The Common People of Ancient Rome eBook

Frank Frost Abbott
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 172 pages of information about The Common People of Ancient Rome.

In another connection, a year or two ago, I had occasion to speak of the literary merit of some of these metrical epitaphs,[52] of their interest for us as specimens of the literary compositions of the common people, and of their value in indicating the aesthetic taste of the average Roman.  It may not be without interest here to speak of the literary form of some of them a little more at length than was possible in that connection.  Latin has always been, and continues to be among modern peoples, a favored language for epitaphs and dedications.  The reasons why it holds its favored position are not far to seek.  It is vigorous and concise.  Then again in English and in most modern languages the order which words may take in a given sentence is in most cases inexorably fixed by grammatical necessity.  It was not so with Latin.  Its highly inflected character made it possible, as we know, to arrange the words which convey an idea in various orders, and these different groupings of the same words gave different shades of meaning to the sentence, and different emotional effects are secured by changing the sequence in which the minor conceptions are presented.  By putting contrasted words side by side, or at corresponding points in the sentence, the impression is heightened.  When a composition takes the form of verse the possibilities in the way of contrast are largely increased.  The high degree of perfection to which Horace brought the balancing and interlocking of ideas in some of his Odes, illustrates the great advantage which the Latin poet had over the English writer because of the flexibility of the medium of expression which he used.  This advantage was the Roman’s birthright, and lends a certain distinction even to the verses of the people, which we are discussing here.  Certain other stylistic qualities of these metrical epitaphs, which are intended to produce somewhat the same effects, will not seem to us so admirable.  I mean alliteration, play upon words, the acrostic arrangement, and epigrammatic effects.  These literary tricks find little place in our serious verse, and the finer Latin poets rarely indulge in them.  They seem to be especially out of place in an epitaph, which should avoid studied effects and meretricious devices.  But writers in the early stages of a literature and common people of all periods find a pleasure in them.  Alliteration, onomatopoeia, the pun, and the play on words are to be found in all the early Latin poets, and they are especially frequent with literary men like Plautus and Terence, Pacuvius and Accius, who wrote for the stage, and therefore for the common people.  One or two illustrations of the use of these literary devices may be sufficient.  A little girl at Rome, who died when five years old, bore the strange name of Mater, or Mother, and on her tombstone stands the sentiment:[53] “Mater I was by name, mater I shall not be by law.”  “Sepulcrum hau pulcrum pulcrai feminae” of the famous Claudia inscription,[54] Professor Lane cleverly rendered “Site not sightly of a sightly dame.”  Quite beyond my power of translating into English, so as to reproduce its complicated play on words, is the appropriate epitaph of the rhetorician, Romanius lovinus:[55]

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The Common People of Ancient Rome from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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