Roman literature: what it is, history, literary development, characteristics, works and more


What is Roman literature?

We refer to Roman literature to all literature comprising works written by authors of Roman origin in Latin, which was the natural language of this literary manifestation, although Greek was also used in its beginnings. This took place because Roman literature was born as soon as Latin was established as the official language, so that Roman literature is often referred to as Latin literature.

In spite of the important influence that Rome had in cultural terms, especially after the conquest of Greece, important authors emerged who made great contributions to art and who were decisive for the development of universal literature, where new literary forms were developed, but also many more were cultivated.

History and origin of Roman literature

With the formation of the Roman Empire, a moment in which the population continues to develop, it marks an important moment in sociopolitical terms, mainly. Later, in its evolution, which would be marked between the VII century B.C. and V A.D., approximately, Rome has a lot of contact with other cultures, among them, the Greek culture, which will have a determining influence.

Rome will become the seat of imitation and assimilation of the Greek organization and thought in terms of art, but especially in literature, so that it was not distinguished by innovating or presenting original schemes, but mainly took Greek culture as a model. In this sense, Greek literature lays the foundations for Roman literature, which, thanks to it, begins to work on this artistic expression in which important authors and precedents for its own literature emerge, such as the renewal of forms. Despite the influence, Rome kept its writing form mostly in Latin, which was of great importance during the development of literature in ancient and medieval times.

What is Roman literature

However, this does not mean that prior to the arrival of the Greek culture Rome had not worked in the literary field, since experts consider that there were manifestations of Roman literature in indigenous that would mark a first moment before the reception and adaptation of the literary forms brought by Greece.

Development of literature in Rome 

Following the Greek models of literature, Roman literature will also work a series of genres that, in its context, modifies and develops according to the conditions of the time, culture and customs of its citizens, among other factors, these genres are:

Latin theater

In the theater, Roman literature was mainly inclined to the writing and representation of comedies, however, there were also great representations about epic battles, but never left aside the comic plays that reached a greater popularity among its attendees and an obvious preference.

This response from the audience would encourage the writers to continue developing plays of this type until it evolves to a Roman style in which the artists could start with the theatrical representation without having a defined path or a framework to guide them, so that immediate and spontaneous responses emerge, being the main antecedent of improvisation in the theater and that later will become one of the most important tools of universal theater.

Latin epic poetry 

For the writing of Latin plays, the same models and structures that were known from Greek literature continue to be implemented in epic poetry. However, the Roman epic poetry is going to stand out for the themes that worked for its evolution, as well as the stories that are narrated, including a great variety of contents, while Greek literature in the epic was dedicated to gather legends about heroes. Roman literature in the epic, in contrast, includes great stories of ordinary people or citizens.

Latin lyric poetry 

It is considered one of the secondary genres that developed in Roman literature. In Rome lyric poetry will not present great changes, but will continue to work the same Greek formats and structures. However, many of the most important authors of the time will write important works following the model, including Ovid. It was considered a genre that would be much closer to the upper social classes, so that for the lower classes it was a genre that was difficult to access.

Characteristics of Roman literature

Among the most important characteristics of Roman manifestations in literature, we find the following:

Regions covered: it is considered that Roman literature managed to settle and spread throughout the Mediterranean, reaching the center of Europe and achieving a great expansion throughout the regions that were known in the world at this time, among which we find Gaul, Africa and Britain.

Power of the Roman Empire: a key point to consider when studying Roman literature is the power of the Roman Empire in terms of art, since both literature and other artistic expressions are used as ideological instruments at the service of the empire.

On the other hand, Roman literature was also characterized by being used for social division, since only the educated had access to it and the common citizen could only access the editions that were allowed by the government for circulation.

Greek influence: one of the most important aspects that largely determines the development of Roman literature is the influence of Greek literature. This will be crucial for its progress, since it sets the models that the Romans will follow in their productions, so that the Greek tradition remains alive in all the literary manifestations they make despite the adaptations and modifications made by the writers of the time, being also relevant for the development of universal literature.

Novedades literarias: pese a que la tradición literaria griega es tomada como modelo, la literatura romana o también conocida como literatura latina, trabaja no sólo géneros que ya existían, sino que incorpora importantes formas literarias que serán usadas hasta la actualidad, entre las cuales destacan la oratoria y la fábula, principalmente. Sus obras también contenían temas religiosos. 

Ambientes del teatro: las representaciones teatrales tuvieron lugar, así como otras puestas en escena, a partir de fiestas campestres que en medio de celebraciones permitirían la ejecución de danzas, mezclando diálogos con contenido dramático, así como la introducción de actores y bailarines en ceremonias.

main works  

The main works and most important authors 

As for the authors of Roman literature, there are important names that were decisive in the further development of world literature, among them Livius Andronicus, considered the first great author of Latin literature. Among other authors we can also identify Ovid and Virgil, outstanding authors of Roman literature in what was its greatest flowering with works such as The Metamorphosis and The Aeneid. Other names are Pliny the Younger, Seneca, Suetonius and Horace.

Among other works we can identify “The Letters to Lucilius”, written by Seneca, “The Twelve Caesars” by Suetonius, “The Art of Love” by Ovid, “The Epistle to the Pisans” by Horace, among others.