Latin literature  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas" --Petronius

Poggio, collector of Facetiae
Enlarge
Poggio, collector of Facetiae

Related e

Wikipedia
Wiktionary
Shop


Featured:

Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Enlarge
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Latin literature, the body of written works in the Latin language, remains an enduring legacy of the culture of ancient Rome. The Romans 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. Long after the Western Roman Empire had fallen, the Latin language continued to play a central role in western European civilization.

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.

Contents

Examples

Ovid's Metamorphoses

Metamorphosis (disambiguation), mythological painting, Ovid

Publius Ovidius Naso (March 20, 43 BC – AD 17), a Roman poet known to the English-speaking world as Ovid, wrote on topics of love, seduction, abandoned women and mythological transformations. He is best known for the erotic Ars Amatoria and Metamorphoses. Ranked alongside Virgil and Horace as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature, his poetry, much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, had a decisive influence on European art and literature for centuries.

The Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid is a narrative poem in fifteen books that describes the creation and history of the world. Completed in 8 AD, it has remained one of the most popular works of mythology, being the Classical work best known to medieval writers and thus having a great deal of influence on medieval poetry.

Ovid works his way through his subject matter, often in an apparently arbitrary fashion, by jumping from one transformation tale to another, sometimes retelling what had come to be seen as central events in the world of Greek myth and sometimes straying in odd directions. The poem is often called a mock-epic. It is written in dactylic hexameter, the form of the great heroic and nationalistic epic poems; both those of the ancient tradition (the Iliad and Odyssey) and of Ovid's own day (the Aeneid). It begins with the ritual "invocation of the muse", and makes use of traditional epithets and circumlocutions. But instead of following and extolling the deeds of a human hero, it leaps from story to story with little connection.

The recurring theme, as with nearly all of Ovid's work, is that of love — be that personal love or love personified in the figure of Amor (Cupid). Indeed, the other Roman gods are repeatedly perplexed, humiliated, and made ridiculous by Amor, an otherwise relatively minor god of the pantheon who is the closest thing this mock-epic has to a hero. Apollo comes in for particular ridicule as Ovid shows how irrational love can confound the god of pure reason. The work as a whole inverts the accepted order, elevating humans and human passions while making the gods and their desires and conquests objects of low humor.

Petronius's Satyricon

Petronius, Satyricon, Latin satire

Petronius (ca. 2766) was a Roman writer of the Neronian age; he was a noted satirist best remembered for the Satyricon.

Satyricon (or Satyrica) is a Latin novel, believed to have been written by Gaius Petronius, though the manuscript text of the Satyricon calls him Titus Petronius. This classic erotica was later made into a film by Fellini.

The surviving text, a mixture of prose and poetry, details the misadventures of the narrator, Encolpius, and his lover, a handsome sixteen year old boy named Giton. Throughout the novel, Encolpius has a hard time keeping his lover faithful to him as he is constantly being enticed away by others. Encolpius' friend Ascyltus (who seems to have previously been in a relationship with Encolpius) is another major character but he disappears from the narrative half way through the surviving text. It is a rare example of a Roman novel, the only other surviving example (quite different in style and plot) being Metamorphoses written by Lucius Apuleius. It is also extremely important evidence for the reconstruction of what everyday life must have been like for the lower classes during the early Roman Empire.

The Satyricon is considered one of the gems of Western literature, and may be the earliest extant work classifiable as a novel, although some would give that honour to Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe. Unlike Fellini’s film discussed below, the caricature of the Satyricon does not deform the everyday life of the Roman people. Petronius uses real names for all his characters, most of them laypeople, who talk about the theatre of ancient Rome, the amphitheatre (of which the most famous was the Colloseum) and the circus with the same enthusiasm of today’s fans of football and other team sports. If there is parody in the Satyricon it is not about the main characters —Encolpius, Giton and Ascyltos—, but of the described social reality, and the literary genres of certain famous poets and writers, Homer, Plato, Virgil and Cicero included. Petronius’ realism has a Greek antecedent in Aristophanes, who also abandoned the epical tone to focus on ordinary subjects. The Satyricon was widely read in the first centuries of the Common Era. Through poetry and philosophy, Greco-Roman literature had pretended to distance itself from everyday life, or to contemplate it loftily as in history or oratory. Petronius rebelled against this trend: “Nihil est hominum inepta persuasione falsius nec ficta severitate ineptius” (“There is nothing about man more false than his foolish convictions and there is nothing more stupid than hypocrite severity” —section 132).

The name “satyricon” implies that the work belongs to the type to which Varro, imitating the Greek Menippus, had given the character of a medley of prose and verse composition. But the string of fictitious narrative by which the medley is held together is something quite new in Roman literature. The author was happily inspired in his devices for amusing himself and thereby transmit to modern times a text based on the ordinary experience of contemporary life; the precursor of such novels as Gil Blas and Roderick Random.

Apuleius's Golden Ass

Apuleius, Golden Ass, Latin satire

Lucius Apuleius Platonicus (c. AD 123/125-c. AD 180), an utterly Romanized Berber, 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).

The Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius, which according to St. Augustine was referred to as The Golden Ass (Asinus aureus) by Apuleius, is the only Latin novel to survive in its entirety.

The text is a precursor to the literary genre of the episodic picaresque novel, in which Quevedo, Rabelais, Boccaccio, Cervantes, Voltaire, Defoe and many others have followed. It is an imaginative, irreverent, and amusing work that relates the ludicrous adventures of one Lucius, a virile young man who is obsessed with magic. Finding himself in Thessaly, the "birthplace of magic," Lucius eagerly seeks an opportunity to see magic being used. His overenthusiasm leads to his accidental transformation into an ass. In this guise, Lucius, a member of the Roman country aristocracy, is forced to witness and share the miseries of slaves and destitute freemen who are reduced, like Lucius, to being little more than beasts of burden by their exploitation at the hands of wealthy landowners.

The Golden Ass is the only surviving work of literature from the ancient Greco-Roman world to examine, from a first-hand perspective, the abhorrent condition of the lower classes. Yet despite its serious subject matter, the novel remains imaginative, witty, and often sexually explicit. Numerous amusing stories, many of which seem to be based on actual folk tales, with their ordinary themes of simple-minded husbands, adulterous wives, and clever lovers, as well as the magical transformations that characterize the entire novel, are included within the main narrative. The longest of these inclusions is the tale of Cupid and Psyche, encountered here for the first but not the last time in Western literature.

Vulgar Latin

Vulgar Latin

Vulgar Latin (in Latin, sermo vulgaris, "common speech") is a blanket term covering the vernacular dialects and sociolects of the Latin language until those dialects, diverging still further, evolved into the early Romance languages — a distinction usually made around the ninth century. It includes late Latin and the terms are often used synonymously. However, Vulgar Latin is also used to refer to vernacular speech from other time periods including the Classical period.

This spoken Latin came to differ from Classical Latin in its pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

Latin profanity

Latin profanity

Latin profanity is the profane, indecent, or impolite vocabulary of Latin, and its uses. The profane vocabulary of early Vulgar Latin consisted largely of sexual and scatological words: the rich lodes of religious profanity found in some of the Romance languages is a Christian development, and as such does not appear in Classical Latin. In Vulgar Latin, words that were considered to be profanity were described generally as obsc(a)ena, "obscene, lewd", unfit for public consumption; or improba, "improper, in poor taste, undignified". (Note that the name "Vulgar Latin" simply referred to the common speech, not necessarily profanity, although Vulgar Latin was the form of Latin in which sexual and scatological expletives existed. In the more formal Classical Latin, no profanity is recorded except in satirical works, or in discussion of the actual words.)

Since profanity, by definition, consists of spoken words that people use very informally, and because Latin is a dead language (occasionally used in written communication as an international language, but no longer in spoken conversation), it is worthwhile to note the sources of Latin profanity. Knowledge of Latin profanity and obscenities comes from a number of sources:

  • The satirical poets, particularly Catullus and Martial, use the words in preserved literary works. Indeed, the august Horace resorted to them in his earlier poems. The anonymous Priapeia is another important literary source.
  • The orator and lawyer Cicero's Epistulae ad Familiares ("Letters to My Friends") discuss Latin profanity, and confirm the "profane" or "obscene" status of many of the words.
  • A number of medical or especially veterinary texts use the words as part of their working vocabulary, in which they were not considered obscenity but simply jargon.
  • Preserved graffiti from the Roman period uses these words. A rich trove of examples of profane Latin at work was discovered on the walls of Pompeii and Herculaneum.


Romance

romance

Historians believe that the actual English word "romance" developed from a vernacular dialect within the French language, meaning "verse narritve", referring to the style of speech and writing, and artistic talents within elite classes. The word was originally an adverb of sorts, which was of the Latin origin "Romanicus", meaning "of the Roman style", "like the Romans" (see Roman.) The connecting notion is that European medieval vernacular tales were usually about chivalric adventure, not combining the idea of love until late into the seventeenth century. The word "romance", or the equivalent thereof also has developed with other meanings in other languages, such as the early nineteenth century Spanish and Italian definitions of "adventurous" and "passionate", sometimes combining the idea of "love affair" or "idealistic quality."

Classical Latin

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 BCE up to the mid-1st century CE, and the Silver Age, which extends into the 2nd century CE. 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"; but 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 those written in the Classical period. Three works survived to inspire architects and engineers in the Renaissance, the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder, the books by Frontinus on the aqueducts of Rome and the De Architectura of Vitruvius.

The Medieval World

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; it was not unusual, for example, that 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 20th century.

Although the number of works of non-fiction and drama, history and philosophy written in Latin has continued to dwindle, the Latin language is still not dead. Well into the twentieth 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. Among these Latin scholars of the 20th and 21st centuries are R A B Mynors, R J Tarrant, L D Reynolds and John Brisco.

Satire

Latin satire
Juvenal - Saturae
Martial
Persius

Poetry

See also

Latin novel, Greek literature*Ancient literature




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Latin literature" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools