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Department of Italian



Neo-Latin, University of Cambridge

What is Neo-Latin?

Neo-Latin is the term used for the Latin which developed in Renaissance Italy as a result of the renewed interest in classical civilisation, including classical philology, and which spread northwards as humanist education gradually replaced the medieval system based on scholasticism. Its origins are normally associated with Petrarch, much of whose work was written in Latin, and Italian humanists such as Boccaccio, Lorenzo Valla, and Poliziano. Latin was already the universal language of education throughout medieval Europe. This continued to be the case in the early modern period. Gradually, medieval Latin gave way to Neo-Latin in a linguistic movement which paralleled what was happening in the visual arts, literature, and thought.

The high point of Neo-Latin begins in Quattrocento Italy and spreads to other parts of Europe in the sixteenth century. Neo-Latin was the language of many of the world's masterpieces in the early modern period: all the works of Erasmus, including the Praise of Folly and the Adages, Thomas More's Utopia, Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, Descartes's Meditations, Francis Bacon's Essays, as well as a rich vein of poetry (e.g. Petrarch, Johannes Secundus, Du Bellay, John Milton), drama (Buchanan, Muret), and science (Newton, for example). Latin occupied the same position as a universal language in the arts and sciences that English does in the contemporary world.

See News and Events for details of topics covered in current and recent Neo Latin seminars. 


Papers in Neo-Latin

Cambridge is the only British university which offers undergraduate courses in Neo-Latin. 

Paper NL1 has been offered for a number of years and is available for Part IB and Part II students. The paper is suspended in 2017-18

Paper NL2 was introduced for Part II students only in Tripos 2008. The paper is suspended in 2017-18



The MML library has a developing section of Neo-Latin literature, and the University Library offers very rich resources. Increasingly, Neo-Latin texts are being made available on the Internet. Because the texts which are studied are all central texts in European literature, translations in one or more modern languages are usually available.

See our online resources for students of Neo-Latin.

Faculty policy on plagiarism