Search our site:


Click on Art & Architecture for information on architecture, painting and sculpture.


ROMAN: the roots of ancient Latin literature lie in simple popular songs, religious rites and official documents. As Latin evolved and the Romans came into contact with the Greek world, the emerging Empire's upper classes began to acquire more sophisticated tastes. Plautus (259-184 BC) adapted classic Greek themes to create his own plays - a step forward from the translations of Greek literature that had come before.

The classical period did not start until well into the 1st century BC. The work of Cicero (106-43 BC) stands out during this early early years of this period as the roman republic collapsed into civil war and gave way to dictatorial government. Cicero's writing, infused with political commitment, explored new terrain in Latin prose with works such as Brutus. More concerned with affairs of the heart, particularly his own, Catullus (c.84-54 BC) devoted his creative power to passionate love poetry. Julius Caesar combined conquest with commentary in recording his campaigns in Gaul and the disintegration of the Republic. 

The reign of Augustus (27 BC-AD 14) marked the emergence of a new wave of intellectuals. Among them was Virgil, whose epic poem The Aeneid  links the founding of Rome with the fall of Troy. Some years later Ovid addressed love in his Amores poems, annoyed Emperor Augustus with descriptions of lewd lifestyles in Ars Amatoria after the emperor's daughter had been banished for vice, and wrote about transformation myths in Metamorphoses. Horace commented on military matters while Livy chronicled the emergence of the new Empire.

Seneca the Younger (4 BC-AD 65), a philosopher from Spain introduced a more introspective, even existential, note into Latin writing in the early years of the Christian era. Petronius (died AD 66) conveyed the decadence of the Nero ear in his Satyricon, although only a fragment still exists, and it is to Pilny the Younger (AD 62-113) that we owe first-hand descriptions of the disaster of Pompeii. The years following the down fall of Nero are detailed in the Histories of Tacitus (AD 55-120), while his Annales reveal the astounding court intrigues of the early emperors. Marcus Aurelius' Meditations were the musings of the last philosopher-king of the crumbled Empire.

THE MIDDLE AGES: From before the final collapse of the Roman Empire until well into the Middle Ages, creative literary production declined kept barely alive in Western Europe by clerics and the erudite people who debated theology, wrote history, translated or interpreted classical literature and used Latin as their lingua franca. Above all, however, theology and philosophy were what preoccupied the great minds of medieval Italy and Europe.

The most outstanding Italian figure in this field was San Tommaso d'Aquino (St Thomas Aquinas; 1224-1274). He wrestled with Aristotelian thinking and in works such as De Aeternitate Mundi (On the Eternity of the World) sought to expound his vision of our existence. He was also a gifted poet.

THE BIRTH OF ITALIAN LITERATURE: By the time Aquinas was penning his theses, Latin had ceased to be a living language. the genius of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), probably the greatest figure in Italian literature, confirmed the Italian vernacular (in its Florentine form) as a serious medium of poetic expression - particularly in his Divina Commedia,  an allegorical masterpiece that takes his protagonist on a search for God through hell, purgatory and paradise. His Latin work De Monarchia reflects his desire for a return of imperial power and his vision of a world where the roles of pope and emperor complement each other.

Another master writer of this time was Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch; 1304-74), son of a lawyer exiled from Florence at the same time as Dante. Petrarch was crowned poet laureate in Rome in 1341 after earning a reputation throughout Europe as a classical scholar. His epic poem Africa and the sonnets of Il Canzoniere are typical of his formidable lyricism, which has permanently influenced Italian poetry.

Completing the triumvirate is Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75). As the author of Il Decamerone, 100 short stories - ranging from the bawdy to the earnest - which chronicle the exodus of 10 young Florentines from their plague-ridden city, Boccaccio is considered the first Italian novelist.

THE RENAISSANCE: The 15th century produced several treatises on architecture and politics, but perhaps more important was the feverish study, and translation of Greek classics along with the work if more recent Jewish and Arab scholars. The advent of the printing press accelerated the spread of knowledge. In Italy, the industry was most highly developed in Venice, where Also Manuzio (c.1450-1515) flooded the market with Greek classics from his Aldine Press, and introduced the octavo book size (half the size of a standard quarto page and more suitable for printed books) and italic type (in 1501).

Machiavelli's Il Principe (The Prince), although purely political, has proved the most lasting of the Renaissance works. Machiavelli (1469-1527) was also an accomplished playwright and his Mandragola is a masterpiece.

Machiavelli's contemporary Ludivico Ariosto (1474-1533) was arguably the star of the Italian Renaissance. His Orlando Furioso is a subtle tale of chivalry, told in  exquisite verse and laced with subplots.

Torquato Tasso (1544-95) continued a strong tradition of narrative poetry with his Gerusalemme Liberata, for which he drew inspiration from Italy's increasingly precarious political situation towards the end of the 16th century.


totalnannies.com privacy policy comments disclaimer last updated 24/10/2013 06:58:27   .

Tel:+44 (0)20 85423067. Fax:+44 (0)207 1529598