Classical Latin

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Classical Latin is the form of the Latin language used by the ancient Romans in what is usually regarded as "classical" Latin literature. Its use spanned the Golden Age of Latin literature—broadly the 1st century BC and the early 1st century AD—possibly extending to the Silver Age—broadly the 1st and 2nd centuries.

What is now called "Classical Latin" was, in fact, a highly stylized and polished written literary language selectively constructed from early Latin, of which far fewer works remain. Classical Latin is the product of the reconstruction of early Latin in the prototype of Attic Greek. Classical Latin differs from the earliest Latin literature, such as that of Cato the Elder, Plautus, and to some extent Lucretius, in a number of ways. It diverged from Old Latin in that the early -om and -os endings shifted into -um and -us ones, and some lexical differences also developed, such as the broadening of the meaning of words (e.g., forte meant not only "surprisingly" but also "hard").

The spoken Latin of the common people of the Roman Empire, especially from the 2nd century onward, is generally called Vulgar Latin. Vulgar Latin differed from Classical Latin in its vocabulary and grammar, and as time passed, it came to differ in pronunciation as well.

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[edit] Golden Age Latin

The "Golden Age" of Latin, Latinitas aurea in Latin, is a period consisting roughly of the time from 75 BC to AD 14, spanning the end of the Roman Republic and the reign of Augustus. Many Classicists believe that this period represents the peak of Latin literature, and that its usage of Classical Latin represents the ideal norm which other writers should follow.

[edit] Poetry

The earliest poet considered to be writing in the Golden Age is the Epicurean philosopher Lucretius, who wrote a long didactic poem, On the Nature of Things.

Catullus was a slightly later poet. Catullus pioneered the naturalization of Greek lyric verse forms in Latin. The poetry of Catullus was personal, sometimes erotic, sometimes playful, and frequently abusive. He wrote exclusively in Greek metres. The heavy hand of Greek prosody would continue to have a pronounced influence on the style and syntax of Latin poetry until the rise of Christianity necessitated a different sort of hymnody.

The Grecianizing tendencies of Golden Age Latin reached their apex in Virgil, whose Aeneid was an epic poem after the method of Homer; in Horace, whose odes and satires were after the manner of the Greek anthology, and who used almost all of the fixed forms of Greek prosody in Latin; and in Ovid, who wrote long and learned poems on mythological subjects, as well as semi-satirical pieces such as the Art of Love. Tibullus and Propertius also wrote poems that were modelled after Greek antecedents.

[edit] Prose

In prose, Golden Age Latin is exemplified by Julius Caesar, whose Commentaries on the Gallic Wars display a laconic, precise, military style, and by Cicero, a practicing lawyer and politician whose judicial arguments and political speeches, most notably the Catiline Orations, were for centuries considered to be the best models for Latin prose. Cicero also wrote many letters which have survived, and a few philosophical tracts in which he gives his version of Stoicism.

Historiography was an important genre of classical Latin prose; it includes Sallust, who wrote of the Conspiracy of Catiline and the War Against Jugurtha—his only works that have been preserved in whole. Another major historian was Livy, whose Ab Urbe Condita documented the history of Rome "from the Founding of the City"; of the original 145 books of this work, only 35 have been preserved.

[edit] Silver Age Latin

The "Silver Age" of Latin literature spans the 1st and 2nd centuries, directly following the Golden Age. Literature from the Silver Age has traditionally, perhaps unfairly, been considered inferior to that of the Golden Age.

Some writers of the silver age include Petronius, Seneca, Phaedrus, Persius, Quintilian, Lucan, Statius, Tacitus, Martial, Juvenal, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Aulus Gellius, and Apuleius. The Silver Age also furnishes the only two extant Latin novels: Apuleius's Golden Ass and Petronius's Satyricon.

[edit] Stylistic shifts

Silver Latin itself may be subdivided further into two periods: a period of radical experimentation in the latter half of the 1st century, and a renewed Neoclassicism in the 2nd century.

Under the reigns of Nero and Domitian, poets like Seneca the Younger, Lucan and Statius pioneered a unique style that has alternately delighted, disgusted and puzzled later critics. Stylistically, Neronian and Flavian literature shows the ascendence of rhetorical training in late Roman education. The style of these authors is unfailingly declamatory - at times eloquent, at times bombastic. Exotic vocabulary and sharply-polished aphorisms glimmer everywhere, though at times to the detriment of thematic coherence.

Thematically, late 1st century literature is marked by an interest in terrible violence, witchcraft, and extreme passions. Under the influence of Stoicism, the gods recede in importance, while the physiology of emotions looms large. Passions like anger, pride and envy are painted in almost anatomical terms of inflammation, swelling, upsurges of blood or bile. For Statius, even the inspiration of the Muses is described as a calor ("fever").

While their extremity in both theme and diction has earned these poets the disapproval of Neoclassicists both ancient and modern, they were favorites during the European Renaissance, and underwent a revival of interest among the English Modernist poets.

By the end of the 1st century, a reaction against this form of poetry had set in, and Tacitus, Quintilian and Juvenal all testify to the resurgence of a more restrained, classicizing style under Trajan and the Antonine emperors.


Ages of Latin
—75 BC    75 BC – 1st c.    2nd c. – 8th c.    9th c. – 15th c.    15th c. – 17th c.    17th c. – present
Old Latin    Classical Latin    Vulgar Latin    Medieval Latin    Humanist Latin    New Latin
de:Klassisches Latein

eo:Klasika latino ja:古典期ラテン語 pt:Latim clássico

Classical Latin

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