By C. Suetonius Tranquillus; To which are added, his Lives of the Grammarians, Rhetoricians, and Poets.
Translation by Alexander Thomson, M.D.; Revised and corrected by T.Forester, Esq., A.M.
Annotation of text copyright ©2007 David Trumbull, Agathon Associates. All Rights Reserved.

Julius Caesar, 100-44 B.C.


The termination of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey forms a new epoch in the Roman History, at which a Republic, which had subsisted with unrivalled glory during a period of about four hundred and sixty years, relapsed into a state of despotism, whence it never more could emerge. So sudden a transition from prosperity to the ruin of public freedom, without the intervention of any foreign enemy, excites a reasonable conjecture, that the constitution in which it could take place, however vigorous in appearance, must have lost that soundness of political health which had enabled it to endure through so many ages. A short view of its preceding state, and of that in which it was at the time of the revolution now mentioned, will best ascertain the foundation of such a conjecture.

Though the Romans, upon the expulsion of Tarquin, made an essential change in the political form of the state, they did not carry their detestation of regal authority so far as to abolish the religious institutions of Numa Pompilius, the second of their kings, according to which, the priesthood, with all the influence annexed to that order, was placed in the hands of the aristocracy. By this wise policy a restraint was put upon the fickleness and violence of the people in matters of government, and a decided superiority given to the Senate both in the deliberative and executive parts of administration. This advantage was afterwards indeed diminished by the creation of Tribunes of the people; a set of men whose ambition often embroiled the Republic in civil dissensions, and who at last abused their authority to such a degree, that they became instruments of aggrandizement to any leading men in the state who could purchase their friendship. In general, however, the majority of the Tribunes being actuated by views which comprehended the interests of the multitude, rather than those of individuals, they did not so much endanger the liberty, as they interrupted the tranquillity, of the public; and when the occasional commotions subsided, there remained no permanent ground for the establishment of personal usurpation.

In every government, an object of the last importance to the peace and welfare of society is the morals of the people; and in proportion as a community is enlarged by propagation, or the accession of a multitude of new members, a more strict attention is requisite to guard against that dissolution of manners to which a crowded and extensive capital has a natural tendency. Of this the Romans became sensible in the growing state of the Republic. In the year of the City 312, two magistrates were first created for taking an account of the number of the people, and the value of their estates; and soon after, they were invested with the authority not only of inspecting the morals of individuals, but of inflicting public censure for any licentiousness of conduct, or violation of decency. Thus both the civil and religious institutions concurred to restrain the people within the bounds of good order and obedience to the laws; at the same time that the frugal life of the ancient Romans proved a strong security against those vices which operate most effectually towards sapping the foundations of a state.

But in the time of Julius Caesar the barriers of public liberty were become too weak to restrain the audacious efforts of ambitious and desperate men. The veneration for the constitution, usually a powerful check to treasonable designs, had been lately violated by the usurpations of Marius and Sylla. The salutary terrors of religion no longer predominated over the consciences of men. The shame of public censure was extinguished in general depravity. An eminent historian, who lived at that time, informs us, that venality universally prevailed amongst the Romans; and a writer who flourished soon after, observes, that luxury and dissipation had encumbered almost all so much with debt, that they beheld with a degree of complacency the prospect of civil war and confusion.

The extreme degree of profligacy at which the Romans were now arrived is in nothing more evident, than that this age gave birth to the most horrible conspiracy which occurs in the annals of humankind, viz. that of Catiline. This was not the project of a few desperate and abandoned individuals, but of a number of men of the most illustrious rank in the state; and it appears beyond doubt, that Julius Caesar was accessary to the design, which was no less than to extirpate the Senate, divide amongst themselves both the public and private treasures, and set Rome on fire. The causes which prompted to this tremendous project, it is generally admitted, were luxury, prodigality, irreligion, a total corruption of manners, and above all, as the immediate cause, the pressing necessity in which the conspirators were involved by their extreme dissipation.

The enormous debt in which Caesar himself was early involved, countenances an opinion that his anxiety to procure the province of Gaul proceeded chiefly from this cause. But during nine years in which he held that province, he acquired such riches as must have rendered him, without competition, the most opulent person in the state. If nothing more, therefore, than a splendid establishment had been the object of his pursuit, he had attained to the summit of his wishes. But when we find him persevering in a plan of aggrandizement beyond this period of his fortunes, we can ascribe his conduct to no other motive than that of outrageous ambition. He projected the building of a new Forum at Rome, for the ground only of which he was to pay 800,000 pounds; he raised legions in Gaul at his own charges: he promised such entertainments to the people as had never been known at Rome from the foundation of the city. All these circumstances evince some latent design of procuring such a popularity as might give him an uncontrolled influence in the management of public affairs. Pompey, we are told, was wont to say, that Caesar not being able, with all his riches, to fulfil the promises which he had made, wished to throw everything into confusion. There may have been some foundation for this remark: but the opinion of Cicero is more probable, that Caesar's mind was seduced with the temptations of chimerical glory. It is observable that neither Cicero nor Pompey intimates any suspicion that Caesar was apprehensive of being impeached for his conduct, had he returned to Rome in a private station. Yet, that there was reason for such an apprehension, the positive declaration of L. Domitius leaves little room to doubt: especially when we consider the number of enemies that Caesar had in the Senate, and the coolness of his former friend Pompey ever after the death of Julia. The proposed impeachment was founded upon a notorious charge of prosecuting measures destructive of the interests of the commonwealth, and tending ultimately to an object incompatible with public freedom. Indeed, considering the extreme corruption which prevailed amongst the Romans at this time, it is more than probable that Caesar would have been acquitted of the charge, but at such an expense as must have stripped him of all his riches, and placed him again in a situation ready to attempt a disturbance of the public tranquillity. For it is said, that he purchased the friendship of Curio, at the commencement of the civil war, with a bribe little short of half a million sterling.

Whatever Caesar's private motive may have been for taking arms against his country, he embarked in an enterprise of a nature the most dangerous: and had Pompey conducted himself in any degree suitable to the reputation which he had formerly acquired, the contest would in all probability have terminated in favour of public freedom. But by dilatory measures in the beginning, by imprudently withdrawing his army from Italy into a distant province, and by not pursuing the advantage he had gained by the vigorous repulse of Caesar's troops in their attack upon his camp, this commander lost every opportunity of extinguishing a war which was to determine the fate, and even the existence, of the Republic. It was accordingly determined on the plains of Pharsalia, where Caesar obtained a victory which was not more decisive than unexpected. He was now no longer amenable either to the tribunal of the Senate or the power of the laws, but triumphed at once over his enemies and the constitution of his country.

It is to the honour of Caesar, that when he had obtained the supreme power, he exercised it with a degree of moderation beyond what was generally expected by those who had fought on the side of the Republic. Of his private life either before or after this period, little is transmitted in history. Henceforth, however, he seems to have lived chiefly at Rome, near which he had a small villa, upon an eminence, commanding a beautiful prospect. His time was almost entirely occupied with public affairs, in the management of which, though he employed many agents, he appears to have had none in the character of actual minister. He was in general easy of access: but Cicero, in a letter to a friend, complains of having been treated with the indignity of waiting a considerable time amongst a crowd in an anti-chamber, before he could have an audience. The elevation of Caesar placed him not above discharging reciprocally the social duties in the intercourse of life. He returned the visits of those who waited upon him, and would sup at their houses. At table, and in the use of wine, he was habitually temperate. Upon the whole, he added nothing to his own happiness by all the dangers, the fatigues, and the perpetual anxiety which he had incurred in the pursuit of unlimited power. His health was greatly impaired: his former cheerfulness of temper, though not his magnanimity, appears to have forsaken him; and we behold in his fate a memorable example of illustrious talents rendered, by inordinate ambition, destructive to himself, and irretrievably pernicious to his country.

From beholding the ruin of the Roman Republic, after intestine divisions, and the distractions of civil war, it will afford some relief to take a view of the progress of literature, which flourished even during those calamities.

The commencement of literature in Rome is to be dated from the reduction of the Grecian States, when the conquerors imported into their own country the valuable productions of the Greek language, and the first essay of Roman genius was in dramatic composition. Livius Andronicus, who flourished about 240 years before the Christian aera, formed the Fescennine verses into a kind of regular drama, upon the model of the Greeks. He was followed some time after by Ennius, who, besides dramatic and other compositions, wrote the annals of the Roman Republic in heroic verse. His style, like that of Andronicus, was rough and unpolished, in conformity to the language of those times; but for grandeur of sentiment and energy of expression, he was admired by the greatest poets in the subsequent ages. Other writers of distinguished reputation in the dramatic department were Naevius, Pacuvius, Plautus, Afranius, Caecilius, Terence, Accius, etc. Accius and Pacuvius are mentioned by Quintilian as writers of extraordinary merit. Of twenty-five comedies written by Plautus, the number transmitted to posterity is nineteen; and of a hundred and eight which Terence is said to have translated from Menander, there now remain only six. Excepting a few inconsiderable fragments, the writings of all the other authors have perished. The early period of Roman literature was distinguished for the introduction of satire by Lucilius, an author celebrated for writing with remarkable ease, but whose compositions, in the opinion of Horace, though Quintilian thinks otherwise, were debased with a mixture of feculency. Whatever may have been their merit, they also have perished, with the works of a number of orators, who adorned the advancing state of letters in the Roman Republic. It is observable, that during this whole period, of near two centuries and a half, there appeared not one historian of eminence sufficient to preserve his name from oblivion.

Julius Caesar himself is one of the most eminent writers of the age in which he lived. His commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars are written with a purity, precision, and perspicuity, which command approbation. They are elegant without affectation, and beautiful without ornament. Of the two books which he composed on Analogy, and those under the title of Anti-Cato, scarcely any fragment is preserved; but we may be assured of the justness of the observations on language, which were made by an author so much distinguished by the excellence of his own compositions. His poem entitled The Journey, which was probably an entertaining narrative, is likewise totally lost.

The most illustrious prose writer of this or any other age is M. Tullius Cicero; and as his life is copiously related in biographical works, it will be sufficient to mention his writings. From his earliest years, he applied himself with unremitting assiduity to the cultivation of literature, and, whilst he was yet a boy, wrote a poem, called Glaucus Pontius, which was extant in Plutarch's time /1/. Amongst his juvenile productions was a translation into Latin verse, of Aratus on the Phaenomena of the Heavens; of which many fragments are still extant. He also published a poem of the heroic kind, in honour of his countryman C. Marius, who was born at Arpinum, the birth-place of Cicero. This production was greatly admired by Atticus; and old Scaevola was so much pleased with it, that in an epigram written on the subject, he declares that it would live as long as the Roman name and learning subsisted. From a little specimen which remains of it, describing a memorable omen given to Marina from an oak at Arpinum, there is reason to believe that his poetical genius was scarcely inferior to his oratorical, had it been cultivated with equal industry. He published another poem called Limon, of which Donatus has preserved four lines in the life of Terence, in praise of the elegance and purity of that poet's style. He composed in the Greek language, and in the style and manner of Isocrates, a Commentary or Memoirs of the Transactions of his Consulship. This he sent to Atticus, with a desire, if he approved it, to publish it in Athens and the cities of Greece. He sent a copy of it likewise to Posidonius of Rhodes, and requested of him to undertake the same subject in a more elegant and masterly manner. But the latter returned for answer, that, instead of being encouraged to write by the perusal of his tract, he was quite deterred from attempting it.

Upon the plan of those Memoirs, he afterwards composed a Latin poem in three books, in which he carried down the history to the end of his exile, but did not publish it for several years, from motives of delicacy. The three books were severally inscribed to the three Muses; but of this work there now remain only a few fragments, scattered in different parts of his other writings. He published, about the same time, a collection of the principal speeches which he had made in his consulship, under the title of his Consular Orations. They consisted originally of twelve; but four are entirely lost, and some of the rest are imperfect. He now published also, in Latin verse, a translation of the Prognostics of Aratus, of which work no more than two or three small fragments now remain. A few years after, he put the last hand to his Dialogues upon the Character and Idea of the perfect Orator. This admirable work remains entire; a monument both of the astonishing industry and transcendent abilities of its author. At his Cuman villa, he next began a Treatise on Politics, or on the best State of a City, and the Duties of a Citizen /2/. He calls it a great and a laborious work, yet worthy of his pains, if he could succeed in it. This likewise was written in the form of a dialogue, in which the speakers were Scipio, Laelius, Philus, Manilius, and other great persons in the former times of the Republic. It was comprised in six books, and survived him for several ages, though it is now unfortunately lost. From the fragments which remain, it appears to have been a masterly production, in which all the important questions in politics and morality were discussed with elegance and accuracy.

Amidst all the anxiety for the interests of the Republic, which occupied the thoughts of this celebrated personage, he yet found leisure to write several philosophical tracts, which still subsist, to the gratification of the literary world. He composed a treatise on the Nature of the Gods, in three books, containing a comprehensive view of religion, faith, oaths, ceremonies, etc. In elucidating this important subject, he not only delivers the opinions of all the philosophers who had written anything concerning it, but weighs and compares attentively all the arguments with each other; forming upon the whole such a rational and perfect system of natural religion, as never before was presented to the consideration of mankind, and approaching nearly to revelation. He now likewise composed in two books, a discourse on Divination, in which he discusses at large all the arguments that may be advanced for and against the actual existence of such a species of knowledge. Like the preceding works, it is written in the form of dialogue, and in which the chief speaker is Laelius. The same period gave birth to his treatise on Old Age, called Cato Major; and to that on Friendship, written also in dialogue, and in which the chief speaker is Laelius. This book, considered merely as an essay, is one of the most entertaining productions of ancient times; but, beheld as a picture drawn from life, exhibiting the real characters and sentiments of men of the first distinction for virtue and wisdom in the Roman Republic, it becomes doubly interesting to every reader of observation and taste. Cicero now also wrote his discourse on Fate, which was the subject of a conversation with Hirtius, in his villa near Puteoli; and he executed about the same time a translation of Plato's celebrated Dialogue, called Timaeus, on the nature and origin of the universe. He was employing himself also on a history of his own times, or rather of his own conduct; full of free and severe reflections on those who had abused their power to the oppression of the Republic. Dion Cassius says, that he delivered this book sealed up to his son, with strict orders not to read or publish it till after his death; but from this time he never saw his son, and it is probable that he left the work unfinished. Afterwards, however, some copies of it were circulated; from which his commentator, Asconius, has quoted several particulars.

During a voyage which he undertook to Sicily, he wrote his treatise on Topics, or the Art of finding Arguments on any Question. This was an abstract from Aristotle's treatise on the same subject; and though he had neither Aristotle nor any other book to assist him, he drew it up from his memory, and finished it as he sailed along the coast of Calabria. The last work composed by Cicero appears to have been his Offices, written for the use of his son, to whom it is addressed. This treatise contains a system of moral conduct, founded upon the noblest principles of human action, and recommended by arguments drawn from the purest sources of philosophy.

Such are the literary productions of this extraordinary man, whose comprehensive understanding enabled him to conduct with superior ability the most abstruse disquisitions into moral and metaphysical science. Born in an age posterior to Socrates and Plato, he could not anticipate the principles inculcated by those divine philosophers, but he is justly entitled to the praise, not only of having prosecuted with unerring judgment the steps which they trod before him, but of carrying his researches to greater extent into the most difficult regions of philosophy. This too he had the merit to perform, neither in the station of a private citizen, nor in the leisure of academic retirement, but in the bustle of public life, amidst the almost constant exertions of the bar, the employment of the magistrate, the duty of the senator, and the incessant cares of the statesman; through a period likewise chequered with domestic afflictions and fatal commotions in the Republic. As a philosopher, his mind appears to have been clear, capacious, penetrating, and insatiable of knowledge. As a writer, he was endowed with every talent that could captivate either the judgment or taste. His researches were continually employed on subjects of the greatest utility to mankind, and those often such as extended beyond the narrow bounds of temporal existence. The being of a God, the immortality of the soul, a future state of rewards and punishments, and the eternal distinction of good and evil; these were in general the great objects of his philosophical enquiries, and he has placed them in a more convincing point of view than they ever were before exhibited to the pagan world. The variety and force of the arguments which he advances, the splendour of his diction, and the zeal with which he endeavours to excite the love and admiration of virtue, all conspire to place his character, as a philosophical writer, including likewise his incomparable eloquence, on the summit of human celebrity.

The form of dialogue, so much used by Cicero, he doubtless adopted in imitation of Plato, who probably took the hint of it from the colloquial method of instruction practised by Socrates. In the early stage of philosophical enquiry, this mode of composition was well adapted, if not to the discovery, at least to the confirmation of moral truth; especially as the practice was then not uncommon, for speculative men to converse together on important subjects, for mutual information. In treating of any subject respecting which the different sects of philosophers differed from each other in point of sentiment, no kind of composition could be more happily suited than dialogue, as it gave alternately full scope to the arguments of the various disputants. It required, however, that the writer should exert his understanding with equal impartiality and acuteness on the different sides of the question; as otherwise he might betray a cause under the appearance of defending it. In all the dialogues of Cicero, he manages the arguments of the several disputants in a manner not only the most fair and interesting, but also such as leads to the most probable and rational conclusion.

After enumerating the various tracts composed and published by Cicero, we have now to mention his Letters, which, though not written for publication, deserve to be ranked among the most interesting remains of Roman literature. The number of such as are addressed to different correspondents is considerable, but those to Atticus alone, his confidential friend, amount to upwards of four hundred; among which are many of great length. They are all written in the genuine spirit of the most approved epistolary composition; uniting familiarity with elevation, and ease with elegance. They display in a beautiful light the author's character in the social relations of life; as a warm friend, a zealous patron, a tender husband, an affectionate brother, an indulgent father, and a kind master. Beholding them in a more extensive view, they exhibit an ardent love of liberty and the constitution of his country: they discover a mind strongly actuated with the principles of virtue and reason; and while they abound in sentiments the most judicious and philosophical, they are occasionally blended with the charms of wit, and agreeable effusions of pleasantry. What is likewise no small addition to their merit, they contain much interesting description of private life, with a variety of information relative to public transactions and characters of that age. It appears from Cicero's correspondence, that there was at that time such a number of illustrious Romans, as never before existed in any one period of the Republic. If ever, therefore, the authority of men the most respectable for virtue, rank, and abilities, could have availed to overawe the first attempts at a violation of public liberty, it must have been at this period; for the dignity of the Roman senate was now in the zenith of its splendour.

Cicero has been accused of excessive vanity, and of arrogating to himself an invidious superiority, from his extraordinary talents but whoever peruses his letters to Atticus, must readily acknowledge, that this imputation appears to be destitute of truth. In those excellent productions, though he adduces the strongest arguments for and against any object of consideration, that the most penetrating understanding can suggest, weighs them with each other, and draws from them the most rational conclusions, he yet discovers such a diffidence in his own opinion, that he resigns himself implicitly to the judgment and direction of his friend; a modesty not very compatible with the disposition of the arrogant, who are commonly tenacious of their own opinion, particularly in what relates to any decision of the understanding.

It is difficult to say, whether Cicero appears in his letters more great or amiable: but that he was regarded by his contemporaries in both these lights, and that too in the highest degree, is sufficiently evident. We may thence infer, that the great poets in the subsequent age must have done violence to their own liberality and discernment, when, in compliment to Augustus, whose sensibility would have been wounded by the praises of Cicero, and even by the mention of his name, they have so industriously avoided the subject, as not to afford the most distant intimation that this immortal orator and philosopher had ever existed. Livy however, there is reason to think, did some justice to his memory: but it was not until the race of the Caesars had become extinct, that he received the free and unanimous applause of impartial posterity. Such was the admiration which Quintilian entertained of his writings, that he considered the circumstance or being delighted with them, as an indubitable proof of judgment and taste in literature. Ille se profecisse sciat, cui Cicero valde placebit /3/.

In this period is likewise to be placed M. Terentius Varro, the celebrated Roman grammarian, and the Nestor of ancient learning. The first mention made of him is, that he was lieutenant to Pompey in his piratical wars, and obtained in that service a naval crown. In the civil wars he joined the side of the Republic, and was taken by Caesar; by whom he was likewise proscribed, but obtained a remission of the sentence. Of all the ancients, he has acquired the greatest fame for his extensive erudition; and we may add, that he displayed the same industry in communicating, as he had done in collecting it. His works originally amounted to no less than five hundred volumes, which have all perished, except a treatise De Lingua Latina, and one De Re Rustica. Of the former of these, which is addressed to Cicero, three books at the beginning are also lost. It appears from the introduction of the fourth book, that they all related to etymology. The first contained such observations as might be made against it; the second, such as might be made in its favour; and the third, observations upon it. He next proceeds to investigate the origin of Latin words. In the fourth book, he traces those which relate to place; in the fifth, those connected with the idea of time; and in the sixth, the origin of both these classes, as they appear in the writings of the poets. The seventh book is employed on declension; in which the author enters upon a minute and extensive enquiry, comprehending a variety of acute and profound observations on the formation of Latin nouns, and their respective natural declinations from the nominative case. In the eighth, he examines the nature and limits of usage and analogy in language; and in the ninth and last book on the subject, takes a general view of what is the reverse of analogy, viz. anomaly. The precision and perspicuity which Varro displays in this work merit the highest encomiums, and justify the character given him in his own time, of being the most learned of the Latin grammarians. To the loss of the first three books, are to be added several chasms in the others; but fortunately they happen in such places as not to affect the coherency of the author's doctrine, though they interrupt the illustration of it. It is observable that this great grammarian makes use of quom for quum, heis for his, and generally queis for quibus. This practice having become rather obsolete at the time in which he wrote, we must impute his continuance of it to his opinion of its propriety, upon its established principles of grammar, and not to any prejudice of education, or an affectation of singularity. As Varro makes no mention of Caesar's treatise on Analogy, and had commenced author long before him, it is probable that Caesar's production was of a much later date; and thence we may infer, that those two writers differed from each other, at least with respect to some particulars on that subject.

This author's treatise De Re Rustica was undertaken at the desire of a friend, who, having purchased some lands, requested of Varro the favour of his instructions relative to farming, and the economy of a country life, in its various departments. Though Varro was at this time in his eightieth year, he writes with all the vivacity, though without the levity, of youth, and sets out with invoking, not the Muses, like Homer and Ennius, as he observes, but the twelve deities supposed to be chiefly concerned in the operations of agriculture. It appears from the account which he gives, that upwards of fifty Greek authors had treated of this subject in prose, besides Hesiod and Menecrates the Ephesian, who both wrote in verse; exclusive likewise of many Roman writers, and of Mago the Carthaginian, who wrote in the Punic language. Varro's work is divided into three books, the first of which treats of agriculture; the second, of rearing of cattle; and the third, of feeding animals for the use of the table. In the last of these, we meet with a remarkable instance of the prevalence of habit and fashion over human sentiment, where the author delivers instructions relative to the best method of fattening rats.

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 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.

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. 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 /4/. 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.


/1/ See Plutarch, Life of Cicero, 2.

/2/ See Cicero, On Duties.

/3/ "He who has a devoted admiration of Cicero, may be sure that he has made no slight proficiency himself."

/4/ In 52 B.C.