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Ancient Obscenities
Their Nature and Use in the Ancient Greek and Roman Worlds
Dorota Dutsch and Ann Suter, editors
University of Michigan Press, 2015
Ancient Obscenities inquires into the Greco-Roman handling of explicit representations of the body in its excretory and sexual functions, taking as its point of departure the modern preoccupation with the obscene. The essays in this volume offer new interpretations of materials that have been perceived by generations of modern readers as “obscene”: the explicit sexual references of Greek iambic poetry and Juvenal’s satires, Aristophanic aischrologia, Priapic poetics, and the scatology of Pompeian graffiti. Other essays venture in an even more provocative fashion into texts that are not immediately associated with the obscene: the Orphic Hymn to Demeter, Herodotus, the supposedly prim scripts of Plautus and the Attic orators. The volume focuses on texts but also includes a chapter devoted to visual representation, and many essays combine evidence from texts and material culture. Of all these texts, artifacts, and practices we ask the same questions: What kinds of cultural and emotional work do sexual and scatological references perform? Can we find a blueprintfor the ancient usage of this material?

 
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Author Unknown
The Power of Anonymity in Ancient Rome
Tom Geue
Harvard University Press, 2019

An exploration of the darker corners of ancient Rome to spotlight the strange sorcery of anonymous literature.

From Banksy to Elena Ferrante to the unattributed parchments of ancient Rome, art without clear authorship fascinates and even offends us. Classical scholarship tends to treat this anonymity as a problem or game—a defect to be repaired or mystery to be solved. Author Unknown is the first book to consider anonymity as a site of literary interest rather than a gap that needs filling. We can tether each work to an identity, or we can stand back and ask how the absence of a name affects the meaning and experience of literature.

Tom Geue turns to antiquity to show what the suppression or loss of a name can do for literature. Anonymity supported the illusion of Augustus’s sprawling puppet mastery (Res Gestae), controlled and destroyed the victims of a curse (Ovid’s Ibis), and created out of whole cloth a poetic persona and career (Phaedrus’s Fables). To assume these texts are missing something is to dismiss a source of their power and presume that ancient authors were as hungry for fame as today’s.

In this original look at Latin literature, Geue asks us to work with anonymity rather than against it and to appreciate the continuing power of anonymity in our own time.

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Beyond Greek
The Beginnings of Latin Literature
Denis Feeney
Harvard University Press, 2016

A History Today Best Book of the Year
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of the Year

Virgil, Ovid, Cicero, Horace, and other authors of ancient Rome are so firmly established in the Western canon today that the birth of Latin literature seems inevitable. Yet, Denis Feeney boldly argues, the beginnings of Latin literature were anything but inevitable. The cultural flourishing that in time produced the Aeneid, the Metamorphoses, and other Latin classics was one of the strangest events in history.

“Feeney is to be congratulated on his willingness to put Roman literary history in a big comparative context…It is a powerful testimony to the importance of Denis Feeney’s work that the old chestnuts of classical literary history—how the Romans got themselves Hellenized, and whether those jack-booted thugs felt anxiously belated or smugly domineering in their appropriation of Greek culture for their own purposes—feel fresh and urgent again.”
—Emily Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

“[Feeney’s] bold theme and vigorous writing render Beyond Greek of interest to anyone intrigued by the history and literature of the classical world.”
The Economist

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Cicero, Catullus, and the Language of Social Performance
Brian A. Krostenko
University of Chicago Press, 2001
Charm, wit, and style were critical, but dangerous, ingredients in the social repertoire of the Roman elite. Their use drew special attention, but also exposed one to potential ridicule or rejection for valuing style over substance. Brian A. Krostenko explores the complexities and ambiguities of charm, wit, and style in Roman literature of the late Republic by tracking the origins, development, and use of the terms that described them, which he calls "the language of social performance."

As Krostenko demonstrates, a key feature of this language is its capacity to express both approval and disdain—an artifact of its origins at a time when the "style" and "charm" of imported Greek cultural practices were greeted with both enthusiasm and hostility. Cicero played on that ambiguity, for example, by chastising lepidus ("fine") boys in the "Second Oration against Catiline" as degenerates, then arguing in his De Oratore that the successful speaker must have a certain charming lepos ("wit"). Catullus, in turn, exploited and inverted the political subtexts of this language for innovative poetic and erotic idioms.
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Cornelius Nepos
A Study in the Evidence and Influence
John Alexander Lobur
University of Michigan Press, 2021
Roman author Cornelius Nepos wrote at a very dynamic time in Roman history, but oddly enough little has been said about what his surviving work as a whole can tell us about that period. In the scholarship of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the author was much maligned as inaccurate, simple-minded, and derivative, and thus it has been hard to make the case that the evidence he provides is important or even useful. John Lobur’s work rehabilitates Nepos to show that in fact he should be understood as an emblematic member of the Italian intelligentsia, one well-positioned to write narratives of great potency with respect to the ideological tenor of emerging Roman imperial culture.

Cornelius Nepos: A Study in the Evidence and Influence begins by exploring the writer's ancient reception, which suggests he was in no way seen as beneath consideration by the Romans themselves. The volume then deconstructs the critical framework that cast him as an "inferior" author in the classical canon. What emerges is an author who reworked Greek historical narratives in a learned, sophisticated way, yet one still limited by the compositional logistics and limitations inherent in ancient scholarship. The study then explores his contemporary relationships and embeds his work among the crucial ideological activity at play in the late Republic and Triumviral periods. Cornelius Nepos spends considerable time on the fragmentary evidence (which highlights Nepos' interest in changes in fashion and consumption) to suggest that he was a valued cultural elder who informed a public eager to recover a sense of tradition during a period of bewilderingly fast social and cultural change. The book finishes with a thematic examination of the entire Lives of the Foreign Commanders (a set of biographies on ancient non-Roman generals) to show that despite the expression of very “Republican” sentiments, he was in fact fashioning an ideological framework for something imperial and quasi-monarchic which, though autocratic, was still antityrannical and imagined as resting on a broad and “democratic” foundation of social consent. Nepos saw that Rome would soon be ruled by one person, and his biographies show how the elites of the day both processed that reality and attempted to circumscribe it for good ends through the creation of new models of legitimacy.
 
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The Fractured Voice
Silence and Power in Imperial Roman Literature
Amy A. Koenig
University of Wisconsin Press, 2023
Imperial Rome privileged the elite male citizen as one of sound mind and body, superior in all ways to women, noncitizens, and nonhumans. One of the markers of his superiority was the power of his voice, both literal (in terms of oratory and the legal capacity to represent himself and others) and metaphoric, as in the political power of having a “voice” in the public sphere. Muteness in ancient Roman society has thus long been understood as a deficiency, both physically and socially.

In this volume, Amy Koenig deftly confronts the trope of muteness in Imperial Roman literature, arguing that this understanding of silence is incomplete. By unpacking the motif of voicelessness across a wide range of written sources, she shows that the Roman perception of silence was more complicated than a simple binary and that elite male authors used muted or voiceless characters to interrogate the concept of voicelessness in ways that would be taboo in other contexts. Paradoxically, Koenig illustrates that silence could in fact be freeing—that the loss of voice permits an untethering from other social norms and expectations, thus allowing a freedom of expression denied to many of the voiced.
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THE GHOSTS OF THE PAST
LATIN LITERATURE, THE DEAD, AND ROME'S TRANSITION TO A PRINCIPATE
BASIL DUFALLO
The Ohio State University Press, 2007
The ancient Romans quite literally surrounded themselves with the dead: masks of the dead were in the atria of their houses, funerals paraded through their main marketplace, and tombs lined the roads leading into and out of the city. In Roman literature as well, the dead occupy a prominent place, indicating a close and complex relationship between literature and society. The evocation of the dead in the Latin authors of the first century BCE both responds and contributes to changing socio-political conditions during the transition from the Republic to the Empire.
 
To understand the literary life of the Roman dead, The Ghosts of the Past develops a new perspective on Latin literature’s interaction with Roman culture. Drawing on the insights of sociology, anthropology, and performance theory, Basil Dufallo argues that authors of the late Republic and early Principate engage strategically with Roman behaviors centered on the dead and their world in order to address urgent political and social concerns. Republican literature exploits this context for the ends of political competition among the clan-based Roman elite, while early imperial literature seeks to restage the republican practices for a reformed Augustan society.

Calling into question boundaries of genre and literary form, Dufallo’s study will revise current understandings of Latin literature as a cultural and performance practice. Works as diverse as Cicero’s speeches, Propertian elegy, Horace’s epodes and satires, and Vergil’s Aeneid appear in a new light as performed texts interacting with other kinds of cultural performance from which they might otherwise seem isolated.
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Humanism and the Latin Classics
Aldus Manutius
Harvard University Press, 2017
Aldus Manutius (c. 1451–1515) was the most important and innovative scholarly publisher of the Renaissance. His Aldine Press was responsible for more first editions of classical literature, philosophy, and science than any other publisher before or since. A companion volume to I Tatti’s The Greek Classics (2016), Humanism and the Latin Classics presents all of Aldus’s prefaces to his editions of works by ancient Latin and modern humanist writers, translated for the first time into English, along with other illustrative writings by Aldus and his collaborators. They provide unique insight into the world of scholarly publishing in Renaissance Venice.
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Kinesis
The Ancient Depiction of Gesture, Motion, and Emotion
Christina A. Clark, Edith Foster, and Judith P. Hallett, editors
University of Michigan Press, 2015
Donald Lateiner, in his groundbreaking work The Sardonic Smile, presented the first thorough study of nonverbal behavior in Homeric epics, drawing a significant distinction between ancient and modern gesture and demonstrating the intrinsic relevance of this “silent language” to psychological, social, and anthropological studies of the ancient world.

Using Lateiner’s work as a touchstone, the scholars in Kinesis analyze the depiction of emotions, gestures, and other nonverbal cues in ancient Greek and Roman texts and consider the precise language used to depict them. Individual contributors examine genres ranging from historiography and epic to tragedy, philosophy, and vase decoration. They explore evidence as disparate as Pliny’s depiction of animal emotions, Plato’s presentation of Aristophanes’ hiccups, and Thucydides’ use of verb tenses. Sophocles’ deployment of silence is considered, as are Lucan’s depiction of death and the speaking objects of the medieval Alexander Romance.

This collection will be valuable to scholars studying Greek and Roman society and literature, as well as to those who study the imitation of ancient literature in later societies. Jargon is avoided and all passages in ancient languages are translated, making this volume accessible to advanced undergraduates.

Contributors in addition to the volume editors include Jeffrey Rusten, Rosaria Vignolo Munson, Hans-Peter Stahl, Carolyn Dewald, Rachel Kitzinger, Deborah Boedeker, Daniel P. Tompkins, John Marincola, Carolin Hahnemann, Ellen Finkelpearl, Hanna M. Roisman, Eliot Wirshbo, James V. Morrison, Bruce Heiden, Daniel B. Levine, and Brad L. Cook.

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Latin
Story of a World Language
Jürgen Leonhardt
Harvard University Press, 2013

The mother tongue of the Roman Empire and the lingua franca of the West for centuries after Rome’s fall, Latin survives today primarily in classrooms and texts. Yet this “dead language” is unique in the influence it has exerted across centuries and continents. Jürgen Leonhardt has written a full history of Latin from antiquity to the present, uncovering how this once parochial dialect developed into a vehicle of global communication that remained vital long after its spoken form was supplanted by modern languages.

Latin originated in the Italian region of Latium, around Rome, and became widespread as that city’s imperial might grew. By the first century BCE, Latin was already transitioning from a living vernacular, as writers and grammarians like Cicero and Varro fixed Latin’s status as a “classical” language with a codified rhetoric and rules. As Romance languages spun off from their Latin origins following the empire’s collapse—shedding cases and genders along the way—the ancient language retained its currency as a world language in ways that anticipated English and Spanish, but it ceased to evolve.

Leonhardt charts the vicissitudes of Latin in the post-Roman world: its ninth-century revival under Charlemagne and its flourishing among Renaissance writers who, more than their medieval predecessors, were interested in questions of literary style and expression. Ultimately, the rise of historicism in the eighteenth century turned Latin from a practical tongue to an academic subject. Nevertheless, of all the traces left by the Romans, their language remains the most ubiquitous artifact of a once peerless empire.

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The Life of Comedy after the Death of Plautus and Terence
Mathias Hanses
University of Michigan Press, 2020
The Life of Comedy after the Death of Plautus and Terence documents the ongoing popularity of Roman comedies, and shows that they continued to be performed in the late Republic and early Imperial periods of Rome. Playwrights Plautus and Terence impressed audiences with stock characters as the young-man-in-love, the trickster slave, the greedy pimp, the prostitute, and many others. A wide range of spectators visited Roman theaters, including even the most privileged members of Roman society: orators like Cicero, satirists like Horace and Juvenal, and love poets like Catullus and Ovid. They all put comedy’s varied characters to new and creative uses in their own works, as they tried to make sense of their own lives and those of the people around them by suggesting comparisons to the standard personality types of Roman comedy.
 
Scholars have commonly believed that the plays fell out of favor with theatrical audiences by the end of the first century BCE, but The Life of Comedy demonstrates that performances of these comedies continued at least until the turn of the second century CE. Mathias Hanses traces the plays’ reception in Latin literature from the late first century BCE to the early second century CE, and shines a bright light on the relationships between comic texts and the works of contemporary and later Latin writers.
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The Lives of Latin Texts
Papers Presented to Richard J. Tarrant
Lauren Curtis
Harvard University Press, 2021

The papers in this volume are based on a 2018 conference in the Department of the Classics at Harvard University in honor of Richard Tarrant, Pope Professor of the Latin Language and Literature, on the occasion of his retirement.

The breadth of authors, genres, periods, and topics addressed in The Lives of Latin Texts is testament to Richard Tarrant’s wide-ranging influence on the fields of Latin literary studies and textual criticism. Contributions on stylistic, dramatic, metapoetic, and philosophical issues in Latin literature (including authors from Virgil, Horace, and Seneca to Ovid, Terence, Statius, Caesar, and Martial) sit alongside contributions on the history of textual transmission and textual editing. Other chapters treat the musical reception of Latin literature. Taken together, the volume reflects on the impact of Richard Tarrant’s scholarship by addressing the expressive scope and the long history of the Latin language.

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The Mask of the Parasite
A Pathology of Roman Patronage
Cynthia Damon
University of Michigan Press, 1997
When Romans applied the term "parasite" to contemporaries in dependent circumstances, or clientes, they were evoking one of the stock characters of ancient Greek comedy. In the Roman world the parasite was moved out of his native genre into the literatures of invective and social criticism, where his Greek origins made him a uniquely useful transmitter of Roman perceptions. Whenever the figure of the parasite is used to mask a person in Roman society, we know that an effort of interpretation is underway. The fit between the mask and its wearer is in the eyes of the beholder, and in Rome the mask seemed to fit people in many different situations: entrepreneurs, tax-farmers, lawyers, female companions, philosophers, and poets.
In The Mask of the Parasite, Cynthia Damon maintains that the parasite of Latin literature is a negative reflection of the cliens. In Part One she assembles a composite picture of the comic parasite using as evidence fragments of Greek comedy, works from Greek writers of the imperial period whose works reflect the comic tradition, and the ten complete plays of Roman comedy in which a parasite appears. In parts two and three she examines the ways in which Cicero and the satirists use the figure of the parasite: Cicero in belittling his opponents in court, Horace and Martial in creating a negative foil for the poeta cliens, Juvenal in painting contemporary patron/client relationships as morally and spiritually bankrupt.
The Mask of the Parasite is a fascinating study of the intersection of literature and society in ancient Rome. However, neither the parasite nor patronage is confined to the Roman world. Students of classical studies as well as students of literature and cultural studies will find this to be a work of utmost importance in understanding these complex issues of human interaction.
Cynthia Damon is Assistant Professor of Classics, Amherst College
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Now through a Glass Darkly
Specular Images of Being and Knowing from Virgil to Chaucer
Edward Peter Nolan
University of Michigan Press, 1991
In this series of interrelated essays, treating Ovil, Virgil, St. Augustine, Henrich von Morungen, Chretien de Troyes, Dante, Langland, and Chaucer, the author explores the ways in which medieval authors and their Roman predecessors used the image of the mirror both as instrument and metaphor. The essays individually provide fresh insights into the texts and issues discussed and, taken together, provide new perspectives on medieval culture and the ways it anticipated problems that plague our own.
 
Now through a Glass Darkly brings both traditional medievalist and postmodernist approaches to bear in its attempt to understand both the powers and the limits of verbal art. Nolan explores the ways medieval writers and their Roman predecessors used formal and thematic mirrors to examine the implications of alterity in the face of similarity, arguing that these preoccupations were as central to the medieval sensibility as they are to our own. Now through a Glass Darkly frames several of the key issues in the current debate over the continued viability (or not) of the inherited canon of Western culture, such as the question whether there is any meaning at all to be rescued from such notions as “coherence” or “tradition” in Western literature.
 
Now through a Glass Darkly will appeal to the educated generalist interested in the relationships between literature and its surrounding intellectual and cultural contexts as well as to those more specifically interested in medieval poetry and poetics. For medievalists and those who work at the intersection of critical theory and medieval literature, Now through a Glass Darkly will be of critical importance.
 
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Poetics of the First Punic War
Thomas Biggs
University of Michigan Press, 2020
Poetics of the First Punic War investigates the literary afterlives of Rome’s first conflict with Carthage. From its original role in the Middle Republic as the narrative proving ground for epic’s development out of verse historiography, to its striking cultural reuse during the Augustan and Flavian periods, the First Punic War (264–241 BCE) holds an underappreciated place in the history of Latin literature. Because of the serendipitous meeting of historical content and poetic form in the third century BCE, a textualized First Punic War went on to shape the Latin language and its literary genres, the practices and politics of remembering war, popular visions of Rome as a cultural capital, and numerous influential conceptions of Punic North Africa. Poetics of the First Punic War combines innovative theoretical approaches with advances in the philological analysis of Latin literature to reassess the various “texts” of the First Punic War, including those composed by Vergil, Propertius, Horace, and Silius Italicus. This book also contains sustained treatment of Naevius’ fragmentary Bellum Punicum (Punic War) and Livius Andronicus’ Odusia (Odyssey), some of the earliest works of Latin poetry. As the tradition’s primary Roman topic, the First Punic War is forever bound to these poems, which played a decisive role in transmitting an epic view of history.
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Reading Death in Ancient Rome
Mario Erasmo
The Ohio State University Press, 2008
In Reading Death in Ancient Rome, Mario Erasmo considers both actual funerary rituals and their literary depictions in epic, elegy, epitaphs, drama, and prose works as a form of participatory theater in which the performers and the depicters of rituals engage in strategies to involve the viewer/reader in the ritual process, specifically by invoking and playing on their cultural associations at a number of levels simultaneously. He focuses on the associative reading process—the extent to which literary texts allude to funeral and burial ritual, the narrative role played by the allusion to recreate a fictive version of the ritual, and how the allusion engages readers’ knowledge of the ritual or previous literary intertexts.
 
Such a strategy can advance a range of authorial agendas by inviting readers to read and reread assumptions about both the surrounding Roman culture and earlier literature invoked through intertextual referencing. By (re)defining their relation to the dead, readers assume various roles in an ongoing communion with the departed.
 
Reading Death in Ancient Rome makes an important and innovative contribution to semiotic theory as applied to classical texts and to the emerging field of mortality studies. It should thus appeal to classicists as well as to advanced undergraduate and graduate students in art history and archeology.
 
 
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Reflections of Romanity
Discourses of Subjectivity in Imperial Rome
Richard Alston and Efrossini Spentzou
The Ohio State University Press, 2011
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.
 
 
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Variety
The Life of a Roman Concept
William Fitzgerald
University of Chicago Press, 2016
The idea of variety may seem too diffuse, obvious, or nebulous to be worth scrutinizing, but modern usage masks the rich history of the term. This book examines the meaning, value, and practice of variety from the vantage point of Latin literature and its reception and reveals the enduring importance of the concept up to the present day.

William Fitzgerald looks at the definition and use of the Latin term varietas and how it has played out in different works and with different authors. He shows that, starting with the Romans, variety has played a key role in our thinking about nature, rhetoric, creativity, pleasure, aesthetics, and empire. From the lyric to elegy and satire, the concept of variety has helped to characterize and distinguish different genres. Arguing that the ancient Roman ideas and controversies about the value of variety have had a significant afterlife up to our own time, Fitzgerald reveals how modern understandings of diversity and choice derive from what is ultimately an ancient concept.
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