Ars Amandi_.(819) The most
wanton writer of the evil days shrinks from justifying adultery, and
hardly ever fails to respect the unconscious innocence of girlhood. In the
days when, according to Juvenal, Roman matrons were eloping with
gladiators, and visiting the slums of Rome, Tacitus and Favorinus were
preaching the duties of a pure motherhood.(820) In the days when crowds
were gloating over the obscenities of pantomime, and aristocratic
dinner-parties were applauding the ribaldry of Alexandrian songs,
Quintilian was denouncing the corruption of youth by the sight of their
fathers toying with mistresses and minions.(821) In an age when matrons of
noble rank were exposing themselves at the pleasure of an emperor, the
philosopher Musonius was teaching that all indulgence, outside the sober
limits of wedlock, was a gross, animal degradation of human dignity.(822)
And it is thus we may balance Juvenal and Martial on the one side and
Pliny on the other. The gloomy or prurient satirist gives us a picture of
ideal baseness; the gentle and charitable aristocrat opens before us a
society in which people are charmingly refined, and perhaps a little too
good. Yet it is said with truth that an age should be judged by its ideals
of goodness rather than by its moral aberrations. And certain it is that
the age of Pliny and Tacitus and Quintilian had a high moral ideal, even
though it was also the age of Domitian. The old Roman character, whatever
pessimists, ancient or modern, may say, was a stubborn type, which
propagated itself over all the West, and survived the Western Empire. It
is safe to believe that there was in Italy and Gaul and Spain many a
_grand seigneur_ of honest, regular life, virtuous according to his
lights, like Pliny’s uncle, or his Spurinna, or Verginius Rufus, or
Corellius. There were certainly many wedded lives as pure and
self-sacrificing as those of the elder Arria and Caecina Paetus, or of
Calpurnia and Pliny.(823) There were homes like those at Fréjus,(824) or
Como, or Brescia,(825) in which boys and girls were reared in a refined
and severe simplicity, which even improved upon the tradition of the
golden age of Rome. And, as will be seen in a later chapter, many a brief
stone record remains which shows that, even in the world of slaves and
freedmen, there were always in the darkest days crowds of humble people,
with honest, homely ideals, and virtuous family affection, proud of their
industries, and sustaining one another by help and kindness.

In this sounder class of Roman society, it will be found that the saving
or renovating power was, not so much any religious or philosophic impulse,
as the wholesome influence, which never fails from age to age, of family
duty and affection, reinforced, especially in the higher ranks, by a long
tradition of Roman dignity and self-respect, and by the simple cleanness
and the pieties of country life. The life of the blameless circle of
aristocrats which Pliny determined to preserve for the eyes of posterity,
seems to be sometimes regarded as the result of a sudden transformation, a
rebound from the frantic excesses of the time of the Claudian Caesars to
the simpler and severer mode of life of which Vespasian set a powerful
example. That there was such a change of moral tone, especially in the
class surrounding the court, partly caused by financial exhaustion, partly
by the introduction of new men from the provinces into the ranks of the
Senate, is certified by the supreme authority of Tacitus.(826) Yet we
should remember that men like Agricola, the father-in-law of Tacitus, or
Verginius Rufus, or Fabatus, the grandfather of Pliny’s wife, or the elder
Pliny, and many another, were not converted prodigals. They knew how to
reconcile, by quietude or politic deference, the dignity of Roman virtue
with a discreet acquiescence even in the excesses of despotism. The
fortunes of many of them remained unimpaired. The daily life of men like
the elder Pliny and Spurinna, is distinguished by a virtuous calm, an
almost painful monotony of habit, in which there seems to have been
nothing to reform except, perhaps, a certain moral rigidity.(827) Above
all, and surely it is the most certain proof and source of the moral
soundness of any age, the ideal of womanhood was still high, and it was
even then not seldom realised. There may have been many who justified the
complaint of moralists that mothers did not guard with vigilant care the
purity of their children. But there were women of the circle of Tacitus
and Pliny as spotless as the half-legendary Lucretia, as they were far
more accomplished, and probably far more charming. It is often said that
women sink or rise according to the level of the men with whom they are
linked. If that be true, there must have been many good men in the days of
the Flavian dynasty.

The younger Pliny, whose name, before his adoption, was Publius Caecilius
Secundus,(828) was descended from families which had been settled at Como
since the time of the first Caesar.(829) They belonged to the local
aristocracy, and possessed estates and villas around the lake. Pliny’s
father, who had held high municipal office, died early, but the boy had
the great advantage of the guardianship of Verginius Rufus, for whose
character and achievements his ward felt the profoundest reverence.(830)
That great soldier had been governor of Upper Germany at the close of
Nero’s reign, and, with a deference to old constitutional principles,
which Pliny must have admired, had twice, at the peril of his life,
refused to receive the imperial place at the hands of his clamorous
legions.(831) Pliny was born in 61 or 62 A.D., the time which saw the
death of Burrus, the retirement of Seneca from public life, and the
marriage of Nero with Poppaea.(832) His infancy therefore coincided with
the last and wildest excesses of the Neronian tyranny. But country places
like Como felt but little of the shock of these moral earthquakes. There
was no school in Como till one was founded by Pliny’s own generosity.(833)
But the boy had probably, in his early years, the care of his uncle, the
author of the _Natural History_, who, during the worst years of the
Terror, was living, like many others, in studious retirement on his
estates.(834) The uncle and nephew were men of very different temperament,
but there can be little doubt that the character and habits of the older
man profoundly influenced the ideals of the younger. The elder Pliny would
have been an extraordinary character even in a puritan age; he seems
almost a miracle in the age of the Claudian Caesars. He was born in 23
A.D., in the reign of Tiberius; and his early youth and manhood cover the
reigns of Caligula and Claudius. He was only 32 when Nero came to the
throne. He returned to Rome in 71 to hold a high place in the councils of
Vespasian.(835) That more than monastic asceticism, that jealous hoarding
of every moment,(836) that complete indifference to ordinary pleasures, in
comparison with the duty, or the ambition, of transmitting to future ages
the accumulations of learned toil, is a curious contrast to the Gargantuan
feasts or histrionic aestheticism which were the fashion in the circle of
the Claudian Emperors. The younger Pliny has left us a minute account of
his uncle’s routine of life, and justly adds that the most intense
literary toil might seem mere idleness in comparison.(837) His studies
often began soon after midnight, broken by an official visit to the
emperor before dawn. After administrative work was over, the remainder of
the day was spent in reading or writing. Even in the bath or on a journey,
this literary industry was never interrupted. A reader or amanuensis was
always at hand to save the moments that generally are allowed to slip away
to waste. He tells Titus in his preface that he had consulted 2000 volumes
for his _Natural History_.(838) The 160 volumes of closely written notes,
which the austere enthusiast could have sold once for £3500, might have
challenged the industry of a Casaubon or a Mommsen.

The laborious intensity of the elder Pliny was probably unrivalled in his
day. But the moral tone, the severe self-restraint, the contempt for the
sensual, or even the comfortable, side of life, the plain unspeculative
stoicism, was a tone which, from many indications in the younger Pliny and
in the other literature of the time, appears to have been not so rare as
the reader of Juvenal or Martial might suspect. A book like the Caesars of
Suetonius, concentrating attention on the life of the emperor and his
immediate circle, is apt to suggest misleading conclusions as to the
condition of society at large. The old Roman character, perhaps the
strongest and toughest national character ever developed, was an enduring
type, and its true home was in the atmosphere of quiet country places in
northern or central Italy, where the round of rural labour and simple
pleasures reproduced the environment in which it first took form. We have
glimpses of many of these nurseries or retreats of old-fashioned virtue in
Pliny’s Letters. Brescia and Padua, in the valley of the Po, were
especially noted for frugality and severity.(839) And it was from among
the youth of Brescia that Pliny suggested a husband for the daughter of
the stoic champion, Arulenus Rusticus. There must have been many a home,
like those of Spurinna, or Corellius Rufus, or Fabatus,(840) or the poet
Persius, where, far from the weary conventionality of the capital, the
rage for wealth, the rush of vulgar self-assertion, there reigned the
tranquil and austere ideal of a life dedicated to higher ends than the
lusts of the flesh, or the ghoul-like avarice that haunted death-beds.
There are youths and maidens in the portrait-gallery of Pliny whose
innocence was guarded by good women as pure and strong as those matrons
who nursed the stern, unbending soldiers of the Samnite and Punic
wars.(841)

The great struggle in which the legions of the East and West met again,
and yet again, in the valley of the Po, probably did not much disturb the
quiet homes on lake Como. The close of that awful conflict gave the world
ten years of quiet and reformation, which were a genial atmosphere for the
formation of many characters like Pliny’s. The reign of the Flavians was
ushered in by the mystery and glamour of Eastern superstition, by oracles
on Mount Carmel and miracles at Alexandria.(842) But the plain Sabine
soldier, who was the saviour of the Roman State, brought to his momentous
task a clear unsophisticated good sense, with no trace of that crapulous
excitement which had alternated between the heroics of spurious art and
the lowest bohemianism. Vespasian, although he was not a figure to strike
the imagination, was yet, if we think of the abyss from which, by his
single strength, he rescued the Rome world,(843) undoubtedly one of the
greatest of the emperors. And his biographer, with an unusual tact,
suggests what was probably one secret of his strength. Vespasian regularly
visited the old farmhouse at Reate which was the cradle of his race.
Nothing in the old place was ever changed. And, on holidays and
anniversaries the emperor never failed to drink from the old silver goblet
which his grandmother had used.(844) The strength and virtue of the Latin
race lay, not in religion or philosophy, but in the family pieties and
devotion to the State. Vespasian found it urgent to bring order into the
national finances, which had been reduced to chaos by the wild
extravagance of his predecessors, and to recruit the Senate, which had
been more than decimated by proscription, confiscation, and vicious
self-abandonment.(845) In performing his task, he did not shrink from the
charge of cheese-paring, just as he did not dread the unpopularity of
fresh taxation.(846) But he could be liberal as well as parsimonious. He
restored many of the ancient temples, even in country places.(847) He made
grants to senators whose fortunes had decayed or had been wasted.(848) He
spent great sums on colossal buildings and on amusements for the
people.(849) But the most singular and interesting trait in this
remarkable man is that, with no pretensions to literary or artistic
culture, he was the first Caesar who gave a fixed endowment to professors
of the liberal arts, and that he was the founder of that public system of
education(850) which, for good or evil, produced profound effects on Roman
character and intellect down to the end of the Western Empire. His motive
was not, as some have suggested, to bring literature into thraldom to the
State. He was really making himself the organ of a great intellectual
movement. For, while the vast field of administration absorbed much of the
energy of the cultivated class, the decay of free institutions had left a
great number with only a shadow of political interest, and the mass of
unoccupied talent had to find some other scope for its energies. It found
it for ages, till the end of the Western Empire, in fugitive and ephemeral
composition, or in the more ephemeral displays of the rhetorical
class-room.(851) Vespasian perhaps did a greater service in renovating the
upper class of Rome by the introduction of many new men from the
provinces, to fill the yawning gaps in senatorial and equestrian ranks.
Spain contributed more than its fair share to the literature and
statesmanship of this period.(852) And one of the best and most
distinguished sons of that province who found a career at Rome, was the
rhetor Quintilian.

The young Pliny, under his uncle’s care, probably came to Rome not long
after Quintilian entered on his career of twenty years, as a teacher of
rhetoric.(853) While the elder Pliny was one of Vespasian’s trusted
advisers, and regularly visited the emperor on official business before
dawn, his nephew was forming his taste and character under the greatest
and best of Roman teachers. Quintilian left a deep impression on the
younger Pliny.(854) He made him a Ciceronian, and he fortified his
character. The master was one who believed that, in education, moral
influence and environment are even more important than intellectual
stimulus. He deplores the moral risks to which the careless,
self-indulgent parent, or the corrupt tutor, may expose a boy in the years
when the destiny of a life is decided for better or worse. Intellectual
ambition is good. But no brilliancy of intellect will compensate for the
loss of the pure ingenuous peace of boyhood. This is the faith of
Quintilian, and it was also the faith of his pupil.(855) And it may be
that the teaching of Quintilian had a larger share in forming the moral
ideals of the Antonine age in the higher ranks than many more definitely
philosophic guides, whose practice did not always conform to their
doctrine.

Quintilian’s first principle is that the orator must be a good man in the
highest and widest sense, and, although he will not refuse to borrow from
the philosophical schools, he yet boldly asserts the independence of the
oratorical art in moulding the character of the man who, as statesman or
advocate, will have constantly to appeal to moral principles.(856) This
tone, combined with his own high example of seriousness, honour, and the
purest domestic attachment,(857) must have had a powerful effect on the
flower of the Roman youth, who were his pupils for nearly a generation.
There are none of his circle whose virtues Pliny extols more highly than
the men who had sat with him on the same benches, and who accompanied or
followed one another in the career of public office. One of the dearest of
these youthful friends was Voconius Romanus, who, besides being a learned
pleader, with a keen and subtle intellect, was gifted with a singular
social charm and sweetness of manner.(858) Another was Cornutus Tertullus,
who was bound to Pliny by closer ties of sympathy than any of his friends,
and for whose purity of character he had a boundless admiration. They were
also united in the love and friendship of the best people of the
time.(859) They were official colleagues in the consulship, and in the
prefecture of the treasury of Saturn. For another academic friend, Julius
Naso, who had been his loyal supporter in all his work and literary
ambitions, he earnestly begs the aid of Fundanus, to secure him official
advancement.(860) Calestrius Tiro, who rose to be proconsul of the
province of Baetica, must be included in this select company. He had
served with Pliny in the army of Syria, and had been his colleague in the
quaestorship; they constantly visited one another at their country
seats.(861) Such men, linked to one another by memories of boyhood and by
the cares of the same official career, must have been a powerful and
salutary element in social and political life at the opening of the
Antonine age.

It is a curious thing that, while Pliny lived in the closest friendship
with the Stoic opposition of Domitian’s reign, and has unbounded reverence
for its canonised saints, as we may call them, he shows few traces of any
real interest in speculative philosophy. Indeed, in one passage he
confesses that on such subjects he speaks as an amateur.(862) He probably
thought, like his friend Tacitus, that philosophy was a thing to be taken
in moderation by the true Roman. It was when he was serving on the staff
in Asia that he formed a close friendship with Artemidorus, whom Musonius
chose for his daughter’s hand.(863) Pliny has not a word to say of his
opinions, but he extols his simplicity and genuineness—qualities, he adds,
which you rarely find in the other philosophers of the day. It was at the
same time that he formed a friendship with the Stoic Euphrates. That
philosopher, who is so studiously maligned by Philostratus, was a heroic
figure in Pliny’s eyes.(864) But what Pliny admires in him is not so much
his philosophy, as his grave ornate style, his pure character, which
showed none of that harsh and ostentatious severity which was then so
common in his class. Euphrates is a polished gentleman after Pliny’s own
heart, tall and stately, with flowing hair and beard, a man who excites
reverence but not fear, stern to vice, but gentle to the sinner. Pliny
seems to have set little store by the formal preaching of philosophy. In a
letter on the uses of sickness, he maintains that the moral lessons of the
sick-bed are worth many formal disquisitions on virtue.(865)

Yet this man, apparently without the slightest taste for philosophic
inquiry, or even for the homilies which, in his day, had taken the place
of real speculation, had a profound veneration for the Stoic martyrs, and,
true gentleman as he was, he risked his life in the times of the last
Terror to befriend them. It needed both nerve and dexterity to be the
friend of philosophers in those days. In that perilous year, 93 A.D., when
Pliny was praetor,(866) the philosophers were banished from the city. Yet
the praetor visited Artemidorus in his suburban retreat, and, with his
wonted generosity, he helped the philosopher to wipe out a heavy debt
which he had contracted. One of Pliny’s dearest friends was Junius
Mauricus, the brother of Arulenus Rusticus, who had been put to death by
Domitian for writing a eulogy on Thrasea the Stoic saint, the champion of
the higher life in Nero’s reign.(867) Junius Mauricus afterwards suffered
exile himself in the same cause. He had charged himself with the care of
his martyred brother’s children, and Pliny helped him to find a worthy
husband for the daughter of Rusticus.(868) With Fannia the widow of
Helvidius, and the daughter of Thrasea, Pliny’s intimacy seems to have
been of the closest kind. From her he heard the tales, now too well worn,
of the fierce firmness of the elder Arria in nerving her husband Paetus
for death, and of her own determined self-immolation.(869) The mother of
Fannia, the younger Arria, when Thrasea her husband was condemned to die
in the reign of Nero, was only prevented from sharing his fate by the most
earnest entreaties of her friends.(870) Fannia had followed Helvidius into
exile in Nero’s reign,(871) and again under Vespasian, when the
philosopher, with a petulance very unlike the reserve of Thrasea, brought
his fate upon himself by an insulting disregard of the emperor’s dignity
as first magistrate of the State, if not by revolutionary tendencies.(872)
Fannia seems to have inherited many of the great qualities of her father
Thrasea, the noblest and the wisest member of the Stoic opposition. He
sprang from a district in Lombardy which was noted for its soundness and
gravity of character. Unlike Paetus(873) and Helvidius, he never defied or
intrigued against the emperor, even when the emperor was a Nero. And,
though he belonged to the austere circle of Persius, he did not disdain to
sing in tragic costume, at a festival of immemorial antiquity, in his
native Patavium.(874) He performed his duties as senator with firm
dignity, and yet with cautious tact. His worst political crime, and that
which proved his ruin, was a severe reserve and a refusal to join in the
shameful adulation of the matricide prince. He would not stoop to vote
divine honours to the adulteress Poppaea, and for three years he absented
himself from the Senate-house.(875) Yet, when the end came, he would not
allow the fiery Arulenus Rusticus to imperil his future, by interposing
his veto as tribune.(876) His daughter Fannia was worthy of her
illustrious descent. She showed all the fearless defiance of the elder
Arria, when she boldly admitted that she had asked Senecio to write her
husband’s life, and she uttered no word to deprecate her doom. When all
her property was confiscated, she carried the dangerous volume with her to
her place of exile.(877) Yet this stern heroine had also the tenderer
virtues. She nursed her kinswoman Junia, one of the Vestals, through a
dangerous fever, and caught the seeds of her own death from her charge.
With all her masculine firmness and courage, she had a sweetness and charm
which made her not less loved than venerated. With her may be said to have
expired the peculiar tradition of a circle which, for three generations,
and during the reigns of eight emperors, guarded, sometimes with dangerous
defiance, the old ideal of uncompromising virtue in the face of a brutal
and vulgar materialism. It was the tradition which inspired the austere
detachment of the poetry of Persius, with its dim solemnity and obscure
depths, as of a sacred grove. These people were hard and stern to vicious
power,(878) like our own Puritans of the seventeenth century. Like them
too, they were exclusive and defiant, with the cold hauteur of a moral
aristocracy, a company of the elect, who would not even parley with evil,
for whom the issues of life and death were the only realities in a world
hypnotised by the cult of the senses and the spell of tyranny. Their
intense seriousness was a religion, although they had only the vaguest and
most arid conception of God, and the dimmest and least comforting
conception of any future life. They seemed to perish as a little sect of
troublesome visionaries; and yet their spirit lived on, softened and
sweetened, and passed into the great rulers of the Antonine age.

Before his formal period of military service as tribune of the 3rd Gallic
legion in Syria, Pliny had, in his nineteenth year, entered on that
forensic career which was perhaps the greatest pride of his life.(879) He
practised in the Centumviral court, which was chiefly occupied with
questions of property and succession. Occasionally he speaks with a
certain weariness of the trivial character of the cases in which he was
engaged. But his general estimate is very different. The court is to him
an arena worthy of the greatest talent and industry,(880) and the
successful pleader may win a fame which may entitle him to take rank with
the great orators of the past. Pliny, inspired by memories of Quintilian’s
lectures, has always floating before him the glory of Cicero.(881) He will
prepare for publication a speech delivered in an obscure case about a
disputed will.(882) He is immensely proud of its subtlety and point, and
the sweep of its indignant or pathetic declamation, and he is not
unwilling to believe his legal friends who compared it with the _De
Corona_! The suppression of free political life, the absence of public
interests, and the extinction of the trade of the delator, left young men
with a passion for distinction few chances of gratifying it. The law
courts at any rate provided an audience, and the chance of momentary
prominence. In the Letters of Pliny, we can see the young advocate pushing
his way through the dense masses of the crowded court, arriving at his
place with torn tunic, holding the attention of his audience for seven
long hours, and sitting down amid the applause even of the judges
themselves.(883) Calpurnia often arranged relays of messengers to bring
her news of the success, from point to point, of one of her husband’s
speeches.(884) Youths of the highest social rank—a Salinator, or a
Ummidius Quadratus—threw themselves eagerly into the drudgery which might
make an ephemeral name.(885) Ambitious pretenders, with no talent or
learning, and arrayed perhaps in hired purple and jewels, like Juvenal’s
needy lawyer, forced themselves on to the benches of the advocates, and
engaged a body of claqueurs whose applause was purchased for a few
denarii.(886) Pliny has such a pride in this profession, he so idealises
what must have been often rather humdrum work, that he feels a personal
pain at anything which seems to detract from the old-fashioned, leisurely
dignity of the court. In his day the judges seem to have been becoming
more rapid and business-like in their procedure, and less inclined to
allow the many _clepsydrae_ which men of Pliny’s school demanded for the
gradual development of all their rhetorical artifices. He regrets the good
old times, when adjournments were freely granted,(887) and days would be
spent on a case which was now despatched in as many hours. It is for this
reason that he cannot conceal a certain admiration for Regulus, in other
respects, “the most detestable of bipeds” but who redeemed his infamy by
an enthusiasm and energy as an advocate which rivalled even that of Pliny.

M. Aquilius Regulus, the prince of delators, and one of the great glories
of the Roman bar in Domitian’s reign, is a singular figure. His career and
character are a curious illustration of the social history of the times.
Regulus was the son of a man who, in Nero’s reign, had been driven into
exile and ruined.(888) Bold, able, recklessly eager for wealth and
notoriety at any cost, as a mere youth he resolved to raise himself from
obscure indigence, and soon became one of the most capable and dreaded
agents of the tyranny. He gained an evil fame by the ruin of the great
houses of the Crassi and Orfiti. Lust of blood and greed of gain drove him
on to the wholesale destruction of innocent boys, noble matrons, and men
of the most illustrious race. The cruelty of Nero was not swift enough to
satisfy him, and he called for the annihilation of the Senate at a stroke.
He rose rapidly to great wealth, honours were showered upon him, and,
after a prudent retirement in the reigns of Vespasian and Titus, he
reached the pinnacle of his depraved ambition under Vespasian’s cruel son.
He figures more than once in the poems of Martial, and always in the most
favourable light. His talent and eloquence, according to the poet, were
only equalled by his piety, and the special care of the gods had saved him
from being buried under the ruins of a cloister which had suddenly fallen
in.(889) He had estates at Tusculum, in Umbria and Etruria.(890) The
courts were packed when he rose to plead.(891) Unfortunately, the needy
poet furnishes a certain key to all this flattery, when he thanks Regulus
for his presents, and then begs him to buy them back.(892) It is after
Domitian’s death that we meet Regulus in Pliny’s pages. The times are
changed, the delator’s day is over, and Regulus is a humbler man. But he
is still rich, courted, and feared; he is still a great power in the law
courts. With a weak voice, a bad memory, and hesitating utterance,(893) by
sheer industry and determination he had made himself a powerful speaker,
with a style of his own, sharp, pungent, brutally incisive, ruthlessly
sacrificing elegance to point.(894) He belonged to the new school, and
sometimes sneered at Pliny’s affectation of the grand Ciceronian
manner.(895) Yet to Pliny’s eyes, his earnest strenuousness in his
profession redeems some of his vices. He insists on having ample time to
develop his case.(896) He appears in the morning pale with study, wearing
a white patch on his forehead. He has consulted the diviners as to the
success of his pleadings.(897) It is a curious sign of the times that this
great advocate, who already possessed an enormous fortune, was a
legacy-hunter of the meanest sort. He actually visited, on her death-bed,
Verania, the widow of that Piso, the adopted son of Galba, over whose
murder Regulus had savagely gloated, and by telling her that the stars
promised a hope of recovery, he obtained a place in her will. His mourning
for his son displayed all the feverish extravagance and grandiose
eccentricity of a true child of the Neronian age.(898) The boy’s ponies
and dogs and pet birds were slaughtered over his pyre. Countless pictures
and statues of him were ordered. His memoir was read by the father to a
crowded audience, and a thousand copies of it were sent broadcast over the
provinces.(899) In Regulus we seem to see the type of character which, had
fortune raised him to the throne, would have made perhaps a saner
Caligula, and an even more eccentric Nero.

The struggles of the law courts were idealised by Pliny, and their
transient triumphs seemed to him to match the glory of the Philippics or
the Verrines. Yet, to do him justice, Pliny had sometimes a truer idea of
the foundations of lasting fame. The secret of immortality, the one chance
of escaping oblivion, is to leave your thought embalmed in choice and
distinguished literary form, which coming ages will not willingly let
die.(900) This, probably the only form of immortality in which Pliny
believed, is the great motive for literary labour. The longing to be
remembered was the most ardent passion of the Roman mind in all ages and
in all ranks, from the author of the _Agricola_ to the petty artisan, who
commemorated the homely virtues of his wife for the eyes of a distant age,
and made provision for the annual feast and the tribute of roses to the
tomb. Of that immense literary ambition which Pliny represented, and which
he considered it a duty to foster, only a small part has reached its goal.
The great mass of these eager litterateurs have altogether vanished, or
remain as mere shadowy names in Martial or Statius or Pliny.

The poems of Martial and Statius leave the impression that, in the reign
of Domitian, the interest in poetical literature was keen and widely
diffused, and that, besides the poets by profession, there were crowds of
amateurs who dabbled in verse. The _Silvae_ transport us into a charming,
if rather luxurious world, where men like Atedius Melior or Pollius amuse
themselves with dilettante composition among their gardens and marbles on
the bays of Campania.(901) Martial has a host of friends similarly
engaged, and the versatility of some of them is suspiciously wide. An old
Ardelio is twitted by Martial with his showy and superficial displays in
declamation and history, in plays and epigrams, in grammar and
astronomy.(902) Canius Rufus, his countryman from Gades, Varro, Bassus,
Brutianus, Cirinius, have all an extraordinary dexterity in almost every
branch of poetical composition. Martial is too keen a critic not to see
the fugitive character of much of this amateur literature. Like Juvenal,
he scoffs at the thin talent which concealed its feebleness behind the
pomp and faded splendour of epic or tragic tradition.(903) He roughly
tells the whole versifying crowd that genius alone will live in coming
ages. The purchased applause of the recitation hall merely gratifies for
an hour the vanity of the literary trifler. It is a pity for his fame that
Martial did not always maintain this tone of sincerity. He can at times
sell his flattery to the basest and most stupid. He is capable of implying
a comparison of the frigid pedantry of Silius Italicus to the majesty of
Virgil.(904)

Pliny was a friend and admirer of Martial, and, with his usual generous
hand, he made the poet a present when he left Rome for ever to pass his
last years at Bilbilis.(905) The needy epigrammatist was only a distant
observer, or hanger-on of that world of wealth and refinement in which
Pliny was a conspicuous figure. But from both Pliny and Martial we get
very much the same impression of the literary movement in the reign of
Domitian. Pliny himself is perhaps its best representative. He is a true
son of the Roman schools, as they had been revived and strengthened by
Vespasian, for a life of many generations. Pliny does not think slightly
of the literary efforts of his own day: some of them he even overrates.
But already the Roman mind had bent its neck to that thraldom to the past,
to that routine of rhetorical discipline, which, along with other causes,
produced the combination of ambitious effort and mediocre performance
that, for the last three centuries of the Empire, is the characteristic of
all literary culture. From his great teacher Quintilian Pliny had imbibed
a profound reverence for Cicero.(906) Alike in his career of honours and
his literary pursuits, he loves to think that he is treading in the great
orator’s footsteps. In answer to a taunt of Regulus, he once boldly avowed
his preference for the Ciceronian oratory to that of his own day.
Demosthenes is also sometimes his model, though he feels keenly the
difference that separates them.(907) Indeed his reverence for Greece as
the mother of letters, art, and civic life was one of Pliny’s sincerest
and most honourable feelings. To a man who had been appointed to high
office in Greece he preaches, in earnest tones, the duty of reverence for
that gifted race whose age was consecrated by the memories of its glorious
prime.(908) Pliny’s Greek studies must have begun very early. At the age
of fourteen he had written a Greek tragedy, for which, however, he
modestly does not claim much merit.(909) He had always a certain taste for
poetry, but it seems to have been merely the taste created or enforced by
the constant study of the poets under the grammarian. Once, while detained
by bad weather on his way back from military service in Asia, he amused
himself with composing in elegiac and heroic verse.(910) Later in his
career, he published a volume of poems in hendecasyllabic metre, written
on various occasions. But there was no inspiration behind these
conventional exercises. He was chiefly moved to write in verse, as he
naïvely confesses, by the example of the great orators who beguiled their
leisure in this way. Among his published poems there were some with a
flavour of Catullan lubricity, which offended or astonished some of his
severer friends, who thought such doubtful lightness unworthy of a grave
character and a great position.(911) No better illustration could be found
of Pliny’s incorrigible conventionality in such things than the defence
which he makes of his suspected verses to Titius Ariston.(912) It is to
Pliny not a question of morals or propriety. The ancient models are to be
followed, not only in their elevated, but in their looser moods. The case
seems to be closed when Pliny can point to similar literary aberrations in
a long line of great men from Varro and Virgil and Cicero to Verginius
Rufus and the divine Nerva.(913)

Pliny, however, though vain of his dexterity in these trifles, probably
did not rate them very highly. It was to oratorical fame that his ambition
was directed. He was dissatisfied with the eloquence of his own day,
which, to use the words of Regulus, sprang at the throat of its subject,
and he avowed himself an imitator of Cicero. His speeches, even for the
centumviral court, were worked up with infinite care, although with too
self-conscious an aim to impress an audience. We can hardly imagine Cicero
or Demosthenes coldly balancing their tropes and figures after the fashion
of Pliny. When the great oratorical effort was over, the labour was
renewed, in order to make the speech worthy of the eyes of posterity. It
was revised and polished, and submitted to the scrutiny of critical
readers for suggestions of emendation.(914) Pliny was probably the first
to give readings of speeches to long-suffering friends. We hear with a
shudder that the recital of the _Panegyric_ was spread over three
days!(915) The other speeches on which Pliny lavished so much labour and
thought, have perished, as they probably deserved to perish. The
_Panegyric_ was preserved, and became the parent and model of the
prostituted rhetoric of the Gallic renaissance in the fourth century.(916)
Pliny was by no means a despicable literary critic, when he was not paying
the tribute of friendly flattery which social tyranny then exacted. He
could sometimes be honestly reserved in his appreciation of a friend’s
dull literary efforts.(917) But in his ideals of oratory, he seems to be
hopelessly wrong. There are some terse and epigrammatic sentences in the
_Panegyric_, which redeem it by their strong sincerity. But Pliny’s canons
of oratorical style would have excited the ridicule of his great models,
who were thinking of their goal, and not measuring every pace as they
strained towards it. Pliny’s theory that the mere length of a speech is a
great element in its excellence, that swift directness is inartistic, that
lingering diffuseness is an oratorical charm, that laboured manufacture of
turgid phrases may produce the effect of the impetuous rush of Demosthenes
and Cicero in their moments of inspiration, makes us rather glad, who love
him, that we have not more of Pliny’s oratory.(918)

It is by his letters that Pliny has lived, and will live on, so long as
men care to know the inner life of the great ages that have gone before.
The criticism, which is so quick to seize the obvious weaknesses of the
author of a priceless picture of ancient society, seems to be a little
ungrateful. We could forgive almost any failing or affectation in one who
had left us a similar revelation of society when M. Aurelius was holding
back the Germans on the Danube, or when Probus was shattering the invaders
of the third century. The letters of Cicero offer an apparently obvious
comparison, which may be used to the detriment of Pliny. Yet the
comparison is rather inept. Cicero was a man of affairs in the thick of a
great revolution, and his letters are invaluable to the student of
politics at a great crisis in history. But in the calm of Trajan’s reign,
a letter-writer had to seek other subjects of interest than the fortunes
of the state. Literature, criticism, the beauties of nature, the simple
charm of country life, the thousand trivial incidents and eccentricities
of an over-ripe society in the capital of the world, furnished a ready pen
and a genial imagination, which could idealise its surroundings, with
ample materials. Pliny is by some treated as a mediocrity; but, like our
own Horace Walpole, he had the keen sense to see that social routine could
be made interesting, and that the man who had the skill to do so might
make himself famous. He was genuinely interested in his social
environment. And intense interest in one’s subject is one great secret of
literary success. Pliny had also the instinct that, if a work is to live,
it must have a select distinction of style, which may be criticised, but
which cannot be ignored. He had the laudable ambition to put his thoughts
in a form of artistic grace which may make even commonplace attractive. So
good a judge as the late Mr. Paley did not hesitate to put the Latinity of
Pliny on the level of that of Cicero. Pliny’s Letters, perhaps even more
than the masterpieces of the Augustine age, fascinated the taste of the
fourth and fifth centuries. They were the models of Symmachus and
Sidonius, who tried, but in very different fashion, to do for their age
what Pliny did for his.(919)

Like his imitators, Sidonius and Symmachus, Pliny intended his Letters to
go down to the future as a masterpiece of style, and as a picture of his
age. We know that the letters of Symmachus were carefully preserved in
duplicate by his scribes, probably by his own instructions, although they
were edited and published by his son only after his death.(920) Pliny,
like Sidonius, gave his Letters to the public in successive portions
during his life.(921) Like Sidonius too, he felt that he had not the
sustained power to write a consecutive history of his time and the Letters
of both are probably far more valuable. Pliny’s first book opens with a
kind of dedication to Septicius Clarus, who was the patron of Suetonius,
and who rose to be praetorian prefect under Hadrian.(922) Pliny appears to
disclaim any order or principle of arrangement in these books, but this is
the device of an artistic negligence. Yet it has been proved by the prince
of European scholars in our day that both as to date and subject matter,
Pliny’s Letters reveal signs of the most careful arrangement. The books
were published separately, a common practice down to the end of Roman
literary history. The same subject reappears in the same book or the
next.(923) Groups of letters dealing with the same matter are found in
their natural order in successive books. The proof is made even clearer by
the silence or the express references to Pliny’s family relations.
Finally, the older men, who fill the stage in the earlier Letters,
disappear towards the end; while a younger generation, a Salinator or a
Ummidius Quadratus, are only heard of in the later. Men of Pliny’s own
age, like Tacitus or Cornutus Tertullus, meet us from first to last. The
dates at which the various books were published have been fixed with
tolerable certainty. It is enough for our present purpose to say that the
earliest letter belongs to the reign of Nerva, and the ninth book was
probably given to the world a year or two before the writer was appointed
by Trajan to the office of imperial legate of Bithynia.(924)

It is easy, as we have said, and apparently congenial to some writers, to
dwell on the vanity and self-complacency of the writer of these letters.
By some he seems to be regarded chiefly as a _poseur_. To discover the
weaknesses of Pliny is no great feat of criticism: they are on the
surface. But “securus judicat orbis terrarum,” and Pliny has borne the
scrutiny of the great judge. Men of his own race and age, who spoke and
wrote the most finished Latin, awarded him the palm of exquisite style.
But Pliny has many qualities of the heart, which should cover a multitude
of sins, even more serious than any with which he is charged. He had the
great gift of loyal friendship, and he had its usual reward in a multitude
of friends. It has been regretted that Pliny does not deal with serious
questions of politics and philosophy, that his Letters rather skim the
surface of social life, and leave its deeper problems untouched. Pliny
himself would probably have accepted this criticism as a compliment. The
mass of men are little occupied with insoluble questions. And Pliny has
probably deserved better of posterity by leaving us a vivid picture of the
ordinary life of his time or of his class, rather than an analysis of its
spiritual distresses and maladies. We have enough of that in Seneca, in M.
Aurelius, and in Lucian. Of the variety and vividness of Pliny’s sketches
of social life there can never be any question. But our gratitude will be
increased if we compare his Letters with the collections of his imitators,
Symmachus and Sidonius, whose arid pages are seldom turned by any but a
few curious and weary students. Martial, in his way, is perhaps even more
clear-cut and minute in his portraiture. But Martial is essentially a wit
of the town, viewing its vices, follies, and fashions with the eye of a
keen, but rather detached observer. In reading Pliny’s Letters, we feel
ourselves introduced into the heart of that society in its better hours;
and, above all, we seem to be transported to those quiet provincial towns
and secluded country seats where, if life was duller and tamer than it was
in the capital, the days passed in a quiet content, unsolicited by the
stormier passions, in orderly refinement, in kindly relations with country
neighbours, and amid the unfading charm of old-world pieties and the
witchery of nature.

Pliny has also done a great service in preserving a memorial of the
literary tone and habits of his time. Even in that age of fertile
production and too enthusiastic appreciation, Pliny, like Seneca and
Statius, has a feeling that the love for things of the mind was
waning.(925) And he deemed it an almost religious duty, as Symmachus and
Sidonius did more than three centuries after him, to arouse the flagging
interest in letters, and to reward even third-rate literary effort with
exuberant praise. He avows that it is a matter of duty to admire and
venerate any performance in a field so difficult as that of letters.(926)
Yet Pliny was not by any means devoid of critical honesty and acumen. He
could be a severe judge of his own style. He expects candid criticism from
his friends, and receives it with gratitude and good temper.(927) This is
to him, indeed, the practical purpose of readings before final
publication. He made emendations and excisions in the Histories of
Tacitus, which the great author had submitted for his revision.(928) In
his correspondence with Tacitus, there is a curious mixture of vanity
along with a clear recognition of his friend’s immense superiority of
genius, and a sure prescience of his immortal fame. He is proud to hear
their names coupled as chiefs of contemporary literature,(929) and he
cherishes the hope that, united by loyal friendship in life, they will go
down together to a remote future. When, in the year 106, Tacitus had asked
him for an account of the elder Pliny’s death, in the great eruption of
Vesuvius, Pliny expressed a firm belief that the book on which Tacitus was
then engaged was destined to an enduring fame.(930) He was not quite so
confident as to the immortality of Martial’s work,(931) although he
appreciates to the full Martial’s brilliant and pungent wit. On the other
hand, writing to a friend about the death of Silius Italicus, he frankly
recognises that the Epic of the Punic War is a work of industry rather
than of genius.(932) Yet he cannot allow the author of this dull
mechanical poem to pass away without some record of his career.(933) The
death at seventy-five of the last surviving consular of the Neronian age,
of the consul in whose year of office the tyranny of Nero closed, inspired
a feeling of pathos which was probably genuine, in spite of the rather
pompous and pedantic expression of it. And although he wrote the _Punica_,
a work which was almost buried till the fifteenth century,(934) Silius was
probably a not uninteresting person. He had been a delator under Nero, and
had enjoyed the friendship of Vitellius, but he knew how to redeem his
character under the Flavian dynasty, and he had filled the proconsulate of
Asia with some credit.(935) Henceforth he enjoyed the lettered ease and
social deference which were the privilege of his class for centuries. He
retired finally to the shores of Campania, where, moving from one villa to
another, and surrounding himself with books and gems of art, his life
flowed away undisturbed by the agony of Rome in the last terror of the
Caesars. Among his many estates he was the proud owner of one of Cicero’s
villas, and of the ground where Virgil sleeps. He used to keep the great
poet’s birthday with a scrupulous piety, and he always approached his tomb
as a holy place. This apparently placid and fortunate life was, like so
many in those days, ended by a voluntary death.(936) Silius Italicus, in
his life and in his end, is a true type of a generation which could bend
before the storm of despotism, and save itself often by ignominious arts,
which could recover its dignity and self-respect in the pursuit of
literary ideals, and, at the last, assert the right to shake off the
burden of existence when it became too heavy.

Pliny’s theory of life is clearly stated in the Letters, and it was
evidently acted on by a great number of the class to which he
belonged.(937) The years of vigorous youth should be given to the service
of the state, in pursuing the well-marked and carefully-graduated career
of honours, or in the strenuous oratorical strife of the law courts. The
leisure of later years might be portioned out between social duty, the
pleasures or the cares of a rural estate, and the cultivation of literary
taste by reading and imitation of the great masters. The last was the most
imperious duty of all, for those with any literary gifts, because charm of
style gives the one hope of surviving the wreck of time;(938) for mere
cultivated facility, as the most refined and creditable way of filling up
the vacant spaces of life. Even if lasting fame was beyond one’s reach, it
was something to be able to give pleasure to an audience of cultivated
friends at a reading, and to enjoy the triumph of an hour. There must have
been many a literary coterie who, if they fed one another’s vanity, also
encouraged literary ideals, and hinted gentle criticism,(939) in that
polite delicacy of phrase in which the Roman was always an adept. One of
these literary circles stands out in Pliny’s pages. At least two of its
members had held great office. Arrius Antoninus, the maternal grandfather
of the Emperor Antoninus Pius,(940) had twice borne the consulship with
antique dignity, and shown himself a model governor as proconsul of
Asia.(941) He was devoted to Greek literature, and seems to have preferred
to compose in that language. We need not accept literally Pliny’s praises
of his Atticism, and of the grace and sweetness of his Greek epigrams. But
he seems to have had a facility which Pliny tortured his ingenuity in vain
to imitate with the poorer resources of the Latin tongue.(942) Among the
friends of Antoninus was Vestricius Spurinna, who had defended Placentia
for Otho, who was twice consul under Domitian, and was selected by Trajan
to command the troops in a campaign in Germany.(943) This dignified
veteran, who had passed apparently untainted through the reigns of the
worst emperors, varied and lightened the ordinary routine of his old age
by the composition of lyrics, both in Greek and Latin, which seemed to his
admirers to have a singular sweetness. Sentius Augurinus, a familiar
friend of the two consulars, was also a brilliant verse writer,(944) who
could enthral Pliny by a recitation lasting for three days, although the
fact that Pliny was the subject of one of the poems may account for the
patience or the pleasure. One of Pliny’s dearest friends was Passennus
Paullus, who claimed kindred with the poet Propertius, and, at any rate,
came from the same town in Umbria. Passennus has been cruelly treated by
Time, if his lyric efforts recalled, as we are asked to believe, the
literary graces of his ancestor, and even those of Horace.(945) Vergilius
Romanus devoted himself to comedy, and was thought to have reproduced not
unworthily the delicate charms of Menander and Terence, as well as the
scathing invective of older Greek masters of the art.(946) But there were
others of Pliny’s circle who essayed a loftier and weightier style.
Probably the foremost of these was Titinius Capito, who, as an inscription
records,(947) had held high civil office under Domitian, Nerva, and
Trajan. He was an enthusiastic patron of letters, and readily offered his
halls to literary friends for their recitations, which he attended with
punctilious politeness. Cherishing the memory of the great men of the
Republic, the Cassii, the Bruti, and the Catos, he composed a work on the
death of the noble victims of the Terror.(948) He tried in vain to draw
Pliny into the field of historical composition.(949) But the man who
thought more of style and graceful charity than of truth, was not the man
to write the history of such a time. He has done a much greater service in
providing priceless materials for the reconstruction of its social
history. Caninius Rufus was a neighbour of Pliny at Como.(950) He was one
of those for whom the charms of country life had a dangerous seduction.
His villa, with its colonnades, “where it was always spring,” the shining
levels of the lake beneath his verandah, the water course with its emerald
banks, the baths and spacious halls, all these delights seem to have
relaxed the literary energy and ambition of their master. Caninius
meditated the composition of a Greek epic on the Dacian wars of
Trajan.(951) But he was probably one of those lingering, dilatory writers
who meet us in Martial,(952) waiting for the fire from heaven which never
comes. The intractable roughness of barbarian names, which, as Pliny
suggests, might have been eluded by a Homeric licence in quantity, was
probably not the only difficulty of Caninius.

Among the literary friends of Pliny, a much more important person than
Caninius was Suetonius, but Suetonius was apparently long paralysed by the
same cautious hesitation to challenge the verdict of the public. A younger
man than Pliny,(953) Suetonius was one of his most intimate friends. They
both belonged to that circle which nursed the senatorial tradition and the
hatred of the imperial tyrants.(954) The life of Suetonius was not very
effectual or brilliant, from a worldly point of view. Although born within
the rank to which every distinction was open,(955) he was a man of modest
and retiring tastes, devoted to quiet research, and destitute of the eager
ambition and vigorous self-assertion which are necessary for splendid
success. He was probably for some years a professor of grammar.(956) He
made a half-hearted attempt to gain a footing at the bar. In 101 A.D. he
obtained a military tribunate, through Pliny’s influence, but speedily
renounced his command.(957) Henceforth he devoted himself entirely to that
historical research, which, if it has not won for him any dazzling fame,
has made historical students, in spite of some reservations as to his
sources, his debtors for all time. Pliny had the greatest esteem for
Suetonius, and was always ready to befriend him, whether it were in the
purchase of a quiet little retreat near Rome,(958) or in obtaining for the
childless antiquary the _Jus trium liberorum_ from Trajan.(959) The two
men were bound to one another by many tastes and sympathies, not the least
strong being a curious superstition, which infected, as we shall see in a
later chapter, even the most vigorous minds of that age. Suetonius had
once a dream which seemed to portend failure in some legal cause in which
he was engaged. He sought the aid of Pliny to obtain an adjournment. Pliny
does not question the reality of such warnings, but merely suggests a more
cheering interpretation of the vision.(960) Although devoted to research,
and a most laborious student, the biographer of the Caesars was strangely
tardy in letting his productions see the light. In 106, he had been long
engaged on a work, which was probably the _De Viris Illustribus_.(961)
Pliny assailed him with bantering reproaches on his endless use of the
file, and begs him to publish without delay. From several indications, it
appears that the lingering volume did not appear till 113.(962) It was not
till the year 118, when Hadrian arrived from the East after his accession,
that Suetonius attained the rank of one of the imperial
secretaryships.(963) Pliny in all probability had died some years before
the elevation of his friend.

But although the dawn of a new age of milder and less suspicious
government had, for the first time since Augustus, left men free to
compose a true record of the past, and even to vilify the early
Caesars,(964) the great mass of cultivated men in Pliny’s time, as in the
days of Ausonius and Sidonius, were devoted to poetry. The chief cause in
giving this direction to the Roman mind was undoubtedly the system pursued
in the schools. In the first century, as in the fifth, the formative years
of boyhood were devoted almost entirely to the study of the poets. The
subject-matter of their masterpieces was not neglected by the accomplished
grammarian, who was often a man of learning, and sometimes a man of taste;
and the reading of poetry was made the text for disquisitions on geography
and astronomy, on mythology or the antiquities of religious ritual and
constitutional lore.(965) But style and expression were always of foremost
interest in these studies. The ear of the South has always felt the charm
of rhythmical or melodious speech, with a keenness of pleasure generally
denied to our colder temperament. And the Augustan age had, in a single
generation, performed miracles, under Greek inspiration, in moulding the
Latin tongue to be the apt vehicle of every mood of poetic feeling. That
inspired band of writers, whose call it was to glorify the dawn of a
world-wide empire and the ancient achievements of the Latin race,(966)
rose to the full height of their vocation. They were conscious that they
were writing for distant provinces won from barbarism, and for a remote
posterity.(967) They discovered and revealed resources in the language,
hitherto undreamt of. They wedded to its native dignity and strength a
brilliancy, an easy grace and sprightliness, which positively ravished the
ear of the street boys in Pompeii, or of the rude dweller on the Tanais or
the Baetis.(968) In his own lifetime Virgil became a popular hero. His
Eclogues were chanted on the stage; verses of the Aeneid can still be
seen, along with verses of Propertius, scrawled on the walls of Campanian
towns. Virgil, when he visited Rome, was mobbed by admiring crowds. When
his poetry was recited in the theatre, the whole audience rose to their
feet as if to salute the emperor.(969) He had the doubtful but significant
honour of being recited by Alexandrian boys at the coarse orgies of a
Trimalchio.(970) Never was a worthy fame so rapidly and splendidly won:
seldom has literary fame and influence been so lasting.

The Flavian age succeeded to this great heritage. Already there were
ominous signs of a decay of originality and force, of decadence in the
language itself.(971) The controversy between the lovers of the new and
the lovers of the archaic style was raging in the reign of Vespasian, and
can be still followed in the _De Oratoribus_ of Tacitus, or even in the
verses of Martial.(972) Already the taste for Ennius and the
prae-Ciceronian oratory had set in, for the dialect of the heroes of the
Punic Wars, even for “the Latin of the Twelve Tables,”(973) a taste which
was destined to produce its Dead Sea fruit in the age of the Antonines.
But whoever might cavil at Cicero,(974) no one ever questioned the
pre-eminence of Virgil, and he and his contemporaries were still the
models of a host of imitators. The mass of facile talent, thrown back on
itself by the loss of free republican life and public interests,
fascinated from earliest infancy by the haunting cadences of the grand
style, rushed into verse-writing, to beguile long hours of idleness, or to
woo a shadowy fame at an afternoon recital, with a more shadowy hope of
future fame. The grand style was a charmer and deceiver. It was such a
perfect instrument, it was so protean in its various power, it was so
abundant in its resources, that a man of third-rate powers and thin
commonplace imagination, who had been trained in skilful manipulation of
consecrated phrase, might for the moment delude himself and his friends by
faint echoes of the music of the golden age.

The brilliancy of inherited phrase concealed the poverty of the literary
amateur’s fancy from himself. And, even if he were not deluded about his
own powers, the practice in skilful handling of literary symbols, which
was acquired in the schools, furnished a refined amusement for a too ample
leisure. It is clear from the dialogue _De Oratoribus_, and from Pliny’s
Letters, that the meditative life, surrounded by the quiet charm of stream
and woodland, far from the din and strife and social routine of the great
city,(975) attracted many people much more than the greatest oratorical
triumphs in the centumviral court, which, after all, were so pale and
bourgeois beside the glories of the great ages of oratory. And although
Aper, in the Dialogue of Tacitus, sneers at the solitary and unsocial toil
of the poet, rewarded by a short-lived _succès d’estime_,(976) there can
be no doubt that the ambition to cut a figure, even for a day, was a
powerful inspiration at a time when the ancient avenues to fame had been
closed.

It was to satisfy such ambitions that Domitian founded the quinquennial
competition on the Capitol, in the year 86 A.D.,(977) as well as the
annual festival in honour of Minerva on the Alban Mount. A similar
festival, for the cultivation of Greek poetry, had been established at
Naples in honour of Augustus, at which Statius had won the crown of
corn-ears.(978) And Nero had founded another, apparently only for his own
glorification.(979) The festival established by Domitian was more
important and enduring. The judges were taken from the priestly colleges,
and, amid a concourse of the highest functionaries of the state, the
successful poet received his crown at the hands of the emperor. The
prospect of such a distinction drew competitors from distant provincial
parts. It is a curious illustration of the power and the skill of the
literary discipline of the schools that, twice within a few years, the
crown of oak leaves was won by boys under fourteen years of age. The
verses of one of them may still be read upon his tomb.(980)

But these infrequent chances of distinction could not suffice for the
crowd of eager composers. In those days, although the bookselling trade
was extensive and vigorous, there was no organised publishing system by
which a new work could be brought to the notice of the public.(981) The
author had to advertise himself by giving readings, to which he invited
his friends, and by distributing copies of his book. The mania for
recitation was the theme of satirists from the days of Horace to the days
of Epictetus.(982) Martial comically describes the frenzied poet torturing
his friends day and night, pursuing them from the bath to the dining-room,
and spreading a solitude around him.(983) Juvenal congratulates his friend
on escaping to the country from the hoarse reciter of a frigid
Theseid.(984) In the bohemian scenes of Petronius, the inveterate
versifier, who will calmly finish a passage, after being cast ashore from
a shipwreck, makes himself a nuisance by his recitations in the baths and
porticoes of Croton, and is very properly stoned by a crowd of street
boys.(985) No aspect of social life is more prominent in the Letters of
Pliny than the reading of new works, epics, or lyrics, histories, or
speeches, before fashionable assemblies. A liberal patron like Titinius
Capito would sometimes lend a hall for the purpose. But the reciter had
many expenses, from the hire of chairs to the fees to freedmen and slaves,
who acted as _claqueurs_. In the circle of a man like Pliny, to attend
these gatherings was a sacred duty both to letters and to friendship. In a
year when there was a more than usually abundant crop of poets, the eager
advocate could boast that he had failed no one, even in the month when the
courts were busiest.(986) Doubtless, many of the fashionable idlers, who
dawdled away their time in the many resorts devoted to gossip and scandal,
were glad to show themselves in the crowd. Old friends would consider it a
duty to support and encourage the budding literary ambition of a young
aspirant of their set. Some sincere lovers of literary art would be drawn
by a genuine interest and a wish to maintain the literary tradition, which
was already betraying signs of weakness and decay. But, to a great many,
this duty, added to the endless round of other social obligations, was
evidently becoming repulsive and wearisome.(987) Pliny could listen with
delight and admiration to Sentius Augurinus reciting his poems for three
long days.(988) He would calmly expect his own friends to listen for as
many days to a whole volume of his poems, or to his _Panegyric_ on
Trajan.(989) Such was his high breeding, his kindliness, and such was his
passion for literature in any form or of any quality, that he could hardly
understand how what to him seemed at once a pleasure and duty should be
regarded by others as an intolerable nuisance. The conduct of such people
is treated with some disdain in one or two of the rare passages in which
he writes of his circle with any severity. Some of these fashionable folk,
after lingering in some place of gossip until the reading was well
advanced, would enter the hall with ostentatious reluctance, and then
leave before the end. Others, with an air of superiority, would sit in
stolid silence and disguise the slightest expression of interest. This
seemed to Pliny, not only grossly bad manners, but also neglect of a
literary duty.(990) The audience should not only encourage honest effort;
they should contribute their judgment to the improvement of style. Pliny,
like Aristotle, has an immense faith in the collective opinion of numbers,
even in matters of artistic taste.(991) He used to read his own pieces to
successively wider circles, each time receiving suggestions for amendment.
Many of Pliny’s Letters, like the dialogue _De Oratoribus_, reveal the
keenness with which in those days questions of style were debated. But, as
in the circle of Sidonius, this very energy of criticism was perhaps due
to a dim consciousness of waning force.(992) Pliny, with all his kindly
optimism, lets fall a phrase here and there which betrays an uneasiness
about the future of letters.(993) Enthusiasm is failing. Nay, there is a
hardly veiled contempt for that eager mediocrity which Pliny and Titinius
Capito made it a point of honour to encourage. We feel that we are on the
edge of that arid desert of cultivated impotence in which the freshness
and vigour of Roman literature was soon mysteriously to disappear.

Great as were the attractions of the capital, its gay social circles with
their multifarious engagements, its games and spectacles, and literary
novelties, yet the most devoted “Ardelio,” in the end, felt the strain and
the monotony to be oppressive.(994) Seneca and Pliny, Martial and
Juvenal,(995) from various points of view, lament or ridicule the inanity
and the slavery of city life. Roman etiquette was perhaps the most
imperious and exacting that ever existed. Morning receptions, punctilious
attendance at the assumption of the toga, at betrothals, or the sealing of
wills, or the reading of some tedious epic, advice or support in the law
courts, congratulations to friends on every official success, these
duties, and many others, left men, who had a large circle of acquaintance,
hardly a moment of repose. Hence the rapture with which Pliny escapes to
the stillness of the Laurentine pine woods, or the pure cold breezes that
blew from the Apennines over his Tuscan seat.(996) In these calm solitudes
the weary advocate and man of letters became for a little while his own
master, and forgot the din and crush of the streets, the paltry ambitions,
the malevolent gossip and silly rumours of the great world, in some
long-suspended literary task. There can be no doubt that an intense
enjoyment was becoming more and more felt in country life. Its unbought,
home-grown luxuries, its common sights and sounds, its antique simplicity,
have a strange charm even for a hardened bohemian like Martial.(997) But
Pliny, besides this commoner form of enjoyment, has a keen and exquisite
feeling for beauty of scenery. He loves the amphitheatre of hills, crowned
with immemorial forest that looks down on rich pastoral slope, or vineyard
or meadow, bright with the flowers of spring, and watered by the winding
Tiber; he loves the scenery of Como, where you watch the fishermen at his
toils from some retreat on the terraced banks.(998) Where in ancient
literature can you find a more sharp and clear-cut picture of a romantic
scene than in his description of the Clitumnus?(999) The famous stream
rises under a low hill, shaded by ancient cypresses, and broadens into a
basin in whose glassy ice-cold waters you may count the pebbles. Soon the
current grows broader and swifter, and the barges are swept along under
groves of ash and poplar, which, so vivid is their reflection, seem to be
growing in the river-bed. Hard by, is a temple of the river-god, with many
other chapels, and a seat of ancient augury; the magic charm of antique
religious awe blends with the witchery of nature, and many a villa is
planted on fair spots along the banks. There was plenty of sport to be had
in the Apennines or the Laurentine woods. But Pliny was plainly not a real
sportsman. He once tells his friend Tacitus, who seems to have rallied him
on this failing, that although he has killed three boars, he much prefers
to sit, tablets in hand beside the nets, meditating in the silent
glade.(1000) The country is charming to Pliny, but its greatest charm lies
in the long tranquil hours which can be given to literary musing. Part of
the well-regulated day of Spurinna, a man who had commanded armies and
governed provinces, and who had reached his seventy-seventh year, is
devoted to lyric composition both in Greek and Latin.(1001) Pliny once or
twice laments the mass of literary talent which, from diffidence or love
of ease, was buried in these rural retreats.(1002) There must have been
many a country squire, like that Terentius, who, apparently lost in
bucolic pursuits, surprised his guest by the purity of his taste and his
breadth of culture. We often meet the same buried talent after nearly four
centuries in the pages of Sidonius.(1003)

The literature of the Flavian age has preserved for us many pictures of
Roman villas. They occupied every variety of site. They were planted on
rocks where the sea-foam flecked their walls,(1004) or on inland lakes and
rivers, embowered in woods, or on the spurs of the Apennines, between the
ancient forest and the wealthy plain.(1005) Some of these mansions were
remote and secluded. But on the Bay of Naples, on the Laurentine shore or
the banks of Lake Como,(1006) they clustered thickly. Building in the days
of Domitian was as much the rage as it was in the days of Horace, and,
just as then, all natural obstacles were defied in preparing a site to the
builder’s taste. In the grounds of Pollius Felix in the _Silvae_, whole
hills had been levelled, and rocks had been cleared away to make a space
for the house with its gardens and woodlands.(1007) Manlius Vopiscus had
built two luxurious seats on opposite banks of the Anio, where the stream
glides silently under overarching boughs.(1008) The villas pressed so
close to the water that you could converse, and almost touch hands, across
the interval between them. The love of variety, or the obligation imposed
on senators to invest a third of their fortune in Italian land,(1009) may
account for the number of country seats possessed even by men who were not
of the wealthiest class.(1010) Pliny had villas at Laurentum, at Tifernum
Tiberinum, at Beneventum, and more than two on Lake Como.(1011) The orator
Regulus had at least five country seats.(1012) Silius Italicus had several
stately abodes in the same district of Campania, and, with capricious
facility, transferred his affections to each new acquisition.(1013)

It is by no means an easy task, and perhaps not a very profitable one, to
trace minutely the arrangement of one of these great houses. Indeed there
seems to have been a good deal of caprice and little care for symmetry in
their architecture. The builder appears to have given no thought to
external effect. To catch a romantic view from the windows, to escape the
sultry heat of midsummer, or woo the brief sunshine of December, above all
to obtain perfect stillness, were the objects which seem to have dictated
the plans of the Roman architect.(1014) The Laurentine villa of Pliny and
the Surrentine of Pollius Felix from their windows or colonnades gave
glimpses of forest or mountain, or sea, or fat herds browsing on the
meadow grass, or a view seaward to the islands off the Campanian
shore.(1015) One room admits the morning sun, another is brightened by the
glow of evening. Here is a colonnade where in winter you can pace up and
down with shutters closed on the weather side, or in spring-time enjoy the
scent of violets and the temperate sunshine.(1016) In the mansions on the
Anio, there is, according to Statius, an air of everlasting quietness,
never broken even by wandering wind, or ripple of the stream.(1017) Pliny
has a distant room at Laurentum, to which even the licensed din of the
Saturnalia never penetrates.(1018) Thus these villas threw out their
chambers far and wide, meandering in all directions, according to the
fancy of the master, or the charms of the neighbouring scenery.

The luxury of the Roman villa consisted rather in the spaciousness and
variety of building, to suit the changing seasons, than in furniture for
comfort or splendour. There were, indeed, in many houses some costly
articles, tables of citrus and ivory, and antique vases, of priceless
worth.(1019) But the chambers of the most stately houses would probably,
to modern taste, seem scantily furnished. It was on the walls and ceiling
and columns that the Roman of taste lavished his wealth. The houses of
Pliny, indeed, seem to have been little adorned by this sort of costly
display.(1020) But the villa of Pollius Felix, like the baths of Claudius
Etruscus, shone with all the glory of variegated marbles on plaque and
pillar, drawn from the quarries of Phrygia, Laconia, and Syene, Carystus
and Numidia.(1021) Pliny confesses that he is not a connoisseur in art. He
speaks with hesitation of the merit of a Corinthian bronze which he has
acquired.(1022) But he was surrounded in his own class by artistic
enthusiasm, much of it, it is to be feared, pretentious and ignorant. The
dispersion of the artistic wealth of Greek lands had flooded Italy with
the works of the great masters. Collectors of them, like Silius Italicus,
abounded. The fashion became so general and so imperious, that it
penetrated even into the vulgar circle of people like Trimalchio, who, in
interpreting the subject of the chasing on a cup, could confuse the Punic
and the Trojan wars. In the villas described by Statius, it would seem
that the art of Apelles, Pheidias, Myron, and Polycletus adorned the
saloons and colonnades.(1023) It may be doubted, however, whether many of
these works could claim such illustrious parentage. There was plenty of
facile technique in those days which might easily deceive the vulgar
collector by more or less successful reproduction.(1024) The confident
claim to artistic discrimination was not less common in the Flavian age
than in later days, and it was probably as fallible. It is rather
suspicious that, in the attempts at artistic appreciation in this period,
attention seems to be concentrated on the supposed antiquity, rarity, or
costliness of material. There is little in the glowing descriptions in the
_Silvae_ to indicate a genuine appreciation of real art.

It is possible that the great Roman country seat, in its vast extent,
although not in the stateliness of its exterior, may have surpassed the
corresponding mansions of our time. It was the expression in stone of the
dominant passion of an enormously wealthy class, intoxicated with the
splendour of imperial power, and ambitious to create monuments worthy of
an imperial race. Moreover, the Roman’s energy always exulted in
triumphing over natural difficulties. Just as he drove his roads
unswerving over mountain and swamp, so he took a pride in rearing his
piles of masonry on the most obstinate and defiant sites, or even in the
middle of the waves. But, in the extent of their parks, and the variety of
floral display, the Romans of the most luxurious age seldom reached the
modern English standard. The grounds of the villas which, in thick
succession, lined the Laurentine or Campanian shore, cannot have been very
extensive. Pliny has splendid views from his windows of forest, mountain,
and meadow, but the scene lies plainly beyond the bounds of his
demesne.(1025) The gardens and shrubberies are very artificial, arranged
in terraces or labyrinths close to the house, or with hedges of box
clipped into shapes of animals along an open colonnade. The hippodrome at
his Tuscan seat, for riding exercise, is formed by lines of box and laurel
and cypress and plane tree. The fig and mulberry form a garden at the
Laurentine villa.(1026) The cultivated flowers are few, only roses and
violets. But the Romans made up for variety by lavish profusion. In the
Neronian orgies a fortune was sometimes spent on Egyptian roses for a
single banquet.(1027)

We might almost conjecture how the days passed amid such scenes, even
without any formal diary. But Pliny has left us two descriptions of a
gentleman’s day in the country.(1028) Pliny himself, as we might expect,
awoke early, about six o’clock, and in one of those sleeping-rooms, so
carefully shut off from the voices of nature or from household noise, with
shutters still closed, he meditated some literary piece. Then, calling for
his amanuensis, he dictated what he had composed. About ten or eleven, he
passed into a shady cloister, opening on a bed of violets, or a grove of
plane trees, where he continued his literary work. Then followed a drive,
during which, according to his uncle’s precept and example, his studies
were still continued.(1029) A short siesta, a walk, declamation in Greek
and Latin, after the habit of Cicero, gymnastic exercise, and the bath,
filled the space till dinner time arrived. During this meal, a book was
read aloud, and the evening hours were enlivened by acting or music and
the society of friends. Occasional hunting and the cares of a rural estate
came in to vary this routine. The round of Spurinna’s day, which excited
Pliny’s admiration by its rigid regularity, is pretty much the same as his
own, except that Spurinna seems to have talked more and read less.(1030)

To the ordinary English squire Pliny’s studious life in the country would
not seem very attractive. And his pretence of sport was probably ridiculed
even in his own day.(1031) But his Letters give glimpses of a rural
society which, both in its pleasures and its cares, has probably been
always much the same from one age to another in Europe. On his way to
Como, Pliny once turned aside for a couple of days to his Tuscan estate,
to join in the dedication of a temple which he had built for the people of
Tifernum Tiberinum. The consecration was to be followed by a dinner to his
good neighbours, who had elected him patron of their township, who were
very proud of his career, and greeted him warmly whenever he came among
them.(1032) There is also the record of the restoration, in obedience to
the warning of a diviner, of an ancient temple of Ceres on his lands, with
colonnades to shelter the worshippers who frequented the shrine. And the
venerable wooden statue of the goddess, which was much decayed, had to be
replaced by a more artistic image. But the life of a Roman proprietor, of
course, had its prosaic and troublesome side which Pliny does not conceal.
There is an interesting letter in which he consults a friend on the
question of the purchase of an estate.(1033) It adjoined, or rather cut
into his own lands. It could be managed by the same bailiff, and the same
staff of labourers and artisans would serve for both estates. On the other
hand, Pliny thinks, it is better not to put too many eggs into one basket.
It is more prudent to have estates widely dispersed, and thus less exposed
to a single stroke of calamity. Moreover this estate, however tempting,
with its fertile, well-watered meadows, its vineyards and woods, is
burdened by an insolvent tenantry, who, through faulty management, have
been allowed to fall into arrear. Pliny, however, is tempted to buy at a
greatly reduced price,(1034) and, in order to meet the payment, although
his wealth is nearly all in land, he can call in some loans at interest,
and the balance can be borrowed from his father-in-law, whose purse is
always at his disposal. Pliny was sometimes worried by the complaints of
the people on his estates, and finds it very difficult to secure solvent
tenants on a five years lease. He made liberal remissions of rent, but
arrears went on accumulating, until the tenant in despair gave up any
attempt to repay his debt. In this extremity, Pliny resolved to adopt a
different system of letting. He substituted for a fixed rent a certain
proportion of the produce,(1035) in fact the métayer system, and employed
some of his people to see that the returns were not fraudulently
diminished. At another time he is embarrassed by finding that, owing to a
bad vintage, the men who have bought his grapes in advance are going to be
heavy losers. He makes a uniform remission to all of about twelve per
cent. But he gives an additional advantage to the large buyers, and to
those who had been prompt in their payments.(1036) It is characteristic of
the man that he says, quite naturally, that the landlord should share with
his tenant such risks from the fickleness of nature.

So good a man was sure to be far more afflicted by the troubles of his
dependents than by any pecuniary losses of his own. One year, there were
many deaths among his slaves. Pliny feels this acutely, but he consoles
himself by the reflection that he has been liberal in manumission, and
still more liberal in allowing his slaves to make their wills, the
validity of which he maintains as if they were legal instruments.(1037) If
Pliny shows a little too much self-complacency in this human sympathy,
there can be no doubt that, like Seneca, he felt that slaves were humble
friends, men of the same flesh and blood as the master, and that the
master has a moral duty towards them, quite apart from the legal
conventions of Rome.(1038) When his wife’s grandfather proposed to make
numerous manumissions, Pliny rejoiced greatly at the accession of so many
new citizens to the municipality.(1039) When his favourite reader,
Encolpius, was seized with hemorrhage, Pliny displayed a genuine and most
affectionate concern for the humble partner of his studies.(1040) Another
member of his household, a freedman named Zosimus, suffered from the same
malady. Zosimus seems to have been a most excellent, loyal, and
accomplished man. He was very versatile, a comedian, a musician, a
tasteful reader of every kind of literature.(1041) His patron sent him to
Egypt to recruit his health. But, from putting too great a strain upon his
voice, he had a return of his dangerous illness, and once more needed
change of air. Pliny determined to send him to the Riviera, and begs a
friend, Paulinus, to let Zosimus have the use of his villa and all
necessary attention, for which Pliny will bear the cost.(1042) In his
social relations with his freedmen Pliny always shows himself the perfect,
kindly gentleman. Juvenal and Martial poured their scorn on those unequal
dinners, where the guests were graduated, and where poorer wine and
coarser viands were served out to those of humble degree.(1043) Pliny was
present at one of these entertainments, and he expresses his contempt for
the vulgar host in terms of unwonted energy.(1044) His own freedmen, as he
tells a fellow-guest, are entertained as equals at his table. If a man
fears the expense, he can find a remedy by restraining his own luxury, and
sharing the plain fare which he imposes on his company. Pliny’s relations
with his slaves and freedmen were very like those which the kindly English
squire cultivates towards his household and dependents. The affectionate
regret for a good master or mistress, recorded on many an inscription of
that age,(1045) shows that Pliny’s household was by no means a rare
exception.

Yet the Letters of Pliny, with all their charity and tranquil optimism,
reveal now and then a darker side of household slavery. A man of
praetorian rank named Largius Macedo, who forgot, or perhaps too vividly
remembered, his own servile origin, was known as a cruel and haughty
master. While he was enjoying the bath in his Formian villa, he was
suddenly surrounded by a throng of angry slaves who, with every expression
of hatred and loathing, inflicted on him such injuries that he was left
for dead on the glowing pavement. He seemed, or pretended for a while, to
be dead. A few who remained faithful took up the apparently lifeless
corpse, amid the shrieks of his concubines, and bore him into the
Frigidarium. The coolness and the clamour recalled him from his swoon. The
would-be murderers meanwhile had fled, but many of them were caught in the
end, and the outrage was sternly avenged.(1046) In another letter, Pliny
tells the tale of the mysterious disappearance of one Metilius Crispus, a
citizen of Como, for whom Pliny had obtained equestrian rank, and made him
a gift of the required HS.400,000. Metilius set out on a journey and was
never heard of again.(1047) It is significant that of the slaves who
attended him no one ever reappeared. Amid such perils, says Pliny, do we
masters live, and no kindness can relieve us from alarm. Seneca remarks
that the master’s life is continually at the mercy of his slaves.(1048)
And the cruel stringency of legislation shows how real was the peril.

Pliny was only an infant in the evil days when suicide was the one refuge
from tyranny, when the lancet so often opened the way to “eternal
freedom.” Yet, even in his later years, men not unfrequently escaped from
intolerable calamity or incurable disease by a voluntary death.(1049) The
morality of suicide was long a debated question. There were strict
moralists who maintained that it was never lawful to quit one’s post
before the final signal to retreat. Men like Seneca regarded it as a
question to be determined by circumstances and motives.(1050) He would not
palliate wild, impetuous self-murder, without a justifying cause. On the
other hand, there might be, especially under a monster like Nero, cases in
which it were mere folly not to choose an easy emancipation rather than a
certain death of torture and ignominy. Eternal law, which has assigned a
single entrance to this life, has mercifully allowed us many exits. Any
death is preferable to servitude.(1051) So, in the case of disease and old
age, it is merely a question whether the remainder of life is worth
living. If the mental powers are falling into irreparable decay, if the
malady is tormenting and incurable, Seneca would permit the rational soul
to quit abruptly its crumbling tenement, not to escape pain or weakness,
but to shake off the slavery of a worthless life.(1052)

Pliny was not a philosopher, and had no elaborate theory of suicide or of
anything else. But his opinion on the question may be gathered from his
remarks on the case of Titius Aristo, the learned jurist. To rush on
death, he says, is a vulgar, commonplace act. But to balance the various
motives, and make a deliberate and rational choice may, in certain
circumstances, be the proof of a lofty mind.(1053) The cases of suicide
described in the Letters are nearly always cases of incurable or prolonged
disease. The best known is that of the luxurious Silius Italicus, who
starved himself to death in his seventy-fifth year.(1054) He was afflicted
with an incurable tumour, almost the only trouble in his long and happy
life. Corellius Rufus, who had watched over Pliny’s career with almost
parental care,(1055) chose to end his life in a similar manner. Pliny was
immensely saddened by the close of a life which seemed to enjoy so many
blessings, high character, great reputation and influence, family love and
friendship. Yet he does not question the last resolve of Corellius. In his
thirty-third year he had been seized with hereditary gout. During the
period of vigorous manhood, he had warded off its onsets by an extreme
abstinence. But as old age crept on, its tortures, wracking every limb,
became unendurable, and Corellius determined to put an end to the hopeless
struggle. His obstinacy was proof against all the entreaties of his wife
and friends, and Pliny, who was called in as a last resource, came only to
hear the physician repelled for the last time with a single energetic
word.(1056) Sailing once on Lake Como, Pliny heard from an old friend the
tragic tale of a double suicide from a verandah overhanging the lake. The
husband had long suffered from a loathsome and hopeless malady. His wife
insisted on knowing the truth, and, when it was revealed to her, she
nerved him to end the cruel ordeal, and promised to bear him company.
Bound together, the pair took the fatal leap.(1057)

In spite of his charity and optimism,(1058) it would not be altogether
true to say that Pliny was blind to the faults and vices of his time. He
speaks, with almost Tacitean scorn, of the rewards which awaited a
calculating childlessness, and of the eager servility of the
will-hunter.(1059) In recommending a tutor for the son of Corellia
Hispulla, he regards the teacher’s stainless character as of paramount
importance in an age of dangerous licence, when youth was beset with
manifold seductions.(1060) He blushes for the degradation of senatorial
character displayed in the scurrilous or obscene entries which were
sometimes found on the voting tablets of the august body.(1061) The
decline of modesty and courteous deference in the young towards their
elders greatly afflicted so courteous a gentleman. There seemed to be no
respect left for age or authority. With their fancied omniscience and
intuitive wisdom, young men disdain to learn from any one or to imitate
any example; they are their own models.(1062) Among the many spotless and
charming women of Pliny’s circle, there is one curious exception, one, we
may venture to surmise, who had been formed in the Neronian age. Ummidia
Quadratilla was a lady of the highest rank, who died at the age of eighty
in the middle of the reign of Trajan.(1063) She preserved to the end an
extraordinary health and vigour, and evidently enjoyed the external side
of life with all the zest of the old days of licence in her youth. Her
grandson, who lived under her roof, was one of Pliny’s dearest friends, a
spotless and almost puritanical character. Ummidia, even in her old age,
kept a troop of pantomimic artistes, and continued to enjoy their doubtful
exhibitions. But her grandson would never witness them, and, it must be
said, Ummidia respected and even encouraged a virtue superior to her own.

It has been remarked that, in nearly all these cases, where Pliny has any
fault to find with his generation, the evil seems to be only a foil for
the virtue of some of his friends. Even in his own day, there were those
who criticised him for his extravagant praise of the people he loved. He
takes the censure as a compliment, preferring the kind-heartedness which
is occasionally deceived, to the cold critical habit which has lost all
illusions.(1064) Pliny belonged to a caste who were linked to one another
by the strongest ties of loyalty and tradition.(1065) The members of it
were bound to support one another by counsel, encouragement, and
influence, they were expected to help a comrade’s advancement in the
career of honours, to applaud and stimulate his literary ambition, to be
prodigal of sympathy or congratulation or pecuniary help in all the
vicissitudes of public or private life.(1066) The older men, who had borne
the weight of great affairs, recognised the duty of forming the character
of their juniors by precept and criticism. In this fashion the old soldier
Spurinna, on his morning drive, would pour forth to some young companion
the wealth of his long experience. In this spirit Verginius Rufus and
Corellius stood by Pliny throughout his official career, to guide and
support him.(1067) Pliny, in his turn, was always lavish of this kind of
help, and deemed it a matter of pride and duty to afford it. Sometimes he
solicits office for a friend’s son, or commends a man to the emperor for
the _Jus trium liberorum_.(1068) Sometimes he applauds the early efforts
of a young pleader at the bar, or gives him counsel as to the causes which
he should undertake, or the discipline necessary for oratorical
success.(1069) He was often consulted about the choice of a tutor for
boys, and he responded with all the earnestness of a man who believed in
the infinite importance of sound influence in the early years of
life.(1070) To his older friends he would address disquisitions on style,
consolations in bereavement, congratulations on official preferment,
descriptions of some fair scene or picturesque incident in rural life. He
often wrote, like Symmachus, merely to maintain the connection of friendly
sympathy by a chat on paper. His vanity is only too evident in some of
these letters. But it is, after all, an innocent vanity and the consuming
anxiety to cherish the warmth and solidarity of friendship, and a high
tone in the great class to which he belonged, might well cover even graver
faults. If there was too much self-indulgence in that class, if they often
abandoned themselves to the seductions of ease and literary trifling in
luxurious retreats, it is also to be remembered that a man of rank paid
heavily for his place in Roman society, both in money and in the
observance of a very exacting social code. And no one recognised the
obligation with more cheerful alacrity than Pliny.

Pliny felt a genuine anxiety that young men of birth should aim at
personal distinction. Any gleam of generous ambition, any sign of
strenuous energy, which might save a young aristocrat from the temptations
of ease and wealth, were hailed by him with unaffected delight. He was
evidently very susceptible to the charm of manner which youths of this
class often possess. When to that was added strength of character, his
satisfaction was complete. Hence his delight when Fuscus Salinator and
Ummidius Quadratus, of the very cream of the Roman nobility, entered on
the conflicts of the Centumviral Court.(1071) And indeed these young men
appear to have had many graces and virtues. Salinator, in particular, with
exquisite literary culture, had a mingled charm of boyish simplicity,
gravity, and sweetness.(1072) Asinius Bassus, the son of Asinius Rufus,
was another of this promising band of youth, blameless, learned, and
diligent, whom Pliny commends for the quaestorship to Fundanus, then
apparently designated as consul.(1073) There is no more genuine feeling in
the Letters than the grief of Pliny for the early death of Junius Avitus,
another youth of high promise. Pliny had formed his character, and
supported him in his candidature for office. He had helped him with advice
in his studies, or in his administrative duties. Avitus repaid all this
paternal care by a docility and deference which were becoming rare among
the young men of the day. Winning the affection and confidence of his
elders in the service, Avitus was surely destined to develop into one of
those just and strenuous imperial officers, like Corbulo or Verginius
Rufus, many of whom have left only a name on a brief inscription, but who
were the glory and strength of the Empire in the times of its deepest
degradation. But all such hopes for Avitus were extinguished in a day.

The upright and virtuous men of Pliny’s circle, Corellius Rufus, Titinius
Capito the historian, Pegasus the learned jurist, Trebonius Rufus the
magistrate who suppressed the games at Vienne, Junius Mauricus, who would
have denied them to the capital, and many others of the like stamp, have
often been used to refute the pessimism of Juvenal. We have in a former
chapter seen reason to believe that the satirist’s view of female
character needs to be similarly rectified. Even in the worst reigns the
pages of Tacitus reveal to us strong and pure women, both in the palace
and in great senatorial houses. In the wide philosophic class there was
probably many an Arria and Plotina. In the _Agricola_, and in Seneca’s
letters to Marcia and Helvia, we can see that, even at the darkest hour,
there were homes with an atmosphere of old Roman self-restraint and
sobriety, where good women wielded a powerful influence over their
husbands and their sons, and where the examples of the old Republic were
used, as Biblical characters with us, to fortify virtue.(1074) Seneca, in
his views about women, as in many other things, is essentially modern. He
admires indeed the antique ideal of self-contained strength and homely
virtue. But he also believes in the equal capacity of women for culture,
even in the field of philosophy, and he half regrets that an old-fashioned
prejudice had debarred Helvia from receiving a philosophic
discipline.(1075) Tacitus and Pliny, who had no great faith in philosophy
as a study for men, would hardly have recommended it for women. But they
lived among women who were cultivated in the best sense. Pliny’s third
wife, Calpurnia, was able to give him the fullest sympathy in his literary
efforts.(1076) But her fame, of which she probably little dreamt, is
founded on her purity and sweetness of character. Her ancestors, like
Pliny’s, belonged to the aristocracy of Como. Her aunt, Calpurnia
Hispulla, who was a dear friend of Pliny’s mother, had watched over her
during the years of girlhood with a sedulous care which made her an ideal
wife. What Calpurnia was like as a girl, we may probably picture to
ourselves from the prose elegy of Pliny on the death of the young daughter
of Minutius Fundanus.(1077) It is the picture of a beautiful character,
and a fair young life cut off too soon. The girl had not yet reached her
fourteenth year. She was already betrothed when she was seized with a
fatal sickness. Her sweet girlish modesty, which was combined with a
matronly gravity, charmed all her father’s friends. She had love for all
the household, her tutors and slaves, nurses and maids. A vigorous mind
triumphed over bodily weakness, and she passed through her last illness
with a sweet patience, encouraging her father and sister to bear up, and
showing no shrinking from death.

Although we know of a good many happy wedded lives in that age,(1078)
there is no picture so full of pure devotion and tenderness as that which
we have in Pliny’s letters to Calpurnia. They are love-letters in the best
sense and the most perfect style.(1079) Pliny’s youth was long past when
he won the hand of Calpurnia, yet their love for one another is that of
boy and girl. When she has to go into Campania for her health, he is
racked with all sorts of anxiety about her, and entreats her to write
once, or even twice, a day. Pliny reads her letters over and over again,
as if they had just come. He has her image before him by night, and at the
wonted hour by day his feet carry him to her vacant room. His only respite
from these pains of a lover is while he is engaged in court. Pliny had
frequent care about Calpurnia’s health. They did not belong to the hideous
class who preferred “the rewards of childlessness,” but their hopes of
offspring were dashed again and again. These griefs were imparted to
Calpurnia’s aunt, and to her grandfather, Calpurnius Fabatus, a generous
old squire of Como, who was as anxious as Pliny to have descendants of his
race. At the time of the old man’s death, Calpurnia was with her husband
in Bithynia, and she wished to hasten home at once to console her aunt.
Pliny, not having time to secure the emperor’s sanction, gave her the
official order for the use of the public post on her journey back to
Italy. In answer to his letter of explanation and excuse, Trajan sent his
approval in his usual kind and courteous style. This is the last glimpse
we have of Pliny and Calpurnia.(1080)

Pliny’s character, as displayed in his Letters, is the embodiment of the
finest moral tone of the great age which had opened when he died, in
kindlier or juster treatment of the slave, in high respect for women, in
conscientious care for the education of the young, in beneficent provision
for the helpless and distressed. But it would be a mistaken view to regard
these ideas as an altogether new departure. It is dangerous to assert that
anything is altogether new in Roman social history. The truth is that the
moral sentiment in which these movements took their rise had been for
generations in the air. It was diffused by the Stoic preaching of the
brotherhood and equality of men as fellow-citizens of one great
commonwealth. The duty of redeeming the captive and succouring the poor
had been preached by Cicero a century and a half before Pliny’s Letters
appeared.(1081) Horace had, a few years later, asked the searching
question, “Why should the worthy be in want while you have wealth?”(1082)
Seneca preaches, with the unction of an evangelist, all the doctrines on
which the humane legislation of the Antonine age was founded, all the
principles of humanity and charity of every age. He asserts the natural
equality of bond and free, and the claim of the slave to kindness and
consideration.(1083) He brands in many a passage the cruelty and contempt
of the slaveholder. He preaches tolerance of the froward, forgiveness of
insult and injury.(1084) He enforces the duty of universal kindness and
helpfulness by the example of God, who is bounteous and merciful even to
the evildoer.(1085) Juvenal was little of a philosopher, but he had
unconsciously drunk deep of the gospel of philosophy. Behind all his
bitter pessimism there is a pure and lofty moral tone which sometimes
almost approaches the ideal of charity in S. Paul. The slave whom we
torture or insult for some slight negligence is of the same elements as we
are.(1086) The purity of childhood is not to be defiled by the ribaldry of
the banquet and the example of a mother’s intrigues or a father’s brutal
excesses.(1087) Revenge is the pleasure of a puny soul.(1088) The guilty
may be left to the scourge of the unseen inquisitor. Juvenal regards the
power of sympathy for any human grief or pain as the priceless gift of
Nature, “who has given us tears.”(1089) It is by her command that we mourn
the calamity of a friend or the death of the babe “too small for the
funeral pyre.” The scenes of suffering and pity which the satirist has
sketched in some tender lines were assuredly not imaginary pictures. We
are apt to forget, in our modern self-complacency, that, at least among
civilised races, human nature in its broad features remains pretty much
the same from age to age. On an obscure epitaph of this period you may
read the words—_Bene fac, hoc tecum feres._(1090) Any one who knows the
inscriptions may be inclined to doubt whether private benefactions under
the Antonines were less frequent and generous than in our own day.

The duties of wealth, both in Greece and Rome, were at all times
rigorously enforced by public opinion. The rich had to pay heavily for
their honours and social consideration in the days of Cicero, and in the
days of Symmachus, as they had in the days of Pericles.(1091) They had to
contribute to the amusement of the people, and to support a crowd of
clients and freedmen. In the remotest municipality, the same ambitions and
the same social demands, as we shall show in the next chapter, put an
enormous strain on the resources of the upper class. Men must have often
ruined themselves by this profuse liberality. In the reign of Augustus a
great patron had several times given a favourite freedman sums of £3000 or
£4000. The patron’s descendant in the reign of Nero had to become a
pensioner of the emperor. Juvenal and Martial reveal the clamorous demands
by which the great patron was assailed.(1092) The motives for this
generosity of the wealthy class were at all times mixed and various. But
in our period, the growth of a pure humane charity is unmistakable, of a
feeling of duty to the helpless, whether young or old. The State had from
the time of the Gracchi taken upon itself the immense burden of providing
food for a quarter of a million of the proletariat of Rome. But in the
days of Pliny it recognised fresh obligations. The importance of education
and the growth of poverty appealed powerfully to a ruling class, which,
under the influence of philosophy, was coming to believe more and more in
the duty of benevolence and of devotion to things of the mind. All the
emperors from Vespasian to M. Aurelius made liberal provision for the
higher studies.(1093) But this endowment of culture, which in the end did
harm as well as good, is not so interesting to us as the charitable
foundations for the children of the poor. It was apparently the emperor
Nerva, the rigid economist who sold the imperial furniture and jewels to
replenish the treasury,(1094) who first made provision for the children of
needy parents throughout Italy. But epigraphy tells us more than literary
history of the charity of the emperors. The tablet of Veleia is a
priceless record of the charitable measures adopted by Trajan. The motive
of the great emperor was probably, as his panegyrist suggests, political
as much as benevolent.(1095) He may have wished to encourage the rearing
of children who should serve in the armies of the State, as well as to
relieve distress. The provision was even more evidently intended to
stimulate agriculture. The landed proprietors of the place, to the number
of forty-six, received on mortgage a loan from the State of about £10,000
in our money, at an interest of five per cent, which was less than half
the usual rate of that time.(1096) The interest was appropriated to the
maintenance of 300 poor children, at the rate of about £1:11s. a year for
each male child, and £1 for each girl. The illegitimate children, who, it
may be noted, were only two or three out of so many, received a smaller
allowance. The boys were supported till their eighteenth year, the girls
till fourteen. It was a bold and sagacious attempt to encourage Italian
agriculture, to check the ominous depopulation of Italy,(1097) and to
answer the cry of the poor. Hadrian continued and even added to the
benefaction of Trajan.(1098) Antoninus Pius, in honour of his wife
Faustina, established a foundation for young girls who were to be called
by her not altogether unspotted name.(1099) A similar charity was founded
in honour of her daughter by M. Aurelius.(1100)

But, while the emperors were responding to the call of charity by using
the resources of the State, it is clear, from the Letters of Pliny and
from the inscriptions, that private benevolence was even more active.
Pliny has a conception of the uses and responsibilities of wealth which,
in spite of the teaching of Galilee, is not yet very common. Although he
was not a very wealthy man, he acted up to his principles on a scale and
proportion which only a few of our millionaires have yet reached. The
lavish generosity of Pliny is a commonplace of social history. We have not
the slightest wish to detract from the merited fame of that kindliest of
Roman gentlemen. But a survey of the inscriptions may incline the inquirer
to believe that, according to their means, there were many men and women
in obscure municipalities all over the world, who were as generous and
public-spirited as Pliny.(1101) With Pliny, as with those more obscure
benefactors, the impelling motive was love for the parent city or the
village which was the home of their race, and where the years of youth had
been passed. Pliny, the distinguished advocate, the famous man of letters,
the darling of Roman society, still remained the loyal son of Como, from
which his love never strays.(1102) He followed and improved upon the
example of his father in munificence to his native place.(1103) He had
little liking for games and gladiatorial shows, which were the most
popular objects of liberality in those days. But he gave a sum of nearly
£9000 for the foundation of a town library, with an annual endowment of
more than £800 to maintain it.(1104) Finding that promising youths of Como
had to resort to Milan for their higher education, he offered to
contribute one-third of the expense of a high school at Como, if the
parents would raise the remainder. The letter which records the offer
shows Pliny at his best, wise and thoughtful as well as generous.(1105) He
wishes to keep boys under the protection of home influence, to make them
lovers of their mother city; and he limits his benefaction in order to
stimulate the interest of the parents in the cause of education, and in
the appointment of the teachers. Another sum of between £4000 and £5000 he
gave to Como for the support of boys and girls of the poorer class.(1106)
He also left more than £4000 for public baths, and a sum of nearly £16,000
to his freedmen, and for communal feasts. On two of his estates he built
or repaired temples at his own expense.(1107) His private benefactions
were on a similar scale. It is not necessary to adopt the cynical
conclusion that Pliny has told us all his liberality. The kindly delicacy
with which Pliny claims the right of a second father to make up the dowry
of the daughter of his friend Quintilian, might surely save him from such
an imputation.(1108) In the same spirit he offers to Romatius Firmus the
£2500 which was needed to raise his fortune to the level of equestrian
rank.(1109) When the philosophers were banished by Domitian, Pliny, who
was then praetor, at the most imminent risk visited his friend
Artemidorus, and lent him, free of interest, a considerable sum of
money.(1110) The daughter of one of his friends was left with an
embarrassed estate; Pliny took up all the debts and left Calvina with an
inheritance free from all burdens.(1111) He gave his old nurse a little
estate which cost him about £800.(1112) But the amount of this good man’s
gifts, which might shame a modern testator with ten times his fortune, is
not so striking as the kindness which prompted them, and the modest
delicacy with which they were made.

Yet Pliny, as we have said, is only a shining example of a numerous class
of more obscure benefactors. For a thousand who know his Letters, there
are few who have read the stone records of similar generosity. Yet these
memorials abound for those who care to read them. And any one who will
spend a few days, or even a few well-directed hours, in examining the
inscriptions of the early Empire, will find many a common, self-complacent
prejudice melting away. He will discover a profusion of generosity to add
to the beauty, dignity, or convenience of the parent city, to lighten the
dulness of ordinary life, to bring all ranks together in common scenes of
enjoyment, to relieve want and suffering among the indigent. The motives
of this extraordinary liberality were indeed often mixed, and it was, from
our point of view, often misdirected. The gifts were sometimes made merely
to win popularity, or to repay civic honours which had been conferred by
the populace. They were too often devoted to gladiatorial shows and other
exhibitions which only debased the spectators. Yet the greatest part of
them were expended on objects of public utility—baths, theatres, markets,
or new roads and aqueducts, or on those public banquets which knitted all
ranks together. There was in those days an immense “civic ardour,” an
almost passionate rivalry, to make the mother city a more pleasant and a
more splendid home. The endless foundations for civic feasts to all
orders, in which even children and slaves were not forgotten, with a
distribution of money at the close, softened the sharp distinctions of
rank, and gave an appreciable relief to poverty. Other foundations were
more definitely inspired by charity and pity. In remote country towns,
there were pious founders who, like Pliny and Trajan, and the Antonines,
provided for the nurture of the children of the poor. Bequests were left
to cheapen the main necessaries of life.(1113) Nor were the aged and the
sick forgotten. In Lorium, near the old home of the Antonines, a humble
spice dealer provided in his will for a free distribution of medicines to
the poor people of the town.(1114) The countless gifts and legacies to the
colleges, which were the refuge of the poor in that age, in every region
of the Roman world, are an irresistible proof of an overflowing charity.
Pliny’s love of the quiet town where his infancy was passed, and the
record of a like patriotism or benevolence in so many others, draw us on
to the study of that free and generous municipal life which was the great
glory of the Antonine age.



                                CHAPTER II


                              MUNICIPAL LIFE


Nearly all the intimate friends of Pliny were, like himself, bred in the
country, and, as we have seen, he has left us a priceless picture of that
rural aristocracy in the calm refinement of their country seats. But of
the ordinary life of the provincial town we learn very little from Pliny.
Indeed, the silence of Roman literature generally as to social life
outside the capital is very remarkable.(1115) In the long line of great
Latin authors from Ennius to Juvenal, there is hardly one whose native
place was Rome. The men who are the glory of Roman letters in epic and
lyric poetry, in oratory and history, in comedy and satire, were born in
quiet country towns in Italy or the remoter provinces. But the
reminiscences of the scenes of their infancy will generally be found to be
faint and rare. Horace, indeed, displays a tender piety for that
borderland of Apulia, where, in the glades of Mount Vultur as a child, he
drank inspiration from the witchery of haunted groves.(1116) And Martial,
the hardened man about town, never forgot the oak groves and iron
foundries of Bilbilis.(1117) But for the municipal system and life, the
relations of its various social grades, the humdrum routine of the shops
and forums, the rustic rites and deities,(1118) the lingering echoes of
that dim common life with its vices and honest tenderness, its petty
ambitions or hopeless griefs, we must generally go to the records in
stone, and the remains of buried cities which the spade has given back to
the light.

This silence of the literary class is not due to any want of love in the
Roman for the calm and freshness and haunting charm of country scenes,
still less to callousness towards old associations. Certainly Virgil
cannot be charged with any such lack of sensibility. In the Eclogues and
the Georgics, the memory of the old farm at Andes breaks through the more
conventional sentiment of Alexandrian tradition. In the scenery of these
poems, there are “mossy fountains and grass softer than sleep,” the hues
of violet, poppy, and hyacinth, the shade of ancient ilex, and the yellow
wealth of cornfield. We hear the murmur of bees, “the moan of doves in
immemorial elms,” the rush of the river, the whispering of the wind. The
pastoral charm of the midsummer prime is there, from the freshness of
fields under the morning star, through the hours alive with the song of
the cicala and the lowing of the herds around the pool, through the still,
hot, vacant noontide, till the moonbeams are glinting on the dewy grasses
of the glades.(1119) Nor can any lover of Virgil ever forget the fire of
old sentiment in the muster of Italian chivalry in the seventh book of the
Aeneid.(1120) Tibur and Praeneste, Anagnia, Nomentum, and Amiternum, and
many another old Sabine town, which send forth their young warriors to the
fray, are each stamped on the imagination by some grace of natural beauty,
or some glory of ancient legend. In the Flavian period, as we have seen,
the great nobles had their villas on every pleasant site, wherever sea or
hill or woodland offered a fair prospect and genial air. To these scenes
they hastened, like emancipated schoolboys, when the dog-days set in. They
had a genuine love of the unspoilt countryside, with its simple natural
pleasures, its husbandry of the olden time, its joyous plenty, above all
its careless freedom and repose.(1121) The great charm of a rural retreat
was its distance from the “noise and smoke and wealth” of Rome. The escape
from the penalties of fame, from the boredom of interminable dinners, the
intrusive importunity of curious busybodies, the malice of jealous rivals,
gives a fresh zest to the long tranquil days under the ilex shade among
the Sabine hills.(1122) Horace probably felt more keenly than Juvenal the
charm of hill and stream and the scenes of rustic toils and gaiety. Yet
the exquisite good sense of Horace would have recoiled from the
declamatory extravagance with which Juvenal justifies his friend’s
retirement from the capital, by a realistic picture of all its sordid
troubles and vices and absurdities.(1123) “To love Rome at Tibur and Tibur
at Rome” was the expression of the educated Roman’s feelings in a form
which he would have recognised to be as just as it was happy. In spite of
the charm of the country, to any real man of letters or affairs, the
fascination of Rome was irresistible. Pliny, and no doubt hundreds of his
class, from Augustus to Theodosius, grumbled at the wasteful fashion in
which their lives were frittered away by monotonous social duties, as
imperious as they were generally vain.(1124) Yet to Pliny, as to
Symmachus, the prospect of never again seeing the city, so seductive and
so wearying, would have been absolutely intolerable. Martial, when he
retired to Bilbilis, seems to pity his friend Juvenal, wandering
restlessly through the noisy Suburra, or climbing the Caelian in hot
haste, to hang on the outskirts of a levee.(1125) Yet in the preface to
this last book, Martial seems to feel his banishment as keenly as Ovid
felt his among the frozen rivers of Scythia.(1126) He misses in the
“provincial solitude” the sympathetic public which was eager for his
latest epigram, the fine critical judgment to appreciate, the concourse of
elegant idlers to supply the matter for his verses.(1127) And worst of
all, the most famous wit of Rome is now the mark for the ignorant spite
and envy of a provincial clique. Martial evidently feels very much as Dr.
Johnson would have felt if he had been compelled to live out his days in
Skye. Juvenal may affect to regret the simple ways of those rustic places,
where on festal days in the grass-grown theatre the infant in his mother’s
arms shudders at the awful masks of the actors, and the aediles take their
places in white tunics like the humble crowd.(1128) But, in spite of this
sentiment, the true Roman had a certain contempt for municipal life,(1129)
for the narrow range of its interests, the ludicrous assumption of dignity
by its petty magistrates, and its provincialisms.(1130) It was indeed only
natural that the splendour and the vivid energy of life in the capital of
the world should throw provincial life into the shade. Yet we can realise
now, as a Roman wit or man of fashion could hardly do, that the municipal
system, which had overspread the world from the Solway to the edge of the
Sahara, was not the least glory of the Antonine age. And in any attempt to
estimate the moral condition of the masses in that age, the influence of
municipal life should occupy a large place.

It is beyond the scope of this work to trace provincial towns through all
their various grades, and their evolution in the hands of Roman
statesmanship from the time of Augustus. What we are chiefly concerned
with is the spirit and the rapid development of that brilliant civic life,
which not only covered the worlds both of East and West with material
monuments of Roman energy, but profoundly influenced for good, or
sometimes for evil, the popular character. The magical transformation
wrought by Roman rule in a century and a half seized the imagination of
contemporaries such as the rhetor Aristides. And the mere wreck of that
brilliant civilisation which now meets the traveller’s eye, in regions
that have long returned to waste, will not permit us to treat his eulogy
of Rome as only a piece of rhetoric. Regions, once desert solitudes, are
thickly dotted with flourishing cities; the Empire is a realm of cities.
The world has laid the sword aside, and keeps universal festival, with all
pomp and gladness. All other feuds and rivalries are gone, and cities now
vie with one another only in their splendour and their pleasures. Every
space is crowded with porticoes, gymnasia, temple fronts, with studios and
schools.(1131) Sandy wastes, trackless mountains, and broad rivers present
no barriers to the traveller, who finds his home and country everywhere.
The earth has become a vast pleasure garden.(1132)

This glowing description of the Roman world of the Antonine age is not
perhaps strengthened by the appeal to the doubtful statistics of other
contemporaries, such as Aelian and Josephus. We may hesitate to accept the
statement that Italy had once 1197 cities, or that Gaul possessed
1200.(1133) In these estimates, if they have any solid foundation, the
term “city” must be taken in a very elastic sense. But there are other
more trustworthy reckonings which sufficiently support the glowing
description of Aristides. When the Romans conquered Spain and Gaul, they
found a system of _pagi_ or cantons, with very few considerable towns. The
800 towns which are said to have been taken by Julius Caesar can have been
little more than villages. But the Romanisation of both countries meant
centralisation. Where the Romans did not find towns they created
them.(1134) Gradually, but rapidly, the isolated rural life became more
social and urban. In the north-eastern province of Spain, out of 293
communities in the time of the elder Pliny, 179 were in some sense urban,
114 were still purely rustic;(1135) and we may be sure that this is an
immense advance on the condition of the country at the time of the
conquest. In the reign of Antoninus Pius, only 27 of these rural districts
remained without an organised civic centre.(1136) In Gaul, Julius Caesar
impressed the stamp of Rome on the province of Narbo, by founding cities
of the Roman type, and his policy was continued by Augustus. The loose
cantonal system almost disappeared from the province in the south,
although it lingered long in the northern regions of Gaul. Yet even in the
north, on the borders of Germany, Cologne, from the reign of Claudius,
became the envy of the barbarians across the Rhine,(1137) and Trèves, from
the days of Augustus, already anticipated its glory as a seat of empire
from Diocletian to Gratian and Valentinian.(1138) In the Agri Decumates,
between the Rhine and Neckar, the remains of baths and aqueducts, the
mosaics and bronzes and pottery, which antiquarian industry has collected
and explored, attest the existence of at least 160 flourishing and
civilised communities.(1139) Baden was already a crowded resort for its
healing waters when, in A.D. 69, it was given up to fire and sword by
Caecina in his advance to meet the army of Otho in the valley of the
Po.(1140) The Danube was lined with flourishing communities of Roman
origin. In the 170 years during which Dacia was included in the Empire,
more than 120 towns were organised by the conquering race.(1141) Greek
cities, like Tomi on the Euxine, record their gratitude to their patrons
in the same formal terms as Pompeii or Venusia.(1142) If we may believe
Philostratus, there were 500 flourishing cities in the province of Asia
which more than rivalled the splendour of Ionia before the Lydian and
Persian conquests.(1143) Many of these were of ancient origin, but many
had been founded by Rome.(1144) Laodicea was regarded as an unimportant
place in the reign of Tiberius; yet the wealth of its private citizens was
celebrated.(1145) One of them had attained a fortune which enabled him to
bequeath it a sum of nearly half a million. The elder Pliny could reckon
40 cities of importance in Egypt, which had in his time a population of
over seven millions;(1146) and Alexandria, next after Rome herself, was
regarded as the most dazzling ornament of the Empire.(1147)

Perhaps nowhere, however, had the “Roman peace” worked greater miracles of
civic prosperity than in North Africa. That the population of Roman Africa
was in the period of the Empire extraordinarily dense, appears from the
number of its episcopal sees, which in the fifth century had reached a
total of 297.(1148) The remains of more than 20 amphitheatres can still be
traced. There is indeed no more startling proof of the range and sweep of
Roman civilisation than the wreck of those capitols, forums, aqueducts,
and temples in what are now sandy solitudes, not even occupied by a native
village. In the province of Numidia, within a few leagues of the Sahara,
the Roman colony of Thamugadi (Timgad) was founded, as an inscription
tells, by Trajan in the year 100.(1149) There, in what is now a scene of
utter loneliness and desolation, the remains of a busy and well-organised
community have been brought to light by French explorers. The town was
built by the third legion, which for generations, almost as a hereditary
caste, protected Roman civilisation against the restless tribes of the
desert. The chief buildings were probably completed in 117. The
preservation of so much, after eighteen centuries, is a proof that the
work was well and thoroughly done. The ruts of carriage wheels can still
be seen in the main street, which is spanned by a triumphal arch, adorned
with marble columns. Porticoes and colonnades gave shelter from the heat
to the passers-by, and two fountains played at the further end. Water,
which is now invisible on the spot, was then brought in channels from the
hills, and distributed at a fixed rate among private houses.(1150) The
forum was in the usual style, with raised side walks and porticoes, a
basilica, a senate-house and rostrum, a shrine of Fortuna Augusta, and a
crowd of statues to the emperors from M. Aurelius to Julian.(1151) This
petty place had its theatre, where the seats can still be seen rising in
their due gradation of rank. An imposing capitol, in which, as at home,
the Roman Trinity, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, were duly worshipped, was
restored in the reign of Valentinian I., and dedicated by that Publius
Caeionius Albinus who was one of the last of the pagan aristocracy, and
who figures in the Letters of Symmachus and the _Saturnalia_ of
Macrobius.(1152) The inscriptions on the site reveal the regular municipal
constitution, with the names of seventy decurions, each of whom probably
paid his honorarium of £13 or more when he entered on his office.(1153)
The honours of the duumvirate and the aedileship cost respectively £32 and
£24.(1154) And here, as elsewhere, the public monuments and buildings were
generally erected by private ambition or munificence. A statue and little
shrine of Fortuna Augusta were given by two ladies, at a cost of over
£200, in the days of Hadrian.(1155)

The greatest glory of the imperial administration for nearly two centuries
was the skilful and politic tolerance with which it reconciled a central
despotism with a remarkable range of local liberty. It did not attempt to
impose a uniform organisation or a bureaucratic control on the vast mass
of races and peoples whom the fortune of Rome had brought under her sway.
Rather, for ages its guiding principle was, as far as possible, to leave
ancient landmarks undisturbed, and to give as much free play to local
liberties as was compatible with the safety and efficiency of the imperial
guardian of order and peace. Hence those many diversities in the relation
between provincial towns and Rome, represented by the names of free,
federate, or stipendiary cities, municipium and colonia. Many retained
their old laws, constitution, and judicial system.(1156) They retained in
some cases the names of magistracies, which recalled the days of
independence: there were still archons at Athens, suffetes in African
towns, demarchs at Naples. The title of medixtuticus still lingered here
and there in old Oscan communities.(1157) When she had crushed the
national spirit, and averted the danger of armed revolt, Rome tolerated,
and even fostered, municipal freedom, for more than a hundred years after
the last shadowy pretence of popular government had disappeared from her
own forum.(1158) Central control and uniformity were established in those
departments which affected the peace and welfare of the whole vast
commonwealth. Although the interference of the provincial governor in
local administration was theoretically possible in varying degrees, yet it
may well be doubted whether a citizen of Lyons or Marseilles, of Antioch
or Alexandria, was often made conscious of any limitation of his freedom
by imperial power. While delation and confiscation and massacre were
working havoc on the banks of the Tiber, the provinces were generally
tranquil and prosperous. The people elected their magistrates, who
administered municipal affairs with little interference from government.
The provincial administration of a Nero, an Otho, a Vitellius, or a
Domitian was often no less prudent and considerate than that of a
Vespasian or a Trajan.(1159) And the worst of the emperors share with the
best in the universal gratitude of the provinces for the blessings of the
“Roman peace.”(1160)

But although for generations there was a settled abstinence from
centralisation on the part of the imperial government, the many varieties
of civic constitution in the provinces tended by an irresistible drift to
a uniform type of organisation. Free and federate communities voluntarily
sought the position of a colony or a municipium.(1161) Just as the
provincial town must have its capitol, with the cult of Jupiter, Juno, and
Minerva, or imported the street names Velabrum or Vicus Tuscus, so the
little community called itself _respublica_, its commons the _populus_,
its curia the senate or the _amplissimus et splendidissimus ordo_; its
magistrates sometimes bore the majestic names of praetor, dictator, or
censor, in a few cases even of consul.(1162) This almost ludicrous
imitation of the great city is an example of the magical power which Rome
always exercised on her most distant subjects, and even on the outer world
of barbarism, down to the last days when her forces were ebbing away. The
ease and rapidity of communication along the great routes, the frequent
visits of proconsuls and procurators and generals, with the numerous train
which attended them, the presence of the ubiquitous Roman merchant and
traveller, kept even remote places in touch with the capital. The _acta
diurna_, with official news and bits of scandal and gossip, regularly
arrived in distant provincial towns and frontier camps.(1163) The last
speech of Pliny, or the freshest epigrams of Martial, were within a short
time selling on the bookstalls of Lyons or Vienne.(1164) Until the
appearance of railways and steamboats, it may be doubted whether there was
any age in history in which travelling was easier or more general.

Apart from the immense stimulus which was given to trade and commerce by
the pacification of the world, liberal curiosity, or restless ennui, or
the passion to preach and propagate ideas, carried immense numbers to the
most distant lands.(1165) The travelling sophist found his way to towns on
the edge of the Scythian steppes, to the home of the Brahmans, or to the
depths of the Soudan.(1166) The tour up the Nile was part of a liberal
culture in the days of Lucian as it was in the days of Herodotus. The
romantic charm of travel in Greece was probably heightened for many by the
tales of Thessalian brigands and sorceresses which meet us in the novel of
Apuleius. The Emperor Hadrian, who visited almost every interesting scene
in his dominions, from the Solway to the Euphrates, often trudging for
days at the head of his soldiers, is a true representative of the
migratory tastes of his time. Seneca, indeed, finds in this rage for
change of scene only a symptom of the universal unrest. Epictetus, on the
other hand, and Aristides expatiate with rapture on the universal security
and wellbeing, due to the disappearance of brigandage, piracy, and war.
The seas are alive with merchantmen; deserts have become populous scenes
of industry; the great roads are carried over the broadest rivers and the
most defiant mountain barriers. The earth has become the common possession
of all. Nor is this mere rhetoric. Travelling to all parts of the known
world had become expeditious, and even luxurious. From the Second Punic
War, traders, couriers, and travellers had moved freely along the great
roads.(1167) The government post, which was first organised by Augustus on
the model of the Persian, provided at regular intervals the means of
conveyance for officials, or for those furnished with the requisite
diploma. Private enterprise had also organised facilities of travel, and
at the gates of country towns such as Pompeii, Praeneste, or Tibur, there
were stations of the posting corporations (the _cisiarii_ or _jumentarii_)
where carriages could be hired, with change of horses at each stage.(1168)
The speed with which great distances were traversed in those days is at
first sight rather startling. Caesar once travelled 100 miles a day in a
journey from Rome to the Rhone.(1169) The freedman Icelus in seven days
carried the news of Nero’s death to Galba in Spain,(1170) the journey of
332 miles from Tarraco to Clunia having been made at the rate of nearly
ten miles an hour. This of course was express speed. The ordinary rate of
travelling is probably better represented by the leisurely journey of
Horace and Maecenas to Brundisium, or that of Martial’s book from Tarraco
to Bilbilis.(1171) About 130 miles a day was the average distance
accomplished by sea. Vessels put out from Ostia or Puteoli for every port
in the Mediterranean. From Puteoli to Corinth was a voyage of five days.
About the same time was needed to reach Tarraco from Ostia. A ship might
arrive at Alexandria from the Palus Maeotis in a fortnight.(1172) Many a
wandering sophist, like Dion Chrysostom or Apollonius of Tyana, traversed
great distances on foot, or with a modest wallet on a mule. The rhetor
Aristides once spent a hundred days in a journey at mid-winter from Mysia
to Rome.(1173) But there was hardly any limit to the luxury and
ostentatious splendour with which the great and opulent made their
progresses, attended or preceded by troops of footmen and runners, and
carrying with them costly plate and myrrhine vases.(1174) The thousand
carriages which Nero took with him on a progress, the silver-shod mules of
Poppaea, the paraphernalia of luxury described by Seneca, if they are not
mythical, were probably the exceptional displays of a self-indulgence
bordering on lunacy.(1175) But practical and sensible comfort in
travelling was perhaps then commoner than it was, until quite recently,
among ourselves. The carriages in which the two indefatigable Plinies used
to ride, enabled them to read at their ease, or dictate to an
amanuensis.(1176) The inns, from the time of Horace to the time of
Sidonius, were as a rule bad, and frequently disreputable, and even
dangerous, places of resort.(1177) And vehicles were often arranged for
sleeping on a journey. We may be sure that many an imperial officer after
the time of Julius Caesar passed nights in his carriage, while hurrying to
join the forces on the Rhine or the Danube. With all this rapid
circulation of officials and travellers, the far-stretching limits of the
Roman world must, to the general eye, have contracted, the remotest places
were drawn more and more towards the centre, and the inexhaustible
vitality of the imperial city diffused itself with a magical power of
silent transformation.

The modes in which the fully developed municipalities of the Antonine age
had originated and were organised were very various. Wherever, as in the
Greek East or Carthaginian Africa, towns already existed, the Romans, of
course, used them in their organisation of a province, although they added
liberally to the number, as in Syria, Pontus, and Cappadocia.(1178) Where
a country was still in the cantonal state, the villages or markets were
grouped around a civic centre, and a municipal town, such as Nîmes or
Lyons, would thus become the metropolis of a considerable tract of
territory. The colony of Vienne was the civic centre of the
Allobroges.(1179) In the settlement of the Alps many of the remote
mountain cantons were attached to towns such as Tridentum, Verona, or
Brixia.(1180) Sometimes, as in Dacia, the civic organisation was created
at a stroke.(1181) But it is well known that, especially towards the
frontiers of the Empire, in Britain, on the Rhine, and in North Africa,
the towns of the second century had often grown out of the _castra
stativa_ of the legions.

The great reorganisation of Augustus had made each legion a permanent
corps, with a history and identity of its own. To ensure the tranquillity
of the Empire the legions were distributed in permanent camps along the
frontier, the only inland cities with a regular military garrison being
Lyons and Carthage.(1182) Many legions never changed their quarters for
generations. The Tertia Augusta, which has left so many memorials of
itself in the inscriptions of Lambaesis, remained, with only a single
break, in the same district from the time of Augustus to that of
Diocletian.(1183) There, for two generations, it kept sleepless watch
against the robber tribes of the Sahara. The legion was also peacefully
employed in erecting fortifications and making roads and bridges, when the
camp was visited by Hadrian in the year 130.(1184) Gradually soldiers were
allowed to form family relations, more or less regular, until, under
Septimius Severus, the legionary was permitted to live in his household
like any other citizen.(1185) From the remains at Lambaesis, it is now
considered certain that, in the third century, the camp had ceased to be
the soldier’s home. The suttlers and camp-followers had long gathered in
the neighbourhood of the camp, in huts which were called _Canabae
legionis_. There, for a long time, the soldier, when off duty, sought his
pleasures and amusements, and there, after the changes of Septimius
Severus, he took up his abode. At first the Canabae of Lambaesis was only
a _vicus_; it became, under Marcus Aurelius, a _municipium_—the
_Respublica Lambaesitanorum_, with the civic constitution which is
rendered familiar to us by so many inscriptions.(1186) The Legionaries
seem to have been happy and contented at Lambaesis; their sons were
trained to arms and followed their fathers in the ranks;(1187) the legion
became to some extent a hereditary caste. Old veterans remained on the
scene of their service, after receiving their discharge with a pension
from the chest.(1188) The town developed in the regular fashion, and
dignified itself by a capitol, an amphitheatre, two forums, a triumphal
arch; and the many monuments of public and private life found on the site
reveal a highly organised society, moulded out of barbarous and alien
elements, and stamped with the inimitable and enduring impress of Rome.
Out of such casual and unpromising materials sprang numbers of urban
communities, which reproduced, in their outline and in their social tone,
the forms and spirit of the free Republic of Rome. The capitol and the
forum are merely the external symbols of a closer bond of parentage. The
Roman military discipline did not more completely master and transform the
Numidian or Celtic recruit, than the inspiration of her civil polity
diffused among races imbruted by servitude, or instinct with the love of a
lawless, nomadic freedom, the sober attachment to an ordered civic life
which was obedient to a long tradition, yet vividly interested in its own
affairs.

On hardly any side of ancient life is the information furnished by the
inscriptions so rich as on the spirit and organisation of municipalities.
Here one may learn details of communal life which are never alluded to in
Roman literature. From this source, also, we must seek the only authentic
materials for the reconstruction of a municipality of the first century.
The _Album Canusii_ and the tablets containing the laws of Malaga and
Salpensa have not only settled more than one question as to the municipal
organisation of the early Empire, but have enabled us to form almost as
clear-cut a conception of it as we have of the corporate organisation of
our own great towns.

But, unlike our civic republics, the Roman municipal town was distinctly
aristocratic, or rather timocratic, in its constitution. A man’s place in
the community, as a rule, was fixed by his ancestry, his official grade,
or his capacity to spend. The dictum of Trimalchio was too literally true
in the municipal life of that age—“a man is what he is worth.” Provincial
society was already parted and graduated, though less decidedly, by those
rigid lines of materialistic demarcation which became gaping fissures in
the society of the Theodosian code. The Curia or Senate was open only to
the possessor of a certain fortune; at Como, for instance, HS.100,000,
elsewhere perhaps even more. On the other hand, the richest freedman could
not become a member of the Curia or hold any civic magistracy,(1189)
although he might be decorated with their insignia. His ambition had to be
satisfied with admission to the order of the Augustales, which ranked
socially after the members of the Curia. In the list of the Curia, which
was revised every five years, the order of official and social precedence
was most scrupulously observed. In the Album Canusii of the year A.D.
223,(1190) the first rank is assigned to thirty-nine patrons, who have
held imperial office, or who are senators or knights. Next come the local
magnates who have been dignified by election to any of the four great
municipal magistracies. Last in order are the _pedani_, that is, the
citizens possessing the requisite qualification, who have not yet held any
municipal office. At the bottom of the list stand twenty-five
_praetextati_, who were probably the sons of the more distinguished
citizens, and who, like the sons of senators of the Republic, were silent
witnesses of the proceedings in the Curia. From this body, and from all
the magistracies, all persons engaged in certain mean or disgraceful
occupations were expressly excluded, along with the great mass of the
poorer citizens, the _tenuiores_. The taint of servile birth, the
possession of _libertinae opes_, was an indelible blot. In countless
inscriptions this gradation of rank is sharply accentuated. If a man
leaves a bequest for an annual feast, with a distribution of money, the
rich patron or the decurio will receive perhaps five times the amount
which is doled out to the simple plebeian.(1191) The distinction of rank,
even in punishment for crime, which meets us everywhere in the Theodosian
Code, has already appeared. The _honestior_ is not to be degraded by the
punishment of crucifixion or by the stroke of the rod.(1192) But it is on
their tombs that the passion of the Romans for some sort of distinction,
however shadowy, shows itself most strikingly. On these slabs every grade
of dignity in a long career is enumerated with minute care. The exact
value of a man’s public benefactions or his official salary will be
recorded with pride.(1193) Even the dealer in aromatics or in rags will
make a boast of some petty office in the college of his trade.(1194) But,
although rank and office were extravagantly valued in these societies,
wealth was after all the great distinction. The cities were in the hands
of the rich, and, in return for social deference and official power, the
rich were expected to give lavishly to all public objects. The worship of
wealth, the monumental flattery of rich patrons and benefactors, was very
interested and servile. On the other hand, there probably never was a time
when the duties of wealth were so powerfully enforced by opinion, or so
cheerfully, and even recklessly, performed.

Yet, although these communities were essentially aristocratic in tone and
constitution, the commonalty still retained some power in the Antonine
age. On many inscriptions they appear side by side with the Curial “ordo”
and the Augustales.(1195) They had still in the reign of Domitian the
right to elect their magistrates. It was long believed that, with the
suppression of popular elections at Rome in the reign of Tiberius, the
popular choice of their great magistrates must also have been withdrawn
from municipal towns.(1196) This has now been disproved by the discovery
of the laws of Malaga and Salpensa, in which the most elaborate provisions
are made for a free and uncontaminated election by the whole people.(1197)
And we can still almost hear the noise of election days among the ruins of
Pompeii.(1198) Many of the inscriptions of Pompeii are election placards,
recommending particular candidates. There, in red letters painted on the
walls, we can read that “the barbers wish to have Trebius as aedile,” or
that “the fruit-sellers, with one accord, support the candidature of
Holconius Priscus for the duumvirate.” The porters, muleteers, and garlic
dealers have each their favourite. The master fuller, Vesonius Primus,
backs Cn. Helvius as a worthy man. Even ladies took part in the contest
and made their separate appeals. “His little sweetheart” records that she
is working for Claudius.(1199) Personal popularity no doubt then, as
always, attracted such electoral support. But the student of the
inscriptions may be inclined to think that the free and independent
electors had also a keen eye for the man who was likely to build a new
colonnade for the forum, or a new _schola_ for the guild, or, best of all,
to send down thirty pairs of gladiators into the arena “with plenty of
blood.”(1200)

The laws of Malaga and Salpensa prescribe, in the fullest detail, all the
forms to be observed in the election of magistrates. These were generally
six in number—two duumvirs,(1201) who were the highest officers, two
aediles, and two quaestors, for each year. Every fifth year, instead of
the duumvirs, two _quinquennales_ were elected, with the extraordinary
duty of conducting the municipal census.(1202) The candidates for all
these offices were required to be free born, of the age of twenty-five at
least, of irreproachable character, and the possessors of a certain
fortune. The qualifications were the same as those prescribed by the _lex
Julia_ for admission to the municipal Senate, which expressly excluded
persons engaged in certain disreputable callings—gladiators, actors,
pimps, auctioneers, and undertakers.(1203) In the best days the
competition for office was undoubtedly keen, and the candidates were
numerous. In the year A.D. 4, the year of the death of C. Caesar, the
grandson of Augustus, so hot was the rivalry that the town of Pisa was
left without magistrates owing to serious disturbances at the
elections.(1204) But it is an ominous fact that the law of Malaga, in the
reign of Domitian, makes provision for the contingency of a failure of
candidates. In such a case the presiding duumvir was to nominate the
required number, they in turn an equal number, and the combined nominees
had to designate a third set equal in number to themselves. The choice of
the people was then restricted to these involuntary candidates. The city
has evidently advanced a stage towards the times of the Lower Empire, when
the magistrates were appointed by the Curia from among themselves, with no
reference to the people.(1205) A man might, indeed, well hesitate before
offering himself for an office which imposed a heavy expenditure on the
holder of it. The honorarium payable on admission amounted, in an obscure
place like Thamugadi, to about £32 for the duumvirate, and £24 for the
aedileship.(1206) In the greater Italian cities it probably would be much
more; at Pompeii the newly elected duumvir paid more than £80.(1207) But
the man chosen by the people often felt bound to outstrip the bare demands
of law or custom by a prodigal liberality. He must build or repair some
public work, to signalise his year of office, and, at the dedication of
it, good taste required him to exhibit costly games, or to give a banquet
to the citizens, with a largess to all of every rank small or great.(1208)

But in return for its liabilities, the position of a duumvir gave
undoubted power and distinction. The office was the image or shadow of the
ancient consulship, and occasionally, as the inscriptions attest, a
Hadrian or an Antoninus Pius did not disdain to accept it.(1209) The
duumvirs commanded the local militia, when it was, on emergency, called
out.(1210) They presided at meetings of the people and the Curia, they
proposed questions for their deliberation, and carried the decrees into
effect. They had civil jurisdiction up to a certain amount, and their
criminal jurisdiction, which, in the third century, had been transferred
to imperial functionaries, was, according to the most probable opinion,
undiminished at least down to the end of the first century.(1211) This
judicial power, however, was limited by the _intercessio_ of colleagues
and the right of appeal. They had extensive responsibilities in finance,
for the collection of dues and taxes, and the recovery of all moneys owing
to the municipality.(1212) After the fall of the free Republic, when so
many avenues of ambition were closed, many an able man might well satisfy
his desire for power and distinction by the duumvirate of a provincial
town.

The Curia, or local senate, is peculiarly interesting to the historical
student, because it was to the conversion of the curiales into a
hereditary caste, loaded with incalculable liabilities, that the decay of
the Western Empire was to a large extent due.(1213) But, in the reign of
Domitian, the Curia is still erect and dignified. Although the individual
decurio seldom or never assumes the title senator in the
inscriptions,(1214) the Curia as a whole often bears the august name and
titles of the majestic Roman Senate.(1215) And assuredly down to the
middle of the second century there was no lack of candidates for
admission. Every five years the roll of the Curia was revised and drawn up
afresh by the quinquennales. The conditions were those for holding a
magistracy, including a property qualification, which varied in different
places.(1216) The number of ordinary members was generally 100.(1217) But
it was swelled by patrons and other extraordinary members. The
quinquennales, in framing the list, took first the members on the roll of
the previous term, and then those who had been elected to magistracies
since the last census. If any vacancies were still left, they were filled
up from the ranks of those who, not having yet held any municipal office,
were otherwise qualified by the possession of a sufficient fortune.(1218)
In the _Album Canusii_, the men who had held official rank constitute at
least two-thirds of the Curia. In the composition of such a body there
would appear to be ample security for administrative skill and experience.
And yet we shall find that it was precisely through want of prudence or
skill that the door was opened for that bureaucratic interference which,
in the second century, began, with momentous results, to sap the freedom
and independence of municipal life.

The honours and powers of the provincial council were long sufficient to
compensate the decurio for the heavy demands made upon his generosity. To
all but comparatively few the career of imperial office and distinction
was closed. His own town became each man’s “patria,” as Como was even to a
man like Pliny, who played so great a part in the life of the
capital.(1219) There is the ring of a very genuine public spirit and a
love for the local commonwealth in a host of the inscriptions of that
age.(1220) The vastness and overwhelming grandeur of a world-wide Empire,
in which the individual citizen was a mere atom, made men crave for any
distinction which seemed to raise them above the grey flat level which
surrounds a democratic despotism. And even the ordinary decurio had some
badges to mark him off from the crowd. The pompous honorific titles of the
Lower Empire, indeed, had not come into vogue. But the Curial had a place
of honour at games and festivals, a claim to a larger share in the
distributions of money by private benefactors, exemption, as one of the
_honestiores_, from the more degrading forms of punishment, the free
supply of water from the public sources,(1221) and other perquisites and
honours, which varied in different localities. The powers of the Curia
were also very considerable. The duumvirs indeed possessed extensive
prerogatives which strong men may have sometimes strained.(1222) But there
was a right of appeal to the Curia from judicial decisions of the duumvirs
in certain cases. And their control of games and festivals, and of the
finances of the community, was limited by the necessity of consulting the
Curia and of carrying out its orders.(1223) In the _lex Ursonensis_ we
find a long list of matters on which the duumvirs were obliged to take
their instructions from the Curia.(1224) The quorum needed for a valid
decision varied in different places. In the election of a patron a quorum
of two-thirds of the decurions was legally required.(1225) The names of
the duoviri appeared at the head of every curial decree, as those of the
consuls in every senatusconsultum.

After the local aristocracy of curial rank came, in order of social
precedence, members of the knightly class and the order of the Augustales.
In the latter half of the first century equestrian rank had been conferred
with perhaps too lavish a hand. And satire was never tired of ridiculing
these sham aristocrats, Bithynian knights as they were called, often of
the lowest origin, who on public occasions vulgarly asserted their
mushroom rank.(1226) In particular, the army contributed many new knights
to the society of the provincial towns. A veteran, often of humble birth,
who had risen to the first place among the sixty centurions of a legion,
was, on his discharge with a good pension, sometimes raised to equestrian
rank. He frequently returned to his native place, where he became a
personage of some mark. Such men, along with old officers of higher grade,
frequently appear in the inscriptions invested with priesthoods and high
magistracies,(1227) and were sometimes chosen as patrons of the
community.(1228) Many of them were undoubtedly good and public-spirited
men, with the peculiar virtues which the life of the Roman camp
engendered. But some of their class also displayed that coarse and brutal
self-assertion, and that ignorant contempt for the refinement of culture,
on which Persius and Juvenal poured their scorn.(1229)

The Augustales, ranking next to the curial order, are peculiarly
interesting, both as representing the wide diffusion of the cult of the
emperors, and as a class composed of men of low, or even servile origin,
who had made their fortunes in trade, yet whose ambition society found the
means of satisfying, without breaking down the barriers of aristocratic
exclusiveness.(1230) The origin of the order of the Augustales was long a
subject of debate. But it has now been placed beyond doubt that in the
provincial towns it was a plebeian institution for the cult of Augustus,
and succeeding emperors, modelled on the aristocratic order of the Sodales
Augustales, which was established by Tiberius in the capital.(1231) The
Augustales were elected by vote of the local curia, without regard to
social rank, although probably with due respect to wealth, and they
included the leaders of the great freedman class, whose emergence is one
of the most striking facts in the social history of the time. Figuring on
scores of inscriptions, the Augustales are mentioned only once in extant
Roman literature, in the novel of Petronius, where the class has been
immortalised, and probably caricatured.(1232) The inscription, for which
Trimalchio gives an order to his brother Augustal, the stone-cutter, is to
record his election in absence to the Sevirate, his many virtues and his
millions. Actual monuments at Assisi and Brescia show that Trimalchio was
not an altogether imaginary person.(1233)

Yet the Augustales, in spite of the vulgar ostentation and self-assertion,
which have characterised similar classes of the _nouveaux riches_ in all
ages, were a very important and useful order. They overspread the whole
Roman world in the West. Their monuments have been traced, not only in
almost every town in Italy, and in great provincial capitals, like Lyons
or Tarraco, but in Alpine valleys and lonely outposts of civilisation on
the edge of the Sahara.(1234) Their special religious duties involved
considerable expense, from which no doubt the more aristocratic class were
glad to be relieved. They had to bear the cost of sacrifices and
festivities on certain days in honour of dead emperors. They had to pay an
entrance fee on admission to the college, which the ambitious among them
would often lavishly exceed.(1235) They were organised on the lines of
other colleges, with patrons, quinquennales, and other officials. They had
their club-houses where their banquets were regularly held, they possessed
landed property, and had their common places of burial.(1236) But their
expenditure and their interests were by no means limited to their own
immediate society. They regarded themselves, and were generally treated as
public officials, ranking next to the magistrates of the Curia. They had
the right to wear the purple-bordered toga, and to have lictors attending
them in the streets.(1237) Places of honour were reserved for them at the
games and festivals. Although as a class they were not eligible for a seat
in the Curia, or for the municipal magistracies, yet the _ornamenta_, the
external badges and honours attached to these offices, were sometimes
granted even to freedmen who had done service to the community. Thus an
Augustal who had paved a road at Cales received the _ornamenta_ of a
decurio.(1238) And another, for his munificence to Pompeii, by a decree of
the Curia, was awarded the use of the _bisellium_, a seat of honour which
was usually reserved for the highest dignitaries.(1239) But the ornaments
and dignities of their own particular college became objects of pride and
ambition. Thus a man boasts of having been made _primus Augustalis
perpetuus_, by a decree of the Curia.(1240) A worthy of Brundisium
received from the Curia a public funeral, with the ornaments and insignia
of an Augustal.(1241) In this way, in a society highly conventional, and
dominated by caste feeling, the order of the Augustales provided both a
stimulus and a reward for the public spirit of a new class, powerful in
its wealth and numbers, but generally encumbered by the heritage of a
doubtful origin. It was a great elevation for a man, who, perhaps, had
been sold as a boy in some Syrian slave market into the degradation of a
minion, and who had emerged, by petty savings or base services, into the
comparative freedom of a tainted or despised trade, to find himself at
last holding a conspicuous rank in his municipality, and able to purchase
honour and deference from those who had trampled on him in his youth.

The Augustales shared with the members of the Curia the heavy burdens
which public sentiment then imposed upon the rich. Direct taxation for
municipal purposes was in the first century almost unknown. The
municipalities often possessed landed property, mines, or quarries. Capua
is said to have had distant possessions in the island of Crete.(1242) The
towns also derived an income from the public baths,(1243) from the rent of
shops and stalls in the public places, from the supply of water to private
houses or estates, and from port dues and tolls. A very considerable item
of revenue must have been found in the fee which all decurions,
Augustales, and magistrates paid on entering on their office or dignity.
Since the reign of Nerva, the towns had the right of receiving legacies
and bequests.(1244) And, on the occurrence of any desolating calamity, an
earthquake or a fire, the emperor was never slow or niggardly in giving
relief. In the year 53 A.D. the town of Bologna received an imperial
subsidy of about £83,000.(1245) The cities of Asia were again and again
relieved after desolating earthquakes.(1246)

With regard to municipal expenditure, the budget was free from many public
charges which burden our modern towns. The higher offices were unpaid, and
in fact demanded large generosity from their holders. The lower functions
were discharged, to a great extent, by communal slaves. The care or
construction of streets, markets, and public buildings, although
theoretically devolving on the community through their aediles, was, as a
matter of fact, to an enormous extent undertaken by private persons. The
city treasury must have often incurred a loss in striving to provide corn
and oil for the citizens at a limited price, and the authorities were
often reviled, as at Trimalchio’s banquet, for not doing more to cheapen
the necessaries of life.(1247) Although our information as to municipal
expenditure on education and medical treatment is scanty, it is pretty
clear that the community was, in the Antonine age, beginning to recognise
a duty in making provision for both. Vespasian first gave a public
endowment to professors of rhetoric in the capital.(1248) The case of
Como, described in Pliny’s Letters, was probably not an isolated one.
Finding that the youth of that town were compelled to resort to Milan for
higher instruction, Pliny, as we have seen, proposed to the parents to
establish by general subscription a public school, and he offered himself
to contribute one-third of the sum required for the foundation, the rest
to be provided by the townsfolk, who were to have the management and
selection of teachers in their hands.(1249) The Greek cities had public
physicians 500 years before Christ,(1250) and Marseilles and some of the
Gallic towns in Strabo’s day employed both teachers and doctors at the
public expense.(1251) The regular organisation of public medical
attendance in the provinces dates from Antoninus Pius, who required the
towns of Asia to have a certain number of physicians among their salaried
officers.(1252) The title _Archiater_, which in the Theodosian Code
designates an official class in the provinces as well as at Rome, is found
in inscriptions of Beneventum and Pisaurum belonging to an earlier
date.(1253) But these departments of municipal expenditure were hardly yet
fully organised in the age of the Antonines, and were probably not
burdensome. The great field of expenditure lay in the basilicas, temples,
amphitheatres, baths, and pavements, whose vanishing remains give us a
glimpse of one of the most brilliant ages in history.

The municipal towns relied largely on the voluntary munificence of their
wealthy members for great works of public utility or splendour. But we
have many records of such enterprises carried out at the common expense,
and the name of a special magistracy (_curator operum publicorum_) to
superintend them meets us often in the inscriptions.(1254) These
undertakings were frequently on a great scale. The famous bridge of
Alcantara was erected in the reign of Trajan by the combined efforts of
eleven municipalities in Portugal.(1255) In Bithynia the finances of some
of the great towns had been so seriously disorganised by expensive and
ill-managed undertakings that the younger Pliny was in the year 111 A.D.
sent as imperial legate by Trajan to repair the misgovernment of the
province.(1256) Pliny’s correspondence throws a flood of light on many
points of municipal administration, and foreshadows its coming decay. The
cities appear to have ample funds, but they are grossly mismanaged. There
is plenty of public money seeking investment, but borrowers cannot be
found at the current rate of 12 per cent. Pliny would have been inclined
to compel the decurions to become debtors of the state, but Trajan orders
the rate of interest to be put low enough to attract voluntary
borrowers.(1257) Apamea, although it had the ancient privilege of managing
its own affairs, requested Pliny to examine the public accounts.(1258) He
did the same for Prusa, and found many signs of loose and reckless
finance, and probable malversation.(1259) Nicaea had spent £80,000 on a
theatre, which, from some faults either in the materials or the
foundation, was settling, with great fissures in the walls.(1260) The city
had also expended a large sum in rebuilding its gymnasium on a sumptuous
scale, but the fabric had been condemned by a new architect for radical
defects of structure. Nicomedia has squandered £40,000 on two aqueducts
which have either fallen or been abandoned.(1261) In authorising the
construction of a third the emperor might well emphatically order the
responsibility for such blunders to be fastened on the proper
persons.(1262) In the same city, when a fire of a most devastating kind
had recently occurred, there was no engine, not even a bucket ready, and
the inhabitants stood idly by as spectators.(1263) Pliny was most
assiduous in devising or promoting engineering improvements for the health
and convenience of the province, and often called for expert assistance
from Rome. Irregularities in the working of the civic constitutions also
gave him much trouble. The _ecdicus_ or _defensor_ has demanded repayment
of a largess made to one Julius Piso from the treasury of Amisus, which
the decrees of Trajan now forbade.(1264) Just as Pliny had suggested that
members of a curia should be forced to accept loans from the State, so we
can see ominous signs of a wish to compel men to accept the curial dignity
beyond the legal number, in order to secure the honorarium of from £35 to
£70 on their admission.(1265) The _Lex Pompeia_, which forbade a Bithynian
municipality to admit to citizenship men from other Bithynian states, had
long been ignored, and in numbers of cities there were many sitting in the
senate in violation of the law. The Pompeian law also required that a man
should be thirty years of age when he was elected to a magistracy or took
his place in the Curia, but a law of Augustus had reduced the limit for
the minor magistracies to twenty-two. Here was a chance of adding to the
strength of the Curia which was seized by the municipal censors. And if a
minor magistrate might enter the Curia as a matter of course at
twenty-two, why not others equally fit?(1266) In another typical case the
legate was disturbed by the lavish hospitality of leading citizens. On the
assumption of the toga, at a wedding, or an election to civic office, or
the dedication of a public work, not only the whole of the Curia, but a
large number of the common people, were often invited to a banquet and
received from their host one or two denarii apiece.(1267) Pliny was
probably unnecessarily alarmed. The inscriptions show us the same scenes
all over the Empire,(1268) and the emperor with calm dignity leaves the
question of such entertainments to the prudence of his lieutenant.

There are many religious questions submitted to the emperor in these
celebrated despatches, especially those relating to the toleration of
Christians.(1269) But, however profoundly interesting, they lie beyond the
scope of this chapter. We are occupied with the secular life of the
provincial town. And the Letters of Pliny place some things in a clear
light. In the first place, the state has begun in the reign of Trajan to
control the municipality, especially in the management of its finances;
but the control is rather invited than imposed. At any rate, it has become
necessary, owing to malversation or incompetence.(1270) Nothing could be
more striking than the contrast between the civic bungling exposed by
Pliny, and the clear, patient wisdom of the distant emperor. And in
another point we can see that the municipalities have entered on that
disastrous decline which was to end in the ruin of the fifth century.
Wasteful finance is already making its pressure felt on the members of the
Curia, and membership is beginning to be thought a burden rather than an
honour. From the reign of Trajan we begin to hear of the _Curatores_, who
were imperial officers, appointed at first to meet a special emergency,
but who became permanent magistrates, with immense powers, especially over
finance.(1271) The free civic life of the first century is being quietly
drawn under the fatal spell of a bureaucratic despotism.

The cities did much for themselves out of the public revenues.(1272) But
there are many signs that private ambition or munificence did even more.
The stone records of Pompeii confirm these indications in a remarkable
way. Pompeii, in spite of the prominence given to it by its tragic fate,
was only a third-rate town, with a population probably of not more than
20,000.(1273) Its remains, indeed, leave the impression that a
considerable class were in easy circumstances; but it may be doubted
whether Pompeii could boast of any great capitalists among its citizens.
Its harbour, at the mouth of the Sarno, was the outlet for the trade of
Nola and Nuceria. There were salt works in a suburb near the sea. The fish
sauces of Umbricius Scaurus had a great celebrity.(1274) The vine and the
olive were cultivated on the volcanic offshoot from Vesuvius; but the wine
of Pompeii was said by the elder Pliny to leave a lingering headache.
Mill-stones were made from the lava of the volcano. The market gardeners
drove a flourishing trade, and the cabbage of Pompeii was celebrated. On
the high ground towards Vesuvius many wealthy Romans, Cicero, and Drusus,
the son of Claudius, built country seats, in that delicious climate where
the winters are so short, and the summer heats are tempered by unfailing
breezes from the mountains or the western sea. All these things made
Pompeii a thriving and attractive place; yet its trade hardly offered the
chance of the huge fortunes which could be accumulated in those days at
Puteoli or Ostia.(1275)

Nevertheless, a large number of the public buildings of Pompeii were the
gift of private citizens. The Holconii were a great family of the place in
the reign of Augustus. M. Holconius Rufus had been ordinary duumvir five
times, and twice quinquennial duumvir; he was priest of Augustus, and
finally was elected patron of the town.(1276) Such dignities in those days
imposed a corresponding burden. And an inscription tells that, on the
rebuilding of the great theatre, probably about 3 B.C., Holconius Rufus
and Holconius Celer defrayed the expense of the crypt, the tribunals, and
the whole space for the spectators. Women did not fall behind men in their
public benefactions. On the eastern side of the forum of Pompeii there is
a building and enclosure, with the remains of porticoes, colonnades, and
fountains, which are supposed to have been a cloth market. In a niche
stood a marble statue, dedicated by the fullers of Pompeii to Eumachia, a
priestess of the city. And Eumachia herself has left a record that she and
her son had erected the building at their own expense.(1277) The
dedication probably belongs to the reign of Tiberius. The visitor who
leaves the forum by the arch, at the north-east corner, and turns into the
broadest thoroughfare of the town, soon reaches the small temple of
Fortuna Augusta, erected in the reign of Augustus. Both the site and the
building were the gift of one M. Tullius, who had, like M. Holconius,
borne all the honours which the city could bestow.(1278) The amphitheatre
in the south-east corner of the town, the scene of so many gladiatorial
combats recorded in the inscriptions, was erected by two men of the
highest official rank, C. Quinctius Valgus and M. Porcius, probably the
same men who bore at least part of the cost of the smaller theatre of
Pompeii.(1279) The last instance of this generous public spirit which we
shall mention is of interest in many ways. It is well known that in the
year 63 A.D. an earthquake overthrew many buildings, and wrought great
havoc in Pompeii. Among other edifices, the temple of Isis was thrown
down. The temple, of which we can now study the remains, had been built by
a boy of six years of age, Numerius Popidius Celsinus, who, in
acknowledgment of his own, or rather of his father’s liberality, was at
that unripe age co-opted a member of “the splendid order.”(1280) This mode
of rewarding a father by advancing his infant son to premature honours is
not unknown in other inscriptions.(1281)

The literature of the age contains many records of profuse private
liberality of the same kind. The circle and family of Pliny were, as we
have seen in this, as in other respects, models of the best sentiment of
the time. Pliny was not a very rich man, according to the standard of an
age of colossal fortunes; yet his benefactions, both to private friends
and to the communities in which he was interested, were on the scale of
the largest wealth. It has been calculated that he must have altogether
given to his early home and fatherland, as he calls it, a sum of more than
£80,000; and the gifts were of a thoroughly practical kind—a library, a
school endowment, a foundation for the nurture of poor children, a temple
of Ceres, with spacious colonnades to shelter the traders who came for the
great fair.(1282) A great lady, Ummidia Quadratilla, known to us not
altogether favourably in Pliny’s letters, built a temple and amphitheatre
for Casinum.(1283) From the elder Pliny we learn that the distinguished
court physicians, the two Stertinii, whose professional income is said to
have ranged from £2000 to £5000 a year, exhausted their ample fortune in
their benefactions to the city of Naples.(1284) A private citizen bore the
cost of an aqueduct for Bordeaux, at an expenditure of £160,000.(1285)
Another benefactor, one Crinas, spent perhaps £80,000 on the walls of
Marseilles.(1286) The grandfather of Dion Chrysostom devoted his entire
ancestral fortune to public objects.(1287) Dion, himself, according to his
means, followed the example of his ancestor. The site alone of a
colonnade, with shops and booths, which he presented to Prusa, cost about
£1800. When Cremona was destroyed by the troops of Vespasian in A.D. 69,
its temples and forums were restored by the generous zeal of private
citizens, after all the horror and exhaustion of that awful
conflict.(1288)

But the prince of public benefactors in the Antonine age was the great
sophist Herodes Atticus, the tutor of M. Aurelius, who died in the same
year as his pupil, 180 A.D. He acted up to his theory of the uses of
wealth on a scale of unexampled munificence.(1289) His family was of high
rank, and claimed descent from the Aeacidae of Aegina. They had also
apparently inexhaustible resources. His father spent a sum of nearly
£40,000 in supplementing an imperial grant for the supply of water to the
Troad. The munificence of the son was extended to cities in Italy, as well
as to Corinth, Thessaly, Euboea, Boeotia, Elis, and pre-eminently to
Athens. He gave an aqueduct to Canusium and Olympia, a racecourse to
Delphi, a roofed theatre to Corinth.(1290) He provided sulphur baths at
Thermopylae for the visitors from Thessaly and the shores of the Maliac
gulf. He aided in the restoration of Oricum in Epirus, and liberally
recruited the resources of many another decaying town in Greece. He was
certainly benevolent, but he had also a passion for splendid fame, and
cherished an ambition to realise the dream of Nero, by cutting a canal
across the Corinthian Isthmus.(1291) But Attica, where he was born, and
where he had a princely house on the Ilissus, was the supreme object of
his bounty. In his will he left each Athenian citizen an annual gift of a
mina. He would offer to the Virgin Goddess a sacrifice of a hundred oxen
on a single day; and, when the great festivals came round, he used to
feast the people by their tribes, as well as the resident strangers, on
couches in the Ceramicus. He restored the ancient shrines and stadia with
costly marbles. And, in memory of Rhegilla, his wife, he built at the foot
of the acropolis a theatre for 6000 spectators, roofed in with cedar wood,
which, to the eye of Pausanias, surpassed all similar structures in its
splendour.(1292)

The liberality of Herodes Atticus, however astonishing it may seem, was
only exceptional in its scale. The same spirit prevailed among the leading
citizens or the great _patroni_ of hundreds of communities, many of them
only known to us from a brief inscription or two; and we have great reason
to be grateful on this score to the imperial legislation of later days,
which did its best to preserve these stone records for the eyes of
posterity.(1293) But in forming an estimate of the splendid public spirit
evoked by municipal life, it is well to remind ourselves that much has
necessarily been lost in the wreck of time, and also that what we have
left represents the civic life of a comparatively brief period. Yet the
remains are so numerous that it is almost impossible to give any adequate
idea of their profusion to those who are unacquainted with the
inscriptions. The objects of this liberality are as various as the needs
of the community—temples, theatres, bridges, markets, a portico or a
colonnade, the relaying of a road or pavement from the forum to the port,
the repair of an aqueduct, above all the erection of new baths or the
restoration of old ones, with perhaps a permanent foundation to provide
for the free enjoyment of this greatest luxury of the south. The boon was
extended to all citizens of both sexes, and in some cases, even to
strangers and to slaves.(1294) There is an almost monotonous sameness in
the stiff, conventional record of this vast mass of lavish generosity. It
all seems a spontaneous growth of the social system. One monument is
erected by the senate and people of Tibur to a man who had borne all its
honours, and had left the town his sole heir.(1295) On another, an
Augustal of Cales, who had received the insignia of the duumvirate, tells
posterity that he had laid down a broad road through the town.(1296)
Another benefactor bore the chief cost of a new meat market at Aesernia,
the authorities of the town supplying the pillars and the tiles.(1297) A
priestess of Calama in Numidia expended a sum of £3400 on a new
theatre.(1298) Perhaps the commonest object of private liberality was the
erection or maintenance of public baths. An old officer of the fourth
legion provided free bathing at Suessa Senonum for every one, even down to
the slave girls.(1299) At Bononia, a sum of £4350 was bequeathed for the
same liberal purpose.(1300) A magnate of Misenum bequeathed 400 loads of
hard wood annually for the furnaces of the baths, but with the stipulation
that his son should be made patron of the town, and that his successors
should receive all the magistracies.(1301)

These are only a few specimens taken at random from the countless records
of similar liberality to the parent city. The example of the emperors must
have stimulated the creation of splendid public works in the provinces. It
has been remarked by M. Boissier that the imperial government at all times
displayed the politic or instinctive love of monarchy for splendour and
magnificence.(1302) The Roman Code, down to the end of the Western Empire,
gives evidence of a jealous care for the preservation of the monuments and
historic buildings of the past, and denounces with very unconventional
energy the “foul and shameful” traffic in the relics of ancient glory
which prevailed in the last age of the Empire.(1303) After great fires and
desolating wars, the first thought of the most frugal or the most lavish
prince was to restore in greater grandeur what had been destroyed. After
the great conflagration of A.D. 64, which laid in ashes ten out of the
fourteen regions of Rome, Nero immediately set to work to rebuild the city
in a more orderly fashion, with broader streets and open spaces.(1304)
Vespasian, on his accession, found the treasury loaded with a debt of
£320,000,000. Yet the frugal emperor did not hesitate to begin at once the
restoration of the Capitol, and all the other ruins left by the great
struggle of A.D. 69 from which his dynasty arose.(1305) He even undertook
some new works on a great scale, the temple of Peace and the amphitheatre,
on the plans projected by Augustus. Titus completed the Colosseum, and
erected the famous baths.(1306) Domitian once more restored the Capitol,
and added many new buildings, temples to his “divine” father and brother,
with many shrines of his special patroness Minerva; a stone stadium for
30,000 people, and an Odeum for an audience of 10,000.(1307) Trajan was
lauded by Pliny for his frugal administration of the treasury, combined
with magnificence in his public works.(1308) Nor was the encomium
undeserved. He made docks and erected warehouses at Ostia; he ran a new
road through the Pomptine marshes; he lavished money on aqueducts and
baths.(1309) His most imposing construction was a new forum between the
Capitoline and the Quirinal, with stately memorials of the achievements of
his reign. But the prince of imperial builders and engineers was Hadrian.
Wherever he went he took with him in his journeys a troop of architects to
add something to the splendour or convenience of the cities through which
he passed. “In almost every city,” says his biographer, “he erected some
building.”(1310) But the capital was not neglected by Hadrian. He restored
historic structures such as the Pantheon and the temple of Neptune, the
forum of Augustus, and Agrippa’s baths, with no ostentatious intrusion of
his own name.(1311) In his own name he built the temples of Venus and
Roma, the bridge across the Tiber, and that stately mausoleum, which, as
the castle of S. Angelo, links the memory of the pagan Empire with the
mediaeval Papacy and the modern world. The example of the imperial masters
of the world undoubtedly reinforced the various impulses which inspired
the dedication of so much wealth to the public service or enjoyment
through all the cities of the Empire.

But the wealthy and public-spirited citizen was also expected to cater for
the immediate pleasure or amusement of his neighbours in games and feasts.
We have seen that Pliny, during his administration of Bithynia, seems to
have regarded the public feasts given to a whole commune on occasions of
private rejoicing, as dangerous to the general tranquillity. Yet the usage
meets us everywhere in the inscriptions, and even in the literary history
of the time. This spacious hospitality was long demanded from the rich and
powerful, from the general at his triumph, from the great noble on his
birthday or his daughter’s marriage, from the rich burgher at the
dedication of a temple or a forum which he had given to the city, from the
man who had been chosen patron of a town in expectation of such largesses,
not to speak of the many private patrons whose morning receptions were
thronged by a hungry crowd, eager for an invitation to dinner, or its
equivalent in the sportula.(1312) Julius Caesar on his triumph in 46 B.C.
had feasted the people at 22,000 tables.(1313) Great houses, like the
sumptuous seat of Caninius Rufus at Como, had enormous banquet halls for
such popular repasts.(1314) The Trimalchio of Petronius desires himself to
be sculptured on his tomb in the character of such a lavish host.(1315)
There was in that age no more popular and effective way of testifying
gratitude for the honours bestowed by the popular voice, or of winning
them, than by a great feast to the whole commune, generally accompanied by
a distribution of money, according to social or official grade. It was
also the most popular means of prolonging one’s memory to bequeath a
foundation for the perpetual maintenance of such repasts in honour of the
dead.(1316) One P. Lucilius of Ostia had held all the great offices of his
town, and had rewarded his admirers with a munificence apparently more
than equivalent to the official honours they had bestowed. He had paved a
long road from the forum to the arch, restored a temple of Vulcan, of
which he was the curator, and the temples of Venus, Spes, and Fortuna; he
had provided standard weights for the meat market, and a tribunal of
marble for the forum. But probably his most popular benefaction was a
great banquet to the citizens, where 217 couches were arrayed for
them.(1317) The same munificent person had twice entertained the whole of
the citizens at luncheon. Elsewhere a veteran, with a long and varied
service, had settled at Auximum where he had been elected patron of the
community. His old comrades, the centurions of the Second Legion (Traj.
Fortis) erected a monument to his virtues, and, at the dedication, he gave
a banquet to the townsfolk.(1318) One other example, out of the many which
crowd the inscriptions, may serve to complete the picture of civic
hospitality. Lucius Cornelius of Surrentum received on his death the
honour of a public funeral by a vote of the Curia. The inscription on his
statue records that, on assuming the garb of manhood, he had provided a
meal of pastry and mead for the populace; when he became aedile, he
exhibited a contest of gladiators; and, twice reaching the honours of the
duumvirate, he repaid the compliment by splendid games and a stately
banquet.(1319)

At these entertainments a gift of money, always graduated according to the
social rank of the guests, decurio, augustal, or plebeian, was generally
added to the fare.(1320) Sometimes the distribution took the form of a
lottery. A high official of Beneventum, who had probably inherited a
fortune from his father, a leading physician of the capital, once
scattered tickets among the crowd, which gave the finder the right to a
present of gold, silver, dress, or other smaller prizes.(1321) Women
appeared sometimes both as hostesses and guests on these occasions. Caesia
Sabina of Veii, on the day on which her husband was entertaining all the
citizens, invited the female relatives of the decurions to dinner, with
the additional luxury of a gratuitous bath.(1322) It is curious to observe
that at the festivities in which women are entertained, the sharp
demarcation of ranks is maintained as strictly as it is among their male
relations. Thus, in a distribution at Volceii, the decurions, augustales,
and vicani, receive respectively thirty, twenty, and twelve sesterces
apiece; while the proportion observed among the ladies of the three social
grades is sixteen, eight, and four. Nor were children, even those of the
slave class, forgotten on these festive occasions. One kindly magnate of
Ferentinum left a fund of about £750 to give an annual feast of pastry and
mead upon his birthday for all the inhabitants with their wives, and at
the same time, 300 pecks of nuts were provided for the children, bond and
free.(1323)

These provincial societies, as we have already seen, were organised on
aristocratic or plutocratic principles. The distinction between
_honestior_ and _humilior_, which becomes so cruel in the Theodosian Code,
was, even in the Antonine age, more sharply drawn and more enduring than
is agreeable to our modern notions of social justice. The rich have a
monopoly of all official power and social precedence; they have even the
largest share in gifts and paltry distributions of money which wealth
might be expected to resign and to despise. Their sons have secured to
them by social convention, or by popular gratitude and expectancy, a
position equal to that of their ancestors. The dim plebeian crowd, save
for the right of an annual vote at the elections, which was in a few
generations to be withdrawn, seem to be of little more consequence than
the slaves; they were of far less consequence than those freedmen who had
the luck or the dexterity to build up a rapid fortune, and force their way
into the chasm between the privileged and the disinherited. Yet this would
hardly be a complete and penetrating view of the inner working and the
spirit of that municipal society. The apparent rigidity and harshness of
the lines of demarcation were often relieved by a social sentiment which,
on the one hand, made heavy demands on rank and wealth, and on the other,
drew all classes together by the strong bond of fellowship in a common
social life. There has probably seldom been a time when wealth was more
generally regarded as a trust, a possession in which the community at
large has a right to share. There never was an age in which the wealthy
more frankly, and even recklessly, recognised this imperious claim. It
would indeed be difficult to resolve into its elements the complicated
mass of motives which impelled the rich burgher to undertake such
enormous, and often ruinous, expenditure for the common good or pleasure.
There was of course much of mere selfish ambition and love of popularity.
The passion for prominence was probably never stronger. Direct or even
veiled corruption of the electors was, indeed, strictly prohibited by
law.(1324) But it was a recognised principle of public life that the city
should honour its benefactors, and that those whom she had raised to her
highest distinctions should manifest their gratitude by some contribution
to the comfort or the enjoyments of the people. But, when we have admitted
all vulgar motives of munificence, a man would show himself a very
unobservant, or else a very cynical student of the time, if he failed to
recognise that, among these countless benefactors, there were many
animated, not only by a sense of duty, but by a real ardour of public
spirit, men who wished to live in the love and memory of their fellows,
and who had a rare perception of the duties of wealth. Philostratus has
left us in his own words a record of the principles which inspired Herodes
Atticus in his almost fabulous donations to many cities in Asia, Greece,
and Italy. Herodes used to say that the true use of money was to succour
the needs of others; riches which were guarded with a niggard hand were
only a “dead wealth”; the coffers in which they were stowed away were
merely a prison; and the worship of money resembled the sacrifice which
the fabled Aloidae offered to a god after putting him in chains.(1325) The
main characteristics of human nature are singularly fixed from age to age,
although the objects of its love and devotion may endlessly vary. The
higher unselfish impulses must assert themselves in any society which is
not plunging into the abyss. The choicer spirits will be always ready to
lavish effort or material wealth on objects which are sacred to their own
age, although they may seen chimerical or unworthy to the next. And we may
well believe that the man who in the second century built a bath or a
theatre for fellow townsmen, might possibly, had he lived in the fifth,
have dedicated a church to a patron saint, or bequeathed his lands to a
monastery.

The Antonine age was on one side perhaps rather coarse in its ideals,
passionately fond of splendour and brilliant display, proud of civic
dignity, and keenly alive to the ease and comfort and brightness which
common effort or individual generosity might add to the enjoyment of life.
It was also an intensely sociable age. Men looked for their happiness to
their city rather than to the family or the state. If their city could not
play a great part as an independent commonwealth, it might, by the
self-sacrifice of its sons, assert its dignity among its rivals. It could
make itself a society which men would proudly or affectionately claim as
their “patria” and their parent, and on which they would vie with one
another in lavishing their time and their gold. And the buildings and
banquets and bright festivals, on which so much was lavished, were enjoyed
by all citizens alike, the lowest and the highest, although high and low
had sometimes by prescriptive usage an unequal share in the largesses. The
free enjoyment of sumptuous baths, of good water from the Atlas, the
Apennines, or the Alban Hills, the right to sit at ease with one’s fellows
when the _Pseudolus_ or the _Adelphi_ was put upon the boards, the
pleasure of strolling in the shady colonnades of the forum or the market,
surrounded by brilliant marbles and frescoes, with fountains shedding
their coolness around; the good fellowship which, for the time, levelled
all ranks, in many a simple communal feast, with a coin or two distributed
at the end to recall or heighten the pleasure—all these things tended to
make the city a true home, to some extent almost a great family circle.
There was much selfishness and grossness, no doubt, in all this civic
life. Which later age can cast the first stone? Yet a study of the
inscriptions of the Antonine age leaves the impression that, amid all the
sharply drawn distinctions of rank, with all the petty ambition and
self-assertion, or the fawning and expectant servility, there was also a
genuine patriotic benevolence on the one hand, and a grateful recognition
of it on the other. The citizens record on many a tablet their gratitude
to patron or duumvir or augustal, or to some simple old centurion,
returned from far frontier camps, who had paved their promenade, or
restored their baths, or given them a shrine of Neptune or Silvanus. They
also preserved the memory of many a kindly benefactor who left, as he
fondly thought for ever, the funds for an annual feast, with all the
graduated shares scrupulously prescribed, to save an obscure tomb from the
general oblivion. Thus, although that ancient city life had its sordid
side, which is laid bare with such pitiless Rabelaisian realism by
Petronius, it had its nobler aspect also. Notwithstanding the aristocratic
tone of municipal society in the age of the Antonines, it is possible that
the separation of classes in our great centres of population is morally
more sharp and decided than it was in the days when the gulf between
social ranks was in theory impassable.

There is however another side to this picture of fraternal civic life. If
some of its pleasures were innocent and even softening and elevating,
there were others which pandered to the most brutal and cruel passions.
The love of amusement grew upon the Roman character as civilisation
developed in organisation and splendour, and unfortunately the favourite
amusements were often obscene and cruel. The calendar of the time is
sufficiently ominous. The number of days which were annually given up to
games and spectacles at Rome rose from 66 in the reign of Augustus, to 135
in the reign of M. Aurelius, and to 175, or more, in the fourth century.
In this reckoning no account is taken of extraordinary festivals on
special occasions.(1326) The Flavian amphitheatre was inaugurated by Titus
with lavish exhibitions extending over 100 days.(1327) The Dacian triumphs
of Trajan were celebrated by similar rejoicings for 123 days, and 10,000
gladiators were sent down into the arena.(1328) The rage of all classes of
the Roman populace for these sights of suffering and shame continued
unabated to the very end of the Western Empire. The lubricity of pantomime
and the slaughter of the arena were never more fiercely and keenly enjoyed
than when the Germans were thundering at the gates of Trèves and
Carthage.(1329)

It is difficult for us now to understand this lust of cruelty among a
people otherwise highly civilised, a passion which was felt not merely by
the base rabble, but even by the cultivated and humane.(1330) There was
undoubtedly at all times a coarse insensibility to suffering in the Roman
character. The institution of slavery, which involves the denial of
ordinary human rights to masses of fellow-creatures, had its usual effect
in rendering men contemptuously callous to the fate of all who did not
belong to the privileged class. Even a man of high moral tone like
Tacitus, while he condemns Drusus for gloating over his gladiatorial
shows, has only a word of scorn for the victims of the butchery.(1331) And
the appetite grew with what it fed on. From father to son, for nearly
seven centuries, the Roman character became more and more indurated under
the influence of licensed cruelty. The spectacle was also surrounded by
the emperors, even the greatest and best, for politic reasons, with ever
growing splendour. The Flavian amphitheatre, which remains as a monument
of the glory of the Empire and of its shame, must have been a powerful
corruptor. There, tier above tier, was gathered the concentrated
excitability and contagious enthusiasm of 87,000 spectators. The imperial
circle and the emperor himself, members of high senatorial houses, the
great officers of state, the priests, the vestal virgins, gave an
impressive national dignity to the inhuman spectacle. And now and then an
Eastern prince or ambassador, or the chief of some half-savage tribe in
Germany or Numidia,(1332) amused the eyes of the rabble who swarmed on the
upper benches. Every device of luxurious art was employed to heighten the
baser attractions of the scene. The magnificent pile was brightened with
gems of artistic skill.(1333) The arena was tesselated with rich colouring
from the sunlight which streamed through the awnings. The waters of
perfumed fountains shot high into the air, spreading their fragrant
coolness; and music filled the pauses in the ghastly conflict. From scenes
like these was probably drawn the picture in the Apocalypse: _Mulier
circumdata purpura et coccino—mater fornicationum—ebria de sanguine
sanctorum._

In the first and second centuries the passion for cruel excitement was as
strong in the provincial towns as it was even at Rome. This may have been
partly due to the monotony of provincial life. It was also stimulated by
the ease with which public sentiment extorted the means for these
gratifications from the richer citizens. The opinion of the powerful and
enlightened class, with rare exceptions, made no effort to purify and
humanise the grossness of the masses. Seneca and Demonax indeed display a
modern humanity in their view of the degrading influence of these
displays.(1334) A humane magistrate of Vienne, one Trebonius Rufinus, in
the reign of Trajan, having autocratically abolished them in his city, was
called upon to defend his conduct before the emperor, and Junius Mauricus
had the courage to express before the council a wish that they could be
abolished also at Rome.(1335) Augustus had, by an imperial edict,
restrained the cruel exhibitions of the father of Nero.(1336) Vespasian,
according to Dion Cassius,(1337) had little pleasure in the shows of the
arena. But the emperors generally, and not least Vespasian’s sons,
encouraged and pandered to the lust for blood.(1338) The imperial
gladiators were organised elaborately in four great schools by
Domitian,(1339) with a regular administration, presided over by officers
of high rank. The gentle Pliny, who had personally no liking for such
spectacles, applauded his friend Maximus for giving a gladiatorial show to
the people of Verona, to do honour to his dead wife, in the true spirit of
the old Bruti and Lepidi of the age of the Punic Wars.(1340) He found in
the shows of Trajan a splendid incentive of contempt for death.

It is little wonder that, with such examples and such approval, the masses
gloated unrestrained over these inhuman sports. The rag-dealer at
Trimalchio’s dinner is certainly drawn to the life.(1341) They are going
to have a three days’ carnival of blood. There is to be no escape; the
butcher is to do his work thoroughly in full view of the crowded tiers of
the amphitheatre. It was in Etruria, and in Campania, where Trimalchio had
his home, that the gladiatorial combats took their rise. Campanian hosts
used to entertain their guests at dinner with them in the days before the
second Punic War.(1342) And it was in Campanian towns that in the first
century was displayed most glaringly the not unusual combination of
cruelty and voluptuousness. The remains of Pompeii furnish us with the
most vivid and authentic materials for a study of the sporting tastes of a
provincial town. It is significant that the amphitheatre of Pompeii, which
was capable of holding 20,000 people, was built fifty years before the
first stone amphitheatre erected by Statilius Taurus at Rome.(1343) It is
also remarkable that, although Pompeii is mentioned only twice by Tacitus,
one of the references is to a bloody riot arising out of the games of the
amphitheatre.(1344) In the year 59 A.D. a Roman senator in disgrace, named
Livineius Regulus, gave a great gladiatorial show at Pompeii, which
attracted many spectators from the neighbouring town of Nuceria. The
scenes of the arena were soon reproduced in a fierce street fight between
the people of the two towns, in which many Nucerians were left dead or
wounded. The catastrophe was brought before the emperor, and referred by
him to the Senate, with the result that Pompeii was sternly deprived of
its favourite amusement for a period of ten years. But when the interdict
was removed, the Pompeians had the enjoyment of their accustomed pleasure
for ten years more, till it was finally interrupted by the ashes of
Vesuvius.

A building at Pompeii, which was originally a colonnade connected with the
theatre,(1345) had been converted into barracks for a school of gladiators
in the time of the early Empire.(1346) Behind the colonnade of more than
seventy Doric columns had been built a long row of small cells, with no
opening except on the central enclosure. There was a mess room, and the
_exedra_ on the southern side served as a retiring room for the trainers
and the men in the intervals of exercise. The open area was used for
practice. These buildings have yielded many specimens of gladiators’ arms,
helmets, and greaves richly embossed in relief, scores of mail-coats,
shields, and horse-trappings. In one room there were found the stocks, and
four skeletons with irons on their legs. In another, eighteen persons had
taken refuge in the last catastrophe, and, among them, a woman wearing
costly jewels. The walls and columns were covered with inscriptions and
rude sketches of gladiatorial life. Indeed the graffiti relating to it are
perhaps the most interesting in Pompeii. On some of the tombs outside the
city we can still read the notices of coming games, painted on the walls
by a professional advertiser, one Aemilius Celer, “by the light of the
moon.”(1347) They announce that a duumvir or aedile or flamen will exhibit
twenty or thirty pairs of combatants on the calends of May or the ides of
April. There will also be a hunt, athletic games, a distribution of gifts,
and awnings will be provided. Programmes were for sale in advance, with a
list of the events. The contents of one can still be read scratched on a
wall, with marginal notes of the results of the competition. In one
conflict, Pugnax, in the Thracian arms, had beaten Murranus the Myrmillo,
fighting in the arms of Gaul, with the fish upon his helmet; and the fate
of Murranus is chronicled in one tragic letter p. (_periit_). Two others
fought in chariots in old British fashion. And the Publius Ostorius who
won was, as his name may suggest, a freedman, now fighting as a voluntary
combatant, according to the inscription, in his fifty-first
conflict.(1348) The tomb of Umbricius Scaurus, on the highway outside the
Herculaneum gate, was adorned in stucco relief with animated scenes from
the arena of hunting and battle. Hunters with sword and cloak, like a
modern toréador, are engaging lions or tigers. Two gladiators are charging
one another on horseback. Here, a vanquished combatant, with upturned
hand, is imploring the pity of the spectators, while another is sinking in
the agony of death upon the sand. The name, the school, and the fighting
history of each combatant are painted beside the figure.(1349) The
universal enthusiasm for the shows is expressed in many a rude sketch
which has been traced by boyish hands upon the walls. The record of the
heroes of the arena was evidently then as familiar as that of a champion
footballer or cricketer is now to our own sporting youth. In the peristyle
of a house in Nola Street, the names of some thirty gladiators can be
read, with the character of their arms and the number of their conflicts.
Portraits of gladiators are figured on lamps and rings and vases of the
period. The charm of their manly strength, according to Juvenal, was fatal
to the peace of many a Roman matron of the great world. And the humbler
girls of Pompeii have left the memorial of their weakness in more than one
frank outburst of rather unmaidenly admiration.(1350)

It is a grave deduction from the admiring judgment of the glory of the
Antonine age, that its most splendid remains are the stately buildings
within whose enclosure, for centuries, the populace were regaled with the
sufferings and the blood of the noblest creatures of the wild animal world
and of gallant men. The deserts and forests of Africa and the remotest
East contributed their elephants and panthers and lions to these scenes.
And every province of the Empire sent its contingent of recruits for the
arena, Gaul, Germany, and Thrace, Britain and Dacia, the villages of the
Atlas, and the deserts of the Soudan.(1351) Just in proportion to the
depth of the impress made by Roman civilisation, was the amphitheatre more
or less popular in the provinces. In Italy itself the passion was
naturally strongest. Quiet little places, buried in the Apennines, or in
the mountains of Samnium, had their regular spectacles, and record their
gratitude for the pleasure to some magistrate or patron.(1352) The little
town of Fidenae, in the reign of Tiberius, gained for a moment a sinister
fame by the collapse of its amphitheatre, involving the death or
mutilation of 50,000 spectators.(1353) An augustal of Praeneste endowed
his town with a school of gladiators, and received a statue for this
contribution to the pleasures of the populace.(1354) A. Clodius Flaccus of
Pompeii, in his first duumvirate, on the Apollinaria, gave an exhibition
in the forum of bull-fighting, pugilism, and pantomime. He signalised his
second tenure of the office by a show of thirty-five pairs of gladiators,
with a hunting scene of bulls, boars, and bears.(1355) At Minturnae, a
monument reminds “the excellent citizens” that, in a show lasting for four
days, eleven of the foremost of Campanian gladiators had died before their
eyes, along with ten ferocious bears.(1356) At Compsa in Samnium, a place
hardly ever heard of, the common people erected a statue to a priest of
Magna Mater, who had given them a splendid show, and he in turn rewarded
their gratitude by a feast to both sexes, which lasted over two
days.(1357) Similar records of misplaced munificence might be produced
from Bovianum and Beneventum, from Tibur and Perusia, and many another
obscure Italian town. But the brutal insensibility of the age is perhaps
nowhere so glaringly paraded as in the days following the short-lived
victory of the Vitellian arms at Bedriacum. There, on that ghastly plain,
on which his rival had been crushed and had closed a tainted life by a not
inglorious death, Vitellius gloated over the wreck of the great struggle.
The trees were cut down, the crops trampled into mire; the soil was soaked
and festering with blood, while mangled forms of men and horses still lay
rotting till the vultures should complete their obsequies. Within forty
days of the battle, the emperor attended great gladiatorial combats given
by his generals at Cremona and Bononia, as if to revive the memory of the
carnage by a cruel mimicry.(1358) The grim literary avenger of that
carnival of blood has pictured the imperial monster’s end, within a short
space, in colours that will never fade, deserted by his meanest servants,
shuddering at the ghastly terrors of the vast, silent solitudes of the
palace, dragged forth from his hiding, and flung with insults and
execrations down the Gemonian Stairs. The dying gladiator of Cremona was
more than avenged.(1359)

The western provinces bordering on the Mediterranean, Gaul, Spain, and
Africa, drank deepest of the spirit which created the great amphitheatres
of Arles, Trèves, and Carthage, Placentia and Verona, of Puteoli, Pompeii,
and Capua. But the East caught the infection, and gladiatorial combats
were held at Antioch in Pisidia, at Nysa in Caria, and at Laodicea;
Alexandria had its amphitheatre from the days of Augustus, and a school of
gladiators, presided over by a high imperial officer.(1360) The Teutonic
regions of the north and Greece were almost the only provinces in which
the bloody games were not popular. The one Greek town where the taste for
them was fully developed was the mongrel city of Corinth, which was a
Roman colony. In the novel of Apuleius we meet a high Corinthian
magistrate travelling through Thessaly to collect the most famous
gladiators for his shows.(1361) Yet even in Greece, even at Athens, which
had been the home of kindly pity from the days of Theseus, the cruel
passion was spreading in the days of the Antonines. Plutarch urges public
men to banish or to restrain these exhibitions in their cities.(1362) When
the Athenians, from an ambition to rival the splendour of Corinth, were
meditating the establishment of a gladiatorial show, the gentle Demonax
bade them first to overturn their altar of Pity.(1363) The apostles of
Hellenism, Dion, Plutarch, and Lucian, were unanimous in condemning an
institution which sacrificed the bravest men to the brutal passions of the
mob.

The games of the arena were sometimes held at the expense of the
municipality on great festivals, with a public officer, bearing the title
of _curator_,(1364) to direct them. But, perhaps more frequently, they
were given by great magistrates or priests at their own expense; or some
rich _parvenu_, like the cobbler of Bologna or the fuller of Modena, who
have been ridiculed by Martial, would try by such a display to force an
entrance into the guarded enclosure of Roman rank.(1365) There were also
frequent bequests to create a permanent agonistic foundation. The most
striking example of such a legacy is to be found on an inscription in
honour of a munificent duumvir of Pisaurum. He left a capital sum of more
than £10,000 to the community. The interest on two-fifths of this bequest,
perhaps amounting to £500, was to be spent in giving a general feast on
the birthday of the founder’s son. The accumulated interest of the
remaining three-fifths, amounting, perhaps, to £4000, was to be devoted to
a quinquennial exhibition of gladiators.(1366) An aedile in Petronius is
going to spend between £3000 and £4000 on a three days’ show.(1367) The
cost of these exhibitions, however, must have widely varied. We hear of
one in the second century B.C. which cost over £7000.(1368) The number of
pairs engaged appears from the inscriptions to have ranged from five to
thirty. The shows lasted from one to as many as eight days.(1369) And the
quality of the combatants was also very various. Tiberius once recalled
some finished veterans from their retirement at a fee of about £800
each.(1370) On the other hand, a grumbler at Trimalchio’s dinner sneers at
a stingy aedile, whose gladiators were “two-penny men,” whom you might
knock over with a breath.(1371) Besides the great imperial schools at
Praeneste, Capua, or Alexandria, and the “families” maintained at all
times by some of the great nobles, there were vagrant troops, kept up by
speculative trainers for hire, such as that gang into which Vitellius sold
his troublesome minion Asiaticus.(1372)

The profession of gladiator was long regarded as a tainted one, on which
social sentiment and law alike placed their ban. It was a calling which
included the vilest or the most unfortunate of mankind. Slaves, captives
in war, or criminals condemned for serious offences, recruited its
ranks.(1373) The death in the arena was thus often, really, a deferred
punishment for crime. But even from the later days of the Republic, men of
free birth were sometimes attracted by the false glory or the solid
rewards of the profession. Freedmen sometimes fought at the call of their
patrons.(1374) And, when Septimius Severus began to recruit the Pretorian
guard from the provinces, the youth of Italy, who had long enjoyed the
monopoly of that pampered corps, satisfied their combative or predatory
instincts by joining the ranks either of the gladiators or of the
brigands.(1375) The gladiator had, indeed, to submit to fearful perils and
a cruel discipline. His oath bound him to endure unflinchingly scourging,
burning, or death.(1376) His barracks were a closely guarded prison, and,
although his fare was necessarily good, his training was entirely directed
to the production of a fine fighting animal, who would give good sport in
the arena. Yet the profession must have had some powerful attractions.
Some of the emperors,(1377) Titus and Hadrian, themselves took a pleasure
in the gladiatorial exercises. Commodus, as if to confirm the scandal
about his parentage, actually descended into the arena,(1378) and imperial
example was followed by men of high rank, and even, according to the
satirist, by matronly viragoes.(1379) The splendour of the arms, the
ostentatious pomp of the scene of combat, the applause of thousands of
spectators on the crowded benches, the fascination of danger, all this
invested the cruel craft with a false glory.(1380) The mob of all ages are
ready to make a hero of the man who can perform rare feats of physical
strength or agility. And the skilful gladiator evidently became a hero
under the early Empire, like his colleague of the red or green. His
professional record was of public interest; the number of his combats and
his victories was inscribed upon his tomb.(1381) His name and his features
were scratched by boys on the street walls. He attracted the unconcealed,
and not always discreet, admiration of women,(1382) and his praise was
sung in classic verse, as his pathetic dignity in death has been
immortalised in marble. The memories of a nobler life of freedom sometimes
drove the slave of the arena to suicide or mutiny.(1383) But he was
oftener proud of his skill and courage, and eager to display them. When
shows were rare in the reign of Tiberius, a Myrmillo was heard to lament
that the years of his glorious prime were running to waste.(1384)
Epictetus says that the imperial gladiators were often heard praying for
the hour of conflict.(1385)

Great imperial schools were organised on the strictest military
principles, and were under the command of a procurator who had often held
high office in the provinces or the army.(1386) Each school had attached
to it a staff of masseurs, surgeon-dressers, and physicians to attend to
the general health of the members. There were various grades according to
skill or length of service, and a man might rise in the end to be trainer
of a troop. Gladiators, like all other callings in the second century, had
their colleges. We have the roll of one of these, in the year 177 A.D., a
college of Silvanus.(1387) The members are divided into three decuries,
evidently according to professional rank, and their names and arms are
also given. Their comrades often erected monuments to them with a list of
their achievements. Thus a dear companion-in-arms commemorates a young
Secutor at Panormus, who died in his thirtieth year, who had fought in
thirty-four combats, and in twenty-one came off victorious.(1388)

Our authorities do not often permit us to follow the gladiator into
retirement. The stern discipline of the _Ludus_ no doubt made better men
even of those condemned to it for grievous crimes. The inscriptions
contain a few brief records of their family life, which seems to have been
as natural and affectionate as that of any other class; wives and
daughters lamenting good husbands and fathers in the usual phrases, and
fathers in turn mourning innocent young lives, cut short by the cruelty of
the gods.(1389) Sometimes the veteran gladiator might be tempted to return
to the old scenes for a high fee, or he might become a trainer in one of
the schools.(1390) His son might rise even to knightly rank;(1391) but the
career of ambition was closed to himself by the taint of a profession
which the people found indispensable to their pleasures, and which they
loaded with contempt.

The inscriptions pay all honour to the voluntary, single-minded generosity
with which men bore costly charges, and gave time and effort to the
business of the city. But there was a tendency to treat public
benefactions as the acknowledgment of a debt, a return for civic honours.
We can sometimes even see that the gift was extorted by the urgency of the
people, in some cases even by menaces and force.(1392) The cities took
advantage of the general passion for place and social precedence, and,
often from sordid motives, crowded their curial lists with _patroni_ and
persons decorated with other honorary distinctions. On the famous roll of
the council of Canusium, out of a total of 164 members, there are 39
_patroni_ of senatorial or knightly rank, and 25 _praetextati_, mere boys,
who were almost certainly of the same aristocratic class, and were
probably destined to be future patrons of the town.(1393) In the desire to
secure the support of wealth and social prestige, the municipal law as to
the age for magisterial office was frequently disregarded, and even mere
infants were sometimes raised to the highest civic honours.(1394) The
position of patron seems to have been greatly prized, as it was heavily
paid for. A great man with a liberal soul might be patron of several
towns,(1395) and sometimes women of rank had the honour conferred on
them.(1396) The _ornamenta_ or external badges of official rank were
frequently bestowed on people who were not eligible by law for the
magistracy. A resident alien (_incola_), or an augustal, might be co-opted
into the “splendid order” of the Curia, or he might be allowed to wear its
badges, or those of some office which he could not actually hold.(1397)
But it is plain that such distinctions had to be purchased or repaid. The
city seldom made any other return for generous devotion, unless it were
the space for a grave or the pageant of a public funeral. It is true that
a generous benefactor or magistrate is frequently honoured with a statue
and memorial tablet. Indeed, the honour is so frequently bestowed that it
seems to dwindle to an infinitesimal value.(1398) And it is to our eyes
still further reduced by the agreeable convention which seems to have made
it a matter of good taste that the person so distinguished by his
fellow-citizens should bear the expense of the record himself!(1399) Nor
did the expectations of the grateful public end even there; for, at the
dedication of the monument, it was seemingly imperative to give a feast to
the generous community which allowed or required its benefactor to bear
the cost of the memorial of his own munificence.(1400) It is only fair,
however, to say that this civic meanness was not universal, and that there
are records to show that even the poorest class sometimes subscribed among
themselves to pay for the honour which they proposed to confer.(1401)

The Antonine age was an age of splendid public spirit and great material
achievement. But truth compels us to recognise that even in the age of the
Antonines, there were ominous signs of moral and administrative decay.
Municipal benefactors were rewarded with local fame and lavish flattery;
but the demands of the populace, together with the force of example and
emulation, contributed to make the load which the rich had to bear more
and more heavy. Many must have ruined themselves in their effort to hold
their place, and to satisfy an exacting public sentiment. Men actually
went into debt to do so;(1402) and as municipal life became less
attractive or more burdensome, the career of imperial office opened out
and offered far higher distinction. The reorganisation of the imperial
service by Hadrian had immense effects in diverting ambition from old
channels. It created a great hierarchy of office, which absorbed the best
ability from the provinces. Provincials of means and position were
constantly visiting the capital for purposes of private business or
pleasure, or to represent their city as envoys to the emperor. They often
made powerful friends during their stay, and their sons, if not they
themselves, were easily tempted to abandon a municipal career for the
prospect of a high place in the imperial army or the civil service.(1403)
It is true that the local tie often remained unbroken. The country town,
of course, was proud of the distinction to which its sons rose in the
great world; and many a one who had gained a knighthood or some military
rank, returned to his birthplace in later years, and was enrolled among
its patrons. We may be sure that many a successful man, like the Stertinii
of Naples, paid “nurture fees” in the most generous way. But already in
the reign of Domitian, as we have seen, legal provision had to be made for
the contingency of an insufficient number of candidates for the municipal
magistracies. Already, in the reign of Trajan, the cities of Bithynia are
compelling men to become members of the Curia, and lowering the age of
admission to official rank.(1404) Plutarch laments that many provincials
are turning their backs on their native cities and suing for lucrative
offices at the doors of great Roman patrons.(1405) Apollonius of Tyana was
indignant to find citizens of Ionia, at one of their great festivals,
masquerading in Roman names.(1406) The illustrious son of Chaeronea, with
a wistful backward glance at the freedom and the glories of the Periclean
age, frankly recognises that, under the shadow of the Roman power, the
civic horizon has drawn in.(1407) It is a very different thing to hold
even the highest magistracy at Thebes or Athens from what it was in the
great days of Salamis or Leuctra. But Plutarch accepts the Empire as
inevitable. He appreciates its blessings as much as Aristides or Dion
Chrysostom. He has none of the revolutionary rage which led Apollonius to
cast reproaches at Vespasian, or to boast of his complicity in the
overthrow of Nero.(1408) He has little sympathy with philosophers like
Epictetus, who would sink the interests of everyday politics in the larger
life of the universal commonwealth of humanity. The Empire has
extinguished much of civic glory and freedom, but let us recognise its
compensating blessings of an ordered peace. _Spartam nactus es, hanc
exorna_, might be the motto of Plutarch’s political counsels. He himself,
with a range of gifts and culture, which has made his name immortal, did
not disdain to hold a humble office in the poor little place which was his
home. And he appeals to the example of Epameinondas, who gave dignity to
the magistracy which was concerned with the duty of the cleansing of the
sewers and streets of Thebes.(1409) He tells his young pupil that,
although we have now no wars to wage, no alliances to conclude, we may
wage war on some evil custom, revive some charitable institution, repair
an aqueduct, or preside at a sacrifice. Yet Plutarch has a keen insight
into the municipal vices of his age, the passion for place and office, the
hot unscrupulous rivalry which will stoop to any demagogic arts, the
venality of the crowd, and the readiness of the rich to pamper them with
largesses and shows, the insane passion for pompous decrees of thanks and
memorial statues; above all, the eager servility which abandoned even the
poor remnant of municipal liberty, and was always inviting the
interference of the prince on the most trivial occasions.(1410) Such
appeals paralyse civic energy and hasten the inevitable drift of
despotism. He exhorts men to strive by every means to raise the tone of
their own community, instead of forsaking it in fastidious scorn, or
ambition for a more spacious and splendid life.

The growing distaste for municipal honours was to some extent caused by
bureaucratic encroachments on the independence of the Curia. As early as
the reign of Trajan there are unmistakable signs, as we have seen, of
financial mismanagement and decay. The case of Bithynia, in Trajan’s
reign, is sometimes treated as an exceptional one. It may be doubted
whether it is not a conspicuous example of general disorganisation. The
Bithynian towns were probably not alone in their ill-considered
expenditure on faultily planned aqueducts and theatres. Apamea was
certainly not the only city which called for an imperial auditor of its
accounts. Inscriptions of the reign of Trajan show that many towns in
Italy, Como, Canusium, Praeneste, Pisa, Bergamum, and Caere, had curators
of their administration appointed, some as early as the reigns of Hadrian
or Trajan.(1411) These officers, who were always unconnected with the
municipality, took over the financial control, which had previously
belonged to the duumvirs and quaestors. They were often senators or
equites of high rank, and a single curator sometimes had the supervision
of several municipalities. The case of Caere is peculiarly instructive and
interesting.(1412) There, an imperial freedman, named Vesbinus, proposed
to erect at his own cost a club-house (_phretrium_), for the augustales,
and asked the municipal authorities for a site close to the basilica. At a
formal meeting of the Curia, the ground was granted to him, subject to the
approval of Curiatius Cosanus, the curator, with a vote of thanks for his
liberality. A letter to that official was drawn up, stating the whole
case, and asking for his sanction. The curator, writing from Ameria,
granted it in the most cordial terms. It is noteworthy that at the very
time when Caere was consulting its curator about the proposal of
Vesbinus,(1413) the Bithynian cities were laying bare their financial and
engineering difficulties to Pliny and Trajan. The glory of free civic life
is already on the wane. The municipality has invited or submitted to
imperial control. The burdens of office have begun to outweigh its glory
and distinction. In a generation or two the people will have lost their
elective power, and the Curia will appoint the municipal officers from its
own ranks. It will end by becoming a mere administrative machine for
levying the imperial taxes; men will fly from its crushing obligations to
any refuge; and the flight of the curiales will be as momentous as the
coming of the Goths.(1414)

The judgment on that externally splendid city life of the Antonine age
will be determined by the ideals of the inquirer. There was a genuine love
of the common home, a general pride in its splendour and distinction. And
the duty, firmly imposed by public sentiment on the well-endowed to
contribute out of their abundance to its material comfort and its glory,
was freely accepted and lavishly performed. Nor was this expenditure all
devoted to mere selfish gratification. The helplessness of orphanhood and
age, the penury and monotonous dulness of the lives of great sunken
classes, the education of the young, were drawing forth the pity of the
charitable. Munificence was often indeed, in obedience to the sentiment of
the time, wasted on objects which were unworthy, or even to our minds base
and corrupting. Men seemed to think too much of feasting and the cruel
amusement of an hour. Yet when a whole commune was regaled at the
dedication of a bath or a temple, there was a healthy social sympathy
diffused for the moment through all ranks, which softened the hard lines
by which that ancient society was parted.

Yet, in looking back, we cannot help feeling that over all this scene of
kindliness and generosity and social good-will, there broods a shadow. It
is not merely the doom of free civic life, which is so clearly written on
the walls of every curial hall of assembly from the days of Trajan, to be
fulfilled in the long-drawn tragedy of the fourth and fifth centuries;
three hundred years have still to run before the inevitable catastrophe.
It is rather the feeling which seems to lurk under many a sentence, half
pitiful, half contemptuous, of M. Aurelius, penned, perhaps, as he looked
down on some gorgeous show in the amphitheatre, when the Numidian lion was
laid low by a deft stroke of the hunting-spear, or a gallant Myrmillo from
the Thames or the Danube sank upon the sand in his last conflict.(1415) It
is the feeling of Dion, when he watched the Alexandrians palpitating with
excitement over a race in the circus, or the cities of Bithynia convulsed
by some question of shadowy precedence or the claim to a line of
sandhills. It is the swiftly stealing shadow of that mysterious eclipse
which was to rest on intellect and literature till the end of the Western
Empire. It is the burden of all religious philosophy from Seneca to
Epictetus, which was one long warning against the perils of a materialised
civilisation. The warning of the pagan preacher was little heeded; the
lesson was not learnt in time. Is it possible that a loftier spiritual
force may find itself equally helpless to arrest a strangely similar
decline?



                               CHAPTER III


                      THE COLLEGES AND PLEBEIAN LIFE


The _Populus_ or _Plebs_ of a municipal town of the early Empire is often
mentioned in the inscriptions along with the _Ordo_ and the Augustales,
generally in demanding some benefaction, or in doing honour to some
benevolent patron.(1416) They also appear as recipients of a smaller share
at public feasts and distributions. They occasionally engage in a fierce
conflict with the higher orders, as at Puteoli in the reign of Nero, when
the discord was so menacing as to call for the presence of a praetorian
cohort.(1417) The election placards of Pompeii also disclose a keen
popular interest in the municipal elections.(1418) But the common people
are now as a rule chiefly known to us from the inscriptions on their
tombs. Fortunately there is an immense profusion, in all the provinces as
well as in Italy, of these brief memorials of obscure lives. And although
Roman literature, which was the product of the aristocratic class or of
their dependents, generally pays but little attention to the despised mass
engaged in menial services or petty trades, we have seen that the novel of
Petronius flashes a brilliant light upon it in the reign of Nero.

The immense development of the free proletariat, in the time of the early
Empire, is one of the most striking social phenomena which the study of
the inscriptions has brought to light. It has sometimes been the custom to
speak of that society as depending for the supply of its wants entirely on
slave labour. And undoubtedly at one time slave labour occupied the
largest part of the field of industry. A household in the time of the
Republic, of even moderate wealth, might have 400 slaves, while a Crassus
would have as many as 20,000, whom he hired out in various
industries.(1419) But several causes conspired gradually to work a great
industrial revolution. From the days of Augustus, the wars beyond the
frontier, which added fresh territory and yielded crowds of captives to
the slave-markets, had become less frequent. And it is probable that
births among the slave class hardly sufficed to maintain its numbers
against the depletion caused by mortality and manumission. The practice of
emancipating slaves of the more intelligent class went on so rapidly that
it had even to be restrained by law.(1420) Masters found it economically
profitable to give skilful slaves an interest in the profits of their
industry, and the _peculium_, which was thus accumulated, soon provided
the means of purchasing emancipation. At the same time, the dispersion of
colossal fortunes, gained in the age of rapine and conquest, and
squandered in luxury and excess, together with the exploitation of the
resources of favoured regions, which were now enjoying the blessings of
unimpeded commerce, rapid intercommunication, and perfect security, must
have given an immense stimulus to free industry. A very casual glance at
the inscriptions, under the heading _Artes et Opificia_,(1421) will show
the enormous and flourishing development of skilled handicrafts, with all
the minutest specialisation of the arts that wait on a highly-organised
and luxurious society. The epitaphs of these obscure toilers have been
brought to light in every part of the Roman world, in remote towns in
Spain, Gaul, Noricum, Dacia, and North Africa, as well as in the ancient
centres of refinement in Italy or the Greek East. On a single page or two
you can read the simple record of the bridle-maker or flask-maker of
Narbonne, the cabriolet-driver of Senegallia, the cooper of Trèves, the
stone-cutter of Nîmes, the purple-dealer of Augsburg, beside those of the
wool-comber of Brescia, the oculist of Bologna, the plumber of Naples, or
the vendors of unguents in the Via Sacra, and the humble fruiterer of the
Circus Maximus.(1422) Many of these people had risen from slavery into the
freedman class. Most of them are evidently humble folk, although, like a
certain female pearl-dealer of the Via Sacra, they may have freedmen and
freedwomen of their own, for whom they provide a last resting-place beside
themselves.(1423) The barber, or auctioneer, or leather-seller, who had
become the owner of lands and houses, and who could even give gladiatorial
shows, excited the contempt of Juvenal and Martial.(1424) But these
insignificant people, although despised by the old world of aristocratic
tradition, were proud of their crafts. They tell posterity who and what
they were, without any vulgar concealment; nay, they have left expensive
tombs, with the emblems or instruments of their petty trades proudly
blazoned upon them like the armorial devices of our families of gentle
birth. In the museum of S. Germain may be seen the effigy of the
apple-seller commending his fruit to the attention of the ladies of the
quarter; the cooper, with a cask upon his shoulder; the smith, hammer in
hand, at the forge; the fuller, treading out and dressing the cloth.(1425)
This pride in honest industry is a new and healthy sign, as a reaction
from the contempt for it which was engrained in old Roman society, and
which is always congenial to an aristocratic caste supported by slave
labour. In spite of the grossness and base vulgarity of sudden wealth,
portrayed by Petronius and Juvenal, the new class of free artisans and
traders had often, so far as we can judge by stone records, a sound and
healthy life, sobered and dignified by honest toil, and the pride of skill
and independence. Individually weak and despised, they were finding the
means of developing an organisation, which at once cultivated social
feeling, heightened their self-respect, and guarded their collective
interests. While the old aristocracy were being rapidly thinned by vice
and extravagance, or by confiscation, the leaders of the new industrial
movement probably founded many a senatorial house, which, in the fourth
and fifth centuries, in an ever-recurring fashion, came to regard manual
industry with sublime contempt, and traced themselves to Aemilius Paullus
or Scipio, or even to Aeneas or Agamemnon.(1426)

The organisation of industry through the colleges attained an immense
development in the Antonine age, and still more in the third century,
after the definite sanction and encouragement given to these societies by
Alexander Severus. The records of the movement are numerous, and we can,
after the scholarly sifting of recent years, now form a tolerably complete
and vivid conception of these corporations which, springing up at first
spontaneously, in defiance of government, or with its reluctant
connivance, were destined, under imperial control, to petrify into an
intolerable system of caste servitude in the last century of the Empire of
the West.(1427)

The sodalitia and collegia were of immemorial antiquity. Certain
industrial colleges and sacred sodalities were traced back to Numa, and
even to the foundation of Rome.(1428) In the flourishing days of the
Republic they multiplied without restraint or suspicion, the only
associations at which the law looked askance being those which met
secretly or by night. It was only in the last century of the Republic that
the colleges came to be regarded as dangerous to the public peace, and
they were, with some necessary exceptions, suppressed by a decree of the
Senate in 64 B.C. They were revived again for factious or revolutionary
purposes in 58 B.C. by Clodius.(1429) The emperors Julius and Augustus
abolished the free right of association, except in the case of a few
consecrated by their antiquity or their religious character.(1430) And it
was enacted that new colleges could not be created without special
authorisation. In the middle of the second century, the jurist Gaius lays
it down that the formation of new colleges was restrained by laws, decrees
of the Senate, and imperial constitutions, although a certain number of
societies, both in Rome and the provinces, such as those of the miners,
salt workers, bakers, and boatmen, were authorised.(1431) And down to the
time of Justinian, the right of free association was jealously watched as
a possible menace to the public peace. The refusal of Trajan to sanction
the formation of a company of firemen in Nicomedia, with the reasons which
he gave to Pliny for his decision, furnishes the best concrete
illustration of the imperial policy towards the colleges.(1432) That the
danger from the colleges to the public order was not an imaginary one, is
clear from the passage in Tacitus describing the bloody riots between the
people of Nuceria and Pompeii in the reign of Nero, which had evidently
been fomented by “illicit” clubs.(1433) It is seen even more strikingly in
the serious troubles of the reign of Aurelian, when 7000 people were
killed in the organised outbreak of the workmen of the mint.(1434) Yet it
is pretty clear that, in spite of legislation, and imperial distrust, the
colleges were multiplying, not only in Rome, but in remote, insignificant
places, and even in the camps, from which the legislator was specially
determined to avert their temptations. In the blank wilderness, created by
a universal despotism, the craving for sympathy and mutual succour
inspired a great social movement, which legislation was powerless to
check. Just as in the reigns of Theodosius and Honorius, imperial edicts
and rescripts were paralysed by the impalpable, quietly irresistible force
of a universal social need or sentiment. One simple means of evasion was
provided by the government itself, probably as early as the first century.
In an inscription of Lanuvium, of the year 136 A.D., there is a recital of
a decree of the Senate according the right of association to those who
wish to form a funerary college, provided the members did not meet more
than once a month to make their contributions.(1435) It appears from
Marcian’s reference to this law that other meetings for purposes of
religious observance might be held, the provisions of the
_senatusconsultum_ against illicit colleges being carefully
observed.(1436) Mommsen has shown that many other pious and charitable
purposes could be easily brought within the scope of the funerary
association. And it was not difficult for a society which desired to make
a monthly contribution for any purpose to take the particular form
recognised by the law. In the reign of M. Aurelius, although membership of
two colleges is still prohibited, the colleges obtained the legal right to
receive bequests, and to emancipate their slaves. And finally, Alexander
Severus organised all the industrial colleges and assigned them
_defensores_.(1437)

The law against illicit associations, with all its serious penalties,
remained in the imperial armoury. But the Empire, which had striven to
prevent combination, really furnished the greatest incentive to combine.
In the face of that world-wide and all-powerful system, the individual
subject felt, ever more and more, his loneliness and helplessness. The
imperial power might be well-meaning and beneficent, but it was so
terrible and levelling in the immense sweep of its forces, that the
isolated man seemed, in its presence, reduced to the insignificance of an
insect or a grain of sand. Moreover, the aristocratic constitution of
municipal society became steadily more and more exclusive. If the rich
decurions catered for the pleasures of the people, it was on the condition
that they retained their monopoly of political power and social
precedence. The plebeian crowd, recruited from the ranks of slavery, and
ever growing in numbers and, in their higher ranks, in wealth, did not
indeed dream of breaking down these barriers of exclusiveness; but they
claimed, and quietly asserted, the right to organise a society of their
own, for protection against oppression, for mutual sympathy and support,
for relief from the deadly dulness of an obscure and sordid life.
Individually weak and despised, they might, by union, gain a sense of
collective dignity and strength. To our eyes, as perhaps to the eyes of
the Roman aristocrat, the dignity might seem far from imposing. But these
things are greatly a matter of imagination, and depend on the breadth of
the mental horizon. When the brotherhood, many of them of servile grade,
met in full conclave, in the temple of their patron deity, to pass a
formal decree of thanks to a benefactor, and regale themselves with a
modest repast, or when they passed through the streets and the forum with
banners flying, and all the emblems of their guild, the meanest member
felt himself lifted for the moment above the dim, hopeless obscurity of
plebeian life.

No small part of old Roman piety consisted in a scrupulous reverence for
the dead, and a care to prolong their memory by solid memorial and solemn
ritual, it might be to maintain some faint tie of sympathy with the shade
which had passed into a dim and rather cheerless world. The conception of
that other state was always vague, often purely negative. It is not often
that a spirit is sped on its way to join a loved one in the Elysian
fields, and we may fear that such phrases, when they do occur, are rather
literary and conventional.(1438) The hope of blessed reunion after death
seldom meets us till we come to some monument of a Christian
freedman.(1439) But two of the deepest feelings in the Roman mind did duty
for a clear faith in the life beyond the tomb: one was family piety, the
other the passionate desire of the parting spirit to escape neglect and
oblivion. Whoever will cast his eyes over some pages of the sepulchral
inscriptions will be struck with the intensity and warmth of affection,
the bitterness of loss and grief, which have been committed to the stone.
The expressions, of course, are often conventional, like obituary
memorials in every age. The model wife appears again and again, loving,
chaste, pious, a woman of the antique model, a keeper at home, who spun
among her maids and suckled her own children, who never gave her husband a
moment’s vexation, except when she died.(1440) Good husbands seem to have
been not less common. And the wife’s grief sometimes far outruns the
regular forms of eulogy or regret. In one pathetic memorial of a union
formed in earliest youth, the lonely wife begs the unseen Powers to let
her have the vision of her spouse in the hours of night, and bring her
quickly to his side.(1441) There is just the same pure affection in the
less regular, but often as stable, unions of the slaves and soldiers, and
the _contubernalis_ is lamented with the same honourable affection as the
great lady, although the faulty Latin sometimes betrays the class to which
the author belongs. The slave world must always have its shame and
tragedy; yet many an inscription shows, by a welcome gleam of light, that
even there human love and ties of family were not always desecrated.(1442)
The slave nurse erects a monument to her little foster child; or a master
and mistress raise an affectionate memorial to two young _vernae_ who died
on one day. A freedman bewails, with warm sincerity, a friendship begun in
the slave market, and never interrupted till the last fatal hour.(1443)
The common tragedies of affection meet us on these slabs, as they are
reproduced from age to age with little variation. The prevalent note is,
_Vale vale in aeternum_, with thoughts of the ghostly ferryman and the
infernal stream and hopeless separation. Now and then, but seldom, a soul
passes cheerfully from the light which it has loved, happy to escape the
burden of old age.(1444) And sometimes, too, but seldom, we meet with a
cold, hard grossness, which looks back with perfect content upon a full
life of the flesh and takes the prospect of nothingness with a cheerful
acquiescence.(1445)

The true Roman had a horror of the loneliness of death, of the day when no
kindly eye would read his name and style upon the slab, when no hand for
evermore would bring the annual offering of wine and flowers. It is
pathetic to see how universal is the craving to be remembered felt even by
slaves, by men plying the most despised or unsavoury crafts. The infant
Julius Diadumenus, who has only drawn breath for four hours, receives an
enduring memorial. A wife consoles her grief with the thought that her
husband’s name and fame will be forever prolonged by the slab which she
dedicates.(1446) On another monument the traveller along the Flaminian Way
is begged to stop and read again the epitaph on a boy of nine.(1447) Many
are tortured by the fear of the desertion or the violation of their
“eternal home.” An old veteran bequeaths from his savings a sum of about
£80, to provide a supply of oil for the lamp above his tomb.(1448) An
unguent seller of Montferrat leaves a fine garden to afford to the
guardians of his grave an annual feast upon his birthday, and the roses
which are to be laid upon it for ever.(1449) Many a prayer, by the gods of
the upper and the lower worlds, appeals to the passing wayfarer not to
disturb the eternal rest.(1450) The alienation or desecration of a tomb is
forbidden with curses or the threat of heavy penalties.(1451) A place of
burial was a coveted possession, which was not easily attainable by the
poor and friendless, and practical persons guarded their repose against
lawless intrusion by requiring the delinquent to pay a heavy fine to the
municipal or to the imperial treasury, or to the pontifical college. It
was the most effectual way of securing the peace of the dead. For the
public authorities had a direct pecuniary interest in enforcing the
penalty for the desecration. But it would be interesting to know how long
these provisions to protect for ever the peace of the departed fulfilled
the hopes of the testator.

The primary object of a multitude of colleges, like that of the
worshippers of Diana and Antinous at Lanuvium, was undoubtedly, after the
reign of Nerva, the care of the memory of their members after death. In
the remarkable inscription of Lanuvium, as we have seen, the formal
permission by decree of the Senate, to meet once a month for the purpose
of a funerary contribution is recorded.(1452) It was a momentous
concession, and carried consequences which the legislator may or may not
have intended.(1453) The jurist Marcian, who gives an imperfect citation
of this part of the decree, goes on to add, that meetings for a religious
purpose were not prohibited, provided that the previous legislation
against illicit societies was observed.(1454) And the law of the Lanuvian
College shows how often such meetings might take place. It did not need
much ingenuity to multiply occasions for reunion. The anniversary of the
foundation, the birthday of founders or benefactors, the feast of the
patron deity, the birthday of the emperor, these and the like occasions
furnished legal pretexts for meetings of the society, when the members
might have a meal together, and when the conversation would not always be
confined to the funerary business of the college. At a time when,
according to juristic theory, a special permission was needed for each new
foundation, and when the authority was grudgingly accorded, the whole vast
plebeian mass of petty traders, artisans, freedmen, and slaves were at one
stroke allowed to organise their societies for burial. We may fairly
assume that, liberally interpreted, the new law was allowed to cover with
its sanction many a college of which funeral rites were not the sole, or
even the primary object. And this would be made all the easier because
many of the industrial colleges, and perhaps still more of the strictly
religious colleges, had a common burial-place, and often received bequests
for funerary purposes. This is the case, for example, with a college of
worshippers of Hercules at Interamna, and a similar college at
Reate.(1455) A young Belgian, belonging to the guild of armourers of the
20th legion, was buried by his college at Bath.(1456) One C. Valgius
Fuscus gave a burial-ground at Forum Sempronii, in Umbria, to a college of
muleteers of the Porta Gallica, for their wives or concubines, and their
posterity.(1457) There is even a burial-place, duly defined by exact
measurement, for those “who are in the habit of dining together,” a
description which, as time went on, would have applied as accurately as
any other to many of these clubs.(1458)

We are, by a rare piece of good fortune, admitted to the interior of one
of the purely funerary colleges. In the reign of Hadrian there was at
Lanuvium a college which, by a curious fancy, combined the worship of the
pure Diana with that of the deified minion of the emperor. It was founded
in A.D. 133, three years after the tragic death of the young favourite.
And in 136, the patron of the society, who was also a magnate of the town,
caused it to be convened in the temple of Antinous. There he announced the
gift of a sum of money, the interest of which was to be spent at the
festivals of the patron deities; and he directed that the deed of
foundation should be inscribed on the inner walls of the portico of the
temple, so that newly admitted members might be informed of their rights
and their obligations. This document, discovered among the ruins of the
ancient Lanuvium in 1816, reveals many important facts in the constitution
and working of funerary colleges.(1459) It recites, as we have seen, a
part of the _senatusconsultum_, which authorised the existence of such
colleges, and after loyal wishes for the prosperity of the emperor and his
house, it prays for an honest energy in contributing to the due interment
of the dead, that by regular payments the society may prolong its
existence.

The entrance fee of the college is to be 100 sesterces (16s. 8d.),
together with a flagon of good wine. A monthly subscription of five asses
is appointed. It is evident that the members are of the humblest class,
and one clause shows that they have even a sprinkling of slaves among
them, who, with the permission of their masters, might connect themselves
with these burial clubs.(1460) The brethren could not aspire to the
erection even of a _columbarium_, still less to the possession of a common
burial-ground. They confined themselves to making a funeral grant of
HS.300 to the appointed heir of each member who had not intermitted his
payments to the common fund.(1461) Out of this sum, HS.50 are to be paid
to members present at the funeral. The member dying intestate will be
buried by the society, and no claim upon his remaining interest in it will
be recognised. The slave, whose body was retained by his master after
death, was to have a _funus imaginarium_, and probably a cenotaph. In the
case of a member dying within a radius of twenty miles from Lanuvium,
three members, on timely notice, were deputed to arrange for the funeral,
and required to render an account of the expenses so incurred. A fee of
HS.20 was granted to each. But if any fraud were discovered in their
accounts, a fine of quadruple the amount was imposed. Lastly, when a
member died beyond the prescribed limit, the person who had arranged his
funeral, on due attestation by seven Roman citizens, and security given
against any further claims, received the burial grant, with certain
deductions.(1462) In such precise and orderly fashion, with all the
cautious forms of Roman law, did this poor little society order its
performance of duty to the dead.

Our knowledge of the funerary colleges is still further amplified by an
inscription of a date twenty years later than that of Lanuvium.(1463) In
the reign of Antoninus Pius a lady named Salvia Marcellina resolved to
commemorate her husband by a gift to the college of Aesculapius and Hygia.
She presented to it the site for a shrine close to the Appian Way, a
marble statue of Aesculapius, and a hall opening on a terrace, where the
banquets of the brotherhood should be held. To this benefaction
Marcellina, along with one P. Aelius Zeno, who apparently was her brother,
added two donations of HS.15,000 and HS.10,000 respectively, the interest
of which was to be distributed in money, or food and wine, at six
different festivals. The proportions assignable to each rank in the
college were determined at a full meeting, held in the shrine of the
“Divine Titus.” Marcellina attaches certain conditions to her gift. The
society is to be limited to sixty members, and the place of each member,
on his decease, is to be filled by the co-optation of his son. If any
member chooses to bequeath his place and interest, his choice is confined
to his son, his brother, or his freedman, and he is required to pay for
this limited freedom of selection by refunding one-half of his burial
grant to the chest of the college.(1464) The college of Aesculapius is
nominally a religious and funerary corporation, yet there is only a single
reference, in a long document, to the subject of burial. No information is
given as to the amount of the _funeraticium_ or burial grant, the sources
from which it is derived, or the conditions on which it is to be paid. The
chief object of Marcellina seems to have been to connect the memory of her
husband with a number of festivals, for the perpetuity of which she makes
provision, to promote social intercourse, and to prevent the intrusion of
strangers by making membership practically hereditary.

The colleges, of whose inner working we have tried to give a picture, are
classed as religious corporations in the collections of the inscriptions.
They bear the name of a god, and they provide a solemn interment for their
members. But in these respects they do not differ from many other colleges
which are regarded as purely secular. The truth is, that any attempt to
make a sharp division of these societies on such lines seems futile.
Sepulture and religion being admitted by the government as legitimate
objects for association, any college, however secular in its tone, might,
and probably would, screen itself under sacred names. Nor would this be
merely a hypocritical pretence. It is clear that many of the purely
industrial colleges, composed as they were of poor people who found it
impossible to purchase a separate burial-place, and not easy, unaided, to
bear the expense of the last rites, at once consulted their convenience,
and gratified the sentiment of fraternity, by arranging for a common place
of interment. And with regard to religion, it is a commonplace to point
out that all Graeco-Roman societies, great or small, rested on religion.
The state, the clan, the family, found their ideal and firmest bond in
reverence for divine or heroic ancestors, a reverent piety towards the
spirits who had passed into the unseen world. The colleges, as we shall
see presently, were formed on the lines of the city which they almost
slavishly imitated.(1465) It would be strange and anomalous if they should
desert their model in that which was its most original and striking
characteristic. And just as Cleisthenes found divine and heroic patrons
for his new tribes and demes,(1466) so would a Roman college naturally
place itself under the protection of one of the great names of the Roman
pantheon. Sometimes, no doubt, there may not have been much sincerity in
this conformity to ancient pieties. But do we need to remind ourselves how
long a life the form of ancient pieties may have, even when the faith
which gave birth to them has become dim and faint?

The usual fashion of writing Roman history has concentrated attention on
the doings of the emperor, the life of the noble class in the capital, or
on the stations of the legions and the political organisation of the
provinces. It is a stately and magnificent panorama. But it is apt to
throw the life of the masses into even deeper shadow than that in which
time has generally enwrapped them. We are prone to forget that, behind all
this stately life, there was a quiet yet extraordinarily busy industrial
activity which was its necessary basis and which catered for all its
caprices. In the most cursory way Tacitus tells us that a great part of
Italy was gathered for the great fair at Cremona, on the fateful days when
the town was stormed by the army of Vespasian.(1467) Yet what a gathering
it must have been! There were laid out in the booths the fine woollens of
Parma and Mutina, the mantles of Canusium, the purples of Tarentum, the
carpets of Patavium. Traders from Ilva brought their iron wares, Pompeii
sent its fish sauces, and Lucania its famous sausages. Nor would there be
missing in the display the oil of Venafrum, and the famous Setine and
Falernian vintages.(1468) The improvement of the great roads in the reign
of Trajan must have given a vast stimulus to inland commerce. And we may
be sure that many a petty merchant with his pack was to be seen along the
Aemilian or Flaminian ways, like the travelling vendor of honey and
cheese, whom Lucius, in the tale of Apuleius, meets hurrying to
Hypata.(1469) The great roads of Spain, since the days of Augustus,
carried an immense traffic, which made even the distant Gades a
magnificent emporium and one of the richest places in the Roman
world.(1470)

The wandering traders in Germany, Spain, or Syria, by a natural instinct
drew together in their exile. In the revolt of Julius Civilis, they are
found settled among the Batavians, and a _collegium peregrinorum_ has left
its memorial on the lower Rhine.(1471) The _sodalicium urbanum_ at Bracara
Augusta is a similar society.(1472) Another mercantile college meets us at
Apulum in Dacia.(1473) The Syrians of Berytus had a club at Puteoli, and
there were at least two clubs of Syrian traders at Malaga.(1474) The
graves of Syrian traders have been found at Sirmium in Pannonia, and, on
the other hand, there are memorials of Roman merchants at Apamea and
Tralles, at Salamis and Mitylene.(1475) Immense stimulus to this
transmarine trade must have been given by the Emperor Claudius, who
provided insurance against loss by storms, and a liberal system of
bounties and rewards for shipping enterprise.(1476) Apollonius of Tyana
once expostulated with a young Spartan, who claimed descent from
Callicratidas, for having forsaken the true career of a man of his race,
to soil himself with the trade of Carthage and Sicily. It is the sentiment
of Juvenal who treats as a lunatic the man who will venture his life with
a cargo on the wintry Aegean.(1477) But the antiquarian rhetoric
attributed to Apollonius embalms the fact that at the opening of a
springtime in the reign of Domitian, a great merchant fleet was lying at
Malea, ready to sail to the western seas.(1478) These wandering merchants,
wherever they went, banded themselves in colleges for mutual protection
and for society. In the same way, old soldiers, on their return from long
service on the frontiers, gathered in military brotherhoods at such places
as Ostia or Misenum.(1479) The veterans of Augustus seem to have become a
distinct and recognised class, like the Augustales.(1480) Colleges of
youth sprang up everywhere from the days of Nero, at Beneventum, Cremona,
and Ameria, or at Moguntiacum, Lauriacum, and Poetovio.(1481) They were
formed, like our own sporting clubs, for exercise and healthy rivalry,
often under the patronage of the divine hero who, to all the moralists of
that age, had become the mythic type of the continent vigour of early
manhood. There is one sodality at least devoted to the preservation of
chastity.(1482) But it is balanced by the clubs of the “late sleepers” and
“late drinkers” of Pompeii.(1483)

The colleges in which the artisans and traders of the Antonine age grouped
themselves are almost innumerable, even in the records which time has
spared. They represent almost every conceivable branch of industry or
special skill or social service, from the men who laid the fine sand in
the arena, to the rich wine merchants of Lyons or Ostia.(1484) The mere
catalogue of these associations in an index will give an enlarged
conception of the immense range and minute specialisation of Roman
industry. It may be doubted whether a similar enumeration of our English
crafts would be longer or more varied. The great trades, which minister to
the first necessities of human life, occupy of course the largest space,
the bakers, the cloth-makers, the smiths, carpenters, and wood-merchants,
trades often grouped together, the shoemakers and fullers and carders of
wool. The mechanics, who made the arms and engines for the legions,
naturally hold a prominent place. Nor less prominent are the boatmen of
Ostia, and of the Rhone and the Saône.(1485) The sailors of these great
rivers had several powerful corporations at Lyons, and, on many an
inscription,(1486) claim the wealthiest citizens, men who have gained the
whole series of municipal honours, as their chiefs and patrons. Arles,
which was then a great sea-port, had its five corporations of sailor-folk,
and Ostia an equal number, charged with the momentous task of taking up
the cargoes of the African corn-ships for the bakeries of Rome.(1487)
Transport by land is represented by colleges of muleteers and ass drivers
in the Alps and Apennines.(1488) All the many trades and services which
ministered to the wants or pleasures of the capital were similarly banded
together, the actors and horn-blowers, the porters and paviors, down to
the humble dealers in pastils and salt fish.(1489) We have seen that even
the gladiators, in their barrack-prisons, were allowed to form their
clubs. Although traces of these combinations are found in remote and
obscure places all over the Roman world, it is at great commercial
centres, at Ostia, Puteoli, Lyons, and Rome itself, that they have left
the most numerous remains. They had probably for one of their objects the
protection of their members against encroachments or fiscal oppression.
Strabo once came across a deputation of fishermen on their way to plead
with the Emperor for a reduction of their dues.(1490) Yet it would be a
mistake to suppose that these trades unions were always organised for
trade objects, or that the separate colleges were composed of people
engaged in the same occupation. They had many honorary members from among
the richer classes, and, even in the lower ranks, in defiance of the
law,(1491) a dealer in salt might be enrolled among the boatmen of the
Rhone, and member of a college of builders.(1492) In truth, the great
object of association among these humble people appears to have been not
so much the protection of their trade, as the cheerfulness of intercourse,
the promotion of fellowship and good-will, the relief of the dulness of
humdrum lives.

Probably no age, not even our own, ever felt a greater craving for some
form of social life, wider than the family, and narrower than the State.
It was a movement at which, as we have seen, even the greatest and
strongest of the emperors had to connive. It penetrated society down to
its lowest layers. Even the slaves and freedmen of great houses organised
themselves in colleges. There were colleges in the imperial
household.(1493) T. Aelius Primitivus, chief of the imperial kitchen,
being a man of great posthumous ambition, left the care of his own and his
wife’s monument to the college of the palatine cooks.(1494) In the
inscriptions of Moesia there is the album of a Bacchic club of household
slaves containing 80 names, with apparently different grades among them,
designated by such titles as _archimysta_, _bouleuta_, _frater_ and
_filius_.(1495) A similar club of the servile class, devoted to the
worship of Isis, existed at Tarraco.(1496) The officers of another bear
the pompous titles of tribune, quaestor, and triumvir, and the slab
records the thanks of one Hilara, that her ashes have been allowed to
mingle in the same urn with those of Mida the chamberlain.(1497) A
provincial treasurer at Ephesus, who was a _verna Augusti_, commits the
custody of his wife’s monument to five colleges of slaves and freedmen in
the emperor’s household. One of the colleges bears the name of Faustina.
Another college is devoted to the cult of the Lares and images of
Antoninus Pius.(1498) Private masters seem to have encouraged the
formation of such associations among their dependents, and sometimes to
have endowed them with a perpetual foundation.(1499) It was probably
politic, as well as kind, to provide for slaves social pleasures within
the circle of the household, and thus to forestall the attractions of the
numerous clubs outside, which freely offered their hospitality.(1500) We
may be sure that the college “which was in the house of Sergia Paulina”
was not encouraged by the mistress without good reason.

Thus it appears that in every part of the Roman world, in the decaying
little country town, and in the great trading centres, the same great
movement of association, is going on apace. It swept into its current
almost every social grade, and every trade, handicraft or profession, the
pastil-makers, the green-grocers and unguent sellers of Rome, the
muleteers of the Alps, the fullers of Pompeii, the doctors at Beneventum,
the boatmen of the Seine, the wine merchants of Lyons. Men formed
themselves into these groups for the most trivial or whimsical reasons, or
for no reason at all, except that they lived in the same quarter, and
often met.(1501) From the view which the inscriptions give us of the
interior of some of these clubs, it is clear that their main purpose was
social pleasure. And this is especially true of the clubs of the humblest
class. M. Boissier has well remarked that the poor workman, the poor
freedman, with the brand of recent slavery upon him, who was often engaged
in some mean or disgusting occupation, amidst a society which from
tradition regarded any industry soiled by servile touch with distant
scorn, must have felt themselves solitary exiles in the desert of a great
town, the most awful desert in the world. The remote splendour of the
court and aristocratic life must have deepened the gloom of isolation and
helplessness. Shut out for ever from that brilliant world of fashion and
pleasure and power, whose social life seemed so charming and gay and
friendly, the despised and lonely toiler sought a refuge in little
gatherings of people as lonely as himself. At some chance meeting, some
one, more energetic than the rest, would throw out the suggestion to form
a club, on the model of some of the old trade societies which had always
been authorised by the State from the days of Numa, or of those newer
associations which were now tacitly permitted under the guise of religion.
A small entrance fee would meet, for the time, their modest expenses. In
that age of generous or ambitious profusion, it was not hard to find some
influential patron, a kindly gracious noble, or an aspiring or generous
_parvenu_, to give the infant society his countenance, along with a
substantial donation for the building of a club-house, and for simple
convivial pleasures on his birthday, and other festivals which could
easily be multiplied. Then the brethren met in solemn form to frame their
constitution and commemorate their benefactor, on one of those many
monuments which illuminate a social life on which the literature of the
age is generally silent.

The continuity and repetition of proved political organisation is a
notable characteristic of the great races which have left, or are destined
to leave, their mark on history. The British settlers on the prairies of
Oregon or Manitoba immediately order themselves into communities, which
are modelled on a social system as old as the Heptarchy. The Latin race
had perhaps an even more stubborn conservatism than the English. Under the
most various circumstances, the Roman instinctively clung to forms and
institutions of tested strength and elasticity, and consecrated by the
immemorial usage of his race. The most distant and most humble
municipality was fashioned after the pattern of the great “city which had
become a world.”(1502) It had its senate, the _ordo splendidissimus et
amplissimus_, and the popular assembly which elected the magistrates. The
municipal magistrates, if they do not always bear the ancient names,
reproduce in shadowy form the dictators, the praetors, the aediles,
quaestors, and censors of the old republic.(1503) The same continuity of
form is seen in the colleges. As the municipal town was modelled on the
constitution of the State, so we may say that the college was modelled on
the municipal town. The college, indeed, became a city for the
brotherhood, at once a city and a home. They apply to it such terms as
_respublica collegii_.(1504) The meetings often took place in a temple,
whether of a patron deity or of an emperor, as those of the Roman Senate
were held in the temple of Concord or of Bellona. There they elected their
administrative officers, generally for a period of one year; in some
cases, by way of special distinction, for life. The heads of these little
societies bear various names, _magistri_, _curatores_, _quinquennales_,
_praefecti_, or _praesides_.(1505) They have also quaestors,(1506) who
managed their financial affairs, which, although perhaps on no great
scale, still involved the investment of trust moneys to yield the
prescribed amounts which had to be distributed either as burial payments,
or in food and money on the high festivals. The number of the members was
generally limited, either by the government in the interests of public
order, or by the will of a benefactor, to prevent the progressive
diminution in the value of the divisible shares of the income.(1507) A
periodical revision of the roll of members was therefore conducted every
five years, as it was in the municipality, by the chief officers,
exercising for the time censorial powers in miniature. Fortunately the
albums of three or four colleges have been preserved. The lists throw a
vivid light on their constitution and social tone. We have drawn attention
in a former chapter to the strict gradation of social rank in the city
polity. The same characteristic is repeated in the collegiate
organisation. In these humble plebeian coteries, composed of “men without
a grandfather,” of men, perhaps, whose father was a slave, or of men who
were slaves themselves, there emerges, to our astonishment, a punctilious
observance of shadowy social distinctions, which is an inheritance from
the exclusive aristocratic pride of the old republic. This characteristic
has excited in some French critics and historians a certain
admiration,(1508) in which it is not altogether easy to join. Gradation of
rank to ensure devotion and order in public service is a precious and
admirable thing. But artificial and unreal distinctions, invented and
conferred to flatter wealth, to stimulate or reward the largesses of the
rich patron, to gratify the vulgar self-complacency of the _parvenu_, are
only a degrading form of mendicancy. Some indulgence is no doubt due to
men who were still under the yoke of slavery, or only just released from
it; the iron had entered into their souls. But both the college and the
municipality of the Antonine age cannot be relieved of the charge of
purchased or expectant deference to mere wealth. Hence we cannot
altogether share the pleasure of M. Boissier in these pale and vulgar
reproductions of the hierarchy of a real aristocracy. But the image of the
hierarchy is there, and it is very instructive. In a college of smiths in
Tarraconensis, there were fifteen patrons at the head of the roll,
followed by twelve decurions, including two doctors and a soothsayer, one
man isolated by the honours of the _bisellium_, two honorary members,
twenty-eight plain plebeians. There were also several “mothers” and
“daughters” of the society.(1509) The album of another club at Ostia shows
a list of nine patrons, two holders of quinquennial rank, and one hundred
and twenty-three plebeians.(1510) The plebs of many colleges included
slaves, and in more than one inscription the men of ingenuous and those of
servile birth are carefully distinguished, the slaves being sometimes
placed at the bottom of the roll.(1511) Yet it was surely a great advance
when slaves and freemen could meet together for the time, on a certain
footing of equality, for business or convivial intercourse. The rigid
lines of old pagan society are indeed still marked on the face of these
clubs. And yet many an inscription leaves the impression that these little
societies of the old pagan world are nurseries, in an imperfect way, of
the gentle charities and brotherliness which, in shy retirement, the young
Church was cultivating in her disciples to be the ideal of the world.

These colleges became homes for the homeless, a little fatherland, or
_patria_, for those without a country. Sometimes they may have met in low
taverns, which were on that account jealously watched by some of the
emperors.(1512) But they generally attained to the possession of a
club-room or _schola_, a name which had been previously given to the
lounging-room of the public baths. Sometimes the _schola_ was erected at
their own cost, the site being perhaps granted by some rich patron, or by
the town council, on a vacant spot close to the basilica or the
theatre.(1513) But frequently a hall was built for them by some generous
friend. A like generosity often provided for them a little chapel of their
patron deity, with a shaded court, or a balcony open to the air and sun,
where the brethren took their common meals.(1514) Or a rich patron,
anxious to secure some care and religious observance of his last
resting-place, would bequeath to a college a pleasant garden adjoining the
tomb, with a house in which to hold their meetings.(1515) And, as a
further security against neglect and oblivion, a sum of 10,000 or 15,000
sesterces would be invested to provide a dinner for the college on their
benefactor’s birthday.(1516) As years went on, the scene of many a
pleasant gathering became a centre round which clustered a great deal of
sentiment, and even pride. We may imagine that, allowing for differences
of time and faith, the little school or shrine would, in the course of
years, attract something of the feeling which consecrates an ancient
village church in England, or a little Bethel which was built in the year
of the visit of John Wesley. It became a point of honour to make gifts to
the schola, to add to its comfort or beauty. One benefactor would redeem a
right of ancient lights, or build a boundary wall.(1517) Another would
make a present of bronze candelabra on a marble stand, with the device of
a Cupid holding baskets in his hands.(1518) Or a college would receive
from its curator a gift of some silver statues of the gods, on the
dedication of the _schola_, with a brass tablet, no doubt recording the
event.(1519) The gift of a place where the brethren of the club might be
buried beside their wives or concubines, was probably, to these poor
people, not the least valued benefaction.(1520) Many a humble donation was
probably made, which was too slight for a memorial. But it happens that we
have one record of gifts evidently offered by poor, insignificant people.
It is contained in a very interesting inscription found upon a rock near
the theatre at Philippi in Macedonia.(1521) It records that P. Hostilius
Philadelphus, in recognition of the aedileship of the college, which had
been conferred upon him, bore the expense of polishing the rock, and
inscribing upon it the names of the members of a college of Silvanus,
sixty-nine in number, together with a list of those who had presented
gifts to their temple. The college was a religious one, with a priest who
is named in the first place. It is also a funerary society, and seems to
be composed of freedmen and of slaves, either belonging to the colony or
private masters. They had just erected a temple of their patron god, to
which some had given subscriptions in money, while others made various
offerings for its adornment. One brother presents an image of the god in a
little shrine, another statuettes of Hercules and Mercury. There is
another donation of some stone-work in front of the temple, and Hostilius,
at his own expense, cut away the rock to smooth the approach to the
shrine. Most of the gifts are of trifling value, a poor little picture
worth 15 _denarii_, a marble image of Bacchus costing not much more. But
they were the offerings of an enthusiastic brotherhood, and the good
Hostilius has given them an immortality of which they never dreamed.

The contributions of the members would generally have been but a sorry
provision for the social and religious life of a college. Reproducing, as
it did, the constitution and the tone of the city in so many traits, the
college in nothing follows its model so closely as in its reliance on the
generosity of patronage. At the head of the album of the society there is
a list, sometimes disproportionately long, of its _patroni_. Countless
inscriptions leave us in no doubt as to the reason why the patron was
elected. His _raison d’être_ in the club is the same as in the city; it is
to provide luxuries or amusements for the society, which the society could
not generally obtain for itself. The relation of patron and client is, of
all the features of ancient life, the one which, being so remote from the
spirit of our democratic society, is perhaps most difficult for us to
understand. The mutual obligations, enforced by a powerful traditional
sentiment, were of the most binding, and sometimes burdensome character.
And in that form of relation, between former master and freedman, which
became so common in the first age of the Empire, the old master was bound
to continue his support and protection to the emancipated slave.(1522)
Although there was much that was sordid and repulsive in the position of
the client in Juvenal’s and Martial’s days, we must still recognise the
fact that the fortune of the rich patron had to pay a heavy price for
social deference. Not less heavy was the demand made on the patrons of
municipalities and colleges.

There must have been wide distinctions of dignity and importance among the
industrial colleges of the Empire. The _centonarii_, the _fabri_, and
_dendrophori_ of the more important centres, such as Aquileia, Lyons and
Milan, the boatmen of Arles or Ostia, would probably have looked down with
scorn on the flute-players of the Via Sacra, the hunters of Corfinium, or
the muleteers of the Porta Gallica.(1523) And there was a corresponding
variety in the rank of the patrons. Some are high officials of the Empire,
procurators of provinces, curators of great public works, or distinguished
officers of the legions. Or they are men evidently of high position and
commanding influence in their province, priests of the altar of Augustus,
augurs of the colony, magistrates or decurions of two or three
cities.(1524) Sometimes the patron is a great merchant, with warehouses of
oil or wine at Lyons or Tarragona or Ostia.(1525) Yet in spite of his
wealth, the patron’s social position in those days might be rather
uncertain, and we may without difficulty, from modern analogies, believe
that a new man might find his vanity soothed, or his position made less
obscure, by being known as the titular head of an ancient corporation of
the clothworkers, or _dendrophori_, or of the boatmen on the Saône.
Probably in obscure country towns, remote from the seat of Empire, these
bourgeois dignities were even more valued.(1526) The humbler colleges
would have to be content with one of the new freedmen, such as the vulgar
friends of Trimalchio, who, after a youth of shameful servitude, had leapt
into fortune by some happy chance or stroke of shrewdness, and who sought
a compensation for the contempt of the great world in the deference and
adulation of those who waited for their largesses.

The election of a patron was an event of great moment, especially to a
poor college. And it was conducted with a formal preciseness, and an
assumption of dignity, which, at this distance of time, are sometimes
rather ludicrous. In a little town of Cisalpine Gaul in the year 190, the
college of smiths and clothworkers met in solemn session in their temple.
Their quaestors, who may have had the financial condition of the college
in view, made a formal proposal that the college should set an example of
the judicious reward of merit, by electing one Tutilius Julianus, a man
distinguished by his modesty and liberality, as the patron of their
society. The meeting commended the sage proposal of the quaestors, and
formally resolved that the honourable Julianus should be requested to
accept the distinction, with an apology for so tardy a recognition of his
merits, and that a brass plate, containing a copy of this decree, should
be placed above his door.(1527)

It is significant that the patrons were, in very many cases, Seviri and
Augustales, a body which in the provinces, as we have seen, was generally
composed of new men of the freedman class. Although they were steadily
rising in importance and in strength of organisation, the provincial
Augustales always ranked after the decurions of a town. They often
displayed boundless liberality to their city and to their own order.(1528)
But the leading Augustales seem to have been quite as generous to the
other corporations who placed themselves under their patronage. And they
were not unfrequently patrons of several colleges.(1529) It is no long
task to find men who were the titular protectors of two or three, of
eight, or even of as many as twelve or fifteen colleges. One inscription
to Cn. Sentius of Ostia would seem to include among his dependents almost
every industrial college in that busy port.(1530) Sentius must have been a
very wealthy and a very generous man to accept the patronage of so many
societies, which in those days expected or demanded that their honours
should be paid for in solid cash. The crowning distinction of a statue, or
a durable inscription, was often solemnly decreed with all seemly forms of
deference or unstinted flattery in a full meeting of the society. But in a
great majority of cases we are amused or disgusted to read that, after all
his other liberalities, the benefactor or his heir is permitted to pay for
the record of popular gratitude.(1531) This fact may explain the
extraordinary abundance of these honours, if it somewhat lowers their
value in the eyes of posterity.

But, besides the benefactions which sprang either from ambition or real
generosity, a vast number were inspired by the Roman passion for long
remembrance, and for the continuity of funerary ritual. The very position
of so many tombs by the side of the great roads beyond the city gates, was
a silent appeal to the passing traveller not to forget the departed. The
appeal is also often expressly made on the stone by those who had no other
means of prolonging their own memory or that of some one they loved. It is
impossible to read without some emotion the prayer of an old Spanish
soldier, that his brethren of the college may never suffer grief like his,
if they will only keep the lamp burning for ever over the tomb of his
child.(1532) The more opulent took more elaborate measures to provide for
the guardianship of their “last home.”(1533) They often attached to the
tomb a field or gardens of considerable extent, to be cultivated for
profit, or to bear the roses for the annual offering. The whole area, the
dimensions of which, in many inscriptions, are defined with mathematical
precision, would be surrounded by a wall. Within the enclosure there would
be a little shrine containing statues of the dead, an arbour and a well,
and a hall in which the kindred of coming generations might hold their
annual banquet, till the tie was dissolved by the cruel oblivion of
time.(1534) There will be a cottage (_taberna_) in which a freedman or
dependent of the house may be lodged, to watch over the repose of the
dead.(1535) But all these precautions, as the testator feels, were likely
to be defeated in the end by the vicissitudes of human fortunes.(1536) He
had, indeed, before his eyes the fate of many a forsaken and forgotten
tomb of old worthies of the Republic. Families die out; faithful freedmen
and their children cannot keep their watch for ever. The garden will grow
wild, a time may come when no kindly hand will pour the libation or
scatter the roses on the natal day. Families will die out, but a college
may go on for ever by the perpetual renewal of its members. Inspired with
this idea, a worthy of Nîmes created a funerary college to dine regularly
in his honour.(1537) It was to consist of thirty persons, and the number
was to be maintained by co-optation into the places of deceased members.
Members of the college who were obliged to be absent might send one of
their friends to join in the repast. Thus the dead man, who had taken such
care to prolong his memory, would at no distant date be festively
celebrated by people who barely knew his name. Many another left a bequest
to a college to be spent in a feast on the testator’s memorial day.(1538)
A freedman of Mevania leaves a tiny legacy of HS.1000 to the guild of
clothworkers, of whom he is patron, with the condition that not less than
twelve of their number shall feast once a year in memory of him.(1539) A
more liberal provision for convivial enjoyment was left to a college of
Silvanus in honour of Domitian. It consisted of the rents of four estates,
with their appurtenances, which were to be spent on the birthdays of the
emperor and his wife, “for all time to come,” with the sacrifices proper
to such a holy season.(1540) Due provision is often made for the seemly
and impressive performance of a rite which was at once a religious duty
and a convivial pleasure. There is a curious letter of the time of
Antoninus Pius containing a deed of gift to the college of the _fabri_ at
Narbo, in return for their constant favours to the donor. One Sextus
Fadius presents them with the sum of 16,000 sesterces, the interest of
which is to be divided every year at the end of April for ever, at a
banquet on his birthday; the guests on this festive occasion are to be
habited in their handsomest attire.(1541)

But the fullest and minutest arrangements for these modest meals are to be
found in the document relating to the foundation of the poor college of
Diana and Antinous, to which reference has already been made. The master
of the feast was taken in regular order from the roll of the society. Each
brother had to accept this office in his turn, or pay a fine of five
shillings of our money. The regular festivals of the club were six in the
year, on the natal days of Diana and Antinous, and those of the founder
and some of his relatives. There is some obscurity in the regulations for
these common feasts, and at first sight they are a ludicrous contrast to
the pontiff’s famous banquet in the days of Julius Caesar, described by
Macrobius.(1542) M. Boissier naturally refuses to imagine that even the
poor brethren of the club of Diana and Antinous would be contented with
bread, four sardines, a bottle of good wine, with hot water and the proper
table service. The slave steward of Horace probably found much better fare
in his _popina_.(1543) Dr. Mommsen has resolved the mystery. It is
evident, from several inscriptions, that _sportulae_ were sharply
distinguished from distributions of bread and wine.(1544) The _sportula_
was a gift of richer food or dainties, which in public distributions might
be carried home; it was sometimes an equivalent in money. If those who
received the _sportula_ preferred to enjoy it at a common table, an
appointed member of the college would have the food prepared, or convert
the money into dishes for the feast. The bread and wine he might add from
his own pocket, if they were not provided by the foundation. How much for
these meals came from the club funds, and how much out of the pocket of
the _magister coenae_, is not always clearly stated. But we may be sure,
from the tone of the times, that additions to a modest _menu_ were often
made by the generosity of patrons and officers of the club.

It would be futile and uninteresting to pursue into all its minute details
throughout the inscriptions, the system of _sportulae_ founded by so many
patrons and benefactors. Any one who wishes can temperately regale himself
for hours at these shadowy club-feasts of the second century. Perhaps the
clearest example of such distributions is the donation of Marcellina and
Aelius Zeno to the little college of Aesculapius, to which reference has
been made for another purpose.(1545) On seven different anniversaries and
festivals, sums of money, with bread and wine, were distributed to the
brethren of the college in due proportions, according to their official
dignity and social rank. Thus, in the division on the 4th of November, the
fête-day of the society, the shares in money, according to the various
grades, from the father of the college downwards, are six, four, and two.
The division of the wine, according to social rank, follows the proportion
of nine, six, and three. A slightly different scale is followed on the
birthday of the Emperor Antoninus Pius in September, and on the day for
New Year’s gifts in January. But in these benefactions the difference of
grade is always observed, the patron and the chief magistrates and
magnates of the society always receiving a larger share than the obscure
brethren at the bottom of the list. In the college of Aesculapius,
Marcellina herself, and Aelius Zeno, the two great benefactors of the
society, along with the highest of its dignitaries, are allotted three
times as much as the plebeian brother. The excellent Marcellina, who, in
the fourth century might perhaps have followed S. Jerome and Paula to
Bethlehem, was the widow of a good and tender husband, who had been
curator of the imperial picture galleries.(1546) Had she been drawn into
the ranks of that hidden society, who were beginning to lay their dead in
the winding vaults beneath the Appian Way, she would certainly have dealt
out her bounty on a different scale and on different principles. Her
bequest to the college of Aesculapius reveals how deep in the soul of a
charitable pagan woman, who was probably sprung from servile stock, lay
that aristocratic instinct of the Roman world which survived the advent of
the Divine Peasant and the preaching of the fishermen of Galilee, for far
more than four hundred years.

The most curious and interesting among the regulations for these club
entertainments are those relating to order and decorum. The club of Diana
and Antinous was not very select, being probably composed of poor freedmen
and slaves.(1547) The manners of this class, if we may judge by the
picture given by Petronius, were, to say the least, wanting in reserve and
self-restraint. The great object of such reunions was, as the founder
tells us, that the brethren might dine together cheerfully and
quietly.(1548) Hence he most wisely orders that all serious proposals and
complaints shall be reserved for business meetings. If any member quits
his place or makes a disturbance, he is to pay a fine of four sesterces.
Twelve sesterces is the penalty for insulting a fellow-guest. The man who,
under the influence of good wine, so far forgot himself as to insult the
chief officer of the society, was to be punished by a forfeit of twenty
sesterces, which would probably be a powerful discouragement of bad
manners to most of the brotherhood of Antinous.

Many another gift or bequest, of the same character as Marcellina’s, meets
the eye of the student of the inscriptions The motives are singularly
uniform—to repay the honours conferred by a college, to celebrate the
dedication of a statue, to save from forgetfulness a name which to us is
only a bit of the wreckage of time. Everything is conventional about these
bequests. The money is nearly always left for the same purpose, an
anniversary repast in honour of the humble dead, of the emperor, or of the
patron gods. Sometimes the burial fee is refunded to the college, with the
prayer that on the natal day the poor pittance derived from the gift be
spent on pious rites, with roses strewn upon the grave.(1549) Another will
beg only that the lamp in the humble vault may be kept for ever burning.
These pieties and longings, which have their roots in a rude pagan past
before the dawn of history, were destined to prolong their existence far
into Christian times. The lamp will be kept burning over many a tomb of
saint or martyr in the fourth or fifth century. And the simple feasts
which the clothworkers of Brescia, or the boatmen of Ostia or Lyons,
observed to do honour to some departed patron, will be celebrated, often
in riotous fashion, over the Christian dead in the days of S. Augustine
and S. Paulinus of Nola.(1550)

Dr. Mommsen believes that the collegiate life which blossomed forth so
luxuriantly in the early Empire, was modelled on the sacred union of the
Roman family.(1551) And the instinct of the Roman nature for continuity in
institutions prepossesses us in favour of the theory. In the college
endowed by Marcellina and Zeno, there are a father and a mother, and
elsewhere we read of daughters of a college. The members sometimes call
themselves brethren and sisters.(1552) One of the feasts of the
brotherhood is on the day sacred to “dear kinship,” when relations
gathered round a common table, to forget in kindly intercourse any
disturbance of affection.(1553) They also met in the early days of
January, when presents were exchanged. Above all, like the primal society,
they gathered on the birthdays of the revered dead to whom they owed duty
and remembrance. And in many cases the members of the society reposed
beside one another in death.(1554) The college was a home of fraternal
equality in one sense. As M. Boissier has pointed out, the members had
equal rights in the full assembly of the club. A quorum was needed to pass
decrees and to elect the officers. And, in the full conclave, the slave
member had an equal voice with the freeman, and might, perchance, himself
even be elected to a place of dignity.(1555) He might thus, in a very
humble realm, wield authority for the time over those who were accustomed
to despise him. It is true that he needed his master’s leave to join a
college, and his master had the legal power to deny to him the last boon
of burial by the hands of his collegiate brethren.(1556) Yet it was
undoubtedly a great stride in advance when a slave could sit at table or
in council on equal terms with free-born men, and might receive pious
Roman burial, instead of being tossed like a piece of carrion into a
nameless grave. The society of one of these humble colleges must have
often for the moment relieved the weariness and misery of the servile
life, and awakened, or kept alive, some sense of self-respect and dignity.
The slave may have now and then felt himself even on the edge of political
influence, as when his college placarded its sympathies in an election
contest on the walls of Pompeii. Yet we must not allow ourselves to be
deceived by words and appearances. In spite of legislative reform, in
spite of a growing humane sentiment, whether in the Porch or the Christian
Church, the lot of the slave and of the poor plebeian will be in many
respects as hopeless and degraded in the reign of Honorius as it was in
the reign of Trajan.(1557) Even in the reign of Trajan, it is true,
perhaps even in the reign of Nero, there were great houses like the
younger Pliny’s, where the slaves were treated as humble friends, where
their weddings were honoured by the presence of the master, where, in
spite of legal disabilities, they were allowed to dispose of their savings
by will.(1558) And the inscriptions record the gratitude and affection to
their masters and mistresses of many who were in actual slavery, or who
had but just emerged from it. But these instances cannot make us forget
the cruel contempt and barbarity of which the slave was still the victim,
and which was to be his lot for many generations yet to run. And therefore
the improvement in the condition of the slave or of his poor plebeian
brother by the theoretical equality in the colleges, may be easily
exaggerated. In the humblest of these clubs, the distribution of good fare
and money is not according to the needs of the members, but regulated by
their social and official rank. We cannot feel confident that in social
intercourse the same distinction may not have been coldly observed. In
modern times we often see a readiness to accord an equality of material
enjoyment, along with a stiff guardianship of social distinctions which
are often microscopic to the detached observer. And it would not be
surprising to discover that the “master” or the “mother” of the college of
Antinous protected their dignity by an icy reserve at its festive
meetings.

The question has been raised whether the ordinary colleges were in any
sense charitable institutions for mutual help. And certainly the
inscriptions are singularly wanting in records of bequests made directly
for the relief of poverty, for widows and orphans or the sick. The
donations or bequests of rich patrons seem to have had chiefly two objects
in view, the commemoration of the dead and the provision for social and
convivial enjoyment. It is true that, just as in municipal feasts, there
is often a distribution of money among the members of colleges. But this
appears to be deprived of an eleemosynary character by the fact that by
far the largest shares are assigned to those who were presumably the least
in need of them. Yet it is to be recollected that we probably have left to
us the memorial of only a small proportion of these gifts, and that, if we
had a full list of all the benefactions bequeathed to some of the
colleges, the total amount received by each member in the year might be
very considerable, if judged by the standard of ordinary plebeian incomes.
To the ambitious slave any addition, however small, to his growing
_peculium_, which might enable him to buy his freedom, would certainly be
grateful.

There is one class of colleges, however, which were undoubtedly formed to
meet various exigencies in the course of life, as well as to make a
provision for decent burial. These are the military clubs, on the objects
and constitution of which a flood of light has been thrown by the study of
the inscriptions in the great legionary camps of North Africa.(1559) A
passage of Vegetius shows us the provident arrangement made by government
for the future of the ordinary legionary.(1560) It is well known that, on
the accession of each new emperor, or on the occurrence of some
interesting event in the history of the prince’s family, or of some great
military success, and often without any particular justification, a
donative was distributed throughout the army. It sometimes reached a
considerable amount, ranging from the 25 _denarii_ granted by Vespasian,
to the 5000 of M. Aurelius.(1561) One half of this largess was by orders
set aside, and retained under the custody of the standard-bearers, to
provide a pension on the soldier’s retirement from the service. Another
fund, entirely different, was formed by the soldiers’ own contributions,
to furnish a decent burial for those who died on service. But the law
against the formation of colleges fell with peculiar severity on the
soldier.(1562) Not even for a religious purpose was he permitted to join
such a society. This prohibition, however, seems to have been relaxed in
the case of the officers, and some of the more highly skilled corps.(1563)
And we have among the inscriptions of Lambaesis a few instructive records
of these military colleges.(1564)

Lambaesis, as we have seen, was one of those camps which developed into a
regular municipality, after the recognition of soldiers’ marriages by
Septimius Severus. Henceforth the camp became only a place of drill and
exercise, and ceased to be the soldier’s home. And on the ground where the
soldiers’ huts used to stand, there are left the remains of a number of
buildings of the basilica shape, erected probably in the third century,
which were the club-houses of the officers of the Tertia Augusta. The
interior was adorned with statues of imperial personages, and on the wall
was inscribed the law of the college, commencing with an expression of
gratitude for the very liberal pay which enabled the college to make
provision for the future of its members.(1565) The provision was made in
various ways. An ambitious young officer was allowed a liberal viaticum
for a journey across the sea to seek promotion. If promotion came, he
received another grant to equip him. One half the amount granted in these
cases was mercifully paid to him in the unpleasant contingency of his
losing his grade. If he died on active service, his heir received a
payment on the larger scale. And, when a man, in due course, retired from
the army, he received the same sum under the name of _anularium_, which
has puzzled the antiquary.(1566)

It has been maintained that these military clubs were really and primarily
funerary societies.(1567) And provision for burial was certainly one of
their objects. Yet, on a reading of the law of the society of the
_Cornicines_, it may be doubted whether the subject of burial is more
prominent than the other contingencies of the officer’s life, and in some
of the inscriptions, burial is not even alluded to. The grant on
retirement or promotion, and the grant to his heir on the death of a
member, are the same. But probably the majority of officers had the good
fortune to carry the money with them into peaceful retirement, if not into
higher rank in another corps. In this case they would probably join
another college, whether of soldiers or veterans, and secure once more the
all-important object of a decent and pious interment. The military clubs
seem rather intended to furnish an insurance against the principal risks
and occasions of expenditure in a soldier’s career. A calculation shows
that, after providing for all these liabilities, the military college must
have had a considerable surplus.(1568) How it was spent, it is not
hazardous to conjecture. If the poor freedmen and slaves at Ostia or
Lanuvium could afford their modest meals, with a fair allowance of good
wine, drunk to the memory of a generous benefactor, we may be sure that
the college of the _Cornicines_ at Lambesi would relieve the tedium of the
camp by many a pleasant mess dinner, and that they would have been
astonished and amused on such occasions to hear themselves described
merely as a burial society.

The foundation law of the college of Diana and Antinous betrays some
anxiety lest the continuity of the society should be broken. And in many a
bequest, the greatest care is taken to prevent malversation or the
diversion of the funds from their original purpose.(1569) We feel a
certain pathetic curiosity, in reading these records of a futile effort to
prolong the memory of obscure lives, to know how long the brotherhoods
continued their meetings, or when the stated offerings of wine and flowers
ceased to be made. In one case the curiosity is satisfied and we have
before our eyes the formal record of the extinction of a college. It is
contained in a pair of wooden tablets found in some quarry pits near
Alburnus, a remote village of Dacia. The document was drawn up, as the
names of the consuls show, in the year 167, the year following the fierce
irruption of the Quadi and Marcomanni into Dacia, Pannonia, and Noricum,
in which Alburnus was given to the flames.(1570) Artemidorus the slave of
Apollonius, and Master of the college of Jupiter Cernenius, along with the
two quaestors, places it on record, with the attestation of seven
witnesses, that the college has ceased to exist. Out of a membership of
fifty-four, only seventeen remain. The colleague of Artemidorus in the
mastership has never set foot in Alburnus since his election. The accounts
have been wound up, and no balance is left in the chest. For a long time
no member has attended on the days fixed for meetings, and, as a matter of
course, no subscriptions have been paid. All this is expressed in the
rudest, most ungrammatical Latin, and Artemidorus quaintly concludes by
saying, that, if a member has just died, he must not imagine that he has
any longer a college or any claim to funeral payments! The humble brothers
of the society, whom Artemidorus reproaches for their faithless
negligence, may probably have fled to some refuge when their masters’
lands were devastated by the Marcomanni, or been swept on in the fierce
torrent of invaders which finally broke upon the walls of Aquileia.



                                BOOK III.


      _NEC PHILOSOPHIA SINE VIRTUTE EST NEC SINE PHILOSOPHIA VIRTUS_



                                CHAPTER I


                         THE PHILOSOPHIC DIRECTOR


Philosophy in the time of Seneca was a very different thing from the great
cosmic systems of Ionia and Magna Graecia, or even from the system of the
older Stoicism. Speculative interest had long before his time given way to
the study of moral problems with a definite practical aim. If the stimulus
of the searching method of Socrates gave an impetus for a century to
abstract speculation, it had an even more decided and long-lived influence
in diverting thought to moral questions from the old ambitious paths. His
disciples Antisthenes and Aristippus prepared the way for the Stoic and
Epicurean schools which dominated the Roman world in the last century of
the Republic and the first of the Empire. And even Plato and Aristotle
indirectly helped forward the movement. It is not merely that, for both
these great spirits, the cultivation of character and the reform of
society have a profound interest. But even in their metaphysics, they were
paving the way for the more introspective and practical turn which was
taken by post-Aristotelian philosophy, by giving to what were mere
conceptions of the mind a more real existence than to the things of
sense.(1571) The “ideas” or “forms” which they contrast with the world of
concrete things, are really creations of the individual mind of which the
reality must be sought in the depths of consciousness, however they may be
divinised and elevated to some transcendental region beyond the limits of
sense and time. With Aristotle, as with Plato, in the last resort, the
higher reason is the true essence of man, coming into the body from a
diviner world, and capable of lifting itself to the ideal from the
cramping limitations of sensuous life. The philosopher in the _Phaedo_ who
turns his gaze persistently from the confusing phantasmagoria of the
senses to that realm of real existence, eternal and immutable, of which he
has once had a vision, is really the distant progenitor of the sage of
Stoicism, who cuts himself off from the external objects of desire, to
find within a higher law, and the peace which springs from a life in
harmony with the Reason of the world.

The ancient schools, if they maintained a formal individuality even to the
days of Justinian,(1572) had worked themselves out. A host of scholarchs,
from all the cities of the Greek East, failed to break fresh ground, and
were content to guard the most precious or the least vulnerable parts of
an ancient tradition. Moreover, the scrutiny of the long course of
speculation, issuing in such various conclusions, with no criterion to
decide between their claims, gave birth to a scepticism which sheltered
itself even under the great name of the Academy. And as the faith in the
truth of systems dwindled, the marks of demarcation between them faded;
men were less inclined to dogmatise, and began to select and combine
elements from long discordant schools. In this movement the eclectic and
the sceptic had very much the same object in view—the support and culture
of the individual moral life.(1573) The sceptic sought his ideal in
restrained suspense of judgment and in moral calm. The eclectic, without
regard to speculative consistency, and with only a secondary interest in
speculation, sought for doctrines from any quarter which provided a basis
for the moral life, and, in the conflict of systems on the deeper
questions, would fall back, like Cicero, on intuition and the consent of
consciousness.(1574) Creative power in philosophy was no more. Speculative
curiosity, as pictured in the _Phaedo_ or the _Theaetetus_, had lost its
keenness. The imperious craving was for some guide of life, some medicine
for the deeply-felt maladies of the soul.

The extinction of the free civic life of Greece, the conquests of Macedon,
the foundation of the world-wide empire of Rome, had wrought a momentous
moral change. In the old city-state, religion, morals, and political duty
were linked in a gracious unity and harmony. The citizen drew moral
support and inspiration from ancestral laws and institutions clothed with
almost divine authority. Even Plato does not break away from the old
trammels, but requires the elders of his Utopia as a duty, after they have
seen the vision of God, to descend again to the ordinary tasks of
government. But when the corporate life which supplied such vivid
interests and moral support was wrecked, the individual was thrown back
upon himself. Morals were finally separated from politics. Henceforth the
great problem of philosophy was how to make character self-sufficing and
independent; how to find the beatitude of man in the autonomous will,
fenced against all assaults of chance and change.(1575) At the same time,
the foundation of great monarchies, Macedonian or Roman, embracing many
tribes and races and submerging old civic or national barriers, brought
into clearer light the idea of a universal commonwealth, and placed morals
on the broad foundation of a common human nature and universal
brotherhood. The mundane city of old days, which absorbed, perhaps too
completely, the moral life and conscience of her sons, has vanished for
ever. And in its place and over its ruins has risen an all-embracing power
which seems to have all the sweep of an impersonal force of nature, though
it is sometimes impelled by one wild, lawless will. If, in return for the
loss of civic freedom, ambitious and patriotic energy, or pride of civic
life, it has given to its subjects a marvellous peace and order and
culture, have not the mass of men become grosser and more materialised? If
there is greater material well-being and better administration, have not
the moral tone and ideal, in the lack of stimulus, been lowered? Has not
vice become more shameless, and the greed for all things pleasant grown
harder and more cruel? Are not the mass of men hopelessly and wearily
wandering in a tangled maze without a clue?(1576)

With such questionings ringing in his inner ear, the man with some
lingering instinct of goodness might well crave, beyond anything else, for
an inner law of life which should bring order into the chaos of his
conduct and desires.(1577) And philosophy, having in magnificent effort
failed to scale the virgin heights, fell back on conduct, which seemed
then, even more than to a lost teacher of our youth, “three-fourths of
life.” The great science which, in the glory and fresh vigour of the
Hellenic prime, aspired to embrace all existence and all knowledge, to
penetrate the secret of the universe and God, by general consent narrowed
its efforts to relieve the struggles of this transient life set “between
two eternities.” The human spirit, weary of the fruitless quest of an
ever-vanishing ideal of knowledge, took up the humbler task of solving the
ever-recurring problem of human happiness and conduct. Henceforth, in
spite of traditional dialectic discordance, all the schools, Stoic or
Epicurean, Sceptic or Eclectic, are seeking for the secret of inner peace,
and are singularly unanimous in their report of the discovery.(1578) The
inner life of the spirit becomes all in all. Speculation and political
activity are equally unimportant to the true life of the soul. Calm
equipoise of the inner nature, undisturbed by the changes of fortunes or
the solicitations of desire, is the ideal of all, under whatever
difference of phrase. What has he to do with any single state who realises
his citizenship in the great commonwealth of man? If the secret of peace
cannot be won by launching in adventurous thought into the Infinite,
perchance it may be found in discipline of the rebellious will.
Philosophy, then, must become the guide of life, the healer of spiritual
maladies.(1579) It must teach the whole duty of man, to the gods, to the
state, to parents and elders, to women and to slaves. It must attempt the
harder task of bringing some principle of order into the turmoil of
emotion and passion: it must teach us, amid the keen claims of competing
objects of desire, to distinguish the true from the false, the permanent
from the fleeting.

The moral reformer cannot indeed dispense with theory and a ground of
general principles,(1580) but he will not forget that his main business is
to impart the _ars vivendi_; he will be more occupied with rules which may
be immediately applied in practice, than with the theory of morals. A
profound acquaintance with the pathology of the soul, minute study of the
weaknesses of character, long experience of the devices for counteracting
them, will be worth far more than an encyclopædic knowledge of centuries
of speculation.(1581) He will not undervalue the moral discourse, with the
practical object of turning souls from their evil ways; but he has only
contempt for the rhetoric of the class-room which desecrates solemn themes
by the vanities of phrase-making.(1582) The best and most fruitful work of
practical philosophy is done by private counsel, adapted to the special
needs of the spiritual patient. He must be encouraged to make a full
confession of the diseases of his soul.(1583) He must be trained in daily
self-examination, to observe any signs of moral growth or of backsliding.
He must be checked when over confident, and cheered in discouragement. He
must have his enthusiasm kindled by appropriate examples of those who have
trodden the same path and reached the heights.(1584)

This serious aim of philosophy commended itself to the intensely practical
and strenuous spirit of the Romans. And although there were plenty of
showy lecturers or preachers in the first century who could draw
fashionable audiences, the private philosophic director was a far more
real power. The triumph of Aemilius Paulus brought numbers of Greek exiles
to Italy, many of whom found a home as teachers in Roman families.(1585)
Panaetius, who revolutionised Stoicism, and made it a working system,
profoundly influenced the circle of Scipio Aemilianus, in whose house he
lived. Great generals and leaders of the last age of the Republic, a
Lucullus or a Pompey, often carried philosophers in their train. From
Augustus to Elagabalus we hear of their presence at the imperial court.
The wife of Augustus sought consolation on the death of Drusus from Areus,
her husband’s philosophic director.(1586) Many of these men indeed did not
take their profession very seriously, and in too many cases they were mere
flatterers and parasites whom the rich patron hired from ostentation and
treated with contumely.(1587) Both Nero and Hadrian used to amuse
themselves with the quarrels and vanity of their philosophers.(1588) But
in the terror of the Claudian Caesars, the Stoic director is often seen
performing his proper part. Julius Canus, when ordered to execution by
Caligula, had his philosopher by his side, with whom he discussed till the
last fatal moment the future of the soul.(1589) The officer who brought
the sentence of death to Thrasea found him absorbed in conversation with
the Cynic Demetrius on the mystery which the lancet was in a few moments
to resolve.(1590)

Of this great movement to cultivate a moral life in paganism L. Annaeus
Seneca was not the least illustrious representative. Musonius, his younger
contemporary, and Epictetus, the pupil of Musonius, were engaged in the
same cure of souls, and taught practically the same philosophic gospel.
They equally paid but slight attention to the logic and physics of the
older schools.(1591) Virtue, to all of them, is the one great end of
philosophic effort. They were all deeply impressed by the spiritual wants
of the time,(1592) and they all felt that men needed not subtleties of
disquisition or rhetorical display, but direct, personal teaching which
appealed to the conscience. To all of them the philosopher is a physician
of souls. Musonius and Epictetus were probably loftier and more blameless
characters than Seneca. Epictetus especially, from the range and simple
attractiveness of his teaching, might seem to many a better representative
of the philosophic director than Seneca. Seneca, as the wealthy minister
of Nero, excites a repugnance in some minds, which prevents them doing
justice to his unquestionable power and fascination. His apparent
inconsistency has condemned him in the eyes of an age which professes to
believe in the teaching of the Mount, and idolises grandiose wealth and
power. His rhetoric offends a taste that can tolerate and applaud verbose
banalities, with little trace of redeeming art. He cannot always win the
hearing accorded to the repentant sinner, whose dark experience may make
his message more real and pungent. The historian, however, must put aside
these rather pharisaic prejudices, and give Seneca the position as a moral
teacher which his writings have won in ages not less earnest than ours.
Nor need we fear to recognise a power which led the early Fathers to trace
the spiritual vision of Seneca to an intercourse with S. Paul,(1593)
supported by a feigned correspondence which imposed on S. Augustine and S.
Jerome.(1594) The man who approaches Seneca thinking only of scandals
gleaned from Tacitus and Dion Cassius,(1595) and frozen by a criticism
which cannot feel the power of genius, spiritual imagination, and a
profound moral experience, behind a rhetoric sometimes forced and
extravagant, had better leave him alone. The Christianity of the twentieth
century might well hail with delight the advent of such a preacher, and
would certainly forget all the accusations of prurient gossip in the
accession of an immense and fascinating spiritual force. The man with any
historical imagination must be struck with amazement that such spiritual
detachment, such lofty moral ideals, so pure an enthusiasm for the
salvation of souls, should emerge from a palace reeking with all the
crimes of the haunted races of Greek legend. That the courtier of the
reigns of Caligula and Claudius, the tutor and minister of Nero, should
not have escaped some stains may be probable: that such a man should have
composed the Letters and the _De Ira_ of Seneca is almost a miracle. Yet
the glow of earnestness and conviction, the intimate knowledge of the last
secrets of guilty souls, may well have been the reward of such an ordeal.

Seneca’s career, given a latent fund of moral enthusiasm, was really a
splendid preparation for his mission, as an analyst of a corrupt society
and a guide to moral reform. He lived through the gloomiest years of the
imperial tyranny; he had been in the thick of its intrigues, and privy to
its darkest secrets; he had enjoyed its favour, and knew the perils of its
jealousy and suspicion. He came as an infant from Cordova to Rome in the
last years of Augustus.(1596) In spite of weak health, he was an ardent
student of all the science and philosophy of the time, and he fell under
the influence of Sotion, a member of the Sextian School, which combined a
rigorous Stoicism with Pythagorean rules of life.(1597) As a young
advocate and prosperous official, he passed unharmed through the terror
and ghastly rumours of the closing years of Tiberius.(1598) His eloquence
in the Senate excited the jealousy of Caligula, and he narrowly escaped
the penalty.(1599) In the reign of Claudius he must have been one of the
inner circle of the court, for his banishment, at the instance of
Messalina, for eight years to Corsica was the penalty of a supposed
intrigue with Julia, the niece of the emperor.(1600) Seneca knew how to
bend to the storm, and, by the influence of Agrippina, he was recalled to
be the tutor of the young Nero, and on his accession four years
afterwards, became his first minister by the side of Burrus.(1601) The
famous _quinquennium_, an oasis in the desert of despotism, was probably
the happiest period of Seneca’s life. In spite of some misgivings, the
dream of an earthly Providence, as merciful as it was strong, seemed to be
realised.(1602) But it was, after all, a giddy and anxious elevation, and
the influence of Seneca was only maintained by politic concessions, and
was constantly threatened by the daemonic ambition of Agrippina.(1603) And
Seneca had enemies like P. Suillius, jealous of his power and his
millions, and eagerly pointing to the hypocrisy of the Stoic preacher,
whom gossip branded as an adulterer and a usurer.(1604) The death of
Burrus gave the last shock to his power.(1605) His enemies poured in to
the assault. The emperor had long wished to shake off the incubus of a
superior spirit; and the riches, the pointed eloquence, and more pointed
sarcasms, the gardens and villas and lordly state of the great minister,
suggested a possible aspirant to the principate. Seneca acted on his
principles and offered to give up everything.(1606) But his torture was to
be prolonged, and his doom deferred for about two years. His release came
in the fierce vengeance for the Pisonian conspiracy.(1607)

Seneca was an ideal director for the upper class of such an age. He had
risen to the highest office in a world-wide monarchy, and he had spent
years in hourly fear of death. He had enjoyed the society of the most
brilliant circles, and exchanged epigrams and repartees with the best; he
had also seen them steeped in debauchery and treachery, and
terror-stricken in base compliance. He had witnessed their fantastic
efforts of luxury and self-indulgence, and heard the tale of wearied
sensualism and disordered ambition and ineffectual lives.(1608) His
disciples were drawn, if not from the noblest class, at any rate from the
class which had felt the disillusionment of wealth and fashion and power.
And the vicissitudes in his own fate and character made him a powerful and
sympathetic adviser. He had long to endure the torturing contrast of
splendid rank and wealth, with the brooding terror of a doom which might
sweep down at any moment. He was also tortured by other contrasts, some
drawn by the fierceness of envious hatred, others perhaps acknowledged by
conscience. Steeped in the doctrines of Chrysippus and Pythagoras, he had
subdued the ebullient passions of youth by a more than monastic
asceticism.(1609) He had passionately adopted an ethical creed which aimed
at a radical reform of human nature, at the triumph of cultivated and
moralised reason and social sympathy over the brutal materialism and
selfishness of the age. He had pondered on its doctrines of the higher
life, of the nothingness of the things of sense, on death, and the
indwelling God assisting the struggling soul, on the final happy release
from all the sordid misery and terror, until every earthly pleasure and
ambition faded away in the presence of a glorious moral ideal.(1610) And
yet this pagan monk, this idealist, who would have been at home with S.
Jerome or Thomas à Kempis, had accumulated a vast fortune, and lived in a
palace which excited the envy of a Nero. He was suspected of having been
the lover of two princesses of the imperial house.(1611) He was charged
with having connived at, or encouraged the excesses of Nero, and even of
having been an accomplice in the murder of Agrippina, or its
apologist.(1612) Some of these rumours are probably false, the work of
prurient imaginations in the most abandoned age in history. Yet there are
traces in Seneca’s writings that he had not passed unscathed through the
terrible ordeal to which character was exposed in that age. There are
pictures of voluptuous ease and jaded satiety which may be the work of a
keen sympathetic observation, but which may also be the expression of
repentant memory.(1613) In any case, he had sounded the very depths of the
moral abysses of his time. He had no illusions about the actual condition
of human nature. The mass of men, all but a few naturally saintly souls,
were abandoned to lust or greed or selfish ambition. Human life was an
obscene and cruel struggle of wild beasts for the doles flung by fortune
into the arena.(1614) The peace and happiness of the early Eden have
departed for ever, leaving men to the restlessness of exhausted appetite,
or to the half-repentant sense of impotent lives, spent in pursuing the
phantoms of imaginary pleasure, with broken glimpses now and then of a
world for ever lost.(1615) With such a scene about him in his declining
years, whatever his own practice may have been, Seneca came to feel an
evangelistic passion, almost approaching S. Paul’s, to open to these sick
perishing souls the vision of a higher life through the practical
discipline of philosophy.

The tendency to regard the true function of philosophy as purely ethical,
reforming, guiding and sustaining character and conduct, finds its most
emphatic expression in Seneca. He is far more a preacher, a spiritual
director, than a thinker, and he would have proudly owned it. His highest,
nay, one may almost say his only aim, is, in our modern phrase, to which
his own sometimes approaches, to save souls. Philosophy in its highest and
best sense is not the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, nor the
disinterested play of intellect, regardless of intellectual consequences,
as in a Platonic dialogue.(1616) It is pre-eminently the science or the
art of right living, that is of a life conformed to right reason.(1617)
Its great end is the production of the _sapiens_, the man who sees, in the
light of Eternal Reason, the true proportions of things, whose affections
have been trained to obey the higher law, whose will has hardened into an
unswerving conformity to it, in all the difficulties of conduct.(1618) And
the true philosopher is no longer the cold, detached student of
intellectual problems, far removed from the struggles and the miseries of
human life. He has become the _generis humani paedagogus_,(1619) the
schoolmaster to bring men to the Ideal Man. In comparison with that
mission, all the sublimity or subtlety of the great masters of dialectic
becomes mere contemptible trifling, as if a man should lose himself in
some game, or in the rapture of sweet music, with a great conflagration
raging before his eyes. In the universal moral shipwreck, how can one toy
with these old world trifles, while the perishing are stretching out their
hands for help?(1620) Not that Seneca despises the inheritance of ancient
wisdom, so far as it has any gospel for humanity.(1621) He will accept
good moral teaching from any quarter, from Plato or Epicurus, as readily
as from Chrysippus or Panaetius.(1622) He is ready to give almost divine
honours to the great teachers of the human race. But he also feels that no
moral teaching can be final. After a thousand ages, there will still be
room for making some addition to the message of the past. There will
always be a need for fresh adjustments and applications of the remedies
which past wisdom has handed down.(1623)

It is almost needless to say that Seneca has almost a contempt for the
so-called liberal studies of his day.(1624) There is only one truly
liberal study, that which aims at liberating the will from the bondage of
desire. Granted that it is necessary as a mental discipline to submit to
the grammarian in youth; yet experience shows that this training does
nothing to form the virtuous character.(1625) Who can respect a man who
wastes his mature years, like Didymus, in inquiries as to the relative
ages of Hecuba or Helen, or the name of the mother of Aeneas, or the
character of Anacreon or Sappho?(1626) The man of serious purpose will
rather try to forget these trifles than continue the study of them. And
Seneca treats in the same fashion the hair-splitting and verbal subtleties
of some of the older Stoics. He acquiesces indeed, in their threefold
division of Philosophy into Logic, Physics, and Ethics; but for the first
department he seems to have but scant respect, though once or twice he
amuses his pupil Lucilius by a disquisition on Genus and Species, or the
Platonic and Aristotelian “Causes,” in the style of the Stoic
scholasticism.(1627) Seneca was writing for posterity; he has his
intellectual vanity; and he probably wished to show that, while he set but
little store by such studies, this was not due to an imperfect knowledge
of them. It is because life is too short, and its great problems are too
urgent, to permit a serious man to spend his precious years in fruitless
intellectual play. He calls on Lucilius to leave such barren subtleties,
which bring the greatest of all themes down to the level of intellectual
jugglery.(1628)

For the department of Physics Seneca has much more respect, and he
evidently devoted much attention to it. We have traces of some lost works
of his on scientific subjects, and there is still extant a treatise in
seven books on _Natural Questions_, which became a handbook of science in
the Middle Ages.(1629) It deals with such subjects as we meet with in the
poem of Lucretius, thunder and lightning, winds and earthquakes, and
rising and failing springs. But it has perhaps less of the scientific
spirit than Lucretius, according to our modern standards. We have abundant
reference to old physical authorities, to Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander,
Diogenes of Apollonia, to Caecina and Attalus. But the conception of any
scientific method beyond more or less ingenious hypothesis, or of any
scientific verification of hypothesis, is utterly absent. This is of
course a general characteristic of most of the scientific effort of
antiquity. The truth is that, although Seneca probably had some interest
in natural phenomena, he had a far more profound interest in human nature
and human destiny. The older Stoics, with some variations, subordinated
Physics to Ethics, as of inferior and only subsidiary importance.(1630)
Seneca carries this subordination almost to extremes, although he also is
sometimes inconsistent.(1631) He thinks it significant that while the
World-Spirit has hidden gold, the great tempter and corruptor, far beneath
our feet, it has displayed, in mysterious yet pompous splendour, in the
azure canopy above us, the heavenly orbs which are popularly believed to
control our destiny in the material sense, and which may really govern it,
by raising our minds to the contemplation of an infinite mystery and a
marvellous order.(1632) To Seneca, as to Kant, there seems a mystic tie
between the starry heavens above and the moral law within. In the prologue
to the _Natural Questions_, indeed, carried away for the moment by the
grandeur of his theme, Seneca seems to exalt the contemplation of the
infinite distances and mysterious depths and majestic order of the stellar
world far above the moral struggles of our mundane life. The earth shrinks
to a mere point in infinitude, an ant-hill where the human insects mark
out their Lilliputian territories and make their wars and voyages for
their lifetime of an hour.(1633) This, however, is rather a piece of
rhetoric than a careful statement of Seneca’s real view. In the Letters,
again and again, we are told that virtue is the one important thing, that
the conquest of passion raises man to be equal to God,(1634) and that in
the release of the rational or divine part of us from bondage to the
flesh, man recovers a lost liberty, a primeval dignity. But in this
struggle the spirit may refresh and elevate itself by looking up to the
divine world from which it draws its origin, and to which it may,
perchance, return. To Seneca’s mind the so-called physics really involve
theology and metaphysics. In the contemplation of the vastness of the
material universe, the mind may be aroused to the urgency and interest of
the great questions touching God, His relation to fate, to the world, and
man.(1635) The scientific interest in Seneca is evidently not the
strongest. There are still indeed the echoes of the old philosophies which
sought man’s true greatness and final beatitude in the clear vision of
abstract truth. But Seneca is travelling rapidly on the way which leads to
another vision of the celestial city, in which emotion, the passionate
yearning for holiness as well as truth, blends with and tends to overpower
the ideal of a passionless eternity of intellectual intuition. In Seneca’s
rapturous outburst on the gate of deliverance opened by death, making
allowance for difference of associations and beliefs, there is surely a
strange note of kindred sympathy, across the gulf of thirteen centuries,
with Thomas à Kempis.(1636)

The _Natural Questions_ were, as he tells us, the work of his old
age.(1637) He has a lofty conception of his task, of the importance of the
subject to the right culture of the spirit, and he summons up all his
remaining energy to do it justice. But the work falls far short, in
interest and executive skill, of a treatise like the _De Beneficiis_, and
the principle of edification—_omnibus sermonibus aliquid salutare
miscendum_(1638)—is too obtrusive, and sometimes leads to incongruous and
almost ludicrous effects. A reference to the mullet launches him on a
discourse on luxury.(1639) A discourse on mirrors would hardly seem to
lend itself to moralising. Yet the invention furnishes to Seneca
impressive lessons on self-knowledge, and a chance of glorifying the
simple age when the unkempt daughter of a Scipio, who received her scanty
dowry in uncoined metal, had never had her vanity aroused by the reflected
image of her charms.(1640) The subject of lightning naturally gives
occasion to a homily against the fear of death.(1641) A prologue, on the
conflict to be waged with passion and luxury and chance and change, winds
up abruptly with the invitation—_quaeramus ergo de aquis_ ... _qua ratione
fiant_.(1642) The investigation closes with an imaginative description of
the great cataclysm which is destined to overwhelm in ruin the present
order. The earthquakes in Campania in 66 A.D. naturally furnish many moral
lessons.(1643) The closing passage of the _Natural Questions_ is perhaps
the best, and the most worthy of Seneca. In all these inquiries, he says,
into the secrets of nature, we should proceed with reverent caution and
self-distrust, as men veil their faces and bend in humbleness before a
sacrifice.(1644) How many an orb, moving in the depths of space, has never
yet risen upon the eyes of man.(1645) The Great Author Himself is only
dimly visible to the inner eye, and there are vast regions of His universe
which are still beyond our ken, which dazzle us by their effulgence, or
elude our gross senses by their subtle secrecy. We are halting on the
threshold of the great mysteries. There are many things destined to be
revealed to far-distant ages, when our memory shall have passed
away,(1646) of which our time does not deserve the revelation. Our
energies are spent in discovering fresh ingenuities of luxury and
monstrous vice. No one gives a thought to philosophy; the schools of
ancient wisdom are deserted and left without a head.(1647) It is in this
spirit that Seneca undertook his mission as a saviour of souls.

Seneca, in the epilogue to the _Natural Questions_, remarks sarcastically
that, as all human progress is slow, so, even with all our efforts of
self-indulgence, we have not yet reached the finished perfection of
depravity; we are still making discoveries in vice. In another passage he
maintains that his own age is no worse than others.(1648) But this is only
because at all times the mass of men are bad. Such pessimism in the first
and second centuries was a prevalent tone. We meet it alike in Persius,
Petronius, Martial, and Juvenal, and in Seneca, Tacitus, Pliny, Epictetus,
and Marcus Aurelius.(1649) The rage for wealth and luxury, the frenzy of
vice which perverted natural healthy instincts and violated the last
retreats of modesty, the combination of ostentation and meanness in social
life, the cowardice and the cruelty which are twin offspring of pampered
self-indulgence, the vanity of culture and the vanishing of ideals, the
vague restless ennui, hovering between satiety and passion, between faint
glimpses of goodness and ignominious failure, between fits of ambition and
self-abandoned languor, all these and more had come under the eye of
Seneca as an observer or a director of souls.(1650) It is a lost world
that he has before him, trying fruitless anodynes for its misery, holding
out its hands for help from any quarter.(1651) The consuming earnestness
of Seneca, about which, in spite of his rhetoric, there can be no mistake,
and his endless iteration are the measure of his feeling as to the gravity
of the case. Seneca is the earliest and most powerful apostle of a great
moral revival. His studied phrase, his epigrammatic point seem often out
of place; his occasionally tinsel rhetoric sometimes offends a modern
taste. We often miss the austere and simple seriousness of Epictetus, the
cultivated serenity and the calm clear-sighted resignation of Marcus
Aurelius. Still let us admit that here is a man, with all his moral faults
which he freely confesses, with all his rhetoric which was a part of his
very nature, who felt he had a mission, and meant to fulfil it with all
the resources of his mind. He is one of the few heathen moralists who warm
moral teaching with the emotion of modern religion, and touch it with the
sadness and the yearning which spring from a consciousness of man’s
infinite capacities and his actual degradation; one in whose eyes can be
seen the _amor ulterioris ripae_, in whose teaching there are searching
precepts which go to the roots of conduct, and are true for all ages of
our race. He adheres formally to the lines of the old Stoic system in his
moments of calm logical consistency. But when the enthusiasm of humanity,
the passion to win souls to goodness and moral truth is upon him, all the
old philosophical differences fade, the new wine bursts the old bottles;
the Platonic dualism, the eternal conflict of flesh and spirit,(1652) the
Platonic vision of God, nay, a higher vision of the Creator, the pitiful
and loving Guardian, the Giver of all good, the Power which draws us to
Himself, who receives us at death, and in whom is our eternal beatitude,
these ideas, so alien to the older Stoicism, transfigure its hardness, and
its cold, repellent moral idealism becomes a religion.(1653) Seneca’s
system is really a religion; it is morality inspired by belief in a
spiritual world and “touched by emotion.” In a remarkable letter, he
discusses the question whether, for the conduct of life, precept is
sufficient without dogma, whether a man can govern his life by empirical
rules, without a foundation of general principles. Can a religion dispense
with dogma?(1654) Seneca, as a casuist and spiritual director, was not
likely to undervalue the importance of definite precept, adapted to the
circumstances of the case. The philosopher, who was a regular official in
great families, probably dealt chiefly in precept, on a basis of authority
concealed and rarely scrutinised. But Seneca is not an ordinary
professional director. He has a serious purpose; he feels that he is
dealing with the most momentous of all problems—how to form or reform a
life, with a view to its true end, how the final good of man is to be
realised only in virtuous action. But action will not be right and
virtuous unless the will be also right, and rightness of will depends on
ordered habit of the soul,(1655) and that again springs from right general
principles or dogmas. In other words, a true theory of conduct is
necessary to virtue in the highest sense. Mere imperative precept and rule
cannot give steadiness and continuity to conduct. The motive, the clear
perception of the guiding principle, can alone dignify an act with a
peculiar moral distinction. In order to possess that character, the
external act must be rooted in a faith in the rational law of conduct.
Particular precepts may produce an external obedience to that law, but
they cannot give the uniformity and certainty of the inner light and the
regulated will.

Seneca is not a sectarian dogmatist, although he lays so much stress on
the necessity of dogma to virtuous conduct. He boldly declares that he
does not follow absolutely any of the Stoic doctors. He defends Epicurus
against the vulgar misunderstanding of his theory of pleasure, and the
more vulgar practical deductions from it. He often quotes his maxims with
admiration to Lucilius.(1656) In his views of the nature of God and His
relation to the external world and to the human soul, Seneca often seems
to follow the old Stoic tradition. There are other passages where he seems
to waver between different conceptions of God, the Creator of the
universe, the incorporeal Reason, the divine breath diffused through all
things, great and small, Fate, or the immutable chain of interlinked
causation.(1657) It is also clear that, from the tone of his mind, and the
fact that the centre of philosophical interest for him is the moral life
of man, he tends towards a more ethical conception of the Deity, as the
Being who loves and cares for man. All this may be admitted and will be
further noticed on a later page. Yet Seneca, in strict theory, probably
never became a dissenter from the physical or ontological creed of his
school. He adhered, in the last resort, to the Stoic pantheism, which
represented God and the universe, force and formless matter, as ultimately
issuing from the one substratum of the ethereal fire of Heraclitus, and in
the great cataclysm, returning again to their source.(1658) He also held
theoretically the Stoic materialism, and the Stoic principle, that only
corporeal natures can act on one another.(1659) The force which moulds
indeterminate matter into concrete form is spirit, breath, in the literal
sense, interfused in rude matter, and by its tension, outward and again
inward upon itself, producing form and quality and energy. Mere matter
could never mould itself, or develop from within a power of movement and
action. But this material force which shapes the universe from within is
also rational, and the universe is a rational being, guided by the
indwelling reason to predestined ends, and obedient to a universal law.
The God of the Stoics is thus a very elastic or comprehensive conception.
He may be viewed as the ubiquitous, impalpable force, which may, in the
lack of more accurate expression, be called air, ether, fire. He is the
soul, the breath, the Anima Mundi. He is also the universal law, the
rational principle, underlying all the apparently casual and fitful
phenomena of physical nature and human life. God may also surely be
regarded as the eternal Fate, the power in the ruthless, yet merciful
sequence of inevitable causation.(1660) And, in milder and more optimistic
moods, we may view Him as a watchful Providence, caring for men more than
they seem to care for themselves, saving them from the consequences of
their own errors and misdeeds. In Seneca, He develops into a moral and
spiritual Being, the source of all spiritual intuition and virtuous
emotion, the secret power within us making for righteousness, as He is the
secret force in all nature making for order.(1661)

It seems a little crude and superficial to contrast the materialist and
idealist conceptions of God in the later Stoic creed. What human
conception of Him is free from similar contradictions? How can any
conception of Him, expressed in human language, avoid them? And in
Seneca’s conception of soul, even as material, there is something so thin,
so subtle, and elusive, that the bounds of matter and spirit seem to melt
away and disappear.(1662) However loyal he may be in form to Stoic
materialism, Seneca in the end regards God as no mere material force,
however refined and etherealised, but a spiritual power; not perhaps
limited by the bounds of personality, but instinct with moral tendencies,
nay, a moral impetus, which no mere physical force could ever
develop.(1663) The growing dualism in Seneca’s metaphysics is the result
of the growing dualism of his psychology. In accord with the old Stoic
doctors, he sometimes formulates the material nature of the soul, and its
essential unity. It is, like the Anima Mundi, warm breath or subtle fire,
penetrating all parts of the body, discharging currents from the central
heart to the several organs. It is primarily rational, and all the lower
powers of passion are derived from the controlling and unifying reason. It
is a spark of the universal Spirit, holding the same place in the human
organism as the Divine Spirit does in the universe.(1664) But experience
and reflection drove Seneca more and more into an acceptance of the
Platonic opposition of reason and passion, an unceasing struggle of the
flesh and spirit, in which the old Stoic theory of the oneness of the
rational soul tended to disappear.(1665) This is only one, but it is the
most important, modification of ancient theory forced on Seneca by a
closer application of theory to the facts of human life, and a completer
analysis of them. The individual consciousness, and the spectacle of human
life, alike witness to the inevitable tendency of human nature to
corruption. Even after the great cataclysm, when a new earth shall arise
from the waters of the deluge, and a new man, in perfect innocence, shall
enter on this fair inheritance, the clouds will soon gather again, and
darken the fair deceitful dawn.(1666) The weary struggle of flesh and
spirit will begin once more, in which the flesh is so often the victor.
For to Seneca, as to the Orphic mystics and to Plato, the body is a
prison, and life one long punishment.(1667) Such is the misery of this
mortal life, such the danger of hopeless corruption, that no one would
accept the gift of existence if he could foresee the evil in store for
him.(1668) And death, the object of dread to the blind masses, is really
the one compensation for the calamity of birth, either as a happy return
to antenatal tranquillity, or as the gateway to a glorious freedom and
vision of the Divine.(1669) Seneca, indeed, does not always express
himself in this strain. He is often the consistent, orthodox Stoic, who
glories in the rounded perfection of the _sapiens_, triumphing, even in
this life, over all the seductions of sense and the fallacies of perverted
reason, and, in virtue of the divine strength within him, making himself,
even here below, equal with God in moral purity and freedom.(1670) In such
moods, he will adhere to the Stoic psychology: reason will be all in all;
virtue will be uniform, complete, attained by one supreme victorious
effort. But the vision is constantly crossed and darkened by doubts which
are raised by the terrible facts of life. The moral problem becomes more
difficult and complicated; the vision of perfection recedes to an infinite
distance, and the glorious deliverance is reserved for an immortal life of
which the older Stoics did not often dream.

Still, we can find in Seneca all the Stoic gospel, and moral idealism.
“Nil bonum nisi verum” is the fundamental principle. The failures,
aberrations, and sins of men arise from a false conception of what is
good, produced by the warping effect of external things upon the higher
principle. The avaricious, the ambitious, the sensual, live in a vain
show. They are pursuing unreal objects of desire, which cheat and befool
the reason, and turn to ashes when they are won. The “kingdom of Heaven is
within.” It is the freedom, the peace, the tranquil sense of power over
all that is fortuitous and external and fleeting, which alone can realise
the highest good of man.(1671) It is attained only by virtue, that is, by
living in obedience to the law of reason, which has its voice and
representative in each human soul. The summons to yield ourselves to the
law of nature and reason simply calls us to obey our highest part (_τὸ
ἡγεμονικόν_), which is a steadfast witness to the eternal truth of things,
and, if unbribed and unperverted, will discern infallibly the right line
of conduct amid all the clamorous or seductive temptations of the flesh or
of the world. Nothing is a real good which has not the stamp and hall-mark
of reason, which is not within the soul itself, that is within our own
power. Everything worth having or wishing for is within. External things,
wealth, power, high place, the pleasures of sense, are transitory,
deceptive, unstable, the gifts of Fortune, and equally at her mercy. In
the mad struggle for these ephemeral pleasures, the wise man retires
unobserved from the scene of cruel and sordid rapacity, having secretly
within him the greatest prize of all, which Fortune cannot give or take
away.(1672) If these things were really good, then God would be less happy
than the slave of lust and ambition, than the sensualist who is fascinated
by a mistress or a minion, the trader who may be ruined by a storm, the
wealthy minister who may at any moment be ordered to death by a
Nero.(1673) The only real liberty and human dignity are to be found in
renunciation. If we jealously guard and reverence the divine reason within
us, and obey its monitions, which are in truth the voice of God, the
Universal Reason, then we have an impregnable fortress which cannot be
stormed by any adverse fortune. The peace and freedom so won may be
called, although Seneca does not so call it, the “peace of God.” For it is
in fact the restored harmony between the human spirit and the Reason of
the world, and the cessation of the weary conflict between the “law in the
members” and “the law of the mind,” which ends so often in that other
peace of a “mare mortuum,” a stillness of moral death.(1674)

The gospel of Seneca, with all its searching power, seems wanting in some
of the essentials of an effective religion which can work on character.
Where, it may be asked, is the force to come from which shall nerve the
repentant one to essay the steep ascent to the calm of indefectible
virtue? And what is the reward which can more than compensate for the
great renunciation? With regard to the first question, the Stoic answer is
clear. The reforming force is the divine reason, indwelling in every human
soul,(1675) which, if it is able, or is permitted, to emancipate itself
from bondage to the things of sense, will inevitably gravitate to the
divine world, from which it sprang. The question of necessity and freedom
of the will has not much interest for Seneca, as a practical moralist. He
believes theoretically in the old Stoic dogmas on the subject. From one
point of view, God may be regarded as the eternal Fate, the inevitable law
of causation. And as the Universal Reason, He cannot act otherwise than He
does, without violating His very nature. But His action is self-determined
and therefore free and spontaneous.(1676) This freedom man only attains by
breaking away from the cruel servitude to passion and external
circumstance. As a practical moral teacher, Seneca is bound to say that we
can take the higher road if we will. The first step towards freedom is to
grasp firmly the fundamental law of the moral life—that the only good lies
in conformity to reason, to the higher part of our being. If we yield to
its bidding, we can at once cut ourselves off from the deceitful life of
the senses, and the vision of the true beatitude in virtue at once opens
on the inner eye. When that vision has been seen, we must then seek to
form a habit of the soul which shall steadily conform to the universal
law, and finally give birth to a settled purpose, issuing inevitably in
virtuous act.(1677) It is this fixed and stable resolution which is the
Stoic ideal, although experience showed that it was rarely attained. The
great renunciation is thus the entrance on a state of true freedom, which
is realised only by submitting ourselves to the law of reason, that is of
God. By obedience to rational law man is raised to a level far
transcending the transient and shadowy dignities of the world. His
rational and divine part is reunited to the Divine Spirit which “makes for
righteousness”; he places himself in the sweep and freedom of a movement
which finds its image and counterpart in the majestic and ordered
movements of the heavenly spheres. If we ask, how can poor humanity, so
abject, so brutalised, so deadened by the downward pressure of the flesh
and the world, ever release itself and rise to those empyrean heights, the
answer is, through the original strength of the rational, which is the
divine element in the human soul. It may be, and actually is, in the mass
of men, drugged and silenced by the seductions of sense and the deceptions
of the world. But if, in some moment of detachment and elation, when its
captors and jailors relax their guard, it can escape their clutches, it
will at once seek the region of its birth, and its true home. It is in the
kindred of the human reason with the Divine, the Reason of the world, that
we must seek the reconciliation of two apparently opposite points of view.
At one time the Stoic doctor tells us that we must trust to our own
strength in the moral struggle. And again Seneca, in almost Christian
phrase, comforts his disciple with the vision of God holding out a
succouring hand to struggling virtue, just as he warns the backslider of
an eye “that seeth in secret.” Woe to him who despises that Witness.(1678)

With such a conception of the relation of the human reason to the Divine,
Seneca was bound to believe that human nature, as it is, had fallen away
from original and spontaneous innocence. In the equal enjoyment of the
unforced gifts of nature, in the absence of the avarice and luxury which
the development of the arts, the exploitation of the earth’s hidden
wealth, and the competitive struggle, born of a social life growing more
and more complicated, have generated, the primeval man was unsolicited by
the passions which have made life a hell.(1679) Yet this blissful state
was one of innocence rather than of virtue; it was the result of ignorance
of evil rather than determined choice of good.(1680) And the man who, in
the midst of a corrupt society, fights his way to virtue, will take far
higher moral rank than our simple ancestors, who wandered in the unravaged
garden of the Golden Age. For the man born in a time when the nobler
instincts have been deadened by the lust of gold and power and sensual
excess, the virtuous will can only be won by a hard struggle.

Confronted with the facts of life, and fired with a passion to win men to
a higher law, the later Stoicism had in some points to soften the rigid
lines of earlier theory. The severe idealism of the great doctors was a
mere dream of an impossible detachment, the inexorable demand of a
pitiless logic. Virtue, being conformity to the immutable law of reason,
was conceived as a rounded, flawless whole, to which nothing could be
added, and to which nothing must be wanting. It presupposes, or is
identical with, a settled intellectual clearness, an unclouded knowledge
of the truly good, which must inevitably issue in perfect act. It is a
single, uniform mental state from which all the separate virtues spring as
from a single root.(1681) The moral value of an act depends entirely on
will, intention, that is, on the intellectual perception. And as there are
no gradations in the mental state, so there are no gradations in moral
conduct which issues from it. There are no distinctions between things
morally good, between “divine” things; and so, just as in the older
Calvinistic system, there is no class intermediate between the wise and
the foolish, the saved and the lost. And conversion, “transfiguration,”
the change from folly to wisdom, is regarded as instantaneous and
complete.(1682) Even those who are struggling upward, but have not yet
reached the top, are still to be reckoned among the foolish, just as the
man a few inches below the waves will be drowned as certainly as if he
were sunk fathoms deep. And, as there is no mean state in morals, so the
extremes are necessarily finished and perfect types of virtue and
reprobacy. The ideal _sapiens_, who combines in himself all the moral and
intellectual attributes that go to make up the ideal of serene, flawless
virtue, has been the mark for ridicule from the days of Horace.(1683) Such
an ideal, soaring into the pure cold regions of virgin snow, left the
great mass of men grovelling in filth and darkness. And it was in this
light that the severe Stoic regarded the condition of the multitude. They
are all equally bad, and they will always be bad, from age to age. Every
generation mourns over its degeneracy, but it is no worse than its
ancestors, and its posterity will be no better. The only variation is in
the various fashion of the vices.(1684) In any crowded scene, says Seneca,
in the forum or the circus, you have a mere gathering of savage beasts, a
spectacle of vice incarnate.(1685) In the garb of peace, they are engaged
in a truceless war, hating the fortunate, trampling on the fallen. Viewing
this scene of shameless lust and cupidity where every tie of duty or
friendship is violated, if the wise man were to measure his indignation by
the atrocity of the offenders, his anger must end in madness. But we are
all bad men living among the bad, and we should be gentle to one another.

The idealism and the pessimism of the earlier Stoics were alike fatal to
any effort of moral reform. The cold, flawless perfection of the man of
triumphant reason was an impossible model which could only discourage and
repel aspirants to the higher life. The ghastly moral wreck of ordinary
human nature, in which not a single germ of virtuous impulse seemed to
have survived the ruin, left apparently no hope of rescue or escape. If
morals were to be anything but an abstract theory, if they were to have
any bearing on the actual character and destiny of man, their demand must
be modified. And so in many essential points it was, even before
Seneca.(1686) The ideal contempt for all external things had to give way
to an Aristotelian recognition of the value of some of them for a virtuous
life. And Seneca is sometimes a follower of Aristotle, as in the
admission, so convenient to the millionaire, that wealth may be used by
the wise man for higher moral ends.(1687) He will not be the slave of
money; he will be its master. He will admit it to his home, but not to his
heart, as a thing which may take to itself wings at any moment, but which
may meanwhile be used to cheer and warm him in his struggles, and may be
dispensed in beneficent help to dependents. In the same way, beside the
ideal of perfect conformity to the law of reason, there appeared a class
of conditional duties. To conform absolutely to the law of reason, to
realise the highest good through virtue, remains the highest Stoic ideal.
But if, beside the highest good, it is permitted to attach a certain value
to some among the external objects of desire, manifestly a whole class of
varying duties arises in the field of choice and avoidance.(1688) And
again the ideal of imperturbable calm, which approached the apathy of the
Cynics, was softened by the admission of rational dispositions of
feeling.(1689) These concessions to imperious facts of human life, of
course, modified the awful moral antithesis of wise and foolish, good and
reprobate. Where is the perfectly wise man, with his single moral purpose,
his unruffled serenity, his full assurance of his own impregnable
strength, actually to be found?(1690) He is not to be discovered among the
most devoted adherents of the true philosophic creed. Even a Socrates
falls short of the sublime standard. If we seek for the wise man in the
fabulous past, we shall find only heroic force, or a blissful, untempted
ignorance, which are alike wanting in the first essential of virtue.(1691)
As the perfect ideal of moral wisdom, imperturbable, assured, and
indefectible, receded to remote ideal distances, so the condemnation of
all moral states below an impossible perfection to indiscriminate
reprobacy(1692) had to be revoked. Seneca maintains that men are all bad,
but he is forced to admit that they are not all equally bad, nay, that
there are men who, although not quite emancipated from the snares of the
world and the flesh, have reached various stages on the upward way. He
even distinguishes three classes of _proficientes_, of persons on the path
of moral progress.(1693) There is the man who has conquered many serious
vices, but is still captive to others. Again, there is the man who has got
rid of the worst faults and passions, but who is not secure against a
relapse. There is a third class who have almost reached the goal. They
have achieved the great moral victory; they have embraced the one true
object of desire; they are safe from any chance of falling away; but they
want the final gift of full assurance reserved for the truly wise.(1694)
They have not attained to the crowning glory of conscious strength. Seneca
is still in bondage to the hard Stoic tradition, in spite of his
aberrations from it. The great Catholic virtue of humility is to him
still, theoretically at least, a disqualification for the highest
spiritual rank.

And yet Seneca is far from wanting in humility. In giving counsels of
perfection, he candidly confesses that he is himself far from the
ideal.(1695) Indeed, his _Letters_ reveal a character which, with lofty
ideals, and energetic aspiration, is very far removed from the serene joy
and peace of the true Stoic sage. He has not got the invulnerable panoply
from which all the shafts of fortune glance aside. He shows again and
again how deep a shadow the terror of his capricious master could cast
over his life, how he can be disturbed even by the smaller troubles of
existence, by the slights of great society, by the miseries of a sea
voyage, or the noises of a bath.(1696) In the counsels addressed to
Lucilius, Seneca is probably quite as often preaching to himself. The
ennui, the unsteadiness of moral purpose, the clinging to wealth and
power, the haunting fears or timid anticipations of coming evil, for which
he is constantly suggesting spiritual remedies, are diagnosed with such
searching skill and vividness that we can hardly doubt that the physician
has first practised his art upon himself.(1697) Nor has he entire faith in
his own insight or in the potency of the remedies which ancient wisdom has
accumulated. The great difficulty is, that the moral patient, in
proportion to the inveteracy of his disease, is unconscious of it.(1698)
Society, with its manifold temptations of wealth and luxury and
irresponsible ease, can so overwhelm the congenital tendency to
virtue,(1699) that the inner monitor may be silenced, and a man may come
to love his depravity.(1700) If men are not getting better, they are
inevitably getting worse. There is such a state, in the end, as hopeless,
irreclaimable reprobacy. Yet even for the hoary sinner Seneca will not
altogether despair, so long as there lingers in him some divine
discontent, however faint, some lingering regret for a lost purity. He
will not lose hope of converting even a mocker like Marcellinus, who
amuses himself with jeers at the vices and inconsistencies of professing
philosophers, and does not spare himself. Seneca may, perchance, give him
a pause in his downward course.(1701)

Seneca’s gospel, as he preaches it, is for a limited class. With all his
professed belief in the equality and brotherhood of men, Seneca addresses
himself, through the aristocratic Epicurean Lucilius, to the slaves of
wealth and the vices which it breeds. The men whom he wishes to save are
masters of great households, living in stately palaces, and striving to
escape from the weariness of satiety by visits to Baiae or
Praeneste.(1702) They are men who have awful secrets, and whose apparent
tranquillity is constantly disturbed by vague terrors,(1703) whose
intellects are wasted on the vanities of a conventional culture or the
logomachies of a barren dialectic.(1704) They are people whose lives are a
record of weak purpose and conflicting aims, and who are surprised by old
age while they are still barely on the threshold of real moral life.(1705)
With no religious or philosophic faith, death is to such men the great
terror, as closing for ever that life of the flesh which has been at once
so pleasant and so tormenting.(1706) In dealing with such people, Seneca
recognises the need both of the great principles of right living and of
particular precepts, adapted to varieties of character and circumstance.
The true and solid foundation of conduct must always be the clear
perception of moral truth, giving birth to rightly-directed purpose and
supplying the right motive. For example, without a true conception of God
as a spirit, worship will be gross and anthropomorphic.(1707) The doctrine
of the brotherhood of all men in the universal commonwealth is the only
solid ground of the social charities and of humanity to slaves. Yet dogma
is not enough; discipline must be added. The moral director has to deal
with very imperfect moral states, some of quite rudimentary growth, and
his disciples may have to be treated as boys learning to write, whose
fingers the master must guide mechanically across the tablet.(1708) The
latent goodness of humanity must be disencumbered of the load which,
through untold ages, corrupt society has heaped upon it. The delusions of
the world and the senses must be exposed, the judgment, confused and
dazzled by their glamour, must be cleared and steadied, the weak must be
encouraged, the slothful and backsliding must be aroused to continuous
effort in habitual converse with some good man who has trodden the same
paths before.(1709) Thus the great “Ars Vitae,” founded on a few simple
principles of reason, developed into a most complicated system of
casuistry and spiritual direction. How far it was successful we cannot
pretend to say. But the thoughtful reader of Seneca’s _Letters_ cannot
help coming to the conclusion that, even in the reign of Nero, there must
have been many of the _proficientes_, of candidates for the full Stoic
faith. If Seneca reveals the depths of depravity in his age, we are
equally bound to believe that he represents, and is trying to stimulate, a
great moral movement, a deep seated discontent with the hard, gross
materialism, thinly veiled under dilettantism and spurious artistic
sensibility, of which Nero was the type. Everything that we have of
Seneca’s, except the _Tragedies_, deals with the problems or troubles of
this moral life, and the demand for advice or consolation appears to have
been urgent. Lucilius, the young Epicurean procurator, who has been
immortalised by the _Letters_, is only one of a large class of spiritual
inquirers. He not only lays his own moral difficulties before the master,
but he brings other spiritual patients for advice.(1710) There were
evidently many trying to withdraw from the tyranny or temptations of high
life, with a more or less stable resolution to devote themselves to
reflection and amendment. It is a curious pagan counterpart to the
Christian ascetic movement of the fourth and fifth centuries.(1711) And,
just as in the days of S. Jerome and S. Paulinus, the deserter from the
ranks of fashion and pleasure in Nero’s time had to encounter a storm of
ridicule and misrepresentation. Philosophic retreat was derided as mere
languid self-indulgence, an unmanly shrinking from social duty, nay, even
a mere mask for the secret vices which were, too often with truth, charged
against the _soi-disant_ philosopher.(1712) Sometimes the wish to lead a
higher life was openly assailed by a cynical Epicureanism. Virtue and
philosophy were mere idle babble. The only happiness is to make the most
of the senses while the senses still keep their fresh lust for pleasure.
The days are fleeting away never to return in which we can drink with keen
zest the joys of the flesh. What folly to spare a patrimony for a
thankless heir!(1713) Seneca had to deal with many souls wavering between
the two ideals. One of his treatises is addressed to a kinsman, Annaeus
Serenus, who had made a full confession of a vague unrest, an impotence of
will, the conflict of moral torpor with high resolve.(1714) In his better
moments, Annaeus inclines to simplicity of life and self-restraint. Yet a
visit to a great house dazzles him and disturbs his balance, with the
sight of its troops of elegant slaves, its costly furniture and luxurious
feasting. He is at one time drawn to philosophic quietude; at another he
becomes the strenuous ambitious Roman of the old days, eager for the
conflicts of the forum. He is always wavering between a conviction of the
vanity of literary trifling and the passion for literary fame.(1715)
Cannot Seneca, to whom he owes his ideal, furnish some remedy for this
constant tendency to relapse and indecision?

It is in the sympathetic handling of such cases, not in broad philosophic
theory, that the peculiar strength of Seneca lies. His counsels were
adapted to the particular difficulties presented to him. But many of them
have a universal validity. He encourages the wish to retire into
meditative quietude, but only as a means to moral cure.(1716) Retreat
should not be an ostentatious defiance of the opinion of the world.(1717)
Nor is it to be a mere cloak for timid or lazy shrinking from the burdens
of life. You should withdraw from the strife and temptations of the
mundane city, only to devote yourself to the business of the spiritual
city, to cultivate self-knowledge and self-government, to inspire the soul
with the contemplation of the Eternal and the Divine. Solitude may be a
danger, unless a man lives in the presence of “One who seeth in
secret,”(1718) from whom no evil thought is hidden, to whom no prayer for
evil things must be addressed.(1719) And, lest the thought of God’s
presence may not come home with sufficient urgency, Seneca recommends his
disciples to call up the image of some good man or ancient sage, and live
as if under his eye.(1720) The first step in moral progress is
self-knowledge and confession of one’s faults.(1721) Ignorance of our
spiritual disease, the doom of the indurated conscience, is the great
danger, and may be the mark of a hopeless moral state. Hence the necessity
for constant daily self-examination. In the quiet of each night we should
review our conduct and feeling during the day, marking carefully where we
have fallen short of the higher law, and strengthening ourselves with any
signs of self-conquest. Seneca tells us that this was his own constant
practice.(1722) For progress is only slow and difficult. It requires
watchful and unremitting effort to reach that assured and settled purpose
which issues spontaneously in purity of thought and deed, and which raises
man to the level of the Divine freedom. There must be no pauses of
self-complacency until the work is done. There is no mediocrity in morals.
There must be no halting and unsteadiness of purpose, no looking back to
the deceitful things of the world. Inconstancy of the wavering will only
shortens the span of this short life. How many there are who, even when
treading the last stage to death, are only beginning to live, in the true
sense, and who miss the beatitude of the man who, having mastered the
great secret, can have no addition to his happiness from lengthened years.
In the long tract of time any life is but a moment, and of that the least
part by most men is really lived.(1723) And this unsettled aim is liable
to constant temptation from without. We are continually within sight and
earshot of the isles of the Sirens, and only the resolution of a Ulysses
will carry us past in safety.(1724) In fact no isle of the Sirens can have
been more dangerous than the life of a great household in the Neronian
age, when the dainties and the vices of every land assailed the senses
with multiplied seductions, and men craved in vain for a heightened and
keener sensibility. Perpetual change of scene to the shores of Baiae, to
Apulia, to some glen in the Apennines, or to the northern lakes, or even
further, to the Rhone, the Nile, the Atlas, was sought by the jaded man of
pleasure or the man struggling in vain to reform. But Seneca warns his
disciple that wherever he may go he will take his vices and his weakness
with him.(1725) Let him try to work out his salvation within his great
palace on the Esquiline. Surrounded by splendour and luxury, let him, for
a time, isolate himself from them; let him lie on a hard bed, and live on
scanty fare, and fancy himself reduced to that poverty which he dreads so
much and so foolishly.(1726) The change will be good for body and soul;
and the temporary ascetic may return to his old life, at least released
from one of his bugbears, and refreshed with a new sense of freedom.

Such were some of the precepts by which Seneca strove to fortify the
struggling virtue of his disciples. But he never concealed from them that
it is only by struggle that the remote ideal can be attained. “Vivere
militare est.” And almost in the words of S. Paul, he uses the example of
the gladiator or the athlete, to arouse the energy of the aspirant after
moral perfection.(1727) “They do it for a corruptible crown.”(1728) The
reward of the Stoic disciple is vain and poor to the gross materialist.
But, from the serene heights, where ideal Reason watches the struggle, the
only victor is the man who has adopted the watchwords—self-knowledge,
renunciation, resignation. Only by following that steep path can any one
ever reach the goal of assured peace within, and be delivered from the
turmoil of chance and change. The misery of the sensual, the worldly, and
the ambitious lies in the fact that they have staked their happiness on
things which are beyond their own power, which are the casual gifts of
fortune, and may be as capriciously withdrawn. This state is one of
slavery to external things, and the pleasure, after all, which can be
drawn from them is fleeting. Hence it is that the sensualist is equally
miserable when his pleasures are denied, and when they are
exhausted.(1729) He places his happiness in one brief moment, with the
danger or the certainty either of privation or satiety. The wise man of
the Stoics, on the other hand, has built his house upon the rock. He
shuns, according to the Pythagorean maxim, the ways of the multitude, and
trusting to the illumination of divine Reason, he takes the narrow
path.(1730) His guiding light is the principle that the “kingdom of heaven
is within,” that man’s supreme good depends only on himself, that is, on
the unfettered choice of reason. To such a man “all things are his,” for
all worth having is within him. His mind creates its own world, or rather
it rediscovers a lost world which was once his. He can, if he will,
annihilate the seductions of the flesh and the world, which cease to
disturb when they are contemned. He may equally extinguish the griefs and
external pains of life, for each man is miserable just as he thinks
himself.(1731) Human nature, even unfortified by philosophic teaching, has
been found capable of bearing the extremity of torture with a smile. The
man who has mastered the great secret that mind may, by its latent forces,
create its own environment, should be able to show the endurance of a
Scaevola or a Regulus.(1732) All he needs to do is to unmask the objects
of his dread.(1733) For just as men are deluded by the show of material
pleasure, so are they unmanned by visionary fears. Even the last event of
life should have no terror for the wise man, on any rational theory of the
future of the soul. The old mythical hell, the stone of Sisyphus, the
wheel of Ixion, Cerberus, and the ghostly ferryman, may be dismissed to
the limbo of fable.(1734) For the man who has followed the inner light,
death must either be a return to that antenatal calm of nothingness which
has left no memory, or the entrance to a blissful vision of the
Divine.(1735) Even in this luxurious and effeminate time, men and women of
all ranks and ages have shown themselves ready to escape from calamity or
danger by a voluntary death.(1736) And what after all is death? It is not
the terminus of life, a single catastrophe of a moment. In the very hour
of birth we enter on the first stage in the journey to the grave. We are
dying daily, and our last day only completes the process of a life-long
death.(1737) And as to the shortness of our days, no life is short if it
has been full.(1738) The mass of men are only living in an ambiguous
sense; they linger or vegetate in life, they do not really live. Nay, many
are long since dead when the hour of so-called death arrives. And the men
who mourn over the shortness of their days are the greatest prodigals of
the one thing that can never be replaced.(1739) In the longest life, on a
rational estimate, how small a fraction is ever really lived! The whole
past, which might be a sure and precious possession, is flung away by the
eager, worldly man.(1740) The fleeting present is lost in unrest or
reckless procrastination, or in projecting ourselves into a future that
may never come. Thus old age surprises us while we are mere children in
moral growth.(1741)

At certain moments, the Stoic ideal might seem to be in danger of merging
itself in the self-centred isolation of the Cynic, asserting the defiant
independence of individual virtue, the nothingness of all external goods,
the omnipotence of the solitary will. And undoubtedly, in the last resort,
Seneca has pictured the wise man thus driven to bay, and calmly defying
the rage of the tyrant, the caprices of fortune, the loss of health and
wealth, nay the last extremity of torture and ignominious death. His own
perilous position, and the prospect of society in the reign of Nero, might
well lead a man of meditative turn so to prepare himself for a fate which
was always imminent. But the Stoic doctor could never acquiesce in a mere
negative ideal, the self-centred independence of the individual soul. He
was too cultivated, he had drunk too deep of the science and philosophy of
the past, he had too wide an outlook over the facts of human life and
society, to relegate himself to a moral isolation which was apt to become
a state of brutal disregard of the claims of social duty, and even of
personal self-respect.(1742) Such a position was absolutely impossible to
a man like Seneca. Whatever his practice may have been, it is clear that
in temperament he was almost too soft and emotional. He was a man with an
intense craving for sympathy, and lavish of it to others; he was the last
man in the world who could enjoy a solitary paradise of self-satisfied
perfection. It is true the Roman world to the eyes of Seneca lay in the
shadow of death, crushed under a treacherous despotism, and enervated by
gross indulgence. Yet, although he sees men in this lurid light, he does
not scorn or hate them. It was not for nothing that Seneca had been for
five years the first minister of the Roman Empire. To have stood so near
the master of the world, and felt the pulse of humanity from Britain to
the Euphrates, to have listened to their complaints and tried to minister
to their needs, was a rare education in social sympathy. It had a profound
effect on M. Aurelius, and it had left its mark on Seneca.(1743)

Two competing tendencies may be traced in Stoicism, and in Seneca’s
exposition of it. On the one hand, man must seek the harmony of his nature
by submitting his passions and emotions to his own higher nature, and
shaking himself free from all bondage to the flesh or the world. On the
other hand, man is regarded as the subject of the universal Reason, a
member of the universal commonwealth, whose maker and ruler is God.(1744)
The one view might make a man aim merely at isolated perfection; it might
produce the philosophic monk. The other and broader conception of humanity
would make man seek his perfection, not only in personal virtue, but in
active sympathy with the movement of the world. The one impulse would end
in a kind of spiritual selfishness. The other would seek for the full
development of spiritual strength in the mutual aid and sympathy of
struggling humanity, in friendship,(1745) in the sense of a universal
brotherhood and the fatherhood of God. There are two cities, says Seneca,
in which a man may be enrolled—the great society of gods and men, wide as
the courses of the sun; the other, the Athens or the Carthage to which we
are assigned by the accident of birth.(1746) A man may give himself to the
service of both societies, or he may serve the one and neglect the other.
The wise man alone realises to the full his citizenship in the spiritual
commonwealth, in pondering on the problems of human conduct, the nature of
the soul, of the universe and God, and conforming his moral being to the
eternal law of Nature. The sage, a Zeno or a Chrysippus, may rightly
devote himself exclusively to contemplation and moral self-culture.(1747)
He may not, by wealth and station, have access to the arena of active
life. And, although a seeming recluse, he may really be a far greater
benefactor of his kind than if he led the Senate, or commanded armies.
There may be cases in which a man may be right in turning his back on
public life, in order to concentrate all his energies on self-improvement.
And Seneca does not hesitate to counsel Lucilius to withdraw himself from
the thraldom of office.(1748) Yet Zeno’s precept was that the wise man
will serve the State unless there be some grave impediment in his
way.(1749) For, on Stoic principles, we are all members one of another,
and bound to charity and mutual help. And all speculation and
contemplation are vain and frivolous unless they issue in right action.
Yet the practical difficulty for the _sapiens_ was great, if not
insuperable. What earthly commonwealth could he serve with consistency; is
it an Athens, which condemned a Socrates to death, and drove an Aristotle
into exile?(1750) How please the vulgar sensual crowd without displeasing
God and conscience? It might seem that the true disciple of Stoicism could
not take a part in public life save under some ideal polity, such as Plato
or Chrysippus dreamed of.(1751) Here, as elsewhere, the problem was solved
with varying degrees of consistency. The problem is stated by Seneca—“Se
contentus est sapiens ad beate vivendum, non ad vivendum.”(1752) It is the
ever-recurring conflict between lofty idealism and the facts of human
life, which is softened, if not solved, from age to age by casuistry. The
wise and good man should have the springs of his happiness in himself. Yet
a wise friend may call forth his powers, and furnish an object of
self-sacrifice.(1753) The wise man will not entangle himself in the cares
of family life.(1754) Yet wife and child are needed to give completeness
to the life of the citizen. Since man exists for the general order, how
can he avoid lending his services to the State, unless there be some
insuperable bar? The controversy between the dream of solitary perfection
and altruism was variously solved, and the particular solution could
always be defended in the light of the great law of life. Epictetus, cut
off from the great world by servile birth and poverty, could make light of
marriage, of the begetting of future citizens, and the duties of political
life.(1755) On the other hand, M. Aurelius, by nature as detached as
Epictetus, might refuse to follow the transcendental counsels of
Chrysippus and Seneca. He might strive painfully to reconcile devotion to
an irksome political charge with a dream of that unseen commonwealth “in
which the cities of men are as it were houses.”(1756)

Yet in spite of these difficulties about public duty, no one outside the
pale of Christianity has perhaps ever insisted so powerfully on the
obligation to live for others, on the duty of love and forgiveness, as
Seneca has done. We are all, bond or free, ruler or subject, members one
of another, citizens of a universal commonwealth.(1757) We have all within
us a portion of the Divine spirit. No man can live entirely to
himself.(1758) If we are not doing good to others we are doing harm. The
nature of man and the constitution of the universe make it a positive
obligation to seek the welfare of our fellows.(1759) The social instinct
is innate and original in us. As man is flung upon the world at birth, or
in the natural state, with all his immense possibilities as yet
undeveloped, no creature is so helpless.(1760) It was only by combination
and mutual good offices that men were able to repel the dangers which
surrounded the infancy of the race, and to conquer the forces of nature.
Man is born for social union, which is cemented by concord, kindness, and
love,(1761) and he who shows anger, selfishness, perfidy, or cruelty to
his fellows strikes at the roots of social life. Nor should the spectacle
of universal depravity cause us to hate or despise our kind.(1762) It is
quite true that the mass of men are bad, and always will be bad, with only
rare exceptions. If society is the source of many blessings, it is also a
great corruptor, and the conquest of nature and the development of the
arts have aroused insatiable passions which have darkened the eye of
reason.(1763) Yet this crowd of sinners are our brothers, with the germs
of virtue in their grain. They have taken the broad way almost
necessarily, because it is broad. A general may punish individual
soldiers, but you must pardon an army when it deserts the standards. The
truly wise, not knowing whether to laugh or weep, will look kindly on the
erring masses, as sick men who need a physician.(1764) And beside the few
truly wise, who can cast the first stone? We are all more or less bad, we
have all gone astray.(1765) And yet we constantly show the utmost severity
to the faults of others, while we forget or ignore our own.(1766) Even as
God is long-suffering to transgressors, and sends His rain upon the evil
and good alike, so should we be merciful in judgment and lavish in
beneficence.(1767) The spectacle of universal greed and selfishness and
ingratitude should not harden us against our fellows, but rather make us
turn our eyes to our own faults.(1768) Sometimes, indeed, the note of
humility is absent, and Seneca is the serene _sapiens contra mundum_, or
the proud Roman gentleman who will not demean himself to resent or even
notice the insults or injuries of the spiteful crowd.(1769) They will pass
him by as the licensed jests of the slaves on the Saturnalia. He reminds
himself that it is the lower air which is turbid with storm and thunder;
the ether which spreads around the stars is never vexed and darkened by
the tempest.(1770) This is one of the recurring contrasts in Seneca
between the moral tone of the old world and that of the great movement
which was setting in. But the new prevails in the end. The conception of
God as cold reason or impersonal law or fate gives way to the thought of a
God who guides by His providence, who embraces all by His love, whose
goodness is as boundless as His power, who is best worshipped by the
imitation of His goodness.(1771) As the vision grows, the pride of the
invulnerable _sapiens_, who might make himself the equal or more than the
equal of God,(1772) shrinks and is abased. We are all more or less bad,
and we should be gentle to one another.(1773) Do we complain of coldness
and ingratitude? Let us think how many a kindness done to us in early
days, the tenderness of a nurse, a friend’s wise counsel or help in
critical times, we have carelessly let slip from memory.(1774) The faults
which irritate us in another are often lurking in ourselves. Forgive if
you wish for forgiveness; conquer evil with good; do good even to those
who have wrought you evil.(1775) Let us copy the serene example of those
Eternal Powers who constantly load with their benefits even those who
doubt of their existence, and bear with unruffled kindness the errors of
frail souls that stumble by the way.

And as we shall not be harsh to those of our own external rank, so shall
we soften the lot of those whom fortune has condemned to slavery. Even the
slave is admitted to that great city of gods and men, which has no
frontiers, which embraces all races and ranks, where all ranks should be
levelled by the consciousness of a common Divine descent and a universal
brotherhood of men.(1776) The conquests of Macedon and Rome, overthrowing
all old-world national barriers, had prepared the way for the greatest and
most fruitful triumph of ancient philosophy. And the Stoic school has the
glory of anticipating the diviner dream, yet far from realised, of a human
brotherhood under the light from the Cross. Seneca has never risen higher,
or swept farther into the future than in his treatment of slavery. He is
far in advance of many a bishop or abbot or Christian baron of the middle
age. Can a slave confer a benefit? he asks.(1777) Is his service, however
lavish, not merely a duty to his lord, which, as it springs from
constraint, is undeserving of gratitude? Seneca repudiates the base
suggestion with genuine warmth. On the same principle a subject cannot
confer a benefit on his monarch, a simple soldier on his general. There is
a limit beyond which power cannot command obedience. There is a line
between cringing compliance and generous self-sacrifice. And the slave has
often passed that limit. He has often borne wounds and death to save his
master’s life in battle. He has often, in the years of the terror, endured
the last extremity of torture, rather than betray his secrets.(1778) The
body of the slave is his master’s; his mind is his own.(1779) It cannot be
bought and sold. And in his inner soul, the slave is his master’s equal.
He is capable of equal virtue and equal culture; nay, in both he may be
his master’s superior. He can confer a benefit if he can suffer injury in
the outrages which cruelty and lust inflict upon him. When he confers a
benefit, he confers it as man upon man, as an equal in the great family
whose Father is God.

Seneca gives a lurid picture of the corruption of women in the general
licence of his age.(1780) Yet he has a lofty ideal of what women might
become. Like other Stoic preachers, it was his good fortune to be
surrounded by good women from his infancy. He remembers the tenderness of
his aunt, in whose arms he first entered Rome as a child, who nursed him
through long sickness, and broke through her reserve to help him in his
early career of ambition. Her blameless character escaped even the
petulance of Alexandrian gossip.(1781) His letters to his mother, Helvia,
reveal a matron of the best Roman type—strong, self-denying, proud of her
motherhood, and despising the extravagance and ostentation of her class.
In spite of her father’s limited idea of female culture, she had educated
herself in liberal studies, and found them a refuge in affliction.(1782)
Marcia was of a softer type, and gave way to excessive grief for a lost
child. Yet it is to her that Seneca unfolds most fully his ideal of
feminine character. He will not admit the inferior aptitude of women for
virtue and culture.(1783) Women have the same inner force, the same
capacity for nobleness as men. The husband of Paulina who surrounded him
with affectionate sympathy, and was prepared to die along with him, the
man who had witnessed the stern courage and loving devotion of the wives
of the Stoic martyrs, might well have a lofty ideal of woman’s
character.(1784) But to any true disciple of the Porch that ideal had a
surer ground than any personal experience, however happy. The creed which
Seneca held was at once a levelling and an elevating creed. It found the
only nobility or claim to rank in higher capacity for virtue.(1785) It
embraced in the arms of its equal charity all human souls, bond or free,
male or female, however they might be graded by convention or accident,
who have a divine parentage, and may, if they will, have a lofty, perhaps
an eternal future.

And now, in taking leave of Seneca, let us forget the fawning exile in
Corsica, the possible lover of Julia or Agrippina, the millionaire
minister of Nero, who was surrounded by a luxury and state which moved the
envy of the tyrant.(1786) Rather let us think of the ascetic from his
early youth, who, raised by his talents to the highest place, had to
reconcile an impossible ideal with the sordid or terrible realities of
that rank which was at once a “pinnacle and a precipice.”(1787) He was
continually torn by the contrast between the ideal of a lofty Stoic creed
and the facts of human life around him, between his own spiritual cravings
and the temptations or the necessities of the opportunist statesman. He
was imbued with principles of life which could be fully realised only in
some Platonic Utopia; he had to deal with men as they were in the reign of
Nero, as they are painted by Tacitus and Petronius. If he failed in the
impossible task of such a reconciliation, let us do him the justice of
recognising that he kept his vision clear, and that he has expounded a
gospel of the higher life, which, with all its limitations from
temperament or tradition, will be true for our remotest posterity, that he
had a vision of the City of God.(1788) He was not personally perhaps so
pure and clear a soul as Plutarch or Aristides or Dion Chrysostom. But he
had utterly cast off that heathen anthropomorphism which crossed and
disturbed their highest visions of the Divine.(1789) Seneca is far more
modern and advanced than even the greatest of the Neo-Platonic school,
just because he saw that the old theology was hopelessly effete. He could
never have joined in the last struggle of philosophic paganism with the
Church. And so the Church almost claimed him as her son, while it never
dreamt of an affinity with Plutarch or Plotinus.

Indeed, there needed only the change of some phrases to reconcile the
teaching of Seneca with that of the great ascetic Christian doctors. Many
of the headings of the _Imitation_ might be attached to paragraphs of
Seneca—“of bearing with the faults of others”; “of inordinate affections”;
“of the love of solitude and silence”; “of meditation on death”; “of
humble submission”; “that to despise the world and serve God is sweet”;
“of the acknowledgment of our own infirmities, and the remembrance of
God’s benefits”; “of the contempt of temporal honour and vain secular
knowledge”; “of the day of eternity and this life’s straitness.” In truth,
the great spirits of all ages who have had a genius for religion, after
due allowance for difference of association and difference of phrase, are
strangely akin and harmonious. And Seneca had one great superiority over
other equally religious souls of his time, which enables him to approach
mediaeval and modern religious thought—he had broken absolutely with
paganism. He started with belief in the God of the Stoic creed; he never
mentions the Stoic theology which attempted to reconcile Him with the gods
of the Pantheon. In spite of all his rhetoric, he tries to see the facts
of human life and the relation of the human spirit to the Divine in the
light of reason, with no intervening veil of legend. God is to Seneca the
great Reality, however halting human speech may describe Him, as Fate, or
Law, or Eternal Reason, or watchful loving Providence. God is within us,
in whatever mysterious way, inspiring good resolves, giving strength in
temptation, with all-seeing eye watching the issue of the struggle. God is
without us, loading us with kindness even when we offend, chastising us in
mercy, the goal of all speculation, He from whom we proceed, to whom we go
at death. The true worship of Him is not in formal prayer and sacrifice,
but in striving to know and imitate His infinite goodness. We mortal men
in our brief life on earth may be citizens of two commonwealths, one the
Rome or Corinth of our birth, the other that great city of gods and men,
in which all are equally united, male and female, bond and free, as
children of a common Father. In this ideal citizenship, in obedience to
the law of the spiritual city, the eternal law which makes for
righteousness, man attains his true freedom and final beatitude in
communion with kindred souls.

Yet, as in mediaeval and puritan religious theory, there is in Seneca a
strange conflict between pessimism and idealism. To the doomed philosophic
statesman of the reign of Nero, the days of man’s life are few and evil.
Life is but a moment in the tract of infinite age, and so darkened by
manifold sins and sorrows that it seems, as it did to Sophocles, a
sinister gift.(1790) On the other hand, its shortness is a matter of no
importance; the shortest life may be full and glad if it be dignified by
effort and resignation and conformity to the great law of the universe.
The wise and pious man, ever conscious of his brief time of probation, may
brighten each passing day into a festival and lengthen it into a life. The
shortness of a life is only an illusion, for long or short have no meaning
when measured by the days of eternity. And the philosopher may unite many
lives in one brief span. He may join himself to a company of sages who add
their years to his, who counsel without bitterness, and praise without
flattery; he may be adopted into a family whose wealth increases the more
it is divided; in him all the ages may be combined in a single life.(1791)
To such a spirit death loses all its terrors. The eternal mystery indeed
can be pierced only by imaginative hope. Death, we may be sure, however,
can only be a change. It may be a passage into calm unconsciousness, as
before our birth, which will release us from all the griefs and tumults of
the life here below. It may, on the other hand, prove to be the morning of
an eternal day, the entrance to a radiant and untroubled world of infinite
possibilities. In any case, the spirit which has trained itself in
obedience to eternal law, will not tremble at a fate which is surely
reserved for the universe, by fire or flood or other cataclysmal change.
The future in store for the soul is either to dwell for ever among things
divine, or to sink back again into the general soul, and God shall be all
in all.



                                CHAPTER II


                        THE PHILOSOPHIC MISSIONARY


The gospel of philosophy expounded by Seneca was rather an esoteric or
aristocratic creed. With all his liberal sentiment, his cosmopolitanism,
his clear conception of human equality and brotherhood, Seneca always
remains the director of souls like his own, enervated by wealth, tortured
with the ennui of jaded sensibility, haunted by the terror of the
Caesars.(1792) Indeed Stoicism was always rather a creed for the
cultivated upper class than for the crowd. In its prime, its apparatus of
logical formulae, its elaborate physics and metaphysics, its essentially
intellectual solution of the problems both of the universe and human life,
necessarily disabled it from ever developing into a popular system. And in
the later days of the Republic, theory became more important than
practice, and logic passed into casuistry.(1793) But in the first century,
Stoicism came to be much more a religion than a philosophy, or even a
theology. Its main business, as conceived by men like Seneca, is to save
souls from the universal shipwreck of character(1794) caused by the
capricious excesses of luxury, the idolatry of the world and the flesh,
which sprang from a riotous pride in the material advantages of imperial
power, without a sobering sense of duty or a moral ideal. But, in the
nature of things, this wreck of character was most glaringly seen among
the men who were in close contact with the half insane masters of the
world in the first century, and who possessed the resources to exhaust the
possibilities of pleasure or the capacities of the senses to enjoy. It is
to people of this class, who still retained some lingering instincts of
goodness, weary with indulgence, bewildered and tortured by the conflict
of the lower nature with the weak, but still disturbing, protests of the
higher, that Seneca addresses his counsels.

But what of the great masses lying outside the circle of cultivated and
exhausted self-indulgence, that plebeian world of which we have seen the
picture in their municipalities and colleges? It is clear from the records
of their daily life, their ambitions, their tasks and amusements, that,
although perhaps not generally tainted with such deep corruption as the
nobles of the Neronian age, their moral tone and aspirations hardly
correspond to the material splendour of the Empire. Even apart from the
glimpses of low life in Petronius, Martial, and Apuleius, apart from the
revelations of Pompeii, and the ghastly traditions which haunt the ruins
of countless theatres and amphitheatres, the warnings of preachers of that
age, such as Dion Chrysostom, and the reflections of the infinitely
charitable M. Aurelius, leave no very favourable impression of the moral
condition of the masses.(1795) How could it be otherwise? The old paganism
of Rome did indeed foster certain ancestral pieties which were the salt of
the Roman character. But it unfortunately also gave its sanction to scenes
of lust and cruelty which went far to counteract in later times any good
it did. Nor had the old religion any means for edification and the culture
of character. It had no organisation for the care and direction of souls
in moral doubt and peril. If its oracles might, from a few old-world
examples, seem to supply such a spiritual want, the appearance is delusive
even according to pagan testimony. Poets and moralists alike thundered
against the shameless impiety which often begged the sanction of a
prophetic shrine for some meditated sin,(1796) and the charge has been
confirmed by the resurrection of these old profanities from the ruins of
Dodona.(1797) But even without direct testimony, we might fairly conclude
that the Antonine Age was, by reason of its material development, in
special need of spiritual teaching and evangelism. The whole stress of
public and private effort was towards the provision of comfort or
splendour or amusement for the masses. And, within the range of its
ambition, it succeeded marvellously. Nor should an impartial inquirer
refuse to admit that such an immense energy has its good moral side. The
rich were rigorously taught their duty to society, and they improved upon
the lesson. The masses responded to their generous public spirit with
gratitude and affection; and the universal kindliness and fraternity
diffused through all ranks on days of high religious festival or civic
interest, afforded a very wholesome and gratifying spectacle.(1798) There
was an undoubted softening of the Roman character. And the labours of the
great Stoic lawyers were giving expression to cultivated moral feeling, in
a more liberal recognition of the natural rights of the weak and
oppressed, of women and of slaves. Yet a society may be humane and kindly
while it is also worldly and materialised. To us at least, the forces of
the Antonine age seem to have expended themselves chiefly on the popular
pleasures and external adornments of life, or a revival, often in the
grossest and most absurd forms, as we shall see in a later chapter, of the
superstitions of the past. With all its humanitarian sentiment and all its
material glories, the Roman world had entered on that fatal incline,
which, by an unperceived yet irresistible movement, led on to the
sterilisation of the higher intellect, and the petrifaction of Roman
society which ended in the catastrophe of the fifth century.

The triumphs and splendour of corporate life in the age of the Antonines
are certainly a dazzling spectacle. Yet to the student who is more
occupied with the painful moral education of the race, the interest lies
in a different direction. It was a worldly age, but it was also an age
ennobled by a powerful protest against worldliness. And in this chapter we
shall study a great movement, which, under the name of philosophy or
culture, called the masses of men to a higher standard of life. This
movement, like all others of the same kind, had its impostors who
disgraced it. Yet the man who has pursued them with such mordant ridicule
and pitiless scorn, the man who was utterly sceptical as to the value of
all philosophic effort, in the last resort approaches very near to the
view of human life which was preached by the men whom he derides.(1799)
Lucian belonged to no philosophic school; he would himself have repudiated
adhesion to any system. The advice of Teiresias to Menippus, when he
sought him in the shades, would certainly have been Lucian’s to any young
disciple who consulted him. Have done with all these verbal subtleties and
chimeras; swear allegiance to no sect; make the best of the present; and
take things generally with a smile.(1800) Yet who can read the _Dialogues
of the Dead_ without feeling that there is a deeper and more serious vein
in Lucian than he would confess? Although he poured his contempt upon the
Cynic street preachers, although in the _Auction of Lives_ the Cynic’s
sells for the most paltry price, the Cynic alone is allowed to carry with
him across the river of death his characteristic qualities, his boldness
and freedom of speech, his bitter laughter at the follies and illusions of
mankind.(1801) There are many indications in these dialogues that, if
Lucian had turned Cynic preacher, he would have waged the same war on the
pleasures and illusory ambitions of man, he would have outdone the Cynics
in brutal frankness of exposure and denunciation, as he would have
surpassed them in rhetorical and imaginative charm of style.(1802) He has
a vivid and awful conception of Death, the great leveller, and sees all
earthly wealth and glory in the grey light of the land where all things
are forgotten. Rank and riches, beauty and strength, the lust of the eye
and the pride of life, are all left behind on the borders of the realm of
“sapless heads.”(1803) If Lucian has any gospel it is that the kingdom of
heaven belongs to the poor. He is as ready as some of the Christian
Fathers to condemn the rich eternally.(1804) And therefore we are not
surprised that Lucian has little eye for the splendour of his age, unless
indeed in the phrase, “Great cities die as well as men.”(1805) He seems to
have little appreciation for its real services to humanity. Its vain,
pretentious philosophy, its selfishness of wealth, its vices hidden under
the guise of virtue, drew down his hatred and scorn. Yet one cannot help
feeling, in reading some of Lucian’s pieces, that, man of genius as he
was, a man of no age, or a man of all ages, he is looking at human life
from far above, with no limitations of time, and passing a judgment which
may be repeated in the thirtieth century.(1806)

This lofty or airy detachment in regarding the toils and ambitions of men
is perhaps best seen in the _Charon_. In this piece Lucian shows us the
ideal spectator taking an outlook over the scene of human life. The
ferryman of the dead, who has heard so many laments from his passengers
for the joys they have lost, wishes to have a glance at this upper world
which it seems so hard to leave behind. He joins the company of Hermes,
and, by an old-world miracle, they gain an observatory on high-piled
Thessalian mountains from which to watch for a while the comedy or the
tragedy of human life.(1807) A magic verse of Homer gives the spectral
visitor the power to observe the scene so far below. And what a sight it
is! It is a confused spectacle of various effort and passion—men sailing,
fighting, ploughing, lending at usury, suing in the law-courts. It is also
a human swarm stinging and being stung. And over all the scene flits a
confused cloud of hopes and fears and follies and hatreds, the love of
pleasure and the love of gold. Higher still, you may see the eternal Fates
spinning for each one of the motley crowd his several thread. One man,
raised high for the moment, has a resounding fall; another, mounting but a
little way, sinks unperceived. And amidst all the tumult and excitement of
their hopes and alarms, death kindly snatches them away by one of his many
messengers. Yet they weep and lament, forgetting that they have been mere
sojourners for a brief space upon earth and are only losing the pleasures
of a dream.(1808) To Charon the bubbles in a fountain are the truest image
of their phantom life—some forming and bursting speedily, others swelling
out for a little longer and more showy life, but all bursting at the last.
Charon is so moved by the pathos of it all, that, from his mountain peaks,
he would fain preach a sermon to the silly crowd and warn them of the doom
which is in store for all. But the wiser or more cynical Hermes tells him
that all except a few have their ears more closely stopped than the crew
of Odysseus when they passed the Siren isles.

This view of human life, half-contemptuous, half-pathetic, which the great
iconoclast of all the dreams of religion or philosophy in his time has
sketched with his own graphic power, was the view of the very philosophy
which he derided. Philosophy had a second time turned from heaven to
earth. The effort to solve the riddle of the universe by a single formula,
or by the fine-drawn subtleties of dialectic, has been abandoned. In
Lucian’s _Auction of Lives_, in which the merits of the various schools
are balanced and estimated in terms of cash, it is significant that only a
slight and perfunctory reference is made to the great cosmic or
metaphysical theories of Elea or Ionia, to the Pythagorean doctrine of
numbers, to the Ephesian doctrine of the eternal flow, or the ideal system
of Plato.(1809) We have seen that, although Seneca has a certain interest
in the logic and physics of the older Stoicism, he makes all purely
speculative inquiry ancillary to moral progress. The same diversion of
interest from the field of speculation to that of conduct is seen even
more decidedly in Epictetus and M. Aurelius.(1810) The philosophic Emperor
had, of course, studied the great cosmic systems of Heraclitus and
Epicurus, Plato and Aristotle.(1811) They furnish a scenery or background,
sometimes, especially that of Heraclitus, a dimly-seen foundation, for his
theory of conduct. But, in spite of his sad, weary view of the pettiness
and sameness of the brief space of consciousness between “the two
eternities,” the whole thought of M. Aurelius is concentrated on the
manner in which that brief moment may be worthily spent. So, Epictetus
asks, What do I care whether all things are composed of atoms or similar
parts or of fire or earth? Is it not enough to know the nature of good and
evil?(1812) Just as in the days of Socrates the whole stress of philosophy
is directed towards the discovery of a rule of life, a source of moral
clearness and guidance, with a view to the formation or reformation of
character.

Seneca and Epictetus and Lucian and M. Aurelius all alike give a gloomy
picture of the moral condition of the masses. And we may well believe
that, in spite of the splendour of that age, in spite of a great moral
movement which was stirring among the leaders of society, the mass of men,
as in every age, had little taste for idealist views of life. Yet Seneca,
notwithstanding his pessimism, speaks of the multitudes who were
stretching out their hands for moral help. There must have been some
demand for that popular moral teaching which is a striking feature of the
time. Men might jeer at the philosophic missionary, but they seem to have
crowded to listen to him—on the temple steps of Rome or Ephesus, in the
great squares of Alexandria,(1813) or in the colonnades at Olympia, or
under the half-ruined walls of an old Milesian colony on the Euxine.(1814)
The rush of the porters and smiths and carpenters to join the ranks of the
Cynic friars, which moved the scorn of Lucian,(1815) must have
corresponded to some general demand, even if the motive of the vagrant
missionary was not of the purest kind. There must have been many an
example of moral earnestness like that of Hermotimus, who had laboured
hard for twenty years to find the true way of life, and had only obtained
a distant glimpse of the celestial city.(1816) After Dion’s conversion, as
we may fairly call it, he deems it a sacred duty to call men to the way of
wisdom by persuasion or reproach, and to appeal even to the turbulent
masses.(1817) We shall see how well he fulfilled the duty. For nearly a
century at Athens, the gentle Demonax embodied the ideal which his friend
Epictetus had formed of the Cynic father of all men in God; and his
immense ascendency testifies at least to a widespread respect and
admiration for such teaching and example.(1818) It is not necessary to
suppose that the people who thought it an honour if Demonax invited
himself to their tables, the magistrates who rose up to do him reverence
as he passed, or the riotous assembly which was awed into stillness by his
mere presence, were people generally who had caught his moral
enthusiasm.(1819) They were at the very time eager to have gladiatorial
shows established under the shadow of the Acropolis. But it is something
when men begin to revere a character inspired by moral forces of which
they have only a dim conjecture. And amid all the material splendour and
apparent content of the Antonine age, there were signs that men were
becoming conscious of a great spiritual need, which they often tried to
satisfy by accumulated superstitions. The ancient routine was broken up;
the forms of ancestral piety no longer satisfied even the vulgar; the
forms of ancient scholastic speculation had become stale and frigid to the
cultivated; the old philosophies had left men bewildered. Henceforth,
philosophy must make itself a religion; the philosopher must become an
“ambassador of God.”

“There is no philosophy without virtue; there is no virtue without
philosophy,” said Seneca,(1820) and herein he expressed truly the most
earnest thought of his own age and the next. Lucian, in the dialogue which
is perhaps his most powerful exposure of the failure of philosophy, bears
testimony to the boundless expectations which it aroused in its votaries.
Hermotimus, the elderly enthusiast, whom the mocker meets hurrying with
his books to the philosophic school, has been an ardent student for twenty
years; he has grown pale and withered with eager thought. Yet he admits
that he has only taken a single step on the steep upward road. Few and
faint and weary are they who ever reach the summit.(1821) Yet Hermotimus
is content if, at the close of the efforts of a lifetime, he should, if
but for a moment, breathe the air of the far-off heights and look down on
the human ant-hill below. Such spirits dream of an apotheosis like that
which crowned the hero on Mount Oeta, when the soul shall be purged of its
earthly passions as by fire, and hardly a memory of the illusions of the
past will remain.(1822) Lycinus, his friend, has once himself had a vision
of a celestial city, from which ambition and the greed of gold are
banished, where there is no discord or strife, but the citizens live in a
deep peace of sober virtue. He had once heard from an aged man how any one
might share its citizenship, rich or poor, bond or free, Greek or
barbarian, if only he had the passion for nobleness and were not overcome
by the hardness of the journey. And the sceptic avows that long since he
would have enrolled himself among its citizens, but the city is far off,
and only dimly visible. The paths which are said to lead to it run in the
most various directions, through soft meadows and cool shaded slopes, or
mounting over bare rough crags under a pitiless blaze. And at the entrance
to each avenue there is a clamorous crowd of guides, each vaunting his
peculiar skill, abusing his rivals, and pointing to the one sure access of
which he alone has the secret key. A similar scene, equally illustrative
of the moral ferment of the time, is sketched in another charming
piece.(1823) It is that in which the rustic Pan, with his memories of the
shepherd’s pipe and the peace of Arcadian pastures, describes the strange
turmoil of contending sects which rings around his cave on the edge of the
Acropolis. There, in the Agora below, rival teachers, with dripping brow
and distended veins, are shouting one another down before an admiring
crowd. And the simple old deity, to whom the language of their dialectic
is strange, seems to think that the victory rests with the loudest voice
and the most blatant self-assertion.

The sly ridicule of Lucian, so often crossed by a touch of pathos, is
perhaps the best testimony to the overpowering interest which his age felt
in the philosophy of conduct. And it was no longer the pursuit merely of
an intellectual aristocracy. Common, ignorant folk have caught the passion
for apostleship. Everywhere might be met the familiar figure, with long
cloak and staff and scrip, haranguing in the squares or lanes to
unlettered crowds.(1824) And the preacher is often as unlearned as they,
having left the forge or the carpenter’s bench or the slave prison,(1825)
to proclaim his simple gospel of renunciation, with more or less
sincerity. Lucian makes sport of the quarrels and contradictions of the
schools. And it is true that the old names still marked men off in
different camps, or rather churches. But their quarrels in Lucian and in
Philostratus(1826) seem to be personal, the offspring of very
unphilosophic ambition and jealousy, or greed or petty vanity, rather than
the wholesome and stimulating collision of earnest minds contending for
what they think a great system of truth. The rival Sophists under the
Acropolis were quarrelling for an audience and not for a dogma. Scientific
interest in philosophy was to a great extent dead. For centuries no great
original thinker had arisen to rekindle it. And in the purely moral sphere
to which philosophy was now confined, the natural tendency of the
different schools, not even excluding the Epicurean, was to assimilation
and eclecticism.(1827) They were all impartially endowed at the university
of Athens, and a youth of enthusiasm would attend the professors of all
the schools. Apollonius, although he finally adopted the Pythagorean
discipline, pursued his studies at Aegae under Platonists and
Stoics,(1828) and even under Epicureans. Seneca came under Pythagorean
influences in his youth, and he constantly rounds off a letter to Lucilius
with a quotation from Epicurus. Among the tutors of M. Aurelius were the
Peripatetic Claudius Severus, and Sextus the Platonist of Chaeronea.(1829)
Hence, although a man in the second century might be labelled Platonist or
Stoic, Cynic or Pythagorean, it would often be difficult from his moral
teaching to discover his philosophic ancestry and affinities. And, just as
in modern Christendom, although sectarian landmarks and designations are
kept up, the popular preaching of nearly all the sects tends to a certain
uniformity of emphasis on a limited number of momentous moral truths, so
the preaching of pagan philosophy dwells, almost to weariness, on the same
eternal principles of true gain and loss, of the illusions of passion, of
freedom through renunciation.

The moral teaching or preaching of the Antonine age naturally adapted its
tone to the tastes of its audience; there was the discourse of the
lecture-room, and the ruder and more boisterous appeal to the crowd. Both
passed under the name of philosophy, and both often degraded that great
name by an affectation and insincerity which cast discredit on a great and
beneficent movement of reform. The philosophic lecturer who has a serious
moral purpose is in theory distinguished from the rhetorical sophist, who
trades in startling effects, who rejoices in displaying his skill on any
subject however trivial or grotesque, who will expatiate on the gnat or
the parrot, or debate the propriety of a Vestal’s marriage.(1830) The
exercises of the rhetorical school had gone on for five hundred years,
and, with momentous effects on Roman culture, they were destined to
continue with little change till the Goths were masters of Rome.(1831) The
greed, the frivolity, and the overweening vanity of these intellectual
acrobats are a commonplace of literary history.(1832) The sophist and the
lecturing philosopher were theoretically distinct. But unfortunately a
mass of evidence goes to show that in many cases the lecturing philosopher
became a mere showy rhetorician. A similar desecration of a serious
mission is not unknown in modern times. The fault is often not with the
preacher, but with his audience. If people come not to be made better, but
to be amused, to have their ears soothed by flowing declamation, to have a
shallow intellectual curiosity titillated by cheap displays of verbal
subtlety or novelty, the unfortunate preacher will often descend to the
level of his audience. And in that ancient world, according to the
testimony of Seneca, Musonius, Plutarch, and Epictetus, the philosophic
preacher too often was tempted to win a vulgar applause by vulgar
rhetorical arts.(1833) He was sometimes a man of no very serious purpose,
with little real science or originality. He had been trained in the school
of rhetoric, which abhorred all serious thought, and deified the master of
luscious periods and ingenious turns of phrase. He was, besides, too often
a mere vain and mercenary adventurer, trading on an attenuated stock of
philosophic tradition, and a boundless command of a versatile rhetoric,
cultivating intellectual insolence as a fine art, yet with a servile
craving for the applause of his audience.(1834) Many a scene in the now
faded history of their failures or futile triumphs comes down to us from
Plutarch and Epictetus and Philostratus.(1835) Sometimes the gaps upon the
benches, the listless, inattentive air, the slow feeble applause, sent the
vain preacher home with gloomy fears for his popularity. On other days, he
was lifted to the seventh heaven by an enthusiastic genteel mob, who
followed every deft turn of expression with shouts and gestures of
delight, and far-fetched preciosities of approbation. At the close, the
philosophic performer goes about among his admirers to receive their
renewed tribute. “Well, what did you think of me?”—“Quite marvellous, I
swear by all that is dear to me.”—“But how did you like the passage about
Pan and the nymphs?”—“Oh, superlative!” It is thus that a real winner of
souls describes the impostor.(1836) Even estimable teachers did not
disdain to add to the effect of their lectures by carefully polished
eloquence, an exquisite toilet, and a cultivated dignity. Such a courtly
philosopher was Euphrates, the Syrian Stoic, whose acquaintance Pliny had
made during his term of service in the East. Euphrates was stately and
handsome, with flowing hair and beard, and a demeanour which excited
reverence without overawing the hearer.(1837) Irreproachable in his own
life, he condemned sin, but was merciful to the sinner. Pliny, the amiable
man of the world, who had no serious vices to reform, found Euphrates a
charming lecturer, with a subtle and ornate style which was entirely to
his taste. He treats Euphrates as a rhetorician rather than as a
philosopher with a solemn message to deliver. To serious moralists like
Seneca, Musonius, Plutarch, and Epictetus the showy professor of the art
of arts was an offence. With their lofty conception of the task of
practical philosophy, they could only feel contempt or indignation for the
polished exquisite who trimmed or inflated his periods to please the ears
of fashionable audiences. They all condemn such performances in almost
identical terms. The mission of true philosophy is to make men examine
themselves, to excite shame and pain and penitence, to reveal a law of
life and moral freedom which may lead to amendment and peace.(1838) “There
is no good in a bath or in a discourse which does not cleanse.” The true
disciple and the true teacher will be too much absorbed in the gravity of
the business to think of the pleasure of mere style. To make aesthetic
effect the object of such discourses, when the fate of character is at
stake, is to turn the school into a theatre or a music-hall, the
philosopher into a flute-player.(1839)

The volume and unanimity of these criticisms of the rhetorical philosopher
show that such men abounded; but they also show that there must have been
a great mass of serious teachers whom they travestied. It has perhaps been
too little recognised that in the first and second centuries there was a
great propaganda of pagan morality running parallel to the evangelism of
the Church.(1840) The preaching was of very different kinds, according to
the character of the audiences. The preachers, as we have said, belonged
to all the different schools, Stoic or Platonist, Cynic or Pythagorean;
sometimes, like Dion, they owed little academic allegiance at all.
Sometimes the preaching approached to modern conceptions of its
office;(1841) at others, it dealt with subjects and used a style unknown
to our pulpits.(1842) The life of Apollonius of Tyana may be a romance; it
certainly contains many narratives of miracles and wonders which cast a
suspicion upon its historical value. Yet even a romance must have real
facts behind to give it probability, and the preaching, at least, of
Apollonius seems to belong to the world of reality. Apollonius was
probably much nearer to the true ecclesiastic and priest of modern times
than any ancient preacher. He had been trained in all the philosophies; he
had drunk inspiration from the fountain of all spiritual religion, the
East. He was both a mystic and a ritualist. He rejoiced in converse with
the Brahmans, and he occupied himself with the revival or reform of the
ritual in countless Greek and Italian temples.(1843) He had an immense and
curious faith in ancient legend.(1844) The man who could busy himself with
the restoration of the true antique form of an obsolete rite at Eleusis or
Athens or Dodona, also held conceptions of prayer and sacrifice and mystic
communion with God, which might seem irreconcilable with any rigidly
formal worship.(1845) The ritualist was also the preacher of a higher
morality. From the steps of the temples he used to address great audiences
on their conspicuous faults, as Dion did after him. In the parable of the
sparrow who by his twitter called his brethren to a heap of spilt grain,
he taught the people of Ephesus the duty of brotherly helpfulness.(1846)
He found Smyrna torn by factious strife, and he preached a rivalry of
public spirit.(1847) Even at Olympia, before a crowd intent on the strife
of racers and boxers and athletes, he discoursed on wisdom and courage and
temperance.(1848) At Rome, under the tyranny of Nero, he moved from temple
to temple exciting a religious revival by his preaching.(1849) One text,
perhaps, contains a truth for all generations—“My prayer before the altars
is—Grant me, ye Gods, what is my due.”(1850) What effect on the masses
such preaching had we cannot tell—who can tell at any time? But there are
well-attested cases of individual conversion under pagan preaching.
Polemon, the son of a rich Athenian, was a very dissolute youth who
squandered his wealth on low pleasure. Once, coming from some revel, he
burst with his companions into the lecture room of Xenocrates, who
happened to be discoursing on temperance. Xenocrates calmly continued his
remarks. The tipsy youth listened for a while, then flung away his
garland, and with it also his evil ways;(1851) he became the head of the
Academy. A similar change was wrought by the teaching of Apollonius on a
debauched youth of Corcyra, which we need not doubt although it was
accompanied by a miracle.(1852)

Musonius, another preacher, was a younger contemporary of Apollonius. His
fame as an apostle of the philosophic life aroused the suspicions of Nero,
and he was exiled to Gyarus.(1853) The suspicion may have been confirmed
by his intimacy with Rubellius Plautus and great Stoics like
Thrasea.(1854) He met with gentler treatment under the Flavians,(1855) and
he probably saw the reign of Trajan. He is not known to have written
anything. The fragments of his teaching in Stobaeus are probably drawn
from notes of his lectures, as the teaching of Epictetus has been
preserved by Arrian. Musonius is not a speculative philosopher but a
physician of souls. Philosophy is the way to goodness: goodness is the
goal of philosophy. And philosophy is not the monopoly of an intellectual
caste; it is a matter of precept and practice, not of theory. The true
moral teacher, working on the germ of virtue which there is in each human
soul, thinking only of reforming his disciples, and nothing of applause,
may win them to his ideal. Musonius fortified the austere Stoic and Cynic
precepts by the ascetic discipline of the Pythagorean school. He taught
the forgiveness of injuries and gentleness to wrongdoers. He is one of the
few in the ancient world who have a glimpse of a remote ideal of sexual
virtue. While his ascetic principles do not lead him to look askance at
honourable marriage, he denounces all unchastity, and demands equal virtue
in man and woman.(1856) He was, according to Epictetus, a searching
preacher. He spoke to the conscience, so that each hearer felt as if his
own faults were set before his eyes. His name will go down for ever in the
pages of Tacitus. When the troops of Vespasian and Vitellius were fighting
in the lanes and gardens under the walls of Rome, Musonius joined the
envoys of the Senate, and at the risk of his life harangued the infuriated
soldiery on the blessings of peace and the horrors of civil war.(1857)
Many of the moral treatises of Plutarch are probably redacted from notes
of lectures delivered in Rome. As we shall see in a later chapter,
Plutarch is rather a moral director and theologian than a preacher. But
his wide knowledge of human nature, his keen analysis of character and
motive and human weakness, his spiritual discernment in discovering
remedies and sources of strength, above all his lofty moral ideal, would
have made him a powerful preacher in any age of the world. But it is in
the discourses of Maximus of Tyre that we have perhaps the nearest
approach in antiquity to our conception of the sermon. Probably if any of
us were asked to explain that conception, he might say that a sermon was
founded on some definite idea of the relation of man to the Infinite
Spirit, that its object was, on the one hand, to bring man into communion
with God, and, on the other, to teach him his duty to his fellowmen and to
himself. The discourses of Maximus have all these characteristics. Maximus
of Tyre is little known now, and although to the historian of thought and
moral life he is attractive, he has not the strength of a great
personality. Yet, along with Plutarch, he shows us paganism at its best,
striving to reform itself, groping after new sources of spiritual
strength, trying to wed new and purer spiritual ideals to the worn-out
mythology of the past. Maximus is very much in the position of one of our
divines who finds himself bound in duty to edify the spiritual life of his
flock, without disowning the religious traditions of the past, and without
refusing to accept the ever-broadening revelation of God. Some of his
discourses may seem to us frigid and scholastic, with a literary rather
than a religious interest. But in others, there is a combination of a
systematic theology with a mystic fervour and a moral purpose, which seems
hardly to belong to the ancient world.(1858)

In his oration to the Alexandrians,(1859) Dion Chrysostom speaks with
unwonted asperity of the Cynics, haranguing with coarse buffoonery a
gaping crowd in the squares and alleys or in the porches of the temples.
He thinks that these men are doing no good, but rather bringing the name
of philosophy into contempt. It is hardly necessary to remind the reader
that this view of the Cynic profession was very general in that age. The
vulgar Cynic, with his unkempt beard, his mantle, wallet, and staff, his
filth and rudeness and obscenity, insulting every passer-by with insolent
questions, exchanging coarse jests and jeers with the vagabond mob which
gathers at his approach, is the commonest figure in Greek and Roman
literature of the time. The “mendicant monks” of paganism have been
painted with all the vices of the dog and ape by Martial and Petronius and
Seneca, by Dion and Athenaeus and Alciphron and Epictetus, above all by
Lucian.(1860) The great foe of all extravagance or enthusiasm in religion
and philosophy fastened on the later followers of Diogenes with peculiar
bitterness. His hostility, we may surmise, is directed not against their
tenets, but their want of decent culture. In the _Banquet_, the Cynic
Alcidamas is drawn with a coarse vigour of touch which is intended to
match the coarseness of the subject. He bursts into the dinner-party of
Aristaenetus uninvited, to the terror of the company, ranges about the
room, snatching tit-bits from the dishes as they pass him, and finally
sinks down upon the floor beside a mighty flagon of strong wine. He drinks
to the bride in no elegant fashion, challenges the jester to fight, and,
when the lamp is extinguished in the obscene tumult, is finally found
trying to embrace the dancing girl.(1861) But Lucian’s bitterest attack on
the class is perhaps delivered in the dialogue entitled the _Fugitives_.
Philosophy, in the form of a woman bathed in tears, appears before the
Father of the gods. That kindly potentate is affected by her grief, and
inquires the cause of it. Philosophy, who had been commissioned by Zeus to
bring healing and peace to human life in all its confusion and ignorance
and violence, then unfolds the tale of her wrongs.(1862) It is a picture
of vulgar pretence, by which her fair name has been besmirched and
disgraced. Observing the love and reverence which her true servants may
win from men, a base crew of ignorant fellows, trained in the lowest
handicrafts, have forsaken them, to assume the garb and name of her real
followers.(1863) It is a pleasant change from a life of toil and danger
and hardship, to an easy vagabond existence, nor is the transformation
difficult. A cloak and a club, a loud voice and a brazen face and a
copious vocabulary of scurrilous abuse, these are all the necessary
equipment. Impudent assurance has its usual success with the crowd, who
are unable to see through the disguise. If any one attempts to challenge
the claims of the impostors, he is answered with a blow or a taunt. And
thus by terrorism or deceit, they usurp the respect which is due to the
real philosopher, and manage to live in plenty and even in luxury. Nor is
this the worst. For these pretended ascetics, who profess to scorn
delights, and to endure all manner of hardness, are really coarse common
sensualists, who go about corrupting and seducing. Many of them heap up a
fortune in their wanderings, and then bid farewell to scrip and cloak and
the tub of Diogenes. And so plain unlearned men come to regard the very
name of philosophy with hatred and contempt, and all her work is undone,
like another Penelope’s web.(1864)

Even the stoutest defender of the Cynic movement, as a whole, feels
constrained to admit that the charges against the Cynics were, perhaps, in
many cases, true.(1865) It was a movement peculiarly attractive to the
lawless, restless hangers-on of society, who found in an open defiance of
social restraints and a wandering existence, a field of licence and a
chance of gain. Some of the great Cynics, indeed, were interested in
physical speculation, and were widely cultivated men.(1866) But the Cynic
movement, as a whole, rested on no scientific tradition, and the most
serious and effective preacher of its doctrine needed only a firm hold of
a few simple truths, with a command of seizing and incisive phrase.(1867)
There was no professional barrier to exclude the ignorant and corrupt
pretender. For the Cynics, from the very nature of their mission and their
aims, never formed an organised school or society. Each went his own way
in complete detachment. To the superficial observer, the only common bond
and characteristic were the purely external marks of dress and rough
bearing and ostentatious contempt for the most ordinary comforts and
decencies of life, which could easily be assumed by the knave and the
libertine. Hence, as time went on, although good Cynics, like Demonax or
Demetrius, acquired a deserved influence, yet the greed, licentiousness,
and brutal violence of others brought great discredit on the name.
Epictetus, who had a lofty ideal of the Cynic preacher as an ambassador of
God, lays bare the coarse vices of the pretender to that high service with
an unsparing hand.(1868) It is evident, however, that certain of the
gravest imputations, which had been developed by prurient imaginations,
were, by an unwholesome tradition, levelled at even the greatest and best
of the Cynics.(1869) And S. Augustine, in referring to these foul charges,
affirms, with an honourable candour, that they could not be truly made
against the Cynics of his own day.(1870) Moreover, the Roman nature never
took very kindly, even in some of the cultivated circles, to anything
under the name of philosophy.(1871) Even M. Aurelius could not altogether
disarm the suspicion with which it was regarded. And the revolt of Avidius
Cassius was to some extent an outburst of impatience with the doctrinaire
spirit of the _philosopha anicula_, as Cassius dared to call him.(1872)
And there were many things in the Cynic movement which specially tended to
provoke the ordinary man. It threw down the gauntlet to a materialised
age. It preached absolute renunciation of all social ties and duties, and
of all the pleasures and refinements with which that society had
surrounded itself. In an age which, even on its tomb-stones, bears the
stamp of a starched conventionality and adherence to use and wont, the
Cynic was a defiant rebel against all social restraints. In an age which
was becoming ever more superstitious, he did not shrink from attacking the
faith in the gods, the efficacy of the mysteries, the credit of the most
ancient oracles.(1873) And, finally, while philosophy in general after
Domitian found support and patronage at the imperial court, no emperor
gave his countenance to the Cynics till the Syrian dynasty of the third
century.(1874) We have here surely a sufficient accumulation of reasons
for hesitating to accept the wholesale condemnation of a class of men who,
instead of disarming opposition, rather plumed themselves on provoking it.

A good example of the merciless, and not altogether scrupulous fashion in
which the Cynics were handled by contemporaries is to be found in Lucian’s
piece on the death of Peregrinus.(1875) Peregrinus was a native of Parium
on the Propontis, and a man of fortune. He loved to call himself Proteus,
and, indeed, the strange vicissitudes of his career justified his
assumption of the name.(1876) On reaching manhood, he wandered from land
to land, and in Palestine he joined a Christian brotherhood, in which he
rose to a commanding influence, which drew down the suspicion of the
government, and he was thrown for a time into prison.(1877) His
persecution called forth, as Lucian ungrudgingly admits, all the fearless
love and charity of the worshippers of “the crucified Sophist.” Released
by a philosophic governor of the type of Gallio, he gave up the remnant of
his paternal property, amounting to fifteen talents, to his native
city.(1878) Peregrinus had already assumed the peculiar dress of the
Cynic, and set out on fresh wanderings, having, from some difference on a
point of ritual, severed his connection with the Christian brotherhood. He
then came under the influence of an Egyptian ascetic and of the mysticism
of the East. In a visit to Italy he acquired celebrity by his fierce
invectives, which did not spare even the blameless and gentle Antoninus
Pius.(1879) The Emperor himself paid little heed to him, but the prefect
of the city thought that Rome could well spare such a philosopher, and
Peregrinus was obliged to return to the East. Henceforth Greece, and
especially Elis, was the scene of his labours. He abated none of his
energy, dealing out his denunciations impartially, and not sparing even
the philosophic millionaire Herodes Atticus for providing the visitors to
Olympia with the luxury of pure water.(1880) He even tried to stir up
Greece to armed revolt. His fame and power among the Cynic brotherhood
were at their height, or perhaps beginning to wane, when he conceived the
idea of electrifying the world and giving a demonstration of the triumph
of philosophy even over death by a self-immolation at Olympia. There,
before the eyes of men gathered from all quarters, like Heracles, the
great Cynic exemplar, on Mount Oeta, he resolved to depart in the blaze
and glory of the funeral pyre kindled by his own hand. And perhaps some
rare lettered Cynic brother set afloat a Sibylline verse, such as abounded
in those days, bidding men prepare to revere another hero, soon to be
enthroned along with Heracles in the broad Olympus.

Such a career, ambiguous, perhaps, on the most charitable construction,
attracted the eye of the man who sincerely believed, under all his
persiflage, that both the religion and the philosophy of the past were
worn out, and were now being merely exploited by coarse adventurers for
gain or ambition. Moreover, the Philoctetes of the Cynic Heracles, his
pupil Theagenes, was attracting great audiences in the Gymnasium of Trajan
at Rome.(1881) The self-martyrdom of their chief had given a fresh
inspiration to the Cynic brotherhood. Who knows but a legend may gather
round his name, altars may be raised to him, and the ancient glamour of
the “flashing Olympus” will lend itself to glorify the uncultivated crew
who profane the name of philosophy, and are an offence to culture?

There is no mistaking the cold merciless spirit in which Lucian, by his
own avowal, addressed himself to the task of exposing what he genuinely
believed to be a feigned enthusiasm. Even the lover of Lucian receives a
kind of shock from the occasional tone of almost cruel hardness in his
treatment of the Cynic apostle. When Lucian’s narrative of the youthful
enormities of Peregrinus is analysed, it is perceived that the accuser is
anonymous, and that other names and particulars are carefully
suppressed.(1882) For the gravest charges of youthful depravity no proof
or authority is given; they seem to be the offspring of that prurient
gossip which can assail any character. They are the charges which were
freely bandied about in the age of Pericles and M. Aurelius, in the age of
Erasmus and the age of Milton. There must have been something at least
remarkable and fascinating, although marred by extravagance,(1883) about
the man who became a great leader and prophet among the Christians of
Palestine, and who was almost worshipped as a god. When he was thrown into
jail, their widows and orphans watched by the gates; his jailers were
bribed to admit some of the brethren to console his solitude; large sums
were collected from the cities of Asia for his support and defence.(1884)
The surrender of his paternal property to his native city, an act of
generosity which had many parallels in that age, is attributed to no
higher motive than the wish to hush up a rumour that Peregrinus had
murdered his father. The charge apparently rested on nothing more
substantial than malignant gossip.(1885) The migration of Peregrinus from
the Christian to the Cynic brotherhood was not so startling in that age as
it may appear to us. Transitions to and fro were not uncommon between
societies which had the common bond of asceticism and contempt for the
world.(1886) Moreover, Lucian, with all his delicate genius, had little
power of understanding the force of religious enthusiasm. It is pretty
clear that Peregrinus was not an ordinary Cynic; he had felt the spell of
Oriental and Pythagorean mysticism. His Cynicism was probably tinctured
with a religion of the same type as that of Apollonius of Tyana.(1887) And
it is his failure to appreciate the fervour of this mystical elation in
Peregrinus and his disciples which misled Lucian, and makes his narrative
misleading.

Lucian suggests that, when he visited Olympia for the fourth time, he
found that the influence of Peregrinus was on the wane.(1888) Yet even
from Lucian’s own narrative it is clear that Peregrinus and his doings
were attracting almost as much attention as the games. On Lucian’s
arrival, the first thing he heard was a rumour that the great Cynic had
resolved to die upon a flaming pyre, like the hero who was the mythic
patron of the school. Peregrinus professed that by his self-immolation he
was going to teach men, in the most impressive way, to make light of
death. And many a Cynic sermon was evidently delivered on the subject, the
greatest preacher being Theagenes, for whom Lucian displays a particular
aversion. There were, of course, many sceptics like Lucian himself. And it
is in the mouth of one of these enemies of the sect, in reply to
Theagenes, that Lucian has put the defamatory version of the life of
Peregrinus,(1889) to which we have referred.

Lucian assumes from the first that the self-martyrdom of Peregrinus was
prompted by mere vulgar love of notoriety.(1890) Yet it is quite possible
that this is an unfair judgment. The Stoic school, with which the Cynics
had such a close affinity, allowed that, in certain circumstances, suicide
might be not only a permissible, but a meritorious, nay, even a glorious
act of self-liberation.(1891) Seneca had often looked gladly to it as the
ever open door of escape from ignominy or torture. The brilliant Stoic
Euphrates, the darling of Roman society, weary of age and disease, sought
and obtained the permission of Hadrian to drink the hemlock.(1892) And
that emperor himself, in his last sickness, begged the drug from his
physician who killed himself to escape compliance.(1893) Diogenes had
handed the dagger to his favourite pupil, Antisthenes, when tortured by
disease.(1894) The burden of the Cynic preaching was the nothingness of
the things of sense and contempt for death. Is it not possible that what
Lucian heard from the lips of Peregrinus himself was true, and that he
wished, it may be with mingled motives, by his own act to show men how to
treat with indifference the last terror of humanity?

That the end of Peregrinus was surrounded by superstition and magnified by
grandiose effects is more than probable. Such things belonged to the
spirit of the age. And the calm, critical good sense of Lucian, which had
no sympathy with these weaknesses, saw nothing in the scene but
calculating imposture. Already oracles were circulating in which
Peregrinus appears as the phœnix, rising unscathed and rejuvenescent from
the pyre, predicting that he is to be a guardian spirit of the night, that
altars will rise in his honour, and that he will perform miracles of
healing. Theagenes blazed abroad a Sibylline verse which bade men, “when
the greatest of the Cynics has come to lofty Olympus, to honour the
night-roaming hero who is enthroned beside Hephaestus and the princely
Hector.”(1895) Lucian found himself wedged in a dense crowd who came to
hear the last apology of the Cynic apostle. Some were applauding, and some
denouncing him as an impostor. Lucian could hear little in the melée. But
now and then, above the roar, he could hear the pale, tremulous old man
tell the surging crowd that, having lived like Heracles, he must die like
Heracles, and mingle with the ether, “bringing a golden life to a golden
close.”(1896) Lucian thought his paleness was due to terror at the
nearness of his self-imposed death. It was more probably the result of
ascetic fervour and overstrained excitement. The spectacle sent Lucian
away in a fit of rather cruel laughter.(1897)

The closing scene, which took place two or three miles from Olympia, was
ordered with solemn religious effect. It evidently impressed even the
sceptic’s imagination. A high pyre had been prepared, with torches and
faggots ready. As the moon rose, the voluntary victim appeared in the garb
of his sect, surrounded by his leading disciples. He then disrobed
himself, flung incense on the flame, and, turning to the south, cried
aloud—“Daemons of my father and my mother graciously receive me.” After
these words, he leapt into the blaze which at once enveloped him, and he
was seen no more.(1898) The Cynic brothers stood long gazing into the pyre
in silent grief, until Lucian aroused their anger by some jeers, not,
perhaps, in the best taste. On his way back to Olympia, he pondered on the
follies of men, and the craving for empty fame.(1899) To Lucian there was
nothing more in the tragic scene than that. And he amused himself by the
way with the creation of a myth, and watching how it would grow. To some
who met him on the road, too late for the spectacle, he told how, as the
pyre burst into flame, there was a great earthquake accompanied by
subterranean thunder, and a vulture rose from the fire, proclaiming in a
high human voice, as it winged its way heavenwards, “I have left earth
behind, and I go to Olympus.”(1900) The poor fools, on whose credulity
Lucian was rather heartlessly playing, with a shudder of awe fell to
questioning him whether the bird flew to the east or the west. And, on his
return to Olympia, he was rewarded in the way he liked best, by finding
the tale which he had cradled already full grown. A venerable man, whom he
encountered, related that with his own eyes he had seen the vulture rising
from the pyre, and added that he had just met Peregrinus himself walking
in the “seven-voiced cloister,” clothed in white raiment, and with a
chaplet of olive on his head.(1901)

Lucian’s picture of the death of Peregrinus, whatever we may think of its
fairness and discernment, is immensely valuable for many things besides
the light which it casts on Lucian’s attitude to all forms of extravagance
and superstition. In spite of his contempt for them, he himself reveals
that the Cynics were a great popular force. We see also that Cynicism was,
in spite of its generally deistic spirit, sometimes leagued with real or
affected religious sentiment. As to the real character of Peregrinus,
there is reason to believe that Lucian did not read it aright. The
impression which the Cynic made on Aulus Gellius was very different. When
Gellius was at Athens in his student days, he used often to visit
Peregrinus, who was then living in a little hut in the suburbs, and he
found the Cynic’s discourses profitable and high-toned. In particular,
Peregrinus used to tell his hearers that the chance of apparent evasion or
concealment would never tempt the wise man to sin. Concealment was really
impossible, for, in the words of Sophocles, “Time, the all-seeing, the
all-hearing, lays bare all secrets.” Evidently Peregrinus had other
admirers besides the Cynic brethren who hailed his apotheosis at
Olympia.(1902) Who can draw the line, in such an age, between the fanatic
and the impostor?

The bitterness with which Lucian assails the Cynics of his day, while it
was justified by the scandalous morals of a certain number, is also a
testimony to the world-wide influence of the sect. The ranks of these rude
field-preachers would not have attracted so many impostors if the
profession had not commanded great power and influence over the masses.
The older Cynicism, which sprang from the simpler and more popular aspect
of the Socratic teaching, had long disappeared. Its place was taken by the
Stoic system, which gave a broad and highly elaborated scientific basis to
the doctrine of the freedom and independence of the virtuous will. The
rules of conduct were deduced from a well-articulated theory of the
universe and human nature, and they were expounded with all the dexterity
of a finished dialectic. The later Stoicism, as we have seen, like the
other schools, tended to neglect theory, in the effort to form the
virtuous character—a tendency which is seen at its height in Musonius and
Epictetus. But, as Stoicism became less scientific, it inclined to return
more and more to the spirit and method of the older Cynicism. The true,
earnest Cynic seems to be almost the philosophic ideal of Epictetus. Thus
it was that, in the first century after Christ, Cynicism emerged from its
long obscurity to take up the part of a rather one-sided popular Stoicism.
It was really pointed or sensational preaching of a few great moral
truths, common to all the schools, which the condition of society urgently
called for.(1903)

The ideal of the Cynic life has been painted with gentle enthusiasm by
Epictetus.(1904) The true Cynic is a messenger from Zeus, to tell men that
they have wandered far from the right way, that they are seeking happiness
in regions where happiness is not to be found. It is not to be found in
the glory of consulships, or in the Golden House of Nero.(1905) It lies
close to us, yet in the last place where we ever seek it, in ourselves, in
the clear vision of the ruling faculty, in freedom from the bondage to
imagined good, to the things of sense.(1906) This preaching was also to be
preaching by example. The gospel of renunciation has been discredited from
age to age when it has come from the lips of a man lapped in downy
comfort, who never gave up anything in his life, and who indolently points
his flock to the steep road which he never means to tread with his own
feet. But the Cynic of Epictetus, with a true vocation, could point to
himself, without home or wife or children, without a city, without
possessions, having forsaken all for moral freedom.(1907) He has done it
at the call of God, not from mere caprice, or a fancy to wander lawlessly
on the outskirts of society.(1908) He has done it because the condition of
the world demands such stern self-restraint in the chief who would save
the discipline of an army engaged in desperate battle. It is a combat like
the Olympian strife which he has to face, and woe to him who enters the
lists untrained and unprepared.(1909) The care of wife and children is not
for one who has laid upon him the care of the family of man, who has to
console and admonish, and guide them into the right way.(1910) All worldly
loves and entanglements must be put aside by one who claims to be the “spy
and herald of God.” The Cynic is the father of all men; the men are his
sons, the women his daughters.(1911) When he rebukes them, it is as a
father in God, a minister of Zeus. Nor may he take a part in the
government of any earthly state, which is a petty affair in comparison
with the ministry with which he is charged. How should he meddle with the
administration of Athens or Corinth, who has to deal with the moral
fortunes of the whole commonwealth of man.(1912) Possessing in himself the
secret of happiness and woe, he never descends into the vulgar contest,
where he may be overcome by the vilest and poorest spirits, for objects
which he has trained himself to regard as absolutely indifferent or
worthless. And so, he is proof against the spitefulness of fortune and the
baseness or violence of man. He will calmly suffer blows or insults as
sent by Zeus, just as Heracles bore cheerfully and triumphantly the toils
which were laid on him by Eurystheus. The true Cynic will even love those
who buffet and insult him.(1913) He will also resemble his patron hero in
the fresh comely strength of his body, which is the gift of temperance and
long days passed under the open sky.(1914) Above all, he will have a
conscience clearer than the sun, so that, at peace with himself and having
assurance of the friendship of the gods, he may be able to speak with all
boldness to his brothers and his children.(1915) This was the kind of
moral ministry which was needed by the age, and, in spite of both
undeserved calumny, and the real shame of many corrupt impostors in its
ranks, the missionary movement of Cynicism was one of undoubted power and
range. The resemblance, in many points, of the Cynics to the early
Christian monks and ascetics has been often noticed, and men sometimes
passed from the one camp to the other without any violent wrench.(1916)
The rhetor Aristides, in a fierce attack on the Cynic sect, makes it a
reproach that they have much in common with “the impious in Palestine.”
Tatian, and others of the Gnostic ascetics, were in close connection with
leading Cynics.(1917) How easily they were absorbed into the bosom of the
Church we can see from the tale of Maximus, an Egyptian Cynic of the
fourth century, who continued to wear the distinctive marks of the
philosophic brotherhood, till he was installed as bishop of
Constantinople.(1918) And the contemporary eulogies of Cynic virtue by
John Chrysostom and Themistius testify at once to the importance of a
movement the strength of which was not spent till after the fall of the
Western Empire, and to its affinities for the kindred movement of
Christian asceticism.

These “ambassadors of God,” as they claimed to be, cared little, like S.
Paul, for “the wisdom of the world,” or for the figments of the poets, and
those great cosmic theories which enabled Seneca to sustain or rekindle
his moral faith. With rare exceptions, such as Oenomaus of Gadara, they
seldom committed their ideas to writing.(1919) For the serried dialectic
of the Stoics they substituted the sharp biting epigram and lively
repartee, in which even the gentle Demonax indulged.(1920) Demetrius, who
saw the reigns of both Caligula and Domitian,(1921) was a man of real
power and distinction. He was revered by Seneca as a moral teacher of
remarkable influence, “a great man even if compared with the
greatest,”(1922) who lived up to the severest counsels which he addressed
to others. He would bear cold and nakedness and hard lodging with cheerful
fortitude, he was a man whom not even the age of Nero could corrupt. His
poverty was genuine, and he would never beg.(1923) He set little store by
philosophical theory, in comparison with diligent application of a few
tried and well-conned precepts.(1924) Yet he had the brand of culture, and
once, when his taste was offended by a bad, tactless reader, who was
ruining a passage in the _Bacchae_, he snatched the book from his hands
and tore it in pieces.(1925) Although he disdained the trimmed, artificial
eloquence of the schools, he had the fire and impetus of the true
orator.(1926) With little taste for abstract musings, he consoled the last
hours of Thrasea in prison with a discourse on the nature of the soul and
the mystery of its severance from the body at death.(1927) He formed a
close alliance for a time with that roaming hierophant of philosophy,
Apollonius of Tyana, the bond between them being probably a common
asceticism and a common hatred of the imperial tyranny.(1928) For
Demetrius, if not a revolutionary, was a leader of the philosophic
opposition, which assailed the emperors, not so much in their political
capacity, as because they too often represented and stimulated the moral
lawlessness and materialism of the age. Our sympathies must be with
Demetrius when he boldly faced the dangerous scowl of Nero with the _mot_,
“You threaten me with death, but nature threatens you.”(1929) But our
sympathies will be rather with Vespasian, the plain old soldier, who, when
Demetrius openly insulted him, treated the “Cynic bark” with quiet
contempt.(1930) In truth, the Flavian emperors, till the expulsion of the
philosophers by Domitian, seem to have been on the whole indulgent to the
outspoken freedom of the Cynics.(1931) Occasionally, however, the daring
censor had, in the interests of authority, to be restrained. Once, when
Titus was in the theatre, with the Jewess Berenice by his side, a Cynic,
bearing the name of the founder of the sect, gave voice in a long bitter
oration to popular feeling against what was regarded as a shameful union.
This Cynic John the Baptist, got off with a scourging.(1932) A comrade
named Heros, however, repeated the offensive expostulation, and lost his
head. Peregrinus, for a similar attack on Antoninus Pius, was quietly
warned by the prefect to leave the precincts of Rome. In the third century
there was a great change in the political fortunes and attitude of the
sect; Cynics are even found basking in imperial favour, and lending their
support to the imperial power.(1933)

The Cynics, from the days of Antisthenes, had poured contempt on the
popular religion and the worship of material images of the Divine. They
were probably the purest monotheists that classical antiquity
produced.(1934) Demetrius is almost Epicurean in his belief in eternal
Fate, and his contempt for the wavering wills and caprices which
mythological fancy ascribed to the Olympian gods.(1935) Demonax, the
mildest and most humane member of the school in imperial times, refused to
offer sacrifices or even to seek initiation in the Mysteries of
Eleusis.(1936) When he was impeached for impiety before the Athenian
courts, he replied that, as for sacrifices, the Deity had no need of them,
and that touching the Mysteries, he was in this dilemma: if they contained
a revelation of what was good for men, he must in duty publish it; if they
were bad and worthless, he would feel equally bound to warn the people
against the deception. But the most fearless and trenchant assailant of
the popular theology among the Cynics was Oenomaus of Gadara, in the reign
of Hadrian.(1937) Oenomaus rejected, with the frankest scorn, the
anthropomorphic fables of heathenism. In particular, he directed his
fiercest attacks against the revival of that faith in oracles and
divination which was a marked characteristic of the Antonine age.
Plutarch, in a charming walk round the sights of Delphi, in which he acts
as cicerone, describes a Cynic named Didymus as assailing the influence of
oracles on human character.(1938) But Oenomaus, as we know him from
Eusebius, was a far more formidable and more pitiless iconoclast than
Didymus. He constructed an elaborate historical demonstration to show that
the oracles were inspired neither by the gods nor by daemons, but were a
very human contrivance to dupe the credulous. And in connection with the
subject of oracles, he dealt with the question of free-will, and asserted
man’s inalienable liberty, and the responsibility for all his actions
which is the necessary concomitant of freedom. Oenomaus treated Dodona and
Delphi with such jaunty disrespect that, at the distance of a century and
a half, his memory aroused the anger of Julian to such a degree, that the
imperial champion of paganism could hardly find words strong enough to
express his feelings.(1939) Oenomaus is a wretch who is cutting at the
roots, not only of all reverence for divine things, but of all those moral
instincts implanted in our souls by God, which are the foundation of all
right conduct and justice. For such fellows no punishment could be too
severe; they are worse than brigands and wreckers.(1940)

The resolute rejection of the forms of popular worship, and of the claims
of divination, is hardly less marked in the mild and tolerant
Demonax.(1941) Demonax, whose life extended probably from 50 to 150
A.D.,(1942) sprang from a family in Cyprus of some wealth and distinction,
and had a finished literary culture.(1943) But he had conceived from
childhood a passion for the philosophic life, according to the ideal of
that age. His teachers were Cynics or Stoics, but in speculative opinion
he was broadly Eclectic. In his long life he had associated with Demetrius
and Epictetus, Apollonius and Herodes Atticus.(1944) When asked once who
was his favourite philosopher, he replied that he reverenced Socrates,
admired Diogenes, and loved Aristippus.(1945) His tone had perhaps the
greatest affinity for the simplicity of the Socratic teaching. But he did
not adopt the irony of the master, which, if it was a potent arm of
dialectic, often left the subject of it in an irritated and humiliated
mood. Demonax was a true Cynic in his contempt for ordinary objects of
greed and ambition,(1946) in the simple, austere fashion of his daily
life, and in the keen epigrammatic point, often, to our taste, verging on
rudeness, with which he would expose pretence and rebuke any kind of
extravagance.(1947) But although he cultivated a severe bodily discipline,
so as to limit to the utmost his external wants, he carefully avoided any
ostentatious singularity of manner to win a vulgar notoriety. He had an
infinite charity for all sorts of men, excepting only those who seemed
beyond the hope of amendment.(1948) His counsels were given with an Attic
grace and brightness which sent people away from his company cheered and
improved, and hopeful for the future. Treating error as a disease incident
to human nature, he attacked the sin, but was gentle to the sinner.(1949)
He made it his task to compose the feuds of cities and to stimulate
unselfish patriotism; he reconciled the quarrels of kinsmen; he would, on
occasion, chasten the prosperous, and comfort the failing and unfortunate,
by reminding both alike of the brief span allotted to either joy or
sorrow, and the long repose of oblivion which would soon set a term to all
the agitations of sorrow or of joy.(1950)

But there was another side to his teaching. Demonax was no supple,
easy-going conformist to usages which his reason rejected. Early in his
career, as has been said, he had to face a prosecution before the
tribunals of Athens, because he was never seen to sacrifice to the gods,
and declined initiation at Eleusis. In each case, he defended his
nonconformity in the boldest tone.(1951) To a prophet whom he saw plying
his trade for hire, he put the dilemma: “If you can alter the course of
destiny, why do you not demand higher fees? If everything happens by the
decree of God, where is the value of your art?”(1952) When asked if he
believed the soul to be immortal, he answered, “It is as immortal as
everything else.”(1953) He derided, in almost brutal style, the effeminacy
of the sophist Favorinus, and the extravagant grief of Herodes Atticus for
his son.(1954) He ruthlessly exposed the pretences of sham philosophy
wherever he met it. When a youthful Eclectic professed his readiness to
obey any philosophic call, from the Academy, the Porch, or the Pythagorean
discipline of silence, Demonax cried out, “Pythagoras calls you.”(1955) He
rebuked the pedantic archaism of his day by telling an affected stylist
that he spoke in the fashion of Agamemnon’s time.(1956) When Epictetus
advised him to marry and become the father of a line of philosophers, he
asked the celibate preacher to give him one of his daughters.(1957) The
Athenians, from a vulgar jealousy of Corinth, proposed to defile their
ancient memories by establishing gladiatorial shows under the shadow of
the Acropolis. Demonax, in the true spirit of Athens from the time of
Theseus, advised them first to sweep away the altar of Pity.(1958)

Demonax lived to nearly a hundred years. He is said never to have had an
enemy. He was the object of universal deference whenever he appeared in
public. In his old age he might enter any Athenian house uninvited, and
they welcomed him as their good genius. The children brought him their
little presents of fruit and called him father, and as he passed through
the market, the baker-women contended for the honour of giving him their
loaves. He died a voluntary death, and wished for no tomb save what nature
would give him. But the Athenians were aware that they had seen in him a
rare apparition of goodness; they honoured him with a splendid and
imposing burial and mourned long for him. And the bench on which he used
to sit when he was weary they deemed a sacred stone, and decked it with
garlands long after his death.(1959)

Demonax, by a strange personal charm, attained to an extraordinary
popularity and reverence. But the great mass of philosophic preachers had
to face a great deal of obloquy and vulgar contempt. Apart from the
coarseness, arrogance, and inconsistency of many of them, which gave just
offence, their very profession was an irritating challenge to a
pleasure-loving and worldly age. Men who gloried in the splendour of their
civic life, and were completely absorbed in it, who were flattered and
cajoled by their magistrates and popular leaders, could hardly like to be
told by the vagrant, homeless teacher, in beggar’s garb, that they were
ignorant and perverted and lost in a maze of deception. They would hardly
be pleased to hear that their civilisation was an empty show, without a
solid core of character, that their hopes of happiness from a round of
games and festivals, from the splendour of art in temples and statues,
were the merest mirage. The message _Beati pauperes spiritu—Beati qui
lugent_, will never be a popular one. That was the message to his age of
the itinerant Cynic preacher, and his unkempt beard and ragged cloak and
the fashion of his life made him the mark of cheap and abundant ridicule.
Sometimes the contempt was deserved; no great movement for the elevation
of humanity has been free from impostors. Yet the severe judgment of the
Cynic missionaries on their age is that of the polished orator, who had as
great a scorn as Lucian for the sensual or mercenary Cynic, and yet took
up the scrip and staff himself, to propagate the same gospel as the
Cynics.(1960)

Dion Chrysostom was certainly not a Cynic in the academic sense, but he
belonged to the same great movement. He sprang from a good family at Prusa
in Bithynia.(1961) He was trained in all the arts of rhetoric, and taught
and practised them in the early part of his life. A suspected friendship
led to his banishment in the reign of Domitian, and in his exile, with the
_Phaedo_ and the _De Falsa Legatione_ as his companions, he wandered over
many lands, supporting himself often by menial service.(1962) He at last
found himself in his wanderings in regions where wild tribes of the Getae
for a century and a half had been harrying the distant outposts of
Hellenic civilisation on the northern shores of the Euxine.(1963) The news
of the death of Domitian reached a camp on the Danube when Dion was there.
The soldiery, faithful to their emperor, were excited and indignant, but,
under the spell of Dion’s eloquence, they were brought to acquiesce in the
accession of the blameless Nerva. Dion at length returned to Rome, and
rose to high favour at court. Trajan often invited him to his table, and
used to take him as companion in his state carriage, although the honest
soldier did not pretend to appreciate Dion’s rhetoric.(1964)

During his exile, as he tells us, Dion had been converted to more serious
views of life. The triumphs of conventional declamation before fashionable
audiences lost their glamour. Dion became conscious of a loftier mission
to the dim masses of that far-spreading empire through whose cities and
wildernesses he was wandering.(1965) As to the eyes of Seneca, men seemed
to Dion, amid all their fair, cheerful life, to be holding out their hands
for help. Wherever he went, he found that, in his beggar’s dress, he was
surrounded by crowds of people eager to hear any word of comfort or
counsel in the doubts and troubles of their lives. They assumed that the
poor wanderer was a philosopher. They plied him with questions on the
great problem, How to live; and the elegant sophist was thus compelled to
find an answer for them and for himself.(1966)

Dion never quite shook off the traditions and tone of the rhetorical
school. The ambition to say things in the most elegant and attractive
style, the love of amplifying, in leisurely and elaborate development, a
commonplace and hackneyed theme still clings to him. His eighty orations
are many of them rather essays than popular harangues. They range over all
sorts of subjects, literary, mythological, and artistic, political and
social, as well as purely ethical or religious. But, after all, Dion is
unmistakably the preacher of a great moral revival and reform. He cannot
be classed definitely with any particular school of philosophy. He is the
apostle of Greek culture, yet he admires Diogenes, the founder of the
Cynics.(1967) If he had any philosophic ancestry, he would probably have
traced himself to the Xenophontic Socrates.(1968) But he is really the
rhetorical apostle of the few great moral principles which were in the
air, the common stock of Platonist, Stoic, Cynic, even the Epicurean.
Philosophy to him is really a religion, the science of right living in
conformity to the will of the Heavenly Power. But it is also the practice
of right living. No Christian preacher has probably ever insisted more
strongly on the gulf which separates the commonplace life of the senses
from the life devoted to a moral ideal.(1969) The only philosophy worth
the name is the earnest quest of the path to true nobility and virtue, in
obedience to the good genius, the unerring monitor within the breast of
each of us, in whose counsels lies the secret of happiness properly so
called.(1970) Hence Dion speaks with the utmost scorn alike of the coarse
Cynic impostor, who disgraces his calling by buffoonery and
debauchery,(1971) and the philosophic exquisite who tickles the ears of a
fashionable audience with delicacies of phrase, but never thinks of trying
to make them better men. He feels a sincere indignation at this dilettante
trifling, in view of a world which is in urgent need of practical
guidance.(1972) For Dion, after all his wanderings through the Roman
world, has no illusions as to its moral condition. He is almost as great a
pessimist as Seneca or Juvenal. In spite of all its splendour and outward
prosperity, society in the reign of Trajan seemed to Dion to be in a
perilous state. Along with his own conversion came the revelation of the
hopeless bewilderment of men in the search for happiness. Dimly conscious
of their evil plight, they are yet utterly ignorant of the way to escape
from it. They are swept hither and thither in a vortex of confused
passions and longings for material pleasures.(1973) Material civilisation,
without any accompanying moral discipline, has produced the familiar and
inevitable result, in an ever-increasing appetite for wealth and enjoyment
and showy distinction, which ends in perpetual disillusionment. Dion warns
the people of Tarsus that they are all sunk in a deep sensual slumber, and
living in a world of mere dreams, in which the reality of things is
absolutely inverted. Their famous river, their stately buildings, their
wealth, even their religious festivals, on which they plume themselves,
are the merest show of happiness.(1974) Its real secret, which lies in
temperance, justice, and true piety, is quite hidden from their eyes. When
that secret is learnt, their buildings may be less stately, gold and
silver will perhaps not be so abundant, there will be less soft and
delicate living, there may be even fewer costly sacrifices as piety
increases; but there will be a clearer perception of the true values of
things, and a chastened temperance of spirit, which are the only security
for the permanence of society. And the moralist points his audience to the
splendid civilisations of the past that have perished because they were
without a soul. Assyria and Lydia, the great cities of Magna Graecia which
lived in a dream of luxury, what are they now? And, latest example of all,
Macedon, who pushed her conquests to the gates of India, and came into
possession of the hoarded treasures of the great Eastern Empires, is gone,
and royal Pella, the home of the race, is now a heap of bricks.(1975)

It needed a courage springing from enthusiasm and conviction to preach
such unpalatable truths to an age which gloried in its material splendour.
Dion is often conscious of the difficulty of his task; and he exerts all
his trained dexterity to appease opposition, and gain a hearing for his
message.(1976) As regards the reform of character, Dion has no new message
to deliver. His is the old gospel of renunciation for the sake of freedom,
the doctrine of a right estimate of competing objects of desire and of the
true ends of life. Dion, like nearly all Greek moralists from Socrates
downwards, treats moral error and reform as rather a matter of the
intellect than of emotional impulse. Vice is the condition of a besotted
mind, which has lost the power of seeing things as they really are;(1977)
conversion must be effected, not by appeals to the feelings, but by
clarifying the mental vision. There is but little reference to religion as
a means of reform, although Dion speaks of the love of God as a support of
the virtuous character. As an experienced moral director, Dion knew well
the necessity of constant iteration of the old truths. Just as the sick
man will violate his doctor’s orders, well knowing that he does so to his
hurt, so the moral patient may long refuse to follow a principle of life
which his reason has accepted.(1978) And so the preacher, instead of
apologising for repeating himself, will regard it as a duty and a
necessity to do so.

But Dion did not aim at the formation of any cloistered virtue,
concentrated on personal salvation. He has a fine passage in which he
shows that retreat, (_ἀναχώρησις_) detachment of spirit, is quite possible
without withdrawing from the noises of the world.(1979) And he felt
himself charged with a mission to bring the higher principles of conduct
into the civic life of the time. We know from Pliny’s correspondence with
Trajan, that the great cities of Bithynia, and not least Dion’s
birthplace,(1980) were then suffering from unskilful administration and
wasteful finance. Dion completes the picture by showing us their miserable
bickerings and jealousies about the most trivial things. He denounces the
unscrupulous flattery of the masses by men whose only object was the
transient distinction of municipal office, the passion for place and
power, without any sober wish to serve or elevate the community. He also
exposes the caprice, the lazy selfishness, and the petulant ingratitude of
the crowd.(1981) Dion, it is true, is an idealist, and his ideals of
society are perhaps not much nearer realisation in some of our great
cities than they were then. He often delivered his message to the most
unpromising audiences. Some of his finest conceptions of social
reorganisation were expounded before rude gatherings on the very verge of
civilisation.(1982) Once, in his wanderings, he found himself under the
walls of a half-ruined Greek town, which had been attacked, the day
before, by a horde of Scythian barbarians. There, on the steps of the
temple of Zeus, he expounded to an eager throng of mean Greek traders,
with all the worst vices, and only some faded traces of the culture of
their race, the true meaning of city life.(1983) It is a society of men
under the kingship of law, from which all greed, intemperance, and
violence have been banished; a little world which, in its peaceful order
and linked harmonies, should be modelled on the more majestic order of the
great city of the universe, the city of gods and men.

How far from their ideal were the cities of his native land, Dion saw only
too well. The urban life of Asia, as the result of the Greek conquests,
has perhaps never been surpassed in external splendour and prosperity, and
even in a diffusion of intellectual culture. The palmy days of the
glorious spring-time of Hellenic vigour and genius in Miletus, Phocaea,
and Rhodes, seemed to be reproduced even in inland places, which for 1500
years have returned to waste.(1984) Agriculture and trade combined to
produce an extraordinary and prosperous activity. Education was endowed
and organised, and literary culture became almost universal.(1985) Nowhere
did the wandering sophist find more eager audiences, and no part of the
Roman world in that age contributed so great a number of teachers,
physicians, and philosophers. The single province of Bithynia, within half
a century, could boast of such names as Arrian, Dion Cassius, and Dion
Chrysostom himself. But moral and political improvement did not keep pace
with an immense material and intellectual progress. The life of the cities
indeed was very intense; but, in the absence of the wider interests of the
great days of freedom, they wasted their energies in futile contests for
visionary distinctions and advantages. A continual struggle was going on
for the “primacy” of the province, and the name of metropolis. Ephesus,
the real capital, was challenged by Smyrna, which on its coins describes
itself as “first in greatness and beauty.”(1986) The feuds between
Nicomedia and its near neighbour Nicaea caused Dion particular anxiety,
and his speech to the people of Nicomedia is the best picture of the evils
which we are describing.(1987)

The two cities have much in common. Their families have intermarried; they
are constantly meeting in their markets and great religious festivals.
They are bound together by innumerable ties of private friendship.(1988)
The primacy for which they contend is the merest figment; there are no
material advantages at stake. Rather, these dissensions give a corrupt
Roman governor, who trades upon them, the power to injure both the rival
claimants.(1989) The same is true of other cities. Tarsus is engaged in
bitter contention with Mallus for a mere line of sandhills on their
frontiers.(1990) Dion’s native Prusa has an exasperated quarrel with
Apamea for no solid reason whatever, although the two towns are closely
linked by nature to one another, and mutually dependent through their
trade and manufactures. All this miserable and foolish jealousy Dion
exposes with excellent skill and sense; and he employs an abundant wealth
of illustration in painting the happiness which attends harmony and
good-will. It is the law of the universe, from the tiny gregarious insect
whose life is but for a day, to the eternal procession of the starry
spheres. The ant, in the common industry of the Lilliputian commonwealth,
yields to his brother toiler, or helps him on his way.(1991) The primal
elements of the Cosmos are tempered to a due observance of their several
bounds and laws. The sun himself hides his splendour each night to give
place to the lesser radiance of the stars. This is rhetoric, of course,
but it is rhetoric with a moral burden. And it is impossible not to admire
the lofty tone of this heathen sophist, preaching the duty of forgiveness,
of mutual love and deference, the blessing of the quiet spirit “which
seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.”(1992)
There is a certain pathos in remembering that, within the very walls where
these elevated orations were delivered, there were shy companies of men
and women meeting in the early dawn to sing hymns to One who, three
generations before in Galilee, had taught a similar gospel of love and
self-suppression, but with a strange mystic charm, denied to the pagan
eloquence, and that Dion seems never to have known those with whom he had
so close a kindred.(1993)

In many another oration Dion strove to raise the moral tone of his age.
His speech to the Alexandrians is probably his most gallant protest
against the besetting sins of a great population. Alexandria was a
congeries of many races, in which probably the Hellenic type of the
Ptolemies had succumbed to the enduring Egyptian _morale_.(1994) It was a
populace at once sensual and superstitious, passionately devoted to all
excitement, whether of games or orgiastic religious festival, with a
jeering irreverent vein, which did not spare even the greatest Emperors.
It was a curious medley—the seat of the most renowned university of the
ancient world, the gathering-place and seed-ground of ideas which united
the immemorial mysticism of the East with the clear, cold reason of
Hellas—and yet a seething hot-bed of obscenity, which infected the Roman
world, a mob who gave way to lunatic excitement over the triumph of an
actor, or a singer, or the victor in a chariot-race.(1995) It required no
ordinary courage to address such a crowd, and to charge them with their
glaring faults. The people of Alexandria are literally intoxicated with a
song. The music which, according to old Greek theory, should regulate the
passions, here only maddens them.(1996) And in the races all human dignity
seems to be utterly lost in the futile excitement of the spectators over
some low fellow contending for a prize in solid cash.(1997) Such a mob
earns only the contempt of its rulers, and men say that the Alexandrians
care for nothing but the “big loaf” and the sight of a race.(1998) All the
dignity which should surround a great people is forgotten in the theatre.
It is useless to boast of the majestic and bounteous river, the harbours
and markets crowded with the merchandise of Western or Indian seas, of the
visitors from every land, from Italy, Greece, and Syria, from the
Borysthenes, the Oxus, and the Ganges.(1999) They come to witness the
shame of the second city in the world, which, in the wantonness of
prosperity, has lost the temperate dignity and orderly calm that are the
real glory of a great people.

As a foil to the feverish life of luxury, quarrelsome rivalry, and vulgar
excitement which prevailed in the great towns, Dion has left a prose idyll
to idealise the simple pleasures and virtues of the country.(2000) It is
also a dirge over the decay of Greece, when crops were being reaped in the
agora of historic cities, and the tall grasses grew around the statues of
gods and heroes of the olden time.(2001) A traveller, cast ashore in the
wreck of his vessel on the dreaded Hollows of Euboea, was sheltered, in a
rude, warm-hearted fashion, by some peasants. Their fathers had been
turned adrift in the confiscation of the estate of a great noble in some
trouble with the emperor, and they had made themselves a lonely home on a
pastoral slope, close to a stream, with the neighbouring shade of trees.
They had taken into tillage a few fields around their huts; they drove
their cattle to the high mountain pastures in summer time, and in the
winter they turned to hunting the game along the snowy tracks. Of city
life they know hardly anything. One of them, indeed, had been twice in the
neighbouring town, and he tells what he saw there in a lively way. It is
all a mere shadow or caricature of the old civic life of Greece. There are
the rival orators, patriot or demagogue, the frivolous and capricious
crowd, the vote of the privilege of dining in the town-hall. The serious
purpose of the piece, however, is to idealise the simple virtue and
happiness of the country folk, and to discuss the disheartening problem of
the poor in great cities.(2002) It is in the main the problem of our
modern urban life, and Dion had evidently thought deeply about it, and was
an acute observer of the social misery which is the same from age to age.
Fortified by the divine Homer and ordinary experience, he points out that
the poor are more generous and helpful to the needy than are the rich out
of their ample store. Too often the seeming bounty of the wealthy
benefactor is of the nature of a loan, which is to be returned with due
interest.(2003) The struggles and temptations of the poor in great cities
suggest a discussion of the perpetual problem of prostitution, which
probably no ancient writer ever faced so boldly. The double degradation of
humanity, which it involved in the ancient world, is powerfully
painted;(2004) and the plea that the indulgence in venal immorality is the
only alternative to insidious attacks on family virtue is discussed with
singular firmness and yet delicacy of touch.(2005) The same detachment
from contemporary prejudice is shown in Dion’s treatment of slavery. He
sees its fell effects on the masters, in producing sensuality, languor,
and helpless dependence on others for the slightest services. He points
out that there is no criterion afforded by nature to distinguish slave and
free. The so-called free man of the highest rank may be the offspring of a
servile amour, and the so-called slave may be ingenuous in every sense,
condemned to bondage by an accident of fortune.(2006) Just as external
freedom does not imply moral worth, so legal enslavement does not imply
moral degradation.(2007) If moral justice always fixed the position of men
in society by their deserts, master and slave would often have to change
places.(2008) In Dion’s judgment as to the enervating effects of slavery
on the slave-owning class, and the absence of any moral or mental
distinction to justify the institution, he is in singular harmony with
Seneca.

The similarity of tone between Seneca and Dion is perhaps even more marked
in their treatment of monarchy. Inherited, like so much else, from the
great Greek thinkers of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., the ideal of
a beneficent and unselfish prince, the true “shepherd of the people,” the
antithesis of the lawless and sensual tyrant, had become, partly, no
doubt, through the influence of the schools of rhetoric, a common
possession of cultivated minds. Vespasian gave it a certain reality, if
his son Domitian showed how easily the king might pass into the tyrant.
The dream of an earthly providence, presiding over the Roman world, dawned
in more durable splendour with the accession of Trajan, and Pliny, his
panegyrist, has left us a sketch of the patriot prince, which is almost
identical with the lines of Dion’s ideal.(2009) Both Dion and Pliny were
favourites of Trajan, and some of Dion’s orations were delivered before
his court. As a court preacher, he justly boasts that he is no mere
flatterer, although we may suspect that his picture of the ideal monarch
might have been interpreted as drawn from the character of Trajan, just as
his picture of the tyrant was probably suggested by Domitian.(2010) Still,
we may well believe the orator when he says that the man who had bearded
the one at the cost of long exile and penury, was not likely to flatter
the other for the gold or honours which he despised. And in these
discourses, Dion seems full of the sense of a divine mission. Once, on his
wanderings, he lost his way somewhere on the boundaries of Arcadia, and,
ascending a knoll to recover the track, he found himself before a rude,
ruined shrine of Heracles, hung with votive offerings of the chase.(2011)
An aged woman sat by them who told him that she had a spirit of divination
from the gods. The shepherds and peasants used to come to her with
questions about the fate of their flocks and crops. And she now entrusted
Dion with a message to the great ruler of many men whom she prophesied
Dion was soon to meet.(2012) It was a tale of Heracles, the great
benefactor of men from the rising to the setting sun, who, by his simple
strength, crushed all lawless monsters and gave the world an ordered
peace. His father inspired him with noble impulse for his task by oracle
and omen, and sent Hermes once, when Heracles was still a boy at Thebes,
to show him the vision of the Two Peaks, and strengthen him in his
virtue.(2013) They rose from the same rocky roots, amid precipitous crags
and deep ravines, and the noise of many waters. At first they seemed to be
one mountain mass, but they soon parted wide asunder, the one being sacred
to Zeus, the other to the lawless Typhon. On the one crest, rising into
the cloudless ether, Kingship sits enthroned, in the likeness of a fair,
stately woman, clad in robes of glistening white, and wielding a sceptre
of brighter and purer metal than any silver or gold. Under her steady gaze
of radiant dignity, the good felt a cheerful confidence, the bad quailed
and shrank away. She was surrounded by handmaidens of a beauty like her
own, Justice and Peace and Order. The paths to the other peak were many
and secret, and skirted an abyss, streaming with blood or choked with
corpses. Its top was wrapped in mist and cloud, and there sat Tyranny on a
far higher and more pompous throne, adorned with gold and ivory and many a
gorgeous colour, but a throne rocking and unstable. She strove to make
herself like to Kingship, but it was all mere hollow pretence. Instead of
the gracious smile, there was a servile, hypocritical leer; instead of the
glance of dignity, there was a savage scowl. And around her sat a throng
bearing ill-omened names, Cruelty and Lust, Lawlessness and Flattery and
Sedition. On a question from Hermes, the youthful Heracles made his
choice, and his father gave him his commission to be the saviour of men.

In this fashion Dion, like Aeschylus, recasts old myth to make it the
vehicle of moral instruction, just as he finds in Homer the true teacher
of kings.(2014) The theory of ideal monarchy is developed at such length
as may have somewhat wearied the emperor. But it really is based on a few
great principles. True kings, in Homer’s phrase, are sons of Zeus, and
they are shepherds of the people. All genuine political power rests on
virtue, and ultimately on the favour of Heaven. A king is appointed by God
to work the good of his subjects. And, as his authority is divine, an
image on earth of the sovereignty of Zeus, the monarch will be a
scrupulously religious man in the highest sense,(2015) not merely by
offering costly sacrifices, but by righteousness, diligence, and
self-sacrifice in performing the duties of his solemn charge. The many
titles addressed to Father Zeus represent so many aspects of royal
activity and virtue. The true prince will be the father of his people,
surrounded and guarded by a loving reverence, which never degenerates into
fear. His only aim will be their good. He will keep sleepless watch over
the weak, the careless, those who are heedless for themselves. Commanding
infinite resources, he will know less of mere pleasure than any man within
his realm. With such immense responsibilities, he will be the most
laborious of all. His only advantage over the private citizen is in his
boundless command of friendship; for all men must be well-wishers to one
wielding such a beneficent power, with whom, from his conception of his
mission, they must feel an absolute identity of interest. And the king’s
greatest need is friendship, to provide him with myriads of hands and eyes
in the vast work of government.(2016) Herein lies the sharpest contrast
between the true king and the tyrant, a contrast which was a commonplace
in antiquity, but which was stamped afresh by the juxtaposition of the
reign of Domitian and the reign of Trajan. The universal hatred which
pursued a bad Caesar even beyond the grave, which erased his name from
monuments and closed its eyes even to intervals of serious purpose for the
general weal, was a terrible illustration of the lonely friendlessness of
selfish power.(2017) Instead of loyal and grateful friendship, the despot
was mocked by a venal flattery which was only its mimicry. The good
monarch will treat flatterers as false coiners who cause the genuine
currency to be suspected. This counsel and others of Dion were often
little regarded by succeeding emperors. Yet even the last shadowy princes
of the fifth century professed themselves the guardians of the human race,
and are oppressed by an ideal of universal beneficence which they are
impotent to realise.(2018)

Hitherto we have been occupied with the preaching of Dion on personal
conduct, the reform of civic life, or the duties of imperial power. It
cannot be said that he discusses these subjects without reference to
religious beliefs and aspirations.(2019) But religion is rather in the
background; the reverence for the Heavenly Powers is rather assumed as a
necessary basis for human life rightly ordered. There is one oration,
however, of supreme interest to the modern mind, in which Dion goes to the
root of all religion, and examines the sources of belief in God and the
justification of anthropomorphic imagery in representing Him. This
utterance was called forth by a visit to Olympia when Dion was advanced in
years.(2020) The games of Olympia were a dazzling and inspiring spectacle,
and the multitude which gathered there from all parts of the world was a
splendid audience. But, with the sound of the sacred trumpet, and the
herald’s voice, proclaiming the victor, in his ears, Dion turns away from
all the glory of youthful strength and grace, even from the legendary
splendour of the great festival,(2021) to the majestic figure of the
Olympian Zeus, which had been graved by the hand of Pheidias more than 500
years before, and to the thoughts of the divine world which it suggested.
That greatest triumph of idealism in plastic art, inspired by famous lines
in the _Iliad_, was, by the consent of all antiquity, the masterpiece of
Pheidias. Ancient writers of many ages are lost in admiration of the
mingled majesty and benignity which the divine effigy expressed. To the
eyes of Lucian it seemed “the very son of Kronos brought down to earth,
and set to watch over the lonely plain of Elis.”(2022) There it sat
watching for more than 800 years, till it was swept away in the fierce,
final effort to dethrone the religion of the past. Yet the majestic image,
which attracted the fury of the iconoclasts of the reign of Theodosius,
inspired Dion with thoughts of the Divine nature which travelled far
beyond the paganism either of poetry or of the crowd. It was not merely
the masterpiece of artistic and constructive skill which had fascinated
the gaze, and borne the vicissitudes, of so many centuries, that moved his
admiration; it was also, and more, the moral effect of that miracle of art
on the spectator. The wildest and fiercest of the brute creation might be
calmed and softened by the air of majestic peace and kindness which
floated around the gold and ivory. “Whosoever among mortal men is most
utterly toil-worn in spirit, having drunk the cup of many sorrows and
calamities, when he stands before this image, methinks, must utterly
forget all the terrors and woes of this mortal life.”(2023)

But the thoughts of Dion, in presence of the majestic figure at Olympia,
take a wider range. His theme is nothing less than the sources of our idea
of God, and the place of art in religion. He pours his scorn upon
hedonistic atheism. Our conception of God is innate, original, universal
among all the races of men.(2024) It is the product of the higher reason,
contemplating the majestic order, minute adaptation, and beneficent
provision for human wants in the natural world. In that great temple, with
its alternations of gloom and splendour, its many voices of joy or of
terror, man is being perpetually initiated in the Great Mysteries, on a
grander scale than at Eleusis, with God Himself to preside over the rites.
The belief in God depends in the first instance on no human teaching, any
more than does the love of child to parent. But this original intuition
and belief in divine powers finds expression through the genius of
inspired poets; it is reinforced by the imperative prescriptions of the
founders and lawgivers of states; it takes external form in bronze or gold
and ivory or marble, under the cunning hand of the great artist; it is
developed and expounded by philosophy.(2025) Like all the deepest thinkers
of his time, Dion is persuaded of the certainty of God’s existence, but he
is equally conscious of the remoteness of the Infinite Spirit, and of the
weakness of all human effort to approach, or to picture it to the mind of
man. We are to Dion like “children crying in the night, and with no
language but a cry.”(2026) Yet the child will strive to image forth the
face of the Father, although it is hidden behind a veil which will never
be withdrawn in this world. The genius of poetry, commanding the most
versatile power of giving utterance to the religious imagination, is first
in order and in power. Law and institution follow in its wake. The plastic
arts, under cramping limitations, come later still to body forth the
divine dreams of the elder bards. Dion had thought much on the relative
power of poetry and the sculptor’s art to give expression to the thoughts
and feelings of man about the Divine nature. The boundless power or
licence of language to find a symbol for every thought or image on the
phantasy is seen at its height in Homer, who riots in an almost lawless
exercise of his gifts.(2027) But the chief importance of the discussion
lies in an arraignment of Pheidias for attempting to image in visible form
the great Soul and Ruler of the universe, Whom mortal eye has never seen
and can never see. His defence is very interesting, both as a clear
statement of the limitations of the plastic arts, and as a justification
of material images of the Divine.

Pheidias pleads in his defence that the artist could not, if he would,
desert the ancient religious tradition, which was consecrated in popular
imagination by the romance of poetry;(2028) that is fixed for ever.
Granted that the Divine nature is far removed from us, and far beyond our
ken; yet, as little children separated from their parents, feel a strong
yearning for them and stretch out their hands vainly in their dreams, so
the race of man, from love and kindred, longs ever to draw nigh to the
unseen God by prayer and sacrifice and visible symbol. The ruder races
will image their god in trees or shapeless stones, or may seek a strange
symbol in some of the lower forms of animal life.(2029) The higher may
find sublime expression of His essence in the sun and starry spheres. For
the pure and infinite mind which has engendered and which sustains the
universe of life, no sculptor or painter of Hellas has ever found, or can
ever find, full and adequate expression.(2030) Hence men take refuge in
the vehicle and receptacle of the noblest spirit known to them, the form
of man. And the Infinite Spirit, of which the human is an effluence, may
perhaps best be embodied in the form of His child.(2031) But no effort or
ecstasy of artistic fancy, in form or colour, can ever follow the track of
the Homeric imagination in its majesty and infinite variety of expression.
The sculptor and painter have fixed limits set to their skill, beyond
which they cannot pass. They can appeal only to the eye; their material
has not the infinite ductility and elasticity of the poetic dialect of
many tribes and many generations. They can seize only a single moment of
action or passion, and fix it for ever in bronze or stone. Yet Pheidias,
with a certain modest self-assertion, pleads that his conception of the
Olympian Zeus, although less various and seductive than Homer’s, although
he cannot present to the gazer the crashing thunderbolt or the baleful
star, or the heaving of Olympus, is perhaps more elevating and
inspiring.(2032) The Zeus of Pheidias is the peace-loving and gentle
providence of an undisturbed and harmonious Greece, the august giver of
all good gifts, the father and saviour and guardian of men. The many names
by which men call him may each find some answering trait in the laborious
work of the chisel. In the lines of that majestic and benign image are
shadowed forth the mild king and father, the hearer of prayer, the
guardian of civic order and family love, the protector of the stranger,
and the power who gives fertile increase to flock and field. The Zeus of
Pheidias and of Dion is a God of mercy and peace, with no memory of the
wars of the Giants.(2033)

Dion is a popular teacher of morality, not a thinker or theologian. But
this excursion into the field of theology shows him at his best. And it
prepares us for the study of some more formal efforts to find a theology
in the poetry of legend.



                               CHAPTER III


                        THE PHILOSOPHIC THEOLOGIAN


The times were ripe for a theodicy. Religion of every mood and tone, of
every age and clime, was in the air, and philosophy had abandoned
speculation and turned to the direction of conduct and spiritual life. The
mission of philosophy is to find the one in the many, and never did the
religious life of men offer a more bewildering multiplicity and variety,
not to say chaos, to the ordering power of philosophy. The scepticism of
the Neronian age had almost disappeared. The only rationalists of any
distinction in the second century were Lucian and Galen.(2034) It was an
age of imperious spiritual cravings, alike among the cultivated and the
vulgar. But the thin abstractions of the old Latin faith and the brilliant
anthropomorphism of Greece had ceased to satisfy even the crowd. It was an
age with a longing for a religious system less formal and coldly external,
for a religion more satisfying to the deeper emotions, a religion which
should offer divine help to human need and misery, divine guidance amid
the darkness of time; above all, a divine light in the mystery of death.
The glory of classic art had mysteriously closed. It was an age rather of
material splendour, and, at first sight, an age of bourgeois ideals of
parochial fame and mere enjoyment of the hour. Yet the Antonine age has
some claim to spiritual distinction. In the dim, sub-conscious feelings of
the masses, as well as in the definite spiritual effort of the higher
minds, there was really a great movement towards a ruling principle of
conduct and a spiritual vision. Men often, indeed, followed the
marsh-light through strange devious paths into wildernesses peopled with
the spectres of old-world superstition. But the light of the Holy Grail
had at last flashed on the eyes of some loftier minds. From the early
years of the second century we can trace that great combined movement of
the new Platonism and the revived paganism,(2035) which so long retarded
the triumph of the Church, and yet, in the Divinely-guided evolution, was
destined to prepare men for it.

The old religion had not lost all hold on men’s minds, as it is sometimes
said to have done, in rather too sweeping language. The punctilious ritual
with which, in the stately narrative of Tacitus, the Capitol was restored
by Vespasian, the pious care with which the young Aurelius recited the
Salian litany in words no longer understood, the countless victims which
he offered to the guardian gods of Rome in evil days of pestilence and
doubtful war, these things reveal the strength of the religion of Numa.
Two centuries after M. Aurelius was in his grave, the deities which had
cradled the Roman state, and watched over its career, were still objects
of reverence to the conservative circle of Symmachus. A religion which was
intertwined with the whole fabric of government and society, which gave
its sanction or benediction to every act and incident in the individual
life, which was omnipresent in game and festival, in temple and votive
monument, was placed far beyond the influence of changing fashions of
devotion. It was a powerful stay of patriotism, a powerful bond of civic
and family life; it threw a charm of awe and old-world sanctity around
everything it touched. But for the deeper spiritual wants and emotions it
furnished little nutriment. To find relief and cleansing from the sense of
guilt, cheer and glad exaltation of pious emotion, consolation in the
common miseries of life, and hope in the shadow of death, men had to
betake themselves to other systems. The oriental religions were pouring in
like a flood, and spreading over all the West. One Antonine built a shrine
of Mithra,(2036) another took the tonsure of Isis.(2037) The priests and
acolytes of the Egyptian goddess were everywhere, chanting their litanies
in solemn processions along the streets, instructing and baptizing their
catechumens, and, in the alternating gloom and splendour of their
mysteries, bearing the entranced soul to the boundaries of life and
death.(2038) Mithra, “the Unconquered,” was justifying his name. In every
district from the Euxine to the Solway he brought a new message to
heathendom. Pure from all grossness of myth, the Persian god of light came
as the mediator and comforter, to soothe the poor and broken-hearted, and
give the cleansing of the mystic blood. His hierarchy of the initiated,
his soothing symbolic sacraments, his gorgeous ritual, and his promise of
immortality to those who drank the mystic Haoma, gratified and stimulated
religious longings which were to find their full satisfaction in the
ministry of the Church.

But the religious imagination was not satisfied with historic and
accredited systems. Travel and conquest were adding to the spiritual
wealth or burden of the Roman race. In lonely Alpine passes, in the
deserts of Africa, or the Yorkshire dales, in every ancient wood or secret
spring which he passed in his wanderings or campaigns, the Roman found
hosts of new divinities, possible helpers or possible enemies, whose
favour it was expedient to win.(2039) And, where he knew not their strange
outlandish names, he would try to propitiate them all together under no
name, or any name that pleased them.(2040) And, as if this vague multitude
of ghostly powers were not large enough for devotion, the fecundity of
imagination created a host of genii, of haunting or guarding spirits,
attached to every place or scene, to every group or corporation of men
which had a place in Roman life. There were genii of the secret spring or
grove, of the camp, the legion, the cohort, of the Roman people, above
all, there was the genius of the emperor.(2041) Apotheosis went on
apace—apotheosis not merely of the emperors, but of a theurgic philosopher
like Apollonius, of a minion like Antinous, of a mere impostor like
Alexander of Abonoteichos.(2042) Old oracles, which had been suppressed or
decadent in the reign of Nero, sprang into fresh life and popularity in
the reign of Trajan. New sources of oracular inspiration were opened, some
of them challenging for the time the ancient fame of Delphi or
Dodona.(2043) According to Lucian, oracles were pealing from every rock
and every altar.(2044) Every form of revelation or divination, every
avenue of access to the Divine, was eagerly sought for, or welcomed with
pious credulity. The study of omens and dreams was reduced to the form of
a pseudo-science by a host of writers like Artemidorus. The sacred art of
healing through visions of the night found a home in those charming
temples of Asclepius, which rose beside so many hallowed springs, with
fair prospect and genial air, where the god revealed his remedy in dreams,
and a lore half hieratic, half medical, was applied to relieve the
sufferer.(2045) Miracles and special providences, the most marvellous or
the most grotesque, were chronicled with unquestioning faith, not only by
fanatics like Aelian, but by learned historians like Tacitus and
Suetonius. Tales of witchcraft and weird sorcery are as eagerly believed
at Trimalchio’s dinner-table(2046) as in lonely villages of Thessaly. On
the higher level of the new Pythagorean faith, everything is possible to
the pure spirit. To such a soul God will reveal Himself by many voices to
which gross human clay is deaf; the future lays bare its secrets; nature
yields up her hidden powers. Spiritual detachment triumphs over matter and
time; and the Pythagorean apostle predicts a plague at Ephesus, casts out
demons, raises the dead, vanishes like a phantom from the clutches of
Domitian.(2047)

At a superficial glance, a state of religion such as has been sketched
might seem to be a mere bewildering chaos of infinitely divided spiritual
interest. Men seem to have adopted the mythologies of every race, and to
have superadded a new mythology of positively boundless fecundity. A
single votive tablet will contain the names of the great gods of Latium
and Greece, of Persia, Commagene, and Egypt, and beside them, strange
names of British or Swiss, Celtic, Spanish, or Moorish gods, and the
vaguely-designated spirits who now seemed to float in myriads around the
scenes of human life.(2048) Yet, unperceived by the ordinary devotee, amid
all this confused ferment, a certain principle of unity or comprehension
was asserting its power. Although the old gods in Lucian’s piece might
comically complain that they were being crowded out of Olympus by Mithra
and Anubis and their barbarous company,(2049) there was really little
jealousy or repulsion among the pagan cults. Ancient ritual was losing its
precision of outline; the venerable deities of classical myth were putting
off the decided individuality which had so long distinguished them in the
popular imagination.(2050) The provinces and attributes of kindred deities
melted into one another and were finally identified; syncretism was in the
air. Without the unifying aid of philosophy, ordinary piety was effecting
unconsciously a vast process of simplification which tended to ideal
unity. In the Sacred Orations of Aristides, Poseidon, Athene, Serapis,
Asclepius, are dropping the peculiar powers by which they were so long
known, and rising, without any danger of collision, to all-embracing sway.
So, the Isis of Apuleius, the “goddess of myriad names,” in her vision to
Lucius, boldly claims to be “Queen of the world of shades, first of the
inhabitants of Heaven, in whom all gods find their unchanging type.”(2051)
Of course, to the very end, the common superstitious devotion of the
masses was probably little influenced by the great spiritual movement
which, in the higher strata, was moulding heathen faith into an approach
to monotheism. The simple peasant still clung to his favourite deity, as
his Catholic descendant has to-day his favourite saint. But it is in the
higher minds that the onward sweep of great spiritual movements can really
be discerned. The initiation of Apuleius in all the mysteries, the
reverent visits of Apollonius to every temple and oracle from the Ganges
to the Guadalquivir, the matins of Alexander Severus in a chapel which
enshrined the images of Abraham and Orpheus, of Apollonius and
Christ;(2052) these, and many other instances of all-embracing devotion,
point forward to the goal of that Platonist théodicée which it is the
purpose of this chapter to expound.

The spectacle of an immense efflorescence of pure paganism, most of it
born of very mundane fears and hopes and desires, to men like Lucian was a
sight which might, according to the mood, move to tears or laughter. But
the same great impulse which drove the multitude into such wild curiosity
of superstition, was awaking loftier conceptions of the Divine, and
feelings of purer devotion in the educated. And sometimes the very highest
and the very lowest developments of the protean religious instinct may be
seen in a single mind. Was there ever such a combination of the sensualist
imagination with the ideal of ascetic purity, of the terrors and dark arts
of anile superstition with the mystic vision of God, as in the soul of
Apuleius? The painter of the foulest scenes in ancient literature seems to
have cherished the faith in a heavenly King, First Cause of all nature,
Father of all living things,(2053) Saviour of spirits, beyond the range of
time and change, remote, ineffable. The prayer of thanksgiving to Isis
might, _mutatis mutandis_, be almost offered in a Christian church. The
conception of the unity and purity of the Divine One was the priceless
conquest of Greek philosophy, and pre-eminently of Plato. It had been
brought home to the Roman world by the teaching of Stoicism. But there is
a new note in the monotheism of the first and second centuries of the
Empire. God is no longer a mere intellectual postulate, the necessary
crown and lord of a great cosmic system. He has become a moral necessity.
His existence is demanded by the heart as well as by the intellect. Men
craved no longer for a God to explain the universe, but to resolve the
enigma of their own lives; not a blind force, moving on majestically and
mercilessly to “some far-off event,” but an Infinite Father guiding in
wisdom, cherishing in mercy, and finally receiving His children to
Himself. This is the conception of God which, from Seneca to M. Aurelius,
is mastering the best minds, both Stoic and Platonist.(2054) Seneca, as we
have seen in a former chapter, often speaks in the hard tones of the older
Stoicism. Sometimes God, Nature, Fate, Jupiter, are identical terms(2055).
But the cold, materialistic conception of God is irreconcilable with many
passages in his writings. Like Epictetus and M. Aurelius, Seneca is often
far more emotional, we may say, far more modern, than his professed creed.
The materialistic _Anima Mundi_, interfused with the universe and the
nature of man, becomes the infinitely benign Creator, Providence, and
Guardian, the Father, and almost the Friend of men. He is the Author of
all good, never of evil: He is gentle and pitiful, and to attribute to Him
storm or pestilence or earthquake or the various plagues of human life is
an impiety. These things are the result of physical law. To such a God
boundless gratitude is due for His goodness, resignation in the wise
chastenings of His hand. He chastises whom he loves. In bereavement, He
takes only what He has given. He is our ready helper in every moral
effort; no goodness is possible without His succour. In return for all His
benefits, He asks for no costly material offerings, no blood of victims,
no steaming incense, no adulation in prayer. Faith in God is the true
worship of Him. If you wish to propitiate Him, imitate His goodness. And
for the elect soul the day of death is a birthday of eternity, when the
load of corporeal things is shaken off, and the infinite splendour of the
immortal life spreads out with no troubling shadow.(2056)

Hardly less striking is the warmth of devout feeling which suffuses the
moral teaching of Epictetus and M. Aurelius. They have not indeed
abandoned the old Stoic principle that man’s final good depends on the
rectitude of the will. But the Stoic sage is no longer a solitary athlete,
conquering by his proud unaided strength, and in his victory rising almost
superior to Zeus. Growing moral experience had taught humility, and
inspired the sense of dependence on a Higher Power in sympathy with
man.(2057) No true Stoic, of course, could ever forget the Divine element
within each human soul which linked it with the cosmic soul, and through
which man might bring himself into harmony with the great polity of gods
and men. But, somehow, the Divine Power immanent in the world, from a dim,
cold, impalpable law or fate or impersonal force, slowly rounds itself off
into a Being, if not apart from man, at any rate his superior, his Creator
and Guardian, nay, in the end, his Father, from whom he comes, to whom he
returns at death. Some may think this a decline from the lofty plane of
the older school. The answer is that the earlier effort to find salvation
through pure reason in obedience to the law of the whole, although it may
have been magnificent, was not a working religion for man as he is
constituted. The eternal involution of spirit and matter in the old Stoic
creed, the cold, impersonal, unknowable power, which, under whatever name,
Law, Reason, Fate, Necessity, permeates the universe, necessarily exclude
the idea of design, of providence, of moral care for humanity. The unknown
Power which claims an absolute obedience, has no aid or recognition for
his worshipper. The monism of the old Stoics breaks down. The human
spirit, in striving to realise its unity with the Universal Spirit,
realises with more and more intensity the perpetual opposition of matter
and spirit, while it receives no aid in the conflict from the power which
ordains it; it “finds itself alone in an alien world.” The true Stoic has
no real object of worship. If he addresses the impassive centre and soul
of his universe, sometimes in the rapturous tones of loving devotion, it
is only a pathetic illusion born of the faiths of the past, or inspired by
a dim forecast of the faiths of the coming time. How could the complex of
blind forces arouse any devotion? It demanded implicit submission and
self-sacrifice, but it gave no help, save the name of a Divine element in
the human soul; it furnished no inspiring example to the sage in the
conflicts of passion, under obloquy, obstruction, and persecution.
Meanwhile, in this forlorn struggle, the human character was through
stress and storm developing new powers and virtues, lofty courage in the
face of lawless power, pious resignation to the blows of fortune, gentle
consideration and mercy even for slaves and the outcasts of society,
ideals of purity unknown to the ancient world in its prime. The sage
might, according to orthodox theory, rest in a placid content of rounded
perfection. But human nature is not so constituted. In proportion to
spiritual progress is the force of spiritual longings; _beati __mundo
corde, ipsi Deum videbunt_. The fruitful part of Stoicism as a religion
was the doctrine that the human reason is a part of the soul of the world,
a spark of the Divine mind. At first this was only conceived in the
fashion of a materialistic pantheism.(2058) The kindred between the
individual and the general soul was little more than a physical doctrine.
But it developed in minds like Epictetus and Seneca a profound spiritual
meaning; it tapped the source of all real religion. Pure reason can never
solve the religious problem. The history of religions shows that a
conception of God which is to act effectually on composite human nature is
never reached by the speculative intellect. What reason cannot do is
effected by the “sub-conscious self,”(2059) which is the dim seat of the
deeper intuitions, haunted by vague memories, hereditary pieties, and
emotional associations, the spring of strange genius, of heroic sacrifice,
of infinite aspiration. There throbs the tide “which drew from out the
boundless deep.” Thus the Stoic of the later time became a mystic, in the
sense that “by love and emotion he solved the dualism of the world.”(2060)
God is no longer a mere physical law or force, however subtilised,
sweeping on in pitiless impetus or monotony of cyclic change. God is
within the human soul, not as a spark of empyreal fire, but as the voice
of conscience, the spiritual monitor and comforter, the “Holy
Spirit,”(2061) prompting, guarding, consoling in life and death. God is no
longer found so much in the ordered movement of the spheres and the
recurring processes or the cataclysms of the material universe. He is
heard in the still small voice. It is thus that the later Stoicism melts
into the revived Platonism.

Probably Seneca and Epictetus, had they been interrogated, would have
loyally resolved their most rapturous and devout language into the cold
terms of Stoic orthodoxy. But the emotional tone is a really new element
in their teaching, and the language of spiritual abandonment, joyful
resignation to a Higher Will, free and cheerful obedience to it in the
confidence of love, would be absurdly incongruous if addressed to an
abstract law or physical necessity.(2062) The fatherhood of God and the
kinship of all men as His sons is the fundamental principle of the new
creed, binding us to do nothing unworthy of such an ancestry.(2063) At
other times we are soldiers of God in a war with evil, bound to military
obedience, awaiting calmly the last signal to retreat from the scene of
struggle.(2064) The infinite benevolence of God is asserted in the face of
all appearances to the contrary. This of course is all the easier to one
trained in the doctrine that the external fortune of life has nothing to
do with man’s real happiness. The fear of God is banished by the sense of
His perfect love. The all-seeing eye, the all-embracing providence, leave
no room for care or foreboding. The Stoic optimism is now grounded on a
personal trust in a loving and righteous will: “I am Thine, do with me
what Thou wilt.” “For all things work together for good to them who love
Him.” The external sufferings and apparent wrongs of the obedient sons of
God are no stumbling-blocks to faith.(2065) The great heroic example,
Heracles, the son of Zeus, was sorely tried by superhuman tasks, and won
his crown of immortality through toil and battle. “Whom He loves He
chastens.” Even apparent injustice is only an education through suffering.
These things are “only light afflictions” to him who sees the due
proportions of things and knows Zeus as his father. Even to the poor, the
lame, the blind, if they have the divine love, the universe is a great
temple, full of mystery and joy, and each passing day a festival. In the
common things of life, in ploughing, digging, eating, we should sing hymns
to God. “What else can I do,” says Epictetus, “a lame old man, than sing
His praise, and exhort all men to join in the same song?”(2066) Who shall
say what depth of religious emotion, veiled under old-world phrase, there
was in that outburst of M. Aurelius: “All harmonises with me which is in
harmony with thee, O Universe. Nothing for me is too early nor too late
which is in due season for thee.... For thee are all things, in thee are
all things, to thee all things return. The poet says, Dear City of
Cecrops; and wilt not thou say, Dear City of Zeus?”(2067)

The attitude of such souls to external worship in every age may be easily
divined without the evidence of their words. If God is good and wishes
only the good of His creatures, then to seek to appease His wrath and
avert His capricious judgments becomes an impiety. If men’s final good
lies in the moral sphere, in justice, gentleness, temperance, obedience to
the higher order, then prayer for external goods, for mere indulgences of
sense or ambition, shows a hopeless misconception as to the nature of God
and the supreme destiny of man.(2068) On the other hand, without giving up
the doctrine that the highest good depends on the virtuous will, the later
Stoics and Platonists have begun to feel that man needs support and
inspiration in his moral struggles from a higher Power, a Power without
him and beyond him, yet who is allied to him in nature and sympathy.
Prayer is no longer a means of winning temporal good things “for which the
worthy need not pray, and which the unworthy will not obtain.” It is a
fortifying communion with the Highest, an act of thanksgiving for
blessings already received, an inspiration for a fuller and diviner
life.(2069) It is an effort of gratitude and adoration to draw from the
Divine source of all moral strength.

It must always remain to moderns an enigma how souls living in such a
spiritual world refused to break with heathen idolatry. Seneca, indeed,
poured contempt on the grossness of myth in a lost treatise on
superstition;(2070) and he had no liking for the external rites of
worship. But in some strange way M. Aurelius reconciled punctilious
devotion to the popular gods with an austere pantheism or monotheism. It
is in Platonists such as Dion or Maximus of Tyre that we meet with an
attempted apology for anthropomorphic symbolism of the Divine.(2071) The
justification lies in the vast gulf which separates the remote, ineffable,
and inconceivable purity of God from the feebleness and grossness of man.
Few are they who can gaze in unaided thought on the Divine splendour
unveiled. Images, rites, and sacred myth have been invented by the wisdom
of the past, to aid the memory and the imagination of weak ordinary souls.
The symbols have varied with the endless variety of races. Animals or
trees, mountain or river, rude unhewn stones, or the miracles of Pheidias
in gold and ivory, are simply the sign or picture by which the soul is
pointed to the Infinite Essence which has never been seen by mortal eye or
imaged in human phantasy. The symbol which appeals to one race may be poor
and contemptible in the eyes of another. The animal worship of Egypt gave
a shock to minds which were lifted heavenwards by the winning majesty of
the Virgin Goddess or of the Zeus of Olympia. The human form, as the
chosen tabernacle of an effluence of the Divine Spirit, might well seem to
Dion and Maximus the noblest and most fitting symbol of religious worship.
Yet, in the end, they are all ready to tolerate any aberration of
religious fancy which is justified by its use.(2072) The most perfect
symbol is only a faint adumbration of “the Father and Creator of all, Who
is older than the sun and heavens, stronger than time and the ages and the
fleeting world of change, unnamed by any lawgiver, Whom tongue cannot
express nor eye see. Helpless to grasp His real essence, we seek a stay in
names or images, in beast or plant, in river or mountain, in lustrous
forms of gold and silver and ivory. Whatever we have of fairest we call by
His name. And for love of Him, we cling, as lovers are wont, to anything
which recalls Him. I quarrel not with divers imagery, if we seek to know,
to love, to remember Him.”(2073) This is the outburst of a tolerant and
eclectic Platonism, ready to condone everything in the crudest religious
imagery. But a more conscientious scrutiny even of Grecian legend
demanded, as we shall see, a deeper solution to account for dark rites and
legends which cast a shadow on the Infinite Purity.

The Stoic theology, which resolved the gods of legend into thin
abstractions, various potencies of the Infinite Spirit interfused with the
universe,(2074) was in some respects congenial to the Roman mind, and
reflected the spirit of old Roman religion. That religion of arid
abstractions, to which no myth, no haunting charm of poetic imagination
attached,(2075) easily lent itself to a system which explained the gods by
allegory or physical rationalism. That was not an eirenicon for the second
century, at least among thoughtful, pious men. The philosophic effort of
so many centuries had ended in an eclecticism for purely moral culture,
and a profound scepticism as to the attainment of higher truth by unaided
reason.(2076) Mere intellectual curiosity, the desire of knowledge for its
own sake, and the hope of attaining it, are strangely absent from the
loftiest minds, from Seneca, Epictetus, and M. Aurelius.(2077) Men like
Lucian, sometimes in half melancholy, half scornful derision, amused
themselves with ridiculing the chaotic results of the intellectual
ambition of the past.(2078) They equally recognised the immense force of
that spiritual movement which was trying every avenue of accredited
religious system or novel superstition, that might perchance lead the
devotee to some glimpse of the divine world. And side by side with the
recrudescence of old-world superstitions, there were spreading, from
whatever source, loftier and more ethical conceptions of God, a dim sense
of sin and human weakness, a need of cleansing and support from a Divine
hand. Stoicism, with all its austere grandeur, had failed in its
interpretation both of man and of God. Popular theology, however soothing
to old associations and unregenerate feelings, often gave a shock to the
quickened moral sense and the higher spiritual intuitions. Yet the
venerable charm of time-honoured ritual, glad or stately, the emotional
effects and dim promise of revelation in the mysteries of many shrines,
the seductive allurements of new cults, with a strange blending of the
sensuous and the mystic, all wove around the human soul such an enchanted
maze of spiritual fascination that escape was impossible, even if it were
desired. But it was no longer desired even by the highest intellects. The
efforts of pure reason to solve the mystery of God and of man’s destiny
had failed. Yet men were ever “feeling after God, if haply they might find
Him.” And the God whom they sought for was one on whom they might hang, in
whom they might have rest. Where was the revelation to come from? Where
was the mediator to be sought to reconcile the ancient faiths or fables
with a purified conception of the Deity and the aspiration for a higher
moral life?

The revived Pythagorean and Platonist philosophy which girded itself to
attempt the solution was really part of a great spiritual movement, with
its focus at Alexandria.(2079) In that meeting-point of the East and West,
of all systems of thought and worship, syncretism blended all faiths.
Hadrian, in his letter to Servianus, cynically observes that the same men
were ready to worship impartially Serapis or Christ.(2080) Philosophy
became more and more a religion; its first and highest aim is a right
knowledge of God. And philosophy, having failed to find help in the life
according to nature, or the divine element in individual consciousness,
had now to seek support in a God transcending nature and consciousness, a
God such as the mysticism of the East or the systems of Pythagoras and
Plato had foreshadowed. But such a God, transcending nature and
consciousness, remote, ineffable, only, in some rare moment of supreme
exaltation, dimly apprehensible by the human spirit,(2081) could not call
forth fully the loving trust and fervent reverence which men longed to
offer. Heaven being so far from earth, and earth so darkened by the mists
of sense, any gleam of revelation must be welcomed from whatever quarter
it might break. And thus an all-embracing syncretism, while it gratified
ancestral piety, and the natural instinct of all religion to root itself
in the past, offered the hope of illumination from converging lights. Or
rather, any religion which has won the reverence of men may transmit a ray
from the central Sun. The believer in God, who longs for communion with
Him, for help at His hands, might by reverent selection win from all
religions something to satisfy his needs. A revelation was the imperious
demand. Where should men be so likely to find it as in the reverent study
of great historic efforts of humanity to pierce the veil?

The philosophy which was to attempt the revival of paganism in the second
century, and which was to fight its last battles in the fourth and fifth,
traced itself to Pythagoras and Plato. Plato’s affinity with the older
mystic is well known. And the reader of the _Phaedo_ or the _Republic_
will not be surprised to find the followers of the two masters of Greek
thought who believed most in a spiritual vision and in an ordered moral
life, united in an effort which extended to the close of the Western
Empire,(2082) to combine a lofty mysticism with ancestral faith. The two
systems had much in common, and yet each contributed a peculiar element to
the great movement. Pythagoreanism, although its origin is veiled in
mystery, was always full of the mysticism of the East. Platonism was
essentially the philosophy of Greek culture. The movement in which their
forces were combined was one in which the new Hellenism of Hadrian’s reign
reinforced itself for the reconstruction of western paganism with those
purer and loftier ideas of God of which the East is the original home. The
effort of paganism to rehabilitate itself in the second century drew no
small part of its inspiration from the regions which were the cradle of
the Christian faith.(2083)

Seneca seems to regard Pythagoreanism as extinct.(2084) Yet one of his own
teachers, Sotion, practised its asceticism,(2085) and in the first century
B.C., the traces of at least ninety treatises by members of the school
have been recovered by antiquarian care, many of them forgeries foisted on
ancient names.(2086) As a didactic system, indeed, the school had long
disappeared, but the Pythagorean _askesis_ seems never to have lost its
continuity. It drew down the ridicule of the New Comedy. It may have had a
share in forming the Essene and Therapeutic discipline.(2087) In the first
century B.C. it had a distinguished adherent in P. Nigidius Figulus, and a
learned expositor in Alexander Polyhistor. Its enduring power as a
spiritual creed congenial to paganism is shown by the fact that
Iamblichus, one of the latest Neo-Platonists, and one of the ardent
devotees of superstition, expounded the Pythagorean system in many
treatises and composed an imaginative biography of the great
founder.(2088) To the modern it is best known through the romantic life of
Apollonius of Tyana, by Philostratus, which was composed at the instance
of Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus, who combined with a
doubtful virtue a love for the mysticism of her native East.(2089)
Apollonius is surrounded by his biographer with an atmosphere of mystery
and miracle. But although the critical historian must reject much of the
narrative, the faith of the Pythagorean missionary of the reign of
Domitian stands out in clear outline. Apollonius is a true representative
of the new spiritual movement. His mother had a vision before his birth.
His early training at Aegae was eclectic, like the spirit of the age, and
he heard the teaching of doctors of all the schools, not even excluding
the Epicurean.(2090) But he early devoted himself to the severe asceticism
of the Pythagorean sect, wore pure linen, abstained from wine and flesh,
observed the five years of silence, and made the temple his home. The
worship of Asclepius, which was then gaining an extraordinary vogue, had a
special attraction for him, with its atmosphere of serenity and ritual
purity and its dream oracles of beneficent healing. Apollonius combines in
a strange fashion, like Plutarch and the eclectic Platonists, a decided
monotheism with a conservative devotion to the ancient gods. He looks to
the East, to the sages of the Ganges, for the highest inspiration. He
worships the sun every day.(2091) Yet he has a profound interest in the
popular religion of the many lands through which he travelled. He
frequented the temples of all the gods, discoursed with the priests on the
ancient lore of their shrines, and corrected or restored, with an
authority which seems to have never been challenged, their ritual where it
had been forgotten or mutilated in the lapse of ages.(2092) He sought
initiation in all the mysteries. He wrote a book on Sacrifices which dealt
with the most minute details of worship.(2093) He had a profound interest
in ancient legend, and the fame of the great Hellenic heroes, and, having
spent a weird night with the shade of Achilles in the Troad, he
constrained the Thessalians to restore his fallen honours.(2094) The
temples recognised in him at once a champion and a reformer. The oracular
seats of Ionia showed an unenvious admiration of his gift of prophecy, and
hailed him as a true son of Apollo.(2095) His visit to Rome in the darkest
hour of the Neronian terror seems to have aroused a strange religious
fervour; the temples were thronged with worshippers; it was a heathen
revival.(2096)

Yet this strange missionary held principles which ought to have been fatal
to heathen worship. He drew his central principle from Eastern pantheism,
which might seem irreconcilable with the anthropomorphism of the West. It
is true that under the Infinite Spirit, as in the Platonist théodicée, the
gods of heathen devotion find a place as His ministers and viceroys.(2097)
But the eternal antithesis of spirit and matter, and the contempt for the
body as a degrading prison of the divine element in man,(2098) the ascetic
theory that by crucifying the flesh and attenuating its powers, the spirit
might lay itself open to heavenly influences, these are doctrines which
might appear utterly hostile to a gross materialist ritual. And as a
matter of fact, Apollonius to some extent obeyed his principles. He
scorned the popular conception of divination and magic.(2099) The only
legitimate power of foreseeing the future or influencing the material
world is given to the soul which is pure from all fleshly taint and
therefore near to God. He feels profoundly that the myths propagated by
the poets have lowered the ideal of God and the character of man, and he
greatly prefers the fables of Aesop, which use the falsehoods of the fancy
for a definite moral end.(2100) The mutilation of a father, the storming
of Olympus by the Giants, incest and adultery among the gods, must be
reprobated, however they have been glorified by poetry. Apollonius poured
contempt on the animal worship of Egypt, even when defended by the
dialectic subtlety of Greece.(2101) He was repelled by the grossness of
bloody sacrifices, however consecrated by immemorial use. For the nobler
symbolism of Hellenic art he had a certain sympathy, like Dion, but only
as symbolism. Any sensible image of the Supreme, which does not carry the
soul beyond the bounds of sense, defeats its purpose and is degrading to
pure religion. Pictured or sculptured forms are only aids to that mystic
imagination through which alone we can see God. Finally, his idea of
prayer is intensely spiritual or ethical. “Grant me, ye gods, what is my
due” is the highest prayer of Apollonius.(2102) Yet, as we have already
seen, the religion of Apollonius is thoroughly practical. He was a great
preacher. He addressed vast crowds from the temple steps at Ephesus or
Olympia, rebuking their luxury and effeminacy, their feuds and mean civic
ambition, their love of frivolous sports or the bloody strife of the
arena.(2103) Next to the knowledge of God, he preached the importance of
self-knowledge, and of lending an attentive ear to the voice of
conscience. He crowned his life by asserting fearlessly the cause of
righteousness in the awful presence-chamber of Domitian.

About the very time when Apollonius was bearding the last of the Flavians,
and preaching a pagan revival in the porticoes of the Roman temples, it is
probable that Plutarch, in some respects a kindred spirit, was making his
appearance as a lecturer at Rome.(2104) The greatest of biographers has
had no authentic biography himself.(2105) The few certain facts about his
life must be gleaned from his own writings. He was the descendant of an
ancient family of Chaeronea, famous as the scene of three historic
battles, “the War-God’s dancing-place,” and his great-grandfather had
tales of the great conflict at Actium.(2106) In the year 66 A.D., when
Nero was distinguishing or disgracing himself as a competitor at the Greek
festivals, Plutarch was a young student at the university of Athens, under
Ammonius,(2107) who, if he inspired him with admiration for Plato, also
taught him to draw freely from all the treasures of Greek thought.
Plutarch, before he finally settled down at Chaeronea, saw something of
the great Roman world. He had visited Alexandria and some part of Asia
Minor.(2108) He was at an early age employed to represent his native town
on public business,(2109) and he had thus visited Rome, probably in the
reign of Vespasian, and again, in the reign of Domitian.(2110) It was a
time when original genius in Roman literature was showing signs of
failure, but when minute antiquarian learning was becoming a
passion.(2111) It was also the age of the new sophist. Hellenism was in
the air, and the lecture theatres were thronged to hear the philosophic
orator or the professional artist in words.(2112) Although Plutarch is
never mentioned beside men like Euphrates, in Pliny’s letters, he found an
audience at Rome, and the famous Arulenus Rusticus was once among his
hearers.(2113) While he was ransacking the imperial libraries, he also
formed the acquaintance, at pleasant social parties, of many men of
academic and official fame, some of whom belonged to the circle of Pliny
and Tacitus.(2114)

But his native Greece, with its great memories, and his native Chaeronea,
to which he was linked by ancestral piety, had for a man like Plutarch far
stronger charms than the capital of the world. With our love of excitement
and personal prominence, it is hard to conceive how a man of immense
culture and brilliant literary power could endure the monotony of
bourgeois society in depopulated and decaying Greece.(2115) Yet Plutarch
seems to have found it easy, and even pleasant. He was too great to allow
his own scheme of life to be crossed and disturbed by vulgar opinion or
ephemeral ambition. His family relations were sweet and happy. His married
life realised the highest ideals of happy wedlock.(2116) He had the
respectful affection of his brothers and older kinsmen. The petty
magistracies, in which he made it a duty to serve his native town, were
dignified in his eyes by the thought that Epameinondas had once been
charged with the cleansing of the streets of Thebes.(2117) His priesthood
of Apollo at Delphi was probably far more attractive than the imperial
honours which, according to legend, were offered to him by Trajan and
Hadrian.(2118) To his historic and religious imagination the ancient
shrine which looked down on the gulf from the foot of the “Shining Rocks,”
was sacred as no other spot on earth. Although in Plutarch’s day Delphi
had declined in splendour and fame,(2119) it was still surrounded with the
glamour of immemorial sanctity and power. It was still the spot from which
divine voices of warning or counsel had issued to the kings of Lydia, to
chiefs of wild hordes upon the Strymon, to the envoys of the Roman
Tarquins, to every city of Hellenic name from the Euxine to the Atlantic.
We can still almost make the round of its antiquarian treasures under his
genial guidance. Probably Plutarch’s happiest hours were spent in
accompanying a party of visitors,—a professor on his way home from Britain
to Tarsus, a Spartan traveller just returned from far Indian seas,—around
those sacred scenes; we can hear the debate on the doubtful quality of
Delphic verse or the sources of its inspiration: we can watch them pause
to recall the story of mouldering bronze or marble, and wake the echoes of
a thousand years.(2120)

Plutarch must have been a swift and indefatigable worker, for his
production is almost on the scale of Varro, Cicero, or the elder Pliny.
Yet he found time for pleasant visits to every part of Greece which had
tales or treasures for the antiquary. He enjoyed the friendship of the
brightest intellects of the day, of Herodes Atticus, the millionaire
rhetorician,(2121) of Favorinus, the great sophist of Gaul, the intimate
friend of Herodes and the counsellor of the Emperor Hadrian, of Ammonius,
who was Plutarch’s tutor; of many others, noted in their time, but who are
mere shadows to us. They met in a convivial way in many places, at
Chaeronea, at Hyampolis, at Eleusis after the Mysteries, at Patrae, at
Corinth during the Isthmian games, at Thermopylae, and Athens in the house
of Ammonius, or at Aedepsus, the Baden of Euboea, where in the springtime
people found pleasant lodgings and brisk intercourse to relieve the
monotony of attendance at the baths.(2122) Plutarch had a large circle of
relatives,—his grandfather Lamprias, who had tales from an actual witness
of the revels of Antony at Alexandria;(2123) Lamprias his elder brother, a
true Boeotian in his love of good fare, a war-dance, and a jest;(2124) his
younger brother Timon, to whom Plutarch was devotedly attached.(2125) His
ordinary society, not very distinguished socially, was composed of
grammarians, rhetoricians, country doctors, the best that the district
could afford.(2126) The talk is often on the most trivial or absurd
subjects, though not more absurdly trivial than those on which the
polished sophist displayed his graces in the lecture-hall.(2127) Yet
graver and more serious themes are not excluded,(2128) and the table-talk
of Greece in the end of the first century is invaluable to the student of
society. In such scenes Plutarch not only cultivated friendship, the great
art of life, not only watched the play of intellect and character; he also
found relief from the austere labours which have made his fame. It is
surely not the least of his titles to greatness that, in an environment
which to most men of talent would have been infinitely depressing, with
the irrepressible vitality of genius he contrived to idealise the society
of decaying Greece by linking it with the past.

And, with such a power of reviving the past, even the dulness of the
little Boeotian town was easily tolerable. We can imagine Plutarch looking
down the quiet street in the still vacant noontide, as he sat trying to
revive the ancient glories of his race, and to match them with their
conquerors, while he reminded the lords of the world, who, in Plutarch’s
early youth, seemed to be wildly squandering their heritage, of the stern,
simple virtue by which it had been won. For in the Lives of great Greeks
and Romans, the moral interest is the most prominent. It is biography, not
history, which Plutarch is writing.(2129) Setting and scenery of course
there must be; but Plutarch’s chief object is to paint the character of
the great actors on the stage. Hence he may slur over or omit historic
facts of wider interest, while he records apparently trivial incidents or
sayings which light up a character. But Plutarch has a fine eye both for
lively social scenes and the great crises of history. The description of
the feverish activity of swarming industry in the great days of Pheidias
at Athens, once read, can never be forgotten.(2130) Equally indelible are
the pictures of the younger Cato’s last morning, as he finished the
_Phaedo_, and the birds began to twitter,(2131) of the flight and murder
of Pompey, of the suicide of Otho on the ghastly field of Bedriacum, which
seemed to atone for an evil life. Nor can we forget his description of one
of the saddest of all scenes in Greek history, which moved even Thucydides
to a restrained pathos,—the retreat of the Athenians from the walls of
Syracuse.

Plutarch was before all else a moralist, with a genius for religion. His
ethical treatises deserve to be thoroughly explored, and as
sympathetically expounded, for the light which they throw on the moral
aspirations of the age, as Dr. Mahaffy has skilfully used them for
pictures of its social life. He must be a very unimaginative person who
cannot feel the charm of their revelation. But the man of purely
speculative interest will probably be disappointed. Plutarch is not an
original thinker in morals or religion. He has no new gospel to expound.
He does not go to the roots of conduct or faith. Possessing a very wide
knowledge of past speculation, he might have written an invaluable history
of ancient philosophy. But he has not done it. And, as a man of genius,
with a strong practical purpose to do moral good to his fellows, his
choice of his vocation must be accepted without cavil. He was the greatest
Hellenist of his day, when Hellenism was capturing the Roman world. He was
also a man of high moral ideals, sincere piety, and absorbing interest in
the fate of human character. With all that wealth of learning, philosophic
or historical, with all that knowledge of human nature, what nobler task
could a man set himself than to attempt to give some practical guidance to
a generation conscious of moral weakness, and distracted between new
spiritual ideals and the mythologies of the past? The urgent need for
moral culture and reform of character, for a guiding force in conduct, was
profoundly felt by all the great serious minds of the Flavian age, by
Pliny and Tacitus, by Juvenal and Quintilian. But Plutarch probably felt
it more acutely than any, and took endless pains to satisfy it. It was an
age when the philosophic director and the philosophic preacher were, as we
have seen, to be met with everywhere. And Plutarch took his full share in
the movement, and influenced a wide circle.(2132) If he did not elaborate
an original ethical system, he had studied closely the art of moral
reform, and Christian homilists, from Basil to Jeremy Taylor, have drawn
freely from the storehouse of his precept and observation. In many tracts
he has analysed prevailing vices and faults of his time,—flattery, vain
curiosity, irritable temper, or false modesty,—and given rules for curing
or avoiding them. In these homilies, the fundamental principle is that of
Musonius, perhaps adapted from an oracle to the people of Cirrha “to wage
war with vice day and night, and never to relax your guard.”(2133) The
call to reform sounded all the louder in Plutarch’s ears because of the
high ideal which he had conceived of what life might be made if, no longer
left to the play of passion and random influences, character were moulded
from early youth to a temperate harmony. To such a soul each passing day
might be a glad festival, the universe an august temple full of its
Maker’s glories, and life an initiation into the joy of its holy
mysteries.(2134)

In the work of moral and religious reconstruction Plutarch and his
contemporaries could only rely on philosophy as their guide. Philosophy to
Plutarch, Apollonius, or M. Aurelius, had a very different meaning from
what it bore to the great thinkers of Ionia and Magna Graecia. Not only
had it deserted the field of metaphysical speculation; it had lost
interest even in the mere theory of morals. It had become the art rather
than the science of life. The teacher of an art cannot indeed entirely
divorce it from all scientific theory. The relative importance of
practical precept and ethical theory was often debated in that age. But
the tendency was undoubtedly to subordinate dogma to edification.(2135)
And where dogma was needed for practical effect, it might be drawn from
the most opposite quarters. Seneca delights in rounding off a letter by a
quotation from Epicurus. M. Aurelius appeals both to the example of
Epicurus and the teaching of Plato.(2136) Man might toy with cosmic
speculation; the Timaeus had many commentators in the first and second
centuries.(2137) But, for Plutarch and his contemporaries, the great task
of philosophy was to bring some sort of order into the moral and religious
chaos. It was not original thought or discovery which was needed, but the
application of reason, cultivated by the study of the past, to the moral
and religious problems of the present. The philosopher sometimes, to our
eyes, seems to trifle with the smallest details of exterior deportment or
idiom or dress; he gives precepts about the rearing of children; he
occupies himself with curious questions of ritual and antiquarian
interest.(2138) These seeming degradations of a great mission, after all,
only emphasise the fact that philosophy was now concerned with human life
rather than with the problems of speculation. It had in fact become an
all-embracing religion. It supplied the medicine for moral disease; it
furnished the rational criterion by which all myth and ritual must be
judged or explained.(2139)

Plutarch was an eclectic in the sense that, knowing all the moral systems
of the past, he was ready to borrow from any of these principles which
might give support to character. Whether, if he had been born four or five
hundred years earlier, he might have created or developed an original
theory himself, is a question which may be variously answered. One may
reasonably hesitate to assent to the common opinion that Plutarch had no
genius for original speculation. Had he come under the influence of
Socrates, it is not so certain that he might not have composed dialogues
with a certain charm of fresh dialectic and picturesque dramatic power. It
is a little unhistorical to decry a man of genius as wanting in
speculative originality, who was born into an age when speculation had run
dry, and thought was only subsidiary to conduct. When the dissonant
schools forsook the heights of metaphysic and cosmology to devote
themselves to moral culture, an inevitable tendency to eclecticism, to a
harmony of moral theory, set in. The practical interest prevailed over the
infinitely divisive forces of the speculative reason. Antiochus, the
teacher of Cicero,(2140) while he strove to re-establish Platonism,
maintained the essential agreement of the great schools on the
all-important questions, and freely adopted the doctrines of Zeno and
Aristotle.(2141) Panaetius, the chief representative of Roman Stoicism in
the second century B.C., had a warm admiration for Plato and Aristotle,
and in some essential points forsook the older teaching of the
Porch.(2142) Seneca, as we have seen, often seems to cling to the most
hard and repellent tenets of the ancient creed. Yet a sense of practical
difficulties has led him to soften and modify many of them—the identity of
reason and passion, the indifference of so-called “goods,” the necessity
of instantaneous conversion, the unapproachable and unassailable
perfection of the wise man. Plutarch’s own ethical system, so far as he
has a system, is a compound of Platonic and Aristotelian ideas, with a
certain tincture of Stoicism.(2143) Platonism, which had shaken off its
sceptical tendencies in the first century B.C., had few adherents at Rome
in the first century of the Empire.(2144) The Stoic and Epicurean systems
divided the allegiance of thinking people till the energetic revival of
Hellenism set in. Epictetus indeed speaks of women who were attracted by
the supposed freedom of sexual relations in Plato’s Utopia.(2145) Seneca
often refers to Plato, and was undoubtedly influenced by his spirit. But
in the second century, the sympathetic union of Platonic and Pythagorean
ideas with a vigorous religious revival became a real power, with
momentous effects on the future of philosophy and religion for three
centuries. Plutarch’s reverence for the founder of the Academy, even in
little things, was unbounded.(2146) It became with him almost a kind of
cult. And he paid the most sincere reverence to his idol by imitating, in
some of his treatises, the mythical colouring by which the author of the
_Phaedo_ and the _Republic_ had sought to give body and reality to the
unseen world.(2147) Plutarch condemned in very strong language the coarse
and sophistical modes of controversy with which the rival schools assailed
one another’s tenets.(2148) Yet he can hardly be acquitted of some
harshness in his polemic against the Stoics and Epicureans. Archbishop
Trench, in his fascinating and sympathetic treatment of Plutarch, laments
that he did not give a more generous recognition to that noblest and most
truly Roman school which was the last refuge and citadel of freedom.(2149)
We may join the archbishop in wishing that Plutarch, without compromising
principle, had been more tolerant to a system with which he had so much in
common, and which, in his day, had put off much of its old hardness. But
he was essentially a practical man, with a definite moral aim. He took
from any quarter principles which seemed to him to be true to human
nature, and which furnished a hopeful basis for the efforts of the moral
teacher. But he felt equally bound to reject a system which absorbed and
annihilated the emotional nature in the reason,(2150) which cut at the
roots of moral freedom, which recognised no degrees in virtue or in vice,
which discouraged and contemned the first faint struggles of weak humanity
after a higher life, and froze it into hopeless impotence by the remote
ideal of a cold, flawless perfection, suddenly and miraculously raised to
a divine independence of all the minor blessings and helps to
virtue.(2151) Such an ideal may be magnificent, but it is not life. For
man, constituted as he is, and placed in such an environment, it is a
dangerous mental habit to train the soul to regard all things as a
fleeting and monotonous show, to cultivate the _taedium vitae_, or a calm
resignation to the littleness of man placed for a brief space between the
two eternities.(2152) The philosophic sufferer may brace himself to endure
the round of human duties, and to live for the commonwealth of man; he may
he generous to the ungrateful and tolerant to the vulgar and the
frivolous; he may make his life a perpetual sacrifice to duty and the
higher law, but it is all the while really a pathetic protest against the
pitiless Power which has made man so little and so great, doomed to the
life of the leaves and the insects, yet tortured with the longing for an
infinite future.

On some great central truths, such as the inwardness of happiness and the
brotherhood of man, Plutarch and the Stoics were at one. And the general
tone of his moral teaching bears many marks of Stoic influence.(2153) But
the Stoic psychology, the Stoic fatalism and pantheism aroused all the
controversial vehemence of Plutarch.(2154) The Stoic held the essential
unity of the soul, that reason and passion are not two distinct
principles, but that passion is reason depraved and diverted to wrong
objects. It is the same simple, indivisible power which shifts and changes
and submits itself to opposing influences. Passion, in fact, is an
impetuous and erring motion of the reason, and vice, in the old Socratic
phrase, is an error of judgment, a fit of ignorance of the true ends of
action. But as, according to Stoic theory, the human reason is a portion
of the Divine, depravity becomes thus a corruption of the Divine element,
and the guarantee for any hope of reform is lost. For himself, Plutarch
adopts the Platonic division of the soul into the rational, spirited, and
concupiscent elements, with some Aristotelian modifications.(2155) The
great fact of man’s moral nature is the natural opposition between the
passions and the rational element of the soul; it corresponds to a similar
division in the mundane soul.(2156) All experience attests a constant,
natural, and sustained rebellion of the lower against the higher.
Principles so alien and disparate cannot be identified, any more than you
can identify the hunter and his quarry.(2157) But, although in the
unregulated character, they are in violent opposition, they may, by proper
culture, be brought at last into a harmony. The function of the higher
element is not to extinguish the lower, but to guide and control and
elevate it.(2158) Passion is a force which may be wasted in vagrant, wild
excess, but which may also be used to give force and energy to virtue. To
avoid drunkenness, a man need not spill the wine; he may temper its
strength. A controlled anger is the spur of courage. Passion in effect is
the raw material which is moulded by reason into the forms of practical
virtue, and the guiding principle in the process is the law of the mean
between excess and defect of passion.(2159) This is, of course, borrowed
from Aristotle, and along with it the theory of education by habit, which
to Plato had seemed a popular and inferior conception of the formation of
the virtuous character.(2160) By the strong pressure of an enlightened
will, the wild insurgent forces of the lower nature are brought into
conformity to a higher law. It is a slow, laborious process, demanding
infinite patience, daily and hourly watchfulness, self-examination, frank
confession of faults to some friend or wise director of souls.(2161) It
needs the minutest attention to the details of conduct and circumstance,
and a steady front against discouragement from the backsliding of the
wavering will.(2162) In such a system the hope of reform lies not in any
sudden revolution. Plutarch has no faith in instant conversion, reversing
in a moment the ingrained tendencies of years, and setting a man on a
lofty height of perfection, with no fear of falling away. That vain dream
of the older Stoicism, which recognised no degrees in virtuous progress,
made virtue an unapproachable ideal, and paralysed struggling effort. It
was not for an age stricken or blest with a growing sense of moral
weakness, and clutching eagerly at any spiritual stay. Plutarch loves
rather to think of character under the image of a holy and royal building
whose foundations are laid in gold, and each stone has to be chosen and
carefully fitted to the line of reason.(2163)

Plutarch also accepted from the Peripatetic school the principle, which
Seneca was in the end compelled to admit, that the finest paragon of
wisdom and virtue is not quite self-sufficing, that virtuous activity
needs material to work upon,(2164) and that the good things of the world,
in their proper place, are as necessary to the moral musician as the flute
to the flute-player. Above all, Plutarch, with such a theory of character,
was bound to assert the cardinal doctrine of human freedom. He had a
profound faith in a threefold Providence, exercised by the remote Supreme
Deity, by the inferior heavenly powers, and by the daemons.(2165) But
Providence is a beneficent influence, not a crushing force of necessity.
To Plutarch fatalism is the blight of moral effort. Foreknowledge and Fate
are not conterminous and coextensive. Although everything is foreseen by
heavenly powers, not everything is foreordained.(2166) The law of Fate,
like the laws of earthly jurisprudence, deals with the universal, and only
consequentially with the particular case. Certain consequences follow
necessarily from certain acts, but the acts are not inevitably
determined.(2167) Man, by nature the most helpless and defenceless of
animals, becomes lord of creation by his superior reason, and appropriates
all its forces and its wealth by his laborious arts.(2168) And the art of
arts, the art of life, neither trusting to chance nor cowed by any fancied
omnipotence of destiny, uses the will and reason to master the materials
out of which happiness is forged. Thus the hope of a noble life is
securely fenced in the fortress of the autonomous will. To the Stoic the
vicious man was a fool, whose reason was hopelessly besotted. The
Platonist cherished the better hope, that reason, though darkened for a
time and vanquished by the forces of sense, could never assent to sin,
that there still remained in every human soul a witness to the eternal law
of conduct.

With such a faith as this, an earnest man like Plutarch was bound to
become a preacher of righteousness and a spiritual director. Many of his
moral treatises are the expanded record of private counsel or the more
formal instruction of the lecture-hall. He had disciples all over the
Roman world, at Rome, Chaeronea, Ephesus, and Athens.(2169) His conception
of the philosophic gathering, in which these serious things were
discussed, is perhaps the nearest approach which a heathen ever made to
the conception of the Christian church.(2170) In theory, the philosopher’s
discourse on high moral themes was a more solemn affair than the showy
declamation of the sophist, whose chief object was to dazzle and astonish
his audience by a display of rhetorical legerdemain on the most trivial or
out-worn themes. But the moral preacher in those days, it is to be feared,
often forgot the seriousness of his mission, and degraded it by personal
vanity and a tinsel rhetoric to win a cheap applause.(2171) The sophist
and the philosopher were in fact too often undistinguishable, and the
philosophic class-room often resounded with new-fangled expressions of
admiration. For all this Plutarch has an indignant contempt. It is the
prostitution of a noble mission. It is turning the school into a theatre,
and the reformer of souls into a flatterer of the ear. To ask rhetoric
from the true philosopher is as if one should require a medicine to be
served in the finest Attic ware.(2172) The profession of philosophy
becomes in Plutarch’s eyes a real priesthood for the salvation of souls.
He disapproves of the habit, which prevailed in the sophist’s lecture
theatre, of proposing subtle or frivolous questions to the lecturer in
order to make a display of cleverness. But he would have those in moral
difficulty to remain after the sermon, for such it was, and lay bare their
faults and spiritual troubles.(2173) He watched the moral progress of his
disciples, as when Fundanus is congratulated on his growing mildness of
temper.(2174) The philosopher was in those days, and often too truly,
charged with gross inconsistency in his private conduct. Plutarch believed
emphatically in teaching by example. The preacher of the higher life
should inspire such respect that his frown or smile shall at once affect
the disciple.(2175) Plutarch evidently practised his remedies on himself.
His great gallery of the heroes of the past was primarily intended to
profit others. But he found, as the work went on, that he was himself
“much profited by looking into these histories, as if he looked into a
glass, to frame and fashion his life to the mould and pattern of these
virtuous noblemen.”(2176)

Plutarch, as we have seen, waged determined war with the older Stoic and
Epicurean systems; yet his practical teaching is coloured by the spirit of
both. This is perhaps best seen in the tract on Tranquillity, which might
almost have been written by Seneca. Although Plutarch elsewhere holds the
Peripatetic doctrine that the full life of virtue cannot dispense with the
external gifts of fortune, he asserts as powerfully as any Stoic that life
takes its predominant colour from the character, that “the kingdom of
Heaven is within,” that no change of external fortune can calm the tumults
of the soul. You seem to be listening to a Stoic doctor when you hear that
most calamities draw their weight and bitterness from imagination, that
excessive desire for a thing engenders the fear of losing it, and makes
enjoyment feeble and uncertain, that men, by forgetting the past in the
vanishing present, lose the continuity of their lives.(2177) Is it
Plutarch himself, or some Christian preacher, who tells us that seeming
calamity may be the greatest blessing, that the greatest folly is
unthankfulness and discontent with the daily lot, that no wealth or rank
can give such enchanted calm of spirit as a conscience unstained by evil
deed or thought, and the power of facing fortune with steady open
eye?(2178) It is surely the greatest literary genius of his age, buried in
a dull Boeotian town, who bids us think of the good things we have,
instead of envying a life whose inner griefs we know not, who ever looks
on the brighter side of things and dignifies an obscure lot by grateful
content, who is not vexed by another’s splendid fortune, because he knows
that seeming success is often a miserable failure, and that each one has
within him the springs of happiness or misery.(2179)

The discipline by which this wise mood, which contains the wisdom of all
the ages, is to be attained is expounded by Plutarch in many tracts, which
are the record of much spiritual counsel. The great secret is a lover’s
passion for the ideal and a scorn for the vulgar objects of desire.(2180)
Yet moral growth must be slow, though steady and unpausing, not the rush
of feverish excitement, which may be soon spent and exhausted.(2181) The
true aspirant to moral perfection will not allow himself to be cast down
by the obstacles that meet him at the entrance to the narrow way, nor will
he be beguiled by pomp of style or subtlety of rhetoric to forget the true
inwardness of philosophy. He will not ask for any witness of his good
deeds or his growth in virtue; he will shrink from the arrogance of the
mere pretender. Rather will he be humble and modest, harsh to his own
faults, gentle to those of others. Like the neophyte in the mysteries, he
will be awed into reverent silence, when the light bursts from the inner
shrine.(2182) This humility will be cultivated by daily self-scrutiny, and
in this self-examination no sins will seem little, and no addition to the
growing moral wealth, however slight, will be despised.(2183) To stimulate
effort, we must set the great historic examples of achievement or
self-conquest before our eyes, and in doubt or difficulty, we must ask
what would Plato or Socrates have done in such a case?(2184) Where they
have suffered, we shall love and honour them all the more. Their memory
will work as a sacred spell.

Plutarch expounded the gospel of a cheerful and contented life, and he
evidently practised what he preached. Yet, like all finely strung spirits,
he had his hours when the pathos of life was heavy upon him, and death
seemed the sovereign remedy for it all. Any one who shares the vulgar
notion that the Greeks, even of the great age, were a race living in
perpetual sunshine and careless enjoyment of the hour, should read the
Consolation to Apollonius on the death of his son. He will there find all
the great poets, from Homer downwards, cited in support of the most
pessimist view of human life.(2185) In the field of philosophy, it finds
the most withering expression in the doctrine of Heraclitus, which did so
much to mould the thought of Plutarch’s great master, and which coloured
so many of the meditations of M. Aurelius.(2186) Our life is but in
miniature a counterpart of the universal flux, and each moment is the
meeting place of life and death. Years, many or few, are but a point, a
moment in the tract of infinite age.(2187) The noble fulness of a life
must be sought not in a sum of years, but in a rounded completeness of
virtue. When we look at the chance and change and sorrow of life, death
seems really the great deliverer, and in certain moments, it may be hailed
as Heaven’s last, best gift.(2188) Whether it be an unawaking sleep or the
entrance to another scene of being, it cannot be an evil; it may perchance
be a blessing. If there is nothing after it, we only return to our calm
antenatal unconsciousness.(2189) Or if there be another life, then for the
good and noble there is a place assuredly prepared in some happy island of
the West, or other mystic region, which we may picture to ourselves, if we
please, in the Orphic visions glorified by Pindar.(2190)

We are now on the threshold of another world, from which many voices were
coming to the age of Plutarch. After philosophy has done its utmost to
mould the life of sixty or seventy years into a moral harmony, with its
music in itself,(2191) the effort ends in a melancholy doubt. The precept
of Seneca and Plutarch, that you should live under the tutelary eye of
some patron sage of the past, revealed a need of exterior help for the
virtuous will. The passion for continued existence was sobered by the
sense of continued moral responsibility and the shadow of a judgment to
come. Vistas of a supernatural world opened above the struggling human
life on earth and in far mysterious distances beyond. When philosophy had
done its utmost to heal the diseases of humanity, it was confronted with
another task, to give man a true knowledge of God and assurance of His
help in this world and the next. Philosophy had for ages held before the
eyes of men a dim vision of Him, sublime, remote, ineffable. But it was a
vision for the few, not for the many. It was rather metaphysical than
moral and spiritual. It paid little heed to the myths and mysteries by
which humanity had been seeking to solve its spiritual enigmas. This long
travail of humanity could not be ignored by a true religious philosophy.
Some means must be found to reconcile ancient religious imagination with
the best conception of the Divine.

The problem indeed was not a new one, except in the sense that an intense
revival of religious faith or superstition demanded a fresh théodicée. As
early as the sixth century B.C., the simple faith in legend had been
shaken among the higher minds in a great philosophic movement which
extended over many ages. Some had rejected the myths with scorn. Others
had proceeded by the method of more or less critical selection. Others,
again, strove to find in them a historical kernel, or an esoteric meaning
veiled in allegory. The same methods reappeared in the age of Varro and
Scaevola,(2192) and, five centuries later, in the theology of
Macrobius.(2193) The effort, however, of the Platonists of the second
century has a peculiar interest, because some fresh elements have been
added to the great problem since the days of Xenophanes and Euhemerus and
Varro.

To Plutarch, theology is the crown of all philosophy.(2194) To form true
and worthy conceptions of the Divine Being is not less important than to
pay Him pious worship. Plutarch’s lofty conception of the Infinite and
Supreme, like that of Maximus of Tyre, dominates all his system. In a
curious treatise on Isis and Osiris, he reviews many a device of
scholastic subtlety, many a crude guess of embryonic science, many a dream
of Pythagorean mysticism, to find an inner meaning in the Egyptian myth.
Yet it embalms, in all this frigid scholasticism, the highest and purest
expression of Plutarch’s idea of the Supreme. In the end he breaks away
from all lower mundane conceptions of the Divine, and reveals a glimpse of
the beatific vision. “While we are here below,” he says, “encumbered by
bodily affections, we can have no intercourse with God, save as in
philosophic thought we may faintly touch Him, as in a dream. But when our
souls are released, and have passed into the region of the pure,
invisible, and changeless, this God will be their guide and king who
depend on Him and gaze with insatiable longing on the beauty which may not
be spoken of by the lips of man.”(2195) To Plutarch God is the One,
Supreme, Eternal Being, removed to an infinite distance from the mutable
and mortal—the Being of whom we can only predicate that “He is,” who lives
in an everlasting “now,” of whom it would be irrational and impious to
speak in the terms of the future or the past.(2196) He is the One, the
Absolute of Eleatic or Pythagorean philosophy, the Demiurgus of Plato, the
primal motive power of Aristotle, the World-Soul of the Stoics. Yet
Plutarch is as far removed from the Epicureanism which banishes God from
the universe as he is from the pantheism of east or west, which interfuses
the world and God.(2197) Plutarch never abandons the Divine personality,
in whatever sense he may hold it. God is the highest perfection of
goodness and intelligence, the Creator, the watchful and benevolent
Providence of the world, the Author of all good. His power, indeed, is not
unlimited. There is a power of evil in the world which must be recognised.
And, as good cannot be the author of evil, the origin of evil must be
sought in a separate and original principle, distinct from, but not
co-equal with, God: a principle recognised in many a theology and
philosophy of east and west, and called by many names—Ahriman or Hades,
the “dyad” of Pythagoras, the “strife” of Empedocles, the “other” of
Plato.(2198) Its seat is the World-Soul, which has a place alongside of
God and Matter, causing all that is deadly in nature, all moral disorder
in the soul of man. Matter is the seat both of evil and good.(2199) In its
lower regions it may seem to be wholly mastered by the evil principle; yet
in its essence it is really struggling towards the good, and, as a female
principle, susceptible to the formative influence of the Divine, as well
as exposed to the incursions of evil. Plutarch’s theory of creation is, in
the main, that of the Timaeus, with mingled elements of Stoic cosmogony.
Through number and harmony the Divine Mind introduces order into the mass
of lawless chaos. But while God stands outside the cosmos as its creator,
He is not merely the divine craftsman, but a penetrating power. For from
Him proceeds the soul which is interfused with the world and which
sustains it. Through the World-Soul, God is in touch with all powers and
provinces of the universe. Yet throughout the universe, as in the human
soul, there are always present the two elements side by side, the
principles of reason and unreason, of evil and of good.(2200)

The vision of the one eternal, passionless Spirit, far removed from the
world of chance and change and earthly soilure, was the conquest of Greek
philosophy, travailing for 800 years. But it was a vision far withdrawn;
it was separated by an apparently impassable gulf alike from the dreams of
Hellenic legend and from the struggling life of humanity. The poets, and
even the poet of divinest inspiration, had bequeathed a mass of legend,
often shocking to the later moral sense, yet always seductive by its
imaginative charm. How to reconcile the fictions of poetry, which had so
long enthralled all imaginations, with higher spiritual intuitions, that
was the problem. It was not indeed a new problem. It had driven Xenophanes
into open revolt, it had exercised the mind of the reverent Pindar and the
sceptical Euripides. It had suggested to Plato the necessity of recasting
myth in the light of the Divine purity.(2201) But the new Hellenism of the
second century was a great literary, even more than a theological or
philosophic, movement; and the glory of Greek literature was inseparably
linked with the glory and the shame of Greek mythology. To discard and
repudiate the myths was to give the lie to the divine poets. To explain
them away by physical allegory, in the fashion of the Stoic theology, or
to lower the “blessed ones” of Olympus to the stature of earthly kings and
warriors, after the manner of Euhemerus, was to break the charm of poetic
legend, and violate the instincts of ancestral piety.(2202) And there were
many other claimants for devotion beside the ancient gods of Rome and
Greece. Persia and Phrygia, Commagene and Egypt, every region from the
Sahara to Cumberland, were adding to the pantheon. Soldiers and travellers
were bringing their tales of genii and daemons from islands in the British
seas and the shores of the Indian Ocean.(2203) How could a man trained in
the mystic monotheism of 800 years reconcile himself to this immense
accretion of alien superstition?

On the other hand, from whatever quarter, a new spiritual vision had
opened, strange to the ancient world. It is not merely that the conception
of God has become more pure and lofty; the whole attitude of the higher
minds to the Eternal had altered. A great spiritual revolution had
concurred with a great political revolution. The vision of the divine
world which satisfied men in the age of Pericles or in the Punic wars,
when religion, politics, and morality were linked in unbroken harmony,
when, if spiritual vision was bounded, spiritual needs were less
clamorous, and the moral life less troubled and self-conscious, could no
longer appease the yearnings of the higher minds. Both morality and
religion had become less formal and external, more penetrating and
exigent. Prayer was no longer a formal litany for worldly blessings or
sinful indulgence, but a colloquy with God, in a moment of spiritual
exaltation.(2204) The true sacrifice was no longer “the blood of bulls,”
but a quiet spirit. Along with a sense of frailty and bewilderment, men
felt the need of purification and spiritual support. The old mysteries and
the new cults from the East had fostered a longing for sacramental peace
and assurance of another life, in which the crooked should be made
straight and the perverted be restored.

In Maximus of Tyre,(2205) although he has no claim to the reputation of a
strong and original thinker, we see this new religious spirit of the
second century perhaps in its purest form. Man is an enigma, a
contradiction, a being placed on the confines of two worlds. A beast in
his fleshly nature, he is akin to God in his higher part, nay, the son of
God.(2206) Even the noblest spirits here below live in a sort of twilight,
or in a heady excitement, an intoxication of the senses. Yet, cramped as
it is in the prison of the flesh, the soul may raise itself above the
misty region of perpetual change towards the light of the Eternal. For, in
the slumber of this mortal life, the pure spirit is sometimes visited by
visions coming through the gate of horn,(2207) visions of another world
seen in some former time. And, following them, the moral hero, like
Heracles, the model of strenuous virtue, through toil and tribulation may
gain the crown. On this stormy sea of time, philosophy gives us the veil
of Leucothea to charm the troubled waters. It is true that only when
release comes at death, does the soul attain to the full vision of God.
For the Highest is separated from us by a great gulf. Yet the analysis of
the soul which Maximus partly borrows from Aristotle, discovers His seat
in us, the highest reason, that power of intuitive, all-embracing,
instantaneous vision, which is distinct from the slower and tentative
operations of the understanding. It is by this higher faculty that God is
seen, so far as He may be, in this mixed and imperfect state.(2208) For
the vision of God can only in any degree be won by abstraction from sense
and passion and everything earthly, in a struggle ever upwards, beyond the
paths of the heavenly orbs, to the region of eternal calm “where falls not
rain or hail or any snow, but a white cloudless radiance spreads over
all.”(2209) And when may we see God? “Thou shalt see Him fully,” Maximus
says, “only when He calls thee, in age or death, but meantime glimpses of
the Beauty which eye hath not seen nor can tongue speak of, may be won, if
the veils and wrappings which hide His splendour be torn away.(2210) But
do not thou profane Him by offering vain prayers for earthly things which
belong to the world of chance or which may be obtained by human effort,
things for which the worthy need not pray, and which the unworthy will not
obtain. The only prayer which is answered, is the prayer for goodness,
peace, and hope in death.”(2211)

How could a Platonist of the second century, we may ask, holding such a
spiritual creed, reconcile himself to Greek mythology, nay, to all the
mythologies, with all the selfish grossness of their ritual? Plutarch and
Maximus of Tyre answer the question by a piously ingenious interpretation
of ancient legend, and partly by a system of daemons, of mediating and
ministering spirits, who fill the interval between the changeless Infinite
and the region of sin and change.

In religion, they say, in effect, we must take human nature as we find it.
We are not legislating for a young race, just springing from the earth,
but for races with conceptions of the Divine which run back through
countless ages. There may be, here and there, an elect few who can raise
their minds, in rare moments, to the pure vision of the Eternal. But
heaven is so far from earth, and earth is so darkened by the mists of
sense, that temple and image and sacred litany, and the myths created by
the genius of poets, or imposed by lawgivers, are needed to sustain and
give expression to the vague impotent yearnings of the mass of men.(2212)
The higher intuitions of religion must be translated into material
symbolism; “here we see, as through a glass darkly.” And the symbols of
sacred truth are as various as the many tribes of men. Some, like the
Egyptian worship of animals, are of a degraded type. The Greek
anthropomorphism, although falling far short of the grandeur and purity of
the Infinite, yet furnishes its noblest image, because it has glorified by
artistic genius the human body, which has been chosen as the earthly home
of the rational soul.(2213) And the cause of myth and plastic art are
really one; nay, there is no opposition or contrast, in fact, between
poetic mythology and religious philosophy. They are different methods of
teaching religious truth, adapted to different stages of intellectual
development. Myth is the poetic philosophy of a simple age, for whose ears
the mystic truth must be sweetened by music, an age whose eyes cannot bear
to gaze on the Divine splendour unveiled.(2214) Philosophic theology is
for an age of rationalism and inquiry; it would have been unintelligible
to the simple imaginative childhood of the race. Maximus has the same
faith as Plutarch that the mythopoeic age possessed, along with an
enthralling artistic skill, all the speculative depth and subtlety of
later ages. It is almost a profanity to imagine that Homer or Hesiod or
Pindar were less of philosophers than Aristotle or Chrysippus.(2215) It
was assumed that the early myth-makers and lawgivers possessed a sacred
lore of immense value and undoubted truth, which they dimly shadowed forth
in symbolism of fanciful tale or allegory.(2216) The myth at once hides
and reveals the mystery of the Divine. If a man comes to its
interpretation with the proper discipline and acumen, the kernel of
spiritual or physical meaning which is reverently veiled from the profane
eye will disclose itself. And thus the later philosophic theologian is not
reading his own higher thoughts of God into the grotesque fancies of a
remote antiquity; he is evolving and interpreting a wisdom more original
than his own. In this process of rediscovering a lost tradition, he pushes
aside the mass of erroneous interpretations which have perverted the
original doctrine, by literal acceptance of what is really figurative, by
abuse of names and neglect of realities, by stopping at the symbol instead
of rising to the divine fact.(2217)

The treatise of Plutarch on Isis and Osiris is the best illustration of
this attitude to myth. Plutarch’s theology, though primarily Hellenic,
does not confine its gaze to the Greek Olympus; it is intended to be the
science of human religion in general. It gives formal expression to the
growing tendency to syncretism. The central truth of it is, that as the
sun and moon, under many different names, shed their light on all, so the
gods are variously invoked and honoured by various tribes of men.(2218)
But there is one supreme Ruler and Providence common to all. And the lower
deities of different countries may often be identified by the theologian,
under all varieties of title and attribute. So, to Plutarch as to
Herodotus, the immemorial worships of Egypt were the prototypes or the
counterparts of the cults of Greece.(2219) There was a temple of Osiris at
Delphi, and Clea, to whom Plutarch’s treatise is addressed, was not only a
hereditary priestess of the Egyptian god, but held a leading place among
the female ministers of Dionysus.(2220) It was fitting that a person so
catholic in her sympathies should have dedicated to her the treatise in
which Plutarch expounds his all-embracing theology.

In this treatise we see the new theology wrestling in a hopeless struggle
to unite the thought of Pythagoras and Plato with the grossness of
Egyptian myth. It is a striking, but not a solitary, example of the
misapplication of dialectic skill and learning, to find the thoughts of
the present in the fancies of the past, and from a mistaken piety, to
ignore the onward march of humanity. Arbitrary interpretations of myth,
alike unhistorical and unscientific, make us wonder how they could ever
have occurred to men of intellect and learning. Yet the explanation is not
far to seek. More elevated conceptions of God, the purged and clarified
religious intuition, do not readily find a substitute for the old
symbolism to express their visions. Religion, beyond any other
institution, depends for its power on antiquity, on the charm of ancestral
pieties. A religious symbol is doubly sacred when it has ministered to the
devotion of many generations.

In interpreting the powerful cult of Isis, which was spreading rapidly
over the western world, Plutarch had two objects in view. By reverent
explanation of its legends and ritual, he desired to counteract its
immoral and superstitious tendencies;(2221) he also wished, in discussing
a worship so multiform as that of Isis, to develop his attitude to myth in
general. We cannot follow him minutely in his survey of the various
attempts of philosophy to find the basis of truth in Egyptian legend. Some
of these explanations, such as the Euhemerist, he would dismiss at once as
atheistic.(2222) On others, which founded themselves on physical allegory,
he would not be so dogmatic, although he might reject as impious any
tendency to identify the gods with natural powers and products.(2223) As a
positive contribution to religious philosophy, the treatise is chiefly
valuable for its theory of Evil and of daemonic powers, and above all for
the doctrine of the unity of God, the central truth of all religions.

The daemonology of the Platonists of the second century had its roots deep
in the Hellenic past, as it was destined to have a long future. But it was
specially evoked by the needs of the pagan revival of the Antonine age.
The doctrine had assumed many forms in previous Greek thought from the
days of Hesiod, and it has various aspects, and serves various purposes,
in the hands of Plutarch, Apuleius, and Maximus of Tyre. It was in the
first place an apologetic for heathenism in an age distracted between a
lofty conception of one infinite Father and legends of many lands and many
ages, which were consecrated by long tradition, yet often shocking to the
spiritual sense. As the conception of God became purer and seemed to
withdraw into remoter distances, souls like Apuleius, wedded to the
ancient rites, found in the daemons, ranging between earth and ether, the
means of conveying answers to prayer, of inspiring dreams and prophecy, of
ordering all the machinery of divination.(2224) To others, such as Maximus
of Tyre, the doctrine seemed to discover a spiritual support for human
frailty, guardians in temptation and the crises of life, mediators between
the human spirit, immured for a time in the prison of the flesh, and the
remote purity of the Supreme.(2225) To other minds the daemon is no
external power, but dwelling within each soul, as its divine part, a kind
of ideal personality,(2226) in following whose ghostly promptings lies the
secret of happiness. Finally, the doctrine created an eschatology by which
vistas of moral perfection were opened before purer spirits in worlds to
come, and the infinite responsibilities of this life were terribly
enforced by threats of endless degradation.(2227)

The daemons who came to the aid of mythology in the Antonine age, were
composite beings, with a double nature corresponding to the two worlds of
the Divine and human which they linked together. They are at once divine
in power and knowledge, and akin to humanity in feeling and passion.(2228)
They are even liable to mortality, as was proved by the famous tale of the
voice which floated to the Egyptian pilot from the Echinad isles,
announcing that the great Pan was dead.(2229) Their sphere is the middle
space between the lofty ether and the mists of earth. This spiritual
mediation, as Maximus points out, is not an exceptional principle. There
is a chain of being in the universe, as it had been developed in the
cosmic theory of Aristotle, by which the remote extremes are linked in
successive stages, and may be blended or reconciled, in a mean or
compound, as in a musical harmony. The principle is seen operating in the
relation of the great physical elements. Thus, for example, fire and water
are at opposite poles: they cannot pass immediately into one another, but
air furnishes a medium between the two, and reconciles their opposition by
participating in the warmth of the one element and in the moisture of the
other.(2230) The suggestions of cosmic theory seemed to receive support
from many tales which, in that age of luxuriant superstition, were
accepted even in educated circles. Travellers, returning from Britain,
told weird stories of desolate islands in the northern seas which were the
haunts of genii.(2231) A Spartan visitor to Delphi related how, on the
shores of the Indian Ocean, he had met with a hermit of a beautiful
countenance and proof against all disease, who spoke with many tongues,
and derived his mystic powers from intercourse with the spirits which
haunted those distant solitudes.(2232)

Plutarch also justifies his theory of daemons by an appeal to the
authority of Hesiod, of Pythagoras and Plato, Xenocrates and
Chrysippus.(2233) He might have added others to the list. For, indeed, the
conception of these mediators between the ethereal world and the world of
sense has a long history—too long to be developed within our present
limits. Its earliest appearance in Greece was in the _Works and Days_ of
Hesiod, who first definitely sketched a great scale of being—gods, heroes,
daemons, and mortal men. Hesiod’s daemons are the men of the golden age,
translated to a blissful and immortal life, yet linked in sympathy with
those still on earth—“Ministers of good and guardians of men.”(2234) The
conception was introduced at a time when new moral and spiritual forces
were at work, which were destined to have a profound and lasting influence
on paganism for a thousand years. The glamour of the radiant Olympus and
the glory of heroic battle were fading. Men were settling down to humdrum
toil, and becoming acutely conscious of the troubles and sadness of life.
With a craving for support and comfort which the religion of Homer could
not give, the pessimist view of life, which colours Hesiod’s poetry,
sought consolation in a mysticism altogether strange to Homer, and even to
Hesiod. The feeling that humanity had declined from a glorious prime and,
in its weakness and terror at death, needed some new consolations, was met
by a system which, although Orpheus may never have existed, will always be
called by his name.(2235) The Chthonian deities, Dionysus and Demeter,
sprang into a prominence which they had not in Homer. The immortal life
began to overshadow the present, and in the mysteries men found some
assurance of immortality, and preparation for it by cleansing from the
stains of time. That idea, which was to have such profound influence upon
later thought, that there is a divine element in man, which is emancipated
from the prison of the flesh at death, became an accepted doctrine. At the
same time, the faith in helpers and mediators, half human, half divine,
lent itself to the support of human weakness. The heroic soul who passed
victoriously through the ordeal of this life, might in another world
become the guardian and exemplar of those who were still on earth.

In the Ionian and Eleatic schools the doctrine was held in some sense by
all the great thinkers, by Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, Xenophanes. To
Thales the world was full of daemons.(2236) In the mystic teaching of
Heraclitus the universe teems with such spirits, for in the perpetual flux
and change, the divine is constantly passing into the death of mortal life
and the mortal into the divine.(2237) Empedocles, in conformity with his
cosmic dualism, first made the distinction between good and bad daemons,
and followed Pythagoras in connecting daemonic theory with the doctrine of
a fall from divine estate, and long exile and incarnation in animal
forms.(2238) It was in the dim system of Pythagoras that the doctrine
became a really religious tenet, as it was to the Platonists of the
Antonine age. Pythagoras was more priest and mystic than philosopher. He
had far more in common with the Orphici, with Abaris and Epimenides, than
with Thales or Anaximander. His school, for we can hardly speak of
himself, connected the doctrine of daemons with the doctrines of
metempsychosis and purification and atonement in another world. Souls
released from the prison-house of the flesh are submitted to a purgatorial
cleansing of a thousand years. Some pass the ordeal victoriously, and
ascend to higher spheres. Others are kept in chains by the Erinnyes. The
beatified souls become daemons or good spirits, ranging over the universe,
and manifesting themselves in dreams and omens and ghostly monitions,
sometimes becoming even visible to the eye.(2239) But their highest
function is to guide men in the path of virtue during life, and after
death to purify the disembodied spirit, which may become a daemon in its
turn. This is the theory, which, with some modifications, was adopted by
the later Platonists. It was popularised by Pindar, “the Homer of the
Pythagorean school.” He was captivated by its doctrine of the migrations
of the soul, of its ordeal in a future life, and its chastisement or
elevation to lofty spiritual rank as daemon or hero. In the second
Olympian ode, the punishment of the wicked and the beatitude of noble
spirits, in the company of Peleus and Achilles in the happy isles, are
painted in all the glowing imagery of the Apocalypse.(2240)

The daemonology of Pythagoras, along with the doctrine of metempsychosis
in its moral aspect, was adopted by Plato, whether as a serious theory or
as a philosophic myth. The chief passages in Plato where the daemons are
mentioned are suffused with such mythic colour that it would perhaps be
rash to extract from them any sharp dogmatic theory.(2241) But Plato,
holding firmly the remote purity of God, strove to fill the interval
between the mortal and the Infinite by a graded scheme of superhuman
beings. The daemon is a compound of the mortal and the divine, spanning
the chasm between them. This is the power which conveys to God the prayers
and sacrifices of men, and brings to men the commands and rewards of the
gods, which operates in prophecy, sacrifice, and mystery. And again the
daemon is a power which is assigned to each soul at birth, and which at
death conducts it to the eternal world, to receive judgment for its deeds,
and perhaps to be condemned to return once more to earth. The reason in
man, his truly divine part, is also called his daemon, his good genius. It
is the power whose kindred is with the world of the unseen, which is
immortal, and capable of a lofty destiny.

Like his master Plato, Maximus of Tyre seems to know nothing of the evil
daemons, who, as we shall presently see, were used by Plutarch to account
for the immorality of myth. To Maximus the daemons are rather angelic
ministers, sent forth to advise and succour weak mortal men.(2242) They
are the necessary mediators between the one Supreme and our frail mortal
life. Dwelling in a region between earth and ether, they are of mingled
mortal and divine nature, weaker than the gods, stronger than men,
servants of God and overseers of men, by kinship with either linking the
weakness of the mortal with the Divine. Great is the multitude of this
heavenly host, interpreters between God and man: “thrice ten thousand are
they upon the fruitful earth, immortal, ministers of Zeus,” healers of the
sick, revealers of what is dark, aiding the craftsman, companions of the
wayfarer. On land and sea, in the city and the field, they are ever with
us. They inspired a Socrates, a Pythagoras, a Diogenes, or a Zeno; they
are present in all human spirits. Only the lost and hopeless soul is
without the guardianship of such an unearthly friend.

The earlier Platonist or Pythagorean daemonology was not employed to
explain or rehabilitate polytheism. Although Plato would not banish myth
from his Utopia, he placed his ban on the mythopoeic poets who had lent
their authority to tales and crimes and passions of the gods. Myth could
only be tolerated in the education of the young if it conformed to the
standard of Divine perfection.(2243) God cannot be the author of evil,
evil is the offspring of matter; it is a limitation or an incident of the
fleeting world of sense. It is only relative and transitory, and can never
penetrate the realm of the ideal. But to Plutarch evil was an ultimate
principle in the universe, ever present along with the good, although not
perhaps of equal range and power.(2244) And Plutarch would not banish and
disown the poets for attributing to the gods passions and crimes which
would have been dishonouring to humanity. He would not abandon the ancient
ritual because it contained elements of gloom and impurity which shocked a
refined moral sense. Mythology and ritual, as they had been moulded by
poets or imposed by lawgivers, were intertwined with the whole life of the
people and formed an essential element in the glory of Hellenic genius.
The piety and aesthetic feeling of the priest of Delphi still clung to
ancient ritual and legend, even when the lofty morality of the Platonist
was offended by the grossness which mingled with their artistic charm.
Might it not be possible to moralise the pagan system without discrediting
its authors, to reconcile the claims of reason and conservative religious
feeling? Might it not be possible to save at once the purity and majesty
of God and the inspiration of the poets?

To Plutarch the doctrine of daemons seemed to furnish an answer to this
question; it also satisfied other spiritual cravings which were equally
urgent. The need of some mixed nature to mediate between the ethereal
world and the region of sense became all the more imperious as the
philosophic conception of God receded into a more remote and majestic
purity. The gradation of spiritual powers, which had been accepted by so
many great minds from the time of Hesiod, at once guarded the aloofness of
the Supreme and satisfied the craving of the religious instinct for some
means of contact with it, for divine help in the trials of time. These
mediating spirits were also made in Plutarch’s theology to furnish an
explanation of oracles and all forms of prophecy, of the inspired
enthusiasm of artist, sage, and poet. Finally, the theory, with the aid of
mythic fancy, cast a light on the fate of souls beyond the grave, and
vindicated the Divine justice by a vision of a judgment to come.

Plutarch’s daemonology, as he admits himself, is an inheritance from the
past. The daemons are beings half divine, half human; they are godlike in
power and intelligence, they are human in liability to the passions
engendered by the flesh. This host of spirits dwell in the borderland
below the moon, between the pure changeless region of the celestial powers
and the region of the mutable and the mortal. Linking the two worlds
together by their composite nature, the daemons differ in degrees of
virtue; some are more akin to the Divine perfection, others more tainted
by the evil of the lower world.(2245) The good spirits, as they are
described by Maximus of Tyre, are true servants of God and faithful
guardians of human virtue. But the bad daemons assume a special prominence
in the theology of Plutarch. Nor was the development unnatural. His
conception of immortality, and the necessity of purification in another
world, raised the question as to the destiny of souls whose stains were
indelible. If purified souls are charged as daemons with offices of mercy,
may not the impure prolong their guilt in plaguing and corrupting mankind?
May not the existence of such sombre spirits account for the evil in the
world, the existence of which cannot be blinked? Although there are traces
of this moral dualism long before Plutarch’s time, both in Greek poetry
and speculation, it was Xenocrates who first formulated the doctrine of
evil daemons in relation to mythology.(2246) “It cannot be,” he taught,
“that unlucky days and festivals, conducted with scourgings and fasts,
lamentations and lacerations and impure words and deeds, are celebrated in
honour of the blessed gods or good daemons. They are rather offered to
those powerful and terrible spirits of evil in the air whose sombre
character is propitiated by such gloomy rites.” These sinister spirits
assert their vast power, and display their malevolence, not only in
plague, pestilence, and dearth, and all the desolating convulsions of the
physical world, but in the moral perversion and deception of the human
race. They are accountable for all that shocks the moral sense in the
impure or ghastly tales which the poets have told of the gods, and in the
gloomy or obscene rites which are celebrated in their honour. The poets
and early myth-makers have not invented the evil in myth and rite; they
have been deceived as to the authors of the evil. Each of the blessed gods
has attached to him a daemon who is in some respects his counterpart,
wielding his power, but who may perpetrate every kind of moral enormity in
his name, and who demands to be honoured and propitiated after his own
evil nature. The bad daemons, in fact, masquerade as gods and bring
disgrace upon them. It was not the Blessed Ones who mutilated a father,
who raised rebellion in Olympus and were driven into exile, who stooped to
be the lovers of mortal women. These are the works of spirits of evil,
using their fiendish cunning to deceive a simple age. Its poetry was
seduced to cast a magical charm over their lusts and crimes; its
superstition was terrified into appeasing the fiends by shameful orgies or
dark bloody rites. Poets and founders of ritual have been faithful to
supernatural fact, but they did not see that in the supernatural order
there are evil powers as well as good. They are sound in their record but
wrong in their interpretation. In this fashion Plutarch and his school
strove to reconcile a rational faith with the grossness of superstition,
to save the holiness of God and the glory of Homer.

But the bad daemons who were called in to save the ancient cults proved
dangerous allies in the end. Few who really know him will be inclined to
question the sincere monotheistic piety of Plutarch. And a sympathetic
critic will even not withhold from him a certain respect for his old-world
attachment to the forms of his ancestral worship. He knew no other avenue
of approaching the Divine. Yet only the imperious religious cravings and
the spiritual contradictions of that age could excuse or account for a
system which was disastrous both to paganism and philosophy. The union of
gross superstition with ingenious theology, the licence of subtlety
applied to the ancient legends, demanded too much credulity from the
cultivated and too much subtlety from the vulgar. It undermined the
already crumbling polytheism; it made philosophy the apostle of a belief
in a baleful daemonic agency. If a malign genius was seated beside every
god to account for the evil in nature or myth, might not a day come when
both friends and enemies would confound the daemon and the god?(2247)
Might not philosophy be led on in a disastrous decline to the
justification of magic, incantations, and all theurgic extravagance? That
day did come in the fourth century when Platonism and polytheism in close
league were making a last stand against the victorious Church. Even then
indeed a purer Platonism still survived, as well as a purer paganism
sustained by the mysteries of Mithra or Demeter. But the paganism which
the Christian empire found it hardest to conquer, and which propagated
itself far into the Christian ages, was the belief in magic and occult
powers founded on the doctrine of daemons. And the Christian
controversialist, with as firm a faith in daemons as the pagan, turned
that doctrine against the faith which it was invented to support. The
distinction of good and bad daemons, first drawn by Xenocrates and
Chrysippus, and developed by Plutarch, was eagerly seized upon by Tatian
and S. Clement of Alexandria, by Minucius Felix and S. Cyprian.(2248) But
the good became the heavenly host of Christ and His angels; the bad were
identified with the pagan gods. What would have been the anguish of
Plutarch could he have foreseen that his theology, elaborated with such
pious subtlety and care, would one day be used against the gracious powers
of Olympus, and that the spirits he had conjured up to defend them would
be exorcised as maleficent fiends by the triumphant dialectic of S.
Augustine.(2249)

The daemonology of Plutarch also furnished a theory of prophetic powers,
and especially of the inspiration of Delphi. It was in the porticoes of
the shrine of Apollo, or among the monuments of ancient glory and
devotion, that the most interesting of Plutarch’s religious essays were
inspired. He probably bore the honours of the Delphic priesthood down to
the last days of his long life. But in the years when Plutarch was
ordering a sacrifice or a procession, or discussing antiquarian and
philosophic questions with travellers from Britain or the eastern seas,
Delphi had lost much of its ancient power and renown. Great political and
great economic changes had reduced the functions of the oracle to a
comparatively humble sphere. It was no longer consulted on affairs of
state by great potentates of the East and West. The farmers of Boeotia or
the Arcadian shepherds now came to seek the causes of failure in their
crops or of a murrain among their herds, to ask advice about the purchase
of a piece of land or the marriage of a child. So far back as the days of
Cicero the faith in oracles had been greatly shaken,(2250) and even the
most venerable shrines were no longer resorted to as of old. Powerful
philosophic schools, the Cynic and the Epicurean, poured contempt on all
the arts of divination. Many of the ancient oracles had long been silent.
In Boeotia, where, in the days of Herodotus, the air was full of
inspiration,(2251) the ancient magic only lingered around Lebadea. Sheep
grazed around the fanes of Tegyra and the Ptoan Apollo. While in old days
at Delphi, the services of two, and even three, Pythian priestesses were
demanded by the concourse of votaries, in Plutarch’s time one priestess
sufficed.(2252) But the second century brought, along with a general
religious revival, a restoration of the ancient faith in oracles. The
voice of Delphi had been silenced for a time by Nero, and the sacred chasm
had been choked with corpses because the priestess had branded the emperor
as another Orestes.(2253) But the oracle, although shorn of much of its
glory, recovered some of its popularity in the second century. It received
offerings once more from wealthy votaries. The emperor Hadrian
characteristically tested its omniscience by a question as to the
birthplace of Homer. Curious travellers from distant lands, even
philosophers of the Cynic and Epicurean schools, came to visit the ancient
shrine, to make the round of its antiquarian treasures, and to discuss the
secret of its inspiration.(2254) A new town sprang up at the gates of the
sanctuary; sumptuous temples, baths, and halls of assembly replaced the
solitude and ruins of many generations. The god himself seemed to the
pious Plutarch to have returned in power to his ancient seat.(2255)

The revival of Delphi gladdened the heart of Plutarch as a sign of
reviving religion and Hellenism. And although the oracle no longer wielded
an oecumenical primacy, its antiquities and its claims to inspiration
evidently attracted many curious inquirers. We are admitted to their
conversations in the Delphic treatises of Plutarch. His characters bear
the names of the old-world schools, but there is a strangely modern tone
in their discussions. Sometimes we might fancy ourselves listening to a
debate on the inspiration of Scripture between an agnostic, a Catholic,
and an accommodating broad Churchman. Plutarch himself, or his
representative, generally holds the balance between the extreme views, and
tries to reconcile the claims of reason and of faith. It is clear that
even in that age of religious revival there was no lack of a scepticism
like that of Lucian. Even in the sacred courts of Delphi the Epicurean
might be heard suggesting that, because, among a thousand random
prophecies of natural events, one here and there may seem to tally with
the fact, it does not follow that the prediction was sure and true at the
moment of deliverance;(2256) the wandering word may sometimes hit the
mark. The fulfilment is a mere coincidence, a happy chance. Boethus, the
sceptic, is easily refuted by the orthodox Serapion, who makes an appeal
to well-known oracles which have been actually fulfilled, not merely in a
loose, apparent fashion, but down to the minutest details of time, place,
and manner.(2257) In these discussions, although the caviller is heard
with a tolerant courtesy, it is clear that faith is always in the
ascendant. Yet even faith has to face and account for an apparent
degeneracy which might well cause some uneasiness. For instance, is it not
startling that, in the name of the god of music, many oracles should be
delivered in trivial, badly-fashioned verses?(2258) Can it be that Apollo
is a meaner artist than Hesiod or Homer? On the other side, it may be said
that the god is too lofty to care to deck his utterances in the graces of
literary form, or, by a more probable theory, he inspires the vision but
not the verse. But what of the oracles of later days, which are delivered
in the baldest prose? Is this not a disturbing sign of degeneracy? Can
this be worthy of the god? The defender of the faith has no difficulty in
quieting the suspicion. Even in the great ages we know that oracles were
sometimes delivered in prose,(2259) and in ancient times excited feeling
ran naturally into verse.(2260) The stately hexameter was the appropriate
form of utterance when the oracle had to deal with great events affecting
the fate of cities and of nations. Inspiration is not independent of
surrounding circumstances, and the functions of the oracle have changed
since the days of Croesus and Themistocles. The whole style of human life
and the taste of men are less imposing and stately. The change in the
style of the oracle is only part of a general movement.(2261) For ages
simple prose has taken the place of artistic rhythm in other departments
besides the sphere of prophecy. We do not despise the philosophy of
Socrates and Plato, because it does not come to us clothed in verse, like
the speculations of Thales, Parmenides, and Empedocles. And who can expect
the simple peasant girl, who now occupies the tripod, to speak in the
tones of Homer?(2262) The dim grandeur of the old poetic oracles had
indeed some advantages, in aiding the memory by the use of measured and
musical expression, and in veiling the full meaning of the God from
irreverent or hostile eyes. But their pompous ambiguity, providing
apparently so many loopholes for evasion, brought discredit on the sacred
art, and encouraged the imitative ingenuity of a host of venal impostors
who, around the great temples, cheated the ears of slaves and silly women
with a mockery of the mysterious solemnity of the Pythian verse.(2263)

The more serious question as to the cause of the extinction of oracles
brings the discussion nearer to the great problem of the sources of
inspiration. It is true that the fact may be accounted for to some extent
by natural causes. Oracles have never ceased, but the number has been
diminished. God measures His help to men by their needs, and as they grow
more enlightened they feel less need for supernatural guidance. This,
however, is evidently dangerous ground. But surely the poverty and
depopulation of Greece are enough to account for the disappearance of
oracles. A country which can hardly put three thousand hoplites in the
field—as many as Megara alone sent forth to fight at Plataea—cannot need
the many shrines which flourished when Greece was in its glory.(2264) But
it may be admitted that oracles can and do disappear. And this is in no
way derogatory to the power of God. For it is not the great God Himself
who utters the warning or the prophecy by the voice of the priestess. Such
a doctrine is lowering to His greatness and majesty. In prophecy and
divination, as in other fields, God operates, through instruments and
agents, on a given matter, and in concurrence with physical causes. The
matter in this case is the human soul, which, in greater or less degrees,
can be acted on by supernatural influences.(2265) The exciting cause of
the “enthusiasm” or inspiration, applying a sudden stimulus to the soul,
may be some vapour or exhalation from the earth, such as that which rose
from the cleft beneath the Delphic tripod.(2266) Lastly, there is the
daemon, a supernatural being, who, by his composite nature, as we have
seen, is the channel of sympathy between the human and the Divine.(2267)
But among the causes of afflatus or inspiration, some may, in cases,
disappear and cease to operate. The intoxicating fume or vapour is a force
of varying intensity and may exhaust itself and be spent, as a spring may
fail, or a mine may be worked out.(2268) The daemon may migrate from one
place to another, and with its disappearance, the oracle will become
silent, as that of Teiresias at Orchomenus has long been, just as the lyre
becomes silent when the musician ceases to strike the strings.(2269)

In all this theory Plutarch is careful to guard himself against a purely
materialistic theory of the facts of inspiration.(2270) Physical causes
may assist and predispose, but physical causes alone will not account for
the facts of inspiration. The daemon is a necessary mediator between the
human soul and God, a messenger of the divine purpose. But the real
problem of inspiration is in the soul of man himself, in the possibility
of contact between the soul and a supernatural power. This question is
illuminated in Apuleius and Plutarch and Maximus of Tyre by a discussion
of the daemon of Socrates. It was by a natural instinct that the Antonine
Platonists went back to the great teacher of Plato for support of the
system which was to link religion with philosophy by the daemonic theory.
In Plutarch’s dialogue on the Genius of Socrates, the various theories of
that mysterious influence current in antiquity are discussed at length.
The language in which Socrates or his disciples spoke of its monitions
lent itself to different interpretations. Was his daemon an external sign,
as in augury, an audible voice, or an inner, perhaps supernatural light, a
voice of reason, speaking to the soul’s highest faculty, through no
uttered word or symbol?(2271) The grosser conceptions of it may be
dismissed at once. The daemon of Socrates does not belong to the crude
materialism of divination, although the philosopher could forecast the
disaster of Syracuse.(2272) Nor was it any ordinary faculty of keen
intellectual shrewdness, strengthened and sharpened by the cultivation of
experience. Still less was it any hallucination, bordering on insanity,
which is merely a perversion of the senses and reason. It was rather a
spiritual intuition, an immediate vision, not darkened or weakened by
passing through any symbolic medium of the senses, a flash of sudden
insight such as is vouchsafed only to the select order of pure and lofty
spirits, in whom from the beginning the higher portion of the soul has
always risen high above the turbid and darkening influence of the
senses.(2273) That such a faculty exists is certain to the Platonist and
the Pythagorean. But in the mass of men it is struggling against fleshly
powers, sometimes defeated, sometimes victorious, inspiring ideals, or
stinging with remorse, until perchance, late and slowly, after
chastisement and struggle, it emerges into a certain calm. Pythagoreans,
such as Apollonius, taught that the diviner, the mantic, faculty in man
was more open to higher influences when emancipated from the body in
sleep, and that it could be set free in waking hours by abstinence and
ascetic discipline.(2274) Plutarch laid stress on the latter part of this
theory, but ridiculed the notion that the soul could be most clear and
receptive when its powers were relaxed. But the capacity of the higher
reason in the loftier souls is almost without limit. The reason, which is
the daemon in each, when unimpeded by bodily obstruction, is open to the
lightest, most ethereal touch. Spirit can act directly by immediate
influence upon spirit, without any sensuous aid of word or sign.(2275) The
influence is a “wind blowing where it listeth,” or a strange sudden
illumination, revealing truth as by a flash. The disembodied spirit,
cleansed and freed from the servitude of the body, and now a real daemon,
possesses all these powers and receptivities in the fullest measure. But
it gains no new power when it quits the body, although its spiritual
faculties may have been dulled and obstructed by the flesh. The sun does
not lose its native radiance when for a moment it is obscured by
clouds.(2276) And thus a Socrates may even here below have a spiritual
vision denied to us; a Pythia may be inspired by the daemon of the shrine
to read the future of a campaign. Nor is there anything more wonderful in
prediction than in memory.(2277) In this unresting flux of existence, the
present of brief sensation is a mere moment between the past which has
ceased to be and the future which is to be born. If we can still grasp the
one, may we not anticipate the other?

It is thus that, by a far-reaching theory of inspiration, Plutarch strove
to rehabilitate the faith in oracular lore. The loftier philosophic
conception of the Supreme is saved from contamination with anything
earthly by the doctrine of daemons themselves released from the body, yet,
through the higher faculty in all souls, able to act directly upon those
still in the flesh. The influence is direct and immediate, yet not
independent of purely physical causes or temperament. “The treasure is in
earthen vessels.” But the full vision is only reserved for the spirit
unpolluted and untroubled by sense and passion. Plutarch is preparing the
way for the “ecstasy” of later Neo-Platonism. All this speculation of
course lent itself to a revival of heathen superstition. Yet it is
interesting to see how, in many a flash of insight, Plutarch reveals a
truth for all generations. We, in our time, are perhaps too much inclined
to limit the powers of the human spirit to the field of sense and
observation. The slackening hold on faith in a spiritual world and a
higher intuition may well be visited by the proper Nemesis, in the
darkening of the divine vision, whether as religious faith or artistic
inspiration. The dream of an earthly paradise enriched with every sensuous
gratification by a science working in bondage to mere utility may have
serious results for the spiritual future of humanity. It may need a bitter
experience to dispel the gross illusion; yet men may once more come to
believe with Plutarch that, as it were, at the back of every soul there is
an opening to the divine world from which yet may come, as of old, the
touch of an unseen hand.



                                 BOOK IV.


                   _ADSCENDENTIBUS DI MANUM PORRIGUNT_



                                CHAPTER I


                               SUPERSTITION


Superstition in all ages is a term of unstable meaning. Men even of the
same time will apply it or deny its application to the same belief. The
devout beliefs of one period may become mere superstitions to the next.
And, conversely, what for a time may be regarded as alien superstition,
may in course of time become an accepted portion of the native creed. This
was the history of those Eastern cults which will be described in coming
chapters. At first, they fell under Cicero’s definition of superstition,
viz. any religious belief or practice going beyond the prescription of
ancestral usage.(2278) But a day came when they were the most popular
worships of the Roman world, when great nobles, and even the prince
himself, were enthusiastic votaries of them.(2279) The religion of Mithra,
when it was confined to an obscure circle of slaves or freedmen at Ostia,
was a superstition to the pontifical college. It took its place with the
cult of the Roman Trinity when Aurelian built his temple to the Sun and
endowed his priesthood.(2280)

Plutarch devoted a treatise to the subject of superstition. And his
conception of it is more like our own, less formal and external, than that
of Cicero. He develops his view of the degradation of the religious sense
by contrasting it with atheism. Atheism is a great calamity, a blindness
of the reason to the goodness and love which govern the universe. It is
the extinction of a faculty rather than the perversion of one.(2281) But
superstition both believes and trembles. It acknowledges the existence of
supernatural powers, but they are to it powers of evil who are ready to
afflict and injure, to be approached only in terror and with servile
prostration. This craven fear of God fills the whole universe with
spectres. It leaves no refuge whither the devil-worshipper can escape from
the horrors which haunt him night and day. Whither can he flee from that
awful presence? Sleep, which should give a respite from the cares of life,
to his fevered mind, swarms with ghostly terrors.(2282) And death, the
last sleep, which should put a term to the ills of life, only unrolls
before the superstitious votary an awful scene of rivers of fire and
blackness of darkness, and sounds of punishment and unutterable woe.(2283)
To such a soul the festivals of ancestral religion lose all their solemn
gladness and cheering comfort. The shrines which should offer a refuge to
the troubled heart, even to the hunted criminal, become to him places of
torture. And the believer in a God of malignant cruelty betakes himself in
despair to dark rites from foreign lands, and spends his substance on
impostors who trade upon his fears. Better, says the pious Plutarch, not
believe in God at all, than cringe before a God worse than the worst of
men. Unbelief, calamity though it be, at least does not dishonour a Deity
whose existence it denies. The true impiety is to believe that God can be
wantonly faithless and revengeful, fickle and cruel.(2284)

The earnestness, and even bitterness, with which Plutarch assails the
degrading fear of the supernal Powers have caused some rather shallow
critics to imagine that he had a sympathy with scepticism.(2285) How such
an idea could arise in the mind of any one who had read his treatise on
the Genius of Socrates or on Isis and Osiris, or on the Delays of Divine
Justice, it is difficult to imagine. Plutarch’s hatred of superstition is
that of a genuinely pious man, with a lofty conception of the Divine love
and pity, who is revolted by the travesty of pure religion, which is
repeated from age to age. It is the feeling of a man to whom religion is
one of the most elevating joys of life, when he sees it turned into an
instrument of torture. But the force of the protest shows how rampant was
the evil in that age. Lucretius felt with the intensity of genius all the
misery which perverted conceptions of the Divine nature had inflicted on
human life.(2286) But the force of Roman superstition had endlessly
multiplied since the days of Lucretius. It was no longer the exaggeration
of Roman awe at the lightning, the flight of birds, the entrails of a
sacrificial victim, or anxious observance of the solemn words of ancestral
formulae, every syllable of which had to be guarded from mutilation or
omission. All the lands which had fallen to her sword were, in Plutarch’s
day, adding to the spiritual burden of Rome. If in some cases they
enriched her rather slender spiritual heritage, they also multiplied the
sources of supernatural terror. If in the mysteries of Isis and Mithra
they exalted the soul in spiritual reverie and gave a promise of a coming
life,(2287) they sent the Roman matron to bathe in the freezing Tiber at
early dawn and crawl on bleeding knees over the Campus Martius, or
purchase the interpretation of a dream from some diviner of Palestine or a
horoscope from some trader in astral lore.(2288) The Platonist, nourished
on the pure theism of the _Phaedo_ and the _Republic_, and the priest of
that cheerful shrine, which the young Ion had each bright morning swept
with myrtle boughs and sprinkled with the water of the Castalian
spring,(2289) whose holy ministry gladdened even the years of boyhood—a
man with such experience had a natural horror of the dark terrors which
threatened to obscure the radiant visions of Delphi and Olympus.

Livy complained of the neglect in his day of signs and omens which
formerly were deemed worthy of historical record.(2290) The contempt for
augury in the time of Cicero was hardly concealed among the
cultivated.(2291) The details of parts of the ancient bird-lore eluded the
researches of the elder Pliny. The emperor Claudius, lamenting the neglect
of the ancient science, demanded a decree of the Senate to restore it to
its former efficiency.(2292) These are some signs of that general decay of
old Roman religion in the last century of the Republic, which was partly
due to philosophic enlightenment partly to the confusion and
demoralisation of civil strife, but perhaps even more to the dangerous
seductions of foreign superstitions.(2293) Among the counsels of Maecenas
to Augustus none is more earnest and weighty than the warning against
these occult arts.(2294) Augustus is advised to observe, and enforce the
observance of the time-honoured ancestral forms, but he must banish
sorcerers and diviners, who may sow the seeds of conspiracy against the
prince. The advice was acted on. While the emperor rebuilt the fallen
temples and revived the ancient Latin rites, 2000 books of unlicensed
divination were in one day given to the flames.(2295) The old religion,
which had absorbed so much from the augural lore of Etruria,(2296) was
itself certainly not free from superstition. The wrath of the
Lemures,(2297) the darkness of the inner forest, the flash of lightning,
the flight of birds, the entrails of a sacrifice, excited many a fear, and
might cause a man to suspend a journey, or break up an assembly of the
people. But the Romans had, in the early ages, after their orderly legal
fashion, reduced the force of these terrors by an elaborate art which
provided a convenient resource of statecraft, and a means of soothing the
alarms of the crowd.

But foreign and unregulated superstitions, from the second century B.C.,
were pouring in from the East to put a fresh load on the human spirit or
to replace the waning faith in Italian augury. In 139 B.C. Cornelius
Scipio Hispalus vainly strove by an edict to stop the inroads of the star
readers.(2298) But treatises on this pretended science were in vogue in
Varro’s time, and are quoted by the great savant with approval.(2299)
These impostors were swarming in Rome at the time of Catiline’s
conspiracy,(2300) inflating the hopes of the plotters. Suetonius has
surpassed himself in the collection, from many sources, of the signs and
wonders which foreshadowed the great destiny, and also the death of
Augustus. And it is noteworthy that, among these predictions, are some
founded on astrology.(2301) On the day of the emperor’s birth, P.
Nigidius, a learned astrologer, found that the position of the stars
foretold a coming master of the world. Augustus himself received a similar
forecast from Theagenes, a star-reader of Apollonia. He had his horoscope
drawn out, and a silver coin was struck with the stamp of Capricorn.

This fatalist superstition infected nearly all the successors of Augustus
in the first and second centuries. Astrology is essentially a fatalist
creed, and the heir to the great prize of the principate, with the
absolute control of the civilised world, was generally designated by that
blind impersonal power whose decrees might be read in the positions of the
eternal spheres, or by signs and omens upon earth. Suetonius, Tacitus,
Dion Cassius, have chronicled, with apparent faith, the predictions of
future power which gathered round the popular candidate for the
succession, or the dark warnings of coming disaster which excited the
prince’s fears and gave courage to enemies and rivals. It is not hard to
see why the emperors at once believed in these black arts and profoundly
distrusted their professors. They wished to keep a monopoly of that awful
lore, lest it might excite dangerous hopes in possible pretenders.(2302)
To consult a Chaldaean seer on the fate of the prince, or to possess his
horoscope, was always suspicious, and might often be fatal.(2303) The
astonishing thing is, that men had such implicit faith in the skill of
these Eastern impostors, along with such distrust of their honesty. They
were banished again and again in the first century, but persecution only
increased their power, and they always returned to exercise greater
influence than ever.(2304) Never was there a clearer proof of the
impotence of government in the face of a deep-seated popular belief.

Tiberius, who had probably no real religious faith, was, from his youth,
the slave of astrology.(2305) An adept had, at his birth, predicted his
lofty destiny.(2306) He had in his train one Thrasyllus, a noted professor
of the science, who had often to read the stars in the face of death, and
he was surrounded in his gloomy retirement at Capreae by a “Chaldaean
herd.”(2307) Claudius was pedantic and antiquarian in his religious
tastes, and, while he tried to revive old Roman augury, he banished the
astrologers.(2308) A great noble who had the temerity to consult them as
to the time of the emperor’s death shared the same fate. Nero, who
despised all regular religion, except that of the Syrian goddess, was the
prey of superstitious terror. The Furies of the murdered Agrippina, as in
Aeschylean tragedy, haunted him in dreams, and he used the aid of magic to
evoke and propitiate the awful shade.(2309) When, towards the end of his
reign, his prospects grew more threatening, the appearance of a comet
drove him to consult Balbillus, his astrologer, who advised that the
portended danger should be diverted from the emperor by the destruction of
the great nobles. Some of the craft had predicted that Nero should one day
be deserted and betrayed, while others consoled him with the promise of a
great monarchy of the East with its seat at Jerusalem.(2310) The terrible
year which followed Nero’s death was crowded with portents, and all the
rivals for the succession were equally slaves of the adepts, who exploited
their ambitions or their fears. The end of Galba was foreshadowed, from
the opening of his reign, by ominous dreams and signs.(2311) The hopes of
Otho had long been inflamed by the diviner Seleucus,(2312) and by
Ptolemaeus, who was his companion during his command in Spain.(2313) When
he had won the dangerous prize, Otho was tortured by nightly visions of
the spirit of Galba, which he used every art to lay. Yet this same man set
out for the conflict on the Po in defiant disregard of omens warranted by
the ancient religion.(2314) His end, which, by a certain calm nobility,
seemed to redeem his life, was portended by a sign which Tacitus records
as a fact. At the very hour when Otho was falling on his dagger, a bird of
strange form settled in a much frequented grove, and sat there undisturbed
by the passers-by, or by the flocks of other fowls around.(2315) The
horoscope of Otho’s rival Vitellius had been cast by the astrologers, and
their reading of his fate gave his parents acute anxiety. He used to
follow the monitions of a German sorceress. Yet, like so many of his class
in that age, he had but scant respect for accredited beliefs. It was noted
with alarm that he entered on his pontificate on the black day of the
Allia.(2316) The astrologers he probably found more dangerous than
helpful, and he ordered them to be expelled from Italy.(2317) But it is a
curious sign of their conscious power and their audacity, that a mocking
counter edict to that of Vitellius was immediately published by unknown
hands, ordaining the death of the persecutor within a certain day.(2318)

The emperors of the Flavian dynasty, although their power was stable and
the world was settling down, were not less devoted to Eastern
superstitions than any of their predecessors. Vespasian indeed once more
exiled the astrologers, but he still kept the best of them in his
train.(2319) He had consulted the oracle on Mount Carmel, and obeyed the
vision vouchsafed in the temple of Serapis.(2320) His son Titus, who may
have had romantic dreams of an Eastern monarchy, consulted foreign
oracles, worshipped in Egyptian temples, and was a firm believer in the
science of the stars.(2321) Domitian was perhaps the most superstitious of
all his race. The rebuilder of Roman temples and the restorer of Roman
orthodoxy had also a firm faith in planetary lore. He lived in perpetual
fear of his sudden end, the precise hour and manner of which the
Chaldaeans had foretold in his early youth.(2322) Among the many reasons
for his savage proscription of the leading nobles, one of the most deadly
was the possession of an imperial horoscope. On his side too, the haunted
tyrant diligently studied the birth-hour of suspected or possible
pretenders to the throne. In the last months of his reign his terror
became more and more and more intense; never in the same space of time had
the lightning been so busy. The Capitol, the temple of the Flavians, the
palace, even Domitian’s own sleeping chamber, were all struck from heaven.
In a dream, the haunted emperor beheld Minerva, the goddess whom he
specially adored, quitting her chapel, with a warning that she could no
longer save him from his doom. On the day before his death, the emperor
predicted that, on the next, the moon would appear blood red in the sign
of Aquarius. On his last morning, a seer, who had been summoned from
Germany to interpret the menacing omens and who had foretold a coming
change, was condemned to death.(2323)

Hadrian, that lover of the exotic and the curious, was particularly
fascinated by the East. He had probably no settled faith of any kind, but
he dabbled in astrology, as he dabbled in all other arts.(2324) It was a
study which had been cultivated in his family. His great-uncle, Aelius
Hadrianus, was an adept in the science of the stars, and had read the
prediction of his nephew’s future greatness.(2325) When the future emperor
was a young military tribune in lower Moesia, he found the forecast
confirmed by a local astrologer. He consulted the _sortes Virgilianae_
about his prospects, with not less hopeful results. He practised with
intense curiosity other dark magical arts, and the mysterious death of
Antinous on the Nile was by many believed to have been an immolation for
the Emperor’s safety.(2326) Hadrian was glad to think that the spirit of
his minion had passed into a new star which had then for the first time
appeared. On every 1st of January, Hadrian predicted, with perfect
assurance, the events of the year, down to his own last hour.(2327) Even
the last great imperial figure in our period is not free from the
suspicion of having tampered with the dark arts. Julius Capitolinus
reports a rumour that M. Aurelius consulted the Chaldaeans about the
infatuated passion of Faustina for a gladiator.(2328) In his account of
the famous rainfall that miraculously refreshed the Roman troops in the
Marcomannic war, D. Cassius ascribes the miracle to the magic arts of an
Egyptian sorcerer whom M. Aurelius kept in his train.(2329) Xiphilinus,
however, who attributes the marvel to the prayers of the Thundering
Legion, expressly denies that the emperor gave his countenance to these
impostors. Another suspicious incident comes to us on the authority of
Lucian. When the war on the Danube was at its height, the new oracle of
Alexander of Abonoteichos had, by mingled audacity and skill, rapidly
gained an extraordinary influence even among the greatest nobles in Italy.
Rutilianus, one of the foremost among them, was its special patron and
devotee, and actually married the daughter of Alexander by an amour with
Selene! Probably through his influence, an oracle, in verse of the old
Delphic pattern, was despatched to the headquarters of the emperor,
ordering that a pair of lions should be flung into the Danube, with costly
sacrifices and all the fragrant odours of the East.(2330) The oracle was
obeyed, but the rite was followed by an appalling disaster to the Roman
arms. The impostor was equal to the occasion, and defended himself by the
example of the ambiguity of the Delphic oracle to Croesus, before the
victory of Cyrus. What part M. Aurelius had in this scene we cannot
pretend to tell, but the ceremony could hardly have been performed
without, at least, his connivance. Nor does his philosophic attitude
exclude the possibility of a certain faith in oracular foresight and
divination. He believed that everything in our earthly lot was ordained
from eternity, and, with the Stoic fatalism, he may have held the almost
universal Stoic faith in the power to discover the decrees of fate.(2331)

Nearly all the writers from whom we derive our impressions of that age
were more or less tinged with its superstitions. Even the elder Pliny, who
rejected almost with scorn the popular religion, was led by a dream to
undertake his history of the wars in Germany.(2332) His nephew, although
he rejoiced at being raised to the augurate, and restored a temple of
Ceres on his lands, seems to have clung to the old religion rather as a
matter of sentiment than from any real faith. But he had a genuine belief
in dreams and apparitions, and he sends his friend Sura an elaborate
account of the romance of a haunted house at Athens.(2333) His friend
Suetonius had been disturbed by a dream as to the success of a cause in
which he was to appear. Pliny consoled him with the hackneyed
interpretation of dreams by contraries.(2334) The biographer of the
Caesars may contend with Dion Cassius for the honour of being probably the
most superstitious chronicler who ever dealt with great events. Suetonius
is shocked by the arrogance of Julius Caesar when he treated with disdain
the warning of a diviner from the inspection of a victim’s entrails.(2335)
He glorifies the pious Augustus by a long catalogue of signs and celestial
omens which foretold the events of his career.(2336) Suetonius must have
been as keen in collecting these old wives’ tales as the more sober facts
of history,(2337) and, if we may believe him, the palace of the Caesars
for a hundred years was as full of supernatural wonders and the terrors of
magic and dark prophecy as the Thessalian villages of Apuleius.(2338) The
superstitions of the Claudian and Flavian Caesars could nowhere have found
a more sympathetic chronicler.

Immensely superior in genius as Tacitus is to Suetonius, even he is not
emancipated from the superstition of the age. But he wavers in his
superstition, just as he wavers in his conception of the Divine government
of the world.(2339) Although he occasionally mentions, and briefly
discusses, the tenets of the Epicurean and the Stoic schools, it does not
seem probable that Tacitus had much taste for philosophy. Full of the old
senatorial ideals, he considered such a study, if carried to any depth, or
pursued with absorbing earnestness, to be unbecoming the gravity and
dignity of a man of rank and affairs.(2340) Moreover, his views of human
destiny and the Divine government were coloured and saddened by the
Terror. Having lived himself through the reign of Domitian, and seen all
the horrors of its close, having witnessed, in humiliating silence, the
excesses of frenzied power and the servility of cringing compliance,
Tacitus had little faith either in Divine benevolence or in tempted human
virtue.(2341) Even the quiet and security of Trajan’s reign seemed to him
but a precarious interval, not to be too eagerly or confidently enjoyed,
between the terror of the past and the probable dangers of a coming
age.(2342) The corruption of Roman virtue has justly earned the anger of
gods, who no longer visit to protect, but only to avenge.(2343) And, in
the chaos of human affairs, the Divine justice is confused; the good
suffer equally with the guilty.(2344) Amid obscure and guarded utterances,
we can divine that, to Tacitus, the ruling force in human fortunes is a
destiny which is blind to the deserts of those who are its sport.(2345) He
probably held the widespread belief that the fate of each man was fixed
for him at his birth, and, although he has a profound scorn for the
venality and falsehood of the Chaldaean tribe, he probably had a wavering
faith in the efficacy of their lore.(2346) Nor did he reject miracle and
supernatural portent on any ground of a scientific conception of the
universe.(2347) His language on such subjects is often perhaps studiously
ambiguous. Sometimes he appears to report the tale of a portent, as a mere
piece of vulgar superstition. But at other times, he records the marvel
with no expression of scepticism.(2348) And in his narrative of Otho’s
death and the miracles of Vespasian, the threats of heaven which ushered
in Galba’s brief reign in darkness broken by lurid lightnings, the
neglected signs of the coming doom of Jerusalem, the glare of arms from
contending armies in the sky, the ghostly voices, as of gods departing
from the Holy of Holies, as in the tale of many another omen, dream, or
oracle, the historian gives an awe and grandeur to a superstition which he
does not explicitly reject.(2349)

Nor need we be superciliously surprised that the greatest master of
historic tragedy, born into such an age, should have had the balance of
his faith disturbed. His infancy and boyhood coincided with the last years
of Nero.(2350) His youthful imagination must have been disordered and
inflamed by the tales, circulating in grave old Senatorial houses, of wild
excess or mysterious crime on the Palatine, the daring caprice of imperial
harlots, the regal power and fabulous wealth and luxury of the imperial
freedmen, the lunacy of the great line which had founded the Empire, and
which seemed destined to end it in shame and universal ruin. That the
destinies of the world should be at the mercy of a Pallas, a Caligula, or
an Agrippina was a cruel trial to any faith. The carnival of lust and
carnage in which the dynasty disappeared,(2351) the shock of the fierce
struggle on the Po, in which the legions of the East and the West fought
with demoniac force for the great prize, deepened the horrors of the
tragedy and the gloomy doubts of its future historian. The dawn of a
timorous hope, which broke under the calm, strong rule of Vespasian, was
overcast, during the early manhood of Tacitus, by the old insanity of
power which seemed to revive in the last of the Flavians. Such an
experience and such an atmosphere were enough to disorder any imagination.
The wild Titanic ambition in the Claudian Caesars, a strange mixture of
vicious, hereditary insanity,(2352) with a fevered imagination which,
intoxicated with almost superhuman power, dreamt of unheard of conquests
over nature, made the Julio-Claudian emperors, in the eyes of men, a race
half-fiend, half-god. Men hated and loathed them, yet were ready to deify
them. It did not seem unnatural that Caligula should throw a gigantic arch
over the Forum, to link the imperial palace with the temple of Jupiter on
the Capitol.(2353) Men long refused to believe in the death of Nero, and
his reappearance was expected for generations.(2354) In spite of the
Augustan revival, the calm, if rather formal, sanity of old Roman religion
had lost its power over cultivated minds. The East, with its fatalist
superstitions, its apotheosis of lofty earthly sovereignty, its
enthronement of an evil power beside the good, was completing the
overthrow of the national faith. The air was full of the lawless and the
supernatural. Science, in the modern sense, was yet unborn; it was a mere
rudimentary mass of random guesses, with as little right to command the
reason as the legends which sprang from the same lawless imagination.
Philosophic speculation in any high sense had almost disappeared. The most
powerful system which still lingered, resolved the gods into mere names
for the various potencies of that dim and awful Power which thrills
through the universe, which fixes from the beginning the destinies of men
and nations, and which deigns to shadow forth its decrees in omen or
oracle. Awestruck and helpless in the face of a cruel and omnipresent
despotism, with little light from accredited systems of philosophy or
religion, what wonder that even the highest and most cultivated minds were
darkened and bewildered, and were even ready to lend an ear to the sorcery
of the mysterious East? The hesitating acceptance of the popular belief in
clairvoyance hardly surprises us in a man like Tacitus, bewildered by the
chaos of the Empire, and possessing few reasoned convictions in religion
or philosophy. It is more surprising to find so detached a mind as
Epictetus recognising in some sort the power of divination. He admits that
men are driven to practise it by cowardice or selfish greed.(2355) He
agrees that the diviner can only predict the external changes of fortune,
and that on their moral bearing, on the question whether they are really
good or evil, he can throw no light. Yet even this preacher of a universal
Providence, of the doctrine that our true good and happiness are in our
own hands, will not altogether deny that the augur can forecast the
future. We should, indeed, Epictetus says, come to consult him, without
any selfish passion, as a wayfarer asks of a man whom he meets which of
two roads leads to his journey’s end.(2356) But the field for such
guidance is limited, Where the light of reason or conscience is a
sufficient guide, the diviner’s art is either useless or corrupting. Nor
should any ominous signs deter a man from sharing a friend’s peril, even
though the diviner may give warning of exile or death.

Next to Aristides, there is probably no writer who reveals so strikingly
the mingled pietism and superstition of the time as Aelian. Although he
preferred to compose his works in Greek, he was a native of the Latian
Praeneste, that cool retreat of the wearied Roman, and the seat of the
famous shrine of Fortuna Primigenia.(2357) It is a disputed point whether
Aelian belongs to the second century or the third. But the more probable
conclusion, favoured by the authority of Suidas, is that he lived shortly
after the time of Hadrian.(2358) His historical Miscellanies are a good
example of that uncritical treatment of history and love of the
sensational which were held up to scorn by Lucian.(2359) But it is in the
fragments of his work on Providence, that we have the best illustration of
his religious attitude. The immediate interference of the Heavenly Powers,
to reward the pious believer, or to punish the defiant sceptic, is
triumphantly proclaimed. Miracles, oracles, presages, and warning dreams
startle the reader on every page. Aelian wages war _à outrance_ with the
effeminate and profane crew of the Epicureans, whom he would certainly
have handed over pitilessly to the secular arm, if he had had the
power.(2360) He records with delight the physical maladies which are said
to have afflicted Epicurus and his brothers, and the persecution of their
sect at Messene and in Crete.(2361) After the tale of some specially
impressive interference of Providence, he launches ferocious anathemas at
the most famous sceptics, Xenophanes, Diagoras, and Epicurus.(2362) He
pursues Epicurus even to the tomb, and pours all his scorn on the
unbelieving voluptuary’s arrangements for biennial banquets to his
shade.(2363) He exults in the fate of one who, without initiation, tried
to get a sight of the holy spectacle at Eleusis, and perished by falling
from his secret point of observation.(2364) It is needless to say that
miraculous cures by Asclepius are related with the most exuberant faith.
Aristarchus the tragic poet, and Theopompus the comedian, were restored
from wasting and hopeless sickness by the god.(2365) Another patient of
the shrine had the vision, which was probably often a real fact, of a
priest standing beside his bed in the night, bringing counsels of
healing.(2366) But the climax of ludicrous credulity is reached in the
tale of the pious cock of Tanagra.(2367) This favoured bird, being maimed
in one leg, appeared before the shrine of Asclepius, holding out the
injured limb, and, taking his place in the choir that sung the morning
paean, begged the god for relief and healing. It came before the evening,
and the grateful bird, with crest erect, with stately tread, and flapping
wings, gave voice to his deliverance in his own peculiar notes of praise!
The Divine vengeance is also displayed asserting itself in dreams. A
traveller, stopping for the night at Megara, had been murdered for his
purse of gold by the keeper of his inn, and his corpse, hidden in a
dung-cart, was carried through the gates before dawn. At that very hour
his wraith appeared to a citizen of the place, and told him the tale of
the tragedy. The treacherous assassin was caught at the very point
indicated by the ghost.(2368) The last dream of Philemon is of a more
pleasing kind.(2369) The poet, being then in his full vigour, and in
possession of all his powers, once had a vision in his home at Peiraeus.
He thought he saw nine maidens leaving the house, and heard them bidding
him adieu. When he awoke, he told the tale to his boy, and finished the
play on which he was at work; then, wrapping himself in his cloak, he lay
down to sleep, and when they came to wake him, he was dead. Aelian
challenges Epicurus to deny that the maidens of the vision were the nine
Muses, quitting an abode which was soon to be polluted by death.

Publius Aelius Aristides is one of the best representatives of the union
of high culture with the forces of the religious revival. He saw the
beginning and the end of the Antonine age. He was born in 117 A.D. at
Adriani, in Mysia, where his family held a high position, his father being
priest of Zeus. He received the most complete rhetorical training, and had
been a pupil of Herodes Atticus. Travelling through Greece, Italy, and
Egypt, and giving exhibitions of his skill in the fashion of the
day,(2370) Aristides won a splendid reputation, which swelled his vanity
to proportions rare even in a class whose vanity was proverbial. He won
the restoration of the ruined Smyrna from M. Aurelius, by an oration which
moved the Emperor to tears.(2371) With a naturally feeble constitution and
epileptic tendencies, the excitement of the sophist’s life brought on an
illness which lasted thirteen years. During that long ordeal, he developed
a mystic superstition which, along with an ever-growing
self-consciousness, inspired the _Sacred Orations_, which appeared in 177,
long after his health had been restored. He visited many seats of sacred
healing—Smyrna, Pergamum, Cyzicus, Epidaurus—and, often in a cataleptic
state, between sleep and waking, he had visitations of the Higher Powers
in dreams. They gave him prescriptions of the strangest remedies, along
with eulogies on his unrivalled talent, which he was solemnly enjoined to
devote to the celebration of his deliverance by the Divine favour.(2372)

Aristides zealously obeyed the Divine command. But whether his sole
inspiration was simple gratitude and unsophisticated piety, crossed by
superstition, as has generally been assumed, may well be doubted.(2373)
The truth is, that in Aristides met all the complex influences of his age,
both intellectual and spiritual. He was the most elaborate product of the
rhetorical school, with its cultivated mastery of phrase, its exuberant
pride in the power of words, its indifference to truth, in comparison with
rhetorical effect. The whole force of revived Hellenism was concentrated
in this declamatory skill.(2374) At the same time, the religious revival
was very far from being a return to the old religion, in its clear firm
outlines and simple wholeness.(2375) The Zeus and Athene and Poseidon of
the age of Aristides were not the divinities of the great age. Many
influences had been at work to blur the clean-cut outlines of Hellenic
imagination, and to sophisticate the ancestral faith both of Greece and
Rome. Men wished to believe in the ancient gods, but they were no longer
the gods of Homer or of Aeschylus, the gods worshipped by the men who
fought in the Samnite or the Punic wars. Greek philosophy for eight
centuries had been teaching a doctrine of one Divine force or essence,
transcending the powers and limitations of sense, or immanent in the
fleeting world of chance and change. Pagan theology had elaborated a
celestial hierarchy, in which the Deity, removed to an infinite distance,
was remotely linked to humanity by a graduated scale of inferior spiritual
beings, daemons, and heroes.(2376) Then came the religions of the East,
with their doctrines of expiation for sin and ascetic preparation for
communion, and visions of immortality. And, alongside of all these
developments, there was a portentous growth of vulgar superstition, belief
in dreams, omens, and oracles, in any avenue to the “Great Mystery.”
Sophistic rhetoric, from its very nature and function, was bound to
reflect the religious spirit of the age, in all its confusion. The ancient
myths, indeed, were revived and decked out with rich poetic colouring. Yet
it is not the simple, naïve, old pagan faith which inspires the rhetorical
artist. The pantheistic or theosophist doctrines, which were in the air,
disturbed the antique character of the piece.(2377) But the sophist, if he
occasionally catches the tone of new mysticism, or even of rationalist
interpretation, is nothing if not orthodox on the whole, and he
anathematises the impiety of free-thinking philosophy, with the same
energy as Aelian. Above all, Aristides is in harmony with the infinite
faith in miracle and heavenly vision which was rife.

From whatever cause, the worship of Asclepius had attained an
extraordinary popularity in the age of the Antonines.(2378) The conditions
of health and disease are so obscure, the influences of will and
imagination on our bodily states are so marked, that, in all ages, the
boundaries between the natural and the unknowable are blurred and may be
easily crossed. The science of medicine, even down to the age of
Hippocrates, or the age of Galen, had not abandoned all faith in the
magical and mysterious.(2379) Incantations long held their ground beside
more scientific remedies. Health being the most precious and the most
precarious of earthly blessings, it is not strange that, in an age of
revived belief in the supernatural, the god of health should attain a rank
even on level with the great Olympian gods. His temples rose in every land
where Greek or Roman culture prevailed. They were generally built with an
eye to beauty of scenery, or the virtues of some clear, cold, ancient
spring, or other health-giving powers in the site, which might reinforce
the more mysterious influences of religion. And in every temple there was
a hierarchy of sacred servants, who guarded a tradition of hieratic
ceremonial and of medical science.(2380) There was the chief priest, who
may or may not have been a trained physician. There were the _daduchi_ and
_pyrophori_, who attended to the punctual service of the altars. There
were the _neocori_, who were probably physicians, and who waited on the
patients, interpreting their visions, and often supplementing them by
other visions of their own.(2381) There were also, in a lower rank,
nurses, male and female, who, if we may judge from Aristides, performed
the sympathetic part of our own hospital-nurses.(2382) The patients came
from all parts of the Graeco-Roman world. After certain offerings and
rites, the sufferer took his place in the long dormitory, which often
contained beds for 200 or 300, with windows open all night long to the
winds of the south. The sick man brought his bed-coverings, and made his
gift on the altar. The lamps were lighted in the long gallery, a priest
recited the vesper prayers. At a later hour, the lights were extinguished,
strict silence was enjoined, and a hope for some soothing vision from
above was left as a parting gift or salutation by the minister as he
retired.(2383)

Divination by dreams was one of the most ancient and universal of
superstitions in the pagan world.(2384) It was also one of the most
persistent to the last days of paganism in the West. The god of Epidaurus
was still visiting his votaries by night, when S. Jerome was composing his
commentary on Isaiah.(2385) Nor is the superstition unnatural. Sleep, the
most mysterious of physical phenomena, gives birth to mental states which
are a constant surprise. Thoughts and powers which are latent in the
waking hours, then start into life with a strange vividness and energy.
Memory and imagination operate with a force which may well, in an age of
faith, be taken for inspiration. The illusion of a double personality,
which results from the helplessness of the mind to react on the
impressions of sense, also easily passes into the illusion of messages and
promptings from powers beyond ourselves. Religious hopes and cravings may
thus easily and honestly seem to be fulfilled.

But external causes also reinforced in the ancient world the deceptions of
the inner spirit. The dream-oracle was generally on a site where nature
might touch the awe and imagination of the votary. Few could have
descended into the gloom of the cave of Trophonius without having their
fancy prepared for visions.(2386) Exhalations from secret chasms, as at
Delphi and Lebadea, aided by the weird spells of the Nymphs who haunted
such scenes, often produced a physical excitement akin to madness. Opiates
and potions administered by the priests, with the effect of solemn
religious rites, prepared the votary for voices from another world.(2387)
Soul and body were still further prepared for the touch of a Divine hand
by rigorous fasting, which was enjoined as a preparatory discipline in so
many mysteries of the renascent paganism.(2388) The heavenly vision could
only come to the clear spirit, purged as far as might be from the
grossness of the flesh.(2389) _Ἐγκοίμησις_ for the sake of healing became
a great, and probably in the main, a beneficent institution in the temples
of many deities,(2390) pre-eminently in those of Isis, Serapis, and
Asclepius. The temple of Serapis at Canopus in Strabo’s time was thronged
by patients of the noblest rank, and was famous for its miraculous
cures.(2391) Among the many attributes of Queen Isis, none made a deeper
impression than her benignant power of healing even the most desperate
cases.(2392) Her temples rose everywhere. Her dream interpreters were
famous from the days of Cicero.(2393) In her shrine at Smyrna Aristides
had many of his most startling experiences. According to Diodorus, her
priests could point to numberless proofs of the power of the great goddess
to cure the most inveterate disease. But the great healer was, of course,
Asclepius. The remains of his splendid shrine at Epidaurus are a
revelation at once of his fame and power, and of the scenes and
occupations in which the devout health-seekers passed their days and
nights. In his temple on the island in the Tiber, dreams of healing were
still sought in the time of Iamblichus. His shrine at Pergamum, which was
the scene of so many of the strange visions of Aristides, in his many
years of struggle with disease, was one of the most famous, and its
inspired dreams were sought long afterwards by the emperor
Caracalla.(2394)

It would be idle to speculate on the relative effects of sound medical
treatment and of superstition, stimulated by more or less pious arts, upon
the constitution of the sufferer. The virtues of herb or mineral drug, of
regulated food and abstinence, of bathing in naturally medicated waters,
above all of a continual freshness in the air, must have become a
tradition in these sacred homes of the god of health. Physical disease is
often rooted in moral disorder, and for such troubled, tainted souls, with
hereditary poison in vein and nerve, the bright cheerfulness, the orderly
calm and confidence of the ritual, which had such a charm for the soul of
Plutarch, may have exorcised, for the time, many an evil spirit, and wiped
out the memory of old sins. Soothed and relieved in mind and body, the
sufferer lay in the dimly lighted corridor, sinking to sleep, with a
confidence that the god would somehow make his power felt in visions of
the night.(2395) Through a sliding panel, hidden in the wall, a dim figure
of gracious aspect might glide to the side of his couch, and whisper
strange sweet words of comfort. But in many cases, there is no need to
assume the existence of sanctified imposture.(2396) A debilitated frame,
nerves shattered by prolonged suffering, an imagination excited by sacred
litany, ghostly counsels and tales of miracle, the all-pervading
atmosphere of an immemorial faith, may easily have engendered visions
which seemed to come from another world.(2397)

But from whatever source the visions came, they had a powerful effect on
the imagination, and, through that, on the bodily health. Some of the
prescriptions indeed given by these voices of the night may seem to us
ludicrous or positively dangerous.(2398) But the tone and surroundings of
these shrines, and the sense of being encompassed by Divine as well as
human sympathy, probably counteracted any ill effects of quackery. The
calm, serene order, which the hieratic spirit cultivates at its best, the
cheerful routine of the sacred service, blending indistinguishably with
the ministry to suffering, and consecrating and ennobling it, the
confidence inspired by the sedate cheerfulness of the priests and
attendants, reinforced by the countless cases of miraculous cures recorded
on the walls,(2399)—all this must have had a powerful and beneficent
influence. And the visitors were not all invalids. The games and festivals
drew together many merely for society and amusement. The theatre at
Epidaurus must have provided constant entertainment for a far larger
concourse than the patients of the temple.(2400) A healthy regimen, which
is abundantly attested,(2401) with the charms of art and surrounding
beauties of hill and woodland, tended of themselves to restore peace and
balance to disordered nerves. And the social life, especially to Greeks,
was probably the most potent influence of all. We can see from Aristides
that troublesome cases were watched by a circle of curious
sympathisers.(2402) In those marble seats, which can still be seen on the
site, many a group, through many generations, must have sat listening to
music or recitation, or discussing high themes of life and death, or
amused with the more trivial gossip of all gatherings of men.

Amid such scenes Aristides spent thirteen years of the prime of his
manhood. With all the egotism of the self-pitying invalid, he has recorded
the minutest details of his ailments. He seems to have been disordered in
every organ, dropsical, asthmatic, dyspeptic, with a tumour of portentous
size, and agonising pains which reduced him to the extremity of
weakness.(2403) But the extraordinary toughness and vitality of the man is
even mor