Our information with regard to this poet, although limited in extent, is sufficiently precise.
In the version of the Eusebian Chronicle, by Jerome, it is recorded that he was born B. C. 148, that he died at Naples B. C. 103, in the 46th year of his age, and that he received the honour of a public funeral. From the words of Juvenal, compared with those of Ausonius, we learn that Suessa of the Aurunci was the place of his nativity; from Velleius, that he served in the cavalry under Scipio in the Numantine war; from Horace and the old scholiast on Horace, that he lived upon terms of the most close and playful familiarity with Africanus and Laelius; from Acro and Porphyrio, that he was either the maternal grand-uncle, or, which is less probable, the maternal grandfather of Pompey the Great.
Ancient critics agree that, if not absolutely the inventor of Roman satire, Lucilius was the first to mould it into that form which afterwards assumed consistency, and received full developement in the hands of Horace, Persius, and Juvenal.
The first of these three great masters, while he censures the harsh versification and turbid redundancy which resulted from the slovenly haste with which Lucilius threw off his compositions, and from his impatience of the toil necessary for their correction, acknowledges, with the same admiration as the two others, the uncompromising boldness of purpose, the fiery vehemence of attack, and the trenchant sharpness of stroke which characterised his encounters with the vices and follies of his contemporaries, who were fearlessly assailed without respect to the rank, power, or numbers of those selected as the most fitting objects of hostility. One of the speakers in the De Oratore
praises warmly his learning and wit (homo doctus et perurbanus
), although in another piece Cicero, when discoursing in his own person, in some degree qualifies this eulogium; and paying a high tribute to his urbanitas,
pronounces his doctrina
to be mediocris
only. Quintilian, however, considered his erudition wonderful, and refused to admit the justice of the other strictures which had been passed upon his style, declaring that many persons, although he is himself as far from agreeing with them as with Horace, considered him superior, not only to all writers of his own class, but to all poets whatsoever. (Hieron. in Chron. Euseb.
Olymp. 158.1, 169.2; Juv. 1.20
; Auson. Epist.
15.9; Vell. 2.9
; Hor. Sat.
2.1. 73, &c.; Plin. H. N.
praef; Quint. Inst. 10.1
; Hor. Sat.
2.1. 62, &c.; Pers. 1.115; Juv. 1.165
; Hor. Sat.
1.4. 6, 1.10. 1, &c., 46, &c; Cic. de Orat. 2.6
, de Fin.
It must not be concealed that the accuracy of many of the above statements with regard to matters of fact, although resting upon the best evidence that antiquity can supply, have been called in question. Bayle adduces three arguments to prove that the dates given by Jerome must be erroneous.
1. If Lucilius was born in B. C. 148, since Numantia was taken in B. C. 133, he could have scarcely been fifteen years old when he joined the army; but the military age among the Romans was seventeen or, at the earliest, sixteen.
2. A. Gellius (2.24
) gives a quotation from Lucilius, in which mention is made of the Licinian sumptuary law; but this law was passed about B. C. 98, therefore Lucilius must have been alive at least five years after the period assigned for his death.
3. Horace (Sat.
2.1. 28), when describing the devotion of Lucilius to his books, to which he committed every secret thought, and which thus present a complete and vivid picture of his life and character, uses the expression
quo fit ut omnis
Votiva pateat veluti descripta tabella
but the epithet senis
could not with any propriety be applied to one who died at the age of forty-six.
To these arguments we may briefly reply--
1. It can be proved by numerous examples that not only was it common for youths under the regular military age to serve as volunteers, but that such service was frequently compulsory.
This appears clearly from the law passed by C. Gracchus B. C. 124, to prevent any one from being forced to enter the army who had not attained to the age of seventeen. (See Stevech. ad Veget.
1.7; Liv. 25.5
; Sigon. de Jure Civ. Rom.
1.15; Manut. de Leg.
2. It is here taken for granted that the Lex Licinia sumpnuaria
was passed in the year B. C. 98, or rather, perhaps, B. C. 97, in the consulship of Cn. Cornelius Lentulus and P. Licinius Crassus.
But the learned have been long at variance with regard to the date of this enactment; Pighius, in his Annals, and Freinsheim, in his Supplement to Livy (64.52
), refer it to B. C. 112; Wuillner, in his treatise " De Laevio Poeta," to the praetorship of Licinius Crassus, B. C. 104, relying chiefly on the words of Macrobius (Macr. 2.13
); Bach, in his history of Roman jurisprudence, to B. C. 97; Gronovius, on A. Gellius, to B. C. 88; Meyer, in his Collection of the Fragments of Roman Orators, to the second consulship of Pompey and Crassus, B. C. 55.
It is evident that no conclusion can be drawn from a matter on which such a remarkable diversity of opinion prevails.
3. It is not necessary to interpret senis
as an epithet descriptive of the advanced age of the individual.
It may, without any violence, relate to the remote period when he lived, being in this sense equivalent to priscus
Thus when we are told that
Pacuvius docti famam senis, Accius alti,
we do not understand that there is any allusion here to the years of the two dramatists, but to their antiquity alone, just as we ourselves speak familiarly of old
Chaucer and old
The writings of Lucilius being filled with strange and obsolete words, proved peculiarly attractive to the grammarians, many of whom devoted themselves almost exclusively to their illustration.
At a very early period the different pieces seem to have been divided into thirty books, which bore the general name of Satirae,
each book, in all probability, containing several distinct essays. Upwards of eight hundred fragments from these have been preserved, but the greater number consist of isolated couplets, or single lines, or even parts of lines, the longest of the relics, which is a defence of virtue, and is quoted by Lactantius (Instit. Div.
6.5), extending to thirteen verses only. From such disjointed scraps, it is almost impossible to form any judgment with regard to the skill displayed in handling the various topics which in turn afforded him a theme; but it is perfectly clear that his reputation for caustic pleasantry was by no means unmerited, and that in coarseness and broad personalities he in no respect fell short of the licence of the old comedy, which would seem to have been, to a certain extent, his model.
It is manifest also, that although a considerable portion of these remarkable productions were satirical
in the commonly received acceptation of the term, that is, were levelled against the vices and follies of his age, they embraced a much wider field than that over which Horace permitted himself to range, for not only did they comprise dissertations on religion, morals, and criticism, an account of a journey from Rome to Capua, and from thence to the Sicilian Strait, which evidently served as a model for the celebrated journey to Brundisium; but a large part of one book, the ninth, was occupied with disquisitions on orthography, and other grammatical technicalities.
The theme of his sixteenth book was his mistress Collyra, to whom it was inscribed. Of the thirty books, the first twenty and the thirtieth appear to have been composed entirely in heroic hexameters; the remaining nine in iambic and trochaic measures.
There are, it is true, several apparent exceptions, but these may be ascribed to some error in the number of the book as quoted by the grammarian, or as copied by the transcriber.
The fragments of Lucilius were first collected by Robert and Henry Stephens, and printed in the Fragmenta Poetarum Veterum Latinorum, 8vo. Paris, 1564
. They were published separately, with considerable additions, by Franciscus Dousa, Lug. Bat. 4to. 1597, whose edition was reprinted by the brothers Volpi, 8vo. Patav. 1735
; and, along with Censorinus, by the two sons of Havercamp, Lug. Bat. 8vo. 1743
. They will be found attached to the Bipont Persius, 8vo. 1785
; to the Persius of Achaintre, 8vo. Paris, 1811
, and are included in the Corpus Poetarum Latinorum of M. Maittaire, fol. Lond. 1713, vol. ii. p. 1496
A number of the controverted points with regard to the life and writings of Lucilius have been investigated with great industry by Varges in his Specimen Quaestionum Lucilianarum,
published in the Rheinisches Museum
for 1835, p. 13. Consult also Bayle's Dictionary,
Fr. Wüllner, de Laevio Poeta,
8vo. Monast. 1830; and Van Heusde, Studia Critica in C. Lucilium,
8vo. Traj. ad Rhen. 1842.