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CHAPTER 4 REMEMBERING TO FORGET The Damnatio Memoriae The inscription does not speak of certain of the positions held by Flavian and his son, nor does it allude to Flavian’s religious attitudes . What these omissions mean, or if they mean anything, must be a matter for discussion: there are silences in any text, and the significance of what is not said is always a matter for interpretation, or rather the essential precondition of interpretation. As suggestive as these specific silences may be, they are only manifestations of a more general and far-reaching problem, one that is central to any understanding of the inscription. Arguably, the crucial fact about the statue base from the Forum of Trajan is that it presents itself as a rehabilitation. That is to say, the inscription asserts itself not just as a representation of the life of Flavian, but as a new and improved version, a restoration, a re-representation. It refers to certain details of the life of Flavian, but also to an earlier representation of that life and the eradication of that representation. Implicit in the rehabilitation is the evocation of an earlier silence, and this situation complicates the interpretation of the inscription immeasurably. A restoration is like a representation. No matter how faithful, it cannot be regarded as the same as the thing for which it stands.1 The fact of the rehabilitation implies that earlier representations had somehow come to be flawed: corrupt, false, or incomplete. The rehabilitation should be seen as an improvement over the earlier silence in that it presents itself as a more complete or truer disclosure, but it should also be understood as different from the earlier representations that it restores. Those earlier representations took their meaning from an affected correspondence to the life of Flavian; the rehabilitation takes part of its meaning from an affected correspondence to the earlier representations. The rehabilitationalso claims to correspond to the reality of Flavian’s life, but that pretension is undermined by its acknowledgment of the editing and repression of earlier accounts . One must ask whether the rehabilitation itself is at last adequate to the truth or whether it, too, has been subject to the same processes of selection , omission, and editing. So the self-proclaimed character of the text as rehabilitation simultaneously suggests the inadequacy of earlier accounts and affirms its own accuracy. Throughout the imperial letter, the restoration of memory and honor are emphasized. By memory the emperor means the general contemporary recollection of the elder Flavian. More specifically, though, it is a recollection that the emperor and Roman senate share. Honor—the prestige an individual accumulates through public accomplishments and recognition—is manifested in the public record of magistracies and in the material objects bestowed upon him, such as statues and inscriptions. In the very first sentence , the letter weds prestige and recollection, describing the contemplated action as ‘‘defending honor and recalling memory’’ (adserere honorem et memoriam . . . revocare, line 10). The letter returns to the pair in its formal conclusion, with a slight twist. Here honor is replaced with dignitas, and the imperial benefices to Flavian are treated as accomplished: remembrance and prestige have been restored (redditam . . . memoriam et dignitatem, line 35).2 The reputations of father and son, the elder Flavian and Flavian the younger, are improved by the rehabilitation. According to the preamble, the statue ‘‘has been restored in honor of the son’’ (reddita in honorem filii, line 4). The point is made again in the imperial letter: the worth of the elder Flavian has been proven by his teaching of his son, whose honor is only ‘‘half full’’ (honor semiplenus, line 31) though he holds the praetorian prefecture. It is the father’s honor that is restored, but the restoration takes place to fulfill the honor of the son. As we have just seen, the letter says at the outset that it is ‘‘defending honor’’ (line 10), and later it claims that it has accomplished the ‘‘restoration of the honor’’ of the elder Flavian (restitutionem honoris eius, line 28). The intention to restore the memory of the elder Flavian is announced at the beginning of the text, where the letter claims ‘‘to recall memory to eternal light’’ (revocare memoriam in lucem aeternam, line 10). It adds that the action is undertaken ‘‘to restore the recollection’’ of Flavian (in restitutionem . . . recordationis, lines 14–15). By the end of the correspondence, the goal has been accomplished: the memory of...


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