Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

Latin — i-i (for-is). In the Umbrian, R and H are of much more frequent occurrence, than in Latin. R is used not only in the conjugation and declension of the verb, as in Lai in, but also in the declensions of nouns, in different cases; while in Latiii, except in nouns whose root ends in R, it is found only in the genitive plural. L and B the Umbrians did not like, never using 1 at the beginning of a word or b at the end. Terminations also in the Umbrian were greatly mutilated or destroyed.

The Umbrians occupied, in ancient times, the northern half of Italy, from the Tiber to the Po; and spread in their course along the Apennines southerly. The Latin race extended along the western coast of Italy, in the same direction. They covered, early, the ground from the Tiber to the Volscian mountains; and, from the names of places already existing there, they seem to have occupied Campania, before the Sainnite or Hellenic irruption into it. Latium proper occupied but a small district, between the Tiber, the Apennines, Mount Alba and the sea, and was situated on a broad plain, as the name itself (latus) seems to indicate. This plain is surrounded by mountains, on every side, except where it is bounded by the Tiber and the sea. It is level, on an extended view, but, when surveyed in detail, it is found to be broken up into many unevennesses, filled with innumerable little pools, which, from want of a sufficient watershed for drainage, breed in summer, now, as in ages past, a fatal malaria, which overhangs its plains for months together, breeding disease and death. And yet, on this narrow plain, with the sea on one side and the mountains on the other — such surroundings as environed also the Grecian mind —was to be developed a race, which should conquer the world by arms, as the Hellenes had by arts; and, long after it had lost its civil power, should yet hold, in its iron grasp, the souls of men over all the earth: a race that, in one form or another, was destined to leave its impress on every people and every individual, every hamlet, and every institution, in the civil

1 Dominas, gen. domini was archaically domino-s, gen. domino-is, dut. domiized world. In this narrow space, as their native home, the Roman eagles nestled and grew to greatness, for almost a thousand years; and when those eagles ceased to appear, in all the earth, there came forth, in their stead, from that same breeding-place of wonders, where it still lives and riots in its work of ruin, a scarlet-colored beast, having seven heads and ten horns, bearing a woman drunk with the blood of saints, and trampling upon the necks of prostrate kings and princes.

The climate of Latium is fitted to arouse the physical energies and to develop an active, busy, restless style of life. It traverses a wide range of temperature, throughout the year, and frequently in either direction, through every point in the scale, from the highest to the lowest degree, as in our North American atmosphere, in a few hours. In the true season for out-door life, everything around and above seems bright and exhilarating. Ethnology and philology thus maintain, in all countries, the closest possible connections with climatology. Indeed, as on the bosom of a quiet summer stream, all the trees and herbage of the bank are seen mirrored, in clear corresponding perspective, so, in the poetry, and not in this only, but also in the very history, character, and language of each people, the skies and seas, the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the mists and shades, the lights and heats and airs, of surrounding nature, are reflected. Man is deeply and tenderly receptive of her influence. And at the basis of all just interpretations of different national developments, viewed as historical problems, lies, rightly understood, a true, philosophic, divinely ordained, materialism. It is, in other words, amid different types of nature, that God casts, as in a mould, the different mental types of mankind.

Rome itself was situated on the Tiber, chiefly on its eastern bank. Down to the times of the emperor Aurelian, it was built on seven hills, and, from his time to the present, it has extended over ten. It was, like the other great cities of ancient times, built, for the sake of safety from invasion by water, at a little distance from the sea. To the Romans the world is indebted, beyond any other nation, for the principies of law and order, and for the whole frame-work of organized social life. The Roman mind as instinctively tended towards mechanism in every thing, as a salt, under appropriate chemical influences, does to crystallization. The syntactical structure, accordingly, of the Latin, is as sharp, definite, and uniform, in its angles, as the laws of crystallogeny themselves would demand a given crystal always to be. The language itself is of a harder material than the Greek. Its characteristics are gravity, solidity, and energy, while those of the Greek are a wonderful vitality, elasticity, individuality, and permanency. The Latin, by the greater contact of its people with other men, as they penetrated with their victories and their laws among them, while giving out everywhere its own light and heat to all parts of the conquered world, received in return an impress, which was never left upon the more mobile Greek, from the other languages whose tides of influence it encountered.

The Latin language, as we have it, is far more unaltered and ancient in its features, than the classic or Hellenic Greek. And yet it must not be forgotten, that, while the ultimate roots remained the same, the forms themselves of the original words1 were so altered, in the Augustan age, that is, the classic or golden age of Roman literature, as to require, for the right comprehension even of the scholars of that day, special helps and explanations. The oldest specimens of Latin literature that we have, do not date further back than two hundred years before Christ. And in the 6th century after Christ, the Latin became extinct, as the vernacular of the people of Italy. Even English, as it was three hundred years ago, or in the times of Shakspeare, two hundred and fifty years ago, is very much of it unintel

1 It will interest the classical reader to sec a specimen or two of old Latin.

(1) From the laws of Numa (700 B. C): Sci qui hemonem loebesum dolo sciens mortei duit, pariceidas estod. This in classical Latin becomes: Si qnis homincm liberum dolo sciens morti dedcrit, parricida esto.

(2) A Tribunitian law (493 B. C.): Sci qui aliuta faxit, ipsos Jovei sacer cstod, et sei qui im, quei co plebci scito sacer siet. ocisit, pariceidas ne cstod. That is: Si quis aliter fecerit, ipse Jovi sacer esto; et si quis eum qui eo plebis scito sacer sit, occiderit, parricida ne sit.

ligible, without a glossary; and this, with all the power of types and of the press, to hold fast the hrea m-epoema of modern speech. The Latin was brought under the power of grammatical and critical culture, at a much later period than the Greek. In the progress of its development, it absorbed, in the south of Italy, some Greek idioms, and in the north, some Celtic, resolving them into the elements of its own greater enlargement. The triumph of the Roman arms was followed, always, with the march of the Roman language, literature, ideas, and institutions. Like a stream of lava, the flood of living influences pressed with irresistible force, sweeping everything before it, into France and Spain, and even into the fastnesses of Germany, and as far as to the distant shores of England and Scandinavia on the north, and the wilds of Sarmatia on the east, dissolving everything in its way, or, at least, leaving the signs of its Jiery force, on the crisped and altered forms of things, wherever it went. And yet the receptive, susceptible, or passive side of Roman development was almost as remarkable, as its aggressive. The hard and stern elements of its character and language were slow to receive impressions from without, but they were also equally slow, when having received, to relinquish them. The Latin accordingly degenerated, at an early period, in the provinces, from its pure form, and erelong settled down everywhere, even as the language of the learned, in matters of state, science, and the church, into what is called the Middle Latin. This degenerate form of the Latin never became popularized, on the one hand, nor was it ever wrought into artistic shape, on the other, by scholars, but remained a heterogeneous compound of Roman, German, Celtic and Byzantine-Greek elements. In schools and especially in cloisters, classical Latin was still cherished, as a dear favorite of the past, whose voice seemed to them like that of a sweet bird, flying down through the ages and singing as it flew. It found, like the sparrow, a nest for itself among the altars of God's house.

But when, from the chaos of the Middle Ages, the upheaval of Modern Society began, and the present nations of Europe exhibited, in growing outline, the general proportions, which they have since so distinctively assumed, the different Romanic languages, under the combined action of various local influences with the ever-present influence of Rome, came to be severally enucleated. These afterwards grew up under the same influences, in which they germinated, into separate, well-defined forms, each beautiful in its kind, to cover with their different degrees of upward and outward expansion, as with a friendly shadow, the ruined greatness of their parent Latin stock, when it fell, to lie forever prostrate, under the hand of Time. Each of the three Romanic languages, the Italian, French, and Spanish, presents a different resemblance to its mother language, according to the quantity and quality of the alloy with which the Latin element in each is mingled. Each of them has specially preserved some separate cardinal characteristic, of the old native stock, which it has kept with jealous care, as a precious proof of its original parentage. The Italian has still in possession, its fulness of form and sweetness of tone; the Spanish has appropriated to itself its majesty and dignity, while the French best exhibits its elements of vivacity, and its practical business qualities, and therefore, like it, abounds in abbreviations and contractions, and is full of martial fire and energy. Each of these different languages has its different spoken dialects, although only the standard one in each ever shows its front, in the sacred precincts of literature.

(1.) As for the Italian, nine-tenths of all its words are Latin. Of the Greek words, which constitute a considerable portion of its remaining vocabulary, most have doubtless come into it through the Latin. In the Sicilian and Sardinian dialects, where words of this nature most abound, it would seem probable, that many of them must be the remains of that early contact with Greece, that grew out of their original colonial relations to that land.

The Italian, since the second half of the 12th century, when it first became enthroned in a literature of its own, has changed but little, far less indeed than any of its sister-languages. And yet the Lombard, the Genoese, the Florentine,

« AnteriorContinuar »