In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latin Poetry: From the Beginnings through the End of the Republic

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Pre-literary Period
  • Relationship between Greek and Roman Literature
  • Early Literary Criticism
  • Language and Style
  • Meter

Classics Latin Poetry: From the Beginnings through the End of the Republic
Gesine Manuwald
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0054


Setting precise period boundaries within the development of literature is notoriously difficult: this survey tries to cover all poetry that was produced during the “Republican period” in chronological terms. It therefore covers the emergence of Roman literature as well as poets who were active in Republican times, such as Livius Andronicus, Naevius, Ennius, Pacuvius, Accius, Plautus, Caecilius Statius, Terence, Lucilius, Lucretius, Catullus, and Cicero, as well as the early works of those poets who are generally labeled “Augustan” but started writing in the final decades of the Republic, Virgil and Horace in particular. The beginning of “Roman literature” is conventionally dated to 240 BCE, when the first performances of Greek-style drama at public games are recorded, but the epic Odusia of Rome’s first poet, Livius Andronicus, is likely to have been composed slightly earlier. At any rate, in about the middle of the 3rd century BCE literature modeled on Greek precedents emerged in Rome, which meant a significant change from the so-called pre-literary phase. The first Roman poets were versatile and active in a variety of literary genres, such as epic, tragedy, and comedy. When literature became more sophisticated and further genres emerged, differentiation developed, and poets tended to specialize in particular literary genres. During the Republican period as a whole, the genres of epic (narrative and didactic), tragedy, comedy, indigenous dramatic forms, satire, lyric, elegy, epigram, and pastoral were introduced to Rome.

General Overviews

The “Republican period” in Rome is recognized as a distinct phase in both historical and literary terms. Yet while there are historical overviews (see Historical Background), separate treatments of this period in literary terms or of its poetry seem not to exist. Instead, scholarship tends to focus on individual literary genres and poets (see Literary Genres). The reason is probably that a large amount of Republican literature survives only in fragments, and generalizations or summaries indicating developments therefore prove difficult. However, all major histories and overviews of Latin literature (e.g., Kenney and Clausen 1982, Conte 1994, Albrecht 1997, Taplin 2001, Harrison 2005) include chapters on Republican literature, its background, its main literary genres, and its poets; these introductions, along with their bibliographies, provide useful starting points. The only general and comprehensive work devoted to the early stages of Latin literature is Suerbaum 2002, which provides information on the general background, on biography and works of individual writers, and on trends in scholarship; it also includes testimonia, other key texts, and extensive bibliography.

  • Albrecht, Michael von. 1997. A history of Roman literature: From Livius Andronicus to Boethius. With special regard to its influence on world literature. 2 vols. Revised by Gareth L. Schmeling and Michael von Albrecht. Mnemosyne Supplement 165. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004329904

    Comprehensive treatment of periods, literary genres, and writers within Roman literature, including a substantial section on the Republican period. (German original: Michael von Albrecht, Geschichte der römischen Literatur von Andronicus bis Boëthius: Mit Berücksichtigung ihrer Bedeutung für die Neuzeit, 2 vols., 2d ed. [Munich: K. G. Saur Verlag, 1994). Vol. 1 translated with the assistance of Frances and Kevin Newman; Vol. 2 translated with the assistance of Ruth R. Caston and Francis R. Schwartz.

  • Bardon, Henry. 1952. La littérature latine inconnue. Vol. 1, L’Époque républicaine. Paris: C. Klincksieck.

    Chronological overview of Latin literature, focusing on the less famous writers of all literary genres.

  • Cavallo, Guglielmo, Paolo Fedeli, and Andrea Giardina, eds. 1991. Lo spazio letterario di Roma antica. Vol. 5, Cronologia e bibliografia della letteratura latina. Rome: Salerno.

    Provides portraits of the main Roman writers, with solid bibliography.

  • Conte, Gian Biagio. 1994. Latin literature: A history. Translated by Joseph B. Solodow. Revised by Don Fowler and Glen W. Most. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    Modern, well-balanced literary history, providing an overview of all periods and their major literary representatives in their historical context; see especially “The Early and Middle Republics” (pp. 11–130); “The Late Republic” (pp. 131–245). (Italian original: Gian Biagio Conte, Letteratura latina: Manuale storico dalle origine alla fine dell’impero romano [Florence: Le Monnier, 1987]).

  • Harrison, Stephen, ed. 2005. A companion to Latin literature. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    Overview of Latin literature, organized according to periods, genres, and themes, also providing extensive bibliography; see especially relevant sections in “Periods” and “Genres.”

  • Kenney, E. J., and Wendell Vernon Clausen, eds. 1982. The Cambridge history of classical literature. Vol. 2, Latin literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Standard literary history; see especially “Part II: Early Republic” (pp. 51–171); “Part III: Late Republic” (pp. 173–294).

  • Suerbaum, Werner, ed. 2002. Handbuch der Lateinischen Literatur der Antike; Erster Band, Die Archaische Literatur; Von den Anfängen bis Sullas Tod; Die vorliterarische Periode und die Zeit von 240 bis 78 v. Chr. (HLL 1). HbdA VIII.1. Munich: C. H. Beck.

    The only handbook dedicated to early Roman literature up to 78 BCE; provides full information on all early Roman writers and their works, including bibliography and key testimonia. See reviews: Ingo Gildenhard, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.09.39; Denis Feeney, “The Beginnings of a Literature in LatinJournal of Roman Studies 95 (2005): 226–240.

  • Taplin, Oliver, ed. 2000. Literature in the Greek and Roman worlds: A new perspective. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The Roman section is reprinted as Taplin 2001.

  • Taplin, Oliver, ed. 2001. Literature in the Roman world. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Nine contributions by various scholars discussing the mutual relationship among the social, political, and cultural contexts and the rise and later development of Roman literature; see especially Matthew Leigh, “Primitivism and Power: The Beginnings of Latin Literature” (pp. 4–26); Llewelyn Morgan, “Escapes from Orthodoxy: Poetry of the Late Republic” (pp. 52–74).

  • Williams, Gordon. 1968. Tradition and originality in Roman poetry. Oxford: Clarendon.

    Discussion of general questions relevant to the interpretation of Roman poetry, using examples from the Republican period and the first half of the Augustan age. Reprinted in 1987.

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