chapter  XVII
12 Pages

Literature and Art

In early days a great variety of languages was spoken in Italy, but by the end of our period Latin predominated, though such dialects as Oscan survived till the fi rst century AD , while Greek was adopted by educated Romans as a second tongue. Apart from Etruscan all these languages were Indo-European and thus akin to one another: in the north was Celtic and the Ligurian speech, which linguistically is intermediate between Celtic and Italic; on the Adriatic coast a group of ‘Illyrian’ dialects is found (Messapic, Venetic, Rhaetic and perhaps ‘Old Sabellic’); Greek was spoken in the cities of Magna Graecia; in central Italy the Italic dialects prevailed. These last fall into two main classes: Latin and Faliscan; and Umbro-Sabellian including Oscan and minor dialects. Apart from affi nities with Greek and Celtic which derive from a distant common Indo-European origin, the Latins borrowed much from their neighbours’ speech in historical times, from Sabine, Oscan, Greek, Etruscan and even Celtic. Of the ten thousand Greek words which came into Latin use, a considerable number was introduced by the actual process of intercourse in speech. The Latins borrowed their alphabet from the Greeks by way of Etruria. But out of a tongue which was uncouth and heavy the Romans by borrowing and still more by adaptation wrought a language which became the medium for one of the noblest literatures; one that outlived the Roman Empire, and became the servant of learning and religion and the direct ancestor of a great portion of the languages of modern Europe.