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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.

Latin literature is conventionally divided into distinct periods. Few works remain of Early and Old Latin; among these few surviving works, however, are the plays of Plautus and Terence, which have remained very popular in all eras down to the present, while many other Latin works, including many by the most prominent authors of the Classical period, have disappeared, sometimes being re-discovered after centuries, sometimes not. Such lost works sometimes survive as fragments in other works which have survived, but others are known from references in such works as Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia or the De Architectura of Vitruvius.

Classical Latin

Marcus Tullius Cicero
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 BC up to the mid-1st century AD, and the Silver Age, which extends into the 2nd century AD. 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 pinnacle of Latin style. Medieval Latin was often dismissed as inferior; 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 Romemarker 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.

Early Latin literature



Lucius Livius Andronicus (c. 280/260 BC–c. 200 BC)
Gnaeus Naevius
Quintus Ennius (239 - c. 169 BC)
Marcus Pacuvius (ca. 220-130 BC)
Lucius Accius (170 - c. 86 BC)


Livius Andronicus
Gnaeus Naevius(ca. 264 – 201 BC)
Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254–184 BC)
Publius Terentius Afer (195/185–159 BC)


Gaius Lucilius (c.160s - 103/2 BC)


Cato - agricultural writer

Golden Age of Latin literature


Lucius Pomponius - Dramatist, a writer of the Atellanae fabulae
Catullus - lyric poet and elegist
Horace - lyric poet and satirist
Lucretius - philosopher
Ovid - elegist, didactic poet and mythological poet
Propertius - elegist
Tibullus - elegist
Virgil - epic, didactic and pastoral poet
Quintus Novius - Dramatist, a writer of the Atellanae fabulae
Lucius Pomponius Secundus - Tragedian


Cicero - orator, philosopher and correspondent
Marcus Terentius Varro - agricultural writer and linguist
Publilius Syrus - writer of maxims
Vitruvius - architect


Julius Caesar


Cornelius Nepos
Augustus - autobiographer

Silver Age of Latin literature


Gaius Valerius Flaccus - epic poet
Lucan - epic poet
Marcus Manilius - astronomical poet
Silius Italicus - epic poet
Statius - lyric and epic poet
Juvenal - satirist
Martial - epigrammatist
Persius - satirist
Phaedrus - fabulist


Pliny the Elder: an imaginative 19th Century portrait.
No contemporary depiction of Pliny has survived.
Aulus Cornelius Celsus - physician
Aulus Gellius - essayist
Columella - agricultural writer
Petronius - novellist
Pliny the Elder - scientist
Pliny the Younger - correspondent
Quintilian - rhetorician
Sextus Julius Frontinus - engineer
Valerius Maximus - author of a collection of anecdotes
Seneca the Elder - orator


Marcus Velleius Paterculus


Quintus Curtius Rufus

Multiple Genres

Seneca the Younger - philosopher, correspondent, scientist, tragedian and satirist
Curiatius Maternus - Tragedian and Sophist

Second Century


Hosidius Geta - Playwright


Apuleius - novellist and philosopher
Lucian - essayist, satirist
Marcus Aurelius - philosopher
Fronto - grammarian
Aulus Gellius - essayist
Tacitus - historian
Claudius Ptolemy - astronomer

Latin Literature in the Late Antique period


Augustine of Hippo - theologian, autobiographer and correspondent
Ausonius - elegist
Jerome - theologian and correspondent
Marcus Minucius Felix - theologian
Prudentius - Christian poet
Sidonius Apollinaris - panegyricist and correspondent
Tertullian - theologian


Ammianus Marcellinus - historian
Augustan History - history
Claudian - panegyricist
Pervigilium Veneris - lyric poetry

Medieval Latin literature

Theology and Philosophy

Pierre Abélard
Albertus Magnus
Thomas Aquinas : Pange Lingua : Summa Theologica
Roger Bacon
Duns Scotus
Gregory of Tours
Siger of Brabant
Tommaso da Celano : Dies Iræ
Venantius Fortunatus
Walter of Châtillon
William of Occam
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius - Consolation of Philosophy

Drama and poetry

The Archpoet
Carmina Burana
Peter of Blois
Hildegard of Bingen


Albert of Aix
Fulcher of Chartres
Matthew Paris
Orderic Vitalis
Otto of Freising
William of Malmesbury
William of Tyre


Geoffrey of Monmouth


Isidore of Seville : Etymologiæ

Multiple Genres


Renaissance Latin

Dante Alighieri
Giovanni Boccaccio
Jean Buridan
Thomas More : Utopia
William of Ockham


Francis Bacon
Jacob Bidermann
Thomas Hobbes
John Milton
Baruch Spinoza
Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski
Elizabeth Jane Weston

Recent Latin

Arrius Nurus
Geneviève Immè
Alanus Divutius
Anna Elissa Radke
Ianus Novak
Tuomo Pekkanen

See also

External links

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