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Latin literature: The Development of a Classical Style

The close of the First Punic War (c.240 BC) marks the beginning of literary work in Rome with the plays of the slave Livius Andronicus , adapted from the Greek. The epic poet Gnaeus Naevius also wrote dramas, but he was far surpassed by the greatest of Roman dramatists, Plautus , a master of comedy. In his Satires Ennius introduced the hexameter into Latin; Cato the Elder opposed the hellenizing group, to which Ennius belonged, and wrote his works in as rude a Latin as possible. However, his efforts had little effect and the works of Terence , Greek in scene and origin, manifest the tremendous interchange of Greek and Latin writing.

The 1st cent. BC, the last era of the Roman republic, produced some of the greatest figures in Latin literature—the encyclopedist Varro , the statesmen and prose masters Cicero and Julius Caesar , the poets Lucretius and Catullus , and the historian Sallust . Vergil , the greatest of Latin epic poets, exemplifies a new atmosphere in the Augustan age, with his celebration—and somber questioning—of the new empire. In his epodes, odes, and satires, the poet Horace brought the Latin lyric to perfection, while the elegy was cultivated by Tibullus , Propertius , and Ovid . The notable historian of the age was Livy .

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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