Roman Early Literature

Roman Early Literature

Important works of Roman literature (selection)

  • the comedies of Plautus, among others. “Miles gloriosus” (around 200 BC)
  • the comedies of Terence, among others. »Adelphoe« (160 BC)
  • the “Carmina” of Catullus (about 70–54 BC)
  • the prose writings and speeches of Cicero, among others. »De re publica« (54–51 BC), »Orationes Philippicae« (44/43 BC)
  • the didactic poem “De rerum natura” by Lucretius (about 60–55 BC)
  • the historical writings of Caesar, among others. »De bello Gallico« (52/51 BC)
  • the “Eclogae” (42–39 BC) and the “Aeneid” (from 29 BC) of Virgil
  • the historical work of Livy “Ab urbe condita libri” (26–17 BC)
  • the poetry of Horace, among others. »Carmina« (23-13 BC)
  • the poems of Ovid, among others. »Ars armatoria« (around 1 BC) and »Metamorphoses« (1 BC – 10 AD)
  • the novel “Satyricon” by Petronius (around 60 AD)
  • the epigrams of Martial (80-100)
  • the satires of Juvenal (from 100)
  • the novel “The Golden Donkey” by Apuleius (around 170)

The year numbers roughly indicate the time of creation, in the case of the dramas the year of the premiere.

The literature of the imperial era: The writers of the early imperial era continued to cultivate the traditional genres. It was not uncommon for the Greek models to step back in favor of their own classics. There was a momentous change in style in prose: it took over poetic elements and abandoned the period. Instead of forensic speeches, there were declamatory school exercises, as passed on to Seneca the Elder. The classicist style ideal advocated by Quintilian in the “Institutio oratoria” in the late 1st century was only followed by Pliny the Younger and Tacitus, who excelled as a historian.

Stylistically, Seneca the Younger went his own way, who in numerous writings urged a moral attitude in the sense of Stoic philosophy. In his tragedies, like the representatives of the historical (Lukan, Silius Italicus) and mythological (Statius, Valerius Flaccus) epic, he tended towards fantasy, mannerism and the representation of pathos and affects. The first Latin novel, the “Satyrica” ​​by Petronius Arbiter, satirizes both Lukan’s historical epic and the Greek romance and adventure novel. The work of Phaedrus also allows the fable to appear in Latin for the first time.

The satirists Persius and Juvenal, and the epigrammatist Martial, sharply criticized the conditions of the time. The bridge from poetry to specialist literature was built by the astronomical poems of Germanicus and Manilius. Specialist writers of standing were Columella with his work on agriculture (“De re rustica”) and the encyclopedists Celsus and Pliny the Elder.

In the epoch of foreign and domestic political calm in the 2nd century, Roman literature produced little that was new. Grammarians began to explain the older authors, the speaker Fronto strove for archaic prose, his pupil Gellius recorded curious and entertaining readings from Roman literature in the valuable antiquarian “Noctes Atticae”. Legal literature, however, flourished around 200 with Gaius, Papinianus, Ulpianus and Paulus. The most original figure of that time was the African Apuleius. With the novel “Metamorphoses” (or “The Golden Donkey”) and various Neoplatonic writings, he also grew beyond national Roman literature, as did Minucius Felix and Tertullian, the first representatives of early Christian literature in Latin.

Late Latin literature (3rd century to 524)

From the 3rd century on, Rome finally lost its position as the spiritual center of the empire. The basic theme of Roman literature in late antiquity was the conflict between Christianity and paganism (early Christian literature). The political turmoil of the epoch was reflected, apart from the powerfully evolving Christian poetry and prose, also in literary production: in the 3rd century it largely dried up, since about 350 it swelled again noticeably. The traditional genres were carried on, but great talents were rare. An abundance of scholarly, partly also popular, specialist and practical literature emerged; Worth mentioning are the Virgil Commentary by Servius and the grammatical handbooks by Donatus, Charisius and Priscianus, the human medical writings of Marcellus and Caelius Aurelianus, the veterinary medical treatises of Pelagonius and Vegetius and Palladius ‘ book on agriculture. Martianus Capella stood out from such sober works with his allegorical representation of the seven liberal arts, which was popular in the Middle Ages. Small and occasional poetry were abundantly represented. Their chief representative was the educated Ausonius; The poetic travelogue of Rutilius Namatianus is also particularly attractive. It stands out among the profane epics Claudianus out; Of course, he was a native Greek, as was Ammianus Marcellinus, the most important Latin historian of late antiquity. The imperial servants of the “Scriptores Historiae Augustae” are of lesser historical value. The followers of the traditional Roman religion around the city prefect Symmachus rebelled against the increasingly influential Christianity and its representatives. Their convictions found their best expression in the discussion of the Roman antiquities of the Neo-Platonist Macrobius. Imbued neuplatonischem ideas is also the work of Boethius, had its roots as a “last Roman” one hand still in the ancient form, but then with Cassiodor, Venantius Fortunatus et al. laid the groundwork for Middle Latin literature.

Roman Early Literature

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