The Romans came very soon in relation to Greek culture: the last Roman kings were Etruscans, people heavily influenced by Eastern and Greek culture, Sicily and southern Italy were soon colonized by the Greeks (south of Italy is called precisely Magna Grecia, “Great Greece” ); see
In their expansion in the Mediterranean and the East, finished the wars with the Carthaginians and occupied Sicily in the mid-third century BC, the Romans declare Greece Roman province in 197 BC. But in happy expression of Horace, Greece was conquered, but the Greek culture took possession of Rome:
Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium. (Book II, epistle 1, lines 156-157.)
Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio.
And that was so in effect: in general culture, literature, oratory, history, art, religion, customs, education …. everything was influenced and determined by the Greeks. The educated Romans were bilingual, all students of noble and resourceful family passed a stage of their training in Greece, Greeks were the teachers of Roman children, the first historians and analysts write on Greek about Rome but not on Latin , etc..
Cicero recognizes it well in his Tusculans Dispute, I, 1.3 when he says ….
In learning, indeed, and all kinds of literature, Greece did excel us, and it was easy to do
so where there was no competition ; for while among the Greeks the poets were the most ancient species of learned men since Homer and Hesiod lived before the foundation of Rome, and Archilochus 1 was a contemporary of Romulus we received poetry much later. For it was
about five hundred and ten years after the building of Rome before Living" published a play in the consulship of C. Claudius, the son of Caucus, and M. Tuditanus, a year before the birth of Ennius, who was older than Plautus and Naevius. ( Trans.by C. D. Yonge.)
Doctrina Graecia nos et omni litterarum genere superabat; in quo erat facile vincere non repugnantes. nam cum apud Graecos antiquissimum e doctis genus sit poëtarum, siquidem Homerus fuit et Hesiodus ante Romam conditam, Archilochus regnante Romulo, serius poëticam nos accepimus. annis fere CCCCCX post Romam conditam Livius fabulam dedit C. Claudio, Caeci filio, M. Tuditano cos. anno ante natum Ennium. qui fuit maior natu quam Plautus et Naevius.
Note: Rome was founded in 753 BC, Archilochus lived between 720 and 676 BC, Appius Claudius Caecus (the Blind) lived c. 340 BC – 273 BC, Ennius wrote the Annals and lived from 239 to 169 BC, Livius Andronicus came to Rome as a prisoner in 272 BC and translated the Odyssey into Latin. Plautus was born around the year 254 …. Naevius lived from 269 to 199…
That is, when Rome was founded in 753, Greek bards recite the Iliad and the Odyssey; all Greek classical authors have died when Rome is still in his childhood as a city.
But was all so simple and linear? Did Roman culture disappeared under Greek culture? Naturally, no. As so often in history, the native refuses to disappear and often remains on the substrate under innovative layer. Maintained Roman religion maintains its particular ritual character, the arts in general acquire a practical sense that they had not in Greece, science helps technique and especially the Roman law, based on common sense, maintains its vigor and energy. And custom and habits remain peculiarly Roman.
There is a contemporary French author, Pascal Quignard (1948), which has published an interesting and disturbing book "Sex and terror", an essay on Roman eroticism, the result of his studies of Pompeii, Herculaneum buried by Vesuvius and fascination by numerous archaeological erotic content. In his prologue summarizes the content and purpose of his work:
"When Augustus reorganized the Roman world in the form of the empire, jubilant eroticism, anthropomorphic and accurate eroticism of Greeks becomes frightened melancholy ".
Phallus word does not exist. The Romans called fascinus what the Greeks called phallos. In the human world, as in the animal kingdom, fascinate requires anyone who sees not look away. It is fixed in place, without will, in terror.
Why, for so many years, I have written this book? To address this mystery: the pleasure is that is puritanical.
The enjoyment starts the vision of that what desire had only begun to unravel.
Then in what he calls "Warning" tells us:
When the edges of the civilizations touch and overlap themselves , shocks occur. One of these earthquakes occurred in the West when the edge of Greek civilization touched the border of Roman civilization and system of rites, when the erotic anguish became fascinatio and when erotic laughter became sarcasm of ludibrium.
I try to understand something incomprehensible: transport of eroticism from Greek to imperial Rome. This mutation has not been thought until now because a reason unknown by me and because a fear that I understand. During the fifty-six year reign of Augustus, who overhauled the Roman world in the form of the empire, saw the metamorphosis of cheerful and accurate Greek eroticism in frightened melancholy. This mutation took just thirty years to impose (from -18 BC to AD 14 AD) and yet still dominates around us and our passions. Christianity was only a consequence of this metamorphosis taking up this eroticism so to speak in the way he had redrafted the Roman officials, that the principality of Octavius Augustus raised and the Empire during the four following centuries was taken to multiply in the obsequiousness.
Thus the Greek conception of the erotic not won in Rome; what prevailed and sought to maintain and restore was the former morality of Roman matrons. Luxury, refinement, uninhibited sexuality at the bottom were always frowned upon in Rome.
That morality and customs were reinforced by Christianity and prevailed in the West and we still do not have a certain joy of life that we cherish elsewhere, usually in the east.
Note: Regardless of the "horror" that Quignard can cause in some people, reading, highly suggestive, shows once again the importance and validity of the study of the classics in our time.