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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Results of the Roman Dominion
By Victor Duruy (1811–1894)
 
From the ‘History of Rome’

ALTHOUGH in literature Rome was but the echo of Greece, she civilized all the Western world, for which the Greeks had done nothing. Her language, out of which sprang the various languages of the Romance nations, is in case of need a means of communication among scholars of all countries, and her books will always remain—a wise selection being made—the best for the higher culture of the mind. They have merited above all others the title of litteræ humaniores, the literature by which men are made. A cardinal, reading the ‘Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius’ (written in Greek, it is true, but written by a Roman), exclaimed, “My soul blushes redder than my scarlet at sight of the virtues of this Gentile.”  1
  Suppose Rome destroyed by Pyrrhus or Hannibal, before Marius and Cæsar had driven the German tribes back from Gaul: their invasion would have been effected five centuries sooner; and since they would have found opposed to them only other barbarians, what a long night would have settled down upon the world!  2
  It is true that when the Roman people had laid hands upon the treasures of Alexander’s successors, the scandal of their orgies exceeded for a century anything that the East had ever seen; that their amusements were sanguinary games or licentious plays; that the Roman mind, after receiving a temporary benefit from Greek philosophy, went astray in Oriental mysticism; and that finally, after having loved liberty, Rome accepted despotism, as if willing to astonish the world as much by her great corruption as she did by the greatness of her empire.  3
  But can we say that no other age or nation has known servility of soul, licentiousness in public amusements, and the conspicuous depravity in morals that is always to be seen where indolence and wealth are united?  4
  To the legacies left by Rome which have now been enumerated, we must add another, which ranks among the most precious. Notwithstanding the poetic piety of Virgil, and Livy’s official credulity, the dominant note of Latin literature is the indifference of Horace, when it is not the daring skepticism of Lucretius. To Cicero, Seneca, Tacitus, and the great jurisconsults, the prime necessity was the free possession of themselves, that independence of philosophic thought which they owed to Greece. This spirit, begotten of pure reason, was almost stifled during the Middle Ages. It reappeared when antiquity was recovered. From that day the renascent world set forward again; and in the new path France, heir of Athens and of Rome, was long her guide—for art in its most charming form, and for thought, developed in the light.  5
  Upon a medal of Constantine his son presents to him a globe surmounted by a phœnix, symbol of immortality. For once the courtiers were not in the wrong. The sacred bird which springs from her own ashes is a fitting emblem of this old Rome, dead fifteen centuries ago, yet alive to-day through her genius: Siamo Romani.  6
 
 
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