Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2008
THE RANGE OF OLD LATIN PROSE: CATO AND FLAMININUS
‘Manios made me for Numasios’; ‘ Let no one violate this grove nor cart or carry away what is in the grove nor cut wood except on the day when the annual sacrifice takes place.’ The oldest use of the alphabet had been to record particular facts and prohibitions like these; and we need not doubt that from a very early date people wrote lists, recipes, letters, etc. on more perishable surfaces than stone or bronze. Of these all trace is lost, as there is no Roman Oxyrhynchus. Prose literature, as opposed to mere writing, may be said to have begun when men began to exploit the fact that their views on important matters could be disseminated by means of the liber or uolumen which could be multiplied. That was in the Hellenistic period, after the Romans came into contact with the Greeks of southern Italy and Sicily. Before then the Romans had been like most ancient peoples – for example, the contemporary Spartans or Carthaginians, or the Athenians down to Socrates' time – in using the alphabet for specific, ‘one-off’ purposes in writing prose. While men knew that to speak well was a necessary uirtus in politics, the pen was not regarded as a potential source of authority or glory in the affairs of the city, or any other sphere of life. As to what is implied by the ‘multiplication’ of copies of a book, the very notions of ‘publication’, ‘book-trade’, and ‘reading public’, as well as of reading itself–for listening was just as important – the reader is referred to Chapter I,‘ Books and Readers’: the points made there have an important bearing on the styles, the range, and the order of the expansion of Latin prose literature.