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Periodisations are inevitable and useful short-cuts in conceptualising the past. But they are often inherited without reflexion or a clear idea of their origins; in literature in particular they can endow fashionable aesthetic judgments with lasting canonical force in ways that can be intellectually harmful. Latin is a classical language with a literary history of over two millennia, with highly differentiated levels of survival from different periods, and with a complex scholarly tradition: its periodisation is both important and challenging. I open with three vignettes of attitudes to Latin literature from eighteenth-century England, fourteenth-century Italy and second-century Rome, which in their different ways show the tendency to esteem antiquity above all, though the conception of antiquity changes. After general considerations on literary periodisation and its application to the unusual case of Latin, I look at six possible ways in which the history of Latin literature has been periodised or could be better periodised, dealing mainly with antiquity down to ca. 600 and with a recurring focus on two particularly dynamic periods of literary change: the last half-century before Christ and the fourth and fifth centuries of our era. An examination of changes in language, metre, prose rhythm, politics, religion, and book history is used to challenge and test established periodisations by looking at the subject in different ways, and to suggest the benefits of a greater acknowledgement of continuities and the longue durée.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCambridge Critical Guide to Latin Literature
EditorsRoy Gibson, Christopher Whitton
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2 May 2021

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