1902 Encyclopedia > Lucilius

Early Roman poet and satirist
(c. 160s - 103/2 BC)

LUCILIUS. Among the early Roman poets, of whose writings only fragments have been preserved, Lucilius was second in importance to Ennius. If he did not, like the epic poet of the republic, touch the imagination of his countrymen, and give expression to their highest ideal of national life, he exactly hit their ordinary mood, and expressed the energetic, critical, and combative temper which they carried into political and social life. He was thus regarded as the most genuine literary representative of the pure Roman spirit. The reputation which he enjoyed in the best ages of Roman literature is proved by the terms in which Cicero and Horace speak of him. Persius, Juvenal, and Quintilian vouch for the admiration with which he was regarded in the first century of the empire. The popularity which he enjoyed in his own time is attested by the fact that at his death in 102 B.C., although he had filled none of the offices of state, he received the honour of a public funeral.

His chief claim to distinction is his literary originality. He alone among Roman writers established a new form of composition. He may be called the inventor of poetical satire, as he was the first to impress upon the rude inartistic medley, known to the Romans by the name of satura, that character of aggressive and censorious criticism of persons, morals, manners, polities, literature, &c., which the word satire has ever since denoted. In point of form the satire of Lucilins owed nothing to the Greeks. It was a legitimate development of an indigenous dramatic entertainment, popular among the Romans before the first introduction of the forms of Greek art among them ; and it seems largely also to have employed the form of the familiar epistle which circumstances had developed among them about the time when Lucilius flourished. But the style, substance, and spirit of his writings were apparently as criginal as the form. Ile seems to have commenced hi:, poetical career by ridiculing and parodying the conventional language of epic and tragic poetry, and to have used in his own writings the language commonly employed in the social intercourse of educated men. Even his frequent use of Greek words, phrases, and quotations, reprehended by Horace, was probably taken from the actual practice of men, powerfully stimulated by the new learning, who found their own speech as yet inadequate to give free expression to the new ideas and impressions which they derived from their first contact with Greek philosophy, rhetoric, and poetry. Further, he not only created a style of his own, but, instead of taking the substance of his writings from Greek poetry, or from a remote past, he treated of the familiar matters of daily life, of the personal interests and peculiarities of himself or his contemporaries, of the politics, the wars, the government of the provinces, the administration of justice, the fashions and tastes, the eating and drinking, the money-making and money-spending, the scandals and vices, the airs and affectations, which made up the public and private life of Rome in the•last quarter of the second century before our era. This he did in a singularly frank, independent, and courageous spirit, with no private ambition to serve, or party cause to advance, but with an honest desire to expose the iniquity or incompetence of the governing body, the sordid aims of the middle class, and the corruption and venality of the city mob. There was nothing of stoical austerity or of rhetorical indignation in the tone in which he treated the vices and follies of his time. His character and tastes were much more akin to those of Horace than of either Persius or Juven ii. But he was what Horace was not, a thoroughly good hater ; and he lived at a time when the utmost freedom of speech and the most unrestrained indulgence of public and private animosity were the characteristics of men who took a prominent part in affairs. Although Lucilius took no active part in the public life of his time, he regarded it in the spirit, not of a recluse or a mere student of books, but of a man of the world and of society, as well as a man of letters. His ideal of public virtue and private worth had been formed by intimate association with the greatest and best of the soldiers and statesmen of an older generation.

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