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In the Image of the Ancestors

In the Image of the Ancestors: Narratives of Kinship in Flavian Epic

  • Book Info
    In the Image of the Ancestors
    Book Description:

    Neil W. Bernstein argues that four Roman epic poems contain depictions of kinship that are significantly different from earlier epic and examines these representations in the context of the social, political, and aesthetic changes of the early Imperial period.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8833-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-6)

    The four epic poems that survive from the Flavian period present a view of kinship at odds with earlier epic tradition. This book examines this shift in the representation of kinship in the context of contemporary social, political, and aesthetic change. I argue that the representation of kinship in Flavian epic responds in part to the changing ideologies of the contemporary upper-class Roman family and the imperial regime. Once criticized as socially irrelevant departures into aestheticism, the Flavian epics in fact share many of the same social and political concerns expressed in other genres of Roman literature of the first...

  5. 1 Kinship as Narrative
    (pp. 7-29)

    Roman culture’s normative expectations for behaviour provide an ideological framework that structures perceptions of the relationships between family members. Roman authors assess the performance of various family members through reference to gendered and generational paradigms. The shared values reiterated throughout Roman literature include marital fidelity, filial and spousal obedience to the authority of thepaterfamilias,and the expression of familialpietas.¹ The enactment of actual familial relationships in many Roman literary narratives, however, often varies considerably from these idealizing paradigms. Paternal behaviour in Roman literature, for example, ranges from the severity of Brutus and Manlius, the executioners of their own...

  6. 2 Valerius’ Argonautica: Kinship and Power
    (pp. 30-63)

    Valerius’Argonauticarepresents the family as a fragile institution, its cohesion continually threatened by internal and external pressures. The gods’ manipulation of their victims and favourites poses challenges to lineal security and disrupts the bonds of authority and affection that should ideally obtain between family members. Familial conflicts generated directly or indirectly by divine interference occur all along the Argonauts’ route. The women of Lemnos kill their male relatives at the instigation of Venus, while the civil war between the half-brothers Aeetes and Perses breaks out in response to an oracle commanding the return of the Fleece.¹ Juno prolongs the...

  7. 3 Statius’ Thebaid
    (pp. 64-104)

    The characters of Greco-Roman epic typically erect claims to status on their affiliations with distinguished descent groups. When presenting themselves publicly, for example, Homer’s Diomedes and Vergil’s Aeneas both emphasize the high status associated with their lineages (Il.14.110–32,Aen.1.372–80). The characters of Statius’Thebaidsimilarly employ their descent as a component of their self-presentation.¹ Descent is a marker of identity that interests the Argive king Adrastus when he encounters strangers. He asks Tydeus and Polynices to identify themselves after stopping their fight outside the door of his palace. Although the men are strangers to him, qualities...

  8. 4 Statius’ Achilleid: Nature and Nurture
    (pp. 105-131)

    Statius’Achilleidinvestigates the complex relationship between the inherited and the achieved aspects of social identity, the ‘given’ and the ‘made.’ The narrator and the characters of the incomplete epic² offer various perspectives on the relative contributions of ancestry and nurture to the development of Achilles. The central aspects of Achilles’ identity are viewed as the results both of his divine descent and of the education that he receives from his fosterer Chiron. When the Greeks long for him to join their expedition against Troy, they describe Achilles’ capabilities as the products both of his divine ancestry and of the...

  9. 5 Silius’ Punica: Kinship and the State
    (pp. 132-159)

    In contrast to the other Flavian epics, which involve civil and intrafamilial conflict, thePunicapresents a narrative of external conflict and familial solidarity. The epic’s leaders offer a variety of perspectives on the balance between their personal obligations to family members, both living and deceased, and their public responsibilities to subjects and followers. The intertwined familial and political concerns of the epic’s principal characters provide a structural foundation for the massive narrative.² Silius describes several of the Roman commanders as the figurative parents of their followers, evoking a long tradition of representing founders, leaders, and saviours as the fathers...

  10. 6 From Family to Nation: Descent and Ethnicity in Flavian Epic
    (pp. 160-192)

    The individual descent group has provided the largest unit of analysis for the preceding chapters’ discussions of kinship. In mythological foundation narratives, however, the paradigm of descent also describes the relationships between larger populations such as ethnic groups and states. Such narratives provide mythical explanations of the origins of states, the inclusion or exclusion of particular members, and the political relationships between states. Epic was a principal vehicle for the development and transmission of these narratives. The account of Hellen’s offspring in the pseudo-HesiodicCatalogue of Women,for example, provides a mythical narrative of descent for several of the city-states...

  11. 7 The Poetics of Kinship
    (pp. 193-204)

    A younger contemporary of the Flavian epic poets associates literary production with prestigious descent on the one hand and with the creation of affiliation with an unrelated predecessor on the other. The younger Pliny praises Passennus Paulus for the writing of verse that recalls both Propertius and Horace. While Passennus’ work brings to mind his biological descent from the former poet, his recent work also suggests that he could be taken as a figurative descendant of the latter poet as well. The case of Passennus indicates to Pliny that ‘kinship has significance in literature’:

    Vir est optimus honestissimus, nostri amantissimus;...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 205-244)
    (pp. 245-264)
    (pp. 265-270)
    (pp. 271-282)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-285)