Medieval European Literature

Roman Literature

Modern Europe has arisen from the ruins of the Roman Empire, so the question of what European culture has taken from the ancient heritage and what has been lost forever, is eternal. In ancient Rome, literary works were written on papyrus scrolls. Papyrus is very fragile writing material. The texts survived only on the condition that they were constantly copied. Works of no interest for the next generation would inevitably die.

A number of lost writings increased over the centuries, especially due to a huge decrease of the cultural level of society in the period of the decline of the Roman state. The extant classical Latin works are only a small part of the literary heritage of antiquity. They have survived only because, in the early Middle Ages, during the 7th-12th centuries, they were rewritten by monks - the only literate people at that time. In monasteries, manuscripts were copied on parchment that was more durable and lasting material than papyrus. Parchment which is the skin of animals, processed so that it can be used to write upon its both sides, remained the only writing material until the thirteenth century when paper appeared in Europe.

The National Library of Russia possesses parchment manuscripts with works of the Latin classics: Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Cicero, Plutarch, Livy, and others.

Maro Virgil. Eclogues. Georgics
Virgil was especially revered in medieval Europe: Dante made exactly Virgil his guide through all the circles of hell and purgatory. This is accounted for the fact that Virgil's Eclogues 4 predicts the birth of a wonderful child who will bring back the Golden Age and restore universal peace: the earth will lavish everything necessary on people, wars will come to end and animals will stop eat each other, poisonous snakes and plants will disappeared. Virgil died shortly before the birth of Christ, so, the Christians of medieval Europe interpreted the passage as a prophecy about the birth of Christ.

This Eclogue was found in a manuscript created in the 13th century in France.

Vergilius Maro Publius (70 – 19 гг. до н. э.). Bucolica. Georgica.
Maro Virgil. Eclogues. Georgics.

13th cent. France.
Parchment. In Latin.
From the library of M. Golitsyn.