Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Portrait of a Scholar
By Ennius (239–169 B.C.)
 
  SO having spoken, he called for a man, with whom often and gladly
Table he shared, and talk, and all his burden of duties,
When with debate all day on important affairs he was wearied,
Whether perchance in the forum wide, or the reverend Senate;
One with whom he could frankly speak of his serious matters,—
Trifles also, and jests,—could pour out freely together
Pleasant or bitter words, and know they were uttered in safety.
Many the joys and the griefs he had shared, whether public or secret!
This was a man in whom no impulse prompted to evil,
Whether of folly or malice. A scholarly man and a loyal,
Graceful, ready of speech, with his own contented and happy;
Tactful, speaking in season, yet courteous, never loquacious.
Vast was the buried and antique lore that was his, for the foretime
Made him master of earlier customs, as well as of newer.
Versed in the laws was he of the ancients, men or immortals.
Wisely he knew both when he should talk and when to be silent.—
So unto him Servilius spoke, in the midst of the fighting …
  1
 
  The soldier-scholar who could draw this masterly portrait must have been somewhat worthy to sit for it. Certain touches indeed were hardly possible without self-consciousness. The rare combination of antique lore and modern knowledge of the world is one such. Another is the “content with his own”; for though a friend of the wealthiest, Ennius, we are told, lived simply in a small house, attended by one servant only. This same handmaid takes part in a little comedy, which in the arid waste of Roman gravity may almost count as funny:—
          “When Scipio Nasica once came to call on the poet Ennius, and asked for him at the door, the maid said Ennius was not at home. Now, Nasica perceived that this was said at the master’s bidding, and that he really was within. A few days later Ennius came to his friend’s house, in his turn, and called for Nasica, who bawled out that he was ‘not at home.’ ‘What! don’t I know your voice?’ said Ennius.—‘You’re a shameless fellow!’ came the response. ‘When I asked for you, I took your maid’s word for it that you were out. You don’t believe me myself?’”
  2
  Scipio’s resentment does not seem very deep. He had realized, probably, that two callers were already with Ennius, both unsocial dames,—Podagra and Calliope; for however ill it agrees with the pleasing picture of poetic simplicity and contentment, we have Ennius’s own word in the matter:—
  “Only when housed with the gout am I a maker of verses.”
  3
  Horace indeed, waging the old contest which neither Demosthenes nor Franklin has fully decided in favor of the water-drinkers, declares:—
  “Even in the morning the Muses have mostly reeked of the wine-cup.
Homer confesses his fondness for wine by chanting its praises.
Father Ennius, too, leaped forward to sing of the battle
Never unless well drunk!”
  4
  That same aristocrats’ disease, the Nemesis of port wine and good living,—gout,—is reputed to have carried off this austere and contented poet at threescore and ten (in 169 B.C.). Perhaps the hospitalities of the Scipios and Fulvii must bear the blame. Horace too loved his “mess of watercress,” at home;—and dined by preference with Mæcenas! At any rate, Ennius had no prolonged last illness nor dotage. Says Gellius: “Ennius tells us in the twelfth book of his ‘Annals’ that he is in his sixty-seventh year when composing it.” The completion of eighteen books is made certain by many quotations.  5
  The total amount of these citations by later authors is about six hundred hexameters, perhaps a twentieth of the whole. Many are mere half-lines or single verses, quoted by a grammarian for a rare word, or by literary critics to illustrate Virgil’s method of graceful borrowing. The latter tribe, by the way, make a strong showing. Plagiarism is not quite the nicest word. The ancients seem to have felt there was one right way to say anything. If they found a block, large or small, shaped to their hand, they merely tried to set it where it should be more effective than even where its maker put it! Often the open transfer was a loyal courtesy.
  “Muses, ye who beneath your feet tread mighty Olympus”
were the first words of the ‘Annals.’ Other early fragments are:
  “Fettered in slumber gentle and placid—”
“Seemed to approach me Homer the poet—”
This opening vision may be connected with the assertion attributed to Ennius, that the soul of Homer had transmigrated, through many other incarnations, into his own body.
  6
  The tale of Rome, it would seem, began as with Virgil in the Troad,
  “Where in Pelasgian battle the ancient Priam had fallen.”
Romulus appeared as the child of Æneas’s daughter Rhea Silvia. It was apparently Cato who, first among Romans, noted the gap of some four centuries between the traditional time of Troy’s downfall and the accepted Roman founder’s date, and so caused the shadowy kings of Alba to defile in long uneventful line, like Banquo’s descendants, across the legendary stage. Cato may have published his discovery as a savage criticism upon this very poem.
  7
  However diversified in scale and tone of treatment, the entire history of Rome of course constitutes a subject hopelessly beyond the limits of epic unity. The sections of the long poem must have fallen apart, like those of all later rhythmical chronicles. Yet we may well believe that the energy of the manly singer, his patriotic spirit, his faith in Rome’s high mission, never flagged nor failed.  8
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.