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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
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Please note that Mommsen uses the AUC chronology (Ab Urbe Condita), i.e. from the founding of the City of Rome. You can use this reference table to have the B.C. dates


V. The Establishment of the Military Monarchy

From: The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson

The History of Old Rome

Chapter XII - Religion, Culture, Literature, and Art


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader

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Page 25

Any one who understood the art, wrote without difficulty at a sitting his five hundred hexameters in which no schoolmaster found anything to censure, but no reader discovered anything to praise. The female world also took a lively part in these literary pursuits; the ladies did not confine themselves to dancing and music, but by their spirit and wit ruled conversation and talked excellently on Greek and Latin literature; and, when poetry laid siege to a maiden's heart, the beleaguered fortress not seldom surrendered likewise in graceful verses. Rhythms became more and more the fashionable plaything of the big children of both sexes; poetical epistles, joint poetical exercises and competitions among good friends, were of common occurrence, and towards the end of this epoch institutions were already opened in the capital, at which unfledged Latin poets might learn verse-making for money.

In consequence of the large consumption of books the machinery for the manufacture of copies was substantially perfected, and publication was effected with comparative rapidity and cheapness; bookselling became a respectable and lucrative trade, and the bookseller's shop a usual meeting-place of men of culture. Reading had become a fashion, nay a mania; at table, where coarser pastimes had not already intruded, reading was regularly introduced, and any one who meditated a journey seldom forgot to pack up a travelling library. The superior officer was seen in the camp-tent with the obscene Greek romance, the statesman in the senate with the philosophical treatise, in his hands. Matters accordingly stood in the Roman state as they have stood and will stand in every state where the citizens read "from the threshold to the closet." The Parthian vizier was not far wrong, when he pointed out to the citizens of Seleucia the romances found in the camp of Crassus and asked them whether they still regarded the readers of such books as formidable opponents.

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