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Plutarch’s Lives; Froude’s Caesar; Shakspeare’s Antony and Cleopatra; Plato’s Dialogues; Horace, Martial, and Juvenal, especially among the poets; Lord’s Old Roman World; Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars; Dion Cassius; Rollin’s Ancient History; Merivale’s History of the Romans; Biographic Universelle; Rees’s Encyclopedia has a good article.
GLORY AND SHAME.
We have now surveyed what was most glorious in the States of antiquity. We have seen a civilization which in many respects rivals all that modern nations have to show. In art, in literature, in philosophy, in laws, in the mechanism of government, in the cultivated face of Nature, in military strength, in aesthetic culture, the Greeks and Romans were our equals. And this high civilization was reached by the native and unaided strength of man; by the power of will, by courage, by perseverance, by genius, by fortunate circumstances. We are filled with admiration by all these trophies of genius, and cannot but feel that only superior races could have accomplished such mighty triumphs.
Yet all this splendid exterior was deceptive; for the deeper we penetrate the social condition of the people, the more we feel disgust and pity supplanting all feelings of admiration and wonder. The Roman empire especially, which had gathered into its strong embrace the whole world, and was the natural inheritor of all the achievements of all the nations, in its shame and degradation suggests melancholy feelings in reference to the destiny of man, so far as his happiness and welfare depend upon his own unaided efforts.
It is a sad picture of oppression, injustice, crime, and wretchedness which I have now to present. Glory is succeeded by shame, strength by weakness, and virtue by vice. The condition of the mass is deplorable, and even the great and fortunate shine in a false and fictitious light. We see laws, theoretically good, practically perverted, and selfishness and egotism the mainsprings of life; we see energies misdirected, and art corrupted. All noble aspirations have fled, and the good and the wise retire from active life in despair and misanthropy. Poets flatter the tyrants who trample on human rights, while sensuality and luxurious pleasure absorb the depraved thoughts of a perverse generation.
The first thing which arrests our attention as we survey the civilized countries of the old world, is the imperial despotism of Rome. The empire indeed enjoyed quietude, and society was no longer rent by factions and parties. Demagogues no longer disturbed the public peace, nor were the provinces ransacked and devastated to provide for the means of carrying on war. So long as men did not oppose the government they were safe from molestation, and were left to pursue their business and pleasure in their own way.