Latin is often categorized into “early Latin,” “classical (including the "Golden age" and "silver Latin),” “Medieval,” and “Neo-Latin.” “Post-classical” refers to Latin written after the classical period, including the period of late Antiquity, Medieval Latin and Neo-Latin.
Early and Classical Latin: Although there are inscriptions dating back
earlier, Latin literature began in the third century BC, under strong influence
from Greek literature. The first works of Latin literature were written by
Latin teachers, who, in fact, were bilingual (or tri-lingual). Livius
Andronicus’ works included a Latin translation of the Odyssey, partly as a
textbook. Latin developed after this period of “Early Latin,” to the “Golden
Age,” including the authors Caesar, Cicero, Catullus, Horace, and Vergil, and
the patronage of Maecenas under Augustus (Octavian), first Roman emperor (27 BC- AD 14). Ovid
is in the transition period to “Silver Latin,” the next period. Martial, Pliny
the Elder and Pliny the Younger, and Tacitus belong to this period. This period
is also characterized by a desire for archaic aspects and for the compiling of older
works, such as encyclopedias and epitomes, or “abridged” editions.
Post-Classical: “Post-Classical” Latin begins after this period, usually dated as beginning around AD 200 and the beginning of the period known as “Late Antiquity.” This is the time of the beginning of Christian works in Latin. Tertullian and Cyprian, both from north Africa, are from the third century. The old Latin translations of scripture, generally referred to as the “Vetus Latina,” began around this time also. The Later Roman Empire is generally considered to begin when Diocletian reorganized the Roman Empire, splitting it into an eastern and western half. His successor, the emperor Constantine (306-337) is known for his acceptance of Christianity and his moving of the capitol to Byzantium, renamed Constantinople. This reflects the shift in focus from Rome and the Mediterranean coast (the “orbis terrarum,” “circle of lands”) to the east and inland. The fourth-fifth century gave such authors as St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome. St. Jerome’s revised translation of scripture gradually evolved into a complete, more or less standardized edition of the Bible, that became know as the “Biblia Vulgata,” or “vulgate,” the “common” (i.e. standard) edition. These early Christian writings comprise “Patristic” Latin, the writing of the church “fathers” (including, however, Egeria, a female pilgrim). There were also lives of saints and liturgical texts.
Post-Classical Latin also includes many non-religious works. For example, Donatus’ Ars Grammatica became the standard Latin textbook for most of the Middle Ages. This fourth century grammarian was also the teacher of St. Jerome. The “classical” period in Roman law dates from this later period. It is represented by such works as Gaius' Institutiones or textbook (2nd century AD), the compiled Theodosian Code (438), and Justinian's (emperor 527-565), Digest, Codex, and Institutes. The “end” of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476 was marked by the end of the “last” Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, and a new Ostrogothic king, Odoacer (who, in fact had served in the Roman army and was a patron of “classical” culture). Martianus Capella, author of the de nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii on the artes liberales and Boethius, who wrote what became a standard work on music as well as the Consolatio Philosophiae, one of the most popular works of the Middle Ages, lived and wrote during this transitional period.
Medieval Latin: The “Middle Ages” are usually dated from about 500-1500. Medieval Latin is usually defined as corresponding to this period. Pope Gregory I the Great (pope 590-604), who was active in promoting missionary work, is considered the last “classically educated” figure. As Europe was in its “Dark Ages,” classical Latin works were preserved mainly in monasteries and scriptoria, especially in Spain under Isidore of Seville (seventh century), and in England and Ireland, having been brought there by Christian missionaries. Under Charlemagne, (crowned in AD 800) and the Carolingian Renaissance named for him, “insular” (from the “islands”) scholars, such as Alcuin of York, brought their expertise back to Europe and the palace court and schools. Charlemagne's requirement for bishops to preach in Latin marks an awareness of the difference between Latin (i.e. classical Latin) and the current language(s) being used, which may thus be called proto-Romance. The crusades of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries reopened contact with the Greek and Arabic worlds and their learning, and further exploration and trade led to the beginning of the production of paper in Italy, the use of gunpowder, and the spread of the "Arabic" number system, promoted in Fibonacci's (Leonardo Pisano) Liber Abbaci. It is no coincidence that the “Scholastic Age” began in the late twelfth to thirteenth century. Universities, such as Oxford, Paris, and Cambridge were founded as centers of education, replacing episcopal schools. With the commercial book trade, printing, and private libraries, knowledge spread (with less ecclesiastical control).
Neo-Latin: By the thirteenth-fourteenth century, the
Renaissance was beginning in Italy, which is considered the beginning of
Neo-Latin. Humanist scholars were literally and inspirationally rediscovering
classical manuscripts and works as well as writing their own works. Petrarch,
Dante, and Erasmus are familiar names. Though vernacular
languages began to be used for translations and original writing, Latin remained
the common international language of education, scholarship, and politics and
deplomacy, as well as the church. It was used for both written works and
oral conversation, lectures, speeches, and debates. The “Scientific
Revolution” in the sixteenth to seventeenth century overlaps with the Baroque
periods in art and music, the rise of the physician, the Reformation, and the
increased role of the Netherlands in scholarship. Paleography (the study
of “old” manuscripts) and textual criticism developed as fields. Copernicus,
Sir Francis Bacon, William Harvey, Rene Descartes, Sir Isaac Newton, Carolus
Linnaeus, and even C.S. Lewis all wrote in Latin. The style of Latin, under the
influence of the humanists, also reflects a reformation from the Medieval Latin
style, influenced especially by church, back to classical models. This period of
“Neo-Latin” also falls under the usefully comprehensive umbrella of
This website focuses on non-fiction literary Latin from this inclusive “Post-Classical” period. In particular, the authors and texts represent “significant” or “classic,” if you will, works in the history of “western civilization,” though the influence from and interactions with “non-western” contacts will be an ongoing theme. The continuing influence of these works and their greater familiarity will also be apparent. They represent an area of Latin that modern students can often “relate to” more easily. They also represent an area that most students are unaware of. It is a “revolutionary” “new perspective” for them as well.
Brown, Peter. The World of Late Antiquity. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1971)
The Cambridge History of Latin Literature. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982) PA 6003.L3
Cochrane, C.N. Christianity and Classical Culture. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980) BR 170.C6.1957
Curtius, Ernst Robert. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Translated by Willard R. Trask. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1953)
Grant, Micheal. Atlas of Classical History, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford U Press, 1994) G 1033.G65.1994
Jones, A.H.M. The Later Roman Empire. DG 311.J6.1964 v.1-2 (Notes are all in the back of vol. 2)
Kennedy, George A. Classical Rhetoric and its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times. (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1980). PN183.K4
Mantello, F.A.C. and A.G. Rigg. Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide. (Washington, DC: The Catholic U. of America Press, 1996). PA2802.M43.1996
Marrou, H.I. A History of Education in Antiquity. (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1956) LA 31.M32
McGuire, Martin and Hermigild Dressler. Introduction to Medieval Latin Studies: A Syllabus and Bibliographical Guide. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic U of America P, 1977)
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1983)
REF: BR 95.O8.1974
Powell, James M., ed. Medieval Studies: An Introduction. 2nd ed. (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse U. Press, 1992). D116.M4.1992
Reynolds, L.D. and N.G. Wilson. Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature. (Oxford: Clarendon P, 2nd ed. 1974)
Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989)
Hornblower and Spaforth, ed. The Oxford Classical Dictionary , 3rd ed. (OCD). (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996)
REF: DE 5.O9.1970
Hoven, René, Laurent Grailet, Coen Maas, and Karin
Renard-Jadoul. Lexique de la prose latine de la Renaissance. 2nd rev. ed.
Leiden: Brill, 2006.
Lewis and Short. A Latin Dictionary. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1980=1879) (Goes later than the OLD) REF: PA 2365.E5.A7.1879
Niermeyer, J.F. Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1954)
The Oxford Latin Dictionary (OLD). (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990) (Newer but does not go as late as Lewis and Short) REF: PA 2365.E5.O9
Stelten, Leo F. Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin. (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1995) PA 2891.D53 1995)
Thesaurus Linguae Latinae. Munich: K.G. Saur.
Blaise, Albert. A Handbook of Christian Latin: Style, Morphology, and Syntax. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetwn UP, 1994)
PA 2306.B413 1994
Grandgent, C.H. An Introduction to Vulgar Latin. (New York, N.Y.: Hafner Publishing Company, 1962)
Herman, Jozsef. Vulgar Latin. Tr. By Roger Wright. The Pennsylvania State Univ. Press. (PA 2617.H413.2000)
Palmer, L.R. The Latin Language. (London: Faber and Faber, 1966)
Väänänen, Veikko. Introduction au Latin Vulgaire. (Paris: Klincksieck, 1981)
Beeson, Charles H. A Primer of Medieval Latin. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic U of America P, 1953=1925)
Harrington, K.P. Medieval Latin. (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1962 = 1925)
Sidwell, Keith. Reading Medieval Latin. (Cambridge UP, 1995)
PA 2825.S53. 1999
Corpus Christianorum Series Latinorum
(Brepols: Turnhout.) (Good recent critical editions)
Migne, Patrologia Latinorum (and Patrologia Graecorum) (older, but only source for some)
Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (German ed.) (good relatively recent critical editions)
Source Chrétiens (French: bilingual?)
Budé (French-Latin bilingual. Mostly classical but some later including non- Christian)
Ancient Christian Writers (with ample commentary)
Fathers of the Church (Catholic University of America Press) (quality of translations has gone up over the years; limited notes)
The Ante-Nicene, Nicene, and Post-Nicene (older, but only source for some translations)
Labyrinth Library: Latin texts and translations:
Byzantine and Medieval Links Index
Internet Medieval Sourcebook
This website was created by Dr. Rebecca R. Harrison, professor of classics, Truman State University. Help with graphics has been provided by David Penrose, Diane Richmond, and Barb Bevell.