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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.
One of the masterpieces of Latin and, indeed, world literature, Virgil's Aeneid was written during the Augustan “renaissance” of architecture, art, and literature that redefined the Roman world in the early years of the empire. This period was marked by a transition from the use of rhetoric as a means of public persuasion to the use of images to display imperial power. Taking a fresh approach to Virgil's epic poem, Riggs Alden Smith argues that the Aeneid fundamentally participates in the Augustan shift from rhetoric to imagery because it gives primacy to vision over speech as the principal means of gathering and conveying information as it recounts the heroic adventures of Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome. Working from the theories of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Smith characterizes Aeneas as a voyant-visible, a person who both sees and is seen and who approaches the world through the faculty of vision. Engaging in close readings of key episodes throughout the poem, Smith shows how Aeneas repeatedly acts on what he sees rather than what he hears. Smith views Aeneas' final act of slaying Turnus, a character associated with the power of oratory, as the victory of vision over rhetoric, a triumph that reflects the ascendancy of visual symbols within Augustan society. Smith's new interpretation of the predominance of vision in the Aeneid makes it plain that Virgil's epic contributes to a new visual culture and a new mythology of Imperial Rome.
Antigone and the Invention of Individuality
In Private Lives, Public Deaths, Jonathan Strauss shows how Sophocles' tragedy Antigone crystallized the political, intellectual, and aesthetic forces of an entire historical moment--fifth-century Athens--into one idea: the value of a single, living person. That idea existed, however, only as a powerful but unconscious desire. Drawing on classical studies, Hegel, and contemporary philosophical interpretations of this pivotal drama, Strauss argues that Antigone's tragedy, and perhaps all classical tragedy, represents a failure to satisfy this longing. To the extent that the value of a living individual remains an open question, what Sophocles attempted to imagine still escapes our understanding. Antigone is, in this sense, a text not from the past, but from our future.
These ardent, even obsessed, poems about erotic passion are among the brightest jewels in the crown of Latin literature. Written by Propertius, Rome's greatest poet of love, who was born around 50 b.c., a contemporary of Ovid, these elegies tell of Propertius' tormented relationship with a woman he calls "Cynthia." Their connection was sometimes blissful, more often agonizing, but as the poet came to recognize, it went beyond pride or shame to become the defining event of his life. Whether or not it was Propertius' explicit intention, these elegies extend our ideas of desire, and of the human condition itself.
Vergil's Georgics, Octavian, and Rome
Reading after Actium is a study of Vergil's Georgics, a didactic poem ostensibly about farming but in fact a brilliant exercise challenging readers to develop a broader perspective on the basic problems and the dangers of human life. Octavian is treated as one of the poet's students and given the opportunity to learn lessons in handling power, in controlling Rome's vast resources, and in preventing the bloody cycle of civil war from beginning again. Most of all the Georgics asks Octavian to consider what is involved in assuming godlike power over his fellow citizens. Reading after Actium provides an introduction to the history of scholarship surrounding the Georgics and the political questions surrounding Octavian and his career. Nappa gives a book by book analysis of the entire poem, and a conclusion that draws together the themes of the whole. Reading after Actium will appeal to students and critics of Vergil and other Augustan Literature as well as those of didactic poetry and its traditions. Students of Roman history and politics should read this as well. Christopher Nappa is Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Minnesota.
Discourses of Subjectivity in Imperial Rome
Reflections of Romanity: Discourses of Subjectivity in Imperial Rome, by Richard Alston and Efrossini Spentzou, challenges and provokes debate about how we understand the Roman world, and ourselves, by engagement with the early imperial literature of the mid-first to early second-century CE. Alston and Spentzou explore Roman subjectivity to illuminate a society whose fragmentation presented considerable challenges to contemporary thinkers. These members of the elite and intellectual classes faced complex ideological choices in relation to how they could define themselves in relation to imperial society. Reflections of Romanity draws on present-day reflections on selfhood while at the same time uncovering processes of self-analysis, notably by tracing individuals’ reactions to moments of crisis or uncertainty. Thus it sets up a dialogue between the ancient texts it discusses, including the epics of Lucan and Statius, the letters of the Younger Pliny, Silius Italicus’ Punica, and Tacitus’ historical writings, and works of the modern period. Given the importance of classical thinking about the self in modern thought, this book addresses both a classical and a philosophical/literary critical audience.
Prudentius and the Poetics of the Soul
The Roman Self in Late Antiquity for the first time situates Prudentius within a broad intellectual, political, and literary context of fourth-century Rome. As Marc Mastrangelo convincingly demonstrates, the late-fourth-century poet drew on both pagan and Christian intellectual traditions—especially Platonism, Vergilian epic poetics, and biblical exegesis—to define a new vision of the self for the newly Christian Roman Empire. Mastrangelo proposes an original theory of Prudentius's allegorical poetry and establishes Prudentius as a successor to Vergil. Employing recent approaches to typology and biblical exegesis as well as the most current theories of allusion and intertextuality in Latin poetry, he interprets the meaning and influence of Prudentius's work and positions the poet as a vital author for the transmission of the classical tradition to the early modern period. This provocative study challenges the view that poetry in the fourth century played a subordinate role to patristic prose in forging Christian Roman identity. It seeks to restore poetry to its rightful place as a crucial source for interpreting the rich cultural and intellectual life of the era.
Theatre to Theatricality
Mario Erasmo draws on all the available evidence to trace the evolution of Roman tragedy from the earliest tragedians to the dramatist Seneca and to explore the role played by Roman culture in shaping the perception of theatricality on and off the stage.
Imperial Visions, Messianic Dreams, 1890–1940
When Athenians suffered the shame of having lost a war from their own greed and foolishness, around 404 BCE the public’s blame was directed at Socrates, a man whose unique appearance and behavior, as well as his disapproval of the democracy, made him a ready target. Socrates was subsequently put on trial and sentenced to death. However, as René Girard has pointed out, no individual can be held responsible for a communal crisis. Plato’s Apology depicts Socrates as both the bane and the cure of Greek society, while his Crito shows a sacrificial Socrates, what some might consider a pharmakos figure, the human drug through whom Plato can dispense his philosophical remedies. With tremendous insight and satisfying complexity, this book analyzes classical texts through the lens of Girard’s mimetic mechanism.