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Rome, as is tersely stated by the foremost critic of the age, Quintilian : Elegia quoque Graecos provocamus."
12. It is more than probable that Ennius, whose place as the father of Roman poetry has not been disputed for two millenniums, was responsible for the introduction into Latin of the elegiac distich as well as the heroic hexameter. The three well-known epigrams included among the fragments of his poetry, however, are the only indications left to us of his activity in the field of elegy; and it may be assumed that with elegy of the Alexandrian type he did not concern himself. Lucilius used the elegiac distich in some of his satires. There are also traces of the growth in popularity of the erotic epigram of Alexandrian form, with which such well-known men as Valerius Aedituus, Porcius Licinus, and Q. Lutatius Catulus amused themselves. Had we, further, the erotic poems of Quinctius Atta, Laevius, Valerius Cato, and Ticidas, we might discover in them a very considerable body of relatively early attempts in elegiac form, whereas at present we know little of the metrical form in which their merry trifling was cast. How pervasive was the tradition that serious minds might well relax in this manner is curiously shown by Pliny the younger in his apology for his own course, where he quotes as his examples many eminent names from Cicero to Verginius Rufus and the Caesars. And though Catullus is the oldest Roman elegiac writer whose works have survived, there was a very interesting group of poets of his own generation who tried their hand at this literary novelty, the loss of whose elegies we must deeply regret as depriving us of important evidence with regard to the rise and development of this type of poetry at Rome. Varro Atacinus (82–37 B.C.), whose tastes seem to have been well fitted for his tasks, adapted a number of the learned epic and didactic poems of the Alexandrian school, and also elegies of the erotic type.
1 Inst. Or. 10, 1, 93.
2 Gell. 19, 9, 10 : versus cecinit Valeri deditui veteris poetae, item Porcii Licini et Q. Catuli quibus mundius, venustius, limatius, tersius, Graecum Latinumve nihil quicquam reperiri puto.
8 Ep. 5. 3. 5.
C. Licinius Macer Calvus (82-47 B.C.), the intimate friend of Catullus, excelled as orator and poet, and the playful rivalry of the two boon companions in composing light poetry has been celebrated by Catullus himself (No. 50). Yet through the pranks of fortune his verses have been reduced practically to the vanishing point. For the fragments see Plessis, Calvus. Like Catullus, he wrote erotic elegies, epigrams, and at least one famous lament, on the death of his wife, or mistress, Quintilia.? C. Valgius Rufus (consul suffectus, 12 B.C.), the friend of Horace, bewailed, presumably in elegiac form, the death of his favorite slave boy Mystes.3
More important than all of these was C. Cornelius Gallus (69-26 B.C.), recognized by the other elegists and by other literary critics as properly belonging to the small group of leading writers in this field. Born in Gallia Narbonensis, at Forum Iulii (Frejus), he achieved at a comparatively early age an enviable position in the military and social life of Rome through his abilities and his personal qualities as a friend. Under the favor of Augustus he was appointed the first prefect of Egypt in 30 B.C. Besides the intimacy with the emperor he enjoyed also that with other leaders in the literary life of his day, like Asinius Pollio and Vergil, whose tenth Eclogue is a condolence with Gallus for his unhappy love affairs." Tradition also has it — though its authenticity is seriously questioned — that the fourth Georgic originally ended with a glorification of the services of Gallus in Egypt, which Vergil felt obliged to remove after the fall of the brilliant prefect, and then substituted the less relevant story of Aristaeus. Too great prosperity apparently turned the head of Gallus, and led him to such presumption that the growing disfavor of Augustus, fostered probably by jealous rivals, was followed by a decree of banishment. Gallus, unable to endure the disgrace, promptly committed suicide. Besides certain translations from Euphorion he wrote four books of elegies on Lycoris, a pseudonym, after the manner of the age, for his beloved Cytheris, a celebrated actress whose name was coupled also with that of Mark Antony. To what extent, if any, the “ durior” style of his elegies may have contributed to their total loss it is impossible for us to surmise. The direct influence of Greek elegy upon his work, through the friendship of Parthenius, has been mentioned already ($ 10). For the various other names connected more or less closely with elegy, see the works on Roman literature by Teuffel, Schanz, Duff, etc. The prevailing character of all this body of literature is indicated by the expression of Tacitus, elegorum lascivias.
1 Quint. 10, 1, 87: Atacinus Varro in iis per quae nomen est assecutus interpres operis alieni non spernendus quidem ; Ovid, Trist. 2, 439 : is quoque Phasiacas Argon qui duxit in undas, non potuit Veneris furta tacere suae; Prop. 2, 34, 85: haec quoque perfecto ludebat lasone Varro.
2 Ovid, Trist. 2, 431 : par fuit exigui similisque licentia Calvi, detexit variis qui sua furla modis; Prop. 2, 34, 89: haec etiam docti confessa est pagina Calvi, cum caneret miserae funera Quintiliae ; 2, 25, 3: ista meis fiet notissima forma libellis, Calve tua venia, pace Catullus tua , Suet, lulius Caesar, 73; Cat. 96; 14
3 Hor. Car. 2, 9, 9: tu semper urges flebilibus modis Mysten ademptum ; cf. Tib. 4, I, 179: est tibi, qui possit magnis se accingere rebus, Valgius : aeterno propior non alter Homero; Serv. on Verg. Ec. 7, 22: ut Valgius in elegiis suis refert.
* Ovid, Trist. 4, 10, 53 : successor fuit hic tibi, Galle, Propertius illi ; quartus ab his serie temporis ipse fui; 5, 1, 17: aptior huic Gallus blandique Propertius oris aptior, ingenium mite, Tibullus erit; A. A. 3, 333: et teneri possis carmen legisse Properti, sive aliquid Galli, sive, Tibulle, tuum; Am. 3, 9, 63; Quint. 10, 1, 93: Elegia quoque Graecos provocamus, cuius mihi tersus atque elegans maxime videtur auctor Tibullus ; sunt qui Propertium malint. Ovidius utroque lascivior, sicut durior Gallus. That this epithet must refer to verse construction rather than lack of sentiment is clear from Ovid, Rem. Am. 765 : quis poterit lecto durus discedere Gallo?
1 Cf. Ec. 6,64.
2 Ovid, Trist, 2, 445: non fuit opprobrio celebrasse Lycorida Gallo, sed linguam nimio non tenuisse mero ; A. A. 3. 536: nomen habet Nemesis, Cynthia nomen habet : vesper et eoae novere Lycorida terrae; Prop. 2, 34, 91: et modo formosa quam multa Lycoride Gallus mortuus inferna vulnera lavit aqua! The fascinating story of Becker's Gallus is based throughout on classical authority, and is unsurpassed as giving a word picture of life at Rome in this circle of society under Augustus.
3 Dial. 10, 5.
13. The first Roman elegist whose works have endured to our own time was C. Valerius Catullus, a member of the new group of poets who were doing so much to establish an Alexandrian school of poetry at Rome. He was born at Verona, the unsatisfactory evidence leaving it uncertain whether the date was 87 or 84 B.C. As there are no indications that any of his poems were written later than 54 B.C., and all signs point to his early death, this date is commonly assumed as correct for that event. His family and circumstances were such that his father entertained Julius Caesar, the governor of the province, and he himself possessed country estates at Sirmio on the shores of the Lacus Benacus, and at or near Tibur, the most aristocratic of Rome's suburban resorts.'. He was able, after enjoying in boyhood such educational privileges as Verona afforded, to seek as a youth in Rome a wider acquaintance with the rather giddy life of the metropolis in that period of political and social unrest and extravagance, which bred a Caesar, a Catiline, and a Mamurra. His studies and tastes were fostered under the instruction of the well-known grammarian Valerius Cato (cf. § 12), where he became associated with the literary group comprising Helvius Cinna, Licinius Calvus, Furius Bibaculus, Ticidas, and other well-known poets representing the newer tendencies of the day. With an ardent and impulsive nature and the enthusiasm of young manhood he threw himself impetuously into his poetic studies and his social privileges alike. “The giddy round of his life is reflected in the constantly altering atmosphere of his poems. Whispered scandals, nameless vices, the gay girls of Pompey's portico, Caesar's minions, Egnatius, like Dickens's Mr. Carker showing his white teeth in everlasting smiles, the Roman cockney so suitably named Arrius to admit of his superfluous aspirates, doltish husbands with pretty wives, pilfering guests, faithful and faithless friends, make a vivid register of human nature in the great capital.” 1
i Carmina, 31 and 44.
14. It was in this gay complex of life at Rome that he met his fate in the person who was within a few brief years largely to ruin his life and happiness and to win him undying fame through the verses she drove him to write. There is no longer any question that this wonderful woman — amazing in her powers for both good and ill — for whom the poet's significant pseudonym is Lesbia, was the famous and unscrupulous belle of Rome in her day, Clodia, sister of P. Clodius Pulcher, and wife of Q. Metellus Celer. The number and rank of her lovers (Catullus in a moment of petulance calls them three hundred ! ') and the epithets Medea Palatina, Bowmis, and quadrantaria, as well as the terrible implication of Catullus's own epigram, when taken together with the revelation of her as a captivating charmer and well-educated lady of high birth which is seen in the poems of her young poet adorer, show how appropriate the name Lesbia was for such an embodiment of luxuriant physical and intellectual development. With a poetic appreciation worthy of the Lesbian Sappho, she was naturally flattered by the devotion of the brilliant and passionate young poet, and with her greater sophistication led him for a time to believe that he was her only idol.4 The process of disillusioning which must needs soon begin was a bitter one, and the successive phases of his love, suspicion, jealousy, hatred, and ultimate disgust, are perfectly mirrored in the frank utterances of this most transparent of poets.
15. Desire to escape from an almost intolerable situation and
1 Duff, p. 313.
2 Ovid, Trist. 2, 427 : sic sua lascivo cantata est saepe Catullo femina, cui falsum Lesbia nomen erat; Apul. Apol. 10 : accusent C. Catullum, quod Lesbiam pro Clodia nominarit, et Ticidam similiter, quod, quae Metella erat, Perillam scripserit, et Propertium, qui Cynthiam dicat, Hostiam dissimulet et Tibullum, quod ei sit Plania in animo, Delia in versu.
379, 1: Lesbius est pulcher : quid ni? quem Lesbia malit quam te cum tota gente, Catulle, tua. 4 Cf. No. 72.
5 Cf. Sellar 3, Rep., pp. 413 sq.