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From Hutton Webster's, Early European History (1917); edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
IX. CLASSICAL CIVILIZATION
» Contents of this ChapterPage 25
RISE OF ROMAN LITERATURE
The beginnings of Roman literature go back to the third century B.C., when some knowledge of the Greek language became increasingly common in Rome. The earlier writers—chiefly poets and dramatists—did little original work, and usually were content to translate and adapt the productions of Greek authors for Roman audiences. During this period the Romans gradually discovered the capabilities of their language for prose composition. The republican institutions of Rome, like those of Athens, were highly favorable to the art of public speaking. It was the development of oratory which did most to mold the Latin language into fitness for the varied forms of prose.
Cicero, the greatest of Roman orators, created a style for Latin prose composition which has been admired and imitated by men of letters even to our own day. Latin, in his hands, became a magnificent instrument for the expression of human thought. Cicero's qualities as an author are shown, not only by his Orations, but also by the numerous Epistles which he wrote to friends and correspondents in all parts of the Roman world. Besides their historical interest Cicero's letters are models of what good letters ought to be—the expression of the writer's real thoughts and feelings in simple, unstilted language. Cicero also composed a number of Dialogues, chiefly on philosophical themes. If not very profound, they are delightfully written, and long served as textbooks in the schools.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * Western Medieval Europe * Renaissance in Italy