Medieval European Literature

Roman Literature

Modern Europe was built from the ruins of the Roman Empire, so no one can answer to a timeless question, "what European culture has inherited from the rich ancient civilization and what has been lost forever". 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 that were of no interest for the next generation inevitably died.

A number of lost writings increased over the centuries, especially due to the huge cultural deterioration that took place in European society during the decline of the Roman state. The extant classical Latin works are only a small part of the cultural heritage of antiquity. They have survived only because, during the 7th-12th centuries, they were rewritten by monks — the only literate people in the early Middle Ages. In monasteries, manuscripts were copied on parchment, more durable and lasting material than papyrus. Parchment is the skin of animals, processed so that it can be used to write upon its both sides. It remained the only writing material until the thirteenth century when papermaking spread throught 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 Virgil his guide through all the circles of hell and purgatory. The reason for this is that one of Vrgil's poem 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, that's why the Christians of medieval Europe interpreted the passage as a prophecy about the birth of Christ.

This Vrgil's poem was found in a manuscript created in the 13th century in France.

Vergilius Maro Publius (70 – 19 BC). Bucolica. Georgica.
Maro Virgil. Eclogues. Georgics.

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