In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Neo-Latin Literature

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Journals

British and Irish Literature Neo-Latin Literature
Sarah Knight
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0009


“Neo-Latin” generally refers to Latin works written between the time of the Italian humanist Petrarch (1304–1374) and the late 17th/early 18th century. Some use the term as synonymous with “Renaissance Latin” or “early modern Latin,” whereas for others “neo-Latin”connotes all post-medieval Latin writing up to the present. In Britain and Ireland, new Latin writing was at its most abundant and accomplished between around 1500 and 1700—during the 16th century, for instance, 70 percent of all books published were in Latin—so most of this bibliography focuses on that apogee. Every early modern vernacular author also had to be a neo-Latinist during his—or, in far fewer cases, her—education: school and university teaching was conducted in Latin, so besides reading and translating classical, late antique, and medieval Latin authors, students also had to compose original Latin verses and speeches. This rigorous pedagogical drilling and subsequent hopes of a Continental readership made many authors concertedly bilingual: Francis Bacon, George Buchanan, Richard Crashaw, George Herbert, Thomas Hobbes, Andrew Marvell, John Milton, Thomas More, and Henry Vaughan, to name just a canonical few, all wrote and published in Latin. Given the celebrity of these authors working both in Latin and the vernacular, individual works of neo-Latin scholarship often look narrower in focus than they actually are: many of the entries I have cited contain a single writer’s name in their titles, but it is worth pointing out that they often range far more widely than their author-based titles would imply. Some more recent scholarship has looked beyond better known neo-Latinists to consider their less famous but often equally interesting contemporaries, especially those more celebrated as Latin authors than for writing in their native vernaculars. As well as single-text editions and translations, monographs, and articles, large multivolume editorial projects based around a single author (e.g., Francis Bacon; John Milton) have contributed substantially to the dissemination of neo-Latin writing. New digital resources have helped to bring previously hard-to-locate texts, including those by more obscure authors, easily and freely to the researcher’s desktop. Many neo-Latin works in manuscript and print remain unedited and untranslated, so a wealth of opportunities exists for original research within this fundamental yet often overlooked area.

General Overviews

Neo-Latin is a relatively new and evolving discipline: the following entries give some sense of how it has developed and direct readers to some of the most influential general works currently available. Very few institutions have departments of neo-Latin, and researchers within the discipline have tended to approach the subject from a variety of disciplinary affiliations and backgrounds—classics, history, English, modern languages, and so on. Given its place in the “British and Irish Literature” section, this bibliography assumes that its readers will be particularly interested in literary studies, but it is worth pointing out that many of the entries are written by neo-Latin scholars who would define themselves as classicists, historians, or philologists rather than as literary critics. Neo-Latin researchers have always needed to be flexible and open to scholarly methods other than those in which they themselves were predominantly trained. The annotations indicate the main disciplinary focus of individual entries, but readers should be advised that much of the best neo-Latin research is interdisciplinary, so some scholarly approaches they encounter may be less familiar to them. The General Overviews section is intended to be particularly helpful to undergraduate and graduate students orientating themselves within neo-Latin studies, as well as to specialists who might be moving to consider British and Irish writing in Latin from other national perspectives. For the most part, these studies date to the last forty years, since this is the period when neo-Latin has become a self-aware and therefore a methodologically more contentious discipline. Readers wanting to know more about these foundational debates are directed to three fairly recent position papers: De Smet 1999, Ford 2000, and Helander 2001.

  • De Smet, Ingrid A. R. “Not for Classicists? The State of Neo-Latin Studies.” Journal of Roman Studies 89 (1999): 205–209.

    Concise and thought-provoking article that reviews a 1997 Leuven University festschrift for one of the founding fathers of the discipline, Josef IJsewijn, and offers an interesting and lively overview of the development of neo-Latin writing from the mid-15th century onward, as well as a thoughtful perspective on the development of the discipline.

  • Ford, Philip. “Twenty-Five Years of Neo-Latin Studies.” Neulateinisches Jahrbuch 2 (2000): 293–301.

    Elegantly written, measured account of the first quarter-century of neo-Latin studies by one of its most highly regarded scholars, which both charts the discipline’s evolution and suggests potentially fruitful directions for future research. Particularly helpful for those new to neo-Latin seeking some orientation within the discipline.

  • Helander, Hans. “Neo-Latin Studies: Significance and Prospects.” Symbolae Osloenses 76.1 (2001): 5–102.

    DOI: 10.1080/003976701753387950

    Wide-ranging account that sets out the author’s view of the state of the discipline; the length of the article reflects its central aim, “to show the vast extent of Neo-Latin research, in time, space and subject matter” (p. 8). Offers some specific discussion of British and Irish neo-Latin, and includes some other prominent neo-Latinists’ perspectives (in English, German, and Italian) followed by Helander’s response. Concludes with an eclectic and useful ten-page bibliography.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.