Page images

My tongue is paralysed, and through
Each limb a subtle flame

Runs swiftly; murmurs dim arise
Within my ears, across my eyes
A sudden darkness spreads, and sighs
And tremors shake my frame.'


An elegy on the death of his mistress's pet sparrow is, also, equally graceful and pathetic.

Then he compares her with a contemporary beauty, who,

'The single charms of form and face

I grant that she can show;

But all the concentrated grace

Of "beautiful," oh no!

For nowhere in her can you find

That subtle, voiceless art,

That something which delights the mind,

And satisfies the heart;

But Lesbia's beautiful I swear,

And for herself she stole

The charms most rare of every fair,

To frame a perfect whole.'


But this admiration was soon combined with reproaches for her inconstancy; and, at last, he takes leave of her as a heartless flirt,

"Giving not that love a thought, which I

So nursed for thee in days gone by,

Now by thy guile slain in an hour,
Even as some little wilding flower,
That on the meadow's border blushed,
Is by the passing ploughshare crushed.'


Amongst the verses descriptive of his visit to Bithynia, the following stanza expresses many a traveller's impatience for further change :—

'Already through each nerve a flutter runs

Of eager hope, that longs to be away;

Already 'neath the light of other suns,

My feet, new-winged for travel, yearn to stray ;'

and his farewell to the yacht which brought him safe home

from his subsequent cruise, has often been copied and parodied.

His miscellaneous compositions include complimentary dedications to Cornelius Nepos and Cicero, as well as deprecatory comments on some of his other contemporaries; and intermingled with them is the subjoined couplet on lake Como,—

'Whose fair pellucid waters break
In many a dimpling smile.'

He was also famous for Epithalamia, or nuptial odes, several of which supply a complete programme of the marriage ceremonial among the Romans; whilst passages from them have been freely borrowed by Spenser and other English poets. His most pretentious works, however, were three epic poems in imitation of the Alexandrian school. Of these, the Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis' is described by one of his critics as pervaded with that calm light of strange loveliness which spreads over the unawakened world in the early sunrise of a summer day. It opens with the launch of the Pelion-born Argo, and at once introduces the betrothed of the goddess and the hero :


'Soon as its prow the wind-vexed surface clave,
Soon as to oarsmen's harrow frothed the wave,
Forth from the eddying whiteness Nereids shone,
With faces set,-strange sight to look upon.
Then, only then, might mortal vision rest
On naked sea-nymph, lifting rosy breast

High o'er the billow's foam. 'Twas then the flame
Of love for Thetis Peleus first o'ercame ;
Then Thetis deigned a mortal spouse to wed,

Then Jove approved, and their high union sped.'

Thessaly next comes forth to do honour to her champion, and a Pharsalian holiday festival is depicted. The scene changes, and the desertion of Ariadne is told with passionate force and imagination. Then the wedding guests, comprising most of the gods and goddesses, arrive, with their bridal presents, whilst the Parcæ sisters prophetically chant the deeds of Achilles, the offspring of the union; the poem concluding with a retrospect, from Hesiod, of the

age of innocence, when the gods associated with mortals, until sin and death dissolved the intimacy, and—

'Hence from earth's daylight gods their forms refrain,
Nor longer men's abodes to visit deign.'

The next epic-Atys '-represents a Greek youth who has vowed himself to the service of Cybele, and, after wildly traversing woodlands and mountains, awakes to a sense of his rash deed. Its charms consist in the impetuosity of the metre, the seeming reality of the victim's frantic exultation, and his horror and desolation on recovering his natural consciousness.

The title of the third is 'Berenice's Lock of Hair,' and its argument the fate of a tress which a queen of Egypt dedicated to Venus, for the safety of her lord in an expedition against the Assyrians. On his return the vow was paid, but the lock disappeared from the temple, and the court astronomer invented the compliment that it had been changed into a constellation. In rivalry of this, the court poet conceives an explanation by the new constellation of its abduction, describing its passage through the air, and its reception in the bosom of Venus, thence to be transferred to a position assigned to it in the tail of Leo, an honour which it would gladly forego to be once more adorning its mistress's head.


DIED B.C. 52.

UCRETIUS was a Roman of noble family, who died, in the prime of manhood, about half a century before the birth of Christ; and his fame as a classical author rests on a poem entitled 'An Essay on the Nature of Things,' which professes to be a scientific explanation of the universe, and of man's relation to it, with a general sketch of human progress and civilisation. Unlike other poets, he eschews the use of metaphorical imagery, and states his facts in the simplest language, with the sole desire of proving the truth of his conclusions. Widely as knowledge has expanded since his time, it is marvellous how closely his ideas corresponded with those of modern writers on natural science, and how many of his thoughts and theories were in accordance with facts which are now proclaimed as new emanations of the human brain.

In addition, however, to making men acquainted with the whole mystery of life, the object of Lucretius was to point the way to a better and happier state of existence, to be attained only by a strict observance of the immutable laws of matter.

In order to understand his system, it is necessary to trace the growth of science from its conception in the mind of Thales, the first Greek philosopher, six hundred years previously. All the operations of nature were attributed by the ancients to the intervention of different invisible beings,

whom they worshipped as gods. Thales reversed this theory by assuming the universe, and all it contained, to be selfexistent. Then followed the idea of the elements of its component parts being either air, fire, or water. The next theory was that of a single, self-created, all-pervading power, whose operations were visible, and reducible to certain rules, or, in other words, that matter was endowed with life, which it exercised with the powers and instinct of an animal. Then came the conception of an eternal motion, out of which the universe shaped itself, life being at first evolved from heat and moisture, and the organism thus formed becoming men and animals as the waters, which originally covered everything, receded.

After this there was the doctrine of a living will, or personal forces, setting things in motion, and thus the origin of living creatures struggling for existence, and the survival of the fittest. The next teaching was that matter consisted of minute elementary particles of an infinite variety of kinds, which were wrought into form and order by an intelligent mind acting upon them independently and externally, but exercising no further influence over the combinations thus called into existence. This point being reached, the idea of an over-ruling mind was discarded, and life was looked upon as the product of a self-dependent motion of matter. After various attempts, during the next three centuries, to expand this theory into a complete system, it was propounded afresh, with some modifications, by Epicurus, and adopted by Lucretius, whose ambition to promulgate a new philosophy was aided by the growing taste for Greek culture, throughout the Roman empire, and a dawning scepticism with regard to the superstitions and religious creeds of preceding generations.

Commencing with the inquiry-What was the original nature of matter, and by what process it arrived at its present state? he proceeds to show that nothing can come out of or return to nothing, and that everything is reducible to void or space, and atoms, ignoring the doctrine of the four elements being the primary principles, and arguing that without space everything would be solid. The first beginning of things, he continues, must be unseen and

« PreviousContinue »