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The literature of ancient rome and language

Ancient Latin literature Literature in Latin began as translation from the Greek, a fact that conditioned its development.

Ancient Rome

Latin authors used earlier writers as sources of stock themes and motifs, at their best using their relationship to tradition to produce a new species of originality. They were more distinguished as verbal artists than as thinkers; the finest of them have a superb command of concrete detail and vivid illustration.

Hellenistic influence came from the south, Etrusco-Hellenic from the north. Improvised farce, with stock characters in masks, may have been a native invention from the Campania region the countryside of modern Naples.

The historian Livy traced quasi-dramatic satura medley to the Etruscans. The statesman-writer Cato and the scholar Varro said that in former times the praises of heroes were sung after feasts, sometimes to the accompaniment of the flute, which was perhaps an Etruscan custom.

If they existed, these carmina convivalia, or festal songs, would be behind some of the legends that came down to Livy. There were also the rude verses improvised at harvest festivals and weddings and liturgical formulas, whose scanty remains show alliteration and assonance. The nearest approach to literature must have been in public and private records and in recorded speeches. Stylistic periods Ancient Latin literature may be divided into four periods: Early writers The ground for Roman literature was prepared by an influx from the early 3rd century bc onward of Greek slaves, some of whom were put to tutoring young Roman nobles.

Among them was Livius Andronicuswho was later freed and who is considered to be the first Latin writer. He also made a translation of the Odyssey. For his plays Livius adapted the Greek metres to suit the Latin tongue; but for his Odyssey he retained a traditional Italian measure, as did Gnaeus Naevius for his epic on the First Punic War against Carthage. Scholars are uncertain as to how much this metre depended on quantity or stress.

A half-Greek Calabrian called Ennius adopted and Latinized the Greek hexameter for his epic Annales, thus further acquainting Rome with the Hellenistic world. Unfortunately his work survives only in fragments. The Greek character thus imposed on literature made it more a preserve of the educated elite.

In Rome, coteries emerged such as that formed around the Roman consul and general Scipio Aemilianus. This circle included the statesman-orator Gaius Laeliusthe Greek Stoic philosopher Panaetius, the Greek historian Polybius, the satirist Lucilius, and an African-born slave of genius, the comic playwright Terence. Soon after Rome absorbed Greece as a Roman provinceGreek became a second language to educated Romans.

Early in the 1st century bc, however, Latin declamation established itself, and, borrowing from Greek, it attained polish and artistry. Plautus, the leading poet of comedy, is one of the literature of ancient rome and language chief sources for colloquial Latin.

Ennius sought to heighten epic and tragic dictionand from his time onward, with a few exceptions, literary language became ever more divorced from that of the people, until the 2nd century ad. Golden Age70 bc—ad 18 The Golden Age of Latin literature spanned the last years of the republic and the virtual establishment of the Roman Empire under the reign of Augustus 27 bc—ad 14.

The first part of this period, from 70 to 42 bc, is justly called the Ciceronian. It produced writers of distinction, most of them also men of action, among whom Julius Caesar stands out. As a poet, although uninspired, he was technically skillful.

He edited the De rerum natura of the philosophical poet Lucretius. The Neoteric influence persisted into the next generation through Cornelius Gallus to Virgil. Virgil, born near Mantua and schooled at Cremona and Milan, chose Theocritus as his first model. The self-consciously beautiful cadences of the Eclogues depict shepherds living in a landscape half real, half fantastic; these allusive poems hover between the actual and the artificial. They are shot through with topical allusionsand in the fourth he already appears as a national prophet.

In 38 bc he and Varius introduced the young poet Horace to Maecenas; and by the final victory of Augustus in 30 bc, the circle was consolidated. It gave encouragement to the classical notion that a writer should not so much try to say new things as to say old things better.

The rhetorical figures of thought and speech were mastered until they became instinctive.

Language of the Ancient Romans

Perfection of form characterizes the odes of Horace; elegy, too, became more polished. About 28 or 27 bc Livy began his monumental history. Propertius, when admitted to the circle, was simply a youth with an anti-Caesarian background who had gained favour with passionate love elegies. Poems were recited in literary circles and in public, hence the importance attached to euphony, smoothness, and artistic structure.

They thus became known piecemeal and might be improved by friendly suggestions. When finally they were assembled in books, great care was taken over arrangement, which was artistic or significant but not chronological.

Latin literature

Meanwhile, in prose the Ciceronian climax had been followed by a reaction led by Sallust. In 43 bc he began to publish a series of historical works in a terse, epigrammatic style studded with archaisms and avoiding the copiousness the literature of ancient rome and language Cicero. Later, eloquence, deprived of political influence, migrated from the forum to the schools, where cleverness and point counted rather than rolling periods.

Thus developed the epigrammatic style of the younger Seneca and, ultimately, of Tacitus. Spreading to verse, it conditioned the witty couplets of Ovid, the tragedies of Seneca, and the satire of Juvenal. Though Livy stood out, Ciceronianism only found a real champion again in the rhetorician Quintilian.

Silver Agead 18—133 After the first flush of enthusiasm for Augustan ideals of national regeneration, literature paid the price of political patronage. It became subtly sterilized; and Ovid was but the first of many writers actually suppressed or inhibited by fear. Late Augustans such as Livy already sensed that Rome had passed its summit. Later writers The decentralization of the empire under Hadrian and the literature of ancient rome and language Antonines weakened the Roman pride and passion for liberty.

Romans began again to write in Greek as well as Latin. An effete culture devoted itself to philology, archaism, and preciosity. After Juvenal, 250 years elapsed before Ausonius of Bordeaux 4th century ad and the last of the true classics, Claudian flourished about 400appeared. Ausonius, though in the pagan literary tradition, was a Christian and contemporary with a truly original Christian poet, the Spaniard Prudentius.

Henceforward, Christian literature overlaps pagan and generally surpasses it. In prose these centuries have somewhat more to boast, though the greatest work by a Roman was written in Greek, the Meditations of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Elocutio novellaa blend of archaisms and colloquial speech, is seen to best advantage in Apuleius born about 125. Other writers of note were Aulus Gellius and Macrobius.

The 4th century ad was the age of the grammarians and commentators, but in prose some of the most interesting work is again Christian. The genres Comedy Roman comedy was based on the New Comedy fashionable in Greece, whose classic representative was Menander. But whereas this was imitation of life to the Greeks, to the Romans it was escape to fantasy and literary convention.

But he slipped in details of Roman life and outspoken criticisms of powerful men. His imprisonment warned comedy off topical references, but the Roman audience became alert in applying ancient lines to modern situations and in demonstrating their feelings by appropriate clamour. Unlike his predecessors, Plautus specialized, writing only comedy involving high spirits, oaths, linguistic play, slapstick humour, music, and skillful adaptation of rhythm to subject matter.

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Some of his plays can be thought of almost as comic opera. Part of the humour consisted in the sudden intrusion of Roman things into this conventional Greek world. As Greek influence on Roman culture increased, Roman drama became more dependent on Greek models. Singing almost disappeared from his plays, and recitative was less prominent. From Menander he learned to exhibit refinements of psychology and to construct ingenious plots; but he lacked comic force.

His pride was refined language—the avoidance of vulgarity, obscurity, or slang. His characters were less differentiated in speech than those of Plautus, but they talk with an elegant charm. The society Terence portrayed was more sensitive than that of Plautine comedy; lovers tended to be loyal and sons obedient. Though often revived, plays modeled on Greek drama were rarely written after Terence. The Ciceronian was the great age of acting, and in 55 bc Pompey gave Rome a permanent theatre.

Plays having an Italian setting came into vogue, their framework being Greek New Comedy but their subject Roman society. A native form of farce was also revived. Under Julius Caesar, this yielded in popularity to verse mime of Greek origin that was realistic, often obscene, and full of quotable apothegms.

  1. Latin was necessary for anyone seeking to play an important role in administration, politics, and military. He carried the couplet of his predecessors to its logical extreme, characterized by parallelism, regular flow and ebb, and a neat wit.
  2. Elegy The elegiac couplet of hexameter and pentameter verse line of five feet was taken over by Catullus, who broke with tradition by filling elegy with personal emotion. The 4th century ad was the age of the grammarians and commentators, but in prose some of the most interesting work is again Christian.
  3. They vary remarkably in mood and intention, and he uses iambic metre normally associated with invective not only for his abuse of Caesar and Pompey but also for his tender homecoming to Sirmio. He came to appreciate that the real point about Lucilius was not his denunciations but his self-revelation.
  4. As a poet, although uninspired, he was technically skillful. He inherited from Cicero his literary conception of history, his copiousness, and his principle of accommodating style to subject.

Finally, when mime gave rise to the dumb show of the pantomimus with choral accompaniment and when exotic spectacles had become the rage, Roman comedy faded out. He was followed by Naevius and Ennius, who loved Euripides. Pacuviusprobably a greater tragedian, liked Sophocles and heightened tragic diction even more than Ennius. His successor, Acciuswas more rhetorical and impetuous.

They did not always deal in Greek mythology: The Roman chorus, unlike the Greek, performed on stage and was inextricably involved in the action.

Classical tragedy was seldom composed after Accius, though its plays were constantly revived. Writing plays, once a function of slaves and freedmen, became a pastime of aristocratic dilettantes. Such writers had commonly no thought of production: The extant the literature of ancient rome and language of the younger Seneca probably were not written for public performance.

They are melodramas of horror and violence, marked by sensational pseudo-realism and rhetorical cleverness. Characterization is crude, and philosophical moralizing obtrusive. Yet Seneca was a model for 16th- and early 17th-century tragedy, especially in France, and influenced English revenge tragedy. This compound of legendary origins and history was in Latin, in a transplanted metre, and by a poet who had imagination and a realization of the emergent greatness of Rome. In form his work must have been ill-balanced; he almost ignored the First Punic War in consideration of Naevius and became more detailed as he added books about his own times.

But his great merit shines out from the fragments—nobility of ethos matched with nobility of language. On receptive spirits, such as Cicero, Lucretius, and Virgil, his influence was profound. Recent history would have been too particularized a theme. The poem is in part an Odyssey of travel with an interlude of love followed by an Iliad of conquest, and in part a symbolic epic of contemporary Roman relevance.