Page:The works of Horace - Christopher Smart.djvu/296

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or. On you, while present[1] among us, we confer mature honors, and rear altars where your name is to be sworn by; confessing that nothing equal to you has hitherto risen, or will hereafter rise. But this your people, wise and just in one point (for preferring you to our own, you to the Grecian heroes), by no means estimate other things with like proportion and measure: and disdain and detest every thing, but what they see removed from earth and already gone by; such favorers are they of antiquity, as to assert that the Muses [themselves] upon Mount Alba, dictated the twelve tables, forbidding to transgress,[2] which the decemviri ratified; the leagues of our kings concluded with the Gabii, or the rigid Sabines; the records of the pontifices, and the ancient volumes of the augurs.

If, because the most ancient writings of the Greeks are also the best,[3] Roman authors are to be weighed in the same scale,

  1. We are not to wonder at this and the like extravagances of .adulation in the Augustan poets. They had ample authority for what they did of this sort We know that altars were decreed and erected to the emperor by the command of the senate, and that he was publicly invoked, as an established tutelary divinity. But the seeds of the corruption had been sown much earlier. For we find it sprung up, or rather (as of all the ill weeds, which the teeming soil of human depravity throws forth, none is more thriving and grows faster than this of flattery) flourishing at its height, in the tyranny of J. Cæsar. Balbus, in a letter to Cicero (Ep. ad Att 1, ix.) “swears by the health and safety of Cæsar:” “ita, incolumi Cæsare, moriar.” And Dio tells us (L. xliv.) that it was, by the express injunction of the senate, decreed, even in Cæsar’s life-time, that tho Ro- mans should bind themselves by this oath. The senate also (as we lean? from the same writer, L. xliii.) upon the receiving the news of his defeat of Pompey’s sons, caused his statue to bo set up, in tho temple of Romu- lus, with this inscription, DEO INVICTO. Hurd.
  2. The laws of the twelve tables, which Horace hero means, might not want elegance of expression, with regard to the time when they were written. The treaty of peace between Tarquinius Superbus and the Gabii was recorded on a bull’s hide stretched upon a piece of wood called Clypeum, and we may believe the style was answerable to the paper. The Sibylline books, which regulated all the ceremonies of religion; and the works of poets in the first infancy of the Latin tongue, might have been venerable for their antiquity, but could not bo models of good writing. Fran.
  3. The common interpretation of this place supposes the poet to admit the most ancient of the Greek writings to be the best—which were even contrary to all experience and common sense, and is directly confuted by the history of the Greek learning. What he allows is, the superiority of the oldest Greek writings extant, which is a very different thing. The turn of his argument confines us to this sense. For he would show the folly of concluding the same of the old Roman writers, on their first rude attempts to copy the finished models of Greece, as of the old Greek writers themselves, who were furnished with the means of producing those models by long discipline and cultivation. This appears, certainly, from what follows:
    “Venimus ad summum fortunæ: pingimus atque
     Psallimus et luctamur Achivis doctiiis unctis.
    The design of which hath been entirely overlooked; for it hath been taken only for a general expression of falsehood and absurdity, of just the same import as the proverbial line,
    “Nil intra est oleam, nil extra est in nuce duri.”
    Whereas it was designedly pitched upon to convey a particular illustration of the very absurdity in question, and to show the maintainera of it, from the nature of things, how senseless their position was. It is to this purpose: “As well may it be pretended that we Romans surpass the Greeks in the arts of painting, music, and the exercises of the palæstra, which yet it is confessed we do not, as that our old writers surpass the modern. The absurdity, in either case, is the same. For, as the Greeks, who had long devoted themselves, with great and continued application, to the practice of these arts (which is the force of the epithet uncti, here given them), must for that reason carry the prize from the Romans, who have taken very little pains about them; so, the modern Romans, who have for a long time been studying the arts of poetry and composition, must needs excel the old Roman writers, who had little or no acquaintance with those arts, and had been trained by no previous discipline to the exercise of them.” Hurd.