20cetera nequaquam simili ratione modoque aestimat et, nisi quae terris semota suisque temporibus defuncta videt, fastidit et odit; sic fautor veterum, ut tabulas peccare vetantis, quas bis quinque viri sanxerunt, foedera regum 25vel Gabiis vel cum rigidis aequata Sabinis, pontificum libros, annosa volumina vatum dictitet1 Albano Musas in monte locutas. Si, quia Graiorum2 sunt antiquissima quaeque scripta vel optima, Romani pensantur eadem 30scriptores trutina, non est quod multa loquamur: nil intra est olea,3 nil extra est in nuce duri; venimus ad summum fortunae, pingimus atque psallimus et luctamur Achivis doctius4 unctis. Si meliora dies, ut vina, poemata reddit, 35scire velim, chartis pretium quotus arroget annus. scriptor abhinc annos centum qui decidit, inter perfectos veteresque5 referri debet an inter vilis atque novos? excludat iurgia finis. “est vetus atque probus, centum qui perficit annos.” 40quid, qui deperiit minor uno mense vel anno, inter quos referendus erit? veteresne poetas, an quos et praesens et postera respuat6 aetas?
above Greek leaders, judges all other things by a wholly different rule and method, and scorns and detests all save what it sees has passed from earth and lived its days. So strong is its bias toward things ancient, that the Tablesa forbidding transgression, which the ten men enacted, treaties in which our kings made equal terms with Gabiib or the sturdy Sabines, the Pontiffs’ records,c the mouldy scrolls of seersd—these, it tells us over and over, were spoken by the Muses on the Alban mount.28
If, because among Greek writings the oldest are quite the best, we are to weigh Roman writers in the same balance, there is no need of many words. The olive has no hardness within, the nut has none withoute; we have come to fortune’s summit; we paint, we play and sing, we wrestle with more skill than the well-oiled Greeks.34
If poems are like wine which time improves, I should like to know what is the year that gives to writings fresh value. A writer who dropped off a hundred years ago, is he to be reckoned among the perfect and ancient, or among the worthless and modern? Let some limit banish disputes. “He is ancient,” you say, “and good, who completes a hundred years.” “What of one who passed away a month or a year short of that, in what class is he to be reckoned? The ancient poets, or those whom to-day and to-morrow must treat with scorn? “He
- aThe Twelve Tables, drawn up by the Decemvirs.
- bA copy of a treaty made by Tarquinius Superbus with Gabii and written in archaic letters on bull’s hide was still in existence in the time of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, i.e. the Augustan age (Dion. Hal. iv. 58).
- cBooks of ritual and religious law.
- dSuch as the Sibylline books.
- eThe Greeks and Romans may differ in the development of their genius just as much as olives and nuts, both of which are fruits, may differ in character from each other. Moreover, though we have conquered the world, it does not follow that we are superior to the Greeks in painting, in music, and in writing.