History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions



A Brief History of Western Literature
Introduction Western Literature
The Foundations of Western Literature
The Bible
Classical  Literature
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
The 17-18th Century
The 18-19th Century 




see also texts:

 "Argonautica" by Apollonius of Rhodes




EURIPIDES "Electra", "Medea"

"The Epic of Gilgamesh"

HESIOD "Works And Days"

HORACE "Ars Poetica"

JUVENAL "Satires"

MURASAKI SHIKIBU "The Tale of Genji"

OVID "Metamorphoses"

PETRONIUS "Satyricon"

SAPPHO "Poems"

SOPHOCLES "Antigone"

"The Arabian Nights"

"The Poetic Edda"



see also illustrations:

Ovid  "Metamorphoses"

illustrations by Francois Chauveau and Noel Le Mire

Ovid "The Art of Love"

illustrations by Salvador Dali



Most of the many forms of literature characteristic of Western civilization would have been familiar to a citizen of Athens in the 5th century B.C. Although only a small proportion of the writings of the ancient Greeks has survived, it is mostly of the highest quality, and you do not have to be a classical scholar to read it with pleasure although, for most of us nowadays, that means in translation. Until recently most Western literature was written by people who were familiar with the works of the Greeks and could safely assume that their readers were too. Ignorance of the classical (i.e. Greek and Roman) tradition, and of the mythology that forms the subject matter of most Greek poetry and drama, not only leads to missing out on a great experience, but also raises problems in understanding the allusions of writers active over 2,000 years later.


William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Dante and Virgil in Hell



At the Roman Games in 240 B.C., Livius Andronicus presented two plays, a tragedy and a comedy. This event is sometimes seen as marking the formal beginning of Latin (Roman) literature. Significantly, the plays were adaptations of Greek originals, and Andronicus was probably a Greek himself. From the beginning, Roman culture was permeated by Greek influence. The literary genres of the Romans, like other arts, were derived from the Greeks, and Roman writers habitually compared themselves with the Greeks, if only to demonstrate how they differed from them. The "golden age" of classical Latin literature was comparatively short, roughly a century, covering the last years of the Republic and the reign of the Emperor
Augustus, who died in A.D. 14.



From the earlier Republican period, we have some good epic poetry and plays by two great playwrights, Plautus (W.I84 B.C.) and Terence (J.159 B.C.). The surviving plays of Plautus, which influenced Shakespeare and his contemporaries, were adapted from earlier Athenian comedies by writers such as Menander, although Plautus, a labourer by trade, displayed wide knowledge and sympathy with the Roman lower classes. Terence was a former slave and apparently an African (born in Carthage). He died young, though six plays survive. They too were mostly based on Menander, but Terence, though less original than Plautus, surpassed him in characterization. His humour was less broad, pitched at a more cultivated audience. His plays, surprisingly acted by nuns in medieval England, influenced Restoration comedy, as well as the Elizabethans.
The first great figure of the golden age is that exemple of Roman virtue, Cicero (106-43 B.C.). Primarily a statesman and orator, he turned to literature and philosophy in later life, but is chiefly remembered for his published speeches, models of Latin prose, and his remarkable letters. They cover almost every conceivable subject though the most interesting, especially in the candid and intimate letters to Atticus, is Cicero himself. Cicero's contemporaries included Lucretius, the philosophical poet whose De Rerum Natura ("On the Nature of Things") advanced that the universe was a combination of atoms, and the lyric poet Catullus whose work, immensely varied in mood, was published posthumously.
Catullus had a profound influence on his contemporaries, including Horace (65—8 B.C.), the finest poet of his day after Virgil who, besides his Odes and Satires, wrote an influential book on poetry, Ars Poetica. Horace had a pervasive influence on English poetry: he was translated by Milton, adapted by Pope and Shelley among others, and anthologies of literary quotations find Horace a fruitful source of apt phrases. His genial temperament and good sense contributed to his popularity among contemporaries. Among lesser poets of the golden age were the elegists Tibullus, a friend of Horace and the subject of one of Horace's most charming Epistles, and Propertius, who was inspired, like so many, by his love for a woman, Cynthia.



















The poet Virgil (70-19 B.C.) was overall the most widely read - by generations of schoolboys not always willingly - poet in the Western world up to the 19th century. He was of Celtic origin, a farmer's son and himself owner of a farm in Mantua, where he wrote most of the pastoral Eclogues, which established his popularity, and the Georgics, influenced by Hesiod and certain-v the finest poem on farming ever written. Reclusive and inclined to self-doubt, Virgil spent the last decade of his life writing the Aeneid, the work on which his reputation as "the Latin Homer" rests. The subject of this epic is the greatness of Rome, and Virgil can be regarded as the first "national" poet. Aeneas was a Trojan prince, whom legend recorded as the founder of Rome, and the theme recalls both the Odyssey and the Iliad. The first six books recount the hero's search for a home, while the last six deal with war and reconciliation between Trojans and Latins. For some readers, Virgil's imagery, especially in the Georgics, is supreme, while the music of his elegant hexameters is universally admired: "the stateliest measure", said Tennyson, "ever moulded by the lips of man".
Virgil died with the Aeneid unfinished. His express wish that it be destroyed was fortunately vetoed by the Emperor Augustus.


  "Arms, and the man I sing, who, forc'd by fate,
  And haughty Juno's unrelenting hate,
  Expell'd and exil'd, left the Trojan shore.
  Long labors, both by sea and land, he bore,
  And in the doubtful war, before he won
  The Latian realm, and built the destin'd town;
  His banish'd gods restor'd to rites divine,
  And settled sure succession in his line,
  From whence the race of Alban fathers come,
  And the long glories of majestic Rome.
  O Muse! the causes and the crimes relate;
  What goddess was provok'd, and whence her hate;
  For what offense the Queen of Heav'n began
  To persecute so brave, so just a man;
  Involv'd his anxious life in endless cares,
  Expos'd to wants, and hurried into wars!
  Can heav'nly minds such high resentment show,
  Or exercise their spite in human woe?"

  Virgil  Aeneid


see also:




illustrations by Francois Chauveau and Noel Le Mire

"The Art of Love"

illustrations by Salvador Dali



The most felicitous of poets, Ovid (43 B.C.—A.D. 17) was a sophisticated social creature, the toast of fashionable Rome until, after antagonizing Augustus (partly by his manual of courtship and sex The Art of Love), he was banished to the Black Sea and died in exile. Of his surviving works, the best known is Metamorphoses, brilliant reworkings of the old myths in a more sceptical era, in which love, Ovid's greatest subject, is seen as the great agent of change. It was extremely popular in the Middle Ages and, it is said, was read more than any other book except the Bible.


Why, I ask, does the bed seem so hard? I keep throwing off the bedclothes, and I'm sleepless through nights that seem interminable. I toss and turn till my tired bones ache. I might feel this way if I were being tried by Love. Has the clever god slipped in and made a secret attack on me?

Aye, so it is! Love's slender shafts feather my heart, and he twists my emotions in a savage gyre. Shall I surrender, or shall I fan the unexpected fire brighter by struggling against it? Ah, I'll surrender; for a burden feels lighter if borne willingly.

"I've seen flames leap higher as a torch is whipped through the air, and I've seen them die when no one stirs them. Oxen who've learned to like the plow aren't beaten like the animals who jerk away from the first touch of the yoke. The skittish horse is broken with a toothed bit, but the veteran warhorse doesn't feel the reins.

Love goads the unwilling more sharply and viciously than it does those who admit they are enslaved. All right, then--I admit I'm your latest conquest, Cupid. I raise my conquered hands to accept your will. There's no point in fighting: I only ask your mercy and your peace. You would gain little honor from destroying an unarmed victim like me.

Bind myrtle in your hair, yoke the doves of your mother Venus, and borrow a chariot from your stepfather Mars. Let the yoked birds draw you in that chariot past the crowd cheering your triumph. Captive youths and maids will follow you; such will be the pomp of your splendid triumph. Because I am newly captured, I still show my wounds and bear the marks of recent fetters on my mind.

You drag along Good Sense with her hands tied behind her back, and with her goes Shame and anyone else who dares oppose the forces of Love. All peoples fear you; the mob raises its hands to you and cries, "Hail, Thou Triumphant!" to you. "

Ovid  Amores
(translated by D. Drake)


(Encyclopaedia Britannica)

born March 20, 43 BC, Sulmo, Roman Empire [now Sulmona, Italy]
died AD 17, , Tomis, Moesia [nowConstanţa, Rom.]

Latin in full Publius Ovidius Naso Roman poet noted especially for his Ars amatoria and Metamorphoses. His verse had immense influence both by its imaginative interpretations of classical myth and as an example of supreme technical accomplishment.


Publius Ovidius Naso was, like most Roman men of letters, aprovincial. He was born at Sulmo, a small town about 90 miles (140 km) east of Rome. The main events of his life are described in an autobiographical poem in the Tristia (Sorrows). His family was old and respectable, and sufficiently well-to-do for his father to be able to send him and his elder brother to Rome to be educated. At Rome he embarked, under the best teachers of the day, on the study of rhetoric. Ovid was thought to have the makings of a good orator, but in spite of his father's admonitions he neglected his studies for the verse-writing that came so naturally to him.

As a member of the Roman knightly class (whose rank lay between the commons and the Senate) Ovid was marked by his position, and intended by his father, for an official career.First, however, he spent some time at Athens (then a favourite finishing school for young men of the upper classes) and traveled in Asia Minor and Sicily. Afterward he dutifully held some minor judicial posts, the first steps on the official ladder, but he soon decided that public life did not suit him. From then on he abandoned his official career tocultivate poetry and the society of poets.

Ovid's first work, the Amores (The Loves), had an immediate success and was followed, in rapid succession, by the Epistolae Heroidum, or Heroides (Epistles of the Heroines), the Medicamina faciei (“Cosmetics”; Eng. trans. The Art of Beauty), the Ars ama to ria (The Art of Love), and the Remedia amoris (Remedies for Love), all reflecting the brilliant, sophisticated, pleasure-seeking society in which hemoved. The common theme of these early poems is love and amorous intrigue, but it is unlikely that they mirror Ovid's own life very closely. Of his three marriages the first two were short-lived, but his third wife, of whom he speaks with respect and affection, remained constant to him until his death. At Rome Ovid enjoyed the friendship and encouragement of Marcus Valerius Messalla, the patron of a circle which included Tibullus, whom Ovid knew only for a short time before his untimely death. Ovid's other friends included Horace, Sextus Propertius, and the grammarian Hyginus.

Having won an assured position among the poets of the day, Ovid turned to more ambitious projects, the Metamorphosesand the Fasti (“Calendar”). The former was nearly complete, the latter half finished, when his life was shattered by a sudden and crushing blow. In AD 8 the emperor Augustus banished him to Tomis (or Tomi; near modern Constanţa, Romania) on the Black Sea. The reasons for Ovid's exile will never be fully known. Ovid specifies two, his Ars amatoria and an offense which he does not describe beyond insisting that it was an indiscretion (error), not a crime (scelus). Of the many explanations that have been offered of this mysterious indiscretion, the most probable is that he had become an involuntary accomplice in the adultery of Augustus' granddaughter, the younger Julia, who also was banished at the same time. In 2 BC her mother, the elder Julia, had similarly been banished for immorality, and the Ars amatoria had appeared while this scandal was still fresh in the public mind. These coincidences, together with the tone of Ovid's reference to his offense, suggest that he behaved in some way that was damaging both to Augustus' program of moral reform and to the honour of the imperial family. Since his punishment, which was the milder form of banishment called relegation, did not entail confiscation of property or loss of citizenship, his wife, who was well-connected, remained in Rome to protect his interests and to intercede for him.

Exile at Tomis, a half-Greek, half-barbarian port on the extreme confines of the Roman Empire, was a cruel punishment for a man of Ovid's temperament and habits. Henever ceased to hope, if not for pardon, at least for mitigation of sentence, keeping up in the Tristia and the Epistulae ex Ponto (“Letters from the Black Sea”) a ceaseless stream of pathetic pleas, chiefly through his wife and friends, to the emperor. But neither Augustus nor his successor Tiberius relented, and there are hints in the later poems that Ovid was even becoming reconciled to his fate when death released him.


Ovid's extant poems are all written in elegiac couplets except for the Metamorphoses. His first poems, the Amores (The Loves ), were published at intervals, beginning about 20 BC, in five books. They form a series of short poems depictingthe various phases of a love affair with a woman called Corinna. Their keynote is not passion but the witty and rhetorical exploitation of erotic commonplace; they chronicle not a real relationship between Ovid and Corinna (who is a literary construct rather than a real woman) but all the vicissitudes of a typical affair with a woman of the demimonde.

In the Heroides (Heroines) Ovid developed an idea already used by Propertius into something like a new literary genre. The first 15 of these letters are purportedly from legendary ladies such as Penelope, Dido, and Ariadne to absent husbands or lovers. The letters are really dramatic monologues, in which the lessons of Ovid's rhetorical education, particularly the exercises called ethopoiea (“character drawing”), are brilliantly exploited. The inherent monotony of subject and treatment, which all Ovid's skill could not completely disguise, is adroitly transcended in the six later epistles of the Heroides. These form three pairs, the lover addressing and being answered by the lady. In them, Ovid's treatment of his literary sources is particularly ingenious; the correspondence of Paris and Helen is one of antiquity's minor masterpieces.

Turning next to didactic poetry, Ovid composed the Medicamina faciei, a witty exercise of which only 100 lines survive. This frivolous but harmless poem was followed in 1 BC by the notorious Ars amatoria, a manual of seduction and intrigue for the man about town. The lover's quarry, in this work, is ostensibly to be sought in the demimonde (i.e., among women on the fringes of respectable society who are supported by wealthy lovers), and Ovid explicitly disclaims the intention of teaching adultery; but all of his teaching could in fact be applied to the seduction of married women. Such a work constituted a challenge, no less effective for being flippant, to Augustus' cherished moral reforms, and it included a number of references, in this context tactless if not indeed provocative, to symbols of the emperor's personal prestige. The first two books, addressed to men, were the original extent of the work; a third, in response to popular demand, was added for women. For many modern readers the Ars amatoria is Ovid's masterpiece, a brilliant medley of social and personal satire, vignettes of Roman life and manners, and charming mythological digressions. It was followed by a mock recantation, the Remedia amoris, also a burlesque of an established genre, which can have done little to make amends for the Ars. The possibilities for exploiting love-elegy were now effectively exhausted, and Ovid turned to new types of poetry in which he could use his supreme narrative and descriptive gifts.

Ovid's Fasti (“Calendar”) is an account of the Roman year and its religious festivals, consisting of 12 books, one to each month, of which the first six survive. The various festivals are described as they occur and are traced to their legendary origins. The Fasti was a national poem, intended to take its place in the Augustan literary program and perhaps designed to rehabilitate its author in the eyes of theruling dynasty. It contains a good deal of flattery of the imperial family and much patriotism, for which the undoubted brilliance of the narrative passages does not altogether atone.

Ovid's next work, the Metamorphoses, must also be interpreted against its contemporary literary background, particularly in regard to Virgil's Aeneid . The unique character of Virgil's poem, which had been canonized as the national epic, posed a problem for his successors, since afterthe Aeneid a straightforward historical or mythological epic would represent an anticlimax. Ovid was warned against this pitfall alike by his instincts and his intelligence; he chose, as Virgil had done, to write an epic on a new plan, unique and individual to himself.

The Metamorphoses is a long poem in 15 books written in hexameter verse and totaling nearly 12,000 lines. It is a collection of mythological and legendary stories in which metamorphosis (transformation) plays some part, however minor. The stories are told in chronological order from the creation of the universe (the first metamorphosis, of chaos into order) to the death and deification of Julius Caesar (the culminating metamorphosis, again of chaos—that is, the Civil Wars—into order—that is, the Augustan Peace). In manyof the stories, mythical characters are used to illustrate examples of obedience or disobedience toward the gods, and for their actions are either rewarded or punished by a final transformation into some animal, vegetable, or astronomical form. The importance of metamorphosis is more apparent than real, however; the essential theme of the poem is passion (pathos), and this gives it more unity than all the ingenious linking and framing devices the poet uses. The erotic emphasis that had dominated Ovid's earlier poetry is broadened and deepened into an exploration of nearly every variety of human emotion—for his gods are nothing if not human. This undertaking brought out, as his earlier work had not, Ovid's full powers: his wit and rhetorical brilliance, his mythological learning, and the peculiar qualities of his fertile imagination. The vast quantities of verse in both Greek and Latin that Ovid had read and assimilated are transformed, through a process of creative adaptation, into original and unforeseen guises. By his genius for narrative and vivid description, Ovid gave to scores of Greek legends, some of them little known before, their definitive form for subsequent generations. No single work of literature has done more to transmit the riches of the Greek imagination to posterity. By AD 8, the Metamorphoses was complete, if not yet formally published; and it was at that moment, when Ovid seemed securely placed on a pinnacle of successful achievement, that he was banished toTomis by the emperor.

Ovid arrived at his place of exile in the spring of AD 9. Tomis was a semi-Hellenized port exposed to periodic attacks by the surrounding barbarian tribes. Books and civilized society were lacking; little Latin was spoken; and the climate was severe. In his solitude and depression, Ovid turned again to poetry, now of a more personal and introspective sort. The Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto were written and sent to Romeat the rate of about a book a year from AD 9 on; they consist of letters to the emperor and to Ovid's wife and friends describing his miseries and appealing for clemency. For all his depression and self-pity, Ovid never retreats from the one position with which his self-respect was identified—his status as a poet. This is particularly evident in his ironical defense of the Ars in Book ii of the Tristia.

That Ovid's poetical powers were not as yet seriously impaired is shown by his poem Ibis. This, written not long after his arrival at Tomis, is a long and elaborate curse directed at an anonymous enemy. It is a tour de force of abstruse mythological learning, composed largely without the aid of books. But in the absence of any sign of encouragement from home, Ovid lacked the heart to continue to write the sort of poetry that had made him famous, and the later Epistulae ex Ponto make melancholy reading.

The loss of Ovid's tragedy Medea, which he wrote while still in Rome, is particularly to be deplored; it was praised by the critic Quintilian and the historian Tacitus and can hardly have failed to influence Seneca's play on the same theme.


In classical antiquity, Ovid's influence on later Latin poetry was primarily technical. He succeeded in the difficult task of adapting the intractable Latin language to dactylic Greek metres, and thereby perfected both the elegiac couplet and the hexameter as all-purpose metres and as instruments of fluent communication. Ovid's verse is remarkable for its smoothness, fluency, and balance. The elegance of his verse masks its extreme artificiality, and the casual reader may overlook the quiet ruthlessness of Ovid's linguistic innovations, particularly in vocabulary. Ovid's hexameters in the Metamorphoses are a superb vehicle for rapid narrative and description.

To this technical facility Ovid added an unrivaled power of invention that enabled him to exploit ideas and situations to the utmost, chiefly through the use of vivid and telling details. His undoubted rhetorical gifts have caused him to bedubbed insincere and even heartless, and he seems indeed to have lacked the capacity for strong emotion or religious feeling. Judged, however, by his gift for fantasy, Ovid is one of the great poets of all time. In the Metamorphoses he created a Nabokovian caricature of the actual world, the setting for a cosmic comedy of manners in which the endlessflux and reflux of the universe itself is reflected in the often paradoxical and always arbitrary fate of the characters, human and divine. Pathos, humour, beauty, and cruelty are mingled in a unique individual vision. Ovid's talent is not of that highest order which can pierce the outward semblance of men and things and receive intimations of a deeper reality; but what he could do, few if any poets have ever done better.


Ovid's immense popularity during his lifetime continued after his death and was little affected by the action of Augustus, who banned his works from the public libraries. From about 1100 onward Ovid's fame, which during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages had been to some extent eclipsed, began to rival and even at times to surpass Virgil's. The 12th and 13th centuries have with some justice been called “the age of Ovid.” Indeed, he was esteemed in this period not only as entertaining but also as instructive, and his works were read in schools. His poetry is full of epigrammatic maxims and sententious utterances which, lifted from their contexts, made a respectable appearance in the excerpts in which medieval readers often studied their classics. Ovid's popularity was part, however, of a general secularization and awakening to the beauties of profane literature; he was the poet of the wandering scholars as well as of the vernacular poets, the troubadours and minnesingers; and when the concept of romantic love, in its new chivalrous or “courtly” guise, was developed in France, it was Ovid's influence that dominated the book in which its philosophy was expounded, the Roman de la rose.

Ovid's popularity grew during the Renaissance, particularly among humanists who were striving to re-create ancient modes of thought and feeling, and printed editions of his works followed each other in an unending stream from 1471. A knowledge of his verse came to be taken for granted in an educated man, and in the 15th–17th centuries it would be difficult to name a poet or painter of note who was not in some degree indebted to him. The Metamorphoses, in particular, offered one of the most accessible and attractive avenues to the riches of Greek mythology. But Ovid's chief appeal stems from the humanity of his writing: its gaiety, its sympathy, its exuberance, its pictorial and sensuous quality. It is these things that have recommended him, down the ages, to the troubadours and the poets of courtly love, to Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, J.W. von Goethe, and Ezra Pound.

Edward John Kenney




Rome, the Savage City



Although Augustus was an authoritarian ruler, he was careful to preserve republican traditions and exercised his power with moderation. After his death, old fears of imperial rule proved justified. The accession of Caligula in A.D. 37 introduced flagrant abuses, cruelty and immorality, resulting in the Emperor's murder. The decline in the quality of classical literature during the so-called Silver Age seems to reflect the political decline. Freedom of expression tended to be more limited, and there was more rhetoric, less wit and passion.






Nevertheless, the post-Augustan period was not without its own literary giants. The Spanish-born Lucan (A.D. 39-65) was the author of the Pharsalia, generally regarded as the finest epic after the Aeneid, before he fell foul of the Emperor Nero and committed suicide at Nero's command. Seneca (4 B.C.-A.D 65), the outstanding dramatic tragedian of the age, narrowly avoided death under Caligula, later becoming Nero's tutor. His tragedies are adaptations from the Greek and were highly influential in the Renaissance, when Greek speakers were few in comparison with Latin. Writers of prose included Pliny the Younger (c.62—c.113), the nephew of the Pliny the Elder, whose massive work, Historia Naturalis, was published in A.D. 77. The younger Pliny is chiefly remembered for his Letters, some written to the Emperor when he was a provincial governor. They contain a memorable description of the eruption of Vesuvius (A.D. 79) in which his uncle died while pursuing his research too assiduously. There were also outstanding achievements in the fields of satire and history. The most popular classical writer during the Renaissance was Plutarch (died c.125), a Greek, whose Lives, in the translation by Sir Thomas North (1579), were the chief source for Shakespeare's Roman plays.





Although there were satirical elements in some Greek comedy, satire is the one literary genre whose creation is credited to the Romans, in particular to Gaius Lucilius, who lived in the 2nd century B.C. He wrote a series of 'sermons' in verse, commenting adversely on public figures and social customs. His work is mostly lost, but he seems to have inspired Horace's mockery of public folly and vulgarity in his own lively Satires.
The greatest satirists, Martial and Juvenal, lived in the 1st—2nd centuries A.D. The Spanish-born Martial was a professional poet who grew disillusioned with city life and retired to the country. His Epigrams were published towards the end of the 1st century and consisted of short poems devoted to a single notion, sometimes obscene, sometimes flattering, often mocking.
Juvenal, who was much admired by the English satirists of the late 17th—18th century, was his younger contemporary and friend, but a far more savage writer. His bitter irony, ferocious invective, and hatred of the rich were directed, so the poet claimed, at an earlier generation, but it is obvious that this was mere form. He paints a grim picture of life for the non-rich in the Rome of the cultured Emperor Hadrian.



WHAT? Am I to be a listener only all my days? Am I never to get my word in—I that have been so often bored by the Theseid of the ranting Cordus? Shall this one have spouted to me his comedies, and that one his love ditties, and I be unavenged? Shall I have no revenge on one who has taken up the whole day with an interminable Telephus or with an Orestes which, after filling the margin at the top of the roll and the back as well, hasn't even yet come to an end? No one knows his own house so well as I know the groves of Mars, and the cave of Vulcan near the cliffs of Aeolus. What the winds are brewing; whose souls Aeacus has on the rack; from what country another worthy is carrying off that stolen golden fleece; how big are the ash trees which Monychus hurls as missiles: these are the themes with which Fronto's plane trees and marble halls are for ever ringing until the pillars quiver and quake under the continual recitations; such is the kind of stuff you may look for from every poet, greatest or least. Well, I too have slipped my hand from under the cane; I too have counselled Sulla to retire from public life and take a deep sleep; it is a foolish clemency when you jostle against poets at every corner, to spare paper that will be wasted anyhow. But if you can give me time, and will listen quietly to reason, I will tell you why I prefer to run in the same course over which the great nursling of Aurunca drove his horses."


Juvenal  Satire



The great historians of republican Rome were Sallust (86-35 B.C.), who made a fortune as a provincial governor under Julius Caesar, retiring to become a historian in the tradition of Thucydides, and Livy (59 B.C.-A.D. 17). Livy came from north Italy and, unusually, seems never to have held political office. In spite of favouring the Republic, he found favour with Augustus and began publishing his great history of Rome (142 books, of which many are lost) in about 25 B.C. Though not always totally reliable, and heavily biased by his patriotic sympathies, Livy presents the finest account of ancient Rome from mythological times. Livy was highly regarded by Tacitus, the great historian of the Silver Age. Tacitus (died c. 116), son-in-law of the famous Roman governor of Britain, Agricola, had the benefit of wider political and military experience, and was a famous orator. What survives of his work demonstrates extraordinary perception of character and motivation, and a crisp, vivid style. He was deeply affected by the brutal rule of Domitian (reigned A.D. 81—96) and became strongly anti-imperialist, imparting a hostile bias to his account of imperial government.


The Roman Empire was the basis of European civilization; for over a thousand years after it had fallen, Europeans were fondly trying to restore it, or something like it. The name of the Holy (i.e. Christian) Roman Empire reflected the eagerness of the Ottoman German kings, like Charlemagne before them, to reclaim the greatness of the past, although, by most measurements of "civilization", the Roman achievement was not surpassed until the modern era. Latin remained the standard language of educated people in Europe and provided an international cultural bond more powerful than a common market or a single currency. Thus Latin literature can be said to have lasted 1,500 years after Juvenal's death (A.D. 130), although it was no longer "Roman". later writers being described as "Christian", if appropriate, or by some other term.


Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy