literature includes the essays, histories, poems, plays, and
other writings written in the
language. Beginning around the 3rd
century BC, it took two centuries to become a dominant literature of
ancient Rome, with many educated Romans still reading
and writing in Ancient Greek, as late as
literature was in many ways a continuation
of ancient Greek literature, using many of the same forms.
was the language of the ancient Romans, but it was also the
lingua franca of Western Europe throughout the Middle Ages, so Latin
literature includes not only Roman authors like Cicero, Vergil, Ovid
and Horace, but also includes European writers after the fall of the
Empire, from religious writers like
(1225–1274), to secular
(1561–1626), Baruch Spinoza
1.2 The Golden Age
1.2.1 The age of Cicero
1.2.2 The Augustan Age
1.3 The Imperial Period
Latin in the
Middle Ages and Renaissance
2 Characteristics of
2.1 Language and form
3 See also
4 References and sources
5 External links
Main article: Old Latin
Latin literature began in 240 BC, when a Roman audience saw a
Latin version of a Greek play. The adaptor was Livius Andronicus, a
Greek who had been brought to
Rome as a prisoner of war in 272 BC.
Andronicus also translated Homer's Greek epic the Odyssey into an old
Latin verse called Saturnian. The first
Latin poet to write on
a Roman theme was
Gnaeus Naevius during the 3rd century BC. He
composed an epic poem about the first Punic War, in which he had
fought. Naevius's dramas were mainly reworkings of Greek originals,
but he also created tragedies based on Roman myths and history.
Other epic poets followed Naevius.
Quintus Ennius wrote a historical
epic, the Annals (soon after 200 BC), describing Roman history from
the founding of
Rome to his own time. He adopted Greek dactylic
hexameter, which became the standard verse form for Roman epics. He
also became famous for his tragic dramas. In this field, his most
distinguished successors were
Marcus Pacuvius and Lucius Accius. These
three writers rarely used episodes from Roman history. Instead, they
Latin versions of tragic themes that the Greeks had already
handled. But even when they copied the Greeks, they did not translate
slavishly. Only fragments of their plays have survived.
Cato the Elder
Considerably more is known about early
Latin comedy, as 26 Early Latin
comedies are extant – 20 of which
Plautus wrote, and the remaining
six of which
Terence wrote. These men modeled their comedies on
Greek plays known as New Comedy. But they treated the plots and
wording of the originals freely.
Plautus scattered songs through his
plays and increased the humor with puns and wisecracks, plus comic
actions by the actors. Terence's plays were more polite in tone,
dealing with domestic situations. His works provided the chief
inspiration for French and English comedies of the 17th century AD,
and even for modern American comedy.
The prose of the period is best known through On Agriculture (160 BC)
by Cato the Elder. Cato also wrote the first
Latin history of
of other Italian cities. He was the first Roman statesman to put
his political speeches in writing as a means of influencing public
Latin literature ended with Gaius Lucilius, who created a new
kind of poetry in his 30 books of Satires (2nd century BC). He wrote
in an easy, conversational tone about books, food, friends, and
The Golden Age
Main article: Classical Latin
Traditionally, the height of
Latin literature has been assigned to the
period from 81 BC to AD 17, although recent scholarship has questioned
the assumptions that privileged the works of this period over both
earlier and later works. This period is usually said to have begun
with the first known speech of
Cicero and ended with the death of
The age of Cicero
Cicero has traditionally been considered the master of Latin
prose. The writing he produced from about 80 BC until his death
in 43 BC exceeds that of any
Latin author whose work survives in terms
of quantity and variety of genre and subject matter, as well as
possessing unsurpassed stylistic excellence. Cicero's many works can
be divided into four groups: (1) letters, (2) rhetorical treatises,
(3) philosophical works, and (4) orations. His letters provide
detailed information about an important period in Roman history and
offer a vivid picture of the public and private life among the Roman
governing class. Cicero's works on oratory are our most valuable Latin
sources for ancient theories on education and rhetoric. His
philosophical works were the basis of moral philosophy during the
Middle Ages. His speeches inspired many European political leaders and
the founders of the United States.
Julius Caesar and
Sallust were outstanding historical writers of
Cicero's time. Caesar wrote commentaries on the Gallic and civil wars
in a straightforward style to justify his actions as a general.
Sallust adopted an abrupt, pointed style in his historical works. He
wrote brilliant descriptions of people and their motives.
The birth of lyric poetry in
Latin occurred during the same period.
The short love lyrics of
Catullus are noted for their emotional
Catullus also wrote poems that attacked his enemies. In his
longer poems, he suggested images in rich, delicate language.
One of the most learned writers of the period was Marcus Terentius
Varro. Called "the most learned of the Romans" by Quintillian, he
wrote about a remarkable variety of subjects, from religion to poetry.
But only his writings on agriculture and the
Latin language are extant
in their complete form.
The Augustan Age
Main article: Augustan literature (ancient Rome)
Augustus took a personal interest in the literary works
produced during his years of power from 27 BC to AD 14. This period is
sometimes called the Augustan Age of
Latin Literature. Virgil
published his pastoral Eclogues, the Georgics, and the Aeneid, an epic
poem describing the events that led to the creation of Rome. Virgil
told how the Trojan hero Aeneas became the ancestor of the Roman
Virgil also provided divine justification for Roman rule over
the world. Although
Virgil died before he could put the finishing
touches on his poem, it was soon recognized as the greatest work of
Horace wrote Epodes, Odes, Satires, and Epistles. The
perfection of the Odes in content, form, and style has charmed readers
for hundreds of years. The Satires and Epistles discuss ethical and
literary problems in an urbane, witty manner. Horace's Art of Poetry,
probably published as a separate work, greatly influenced later poetic
theories. It stated the basic rules of classical writing as the Romans
understood and used them. After
Horace was Rome's leading
Latin elegy reached its highest development in the works of
Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid. Most of this poetry is concerned with
Ovid also wrote the Fasti, which describes Roman festivals and
their legendary origins. Ovid's greatest work, the Metamorphoses
weaves various myths into a fast-paced, fascinating story.
Ovid was a
witty writer who excelled in creating lively and passionate
characters. The Metamorphoses was the best-known source of Roman
mythology throughout the
Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It inspired
many poets, painters, and composers.
Livy produced a history of the Roman people in 142 books.
Only 35 survived, but they are a major source of information on
The Imperial Period
From the death of
Augustus in AD 14 until about 200, Roman authors
emphasized style and tried new and startling ways of expression.
During the reign of
Nero from 54 to 68, the Stoic philosopher Seneca
wrote a number of dialogues and letters on such moral themes as mercy
and generosity. In his Natural Questions, Seneca analyzed earthquakes,
floods, and storms. Seneca's tragedies greatly influenced the growth
of tragic drama in Europe. His nephew
Lucan wrote the Pharsalia (about
60), an epic poem describing the civil war between Caesar and Pompey.
The Satyricon (about 60) by
Petronius was the first
Only fragments of the complete work survive. It describes the
adventures of various low-class characters in absurd, extravagant, and
dangerous situations, often in the world of petty crime.
Epic poems included the Argonautica of Gaius Valerius Flaccus, the
Thebaid of Statius, and the Punica of Silius Italicus. At the hands of
Martial, the epigram achieved the stinging quality still associated
Juvenal brilliantly satirized vice.
Tacitus painted an unforgettably dark picture of the
early empire in his Histories and Annals, both written in the early
2nd century. His contemporary
Suetonius wrote biographies of the 12
Roman rulers from
Julius Caesar through Domitian. The letters of Pliny
the Younger described Roman life of the period.
the most complete work on ancient education that we possess. Important
works from the 2nd century include the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius,
a collection of anecdotes and reports of literary discussions among
his friends; and the letters of the orator
Marcus Cornelius Fronto to
Marcus Aurelius. The most famous work of the period was Metamorphoses,
also called The Golden Ass, by Apuleius. This novel concerns a young
man who is accidentally changed into a donkey. The story is filled
with colorful tales of love and witchcraft.
Latin in the
Middle Ages and Renaissance
Latin literature showed a final burst of vitality in the late
3rd century through 5th centuries.
Ammianus Marcellinus in history,
Quintus Aurelius Symmachus
Quintus Aurelius Symmachus in oratory, and
Ausonius and Rutilius
Claudius Namatianus in poetry all wrote with great talent. The Mosella
Ausonius demonstrated a modernism of feeling that indicates the end
of classical literature as such.
At the same time, other men laid the foundations of Christian Latin
literature during the 4th century and 5th century. They included the
church fathers Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, and Ambrose, and the first
great Christian poet, Prudentius.
During the Renaissance there was a return to the
Latin of Classical
times, called for this reason Neo-Latin. This purified language
continued to be used as the lingua franca among the learned throughout
Europe, with the great works of Descartes, Francis Bacon, and Baruch
Spinoza all being composed in Latin. Among the last important books
written primarily in
Latin prose were the works of Swedenborg (d.
1772), Linnaeus (d. 1778), Euler (d. 1783), Gauss (d. 1855), and Isaac
Newton (d. 1727), and
Latin remains a necessary skill for modern
readers of great early modern works of linguistics, literature, and
Several of the leading English poets wrote in
Latin as well as
Milton's 1645 Poems
Milton's 1645 Poems are one example, but there were also
George Herbert and Milton's colleague Andrew Marvell.
Some indeed wrote chiefly in
Latin and were valued for the elegance
and Classicism of their style. Examples of these were Anthony Alsop
and Vincent Bourne, who were noted for the ingenious way that they
adapted their verse to describing details of life in the 18th century
while never departing from the purity of
Latin diction. One of the
last to be noted for the quality of his
Latin verse well into the 19th
century was Walter Savage Landor.
Latin writing reflects the Romans' interest in rhetoric, the art
of speaking and persuading. Public speaking had great importance for
educated Romans because most of them wanted successful political
Rome was a republic, effective speaking often determined
who would be elected or what bills would pass. After
Rome became an
empire, the ability to impress and persuade people by the spoken word
lost much of its importance. But training in rhetoric continued to
flourish and to affect styles of writing. A large part of rhetoric
consists of the ability to present a familiar idea in a striking new
manner that attracts attention.
Latin authors became masters of this
art of variety.
Language and form
Latin is a highly inflected language, with many grammatical forms for
various words. As a result, it can be used with a pithiness and
brevity unknown in English. It also lends itself to elaboration,
because its tight syntax holds even the longest and most complex
sentence together as a logical unit.
Latin can be used with striking
conciseness, as in the works of
Sallust and Tacitus. Or it can have
wide, sweeping phrases, as in the works of
Livy and the speeches of
Latin lacks the rich poetic vocabulary that marks the Greek poetry.
Latin poets tried to make up for this deficiency by
creating new compound words, as the Greeks had done. But Roman writers
seldom invented words. Except in epic poetry, they tended to use a
familiar vocabulary, giving it poetic value by imaginative
combinations of words and by rich sound effects. Rome's leading poets
had great technical skill in the choice and arrangement of language.
They also had an intimate knowledge of the Greek poets, whose themes
appear in almost all Roman literature.
Latin moves with impressive dignity in the writings of Ovid, Cicero,
or Virgil. It reflects the seriousness and sense of responsibility
that characterized the ruling class of
Rome during the great years of
the republic. But the Romans could also relax and allow what Horace
called the "Italian vinegar" in their systems to pour forth in wit and
Ancient Rome portal
References and sources
^ Duckworth, George Eckel. The nature of Roman comedy: a study in
popular entertainment. University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. p. 3. Web.
15 October 2011.
^ Shipley, Joseph Twadell. Dictionary of world literature: criticism,
forms, technique. Taylor & Francis, 1964. p. 109. Web. 15 October
^ Mehl, Andreas. Roman Historiography. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. p 52.
Web. 18 October 2011.
^ Hinds, Stephen (1998). Allusion and Intertext. Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge. pp. 52–98. ISBN 0521571863.
^ Eliot, Charles W. Letters of Marcus Tullius
Cicero and Letters of
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus: Part 9 Harvard Classics. Kessinger
Publishing, 2004. p. 3. Web. 15 October 2011.
^ Nettleship, Henry; Haverfield, F. Lectures and Essays: Second
Series. Cambridge University Press, 2010. p. 105. Web. 18 October
^ Institutio Oratoria by Quintillian
^ Morton Braund, Susanna.
Latin literature. Routledge, 2002. p. 1.
Web. 15 October 2011.
^ Colish, Marcía L. The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early
Middle Ages: Stoicism in classical
Latin literature. BRILL, 1990. p.
226. Web. 18 October 2011.
^ Britannica Educational Publishing. Poetry and Drama: Literary Terms
and Concepts. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2011. p. 39. Web. 18 October
^ Cary, Max; Haarhoff, Theodore Johannes. Life and thought in the
Greek and Roman world. Taylor & Francis, 1985. p. 268. Web. 15
^ Grube, George Maximilian Antony. The Greek and Roman critics.
Hackett Publishing, 1965. p. 261. Web. 15 October 2011.
^ D.K.Money, "The
Latin Poetry of English Gentlemen", in Neo-Latin
Poetry in the British Isles, London 2012, pp.125ff
^ Poems online
Elaine Fantham, Ph.D., Giger Professor of
Latin Emerita, Department of
Classics, Princeton University.
Fantham, Elaine. "
Latin literature." World Book Advanced. World Book,
2011. Web. 18 October 2011.
Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum.
Corpus Grammaticorum Latinorum: complete texts and full bibliography.
Catalogus Translationum et Commentariorum
Ages of Latin
until 75 BC
75 BC – 200 AD
History of Latin
Latino sine flexione
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
Ancient Rome topics
historiography of the fall
Tribune of the Plebs
Frontiers and fortifications
Decorations and punishments
Conflict of the Orders
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Younger
Quintus Curtius Rufus
Seneca the Elder
Seneca the Younger
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Eusebius of Caesaria
Phlegon of Tralles
Lists and other
Cities and towns
Wars and battles
Old English (Anglo-Saxon)
Scottish (Scots, Scottish Gaelic)
Welsh in Welsh / in English