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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
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Please note that Mommsen uses the AUC chronology (Ab Urbe Condita), i.e. from the founding of the City of Rome. You can use this reference table to have the B.C. dates


V. The Establishment of the Military Monarchy

From: The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson

The History of Old Rome

Chapter XII - Religion, Culture, Literature, and Art


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

» Contents of this Chapter

Page 11

Greek Instruction - Alexandrinism

In comparison with the previous epoch the Greek as well as the Latin training improved in extent and in scholastic strictness quite as much as it declined in purity and in refinement. The increasing eagerness after Greek lore gave to instruction of itself an erudite character. To explain Homer or Euripides was after all no art; teachers and scholars found their account better in handling the Alexandrian poems, which, besides, were in their spirit far more congenial to the Roman world of that day than the genuine Greek national poetry, and which, if they were not quite so venerable as the Iliad, possessed at any rate an age sufficiently respectable to pass as classics with schoolmasters.

The love-poems of Euphorion, the "Causes" of Callimachus and his "Ibis," the comically obscure "Alexandra" of Lycophron contained in rich abundance rare vocables (-glossae-) suitable for being extracted and interpreted, sentences laboriously involved and difficult of analysis, prolix digressions full of mystic combinations of antiquated myths, and generally a store of cumbersome erudition of all sorts. Instruction needed exercises more and more difficult; these productions, in great part model efforts of schoolmasters, were excellently adapted to be lessons for model scholars. Thus the Alexandrian poems took a permanent place in Italian scholastic instruction, especially as trial-themes, and certainly promoted knowledge, although at the expense of taste and of discretion.

The same unhealthy appetite for culture moreover impelled the Roman youths to derive their Hellenism as much as possible from the fountain-head. The courses of the Greek masters in Rome sufficed only for a first start; every one who wished to be able to converse heard lectures on Greek philosophy at Athens, and on Greek rhetoric at Rhodes, and made a literary and artistic tour through Asia Minor, where most of the old art-treasures of the Greeks were still to be found on the spot, and the cultivation of the fine arts had been continued, although after a mechanical fashion; whereas Alexandria, more distant and more celebrated as the seat of the exact sciences, was far more rarely the point whither young men desirous of culture directed their travels.

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