The Literature Of Ancient Rome produced many works of poetry, comedy, tragedy, satire, history, and rhetoric, drawing heavily on the traditions of other cultures and particularly on the more matured literary tradition of Greece.
Latin literature, the body of written works in the Latin language, remains an enduring legacy of the culture of ancient Rome.
Long after the Western Roman Empire had fallen, the Latin language continued to play a central role in western European civilization.
Latin literature is conventionally divided into distinct periods.
Few works remain of Early and Old Latin; among these few surviving works, however, are the plays of Plautus and Terence, which have remained very popular in all eras down to the present, while many other Latin works, including many by the most prominent authors of the Classical period, have disappeared, sometimes being re-discovered after centuries, sometimes not.
The period of Classical Latin, when Latin literature is widely considered to have reached its peak, is divided into the Golden Age, which covers approximately the period from the start of the 1st century BC up to the mid-1st century AD, and the Silver Age, which extends into the 2nd century AD.
Literature written after the mid-2nd century has often been disparaged and ignored; in the Renaissance, for example, when many Classical authors were re-discovered and their style consciously imitated. Above all, Cicero was imitated, and his style praised as the perfect pinnacle of Latin.
Medieval Latin was often dismissed as "Dog-Latin"; however, in fact, many great works of Latin literature were produced throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, although they are no longer as widely known as the ancient Romans.
For most of the Medieval era, Latin was the dominant written language in use in western Europe. After the Roman Empire split into its Western and Eastern halves, Greek, which had been widely used all over the Empire, faded from use in the West, all the more so as the political and religious distance steadily grew between the Catholic West and the Orthodox, Greek East.
The vernacular languages in the West, the languages of modern-day western Europe, developed for centuries as spoken languages only: most people did not write, and it seems that it very seldom occurred to those who wrote to write in any language other than Latin, even when they spoke French or Italian or English or another vernacular in their daily life. Very gradually, in the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, it became more and more common to write in the Western vernaculars.
It was probably only after the invention of printing, which made books and pamphlets cheap enough that a mass public could afford them, and which made possible modern phenomena such as the newspaper, that a large number of people in the West could read and write who were not fluent in Latin.
Still, many people continued to write in Latin, although they were mostly from the upper classes and/or professional academics. As late as the 17th century, there was still a large audience for Latin poetry and drama; no-one found it strange, for example, that, besides his works in English, Milton wrote many poems in Latin, or that Francis Bacon or Baruch Spinoza wrote mostly in Latin. The use of Latin as a lingua franca continued in smaller European lands until the 19th century.
Although the number of works of fiction and poetry, history and philosophy written in Latin has continued to dwindle, the Latin language is still not dead. Well into the nineteenth century, some knowledge of Latin was required for admission into many universities, and theses and dissertations written for graduate degrees were often required to be written in Latin.
Treatises in chemistry and biology and other natural sciences were often written in Latin as late as the early 20th century. Up to the present day, the editors of Latin and Greek texts in such series as the Oxford Classical Texts, the Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana and some others still write the introductions to their editions in polished and vital Latin.
Early Latin literature
Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254-184 BCE), commonly known as Plautus, was a Roman playwright. His comedies are among the earliest surviving intact works in Latin literature. He is also one of the earliest pioneers of musical theater. The word Plautine is used to refer to Plautus's works or works similar to or influenced by his.
Publius Terentius Afer, better known as Terence, was a playwright of the Roman Republic. His comedies were performed for the first time ca. 170-160 BC, and he died young probably in 159 BC, in Greece or on his way back to Rome. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on, impressed by his abilities, freed him. All of the six plays Terence wrote have survived (by comparison, his predecessor Plautus wrote twenty-one extant plays).
Marcus Porcius Cato (234 BC, Tusculum - 149 BC) was a Roman statesman, surnamed the Censor (Censorius), Sapiens, Priscus, or the Elder (Major), to distinguish him from Cato the Younger (his great-grandson). He came of an ancient Plebeian family who all were noted for some military service but not for the discharge of the higher civil offices. He was bred, after the manner of his Latin forefathers, to agriculture, to which he devoted himself when not engaged in military service. But, having attracted the notice of Lucius Valerius Flaccus, he was brought to Rome, and successively held the offices of Cursus Honorum: Tribune (214 BC), Quaestor (204 BC), Aedile (199 BC), Praetor (198 BC), Consul (195 BC) together with his old patron, and finally Censor (184 BC).
Titus Lucretius Carus (ca. 99 BC- ca. 55 BC) was a Roman poet and philosopher. His only known work is the epic philosophical poem on Epicureanism De Rerum Natura, On the Nature of Things.
Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca. 84 BC - ca. 54 BC) was a Roman poet of the 1st century BC. His work remains widely studied, and continues to influence poetry and other art.
Publius Vergilius Maro (October 15, 70 BCE - September 21, 19 BCE), later called Virgilius, and known in English as Virgil or Vergil, was a classical Roman poet. He was the author of epics in three modes: the Bucolics (or Eclogues), the Georgics and the substantially completed Aeneid, the last being an epic poem in the heroic mode, which comprised twelve books (as opposed to 24 in each of the epic poems by Homer) and became the Roman Empire's national epic.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, (December 8, 65 BC - November 27, 8 BC), known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.
Publius Ovidius Naso (March 20, 43 BC - 17 AD) was a Roman poet known to the English-speaking world as Ovid who wrote on many topics, including love, abandoned women and mythological transformations. Ranked alongside Virgil and Horace as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature, Ovid was generally considered a great master of the elegiac couplet. His poetry, much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, had a decisive influence on European art and literature for centuries. Ovid made use of a wide range of meters: elegiac couplets in the Amores and in his two long didactic poems, the Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris; the two fragments of the lost tragedy Medea are in iambic trimeter and anapests, respectively; the Metamorphoses was written in dactylic hexameter. (Dactylic hexameter is the meter of Virgil's Aeneid and of Homer's epics.)
Albius Tibullus (ca. 54-19 BC) was a Latin poet and writer of elegies. Little is known about his life. His first and second books of poetry are extant; many other texts attributed to Tibullus are of questionable origins. There are only a few references to him in later writers and a short Life of doubtful authority. His praenomen is not known, nor is his birthplace and his gentile name has been questioned. His status was probably that of a Roman knight (so the Life affirms); and he had inherited a considerable estate. But, like Virgil, Horace and Propertius, he seems to have lost most of it in 41 amongst the confiscations of Mark Antony and Octavian.
Sextus Aurelius Propertius was a Latin elegiac poet born sometime around about 50-45 BCE in Mevania (althought other cities in the region of Umbria claim this dignity - Hespillus, Ameria, Perusia and Assisium), and died a short time after 15 BCE. His surviving work consists of four books of Elegies. He was friends with the poets Mecaenas, Gallus, and Virgin, and had with them Augustus as his patron.
Caesar was considered during his lifetime to be one of the best orators and authors of prose in Rome even Cicero spoke highly of Caesar's rhetoric and style. Among his most famous works were his funeral oration for his paternal aunt Julia and his Anticato, a document written to blacken Cato's reputation and respond to Cicero's Cato memorial. Unfortunately, the majority of his works and speeches have been lost to history. Memoirs
Commentarii de Bello Gallico, an account written by Julius Caesar about his nine years of war in Gaul.The Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War), campaigns in Gallia and Britannia during his term as proconsul; and
The Commentarii de Bello Civili (Commentaries on the Civil War), events of the Civil War until immediately after Pompey's death in Egypt.
Other works historically attributed to Caesar, but whose authorship is doubted, are:
De Bello Alexandrino (On the Alexandrine War), campaign in Alexandria;
De Bello Africo (On the African War), campaigns in North Africa; and
De Bello Hispaniensi (On the Hispanic War), campaigns in the Iberian peninsula.
These narratives, apparently simple and direct in style to the point that Caesar's Commentarii are commonly studied by first and second year Latin students are highly sophisticated advertisements for his political agenda, most particularly for the middle-brow readership of minor aristocrats in Rome, Italy, and the provinces.
Cicero was declared a righteous pagan by the early Catholic Church, and therefore many of his works were deemed worthy of preservation. Saint Augustine and others quoted liberally from his works On The Republic and On The Laws, and it is due to this that we are able to recreate much of the work from the surviving fragments. Cicero also articulated an early, abstract conceptualisation of rights, based on ancient law and custom.
Marcus Terentius Varro (116 BC - 27 BC), also known as Varro Reatinus to distinguish him from his contemporary Varro Atacinus, was a Roman scholar and writer. Varro's literary output was very large; Ritschl estimated it at 74 works in some 620 books, of which only one work survives complete, although we possess many fragments of the others, mostly in Gellius' and Sellius' Noctes Atticae.
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (born c. 80-70 BC, died after c. 15 BC) was a Roman writer, architect and engineer (possibly praefectus fabrum during military service or praefect architectus armamentarius of the apparitor status group), active in the 1st century BC. By his own description Vitruvius served as a Ballista (artilleryman), the third class of arms in the military offices. He likely served as chief of the ballista (senior officer of artillery) in charge of doctores ballistarum (artillery experts) and libratores who actually operated the machines.
Cornelius Nepos (c. 100-24 BC) was a Roman biographer. Supposedly he was born at Hostilia, a village in Cisalpine Gaul not far from Verona. His Gallic origin is attested by Ausonius, and Pliny the Elder calls him Padi accola ('a dweller on the River Po, Natural History III.22). He was a friend of Catullus, who dedicates his poems to him (I.3), Cicero and Titus Pomponius Atticus. Eusebius places him in the fourth year of the reign of Augustus, which is supposed to be when he began to attract critical acclaim by his writing. Pliny the Elder notes he died in the reign of Augustus (Natural History IX.39, X.23).
Gaius Sallustius Crispus, generally known simply as Sallust, (86-34 BC), a Roman historian, belonged to a well-known plebeian family, and was born at Amiternum in the country of the Sabines.
Titus Livius (traditionally 59 BC - AD 17), known as Livy in English, was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome, Ab Urbe Condita, from its founding (traditionally dated to 753 BC) through the reign of Augustus in Livy's own time.
Marcus Annaeus Lucanus (November 3, 39 AD - April 30, 65 AD), better known in English as Lucan, was a Roman poet, born in Corduba (modern-day Córdoba), in the Hispania Baetica. Despite his short life, he is regarded as one of the outstanding figures of the Silver Latin period. His youth and speed of composition set him apart from other poets.
Marcus Valerius Martialis, known in English as Martial, was a Latin poet from Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published in Rome between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. In these short, witty poems he cheerfully satirises city life and the scandalous activities of his acquaintances, and romanticises his provincial upbringing. He wrote a total of 1,561, of which 1,235 are in elegiac couplets. He is considered the creator of the modern epigram.
Publius Papinius Statius (ca. 45-96) was a Roman poet of the Silver Age of Latin literature, born in Naples, Italy. Besides his poetry, he is best known for his appearance as a major character in the Purgatory section of Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy.
Petronius (ca. 27-66) was a Roman writer of the Neronian age; he was a noted satirist. He is identified with Gaius Petronius Arbiter, but the manuscript text of the Satyricon calls him Titus Petronius.
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Pliny the Elder
Gaius or Caius Plinius Secundus, (AD 23 - August 24, AD 79), better known as Pliny the Elder, was an ancient author, naturalist or natural philosopher and naval and military commander of some importance who wrote Naturalis Historia. He is known for his saying "True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read".
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (ca. 35 - ca. 100) was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing. In English translation, he is usually referred to as Quintilian, although the alternate spellings of Quintillian and Quinctilian are occasionally seen, the latter in older texts.
Pliny the Younger
Gaius or Caius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius or Caius Plinius Caecilius (61/63 - ca. 113), better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, a remarkable writer, an author and a natural philosopher of Ancient Rome.
Aulus Gellius (ca. 125 - after 180), Latin author and grammarian, possibly of African origin, probably born and certainly brought up at Rome. He studied grammar and rhetoric at Rome and philosophy at Athens, after which he returned to Rome, where he held a judicial office. His teachers and friends included many distinguished men, Sulpicius Apollinaris, Herodes Atticus and Fronto. His only work, the Attic Nights (in Latin: Noctes Atticae), takes its name from having been begun during the long nights of a winter which he spent in Attica. He afterwards continued it at Rome. It is compiled out of an Adversaria, or commonplace book, in which he had jotted down everything of unusual interest that he heard in conversation or read in books, and it comprises notes on grammar, geometry, philosophy, history and almost every other branch of knowledge.
Lucius Apuleius Platonicus (c. AD 123/125-c. AD 180), an utterly Romanized Berber who described himself as "half-Numidian half-Gaetulian", is remembered most for his bawdy picaresque Latin novel the Metamorphoses, otherwise known as The Golden Ass or, in Latin, the Aureus Asinus (where the Latin word aureus - golden - connoted an element of blessed luckiness).
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca, or Seneca the Younger) (c. 4 BC - 65 AD) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero.
Persius, in full Aulus Persius Flaccus (Volterra, 34-62), was a Roman poet and satirist of Etruscan origin. In his works, poems and satires, he shows a stoic wisdom and a strong criticism for the abuses of his contemporaries. His works, which became very popular in the Middle Ages, were published after his death by his friend and mentor the stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Cornutus.
Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, known in English as Juvenal, was a Roman poet active in the late 1st and early 2nd century CE, author of the Satires. The details of the author's life are unclear, although references within his text to known persons of the late 1st and early 2nd centuries CE fix his terminus post quem (earliest date of composition). In accord with the vitriolic manner of Lucilius the originator of the genre of Roman satire and within a poetic tradition that also included Horace and Persius, Juvenal wrote at least 16 poems in dactylic hexameter covering an encyclopedic range of topics across the Roman world. While the Satires are a vital source for the study of ancient Rome from a vast number of perspectives, their hyperbolic, comedic mode of expression makes the use of statements found within them as simple fact problematic, to say the least.
Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56 - ca. 117) was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works, the Annals and the Histories, examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those that reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors. These two works span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus in 14 AD to (presumably) the death of emperor Domitian in 96 AD. There are significant lacunae in the surviving texts. Other works by Tacitus discuss oratory (in dialogue format, see Dialogus de oratoribus), Germania (in De origine et situ Germanorum), and biographical notes about his father-in-law Agricola, primarily during his campaign in Britannia. Tacitus' historiographical style in his major works is annalistic. An author writing in the latter part of the Silver Age of Latin literature, his work is distinguished by a boldness and sharpness of wit, and a compact and sometimes unconventional use of Latin.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 69/75 - after 130), also known as Suetonius, was a prominent Roman historian and biographer.
Latin Literature in the Late Antique period
Saint Augustine of Hippo
Boethius and Consolation of Philosophy
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-524 or 525) was a Christian philosopher of the 6th century. He was born in Rome to an ancient and important family which included emperors Petronius Maximus and Olybrius and many consuls. His father, Flavius Manlius Boethius.
Paulinus of Nola
Aurelius Prudentius Clemens was a Roman Christian poet, born in the Roman province of Tarraconensis (now Northern Spain) in 348. He probably died in Spain, as well, some time after 405, possibly around 413. The place of his birth is uncertain, but it may have been Caesaraugusta Saragossa, Tarraco Tarragona, or Calagurris Calahorra.
Gaius (or Caius) Sollius (Modestus) Apollinaris Sidonius or Saint Sidonius Apollinaris (November 5, 430, some say 423 or ca 430 - ca August, 489), a poet, diplomat, and bishop. Sidonius was "the single most important surviving author from fifth-century.
Sulpicius Severus (c. 363 - between 420 and 425), wrote the earliest biography of Saint Martin of Tours. This work was begun during the lifetime of St. Martin, who died only in 397, and remained the most popular biography of that very popular saint. Sulpicius' correspondence with his friend Paulinus of Nola tells us something of Sulpicius' own life and opinions and more of his actions in founding a monastery and decorating its buildings. Sulpicius wrote a world chronicle, (Chronicorum Libri duo or Historia sacra), which extends from the creation of the world to A. D. 400, omitting the historical events recorded in the New Testament writings. It is an important source of information for the Arian controversy, especially with regard to Gaul.
Ammianus Marcellinus (325/330-after 391) was a fourth-century Roman historian. His is the last major historical account of the late Roman empire which survives today: his work chronicled the history of Rome from 96 to 378, although only the sections covering the period 353 - 378 are extant.
Decimus Magnus Ausonius (ca. 310-395), was a Latin poet and rhetorician, born at Burdigala (Bordeaux).
Distichs of Cato
The Distichs of Cato (Latin: Catonis Disticha, most famously known simply as Cato), is a Latin collection of proverbial wisdom and morality by an unknown author named Dionysius Cato from the 3rd or 4th century AD. The Cato was the most popular medieval schoolbook for teaching Latin, prized not only as a Latin textbook, but as a moral compass. Cato was in common use as a Latin teaching aid all the way to the 18th century, used by Benjamin Franklin. It was one of the best-known books in the Middle Ages and was translated into many languages.
Claudian (lat. Claudius Claudianus) was a court poet to the Emperor Honorius and Stilicho. A Greek-speaking citizen of Alexandria, Claudian arrived in Rome before 395, and made his mark with a eulogy of his two young patrons, Probinus and Olybrius, thereby becoming court poet. He wrote a number of panegyrics on the consulship of his patrons, praise poems for the deeds of Stilicho, and invectives directed at Stilicho's rivals in the Eastern court of Arcadius. These efforts resulted with such gifts as the honor of the rank of vir illustris, a statue, and a rich bride selected by Stilicho's wife, Serena. Despite his Greek origins, Claudian wrote in Latin and is one of the best late users of the language in poetry. Critics consider Claudian a good poet, if not absolutely first-rate. He is elegant, tells a story well, and his polemical passages are occasionally unmatchable in sheer entertaining vitriol; but his writing is tainted by preciousness, a flaw of the literature of his time, and his being extraordinarily cold and unfeeling. From a historical standpoint, Claudian's poetry is a valuable, however distorted, primary source for his period. Since his poems do not record the achievements of Stilicho after 404, scholars assume he died in that year. The historical or political poems connected with Stilicho have a separate manuscript tradition to the rest of his work, and this is believed to indicate that they were published as a separate collection, perhaps by Stilicho himself after Claudian's death. His most important non-political work is an unfinished epic, De raptu Proserpinae, whose three extant books are believed to have been written in 395 and 397.
Eutropius (flourished 350-370) was an Ancient Roman polytheist historian who flourished in the latter half of the 4th century. He held the office of secretary (magister memoriae) at Constantinople, accompanied the Emperor Julian (361 - 363) on his expedition against the Persians (363), and was alive during the reign of Valens (364-378), to whom he dedicates his Breviarium historiae Romanae and where his history ends.
Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius
Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius was a Roman grammarian and Neoplatonist philosopher who flourished during the reigns of Honorius and Arcadius (395-423).
Rutilius Claudius Namatianus (fl. 5th century) was a Roman poet, notable as the author of a Latin poem, De Reditu Suo, in elegiac metre, describing a coastal voyage from Rome to Gaul in 416. The solid literary quality of the work, and the flashes of light it throws across a momentous but dark epoch of history, combine to give it exceptional importance among the relics of late Roman literature. The poem was in two books; the exordium of the first and the greater part of the second have been lost. What remains consists of about seven hundred lines.
Scriptores Historiae Augustae (anonymous)
The Augustan History (Lat. Historia Augusta) is a late Roman collection of biographies, in Latin, of the Roman Emperors, their junior colleagues and usurpers of the period 117 to 284. It presents itself as an assemblage of works by six different authors (collectively known as the Scriptores Historiae Augustae), written in the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine, but the true authorship of the work, its actual date, and its purpose (if any), have long been matters for controversy. Associated major problems are the sources it used, and how much of the content is sheer fiction. Despite these conundra, all of which are of considerable interest, it is the only continuous account for much of its period and is thus continually being re-evaluated, since modern historians are understandably unwilling to abandon it as a unique source of possible information, despite its obvious untrustworthiness on many levels.
Quintus Aurelius Symmachus
Medieval Latin literature
Theology and Philosophy
Thomas Aquinas : Pange Lingua : Summa Theologica
Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P. (also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino; c. 1225 = 7 March 1274) was an Italian Catholic priest in the Dominican Order, a philosopher and theologian in the scholastic tradition, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Universalis and Doctor Communis. He was the foremost classical proponent of natural theology, and the father of the Thomistic school of philosophy and theology.
Blessed John Duns Scotus, O.F.M (c. 1266 - November 8, 1308) was a theologian, philosopher, and logician. Some argue that during his tenure at Oxford, the systematic examination of what differentiates theology from philosophy and science began in earnest. He was one of the most influential theologians and philosophers of the High Middle Ages, nicknamed "Doctor Subtilis" for his penetrating manner of thought.
Saint Gildas (c. 494 or 516 - c. 570) was a prominent member of the Celtic Christian church in Britain, whose renowned learning and literary style earned him the designation Gildas Sapiens (Gildas the Wise). He was ordained in the Church, and in his works favored the monastic ideal.
Gregory of Tours
Saint Gregory of Tours (November 30, c. 538 - November 17, 594) was a Gallo-Roman historian and bishop of Tours, which made him a leading prelate of Gaul. He was born Georgius Florentius Gregorius. He wrote in an ungrammatical and barbarized style of late Latin; however, it has been argued that this was a deliberate ploy to ensure his works would reach a wide audience. He is the main contemporary source for Merovingian history. His most notable work was his Decem Libri Historiarum or Ten Books of Histories, better known as the Historia Francorum ("History of the Franks"), a title given to it by later chroniclers, but he is also known for his credulous accounts of the miracles of saints, especially four books of the miracles of Martin of Tours. St Martin's tomb was a major draw in the 6th century, and Gregory's writings had the practical aspect of promoting this highly organized cult.
Saint Jerome : Vulgate
Jerome is best known as the translator of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin. He also was a Christian apologist. Jerome's edition of the Bible, the Vulgate, is an important text.
Siger of Brabant
Tommaso da Celano : Dies Iræ
Walter of Châtillon
Peter of Blois
Hildegard of Bingen
Albert of Aix
Fulcher of Chartres
Otto of Freising
William of Malmesbury
William of Tyre
Pseudo-History Geoffrey of Monmouth
Encyclopedia Isidore of Seville : Etymologiæ
Many different genres Alcuin
Main article: Renaissance Latin
Dante Alighieri Giovanni Boccaccio
Thomas More : Utopia
William of Ockham
(Most of these authors wrote in their various vernaculars as well as in Latin, but each produced a body of Latin work significant in quantity and quality.)
Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski
Anna Elissa Radke
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