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tion out of the complex aggregation of tribes, communities and municipalities which filled the peninsula. After smouldering for many years, the fire blazed up on the assassination of the Roman tribune who had brought forward legislative proposals for remodelling the constitution and extending Roman citizenship to all the allies. The Social War broke out. An Italian government was set up, and a new capital founded in the centre of the peninsula. The immediate object of the revolt failed; Roman arms conquered, after three years of desperate fighting. But in the course of the war or immediately after it, Roman citizenship was given to all Italy south of the Po. The status of the north remained long anomalous; it was not until 42 B.C., the year of the battle of Philippi, that Cisalpina, the whole region between the Alps and the Apennines, ceased to be technically a province. It was in that region that Livy, the creator for all time of the Roman legend, and Virgil, the prophet and poet both of unified Italy and of imperial Rome, were born.
Hardly had the pacification of Italy been accomplished, when intestine struggles came to a head in the Roman Commonwealth itself. Half
a century of revolutions, proscriptions, and furious civil wars brought the State, and European civilization with it, to the breaking point and almost to destruction. Events crowded thick on one another; there was no time to take breath, no opportunity to recover solvency. In swift succession came the revolutionary legislation of 88 B.C.; Sulla's march on Rome, and its occupation for the first time in history by a Roman army; the Marian reign of terror; the return of the Asiatic legions and the battle of the Colline Gate; Sulla's dictatorship and massacres; civil war spreading in the provinces, and the revolt of Spain; the great slave-insurrection in Italy; pirate fleets filling the Mediterranean; the abortive revolutionary movement of Catiline; the total bankruptcy of government and the patchwork of the first triumvirate; its collapse, and Caesar's descent into Italy with his veteran army; the world-wide Civil War of 4945 B.C., ending with Caesar's complete victory and the establishment, under the name of a dictatorship for ten years (like the ten-years' Consulate of Napoleon in 1799), of a virtual monarchy; his assassination, which plunged the broken world into complete chaos; fresh civil wars conducted by gigantic armies; the second
triumvirate and the extinction of the senatorial party as an organized force; the provisional partition of the Roman world into an Eastern and a Western dominion; the long duel for empire between Octavian and Antony, determined at last by the battle of Actium: and then the forty-five years' principate of Augustus. "The Empire is peace" was the motto of the new government. It set itself slowly and steadily to restore order, to liquidate debt, to fix and guard the frontiers, to revive agriculture, to organize administration, to reinstate religion and purify morals. The Roman world had been racked and was bleeding to death; the Roman virtue had nearly perished; there was a great material and moral bankruptcy. The task was to save all that was possible out of the general wreckage. Yet hope was not lost. A new generation was growing up. Spirit, energy and genius survived. Men's minds were ready to turn from the past as from a horrible nightmare, to apply their whole energies to reconstruction, and even to hail, in the Pax Augusta, the dawn of a new Golden Age.
III. VIRGIL'S PREDECESSORS
HAT, during that period, had been the course and aim of Latin poetry? Its history had effectively begun with the entry of Greek influence. "The
descent of poetry," in Gray's words already cited, "was from Greece to Italy." That influence began to manifest itself in the interval between the first and second Punic Wars, a time of victorious and many-sided expansion in which Rome became fully conscious of her own greatness, and set to equip herself fully as a civilized Power of the first rank. Up till then, Latin poetry had consisted of rude ballads and hymns, hardly amounting to what could be called a literature. That had served for domestic use. It was not sufficient for the prestige and expression of an expanding State. Rome put herself to school. An educated class formed itself. The instinct for creative expression was awakened. Systematic efforts were made to enter into the sphere of Hellenistic culture. The Greek language was taught and learned; the
Greek poets, both the classics and the moderns, were read, studied, imitated. Translations of Greek masterpieces were assiduously made. In these, as also in original poetical works, the traditional Latin rhythms and metres were soon displaced by a foreign metrical system based on strict numerical laws. In both cases the old native forms became submerged. They survived in popular usage; and they were so inseparable from the structure of the language as to make the Latin hexameter, for instance, something organically different from the Greek hexameter, with a rhythm and colour of its own. But otherwise they disappeared from the main current of national poetry.
It took a hundred and fifty years or so to complete the revolution effectively, and to mould the stubborn Latin language fully into the new forms. A single generation carried the first positions with a rush; then came a long time of slow patient advance; then a second rapid movement completed the conquest.
Three distinct forms of poetry, the epic, lyric and dramatic, had in Greece Proper been created, carried to perfection, and given the names which they still retain. To the sphere which they included, a large extension had been