Latin literature III: Epic Posted by on Mar 13, 2012 in Latin Language, Roman culture


The epic was born in Greece at a time that is lost in the mists of time. The world it evokes and recalls the Iliad and the Odyssey is the Mycenaean world, but the poems, as have reached us, were written many centuries later, about 8th century BC. They are the first literary works of Western literature, therefore all western literature works are indebted to some extent on the Homeric poems.

The epic tells stories that occurred in a legendary past, in which man is part of a community and serves as a model: the epic hero. The genre is clothed with marked solemnity including through the use of the most solemn verse is in Greek and Latin, the dactylic hexameter.

In Rome the first literary work known to us was the Roman version in saturnian verses of Homer’s Odyssey by Livius Andronicus written about year 240 BC.

We have no elements to judge how was the hearing of the Roman epic, if any. In the early centuries of the republic circulated legends pointing to Aeneas, Trojan hero who escaped after the fall of the city, as the founder of Roman race. These legends are picked up by different writers, one of them Ennio (239 – 169 BC.) who fixed them in writing in the first major Roman national epic poem, The Annals. He also introduced into Latin the same verse used in Greek, dactylic hexameter.

Later, in recent years of the first century BC. Virgil’s Aeneid, the major Latin epic poem, took many of Homer’s elements as the structure of the work content, formal aspects, and so on. Aeneas, the hero of the poem, wants to be the mirror of Roman society at the time of Augustus, who wanted this poem to be the model of social morality, which was teetering at that time.

After Virgil (70 – 19 BC.) some more cult epic poems were written such as the Civil War or Pharsalia by Lucan (39 – 65 AD.). The Hispanic nephew of Seneca, during the second half of 1st century AD. wrote about the civil war in Rome in which Caesar was victorious.

During the same century Statius continued the epic tradition of Virgil (second half of the first century AD.) In the Thebaid and Achilleid he related some Theban myths and Achilles’ myth.

In the fourth century AD. there were several poems, such as the Gallo-Roman Ausonius’ Mosella.


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