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'MEET THE AUTHORS' italicised words correspond to the images
When young Rome (founded in 753 BC) was finding its footings, Homer was already penning
his 'Odyssey' and 'Iliad'.
The Eastern Aegean was giving birth to lyric poets, as Archilochus of Paros (c.680-645
BC), Sappho of Lesbos (c.610-570 BC) and Alcaeus created new metres for their new,
When Rome ousted her kings in 510 BC, she began to establish a set of values that
would last for centuries; absolutely no sole ruler/king (a concept embodied by Cincinnatus
in 458 BC when he returned to his farm when the emergency was over) but plenty of
great heroic patriotism and self-sacrifice for the state - told in later Augustan
Rome by Livy's history, in tales such as Horatius holding the bridge and Scaevola's
burning his hand to show how much Romans would do for Rome.
As plebs and patricians argued out the balance of power, and as statesman led with
stirring public speeches, the gift of oratory remained a practical one.
Meanwhile, the great tragedies of Aeschylus 525-456 BC; Sophocles 496-406 BC; Euripides
c.480-406 BC and the comedies of Aristophanes c.448-c.380 BC blossomed in Athens,
and Pindar of Thebes became a classical treasure for his poetry, Romans visited Pericles'
Athens to learn how to write a code of laws (the Twelve Tables soon resulted in 451
In the years after Alexander the Great spread Greek culture around the eastern Mediterranean,
Menander (c.342- 292 BC) created his New Comedy and Callimachus curated the new and
great scholarly Library of Alexandria and wrote his own personally themed lyric poetry,
building on earlier Sappho and her ilk.
It wasn't until Livius Andronicus was captured in Rome's taking of Tarentum in 240
BC (giving Rome all of the Italian peninsula now) that Roman literature dawned at
last. A full 500 years after Homer
Andronicus translated the 'Odyssey' and Greek comedies into Latin; the Romans' were
hooked. Plautus (c.254-184 BC) and Terence (c.190-159 BC) scribed Roman comedies,
('fabulae togatae' rather than Greek costumed 'fabulae palliatae').
But from now on the Romans would be in an agony of duality as they admired the Greek
literature but aspired to emulate or preferably better their imperial subjects/slaves'
Ennius and Naevius' Latin epic poetry and inspiring history would be for ever admired
as Rome's great classics for schoolboys to learn.
But the Punic Wars with Carthage took much of Rome's strength and manpower.
Civil wars followed, roused by the studied 'art' of oratory that (since Cato's 'grasp
the matter and the words will follow' methods in the Punic Wars) was now growing
from Greek cultural studies.
Nonetheless, the dangerous and uncertain times produced Polybius' analysis of why
Rome was great (in Greek to enlighten his fellow subjected-Greeks), Varro, polymath
extraordinaire, Lucilius' first satires (a whole new genre, proudly created by the
Romans) and Lucretius who expounded on Greek Epicurean philosophy and his 'atomic'
theory in a truly Roman fashion (but opened his work with a cry that he found it
hard to write in these 'unquiet/troubled times of our Fatherland'.).
A Golden Age of Latin literature exploded in this period of very Roman self-expression.
Catullus created new, very Roman lyric love poetry, Julius Caesar spread his propaganda
of his achievements in his self-glorifying 'Gallic War' (but also found time to write
on the niceties of the Latin language).
Cicero was the greatest orator of the day. As this prolific legal and political speaker,
philosopher and letter-writer worried about the loss of good Roman Republic virtues
and the weakening of the state, so the historian Sallust bemoaned Rome's moral demise.
But when Cicero was killed for speaking on the wrong, ie. losing, side, the freedom
for political oratory, also died.
By the time Octavian was victor in the civil war at Actium in 31 BC and became sole
ruler of the Roman Empire, the Roman Republic had become a symbol of who and what
Rome was. 500 years of trials and battles had created her ‘constitution’ (consuls,
senate and the people, and now with an emperor).
Almost everything, even change, harked back to the always-better-than-now 'mos maiorum'
(‘way of the ancestors’), and tradition and conservatism (with a small ‘c’) were
upheld and respected as the Empire had grown. To be a Roman citizen (anywhere at
all in the expanded Roman Empire) involved adopting Roman values and acknowledging
Rome's greatness in her Empire – as set out not only in her laws and ways, but in
her literature too.
The events and people of the Republic had created and shaped Rome’s dawning literature.
During the last century BC, some of the finest literature ever written had been produced,
and now sheer genius would take Roman literature and morph it into imperial spin
and stunning literature in the next (imperial) half of the Golden Age of Rome’s Literature.