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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


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Page 66

The sketches of Varro no more created a school than the didactic poem of Lucretius; to the more general causes which prevented this there falls to be added their thoroughly individual stamp, which was inseparable from the greater age, from the rusticity, and even from the peculiar erudition of their author. But the grace and humour of the Menippean satires above all, which seem to have been in number and importance far superior to Varro's graver works, captivated his contemporaries as well as those in after times who had any relish for originality and national spirit; and even we, who are no longer permitted to read them, may still from the fragments preserved discern in some measure that the writer "knew how to laugh and how to jest in moderation."

And as the last breath of the good spirit of the old burgess-times ere it departed, as the latest fresh growth which the national Latin poetry put forth, the Satires of Varro deserved that the poet in his poetical testament should commend these his Menippean children to every one "who had at heart the prosperity of Rome and of Latium"; and they accordingly retain an honourable place in the literature as in the history of the Italian people.(27)

27. The sketches of Varro have so uncommon historical and even poetical significance, and are yet, in consequence of the fragmentary shape in which information regarding them has reached us, known to so few and so irksome to study, that we may be allowed to give in this place a resume of some of them with the few restorations indispensable for making them readable.

The satire Manius (Early Up!) describes the management of a rural household. "Manius summons his people to rise with the sun, and in person conducts them to the scene of their work. The youths make their own bed, which labour renders soft to them, and supply themselves with water-jar and lamp. Their drink is the clear fresh spring, their fare bread, and onions as relish. Everything prospers in house and field. The house is no work of art; but an architect might learn symmetry from it. Care is taken of the field, that it shall not be left disorderly and waste, or go to ruin through slovenliness and neglect; in return the grateful Ceres wards off damage from the produce, that the high-piled sheaves may gladden the heart of the husbandman. Here hospitality still holds good; every one who has but imbibed mother's milk is welcome. the bread-pantry and wine-vat and the store of sausages on the rafters, lock and key are at the service of the traveller, and piles of food are set before him; contented sits the sated guest, looking neither before nor behind, dozing by the hearth in the kitchen. the warmest double-wool sheepskin is spread as a couch for him.

"Here people still as good burgesses obey the righteous law, which neither out of envy injures the innocent, nor out of favour pardons the guilty. Here they speak no evil against their neighbours. Here they trespass not with their feet on the sacred hearth, but honour the gods with devotion and with sacrifices, throw for the house-spirit his little bit of flesh into his appointed little dish, and when the master of the household dies, accompany the bier with the same prayer with which those of his father and of his grandfather were borne forth."

In another satire there appears a "Teacher of the Old" (--Gerontodidaskalos--), of whom the degenerate age seems to stand more urgently in need than of the teacher of youth, and he explains how "once everything in Rome was chaste and pious," and now all things are so entirely changed. "Do my eyes deceive me, or do I see slaves in arms against their masters?--Formerly every one who did not present himself for the levy, was sold on the part of the state into slavery abroad; now the censor who allows cowardice and everything to pass is called [by the aristocracy, Cf. III. XI. Separation Of the Orders in the Theatre; IV. X. Shelving of the Censorship, V. III. Renewal of the Censorship; V. VIII. Humiliations of the Republicans] a great citizen, and earns praise because he does not seek to make himself a name by annoying his fellow-citizens.-- Formerly the Roman husbandman had his beard shaven once every week; now the rural slave cannot have it fine enough.--Formerly one saw on the estates a corn-granary, which held ten harvests, spacious cellars for the wine-vats and corresponding wine-presses; now the master keeps flocks of peacocks, and causes his doors to be inlaid with African cypress-wood.--Formerly the housewife turned the spindle with the hand and kept at the same time the pot on the hearth in her eye, that the pottage might not be singed; now," it is said in another satire, "the daughter begs her father for a pound of precious stones, and the wife her husband for a bushel of pearls.--Formerly a newly-married husband was silent and bashful; now the wife surrenders herself to the first coachman that comes.-- Formerly the blessing of children was woman's pride; now if her husband desires for himseli children, she replies: Knowest thou not what Ennius says?

"'-Ter sub armis malim vitam cernere Quam semel modo parere--.--'

"Formerly the wife was quite content, when the husband once or twice in the year gave her a trip to the country in the uncushioned waggon;" now, he could add (comp. Cicero, Pro Mil. 21, 55), "the wife sulks if her husband goes to his country estate without her, and the travelling lady is attended to the villa by the fashionable host of Greek menials and the choir." --In a treatise of a graver kind, "Catus or the Training of Children," Varro not only instructs the friend who had asked him for advice on that point, regarding the gods who were according to old usage to be sacrificed to for the children's welfare, but, referring to the more judicious mode of rearing children among the Persians and to his own strictly spent youth, he warns against over-feeding and over-sleeping, against sweet bread and fine fare--the whelps, the old man thinks, are now fed more judiciously than the children--and likewise against the enchantresses' charms and blessings, which in cases of sickness so often take the place of the physician's counsel.

He advises to keep the girls at embroidery, that they may afterwards understand how to judge properly of embroidered and textile work, and not to allow them to put off the child's dress too early; he warns against carrying boys to the gladiatorial games, in which the heart is early hardened and cruelty learned.--In the "Man of Sixty Years" Varro appears as a Roman Epimenides who had fallen asleep when a boy of ten and waked up again after half a century. He is astonished to find instead of his smooth-shorn boy's head an old bald pate with an ugly snout and savage bristles like a hedgehog; but he is still more astonished at the change in Rome. Lucrine oysters, formerly a wedding dish, are now everyday fare; for which, accordingly, the bankrupt glutton silently prepares the incendiary torch.

While formerly the father disposed of his boy, now the disposal is transferred to the latter: he disposes, forsooth, of his father by poison. The Comitium had become an exchange, the criminal trial a mine of gold for the jurymen. No law is any longer obeyed save only this one, that nothing is given for nothing. All virtues have vanished; in their stead the awakened man is saluted by impiety, perfidy, lewdness, as new denizens. "Alas for thee, Marcus, with such a sleep and such an awakening!"-- The sketch resembles the Catilinarian epoch, shortly after which (about 697) the old man must have written it, and there lay a truth in the bitter turn at the close; where Marcus, properly reproved for his unseasonable accusations and antiquarian reminiscences, is-- with a mock application of a primitive Roman custom--dragged as a useless old man to the bridge and thrown into the Tiber. There was certainly no longer room for such men in Rome.

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