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CHAPTER 7 SILENCE AND AUTHORITY Politics and Rehabilitation Many of the problems addressed in this book are traditional, if controversial. The activities of the Roman senatorial class have long been regarded as having played an important part in the transition from the later Roman world to the medieval period, the shift from paganism to Christianity. The production of literature, the writing of history (Chapter 5), and even the routine correction of texts, or emendatio (Chapter 6), in this period all contributed to the preservation of what was, from a Christian perspective, the pagan Roman tradition and the reconciliation of a Christian consciousness with that heritage (Chapters 3–5). Flavian is an exemplary figure. His rehabilitation provides important, if ultimately ambiguous , evidence for the politics of culture during this period. Although the text raises large questions, it does not provide many explicit answers. For example , is the inscription maintaining a silence about Flavian’s paganism or not? And if it is, what does that silence mean? To understand the historical significance of the inscription, the reader is required to interpret what the inscription does not say overtly, to take an imaginative position regarding its silences and their motivation. This ambiguity is in large part attributable to the fact that the text is a rehabilitation. Interpretation of the rehabilitation of Flavian requires some consideration of a more general, historiographical problem: the relationship between realistic narrative and silence (Chapters 4–5). This large and abstract issue is central to any understanding of the damnatio memoriae and rehabilitation. A rehabilitation is about speaking over a silence, writing over an erasure. The inscription is a palimpsest: it has been erased and reinscribed (Chapter 1 and Appendix). Furthermore, the imperial letter emphasizes Flavian’s status as a historian and subtly alludes to its own character as a kind of history (Chapter 5). It even compares this process to the correction of manuscripts (Chapter6). What the inscription says is shadowed by how the inscription says it. The rehabilitation does not make its meanings known forthrightly. Instead of indicating in obvious and literal ways, it proceeds by intimation: it implies, suggests, dissimulates. The most important issues it does not mention at all. The ambiguous allusions to illegal offices, the use of metaphors and allusions to literary texts, the suggestive circumstances of the erection of the inscription , the abstruse description of the procedures of the reversal of the damnatio memoriae—all of these convey meanings, but in roundabout and indirect ways. HISTORY, EVIDENCE, AND SILENCE History is by definition a story that relies on evidence,1 and most historians tend to think of evidence as what is there and available or explicit, not what is not; in other words, some historians might argue, a historical interpretation of an inscription or of any text must necessarily rely on what it says, not on imaginative reconstructions of what it does not say. A piece of evidence should be understood as a trace: folded into it are the connotations of survival and evanescence.2 Evidence is something present and existing, which is used to construct something else, which is not present or existing. So when a thing is conceived as evidence, it is by definition a thing that the historian must go beyond. To refuse to do so is to treat the thing as something other than evidence and to refuse to do history. Certainly among historians it is a habitual and necessary preliminary step to ‘‘describe the evidence,’’ but description is inadequate. A thing becomes ‘‘evidence’’ only when it is used to recover something other than itself. To move from the text of Tacitus to the events of first-century a.d. Rome is to make a leap from a concrete text to imaginary things, things that have no existenceexcept in the mind of the historian. And no text, not even a contemporary inscription or an autograph manuscript or an archaeological relic, has a relationship to a past world that is any more secure than this. To practice history is always to make as much of the evidence as possible, to go beyond the evidence and interpret and fill in the ambiguous silence that the evidence by definition evokes.3 There is nothing new in the idea that the historian is not and should not be limited to what the evidence says explicitly. The discussion of ‘‘historical S I L E N C E A N D AU T H O R I T Y 䡠 215...


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