Medieval Latin, Medieval Latin literature

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Summary

Medieval Latin was the form of Latin used in the Middle Ages, primarily as a medium of scholarly exchange and as the liturgical language of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but also as a language of science, literature, law, and administration. Despite the clerical origin of many of its authors, medieval Latin should not be confused with Ecclesiastical Latin. There is no real consensus on the exact boundary where Late Latin ends and medieval Latin begins. Some scholarly surveys begin with the rise of early Ecclesiastical Latin in the middle of the 4th century, others around 500, and still others with the replacement of written Late Latin by written Romance languages starting around the year 900.

Details

The corpus of medieval Latin literature encompasses a wide range of texts, including such diverse works as sermons, hymns, hagiographical texts, travel literature, histories, epics, and lyric poetry.

The first half of the 5th century saw the literary activities of the great Christian authors Jerome (c. 347–420) and Augustine of Hippo (354–430), whose texts had an enormous influence on theological thought of the Middle Ages, and of the latter's disciple Prosper of Aquitaine (c. 390-455). Of the later 5th century and early 6th century, Sidonius Apollinaris (c. 430 – after 489) and Ennodius (474–521), both from Gaul, are well known for their poems, as is Venantius Fortunatus (c. 530–600). This was also a period of transmission: the Roman patrician Boethius (c. 480–524) translated part of Aristotle's logical corpus, thus preserving it for the Latin West, and wrote the influential literary and philosophical treatise De consolatione Philosophiae; Cassiodorus (c. 485–585) founded an important library at the monastery of Vivarium near Squillace where many texts from Antiquity were to be preserved. Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636) collected all scientific knowledge still available in his time into what might be called the first encyclopedia, the Etymologiae.

Gregory of Tours (c. 538–594) wrote a lengthy history of the Frankish kings. Gregory came from a Gallo-Roman aristocratic family, and his Latin, which shows many aberrations from the classical forms, testifies to the declining significance of classical education in Gaul. At the same time, good knowledge of Latin and even of Greek was being preserved in monastic culture in Ireland and was brought to England and the European mainland by missionaries in the course of the 6th and 7th centuries, such as Columbanus (543–615), who founded the monastery of Bobbio in Northern Italy. Ireland was also the birthplace of a strange poetic style known as Hisperic Latin. Other important Insular authors include the historian Gildas (c. 500–570) and the poet Aldhelm (c. 640–709). Benedict Biscop (c. 628–690) founded the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow and furnished it with books which he had taken home from a journey to Rome and which were later used by Bede (c. 672–735) to write his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Many medieval Latin works have been published in the series Patrologia Latina, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum and Corpus Christianorum.

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