The history of Roman Classical Literature, although it comprehends the names of many illustrious writers and many voluminous works, is, chronologically speaking, contained within narrow limits. Dating from its earliest infancy, until the epoch when it ceased to deserve the title of classical, its existence occupies a period of less than four centuries.
The imperial city had been founded for upwards of five hundred years without exhibiting more than those rudest germs of literary taste which are common to the most uncivilized nations, without producing a single author either in poetry or prose.
The Roman mind, naturally vigorous and active, was still uncultivated, when, about two centuries and a half before the Christian era, conquest made the inhabitants of the capital acquainted, for the first time, with Greek science, art, and literature; and the last rays of classic taste and learning ceased to illumine the Roman world before the accession of the Antonines.
Such a history, however, must be introduced by a reference to times of much higher antiquity. The language itself must be examined historically, that is, its progress and its formation from its primitive elements, must be traced with reference to the influences exercised upon it from without by the natives who spoke the dialects out of which it was composed; and the earliest indications of a taste for poetry, and a desire to cultivate the intellectual powers, must be marked and followed out in their successive stages of development. In this investigation, it will be seen how great the difficulties were with which literary men had to struggle under the Republic—difficulties principally arising from the physical activity of the people, and the practical character of the Roman mind, which led the majority to undervalue and despise devotion to sedentary and contemplative pursuits.