The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

We find from Quintilian, that Varro likewise composed satires in various
kinds of verse. It is impossible to behold the numerous fragments of
this venerable author without feeling the strongest regret for the loss
of that vast collection of information which he had compiled, and of
judicious observations which he had made on a variety of subjects, during
a life of eighty-eight years, almost entirely devoted to literature. The
remark of St. Augustine is well founded, That it is astonishing how
Varro, who read such a number of books, could find time to compose so
many volumes; and how he who composed so many volumes, could be at
leisure to peruse such a variety of books, and to gain so much literary
information.

Catullus is said to have been born at Verona, of respectable parents; his
father and himself being in the habit of intimacy with Julius Caesar. He
was brought to Rome by Mallius, to whom several of his epigrams are
addressed. The gentleness of his manners, and his application to study,
we are told, recommended him to general esteem; and he had the good
fortune to obtain the patronage of Cicero. When he came to be known as a
poet, all these circumstances would naturally contribute to increase his
reputation for ingenuity; and accordingly we find his genius applauded by
several of his contemporaries. It appears that his works are not
transmitted entire to posterity; but there remain sufficient specimens by
which we may be enabled to appreciate his poetical talents.

Quintilian, and Diomed the grammarian, have ranked Catullus amongst the
iambic writers, while others have placed him amongst the lyric. He has
properly a claim to each of these stations; but his versification being
chiefly iambic, the former of the arrangements seems to be the most
suitable. The principal merit of Catullus’s Iambics consists in a
simplicity of thought and expression. The thoughts, however, are often
frivolous, and, what is yet more reprehensible, the author gives way to
gross obscenity: in vindication of which, he produces the following
couplet, declaring that a good poet ought to be chaste in his own person,
but that his verses need not be so.

Nam castum esse decet pium poetam
Ipsum: versiculos nihil necesse est.

This sentiment has been frequently cited by those who were inclined to
follow the example of Catullus; but if such a practice be in any case
admissible, it is only where the poet personates (68) a profligate
character; and the instances in which it is adopted by Catullus are not
of that description. It had perhaps been a better apology, to have
pleaded the manners of the times; for even Horace, who wrote only a few
years after, has suffered his compositions to be occasionally debased by
the same kind of blemish.

Much has been said of this poet’s invective against Caesar, which
produced no other effect than an invitation to sup at the dictator’s
house. It was indeed scarcely entitled to the honour of the smallest
resentment. If any could be shewn, it must have been for the freedom
used by the author, and not for any novelty in his lampoon. There are
two poems on this subject, viz. the twenty-ninth and fifty-seventh, in
each of which Caesar is joined with Mamurra, a Roman knight, who had
acquired great riches in the Gallic war. For the honour of Catullus’s
gratitude, we should suppose that the latter is the one to which
historians allude: but, as poetical compositions, they are equally
unworthy of regard. The fifty seventh is nothing more than a broad
repetition of the raillery, whether well or ill founded, with which
Caesar was attacked on various occasions, and even in the senate, after
his return from Bithynia. Caesar had been taunted with this subject for
upwards of thirty years; and after so long a familiarity with reproach,
his sensibility to the scandalous imputation must now have been much
diminished, if not entirely extinguished. The other poem is partly in
the same strain, but extended to greater length, by a mixture of common
jocular ribaldry of the Roman soldiers, expressed nearly in the same
terms which Caesar’s legions, though strongly attached to his person,
scrupled not to sport publicly in the streets of Rome, against their
general, during the celebration of his triumph. In a word, it deserves
to be regarded as an effusion of Saturnalian licentiousness, rather than
of poetry. With respect to the Iambics of Catullus, we may observe in
general, that the sarcasm is indebted for its force, not so much to
ingenuity of sentiment, as to the indelicate nature of the subject, or
coarseness of expression.

The descriptive poems of Catullus are superior to the others, and
discover a lively imagination. Amongst the best of his productions, is a
translation of the celebrated ode of Sappho:

Ille mi par esse Deo videtur,
me, etc.

This ode is executed both with spirit and elegance; it is, however,
imperfect; and the last stanza seems to be spurious. Catullus’s epigrams
are entitled to little praise, with regard either to sentiment or point;
and on the whole, his merit, as a poet, appears to have been magnified
beyond its real extent. He is said to have died about the thirtieth year
of his age.

(69) Lucretius is the author of a celebrated poem, in six books, De Rerum
Natura; a subject which had been treated many ages before by Empedocles,
a philosopher and poet of Agrigentum. Lucretius was a zealous partizan
of Democritus, and the sect of Epicurus, whose principles concerning the
eternity of matter, the materiality of the soul, and the non-existence of
a future state of rewards and punishments, he affects to maintain with a
certainty equal to that of mathematical demonstration. Strongly
prepossessed with the hypothetical doctrines of his master, and ignorant
of the physical system of the universe, he endeavours to deduce from the
phenomena of the material world conclusions not only unsupported by
legitimate theory, but repugnant to the principles of the highest
authority in metaphysical disquisition. But while we condemn his
speculative notions as degrading to human nature, and subversive of the
most important interests of mankind, we must admit that he has prosecuted
his visionary hypothesis with uncommon ingenuity. Abstracting from it
the rhapsodical nature of this production, and its obscurity in some
parts, it has great merit as a poem. The style is elevated, and the
versification in general harmonious. By the mixture of obsolete words,
it possesses an air of solemnity well adapted to abstruse researches; at
the same time that by the frequent resolution of diphthongs, it instils
into the Latin the sonorous and melodious powers of the Greek language.

While Lucretius was engaged in this work, he fell into a state of
insanity, occasioned, as is supposed, by a philtre, or love-potion, given
him by his wife Lucilia. The complaint, however, having lucid intervals,
he employed them in the execution of his plan, and, soon after it was
finished, laid violent hands upon himself, in the forty-third year of his
age. This fatal termination of his life, which perhaps proceeded from
insanity, was ascribed by his friends and admirers to his concern for the
banishment of one Memmius, with whom he was intimately connected, and for
the distracted state of the republic. It was, however, a catastrophe
which the principles of Epicurus, equally erroneous and irreconcilable to
resignation and fortitude, authorized in particular circumstances. Even
Atticus, the celebrated correspondent of Cicero, a few years after this
period, had recourse to the same desperate expedient, by refusing all
sustenance, while he laboured under a lingering disease.

It is said that Cicero revised the poem of Lucretius after the death of
the author, and this circumstance is urged by the abettors of atheism, as
a proof that the principles contained in the work had the sanction of his
authority. But no inference in favour of Lucretius’s doctrine can justly
be drawn from this circumstance. (70) Cicero, though already
sufficiently acquainted with the principles of the Epicurean sect, might
not be averse to the perusal of a production, which collected and
enforced them in a nervous strain of poetry; especially as the work was
likely to prove interesting to his friend Atticus, and would perhaps
afford subject for some letters or conversation between them. It can
have been only with reference to composition that the poem was submitted
to Cicero’s revisal: for had he been required to exercise his judgment
upon its principles, he must undoubtedly have so much mutilated the work,
as to destroy the coherency of the system. He might be gratified with
the shew of elaborate research, and confident declamation, which it
exhibited, but he must have utterly disapproved of the conclusions which
the author endeavoured to establish. According to the best information,
Lucretius died in the year from the building of Rome 701, when Pompey was
the third time consul. Cicero lived several years beyond this period,
and in the two last years of his life, he composed those valuable works
which contain sentiments diametrically repugnant to the visionary system
of Epicurus. The argument, therefore, drawn from Cicero’s revisal, so
far from confirming the principle of Lucretius, affords the strongest
tacit declaration against their validity; because a period sufficient for
mature consideration had elapsed, before Cicero published his own
admirable system of philosophy. The poem of Lucretius, nevertheless, has
been regarded as the bulwark of atheism–of atheism, which, while it
impiously arrogates the support of reason, both reason and nature
disclaim.

Many more writers flourished in this period, but their works have totally
perished. Sallust was now engaged in historical productions; but as they
were not yet completed, they will be noticed in the next division of the
review.
(71)

 

bo118

D. OCTAVIUS CAESAR AUGUSTUS.
I. That the family of the Octavii was of the first distinction in
Velitrae [106], is rendered evident by many circumstances. For in the
most frequented part of the town, there was, not long since, a street
named the Octavian; and an altar was to be seen, consecrated to one
Octavius, who being chosen general in a war with some neighbouring
people, the enemy making a sudden attack, while he was sacrificing to
Mars, he immediately snatched the entrails of the victim from off the
fire, and offered them half raw upon the altar; after which, marching out
to battle, he returned victorious. This incident gave rise to a law, by
which it was enacted, that in all future times the entrails should be
offered to Mars in the same manner; and the rest of the victim be carried
to the Octavii.

II. This family, as well as several in Rome, was admitted into the
senate by Tarquinius Priscus, and soon afterwards placed by Servius
Tullius among the patricians; but in process of time it transferred
itself to the plebeian order, and, after the lapse of a long interval,
was restored by Julius Caesar to the rank of patricians. The first
person of the family raised by the suffrages of the people to the
magistracy, was Caius Rufus. He obtained the quaestorship, and had two
sons, Cneius and Caius; from whom are descended the two branches of the
Octavian family, which have had very different fortunes. For Cneius, and
his descendants in uninterrupted succession, held all the highest offices
of the state; whilst Caius and his posterity, whether from their
circumstances or their choice, remained in the equestrian order until the
father of Augustus. The great-grandfather of Augustus served as a
military tribune in the second Punic war in Sicily, under the command of
Aemilius Pappus. His grandfather contented himself with bearing the
public offices of his own municipality, and grew old in the tranquil
enjoyment of an ample patrimony. Such is the account given (72) by
different authors. Augustus himself, however, tells us nothing more than
that he was descended of an equestrian family, both ancient and rich, of
which his father was the first who obtained the rank of senator. Mark
Antony upbraidingly tells him that his great-grandfather was a freedman
of the territory of Thurium [107], and a rope-maker, and his grandfather
a usurer. This is all the information I have any where met with,
respecting the ancestors of Augustus by the father’s side.

III. His father Caius Octavius was, from his earliest years, a person
both of opulence and distinction: for which reason I am surprised at
those who say that he was a money-dealer [108], and was employed in
scattering bribes, and canvassing for the candidates at elections, in the
Campus Martius. For being bred up in all the affluence of a great
estate, he attained with ease to honourable posts, and discharged the
duties of them with much distinction. After his praetorship, he obtained
by lot the province of Macedonia; in his way to which he cut off some
banditti, the relics of the armies of Spartacus and Catiline, who had
possessed themselves of the territory of Thurium; having received from
the senate an extraordinary commission for that purpose. In his
government of the province, he conducted himself with equal justice and
resolution; for he defeated the Bessians and Thracians in a great battle,
and treated the allies of the republic in such a manner, that there are
extant letters from M. Tullius Cicero, in which he advises and exhorts
his brother Quintus, who then held the proconsulship of Asia with no
great reputation, to imitate the example of his neighbour Octavius, in
gaining the affections of the allies of Rome.

IV. After quitting Macedonia, before he could declare himself a
candidate for the consulship, he died suddenly, leaving behind him a
daughter, the elder Octavia, by Ancharia; and another daughter, Octavia
the younger, as well as Augustus, by Atia, who was the daughter of Marcus
Atius Balbus, and Julia, sister to Caius Julius Caesar. Balbus was, by
the father’s (73) side, of a family who were natives of Aricia [109], and
many of whom had been in the senate. By the mother’s side he was nearly
related to Pompey the Great; and after he had borne the office of
praetor, was one of the twenty commissioners appointed by the Julian law
to divide the land in Campania among the people. But Mark Antony,
treating with contempt Augustus’s descent even by the mother’s side, says
that his great grand-father was of African descent, and at one time kept
a perfumer’s shop, and at another, a bake-house, in Aricia. And Cassius
of Parma, in a letter, taxes Augustus with being the son not only of a
baker, but a usurer. These are his words: “Thou art a lump of thy
mother’s meal, which a money-changer of Nerulum taking from the newest
bake-house of Aricia, kneaded into some shape, with his hands all
discoloured by the fingering of money.”

V. Augustus was born in the consulship of Marcus Tullius Cicero and
Caius Antonius [110], upon the ninth of the calends of October [the 23rd
September], a little before sunrise, in the quarter of the Palatine Hill
[111], and the street called The Ox-Heads [112], where now stands a
chapel dedicated to him, and built a little after his death. For, as it
is recorded in the proceedings of the senate, when Caius Laetorius, a
young man of a patrician family, in pleading before the senators for a
lighter sentence, upon his being convicted of adultery, alleged, besides
his youth and quality, that he was the possessor, and as it were the
guardian, of the ground which the Divine Augustus first touched upon his
coming into the world; and entreated that (74) he might find favour, for
the sake of that deity, who was in a peculiar manner his; an act of the
senate was passed, for the consecration of that part of his house in
which Augustus was born.

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