Latin literature

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Latin literature,

the literature of ancient Rome and of that written in Latin in later eras.

Very little remains of the ritualistic songs and the native poetry of the Romans and Latins before the rise of a literature. The history of the Roman Empire is fundamental to the fabric of this literature: in the first three centuries of its development, the influence of captive Greece was all-pervasive.

The Development of a Classical Style

The close of the First Punic War (c.240 B.C.) marks the beginning of literary work in Rome with the plays of the slave Livius AndronicusLivius Andronicus
, fl. 3d cent. B.C., Roman poet, a Greek, b. Tarentum (Taranto). He was captured and made a slave at the fall of Tarentum and was freed by his master, a Livian noble, hence his name. Later he became a teacher and an actor.
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, adapted from the Greek. The epic poet Gnaeus NaeviusNaevius, Gnaeus
, c.264–195 B.C., Roman poet and dramatist. Born in Campania, he served in the first Punic War (264–241 B.C.), which he evoked in De Bello Punico. Now only available in fragments, this work is considered the first Latin epic.
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 also wrote dramas, but he was far surpassed by the greatest of Roman dramatists, PlautusPlautus
(Titus Maccius Plautus) , c.254–184 B.C., Roman writer of comedies, b. Umbria. His plays, adapted from those of Greek New Comedy, are popular and vigorous representations of middle-class and lower-class life.
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, a master of comedy. In his Satires EnniusEnnius, Quintus
, 239–169? B.C., Latin poet, regarded by the Romans as the father of Latin poetry, b. Calabria. His birthplace was the meeting point of three civilizations—Oscan, Greek, and Latin—and Ennius learned to speak the languages of these cultures.
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 introduced the hexameter into Latin; Cato the ElderCato the Elder
or Cato the Censor,
Lat. Cato Major or Cato Censorius, 234–149 B.C., Roman statesman and moralist, whose full name was Marcus Porcius Cato.
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 opposed the hellenizing group, to which Ennius belonged, and wrote his works in as rude a Latin as possible. However, his efforts had little effect and the works of TerenceTerence
(Publius Terentius Afer) , b. c.185 or c.195 B.C., d. c.159 B.C., Roman writer of comedies, b. Carthage. As a boy he was a slave of Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, who brought him to Rome, educated him, and gave him his freedom.
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, Greek in scene and origin, manifest the tremendous interchange of Greek and Latin writing.

The 1st cent. B.C., the last era of the Roman republic, produced some of the greatest figures in Latin literature—the encyclopedist VarroVarro, Marcus Terentius,
116 B.C.–27? B.C., Roman man of letters. Known as the most erudite man and the most prolific writer of his times, Varro is estimated to have written about 620 volumes.
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, the statesmen and prose masters CiceroCicero
(Marcus Tullius Cicero) or Tully,
106 B.C.–43 B.C., greatest Roman orator, famous also as a politician and a philosopher. Life

Cicero studied law and philosophy at Rome, Athens, and Rhodes.
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 and Julius CaesarCaesar, Julius
(Caius Julius Caesar), 100? B.C.–44 B.C., Roman statesman and general. Rise to Power

Although he was born into the Julian gens, one of the oldest patrician families in Rome, Caesar was always a member of the democratic or popular party.
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, the poets LucretiusLucretius
(Titus Lucretius Carus) , c.99 B.C.–c.55 B.C., Roman poet and philosopher. Little is known about his life. A chronicle of St. Jerome speaks of the loss of his reason through taking a love potion.
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 and CatullusCatullus
(Caius Valerius Catullus) , 84? B.C.–54? B.C., Roman poet, b. Verona. Of a well-to-do family, he went c.62 B.C. to Rome. He fell deeply in love, probably with Clodia, sister of Cicero's opponent Publius Clodius. She was suspected of murdering her husband.
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, and the historian SallustSallust
(Caius Sallustius Crispus) , 86 B.C.–c.34 B.C., Roman historian. He was tribune of the people (52 B.C.) and praetor (46). He was ejected (50) from the senate ostensibly for adultery, but more probably because of his partisanship for Caesar.
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. VergilVergil
or Virgil
(Publius Vergilius Maro) , 70 B.C.–19 B.C., Roman poet, b. Andes dist., near Mantua, in Cisalpine Gaul; the spelling Virgil is not found earlier than the 5th cent. A.D. Vergil's father, a farmer, took his son to Cremona for his education.
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, the greatest of Latin epic poets, exemplifies a new atmosphere in the Augustan age, with his celebration—and somber questioning—of the new empire. In his epodes, odes, and satires, the poet HoraceHorace
(Quintus Horatius Flaccus) , 65 B.C.–8 B.C., Latin poet, one of the greatest of lyric poets, b. Venusia, S Italy. He studied at Rome and Athens and, joining Brutus and the republicans, fought (42 B.C.) at Philippi.
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 brought the Latin lyric to perfection, while the elegy was cultivated by TibullusTibullus
(Albius Tibullus) , c.55? B.C.–19 B.C., Roman elegiac poet, b. Pedum, near Praeneste. Probably of the equestrian order, he was a friend of Messala, whom he accompanied on campaign.
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, PropertiusPropertius, Sextus
, c.50 B.C.–c.16 B.C., Roman elegiac poet, b. Umbria. He was a member of the circle of Maecenas. A master of the Latin elegy, he wrote with vigor, passion, and sincerity. Bibliography

See translations by C. Carrier (1963) and J.
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, and OvidOvid
(Publius Ovidius Naso) , 43 B.C.–A.D. 18, Latin poet, b. Sulmo (present-day Sulmona), in the Apennines. Although trained for the law, he preferred the company of the literary coterie at Rome.
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. The notable historian of the age was LivyLivy
(Titus Livius) , 59 B.C.–A.D. 17, Roman historian, b. Patavium (Padua), probably of noble family. He lived most of his life in Rome. The breadth of his education is apparent in his evident familiarity with the ancient Greek and Latin authors.
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Post-classical Literature

During the first half of the 1st cent. A.D., Latin literature in its classical form was in decline. The works of SenecaSeneca,
the elder (Lucius, or Marcus, Annaeus Seneca) , c.60 B.C.–c.A.D. 37, Roman rhetorician and writer, b. Corduba (present-day Córdoba), Spain; grandfather of Lucan and father of Seneca the younger.
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, LucanLucan
(Marcus Annaeus Lucanus) , A.D. 39–A.D. 65, Latin poet, b. Córdoba, Spain, nephew of the philosopher Seneca. At first in Nero's favor, he was later forced to kill himself when his part in a plot against the emperor was discovered.
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, PersiusPersius
or Aulus Persius Flaccus
, A.D. 34–A.D. 62, Roman satirical poet, b. Etruria. A member of a distinguished family, he went to Rome in boyhood, was educated there, and came under the influence of the Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, to whom he
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, and StatiusStatius, Publius Papinius
, c.A.D. 45–c.A.D. 96, Latin poet, b. Naples. A favorite of Emperor Domitian, he won the poetry prize at an annual festival under Domitian's auspices but later was an unsuccessful competitor at the Capitoline contest in Rome.
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 typify a period in which the masters, both Latin and Greek, were imitated. Among the most original poets were MartialMartial
(Marcus Valerius Martialis) , c.A.D. 40–c.A.D. 104, Roman epigrammatic poet, b. Bilbilis, Spain. After A.D. 64 he lived in Rome for many years, winning fame by his wit and poetic gifts.
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 and JuvenalJuvenal
(Decimus Junius Juvenalis) , fl. 1st to 2d cent. A.D., Roman satirical poet. His verse established a model for the satire of indignation, in contrast to the less harsh satire of ridicule of Horace.
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, celebrated for their satiric writings. PetroniusPetronius
, d. c.A.D. 66, Roman satirist, known as Petronius Arbiter because of his now generally accepted identity with Gaius Petronius, to whom Tacitus refers as arbiter elegantiae in the court of Nero.
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, FrontinusFrontinus
(Sextus Julius Frontinus) , fl. A.D. 74, Roman administrator and writer. As governor of Britain from A.D. 74 or A.D. 75 to A.D. 78, he reduced the Silures, a rebellious tribe in SE Wales, and pacified Britain within its borders; it was this work, successfully done,
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, Pliny the ElderPliny the Elder
(Caius Plinius Secundus) , c.A.D. 23–A.D. 79, Roman naturalist, b. Cisalpine Gaul. He was a friend and fellow military officer of Vespasian, becoming eventually an army and naval commander and imperial official, and he dedicated his great work to Titus.
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, Pliny the Younger (see under Pliny the ElderPliny the Elder
(Caius Plinius Secundus) , c.A.D. 23–A.D. 79, Roman naturalist, b. Cisalpine Gaul. He was a friend and fellow military officer of Vespasian, becoming eventually an army and naval commander and imperial official, and he dedicated his great work to Titus.
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), and TacitusTacitus
(Cornelius Tacitus), c.A.D. 55–c.A.D. 117, Roman historian. Little is known for certain of his life. He was a friend of Pliny the Younger and married the daughter of Agricola. In A.D.
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 were the chief writers of prose; SuetoniusSuetonius
(Caius Suetonius Tranquillus) , c.A.D. 69–c.A.D. 140, Roman biographer. Little is known about his life except that he was briefly the private secretary of Emperor Hadrian.
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 exemplified the richness of historical and biographical writing under the Principate, while QuintilianQuintilian
(Marcus Fabius Quintilianus) , c.A.D. 35–c.A.D. 95, Roman rhetorician, b. Calagurris (now Calahorra), Spain. He taught rhetoric at Rome (Pliny the Younger and possibly Tacitus were among his pupils) and, as a public teacher, was endowed with a salary by
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 brought classical literary criticism to its greatest development.

In the 2d cent. Marcus FrontoFronto
(Marcus Cornelius Fronto) , fl. 2d cent., Roman teacher and rhetorician, b. Numidia, Africa. Antoninus Pius made him consul in 143. A successful teacher and government official, Fronto was an admirer of the early Latin writers and tried unsuccessfully to bring about a
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 distinguished himself as an orator; his pupil Marcus AureliusMarcus Aurelius
(Marcus Aelius Aurelius Antoninus) , 121–180, Roman emperor, named originally Marcus Annius Verus. He was a nephew of Faustina, the wife of Antoninus Pius, who adopted him. Marcus married Antoninus' daughter, another Faustina.
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 gained fame both as a ruler and as one of the masters of the Latin essay. In the 3d and 4th cent. the writings of AusoniusAusonius
(Decimus Magnus Ausonius) , c.310–c.395, Latin poet and man of letters, b. Bordeaux. He tutored Gratian, who, when he ascended the throne, made Ausonius prefect of Gaul, and finally consul (379). When Gratian died, Ausonius returned to Bordeaux.
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 and Avienus extended beyond classical studies, developing traditional themes to deal with everyday life and the world of nature. ClaudianClaudian
(Claudius Claudianus) , c.370–c.404, last notable Latin classic poet. Probably born in Alexandria, he flourished at court under Arcadius and Honorius. Besides panegyrics, idylls, epigrams, and occasional poems, he wrote several epics, the most ambitious of which
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 is considered the best of the late poets. Ammianus MarcellinusAmmianus Marcellinus
, c.330–c.400, Roman historian, b. Antioch. After retiring from a successful military career, he wrote a history of the Roman Empire as a sequel to that of Tacitus, his model. The history, in 31 books, covered the years from A.D.
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 was a noted historian. The philological scholars of the empire were numerous. These included Aulus GelliusGellius, Aulus
, fl. 2d cent., Roman writer. He was a lawyer who spent at least a year in Athens and wrote Noctes Atticae [Attic nights], a collection of discussions of law, antiquities, and sundry other subjects in 20 books (of which 19 and a fraction survive).
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, Terentianus, MacrobiusMacrobius
, fl. c.430, Latin writer and philosopher. His Saturnalia, a dialogue in seven books chiefly concerned with a literary evaluation of Vergil, incorporates valuable quotations from other writers.
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, Martianus CapellaCapella, Martianus
, fl. 5th cent.?, Latin writer, b. Carthage. His one famous work, The Marriage of Mercury and Philology, also called the Satyricon and Disciplinae, is a long allegory about the liberal arts. Its popularity in medieval schools was universal.
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, and PriscianPriscian
(Priscianus Caesariensis) , fl. 500, Latin grammarian, b. Caesarea in Mauretania. Priscian taught grammar at Constantinople. His Commentarii grammatici, in 18 books, was long a standard text, and it was the basis of the work of Rabanus Maurus in the Middle Ages.
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As the classical inspiration died, the tradition of Latin literature was borrowed from and carried forward in Christian writing. PrudentiusPrudentius
(Aurelius Clemens Prudentius) , b. 348, Christian Latin poet, b. Spain. He wrote a number of hymns, occasional Christian lyrics, and poems on saints. Although he held a high place at the Roman court, he eventually retired to devote himself to religion.
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 attempted to build a Christian style on classical models, but failed. The Latin languageLatin language,
member of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. Latin was first encountered in ancient times as the language of Latium, the region of central Italy in which Rome is located (see Italic languages).
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 became the standard language of the West and by far the greater bulk of medieval literature as well as records, documents, and letters was written in Latin (see patristic literaturepatristic literature,
Christian writings of the first few centuries. They are chiefly in Greek and Latin; there is analogous writing in Syriac and in Armenian. The first period of patristic literature (1st–2d cent.) includes the works of St. Clement I, St.
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; Medieval Latin literatureMedieval Latin literature,
literary works written in the Latin language during the Middle Ages. The Decline of Rome

With the slow dissolution over centuries of the Roman Empire in the West, Latin writing dwindled and changed like the rest of Roman culture.
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; Roman lawRoman law,
the legal system of Rome from the supposed founding of the city in 753 B.C. to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in A.D. 1453; it was later adopted as the basis of modern civil law.
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The Renaissance

The literature of the RenaissanceRenaissance
[Fr.,=rebirth], term used to describe the development of Western civilization that marked the transition from medieval to modern times. This article is concerned mainly with general developments and their impact in the fields of science, rhetoric, literature, and
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 represents a conscious attempt to recapture the classical spirit. Most learned people cultivated Latin, and many of them succeeded in writing a Latin style that stands comparison with classical Latin models. PetrarchPetrarch
or Francesco Petrarca
, 1304–74, Italian poet and humanist, one of the great figures of Italian literature. He spent his youth in Tuscany and Avignon and at Bologna.
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, BoccaccioBoccaccio, Giovanni
, 1313–75, Italian poet and storyteller, author of the Decameron. Born in Paris, the illegitimate son of a Tuscan merchant and a French woman, he was educated at Certaldo and Naples by his father, who wanted him to take up commerce and law.
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, Poggio BraccioliniPoggio Bracciolini, Gian Francesco
, 1380–1459, Italian humanist. A secretary in the Roman curia, he later became chancellor and historiographer of the republic of Florence.
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, PolizianoPoliziano, Angelo
, or Politian
, 1454–94, Italian poet, philologist, and humanist. Of middle-class origin, he was given a classical education, completed under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici. He became Lorenzo's companion and was tutor to the young Medici.
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, PontanoPontano, Giovanni
, 1426–1503, Italian poet, historian, and statesman, who used also the Latin form Jovianus Pontanus. He was protected by Alfonso of Aragón, who made him his chancellor of Naples (1447) and later his secretary.
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, and Pius IIPius II
, 1405–64, pope (1458–64), an Italian named Enea Silvio de' Piccolomini (often in Latin, Aeneas Silvius), renamed Pienza after him, b. Corsigniano; successor of Calixtus III.
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 were accomplished Latin writers. ErasmusErasmus
or Desiderius Erasmus
[Gr. Erasmus, his given name, and Lat., Desiderius=beloved; both are regarded as the equivalent of Dutch Gerard, Erasmus' father's name], 1466?–1536, Dutch humanist, b. Rotterdam.
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 violently attacked the ubiquitous Ciceronianism of the time.

Later Latin Literature

Good Latin poets have been fewer since the Renaissance, but George BuchananBuchanan, George,
1506–82, Scottish humanist. Educated at St. Andrews and Paris, he became (1536) tutor to James V's illegitimate son James Stuart (later earl of Murray). He was imprisoned (1539) for satirizing the Franciscans but escaped to the Continent.
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 and John MiltonMilton, John,
1608–74, English poet, b. London, one of the greatest poets of the English language. Early Life and Works

The son of a wealthy scrivener, Milton was educated at St. Paul's School and Christ's College, Cambridge.
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 are among the exceptions. Among the great scholars whose major works were written in Latin were Thomas MoreMore, Sir Thomas
(Saint Thomas More), 1478–1535, English statesman and author of Utopia, celebrated as a martyr in the Roman Catholic Church. He received a Latin education in the household of Cardinal Morton and at Oxford.
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, Baruch SpinozaSpinoza, Baruch or Benedict
, 1632–77, Dutch philosopher, b. Amsterdam. Spinoza's Life

He belonged to the community of Jews from Spain and Portugal who had fled the Inquisition.
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, Francis BaconBacon, Francis,
1561–1626, English philosopher, essayist, and statesman, b. London, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and at Gray's Inn. He was the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord keeper to Queen Elizabeth I.
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, Gottfried Wilhelm von LeibnizLeibniz or Leibnitz, Gottfried Wilhelm, Baron von
, 1646–1716, German philosopher and mathematician, b. Leipzig.
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, and Isaac NewtonNewton, Sir Isaac,
1642–1727, English mathematician and natural philosopher (physicist), who is considered by many the greatest scientist that ever lived. Early Life and Work
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. Latin literature, as such, is nearly dead, for its cultivation is limited to the ever-narrowing circles of classicists and to the Roman Catholic Church, which adds new matter to the liturgy only rarely and confines use of extraliturgical Latin to official, nonliterary documents.


See J. W. Duff, A Literary History of Rome (3d ed., repr. 1979); E. J. Kenney, ed., Cambridge History of Classical Literature, Vol. II (1982); J. Sullivan, Literature and Politics in the Age of Nero (1985); B. Baldwin, ed., An Anthology of Later Latin Literature (1987).

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References in classic literature ?
There was no doubt that he was a fine scholar, and he was engaged on a work which was quite in the right tradition: he was writing a treatise on the trees in Latin literature; but he talked of it flippantly, as though it were a pastime of no great importance, like billiards, which engaged his leisure but was not to be considered with seriousness.
Each vacation he brought home a new book or two, indicating his progress through different stages of history, Christian doctrine, and Latin literature; and that passage was not entirely without results, besides the possession of the books.
He was born into the political and literary elite of Italy, they say, and was well prepared to study Latin literature and philosophy at the University of Ferrara.
On one hand, in spite of the evolution of the field in most respects, in the context of comparative literature the treatment of Latin literature is still rooted in the conventions of earlier centuries.
Elsewhere, the five-toed chickens first appeared in Latin literature in 37 BC.According to a paper by Elio Corti and his colleagues, the origin and historical distribution of five-toed chickens is not clear, although the birds are currently spread in Europe and Asia.
Elizabeth Tyler's transformative study of English queens' patronage of Latin literature in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries builds, in new and adventurous ways, on developments in the study of late Anglo-Saxon culture that have occurred over the last two or three decades.
Thus, it is an excellent tool for students and teachers of Latin literature and Stoic philosophy.
Synopsis: In "Echoing Hylas: A Study in Hellenistic and Roman Metapoetics", Mark Heerink (associate professor in Latin literature at the University of Amsterdam) argues that the story of Hylas (a famous episode of the Argonauts' voyage) was used by poets throughout classical antiquity to reflect symbolically on the position of their poetry in the literary tradition.
His prime interests lie in Latin literature and Roman history and civilization, but he has become, over time, interested in the Nachleben of antiquity, as the present instance displays.
The premier source for Latin language studies curriculum materials and publications, Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers now presented a two volume compendium comprised of excerpts from classic Latin literature. Volume 1 (9780865168299, $20.59, 341pp) by academician author of numerous pedagogical materials Marianthe Colakis is comprised of selections from Catullus, Cicero, Livy, Ovid, Propertius, Tibullus, and Vergil.
It is a masterpiece of Latin literature, but because its first few books are devoted to establishing the philosophy's materialist physics, with extensive arguments seeking to prove atomic motion or sensory perception, many readers never make it to what really counts--its ethics.