Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Politics of Latin Literature

The Politics of Latin Literature: Writing, Identity, and Empire in Ancient Rome

Thomas N. Habinek
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sp3p
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Politics of Latin Literature
    Book Description:

    This is the first book to describe the intimate relationship between Latin literature and the politics of ancient Rome. Until now, most scholars have viewed classical Latin literature as a product of aesthetic concerns. Thomas Habinek shows, however, that literature was also a cultural practice that emerged from and intervened in the political and social struggles at the heart of the Roman world.

    Habinek considers major works by such authors as Cato, Cicero, Horace, Ovid, and Seneca. He shows that, from its beginnings in the late third century b.c. to its eclipse by Christian literature six hundred years later, classical literature served the evolving interests of Roman and, more particularly, aristocratic power. It fostered a prestige dialect, for example; it appropriated the cultural resources of dominated and colonized communities; and it helped to defuse potentially explosive challenges to prevailing values and authority. Literature also drew upon and enhanced other forms of social authority, such as patriarchy, religious ritual, cultural identity, and the aristocratic procedure of self-scrutiny, orexistimatio.

    Habinek's analysis of the relationship between language and power in classical Rome breaks from the long Romantic tradition of viewing Roman authors as world-weary figures, aloof from mundane political concerns--a view, he shows, that usually reflects how scholars have seen themselves.The Politics of Latin Literaturewill stimulate new interest in the historical context of Latin literature and help to integrate classical studies into ongoing debates about the sociology of writing.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2251-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-14)

    Recent years have seen a renewed interest in the relationship between Latin literature and its historical context. Without abandoning earlier study of language, form, and literary tradition, scholars have begun to consider as well the means through which literature was produced and circulated, the relationship between artist and patron, and ideological aspects of the production, consumption, and interpretation of classical literary texts. The present study continues this interest in texts and contexts, but with a crucial shift of emphasis. Instead of viewing texts as chiefly illustrative of or reactive to social, political, and economic practices, it regards literature as a...

  5. Chapter 1 LATIN LITERATURE AND THE PROBLEM OF ROME
    (pp. 15-33)

    The first volume of Martin Bernal’sBlack Athenareminds us that the invention of modern notions of classical history and culture by late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century German Romanticism was a process of exclusion and suppression as much as it was one of discovery and articulation.¹ Even those who seek to discredit Bernal agree with this general observation, acknowledging, as one of his critics has put it, “that towards the end of the eighteenth century and then thereafter, many aspects of the German attitude toward Greece were unquestionably based on nationalistic and chauvinistic prejudice.”² Bernal’s concern in his study is...

  6. Chapter 2 WHY WAS LATIN LITERATURE INVENTED?
    (pp. 34-68)

    The conventional explanation for the invention of Latin literature, as expressed or implied in various handbooks and specialized studies, is that the Romans developed Latin literature at the end of the third century b.c.e. and the beginning of the second because during that period they came into contact with a variety of foreign cultures, that of the Greeks pre-eminent among them. Captivated by the literary models of the Hellenic world and aware of their own limitations in this regard, the Romans are said to have set about creating for themselves a literature that could compete with the masterworks of the...

  7. Chapter 3 CICERO AND THE BANDITS
    (pp. 69-87)

    When Alexander the Great asked a captured pirate what prompted him to harass the sea, the quick-thinking desperado replied, “The same thing that prompts you to harass the world. I do it with a little boat and am called a bandit; you do it with a big fleet, and are called emperor.”¹ The emperor Tiberius received a similar reply when he asked the slave who was impersonating Agrippa Postumus how he had managed to become Agrippa: “The same way you became Caesar.”² And when the praetorian prefect Papinianus interrogated the bandit leader Bulla Felix early in the third century c.e.,...

  8. Chapter 4 CULTURE WARS IN THE FIRST CENTURY B.C.E.
    (pp. 88-102)

    The Italianness of the Augustan settlement has been a topos of historical scholarship at least since the publication of Syme’sThe Roman Revolution.¹ Indeed, with respect to the bloody conflicts of the first century b.c.e. and their resolution in thepax Augusta, one group of scholars has gone so far as to claim that “Italy emerged as the true winner of the civil wars.”² But Italy, then as now, is a complex country and a complex idea, and we should be as wary of equating slogans such astota Italiaorcuncta Italia(both recorded in Augustus’sRes gestae) with...

  9. Chapter 5 WRITING AS SOCIAL PERFORMANCE
    (pp. 103-121)

    When Ovid inAmores1.10 seeks to persuade his addressee to exchange sex for commemoration in his verse, he does so in part through an appeal to the immortality of literary fame. Being written down in a text can, in Ovid’s view and that of many other ancient writers, help mortal humans transcend both temporal and geographical boundaries. When Horace accedes to Augustus’s request to be preserved among his “conversations,” orsermones, he does so in a letter, orepistula, thereby expressing through literary form one aspect of his advice to the emperor: in the new imperial context writing must...

  10. Chapter 6 ROMAN WOMEN’S USELESS KNOWLEDGE
    (pp. 122-136)

    The scarcity of writing by women should be regarded as one of the enigmas of the Latin literary tradition. Extensive evidence points to the existence of literate women, ranging in social status from stenographers and personal secretaries to aristocratic ladies of the highest rank, yet only scattered texts and references attest to the production of literature by women. With the growth of the Roman world, men were able to parlay the record-keeping function of the scribe and the advisory role of the “good friend” into the prestigious positions of poet and author. Women, it would seem, were stuck with the...

  11. Chapter 7 AN ARISTOCRACY OF VIRTUE
    (pp. 137-150)

    In the matter of birth as in other matters, Roman society of the early principate exhibits a tension between ideology and practice. Implicit in the Roman notion of anordo senatorius, into which members are inscribed at birth, or in the distinctions between slave and free,Romanusandmuniceps, is a premium on beginnings of self, family, and nation. At the same time, the relative frequency of movement across what might appear to be rigid boundaries (slave/free, decurion/equestrian/senatorial) weakened the authority of beginnings, to the advantage of achievement, connections, and luck. This tension, which might have been expected to dissolve...

  12. Chapter 8 PANNONIA DOMANDA EST: THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE IMPERIAL SUBJECT THROUGH OVID’S POETRY FROM EXILE
    (pp. 151-170)

    The poet Ovid was a prime beneficiary of Rome’s hierarchical and imperialistic social order. Scion of a leading family of Sulmona, he had the opportunity to choose between a political and an artistic career, with either one offering expanded opportunities in the relatively peaceful first half of the reign of Augustus. His success as a poet who moved in the highest circles of the elites has been taken by later generations as indicative of the promise of Augustanism, while his exile in 8 c.e., ostensibly at the behest of Augustus himself, has signified for many the tyrannical impulses that lay...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 171-222)
  14. INDEX OF PASSAGES CITED
    (pp. 223-228)
  15. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 229-234)