Change and Upheaval
This was an era of change and upheaval. The unexpected repeatedly happened. Events outstripped theory. Old things had passed away and all things had become new; old systems were gone; old prejudices swept away. It is difficult for us looking back through the long vista to estimate aright the perplexity
* Mahaffy notices 'the stndied equality of the three great races, Persian, Greek, Macedonian' on the Sidonian sarcophagus (Surwy, <231V
of thoughtful men who lived in the empire of Alexander, who witnessed the rise and fall of the Greek kingdoms, the spread of Greek culture, the rise of imperial Rome, the collapse of the ancient faiths. Men were driven from their old moorings and had not yet become accustomed to the new order. They were cut loose from the city-state and from Oriental despotism and thrown into an empire which was too large for the individual. New world-centres arose. The average man was perplexed by the rapid march of history. In the social confusion and the fall of long-established systems there was much calculated to unsettle the firmest faith. Such transition periods are always fraught with difficulty and danger.
The Graeco-Roman world presents the greatest contrasts and extremes. Every age may be so characterised, but this holds true in a special manner of these centuries. Monotony had dropped out of life. The homogeneousness of nations was disturbed. The systems which had held men together on a certain equality were broken down, and the gorgon of undisciplined individualism had appeared on the scene. The old and the new were consorting. Some were gazing at the setting sun; others expectantly toward the rising sun. This age presents none of the monotony of the lethargic Orient nor the homogeneity of mediaevalism. Hence so many contrary and even contradictory statements have been made about it and supported by the citation of abundant authorities. There appears a^Juxtaposition of several worlds : the world of sensualism and luxury among the upper classes, as described by Juvenal, Tacitus, Petronius; that of despair and void, but not without a ray of hope, as in the pages of Cicero, Seneca, and Persius; that of wholesome literary friendship exemplified by the Plinies, Cicero, and Plutarch; that of the fervent religions brotherhoods of which we get glimpses in ancient authors and inscriptions; that of the street-preacher and moral lecturer as seen in the better class of Cynics, in Dio Chrysostom, Musonius Rufus, Maadmus of Tyre; that of superstition reflected in the remains of books of magic, in tablets and inscriptions, and many references in Suetonius, Plutarch, Aristides, Lucian, and Philostratus; that of the Nihilism of Lucretius; that of quiet resignation to the will of God, as in Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius; that of the great masses whose cares and joys have been brought to light in the papyri.1
This age was essentially superficial. It was noted for breadth rather than for depth:2 it was not original, creative, or imaginative, but imitative and encyclopaedic. Religion, philosophy, art, letters, were all popularised. The veneer of culture was widely spread but not always accompanied by its essence. The art of the age is not unworthy, but it does not exhibit the exquisite Peri-clean perfection, and it betrays a more plebeian taste. There was a widespread demand for objects of art, with a proportionate lowering of the standard. It was an age of art-collectors rather than of artists. The half-cultured Roman carried off things which he understood to be of value partly because they were prized by those whom he conquered. The conduct of Mummius was typically Roman and characteristic of the age, when, having consigned Corinth to the flames, he stipulated with the shippers of its precious treasures that if these were lost or damaged on the way to Rome they should be replaced by others ' equally good.' Even the literature is not original. The
1 Cf. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, chap. It. et pastvm.
* Fronde, in his essay on Julius Caesar, says: * The age was saturated with cant.'
glorious days of Greek literature lay behind; the Roman literature, not excepting the Ciceronian and Augustan periods, was a re-working of Greek materials and reproduction (of a high order) of Greek models. 4 The rich literary amateur, who should have been a Maecenas, became an author himself.'1 In politics the masses had asserted themselves. They constituted a perpetual problem and menace to statesmen of the Republic, and were a large factor in setting up the Empire under which they were fed, petted, and amused. Philosophy was popularised as far as possible. Much of the highest thought of Plato had filtered down among the masses, and a smattering of philosophy was an essential part of an ordinary liberal education. The post-Aristotelian philosophies tended to become religious and to take their share in meeting the general demand for moral guidance. But religion above all else assumed a popular form. Philosophy was the only religion of the educated, and the masses were no longer interested in any state cult. Popular preachers and lecturers were in demand—an ancient Salvation Army. The people had recourse to the new gods brought in from the Orient. The Roman state was constantly compelled in religious matters to make concessions to popular demands in introducing more emotional and individual methods (e.g. auppUccUiones, lectisternia, ludi), and in gradually recognising foreign cults to which the people were devoted. Even the strong hand of Rome governed by astutely yielding to the populace.
This Graeco-Roman age must strike the student as very modern. In reading its records we often forget we are septtc^d from these ancients by so many centuries. As ^tiflHHhf this modernness we feel ourselves more at home p 1 Dill» Society t p. 95.
in the era commencing with Alexander, and can more readily sympathise with the succeeding centuries than we can with mediaevalism. There is much of the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle that seems intended for another order of things, whereas the philosophies that interpreted the world to the Graeco-Roman age—though less original and less interesting—deal with more familiar topics. Their problems—philosophical, religious, economic, soeial and political—touch us of a later era very closely.
The social habits are very modern : to travel for business, pleasure, or education was quite usual. The nouveaux riches were as objectionable then as now. The international exchange of wares, manners, thought, and religion was, more especially in the Roman Empire, as active as at the present day. Facilities of communication were more abundant than at any time prior to the invention of steam and the era of railway construction. From the second Punic war women became as prominent almost as in our suffragette age. Their virtues and weaknesses were much the same. They loved display and fine dresses ; they were susceptible to flattery. Ovid tells how they came to be seen rather than to see : ' spectatum veniunt : veniunt spectentur ut ipsae.' The excavations at Pompeii show how ladies attempted to escape with their jewels and valuables, and have unearthed sad memorials of mother love. Programmes of amusements, especially of the amphitheatre, were in regular use. Gossip and slander formed part of society's daily food. There was the same reverence then as now, even among ^ roués like Ovid, for the innocence of girlhood. Manages * de convenance were in vogue with similar results. Cultivated men were alarmed at a degraded popular taste as among ourselves, when an ephemeral musical comedy will draw a packed house for a whole season while an excellent cast of Shakespeare is little appreciated. So with the later Greeks and Romans mimes and farces and even coarser amusements ousted drama posae&svi^ ucrç \sm\
purpose. There were 'star' actors like Aesopus and Roecius, and, in Pompeii, Actius. Fashions also came and went. Shrews were not unknown, like Cicero's wife Terentia, or his brother Quintus's wife Pomponia. Com* plaints come to us of the intractableness of the gentler sex.1 The habits of sweethearts present no novelty: they scribbled on walls, used endearing epithets, prized keepsakes, became maddened with jealousy. Many were cruel as the Lesbia of Catullus. Social life (apart from political) was at least equally absorbing in the late Republic and in the Empire. The dinner hour was pushed later and later into the evening.
Comforts were generally more accessible in the Graeoo-Roman age than until the past half-century. There were more accommodations for out-of-door life, and abundant lounging places. Public baths with an amazing equipment (sometimes with a library) are found in every town, however small. In Timgad one finds several public baths in a remarkable state of preservation. The public conveniences of Timgad are superior to those in some modern European cities. ' Taking the cure9 at celebrated bathing-places and natural springs was an ordinary occurrence; we have still ample evidence from places like Hammam R'lhra near the desert, Wiesbaden and Bath. As we read in the train, travellers could read and write on their journeys: the case of the Ethiopian eunuch is familiar. In the better houses there was a bathroom, and sometimes several. The hot-air system, re-discovered in America, was known to the Romans in the first century b.o. Dentistry was practised: Cicero tells us incidentally of gold-filled teeth. 4 Every highly educated man at this
* Metellus Macedonians said in a public speech: 1 If we could do without wires we should be rid of that nuisance; but since nature has decreed that we ean neither lire comfortably with them, nor lire at aU without them, we must e'en look rather to our permanent interests than to a passing pleasure' (Aul. Gel., A. N.,i. 6). Plutarch has preserred the famous saying of the elder Oato: 1 All men rule orer women ; we Romans rule orer all men, and our wires rule orer us/
(Cicero's) time owned a library and wished to have the latest book.' Men went to their friends' libraries to consult books, as Cicero to that of Lucullus at Tusculum. It was also an era of public libraries. On the way from the modern museum in Timgad to the forum there stands on the left hand the Timgad 'Carnegie' library, with a large slab inscribed with the name of the donor and the cost. In large cities like Alexandria there were university libraries. Banking business was highly developed: one eould deposit at interest; there were also current accounts with something like our cheque system. Letters of credit and bills of exchange were negotiated, so that a traveller was not obliged to carry much money on his person.1
The vices of the age wear a modern garb: luxury, extravagance, selfishness, gambling, the mad rush to acquire wealth. Divorce was frightfully common in the upper classes. Idleness was the favouri inoccupation of the two extremes of society. There was a disinclination on the part of society men and women towards marriage, and race-suicide reached such proportions as to become a grave concern to statesmen. The restlessness and fever of our modern life invaded their lives, but they could plead more extenuating circumstances than we.
In many other details the records astonish us. Many of the papyri documents, if dates and names were changed, would read as if of yesterday. There were comic artists who anticipated Punch, and cartoonists. One has represented Nero as a butterfly driving the fiery steeds of the chariot of state. Men bet on their favourite horses. The i 4 In inch matters as transit, public health, police, water supply, engineer-
ins, building and so forth, Rome of the second century left off pretty much where the reign of Queen Victoria was to resume. The modern city of Rome is obtaining its drinking water out of about three of the nine preat aqueducts which ministered to the imperial city. The hot-air system which warms the hotels of modern Europe and America was in general use in every comfortable ▼ilia of the first century a.d. Education was more general and more accessible to the poor in a.d. 200 than in a.d. 1850. The siege artillery employed by Trajan was as effective, probably, as the cannon of Vauban' (Stobartj,
Romans seem to have anticipated Pitman in shorthand. There was an imperial post, and there seem to have been abundant private postal systems, so that news travelled with astonishing rapidity. Among the Romans we find the precursor of our daily newspaper without the editorials, the acta diurna, giving the latest news and gossip.
Not only in external and accidental things but in sentiment it hardly seems possible that we can be separated by so many centuries. These ancients experienced wants similar to ours, were disturbed by similar yearnings, and moved by similar joys and sorrows. The Hellenistic literature, but chiefly the Roman, often betrays a quite modern sentiment. The opening of Cicero's De Legibus II. reveals a love of native place with its familiar seats and charming walks. The love of landscape and of nature was as pronounced among the Romans as among ourselves. No ancients took the same delight in flowers. The Roman could not rest in his domu8 aeterna if no kindly hand strewed violets 03 roses in spring. And in their small houses, as in Timgad, it is pathetic to see with what care they surrounded themselves with flowers. The enjoyment of nature, which became prominent in the Alexandrine poetry, is still more pronounced in Roman poetry, as in Virgil, Lucretius, Horace, and Catullus. 4 The passion of love . • . became a very powerful influence in actual life during the last years of the Republic and the early years of the Empire. It is in Latin literature that we are brought most near to the power of this passion in the ancient world.'1 The appetite for friendship and companionship was keen.
It is in their sorrow that these ancients are most modern. The tombstones in the Ceramicus tell the same tales as those in our churchyards. We find in the heart of Asia Minor the rustic stonemason burning with warm human tears memorial letters into the cold stone. On not a few tombs the broken-hearted parents yearn for the patter of 1 SelUr, Horn. Poets of the Repub.% pp. 19, 876.
little feet, the widow longs for reunion, the dead plead for the sympathy and remembrance of the living. It is not the sorrow which is modern but the way in which it expresses itself. Men were no longer willing to seek the anodyne of their own grief in the common grief or welfare of the community. A more atomistic and personal way of looking at things had arisen: the individual heart clamoured for what the individual heart had lost.
Education was general ; more so than in some Continental countries at the present day. There were facilities for popular education in the Roman Empire to an extent unknown in our land till the Victorian era. The papyri show us how common writing was even among ordinary folk. Greek tutors, professors, and private chaplains were in extraordinary demand. The basis of Graeco-Roman education was Greek culture. The Romans sent their sons to the University of Athens to finish their education. The young Cicero studied there, and received from his father some of the letters whioh we read to-day. Horace was also a student at Athens. Philo knew the city. There philosophers of every school discussed their Weltan-8chauungen. Philo says that Athens was to Greece what the pupil is to the eye or reason to the soul. It was the mother of universities in Alexandria, Antioch, Tarsus, and elsewhere. The Jews were alive to the necessity of Jewish education amid the power and fascination of Hellenism. In every city alongside the synagogue they had their schools and libraries.
Teaching was a recognised, honourable, and—in contrast to our time—a lucrative profession. It is quite common in the inscriptions of Asia Minor to read of teachers who, having amassed fortunes, bestow princely gifts on their native towns. Academic titles like pfi\lo8(ypKeT, doctor^
Was this article helpful?