History, Facts and Information about Roman Literature
It was not till the conquest of the Greek cities in Southern Italy, shortly before the First Punic War, that we can date the commencement of the Roman literature. It began with the Drama. Dramatic exhibitions were first introduced at Rome from Etruria in B.C. 363. but were only pantomimic scenes to the music of the flute, without any song or dialogue. It was not till B.C. 240 that a drama with a regular plot was performed at Rome. Roman literature rose to its highest excellence under Augustus, declined rapidly under his successors, and was finally lost with the fall of the Western empire. The content of this article provides interesting history, facts and information about Roman Literature and Roman Authors and Poets.
ROMAN LITERATURE FROM BC240 - A.D. 14
Roman Literature - Drama and Poetry
Drama was the start of Roman Literature and encompassed Comedies and Tragedies. The most famous writers of this type of Roman literature were as follows:
M. LIVIUS ANDRONICUS who wrote both tragedies and comedies. He may be regarded as the first Roman poet. His works were read in schools in the time of Horace.
CN. NAEVIUS, the second Roman poet who wrote drama and an epic poem on the First Punic War, in which he introduced the celebrated legends connected with the foundation of Rome. This poem was extensively copied both by Ennius and Virgil.
Q. ENNIUS, however, may be regarded as the real founder of Roman literature. His most important work was an epic poem, entitled the "Annals of Rome," in 18 books.
T. MACCIUS PLAUTUS - The comedies of Plautus enjoyed unrivaled popularity among the Romans, and continued to be represented down to the time of Diocletian.
P. TERENTIUS AFER, usually called TERENCE. His chief patrons were Laelius and the younger Scipio, both of whom treated him as an equal, and are said even to have assisted him in the composition of his plays.
The two most distinguished writers of Mimes were DEC. LABERIUS, a knight, and P. SYRUS, a freedman
Roman Literature - Satire
The Fescennine Songs were the origin of the Satire, the only important species of literature not derived from the Greeks, and altogether peculiar to Italy.
T. LUCRETIUS CARUS whose work is deemed to be the greatest of didactic poems.
VALERIUS CATULLUS His poems are on a variety of topics, and composed in different styles and metres. Some are lyrical, others elegies, others epigrams; while the Nuptials of Peleus and Thetis is an heroic poem.
P. VIRGILIUS (more properly VERGILIUS aka VIRGIL) MARO Virgil wrote the aeneid or adventures of aeneas after the fall of Troy which is an epic formed on the model of the Homeric poems. It was founded upon an old Roman tradition that aeneas and his Trojans settled in Italy, and were the founders of the Roman name.
Q. HORATIUS FLACCUS, usually called HORACE. Famous for The Odes of Horace, the Satires of Horace and The Epistles of Horace are the most original form of Roman verse.
ALBIUS TIBULLUS. His Elegies, which are exquisite small poems, celebrate the beauty and cruelty of his mistresses.
P. OVIDIUS NASO, usually culled OVID. Besides his amatory poems, Ovid wrote the Metamorphoses in 15 books, which consist of such legends or fables as involved a transformation, from the Creation to the time of Julius Caesar, the Fasti iand the Elegies. Ovid undoubtedly possessed a great poetical genius.
Roman Literature - Prose, the Annals
The earliest prose works of the Romans were Annals, containing an account of the principal events in Roman history, arranged under their respective years.
Q. FABIUS PICTOR and L. CINCIUS ALIMENTUS, both of whom served in the Second Punic War, and drew up an account of it, but they wrote in the Greek language.
CATO. The first prose writer in the Latin language, of whom any considerable fragments have been preserved, is the celebrated Censor, M. Porcius Cato who wrote an important historical work entitled Origines.
CICERO. Cicero, in his work entitled Brutus, has given a long list of distinguished Orators, he also wrote several treatises on Rhetoric, of which the most perfect is a systematic treatise on the art of Oratory (De Oratore), in three books. He also wrote works on Philosophy and his famous Epistles and letters.
M. TERENTIUS VARRO. Varro was the most learned of Roman scholars, but he was likewise the most voluminous of Roman authors composing no less than 490 books including De Re Rustica, a work on Agriculture and De Lingua Latina, a grammatical treatise.
C. JULIUS CAESAR, the great Dictator, was also distinguished as an author, and wrote several works, of which the Commentaries alone have come down to us. They relate the history of the Gallic War and the history of the Civil War to the commencement of the Alexandrine.
C. SALLUSTIUS CRISPUS. He wrote the Catilina, the history of the suppression of Catiline's conspiracy, and the Jugurtha, the history of the war against Jugurtha. Sallust made Thucydides his model, and took great pains with his style.
CORNELIUS NEPOS was the author of Lives of Distinguished Commanders (Vitae Excellentium Imperatorum).
TITUS LIVIUS, usually called LIVY. Livy's "History of Rome" extended from the foundation of the city to the death of Drusus, B.C. 9, and was comprised in 142 books.
ROMAN LITERATURE UNDER THE EMPIRE. A.D. 14-476.
M. Annaeus Lucanus wrote the Pharsalia, an epic, of which he finished only ten books: it relates the wars between Caesar and Pompey.
C. Silius Italicus. His poem, the Punica, is an account of the second Punic War in verse, and is chiefly valuable to the historical student.
P. Papinius Statius. He wrote the Thebais, in twelve parts; the Achilleis, in two books; the Sylvae, a collection of poems; a tragedy, and other works.
Claudius Claudianus. His chief works were, 1. Raptus Proserpinae, an unfinished poem in three parts; 2. Gigantomachia, another unfinished work; 3. De Bello Gildonico, of which we possess only the first book; and, 4. De Bello Getico, in which the poet sings the victory of Stilicho over Alaric at Pollentia.
Decimus Junius Juvenalis who wrote sixteen Satires of Juvenal
M. Valerius Martialis, the chief of the epigrammatists. His poems are about fifteen hundred in number, divided into fourteen books.
Velleius Paterculus, an excellent historian and his Historicae Romanae is an abridgment of the history of the world.
Tacitus. His account of the Germans was a silent satire upon the corrupt condition of the Roman state. The Historiarum Libri is a famous history of Rome
Quintus Curtius Rufus wrote, in ten books, an account of the exploits of Alexander the Great.
C. Suetonius Tranquillus. Suetonius wrote the lives of the twelve Caesars, ending with Domitian.
L. Annaeus Florus, who perhaps lived under Trajan, wrote an epitome of Roman history.
Seneca - Philosophy, since the time of Cicero, had become a favorite study with the Romans, although they produced no remarkable philosopher. Seneca, the most eminent of them, was the son of M. Annaeus Seneca, the rhetorician. His various essays and other writings are famous.
Pliny - The elder Pliny, Plinius Secundus Major, another famous philosopher. Pliny passed his whole life in study and wrote the Historia Naturalis reviews various races of man, of animals, trees, flowers, minerals, the contents of the sea and land, of the arts and sciences; and shows that the author possessed an intellect of almost unequaled activity. His nephew, the younger Pliny is remembered for his letters.