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Reviewed by:
  • Children, Memory, and Family Identity in Roman Culture ed. by Véronique Dasen and Thomas Späth
  • David Konstan (bio)
Véronique Dasen and Thomas Späth, eds., Children, Memory, and Family Identity in Roman Culture ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 373 pp.

The premise is that the Roman family was crucial to the transmission of values and that ancestors were remembered less for their individual characters than for having fulfilled and represented collective norms (the mos maiorum or “ways of the elders”). Children were taught to remember and to imitate; fathers were responsible for socializing their offspring to the appropriate values, but surrogate parenting was acceptable and often inevitable (uncles, even mothers could fill the role), and slaves born and raised in the household (called vernae, hence “vernacular”) might serve as surrogate children, though we must not underestimate the possibilities for exploitation. Children acquired religious knowledge in the practice of domestic rituals. Paintings and other images reinforced a conventional sense of family (“a boy is rarely depicted with his mother, unless he is very young”), and wax masks and busts were made of the dead, including children (and not only among the elite). Though children might be regarded as an extension of one’s own identity, Cicero’s grief at his daughter’s death seems deeply personal. Christian asceticism might be thought to have undermined the family, but continuity of the line remained central in the later empire. Sick children, the exposure of children left to die, and the offspring of incestuous relations are examined in the stimulating final chapters. This fine collection of essays derives from the fifth “Roman Family Conference” and meets the high standard of the previously published volumes (The Roman Family in the Empire; Children and Childhood in Roman Italy; Marriage, Divorce and Children in Ancient Rome; and The Roman Family in Italy).

David Konstan

David Konstan, professor of classics at New York University, is the author of Before Forgiveness: The Origins of a Moral Idea; Pity Transformed; The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks; Some Aspects of Epicurean Psychology; “A Life Worthy of the Gods”: The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus; Friendship in the Classical World; Sexual Symmetry; Greek Comedy and Ideology; Roman Comedy; and Catullus’ Indictment of Rome.



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