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ROMAN LITERATURE AND ART.
To trace some of the erroneous tendencies of Roman literary and glyptic art, and to shew how they had their origin in the national character and circumstances of the Romans, is the endeavour of these essays. The prevalent emotions and the ideas of a nation are expressed in its literature and in its art, and these emotions and ideas are some of them peculiar to the national character, while some are produced by the national circumstances. I shall endeavour to shew the original bent of the Roman character, and its modifications as affected by circumstances. But in order to criticize the faults into which Roman art was liable to fall we had better begin by tracing the ideal to which they aspired, and then shew how these aspirations were checked or modified,
A passage from Cicero's writings is quoted hereafter, which shews that he valued a mental ideal as the highest point to which art could reach. The Romans as well as the Greeks ascribed it to a divine inspiration. Horace distinctly says that the Greeks derived their powers of poetic art from the Muses,
Graiis ingenium, Graiis dedit ore rotundo
And we have an acknowledgment from him that the arts were introduced into Latium by the Greeks :
Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit, et artes
Intulit agresti Latio.-Ep. ii. 1, 156.
Now what the Romans thought they themselves received from the gods and what they valued most was imperial power:
Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento;
Parcere subiectis, et debellare superbos. -En. vi. 852.
The ideal in matters of taste was only derived by them. from the gods through the medium of another nation. Their own notion of the highest of all things, their summum bonum, was not the beautiful, but the powerful. And this they thought they had as a nation received from heaven.
Let us take, first, imperial influences among the Romans. Roman poetic art attained its culminating point under Virgil, and it may be said that Roman sculpture rose to its grandest elevation under the Emperors Titus and Trajan. In Ovid's adherence to strict rule and in the vagueness of Statius we see the incipient stages of imperial influence, which finally ruined Latin poetry, and in the sculpture of their busts and the arch of Severus we see the same influence degrading sculpture. To trace those influences in poetry among writers subsequent to Augustus, and in sculpture among artists subsequent to Trajan is the purpose of this attempt. Such an attempt is perhaps rash and impossible, but it lends an interest to classical literature and art which cannot be surpassed, and if it should be seen that English literature and art are passing through the same stages and are subject to the same influences as was Roman, it cannot be denied that a wish to state and to check or to modify the effect of such tendencies ought to be encouraged.
It may be seen in most sculpture galleries, by comparing the Farnese Hercules (see p. 5) with the sculptured figures of the Parthenon, how the influence of imperial admiration for finish and detailed symmetry before grandeur and large idealism ruined Roman taste; or, by comparing the busts of Brutus, Marius, or Seneca and Corbulo, with the heads