The Phrase-Maker: An Imaginary Reminiscence

Graecia capta feram victorem cepit.

THE sun still hung high over a neat little farm among the Sabine hills, although the midday heat had given way to the soft and comforting warmth of a September afternoon. Delicate shadows from dark-leaved ilexes, from tall pines and white poplars, fell waveringly across a secluded grass-plot which looked green and inviting even after the parching summer. The sound of water bickering down the winding way of a stream gave life and coolness to the warm silence. Thick among the tree-trunks on one side grew cornel bushes and sloes, making a solid mass of underbrush, while on the other side there was an opening through which one might catch sight of a long meadow, and arable fields beyond, and even of blue hills along the horizon.

But the master of this charming outlook evidently had his mind on something else. He was a man about fiftyfive years old, short and stout, and with hair grayer than his age warranted. As he leaned back among his cushions on a stone bench, so skillfully placed under an ilex tree that his face was protected while the sun fell across his body, he looked an unromantic figure enough, no better than any other Roman gentleman past his prime, seeking the sunshine and intent on physical comfort. Indeed, only a gracefully low forehead and eyes at once keen and genial saved his face from commonplaceness, and would have led a spectator to feel any curiosity about his meditations.

He had let fall into his lap a letter which had reached him that morning, and which he had just reread. It had traveled all the way from Gaul, and he had opened it eagerly, curious to know with what new idea his younger friend was coquetting, and hoping to hear some interesting literary gossip about their common acquaintances. But the letter had been chiefly filled with questions as to why he had not yet written, and, above all, why he did not send on some verses. Horace still felt the irritation of the first reading, although he had had his lunch and his nap, and had reached the serenest hour of the day. When they said good-by in Rome he had told Florus that he should not write: he was too lazy in these later years to write very regularly to any one except Mæcenas, the other part of his soul, and it was foolish of the younger man not to have accepted the situation. As for the request for verses, Horace felt ashamed of the anger it had aroused in him. One would think that he was twenty years old again, with black curls, lively legs, and a taste for iambs, to get so out of patience with poor Florus. But it certainly was annoying to be pressed for odes when he had long ago determined to spend the rest of his life in studying philosophy. To be sure, he had once made that vow too early and had been forced to tune his lyre again after he had thought to hang it in Apollo’s temple. He had had a pride in the enthusiastic reception of his new odes, and in the proof that his hand had by no means lost its cunning; but Florus ought to understand that he had at that time yielded to the Emperor’s request as equivalent to a command, and that he meant what he said when he declared that he wished to leave the lyric arena.

He had never been unreasonable in his demands on life, nor slow in the performance of his share. It seemed only just that he should spend the years that were left to him as he chose. People talked about his tossing off an ode as if he could do it at dessert, and still spend the solid part of the day in other pursuits. They little dreamed that the solid part of many days had often gone into one of his lyric trifles, and that Polyhymnia, she who had invented the lyre, and struck it herself in Lesbos, was among the most exacting of the Muses. With the departure of his green youth and play-time had gone the inclination, as well as the courage, to set himself such tasks. He had always been interested in reading the moral philosophers, and, whatever his friends said, he meant to keep to his books, and to write, if he wrote at all, in a comfortable, contemplative style.

Besides (so his irritated thoughts ran on), how could Florus expect a man who lived in Rome to write imaginative poetry ? How tiresome the days were there! Whenever he went out, some one wanted his help in a dull business matter, or dragged him off to a public reading by some equally dull author. Even if he tried to visit his friends, one lived on the Quirinal and one on the Aventine, and the walk between lay through noisy streets filled with clumsy workmen, huge wagons, funeral processions, mad dogs, dirty pigs, and human bores. No notes from the lyre could make themselves heard amid such confusion.

Suddenly his feeling quickened: how good it was to be away just now in this autumnal season, when Rome labored under leaden wands fraught with melancholy depression, and when his head always gave him trouble and he especially needed quiet and freedom! The afternoon sun enveloped him in a delicious warmth, the shadows on the grass danced gayly as a faint breeze stirred the branches above his head, the merry little stream near by seemed to prattle of endless content.

The frown above Horace’s eyes disappeared, and with it his inner annoyance, Florus was a dear fellow, after all, and although he intended to write him a piece of his mind, he would do it in hexameters, more for his amusement than for his edification. It would be a pretty task for the morning hours to-morrow. Now he meant to be still, and forget his writing tablets altogether. He was glad that his house was empty of guests, much as he had enjoyed the preceding week when a lively company had come over from Tibur, in whose retreat they were spending September, to hunt him out. They had had charming dinners together, falling easily into conversations that were worth while, and by tacit consent forgetting the inanities of town gossip. But at present he liked the quiet even better. He had been walking about his little place more regularly, laughing at his steward who often grew impatient over the tiny crops, and assuring himself of the comfort of the few slaves who ran the farm. And on more extended walks he had felt once more, as he had so often in these long years, the charm of the village people near him, with their friendly manners, their patient devotion to work, and their childlike enjoyment of country holidays.

Certainly, as he grew older and his physical energy diminished (he had not been really well since he was a very young man, and now before his time he felt old), he appreciated more and more his good fortune in owning a corner of the earth so situated. He remembered with amusement that in earlier days he sometimes used to feel bored at the end of his journey from Rome by the solitude of his farm, and wonder why he had left the lively city. But that was when he was young enough to enjoy the bustle of the streets, and, especially in the evenings, to join the crowds of pleasure-seekers and watch the fortune-tellers and their victims. That he could mingle inconspicuously with the populace he had always counted one of the chief rewards of an inconspicuous income. Now, the quiet of the country and the leisure for reading seemed so much more important. He was not even as anxious as he used to be to go to fashionable Tibur or Tarentum or Baiæ in search of refreshment. How pleased Virgil would have been with his rustic content!

The sudden thought brought a smile to his eyes and then a shadow. Virgil had been dead more than ten years, but his loss seemed all at once a freshly grievous thing. So much that was valuable in his life was inextricably associated with him. Horace’s mind, usually sanely absorbed in present interests, began, because of a trick of memory, to turn more and more toward the past. Virgil had been one of the first to help him out of the bitterness that made him a rather gloomy young man when the Republic was defeated, and his own little property confiscated, and had introduced him to Mæcenas, the source of all his material prosperity and of much of his happiness. And indeed he had justified Virgil’s faith, Horace said to himself with a certain pride. He had begun as the obscure son of a freedman, and here he was now, after fifty, one of the most successful poets of Rome, a friend of Augustus, a person of importance in important circles, and withal a contented man.

This last achievement he knew to be the most difficult, as it was the most unusual. And there in the clarifying sunshine he said to himself that the rich treasure of his content had been bought by noble coin: by his temperance and good sense in a luxurious society, by his self-respecting independence in a circle of rich patrons, and perhaps, above all, by his austerely honest work among many temptations to debase the gift the Muses had bestowed upon him. He had had no Stoic contempt for the outward things of this world. Indeed, after he had frankly accepted the Empire he came to feel a pride in the glory of Augustus’s reign, as he felt a deep reconciling satisfaction in its peace, its efforts at restoring public morals, its genuine insistence on a renewed purity of national life. The outward tokens of increasing wealth charmed his eyes, and he took the keenest pleasure in the gorgeous marble pillars and porticoes of many of the houses he frequented, in the beautiful statues, the bronze figures, the tapestries, the gold and silver vessels owned by many of his friends, and in the rich appointments and the perfect service of their dining-rooms, where he was a familiar guest. But he had never wanted these things for himself, any more than he wished for a pedigree and the images of ancestors to adorn lofty halls. He came away from splendid houses more than willing to fall back into plainer ways. Neither had he ever been apologetic towards his friends. If they wanted to come and dine with him on inexpensive vegetables, he would gladly himself superintend the polishing of his few pieces of silver and the setting of his cheap table. If they did not choose to accept his invitations, why, they knew how much their standards amused him. As for his more august friends, the Emperor himself, Mæcenas, and Messala, and Pollio, he had always thought it a mere matter of justice and common courtesy to repay their many kindnesses by a cheerful adaptability when he was with them, and by a dignified gratitude. But not even the Emperor could have compelled him to surrender his inner citadel.

Perhaps, after all, that was why Augustus had forced him back to the lyre, in support of his reforms and in praise of the triumphal campaigns of Tiberius and Drusus. An honest mind betokened honest workmanship, and upon such workmanship, rather than upon a subsidized flattery, the imperial intruder wished to stake his repute.

However lightly Horace may from time to time have taken other things, he never trifled with his literary purpose after it had once matured. Even his first satiric efforts had been honestly made; and when he found his true mission of adapting the perfect Greek poetry to Latin measures, there was no airy grace of phrase, no gossamer-like slightness of theme, which did not rest upon the unseen structure of artistic sincerity. That was why in rare solemn moments he believed that his poetry would live, live beyond his own life-time and his age, even perhaps as long as the Pontifex Maximus and the Vestal Virgin should ascend to the Capitol in public processional. He had said laughingly of his published metrical letters that they might please Rome for a day, travel on to the provinces, and finally become exercisebooks for school-boys in remote villages. But his odes were different. They were not prosaic facts and comments put into metre: they were poetry. If he were only a laborious bee compared with the soaring swans of Greek lyric, at least he had distilled pure honey from the Parnassian thyme. Now that he had determined to touch the lyre no more, he felt more than ever sure that his lyre had served Rome well. How much better, indeed, than his sword could have served her, in spite of the military ambitions of his youth. What a fool he had been to believe that the Republic could be saved by blood, or that he could be a soldier!

All these things Horace was meditating beneath his ilex tree, being moved to evaluate his life by the chance appeal of his memory to that dead friend whose “ white soul ” had so often, when he was alive, proved a touchstone for those who knew him. He was sure that in the larger issues Virgil would have given him praise on this afternoon; and with that thought came another which was already familiar to him. It was less probing, perhaps, but more regretfully sad. If only his father could have lived to see his success! His mother he had not known at all, except in his halting childish imagination when, one day in each year, he had been led by his father’s hand to stand before the small, plain urn containing her ashes. But his father had been his perfect friend and comrade for twenty years. He had been able to talk to him about anything. Above all the reserves of maturer life, he could remember the confidence with which as a child he had been used to rush home, bursting with the gossip of the playground, or some childish annoyance, or some fresh delight. He could not remember that he was ever scolded during his little choleric outbursts or untempered enthusiasms, and yet somehow after a talk with his father he had so often found himself feeling much calmer or really happier. Anger in some way or other came to seem a foolish thing; and even if he had come in from an ecstasy of play, it was certainly pleasant to have the beating throbs in his head die away and to feel his cheeks grow cool again. In looking back, Horace knew that no philosophy had ever so deeply influenced him to self-control and to mental temperance as had the common, kindly, shrewd man who had once been a slave, and whose freedom had come to him only a few years before the birth of his son.

And how ambitious the freedman had been for the education of his son! Horace could understand now the significance of two days in his life which at their occurrence had merely seemed full of a vivid excitement. One had come when he was ten years old, but no lapse of years could dull its colors. On the day before, he had been wondering how soon he would be allowed to enter the village school, and become one of the big boys whom he watched every morning with round eyes as they went past his house, their bags and tablets hanging from their arms. But on that great day his father had lifted him in his arms — he was a little fellow — and looking at him long and earnestly had said, “ My boy, we are going to Rome next week, so that you may go to school. I have made up my mind that you deserve as good an education as the son of any knight or senator.” Horace had cried a little at first in nervous excitement, and in bewilderment at his father’s unwonted gravity. But all that was soon forgotten in the important bustle of preparations for a journey to the Capital. The whole village had made them the centre of critical interest. Once a bald, thick-set centurion had met them on the street, and stopped them with an incredulous question. When he was informed that it was true that the boy was to be taken to Rome, he had laughed sneeringly and said, “ How proud you will be of his city education when you find that he comes back to your little government position, and can make no more money than you have.” Horace had looked wonderingly into his father’s face, and found it unannoyed and smiling. And even as a child he had noticed the dignity with which he answered the village magnate: “ Sir, I wish to educate my son to know what is best to know, and to be a good man. If in outward circumstances he becomes only an honest tax-collector, he will not for that reason have studied amiss, nor shall I be discontented.”

The next day they had started for Rome, and soon the boy was rioting in the inexpressible glories of his first impressions of the great city. Even the ordeal of going to a strange school had its compensations in the two slaves who went behind him to carry his books. The centurions’ sons at home had carried their own, and Horace felt a harmless, boyish pleasure (without in the least understanding the years of economy on his father’s part that made it possible) in the fact that here in Rome he had what his schoolmates had, and appeared at school in the same state. One thing he had that was better than theirs, and he felt very sorry for them. A special servant went about with each of the other boys, to see that he attended his classes, was polite to his teachers, and did his work. But Horace had his own father to look after him, a thousand times better than any carping pædagogus. His father had explained to him that the other fathers were busy men, that they were the ones who carried on the great government, and ruled this splendid Rome; they could not spend hours going to school with their little sons. But Horace thought it was a great pity, and was sure that he was the luckiest boy in school.

How good it had been to have his father learn directly from the grim Orbilius of his first success, to see him with a quick flush on his face take from the teacher’s hands the wax tablet on which his son had written “ the best exercise in the class.” His father had not spoken directly of the matter, but in some way Horace had felt that the extra sweetmeats they had had that night at supper were a mark of his special pleasure. And many years afterwards, when he was looking through a chest that had always been locked in his father’s lifetime, he had found the little wax tablet still showing the imprint of his childish stylus.

For ten years Horace’s school life had continued, and then the second great day had come. He was familiar with early Latin literature and with Homer. He had studied philosophy and rhetoric with eager industry. The end was near, and he had begun to wonder what lay before him. Some of his friends hoped to get into political life at once, and perhaps obtain positions in the provinces. Others had literary ambitions. A few — the most enviable — were planning to go to Greece for further study in the great philosophical schools. Horace wondered whether his father would want to go back to his old home in the country, and whether outside of Rome he himself could find the stimulus to make something out of such abilities as he had. And then the miracle happened. His father came to his room one night and said, in a voice which was not as steady as he tried to make it, " My boy,” — the old familiar preface to all the best gifts of his early life, — " My boy, would you like to go to Athens ? ”

That sudden question had changed the course of Horace’s life. But his father had not lived to see the fruits of his sacrifice. The last time Horace saw him had been on the beach at Brundisium, just as his vessel cast off from its moorings, and the wind began to fill the widespread sails. Horace had always realized that the most poignant emotion of a life which had been singularly free from despotic passions, had come to him on that day when wind and tide seemed to be hurrying him relentlessly away from the Italian shore, and on its edge, at the last, he saw a figure grown suddenly old and tired.

The journey itself across the Ionian Sea had not helped to increase his cheerfulness. There had been a heavy storm, and then long days of leaden sky and sea, and a cold mist through which one could descry only at rare intervals ghostly sails of other ships, to remind one that here was the beaten track of commerce from the Orient. Even as they approached the Piræus, and beat slowly and carefully up the bay, the desolate mist continued, settling down over the long anticipated coast-line, and putting an end to all the color and light of Greece. But afterwards Horace realized that the unpropitious arrival had but served as a background for the later revelation. The sungod did grant him a glorious epiphany on that first day, springing, as it were, full panoplied out of a gulf of darkness. His friend Pompeius, who had gone to Athens a month earlier, had by some fortunate chance chosen the afternoon of his arrival to make one of his frequent visits to the shops and taverns of the harbor town. Drawn to the dock by the news that a ship from Italy was approaching, he met Horace with open arms, and afterwards accompanied him to the city along the Phaleron road.

During the hour’s walk the mist had gradually lifted, and the sky grew more luminous. By the time they reached the ancient but still unfinished temple to Zeus, some of whose Corinthian columns they had often seen in Rome, built into their own Capitoline temple, the setting sun had burst through all obstructions, and was irradiating the surrounding landscape. The hills turned violet and amethyst, the sea lighted into a splendid shining waterway, the sky near the horizon cleared into a deep greenish-blue, and flared into a vast expanse of gold above. The Corinthian pillars near them changed into burnished gold. Purple shadows fell on the brown rock of the Acropolis, while, above, the temple of Athene was outlined against the golden sky, and the sun tipped as with gleaming fire the spear and the helmet of his sister goddess, the bronze Athene herself, as she stood a little beyond her temple, austere guardian of her city.

On this soft autumn afternoon among the Italian hills Horace could still remember his startled amazement when he first saw the radiance of Greek coloring. He had not realized that the physical aspect of mountains and sky would be so different from the landscape about Rome, and he had never lost his delight in the fresh transparency of the Athenian air. One of his earliest experiments in translation had been Euripides’ choral description of the “blest children of Erechtheus going on their way daintily enfolded in the bright, bright air.”

His student life in the old home of learning had also proved to be more charming than he could have anticipated. There had been the dual claims of literature and philosophy to stir his mind, and memories of the ancient masters of Greece to make honored and venerable the gardens and the gymnasiums where he listened to his modern lectures, to enhance the beauty of the incomparable marble temples, to throw a glamour even over the streets of Athens, and so to minimize his Roman contempt for the weakness of her public life. And then there were the pleasures of youth, the breaks in the long days when he and his comrades would toss lecture notes, and even the poets, to the winds, buy sweet-smelling ointments for their hair in some Oriental shop in the lively marketplace, pick out a better wine than usual, and let Dionysus and Aphrodite control the fleeting hours. On the morrow Apollo and Athene would once more hold their proper place.

Of Roman affairs they knew little and thought less, in their charmingly egotistic absorption in student life. But a violent shock was finally to shatter this serene oblivion. Horace could remember the smallest details about that day. It was in the spring. The March sun had risen brightly over Hymettus, and the sky was cloudless. Marcus, meeting him at a morning lecture of Cratippus, had asked him to take his afternoon walk with him. “ My father,” he explained, “has written me about a walk that he and my uncle Quintus took to the Academy when they were students, and of how they felt that Plato was still alive there, and of how in passing the hill of Colonus they thought of Sophocles. He wants me to take the same walk, and I wish you would come along, too, and tell me some Sophocles and Plato to spout back; my father will be sure to expect a rhapsody.” Horace had joyfully assented, for Marcus was always an entertaining fellow, and might he not write to Cicero about his friend, and might that not lead to his some day meeting the great man, and hearing him talk about Greek philosophy and poetry ?

In the cool of the late afternoon the two young men had found the lovely grove of the Academy almost deserted, and even Marcus had grown silent under the spell of its memories. As they turned homeward the violet mantle had once more been let fall by the setting sun over bright Athens and the western hills. Only the sound of their own footfalls could be heard along the quiet road. But at the Dipylon Gate an end was put to their converse with the past. The whole Roman colony of students was there to meet them, and it was evident that the crowd was mastered by some unprecedented emotion. Marcus darted forward, and it was he who turned to Horace with whitened face, and said in a curiously dull voice, “ Julius Cæsar was assassinated on the Ides.” The news had come directly from the governor, Sulpicius, one of whose staff had happened to meet a student an hour after the arrival of the official packet from Rome. Marcus hurried off to the governor’s house, thinking that so good a friend of his father would be willing to see him and tell him details. Horace could see that the boy was sick with fear for his father’s safety.

For several weeks the students could think or talk of nothing else, their discussions taking a fresh impetus from any letters that arrived from Rome. Gradually, however, they settled back again into their studies and pleasures, feeling remote and irresponsible. But with the advent of the autumn a new force entered into their lives. Brutus came to Athens, and, while he was awaiting the development of political events at home, began to attend the lectures of the philosophers.

Horace was among the first of the young Romans to yield to the extraordinary spell exercised by this grave, thin-faced, scholarly man, whose profound integrity of character was as obvious to his enemies as to his friends, and as commanding among the populace as among his peers. Before he came Horace had been moderately glad that the Republic had struck at tyranny and meted out to the dictator his deserts. Now he was conscious of an intense partisanship, of a personal loyalty, of a passionate wish to spend his life, too, in fighting for Roman freedom. And so, when this wonderful man asked him, who was merely a boy with a taste for moral philosophy, and a knack at translating Alcæus and Sappho, to become one of his tribunes, and to go with him to meet the forces of Cæsar’s arrogant young nephew in one final conflict, it was no wonder he turned his back upon the schools and the Muses, and with fierce pride followed his commander. He could remember how stirred he had been that last morning when, on riding out of the city, he had passed the famous old statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. In immortal youth they stood there to prove that in Athens a tyrant had been slain by her sons. The popular song that he had so often heard sung by Greek students over their cups seemed to be beaten out by his horse’s hoofs as, in the pale dawn, they clattered out of the city gate,—

In a wreath of myrtle I ’ll wear my glaive,
Like Harmodius and Aristogeiton brave,
Who, striking the tyrant down,
Made Athens a freeman’s town.
Harmodius, our darling, thou art not dead !
Thou liv’st in the isles of the blest, ’t is said,
With Achilles, first in speed,
And Tydides Diomede.
In a wreath of myrtle I ’ll wear my glaive,
Like Harmodius and Aristogeiton brave,
When the twain on Athena’s day
Did the tyrant Hipparchus slay.1

Even now, more than thirty years later, the breeze in the Sabine ilex seemed to be playing a wraith of the same tune. And suddenly there began to follow, creeping out of long closed fastnesses, a spectral troop of loftier reminders. Horace stirred a little uneasily. Was it only hot youth and Brutus that had carried him off on that foolhardy expedition ? Was it possible that Athens herself had driven him forth, furnishing him as wings superb impulses born of the glory of her past ? For many years now he had been accustomed to feel that he owed to Greece a quickening and a sane training of his artistic abilities; a salvation from Alexandrian pedantry, through an intimate knowledge of the original and masterly epochs of Greek literature; a wholesome fear of Roman grandiosity in any form, engendered by a sojourn among perfect exemplars of architecture and sculpture. For many years, too, he had been in the habit of regarding Brutus as nobly mistaken; of realizing that Julius Cæsar might have developed a more rational freedom in Rome than one enshrined merely in republican institutions. Of course, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, as a cool thinker like Thucydides realized, had not succeeded save in the infatuated estimation of the crowd.

And even great men like Brutus and Cicero, though they were above the private meanness and jealousy that in so many cases adulterated the pure love of liberty, had not seen far enough. What could a theory of freedom give the country better than the peace and the prosperity brought about by the magnanimous Emperor ? Horace’s part in the battle of Philippi had long since become to him a laughable episode of youth. He had even made a merry rhyme upon it, casting the unashamed story of his flight in the words of Archilochus and Alcæus, as if the chief result for him had been a bit of literary experiment.

But now, like the phantom in Brutus’s tent at Philippi, a grim question stole upon him out of the shadows of his memory. Was it possible that his fight on that field of defeat had been, not a folly, but the golden moment of his life ? Had Athens taught him something even profounder than the art which had made him Rome’s best lyric poet ? He had forgotten much of her humiliation, and of his own Roman pride in her subjection during those days when he had lived, in youthful hero-worship, with the spirits of her great past. Had she, after all, not only taught the sons of her masters philosophy and the arts, but taken them captive as well, by the imperious ideals of her own youth, by her love of freedom and of truth ?

Horace remembered a day when he and Marcus and Messala had hired at the Piræus a boat rigged with bright canvas, and sped before the wind to Salamis, their readiness for any holiday guided by a recent reading of Herodotus and Æschylus, and by a desire to see the actual waters and shores where brute force had been compelled to put its neck beneath wisdom and courage. The day had been a radiant one, the sky fresh and blue although flecked here and there by clouds, and the sea and the hills and the islands rich in brilliant color. They had worked their way through the shipping of the harbor, and then sailed straight for the shore of Salamis. When they passed the island of Psytalleia, where the “ danceloving Pan had once walked up and down,” they had been able to see very plainly how the Persian and Greek fleets lay of old, to imagine the narrow strait once more choked with upturned keels, and fighting or flying triremes, to picture Greeks leaping into the sea in full armor to swim to Psytalleia and grapple with the Persians who paced the beach in insolent assurance. The wind whistled in their ears, freighted as it seemed to them with the full-throated shout which, according to the Æschylean story, rang through the battle,—

Sons of the Greeks, advance !
Set free your land, your children free !
Your wives, the shrines of gods ancestral free,
And tombs of fathers’ fathers ! Now for all we strive.

A thunder-storm had arisen before they left Salamis, and their homeward sail had satisfied their love for adventure. Clouds and sun had battled vehemently, and as they finally walked back to the city, from the harbor they had seen the western pediment of the Parthenon rising in grave splendor against the warring sky, the figure of the goddess thrown into high relief by the vivid red background, a living symbol of an ancient victory.

At another time, the same group of friends had chosen a hot day of midsummer to ride on mules along the stretch of Attic road to Marathon. The magnificent hills girdling the horizon had freshly impressed them as more sculpturesque in outline than the familiar ones about their own Rome, and the very shape of the olive trees in a large orchard by the roadside had seemed un-Italian and strange. They had already become attuned to a Greek mood when the blue sea opened before them and they reached the large plain, stretching from the foot-hills of Pentelicon to the water’s edge. The heat had stilled all life in the neighborhood, and Marathon seemed hushed, after all these five hundred years, in reverence before the spirit of liberty. Their ride home had been taken in the cool of the day, so that the hills which rose from the sea had assumed a covering of deep purple or more luminous amethyst. From the shore of the sea they had passed into a wooded road, with a golden sky shining through the black branches. Later the stars had come out in great clusters, and Messala, who now and then betrayed a knowledge of poetry and a gravity of thought that surprised his friends, had recited Pindar’s lines: —

“ Victory setteth free the essayer from the struggle’s griefs, yea, and the wealth that a noble nature hath made glorious bringeth power for this and that, putting into the heart of man a deep and eager mood, a star far seen, a light wherein a man shall trust, if but the holder thereof knoweth the things that shall be, how that of all who die the guilty souls pay penalty, but evenly ever in sunlight an unlaborious life the good receive.” 2 he was twenty-one, these lines of the artist had seemed to him a fitting explanation of the mound of earth heaped over the dead at Marathon. He had long ago learned to laugh at the fervor of youth’s first grappling with ideas, and had come to see that the part of a sensible man was to select judiciously here and there, from all the schools, enough reasonable tenets to enable him to preserve a straight course of personal conduct. As for understanding first causes, the human race never had and never could; and as for a belief in heavenly revelations or in divine influences, all such tendencies ended in philosophic absurdity. Why, then, at this late day, should he remember that night, on the road from Marathon to Athens, when the ancient struggle for liberty had stirred in his own heart a “ deep and eager mood,” and when an impalpable ideal, under the power of a rushing torrent of melody, had come to seem a “ light wherein a man shall trust ” ?

That night-ride had come back to Horace several years ago when he was writing his ode on Pindar, but to-day’s memory seemed strangely different. Then he had remembered what a revelation Pindar’s lyric art had been to him amid the severe and lofty beauty of Greek scenery. Now he caught a haunting echo also of how, when

The high mood, he remembered, had been reinforced a few weeks later when he had seen Athens given over to the celebration of the mysteries of the Eleusinia. He and Marcus had found a place on the Sacred Way leading from the city to the holy precincts of Eleusis, from which they could watch the procession of the initiates as it moved past them, holding lighted torches and singing hymns, to accompany the God Iacchus through the pass of Daphne to his Eleusinian home. There he would once more dwell with Demeter and Persephone, the great twain goddesses connecting in their final reunion the life of mortals, who feed upon the fruits of the earth, with the life of the dead whose lord is the inexorable Hades. At all the shrines along the roadside the procession stopped for sacrifices and libations, and for the performance of grave sacred dances. Marcus had told Horace that his father had been initiated, and had said to him that the mysteries taught men to live happily and to die with a fairer hope. Perhaps the unbounded respect that Horace had felt for Cicero had helped him to interpret the pageant on its profoundest side, and to realize that here was a commemoration of a more intimate, more controlling relationship between the gods and men than any he had found exemplified in the dignified state rituals of Rome.

Was it indeed days like these that had made Brutus’s work so easy when he began to collect his young company about him ? And what if Brutus had been “ mistaken ” ? Was there not a higher wisdom than that which could fashion nations ? Horace had seen his dead face at Philippi. Had he done right ever afterwards, however reverently, to attribute a blunder to that mighty spirit which had left upon the lifeless body such an imprint of majesty and repose? Surely common sense, temperance, honest work, honorableness, fidelity, were good fruits of human life and of useful citizenship. But was there a vaster significance in a noble death? Was there even a truer citizenship in the prodigal and voluntary pouring out of life, on a field of defeat, amid alien and awful desolation ?

The sun was hurrying toward the west, and Horace realized, with a quick chill, that he was entirely in the shadow. Beyond the meadow he could see a team of oxen turn wearily, with a heavily loaded wagon, toward their little stable. The driver walked with a weary limp. Even the little boy by his side forgot to play and scamper, and rather listlessly put the last touches to a wreath of autumn flowers which he meant to hang about the neck of the marble Faunus at the edge of the garden.

Where could Davus be ? Ah, there he came, half-running already as if he knew his master wanted him.

“ Davus,” he called out, “ make haste. I have had a visit from the shades, and it has been as unpleasant as those cold baths the doctor makes me take.” Then, as he saw the look of fright on the wrinkled face of the old slave who had been with his father when he died, he broke into a laugh and put his hand on his shoulder. “ Calm yourself, my good fellow,” he said, “ we shall all be shades some day, and to-day I feel nearer than usual to that charming state. But in the meantime there is a chance for Bacchus and the Muses. Tell them to get out a jar of Falernian to-night, and do you unroll Menander. The counsels of the divine Plato are too eternal for my little mind. And, Davus,” he added thoughtfully, as he rose and leaned on the slave’s willing arm, “ as soon as we get to the house, write down, ‘Greece took her captors captive.’ That has the making of a good phrase in it — a good phrase. I shall polish it up and use it some day.”

  1. Translation by J. A. Symonds.
  2. Translation by E. Myers.