14. The golden bracelet of Praeneste recently brought to light (Mitth. der rom. Inst. 1887), far the oldest of the intelligible monuments of the Latin language and Latin writing, shows the older form of the -"id:m"; the enigmatic clay vase from the Quirinal (published by Dressel in the Annali dell Instituto, 1880) shows the older form of the -"id:r".

15. At this period we shall have to place that recorded form of the Twelve Tables, which subsequently lay before the Roman philologues, and of which we possess fragments. Beyond doubt the code was at its very origin committed to writing; but that those scholars themselves referred their text not to the original exemplar, but to an official document written down after the Gallic conflagration, is proved by the story of the Tables having undergone reproduction at that time. This enables us easily to explain how their text by no means exhibited the oldest orthography, which was not unknown to them ; even apart from the consideration that in the case of such a written document, employed, moreover, for the purpose of being committed to memory by the young, a philologically exact transmission cannot possibly be assumed.

16. This is the inscription of the bracelet of Praeneste which has been mentioned at xiv, note 14. On the other hand even on the Ficoroni cista -"id:C" has the later form of -"id:K".

17. Thus -"id:C" represents -Gaius-; -"id:CN" -Gnaeus-; while -"id:K" stands for -Kaeso-. With the more recent abbreviations of course this is not the case; in these -"id:gamma" is represented not by -"id:C", but by -"id:G" (-GAL- -Galeria-), --"id:kappa", as a rule, by -"id:C" (-C- -centum- -COS- -consul; -COL -Collina-), or before -"id:a" by -"id:K" (-KAR- -karmetalia-; -MERK- -merkatus-). For they expressed for a time the sound --k before the vowels -e -i -o and before all consonants by -"id:C", before -a on the other hand by -"id:K", before -u by the old sign of the koppa -"id:Q".

18. If this view is correct, the origin of the Homeric poems (though of course not exactly that of the redaction in which we now have them) must have been far anterior to the age which Herodotus assigns for the flourishing of Homer (100 before Rome); for the introduction of the Hellenic alphabet into Italy, as well as the beginning of intercourse at all between Hellas and Italy, belongs only to the post-Homeric period.

19. Just as the old Saxon -writan- signifies properly to tear, thence to write.

20. The enigma as to how the Latins came to employ the Greek sign corresponding to -v for the -f quite different in sound, has been solved by the bracelet of Praeneste (xiv. Developments Of Alphabets In Italy, note) with its -fhefhaked- for -fecit-, and thereby at the same time the derivation of the Latin alphabet from the Chalcidian colonies of Lower Italy has been confirmed. For in a Boeotian inscription belonging to the same alphabet we find in the word -fhekadamoe-(Gustav Meyer, Griech. Grammatik, sec. 244, ap. fin.) the same combination of sound, and an aspirated v might certainly approximate in sound to the Latin -f.

20. -Ratio Tuscanica,: cavum aedium Tuscanicum.-

21. When Varro (ap. Augustin. De Civ. Dei, iv. 31; comp. Plutarch Num. 8) affirms that the Romans for more than one hundred and seventy years worshipped the gods without images, he is evidently thinking of this primitive piece of carving, which, according to the conventional chronology, was dedicated between 176 and 219, and, beyond doubt, was the first statue of the gods, the consecration of which was mentioned in the authorities which Varro had before him. Comp, above, XIV. Development Of Alphabets In Italy.

22. I. XIII. Handicrafts

23. I. XII. Nature Of The Roman Gods

24. I. XII. Pontifices

Chapter XV


Artistic Endowment Of The Italians

Poetry is impassioned language, and its modulation is melody. While in this sense no people is without poetry and music, some nations have received a pre-eminent endowment of poetic gifts. The Italian nation, however, was not and is not one of these. The Italian is deficient in the passion of the heart, in the longing to idealize what is human and to confer humanity on what is lifeless, which form the very essence of poetic art. His acuteness of perception and his graceful versatility enabled him to excel in irony and in the vein of tale-telling which we find in Horace and Boccaccio, in the humorous pleasantries of love and song which are presented in Catullus and in the good popular songs of Naples, above all in the lower comedy and in farce. Italian soil gave birth in ancient times to burlesque tragedy, and in modern times to mock-heroic poetry. In rhetoric and histrionic art especially no other nation equalled or equals the Italians. But in the more perfect kinds of art they have hardly advanced beyond dexterity of execution, and no epoch of their literature has produced a true epos or a genuine drama. The very highest literary works that have been successfully produced in Italy, divine poems like Dante's Commedia, and historical treatises such as those of Sallust and Macchiavelli, of Tacitus and Colletta, are pervaded by a passion more rhetorical than spontaneous. Even in music, both in ancient and modern times, really creative talent has been far less conspicuous than the accomplishment which speedily assumes the character of virtuosoship, and enthrones in the room of genuine and genial art a hollow and heart-withering idol. The field of the inward in art--so far as we may in the case of art distinguish an inward and an outward at all--is not that which has fallen to the Italian as his special province; the power of beauty, to have its full effect upon him, must be placed not ideally before his mind, but sensuously before his eyes. Accordingly he is thoroughly at home in architecture, painting, and sculpture; in these he was during the epoch of ancient culture the best disciple of the Hellenes, and in modern times he has become the master of all nations.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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