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Vergil's Aeneid and the Roman Self

Subject and Nation in Literary Discourse

Yasmin Syed

Publication Year: 2005

As the most widely read Roman poem in antiquity, the Aeneid was indelibly burned into the memories of generations of Roman school children. In her new book, Yasmin Syed analyzes the formative influence the poem exerted on its broad audience of educated Romans. Syed analyzes Roman pedagogy and reading practices as well as ancient beliefs about the powerful influence of poetry. Her study considers these cultural components together with the aspects of identity that define the Aeneid's characters. By doing so, Syed shows how Vergil's ancient audiences saw themselves---their experiences, goals, and values---reflected in the poem and guided by it. In particular, Syed's treatment of gender and ethnicity brings to light the key role of Vergil's poem in the formation of Romanity. Yasmin Syed is Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. vii


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p. ix

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pp. 1-9

If there is any literary work that embodied and defined a cultural identity for the readers of its time, it is Vergil's Aeneid. When I started writing this book I wanted to understand more fully how the poem's Roman readers thought about themselves as Romans and how this poem affected their conceptions of Roman identity. The time was ripe for an analysis of this kind. Recent classical scholarship has shown an increasing interest in an...

PART I. The Aeneid and Roman Identity

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CHAPTER 1. Vergills Aeneid in Roman Imperial Culture

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pp. 13-32

Chapters 3 to 8 of this book attempt to show how Vergil's Aeneid constructs a subject position for its readers within the poem and articulates a Roman identity for them. The first two chapters argue that this poem's construction of the reader and its articulation of Roman identity was of particular relevance to the Romans' sense of self generally, and to their...

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CHAPTER 2. Poetry, Power, and the Emotions

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pp. 33-50

In the last chapter I discussed two qualities of epic poetry that in ancient consideration gave this genre a formative influence over the self: its visuality and its sublime style. It was primarily the rhetoricians who were interested in holding such influence over the minds of their audiences, and it was their classifications of styles and rhetorical figures and tropes in language...

PART 2. The Reader's Subject Position

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CHAPTER 3. The Gaze

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pp. 53-86

In this chapter I argue that the Aeneid articulates an identity for the reader by creating a subject position for him or her within its narrative. In the proem the narrator creates a fictional persona for the reader by representing himself and the reader as performer and audience of an oral performance. The visuality of this and the following scenarios turns this fictional...

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CHAPTER 4. The Spectacle of Emotions

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pp. 87-113

The previous chapter has been concerned with the gaze of Aeneas, his emotional responses to spectacles, and the reader's identification with him through sharing his gaze and empathizing with him. However, when we think of empathizing with characters of the Aeneid, Aeneas is probably not the first character that comes to mind. The poem is full of characters whose...

PART 3. Gender and Ethnicity

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CHAPTER 5. Gendered Emotions

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pp. 116-135

The previous two chapters have explored how the Aeneid establishes a gendered- and male-subject position for the reader through approximation of his gaze with the gaze of Aeneas and his differentiation from other characters represented more visually in the manner of a tragic spectacle. With this framework in mind, the last four chapters are concerned with the kind...

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CHAPTER 6. Gendered Ethnicity

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pp. 136-176

In chapter 4 we have analyzed how female characters are represented as spectacles for the reader's gaze, which has the effect of distancing the reader from the experiences and emotions of these figures. By only vicariously experiencing their emotions, the reader experiences catharsis. Such catharsis functions to purge the reader of the dangers depicted in these spectacles....

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CHAPTER 7. Cleopatra and the Politics of Gendered Ethnicity

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pp. 177-193

In the previous chapter I outlined how Roman identity in the Aeneid is defined by juxtaposing Aeneas to a series of female figures whose ethnicity is intertwined with their womanhood and sometimes even with their emotional life. The discursive strategy that links gender and ethnicity in these figures is also operative in Roman representations of Cleopatra. In...

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CHAPTER 8. Romanitas

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pp. 194-223

In the previous two chapters I explored the role of gendered and ethnic otherness in defining Roman identity. I now want to put these considerations into the context of other forms of defining Roman identity in the Aeneid. I see three major forms of defining ethnic identity operating in the Aeneid: first through genealogy and ancestry, second with the use of ethnic...

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pp. 224-227

The project of this book has been to analyze the influence the Aeneid had on shaping the ancient self in the Roman imperial period, when the poem had gained an authoritative status matched only by the Homeric epics. In chapter I I documented the poem's monumental impact on many aspects of Roman culture and explored some cultural beliefs and practices...


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pp. 229-253


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pp. 255-268

List of Passages Cited

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pp. 269-271


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pp. 273-277

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025695
E-ISBN-10: 0472025694
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472114320
Print-ISBN-10: 0472114328

Page Count: 292
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 613205840
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Vergil's Aeneid and the Roman Self

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Aeneas (Legendary character) in literature.
  • Ethnic groups in literature.
  • National characteristics, Roman.
  • Authors and readers -- Rome.
  • Sex role in literature
  • Self in literature.
  • Identity (Psychology) in literature.
  • Epic poetry, Latin -- History and criticism.
  • Virgil. Aeneis.
  • Literature and society -- Rome.
  • Group identity in literature.
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