Medieval Latin literature: The Decline of Rome

With the slow dissolution over centuries of the Roman Empire in the West, Latin writing dwindled and changed like the rest of Roman culture. It was formerly conventional to say that in the 6th cent. the De consolatione philosophiae of Boethius was the last great work of classical Latin and that Boethius' younger contemporary Cassiodorus was the first notable figure of medieval literature (though he wrote in classical form). However, the transition was, in fact, so gradual as to be imperceptible.

One of the main characteristics of the emerging literature was the fundamentally Christian tone; the other was the use of a simpler and more flexible Latin, which drew from the common speech of Rome and the provinces. The Christian tradition had already been firmly established by early Christian writers—St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine—using exact classical language. Notable poets wrote Christian hymns, which, when joined to music and shaped to new poetry with accentual rhythm and rhyme unknown to the classics, became one of the glories of medieval literature.

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

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