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The Political Biographies of Cornelius Nepos

S. Rex Stem

Publication Year: 2012

The Roman writer Cornelius Nepos was a friend of Cicero and Catullus and other first-century BCE authors, and portions of his encyclopedic work On Famous Men are the earliest surviving biographies written in Latin. In The Political Biographies of Cornelius Nepos, Rex Stem presents Nepos as a valuable witness to the late Republican era, whose biographies share the exemplary republican political perspective of his contemporaries Cicero and Livy. Stem argues that Nepos created the genre of grouped political biographies in order to characterize renowned Mediterranean figures as role models for Roman leaders, and he shows how Nepos invested his biographies with moral and political arguments against tyranny. This book, the first to regard Nepos as a serious thinker in his own right, also functions as a general introduction to Nepos, placing him in his cultural context. Stem examines Nepos' contributions to the growth of biography, and he defends Nepos from his critics at the same time that he lays out the political significance and literary innovation of Nepos' writings. Accessible to advanced undergraduates, this volume is addressed to a general audience of classicists and ancient historians, as well as those broadly interested in biography, historiography, and political thought.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-x

In writing this book, I have undertaken to rehabilitate Cornelius Nepos as a legitimate source for moral and political thought from the late Roman Republic. Although a friend of Catullus and Cicero and a spectator of the tumultuous events of the Roman Revolution, his capacity to be a commentator on his times has been underappreciated. One likely reason for this neglect is the fact that his extant corpus mostly includes biographies of Greek leaders who lived...


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pp. xi

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Chapter 1. Nepos and His Corpus

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pp. 1-54

These lines open the modern corpus of Catullus, and they also provide a productive opening to an assessment of Cornelius Nepos, their dedicatee.2 On the surface, these lines return a literary compliment from Nepos to Catullus, one Transpadane to another.3 Because Nepos thought Catullus’ trifles to be worth something, Catullus dedicates his new little book to him in return, along with apparent praise for Nepos’ three learned and labored rolls that...

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Chapter 2. Nepos among His Contemporaries

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pp. 55-95

Catullus was not the only contemporary writer with whom Nepos is known to have interacted. In fact, considerably more evidence exists for his relationships with Atticus and Cicero. As with Nepos’ corpus overall, none of this evidence is new. Yet a synoptic reading of all of it has not been undertaken, hence its quantity and value have been underappreciated. The purpose of this chapter is therefore to position Nepos among his literary contemporaries...

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Chapter 3. Nepos the Political Biographer

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pp. 96-127

The great majority of Nepos’ corpus is lost, and the evidence for each of his works is not without uncertainties, yet certain features repeatedly emerge. Innovation in literary form is one such feature, while another is the embedding of moral and political judgments in literary forms that need not, in themselves, be political. When we examine Nepos’ extant corpus—especially On Foreign Generals—with these larger considerations in mind, we can confirm...

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Chapter 4. Nepos the Exemplary Biographer

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pp. 128-161

Carlotta Dionisotti’s reading of Nepos’ On Foreign Generals, as discussed in the previous chapter, demonstrates how Nepos’ comments on political issues imply “a specific view, as much political as moral, of what has gone wrong,” and Dionisotti centers that view on the failure of the republican commander to subordinate his private initiative to his public duty. “The issue that Nepos’ imperatores raise,” she concludes, is the question of how a republic is to...

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Chapter 5. From Political History to Exemplary Political Biography

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pp. 162-229

The previous two chapters have argued that Nepos shaped the biographies in On Foreign Generals in order to present his subjects as republican exempla. I have developed this argument by integrating pieces of evidence from throughout his extant corpus, but nothing demonstrates it so well as extended readings of entire Lives. Thus while the previous chapter surveyed Nepos’ exemplary methods as a biographer, this one will examine the specific ways that...

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Conclusion: Readership and Relevance

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pp. 230-237

The above quotation begins Isaac Flagg’s school commentary on Nepos, published in 1895. It codifies the critical view of Nepos that developed during the nineteenth century, and its assumptions are likely still quietly held today by the majority of scholars. I have written this book to challenge this conventional wisdom, for its basic assumptions are long out of date. Although Nepos was once read as a sloppy epitomator of existing Greek biographical...


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pp. 239-257

Index Locorum

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pp. 259-270

Index of Modern Scholars

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pp. 271-275

General Index

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pp. 277-291

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028481
E-ISBN-10: 0472028480
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118380
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118382

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012