The Common People of Ancient Rome eBook

Frank Frost Abbott
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 203 pages of information about The Common People of Ancient Rome.

The other bits of Roman folk poetry which we have are most of them preserved by Suetonius, the gossipy biographer of the Caesars.  They recall very different scenes.  Caesar has returned in triumph to Rome, bringing in his train the trousered Gauls, to mingle on the street with the toga-clad Romans.  He has even had the audacity to enroll some of these strange peoples in the Roman senate, that ancient body of dignity and convention, and the people chant in the streets the ditty:[80]

    “Caesar leads the Gauls in triumph,
    In the senate too he puts them. 
    Now they’ve donned the broad-striped toga
    And have laid aside their breeches.”

Such acts as these on Caesar’s part led some political versifier to write on Caesar’s statue a couplet which contrasted his conduct with that of the first great republican, Lucius Brutus: 

    “Brutus drove the kings from Rome,
    And first consul thus became. 
    This man drove the consuls out,
    And at last became the king."[81]

We may fancy that these verses played no small part in spurring on Marcus Brutus to emulate his ancestor and join the conspiracy against the tyrant.  With one more bit of folk poetry, quoted by Suetonius, we may bring our sketch to an end.  Germanicus Caesar, the flower of the imperial family, the brilliant general and idol of the people, is suddenly stricken with a mortal illness.  The crowds throng the streets to hear the latest news from the sick-chamber of their hero.  Suddenly the rumor flies through the streets that the crisis is past, that Germanicus will live, and the crowds surge through the public squares chanting: 

    “Saved now is Rome,
    Saved too the land,
    Saved our Germanicus."[82]

The Origin of the Realistic Romance among the Romans

One of the most fascinating and tantalizing problems of literary history concerns the origin of prose fiction among the Romans.  We can trace the growth of the epic from its infancy in the third century before Christ as it develops in strength in the poems of Naevius, Ennius, and Cicero until it reaches its full stature in the AEneid, and then we can see the decline of its vigor in the Pharsalia, the Punica, the Thebais, and Achilleis, until it practically dies a natural death in the mythological and historical poems of Claudian.  The way also in which tragedy, comedy, lyric poetry, history, biography, and the other types of literature in prose and verse came into existence and developed among the Romans can be followed with reasonable success.  But the origin and early history of the novel is involved in obscurity.  The great realistic romance of Petronius of the first century of our era is without a legally recognized ancestor and has no direct descendant.  The situation is the more surprising when we recall its probable size in its original form.  Of course

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