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Chapter 2

THE LATIN LANGUAGE AND PEOPLE--CREDIBILITY OF THE EARLY HISTORY.

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Succeeding times did equal folly call. Believing nothing, or believing all.--John Dryden.

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The Latin language contains two primary elements, the first intimately connected with the Grecian, and the second with the Oscan tongue; to the former, for the most part, belong all words expressing the arts and relations of civilized life; to the latter, such terms as express the wants of men before society has been organized. We are therefore warranted in conjecturing that the Latin people was a mixed race; that one of its component parts came from some Grecian stock, and introduced the first elements of civilization, and that the other was indigenous, and borrowed refinement from the strangers. The traditions recorded by the historians sufficiently confirm this opinion; they unanimously assert that certain bodies of Pelasgi came into the country before the historic age, and coalesced with the ancient inhabitants. The traditions respecting these immigrations are so varied, that it is impossible to discover any of the circumstances; but there is one so connected with the early history of Rome, that it cannot be passed over without notice. All the Roman historians declare, that after the destruction of Troy, Æneas, with a body of the fugitives, arrived in Latium, and having married the daughter of king Lati'nus, succeeded him on the throne. It would be easy to show that this narrative is so very improbable, as to be wholly unworthy of credit; but how are we to account for the universal credence which it received? To decide this question we must discuss the credibility of the early Roman history, a subject which has of late years attracted more than ordinary attention.

The first Roman historian of any authority, was Fa'bius Pic'tor, who flourished at the close of the second Punic war; that is, about five centuries and a half after the foundation of the city, and nearly a thousand years after the destruction of Troy. The materials from which his narrative was compiled, were the legendary ballads, which are in every country the first record of warlike exploits; the calendars and annals kept by the priests, and the documents kept by noble families to establish their genealogy. Imperfect as these materials must necessarily have been under any circumstances, we must remember that the city of Rome was twice captured; once by Porsenna, and a second time by the Gauls, about a century and a half before Fabius was born. On the latter occasion the city was burned to the ground, and the capital saved only by the payment of an immense ransom. By such a calamity it is manifest that the most valuable documents must have been dispersed or destroyed, and the part that escaped thrown into great disorder. The heroic songs might indeed have been preserved in the memory of the public reciters; but there is little necessity for proving that poetic historians would naturally mingle so much fiction with truth, that few of their assertions could be deemed authentic. The history of the four first centuries of the Roman state is accordingly full of the greatest inconsistences and improbabilities; so much so, that many respectable writers have rejected the whole as unworthy of credit; but this is as great an excess in scepticism, as the reception of the whole would be of credulity. But if the founders of the city, the date of its erection, and the circumstances under which its citizens were assembled be altogether doubtful, as will subsequently be shown, assuredly the history of events that occurred four centuries previous must be involved in still greater obscurity. The legend of Æneas, when he first appears noticed as a progenitor of the Romans, differs materially from that which afterwards prevailed. Romulus, in the earlier version of the story, is invariably described as the son or grandson of Æneas. He is the grandson in the poems of Nævius and Ennius, who were both nearly contemporary with Fabius Pictor. This gave rise to an insuperable chronological difficulty; for Troy was destroyed B.C. 1184, and Rome was not founded until B.C. 753. To remedy this incongruity, a list of Latin kings intervening between Æne'as and Rom'ulus, was invented; but the forgery was so clumsily executed, that its falsehood is apparent on the slightest inspection. It may also be remarked, that the actions attributed to Æneas are, in other traditions of the same age and country, ascribed to other adventurers; to Evander, a Pelasgic leader from Arcadia, who is said to have founded a city on the site afterwards occupied by Rome; or to Uly'sses, whose son Tele'gonus is reported to have built Tus'culum.

If then we deny the historical truth of a legend which seems to have been universally credited by the Romans, how are we to account for the origin of the tale? Was the tradition of native growth, or was it imported from Greece when the literature of that country was introduced into Latium? These are questions that can only be answered by guess; but perhaps the following theory may in some degree be found satisfactory. We have shown that tradition, from the earliest age, invariably asserted that Pelasgic colonies had formed settlements in central Italy; nothing is more notorious than the custom of the Pelasgic tribes to take the name of their general, or of some town in which they had taken up their temporary residence; now Æne'a and Æ'nus were common names of the Pelasgic towns; the city of Thessaloni'ca was erected on the site of the ancient Æne'a; there was an Æ'nus in Thrace,[A] another in Thessaly,[A] another among the Locrians, and another in Epi'rus:[1] hence it is not very improbable but that some of the Pelasgic tribes which entered Latium may have been called the Æne'adæ; and the name, as in a thousand instances, preserved after the cause was forgotten. This conjecture is confirmed by the fact, that temples traditionally said to have been erected by a people called the Æne'adæ, are found in the Macedonian peninsula of Pall'ene,[2] in the islands of De'los, Cythe'ra, Zacy'nthus, Leuca'dia, and Sicily, on the western coasts of Ambra'cia and Epi'rus, and on the southern coast of Sicily.

The account of several Trojans, and especially Æne'as, having survived the destruction of the city, is as old as the earliest narrative of that famous siege; Homer distinctly asserts it when he makes Neptune declare,


--Nor thus can Jove resign The future father of the Dardan line: The first great ancestor obtain'd his grace, And still his love descends on all the race. For Priam now, and Priam's faithless kind, At length are odious, to the all-seeing mind; On great Æneas shall devolve the reign, And sons succeeding sons the lasting line sustain. -ILIAD, xx.


But long before the historic age, Phrygia and the greater part of the western shores of Asia Minor were occupied by Grecian colonies, and all remembrance of Æne'as and his followers lost. When the narrative of the Trojan war, with other Greek legends, began to be circulated in Lati'um, it was natural that the identity of name should have led to the confounding of the Æne'adæ who had survived the destruction of Troy, with those who had come to La'tium from the Pelasgic Æ'nus. The cities which were said to be founded by the Æne'adæ were, Latin Troy, which possessed empire for three years; Lavinium, whose sway lasted thirty; Alba, which was supreme for three hundred years; and Rome, whose dominion was to be interminable, though some assign a limit of three thousand years. These numbers bear evident traces of superstitious invention; and the legends by which these cities are successively deduced from the first encampment of Æne'as, are at variance with these fanciful periods. The account that Alba was built by a son of Æne'as, who had been guided to the spot by a white sow, which had farrowed thirty young, is clearly a story framed from the similarity of the name to Albus (_white_,) and the circumstance of the city having been the capital of the thirty Latin tribes. The city derived its name from its position on the Alban mountain; for _Alb_, or _Alp_, signifies lofty in the ancient language of Italy, and the emblem of a sow with thirty young, may have been a significant emblem of the dominion which it unquestionably possessed over the other Latin states. The only thing that we can establish as certain in the early history of La'tium is, that its inhabitants were of a mixed race, and the sources from whence they sprung Pelasgic and Oscan; that is, one connected with the Greeks, and the other with some ancient Italian tribe. We have seen that this fact is the basis of all their traditions, that it is confirmed by the structure of their language, and, we may add, that it is further proved by their political institutions. In all the Latin cities, as well as Rome, we find the people divided into an aristocracy and democracy, or, as they are more properly called, Patricians and Plebeians. The experience of all ages warrants the inference, which may be best stated in the words of Dr. Faber: "In the progress of the human mind there is an invariable tendency not to introduce into an undisturbed community a palpable difference between lords and serfs, instead of a legal equality of rights; but to abolish such difference by enfranchising the serfs. Hence, from the universal experience of history, we may be sure that whenever this distinction is found to exist, the society must be composed of two races differing from each other in point of origin."

The traditions respecting the origin of Rome are innumerable; some historians assert that its founder was a Greek; others, Æneas and his Trojans; and others give the honour to the Tyrrhenians: all, however, agree, that the first inhabitants were a Latin colony from Alba. Even those who adopted the most current story, which is followed by Dr. Goldsmith, believed that the city existed before the time of Rom'ulus, and that he was called the founder from being the first who gave it strength and stability. It seems probable that several villages might have been formed at an early age on the different hills, which were afterwards included in the circuit of Rome; and that the first of them which obtained a decided superiority, the village on the Palatine hill, finally absorbed the rest, and gave its name to "the eternal city".

There seems to be some uncertainty whether Romulus gave his name to the city, or derived his own from it; the latter is asserted by several historians, but those who ascribe to the city a Grecian origin, with some show of probability assert that Romus (another form of Romulus) and Roma are both derived from the Greek [Greek: rômê], _strength_. The city, we are assured, had another name, which the priests were forbidden to divulge; but what that was, it is now impossible to discover.

We have thus traced the history of the Latins down to the period when Rome was founded, or at least when it became a city, and shown how little reliance can be placed on the accounts given of these periods by the early historians. We shall hereafter see that great uncertainty rests on the history of Rome itself during the first four centuries of its existence.

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FOOTNOTES:

[1] It is scarcely necessary to remark that the Pelas'gi were the original settlers in these countries.

[2] In all these places we find also the Tyrrhenian Pelas'gi.

Oliver Goldsmith