The word Classics is derived from the Latin adjective classicus, meaning "belonging to the highest class of citizens". The word was originally used to describe the members of the highest class in ancient Rome. By the 2nd century AD the word was used in literary criticism to describe writers of the highest quality. For example, Aulus Gellius, in his Attic Nights, contrasts "classicus" and "proletarius" writers. By the 6th century AD, the word had acquired a second meaning, referring to pupils at a school. Thus the two modern meanings of the word, referring both to literature considered to be of the highest quality, and to the standard texts used as part of a curriculum, both derive from Roman use.
In the Middle Ages, classics and education were tightly intertwined; according to Jan Ziolkowski, there is no era in history in which the link was tighter. Medieval education taught students to imitate earlier classical models, and Latin continued to be the language of scholarship and culture, despite the increasing difference between literary Latin and the vernacular languages of Europe during the period.
While Latin was hugely influential, however, Greek was barely studied, and Greek literature survived almost solely in Latin translation. The works of even major Greek authors such as Hesiod, whose names continued to be known by educated Europeans, were unavailable in the Middle Ages. In the thirteenth century, the English philosopher Roger Bacon wrote that "there are not four men in Latin Christendom who are acquainted with the Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic grammars."
Along with the unavailability of Greek authors, there were other differences between the classical canon known today and the works valued in the Middle Ages. Catullus, for instance, was almost entirely unknown in the medieval period. The popularity of different authors also waxed and waned throughout the period: Lucretius, popular during the Carolingian period, was barely read in the twelfth century, while for Quintilian the reverse is true.