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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 58

Varros' Models

The aesthetic writings, which have made him a name, were brief essays, some in simple prose and of graver contents, others humorous sketches the prose groundwork of which was inlaid with various poetical effusions. The former were the "philosophico- historical dissertations" (-logistorici-), the latter the Menippean Satires. In neither case did he follow Latin models, and the -Satura- of Varro in particular was by no means based on that of Lucilius. In fact the Roman -Satura- in general was not properly a fixed species of art, but only indicated negatively the fact that the "multifarious poem" was not to be included under any of the recognized forms of art; and accordingly the -Satura- poetry assumed in the hands of every gifted poet a different and peculiar character.

It was rather in the pre-Alexandrian Greek philosophy that Varro found the models for his more severe as well as for his lighter aesthetic works; for the graver dissertations, in the dialogues of Heraclides of Heraclea on the Black Sea (d. about 450), for the satires, in the writings of Menippus of Gadara in Syria (flourishing about 475). The choice was significant. Heraclides, stimulated as an author by Plato's philosophic dialogues, had amidst the brilliance of their form totally lost sight of the scientific contents and made the poetico-fabulistic dress the main matter; he was an agreeable and largely-read author, but far from a philosopher. Menippus was quite as little a philosopher, but the most genuine literary representative of that philosophy whose wisdom consisted in denying philosophy and ridiculing philosophers the cynical wisdom of Diogenes; a comic teacher of serious wisdom, he proved by examples and merry sayings that except an upright life everything is vain in earth and heaven, and nothing more vain than the disputes of so-called sages.

These were the true models for Varro, a man full of old Roman indignation at the pitiful times and full of old Roman humour, by no means destitute withal of plastic talent but as to everything which presented the appearance not of palpable fact but of idea or even of system, utterly stupid, and perhaps the most unphilosophical among the unphilosophical Romans.(23)

23. There is hardly anything more childish than Varro's scheme of all the philosophies, which in the first place summarily declares all systems that do not propose the happiness of man as their ultimate aim to be nonexistent, and then reckons the number of philosophies conceivable under this supposition as two hundred and eighty-eight. The vigorous man was unfortunately too much a scholar to confess that he neither could nor would be a philosopher, and accordingly as such throughout life he performed a blind dance- not altogether becoming--between the Stoa, Pythagoreanism, and Diogenism.

But Varro was no slavish pupil. The impulse and in general the form he derived from Heraclides and Menippus; but his was a nature too individual and too decidedly Roman not to keep his imitative creations essentially independent and national.

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