Online Encyclopedia

GAIUS LUCILIUS (c. 18o–ro3 B.C.)

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V17, Page 105 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
GAIUS LUCILIUS (c. 18o–ro3 B.C.), the earliest Roman satirist, of whose writings only fragments remain, was born at Suessa Aurunca in Campania. The dates assigned by Jerome for his birth and death are 148 and 103 or 102 B.C. But it is impossible to reconcile the first of these dates with other facts recorded of him, and the date given by Jerome must be due to an error, the true date being about 18o B.C. We learn from Velleius Paterculus that he served under Scipio at the siege of Numantia in 134. We learn from Horace that he lived on the most intimate terms of friendship with Scipio and Laelius, and that he celebrated the exploits and virtues of the former in his satires. Fragments of those books of his satires which seem to have been first given to the world (books xxvi.-xxix.) clearly indicate that they were written in the lifetime of Scipio. Some of these bring the poet before us as either corresponding with, or engaged in controversial conversation with, his great friend. One line Percrepa pugnam Popilli, facta Corneli cane in which the defeat of M. Popillius Laenas, in 138, is contrasted with the subsequent success of Scipio, bears the stamp of having been written while the news of the capture of Numantia was still fresh. It is in the highest degree improbable that Lucilius served in the army at the age of fourteen; it is still more unlikely that he could have been admitted into the familiar intimacy of Scipio and Laelius at that age. It seems a moral impossibility that between the age of fifteen and nineteen—i.e. between 133 and 129, the year of Scipio's death—he could have come before the world as the author of an entirely new kind of composition, and one which, to be at all successful, demands especially maturity of judgment and experience. It may further be said that the well-known words of Horace (Satires, ii. 1, 33), in which he characterizes the vivid portraiture of his life, character and thoughts, which Lucilius bequeathed to the world, quo fit ut omnis Votiva pateat veluti descripta tabella Vita senis, lose much of their force unless senis is to be taken in its ordinary sense—which it cannot be if Lucilius died at the age of forty-six. He spent the greater part of his life at Rome, and died, according to Jerome, at Naples. Lucilius belonged to the equestrian order, a fact indicated by Horace's notice of himself as " infra Lucili censum." Though not himself belonging to any of the great senatorial families, he was in a position to associate with them on equal terms. This circumstance contributed to the boldness, originality and thoroughly national character of his literary work. Had he been a " semi-Graecus," like Ennius and Pacuvius, or of humble origin, like Plautus, Terence or Accius, he would scarcely have ventured, at a time when the senatorial power was strongly in the ascendant, to revive the role which had proved disastrous to Naevius; nor would he have had the intimate knowledge of the political and social life of his day which fitted him to be its painter. Another circumstance deter-mining the bent of his mind was the character of the time. The origin of Roman political and social satire is to be traced to the same disturbing and disorganizing forces which led to the revolutionary projects and legislation of the Graccbi. The reputation which Lucilius enjoyed in the best ages of Roman literature is proved by the terms in which Cicero and Horace speak of him. Persius, Juvenal and Quintilian vouch for the admiration with which he was regarded in the first century of the empire. The popularity which he enjoyed in his own time is attested by the fact that at his death, although he had filled none of the offices of state, he received the honour of a public funeral. His chief claim to distinction is his literary originality. He may be called the inventor of poetical satire, as he was the first to impress upon the rude inartistic medley, known to the Romans by the name of satura, that character of aggressive 1 " And so it happens that the whole life of the old man stands clearly before us, as if it were represented on a votive picture." The remains of Lucilius extend to about eleven hundred, mostly unconnected lines, most of them preserved by late grammarians, as illustrative of peculiar verbal usages. He was, for his time, a voluminous as well as a very discursive writer. He left behind him thirty books of satires, and there is reason to believe that each book, like the books of Horace and Juvenal, was composed of different pieces. The order in which they were known to the grammarians was not that in which they were written. The earliest in order of composition were probably those numbered from xxvi. to xxix., which were written in the trochaic and iambic metres that had been employed by Ennius and Pacuvius in their Saturae. In these he made those criticisms on the older tragic and epic poets of which Horace and other ancient writers speak. In them too he speaks of the Numantine War as recently finished, and of Scipio as still living. Book i., on the other hand, in which the philosopher Carneades, who died in 128, is spoken of as dead, must have been written after the death of Scipio. Most of the satires of Lucilius were written in hexameters, but, so far as an opinion can be formed from a number of unconnected fragments, he seems to have written the trochaic tetrameter with a smoothness, clearness and simplicity which he never attained in handling the hexameter. The longer fragments produce the impression of great discursiveness and carelessness, but at the same time of considerable force. He appears, in the composition of his various pieces, to have treated everything that occurred to him in the most desultory fashion, sometimes adopting the form of dialogue, sometimes that of an epistle or an imaginary discourse, and often to have spoken in his own name, giving an account of his travels and adventures, or of amusing scenes that he had witnessed, or expressing the results of his private meditations and experiences. Like Horace he largely illustrated his own observations by personal anecdotes and fables. The fragments clearly show how often Horace has imitated him, not only in expression, but in the form of his satires (see for instance i. 5 and ii. 2), in the topics which he treats of, and the class of social vices and the types of character which he satirizes. For students of Latin literature, the chief interest of studying the fragments of Lucilius consists in the light which they throw on the aims and methods of Horace in the composition of his satires, and, though not to the same extent, of his epistles. They are important also as materials for linguistic study; and they have considerable historical value. Editions by F. D. Gerlach (1846), L. Muller (1872), C. Lachmann (1876, posthumous), F. Marx (1905); see also L. Muller, Leben and Werke des Lucilius (1876); "Luciliana," by H. A. J. Munro, in the Journal of Philology, vii. (1877); Mommsen, His/. of Rome, bk. iv. ch. 13; " Luciliana," by A. E. Housman, in Classical 2uarterly (April, 1907); C. Cichorius, Untersuchungen zu Lucilius (Berlin, 1908). (W. Y. S.; X.)
End of Article: GAIUS LUCILIUS (c. 18o–ro3 B.C.)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.