CLAS 1000 Chapter 7&9: CLAS 1000 Ancient Rome Chapter 7&9: 7: Latin Literature & 9: Religion at Rome

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March 9th-13th, 2015
Textbook Reading Chapters #7 & 9:
Chapter #7: Latin Literature – page #139-163:
This chapter officers a critical examination of the basic terms, concepts, and narratives
relevant to the understanding and interpretation of Roman literature
A consideration of the term literature and its applicability to ancient Rome is followed by a
brief critical overview and the chronology and periods of Roman literature as well as some of
the historical narratives that have been used to characterize the different phrases of Roman
literary production
A section of Greece and Rome explores the trajectory of Rome literary history in greater
detail, with a focus on the relation between Roman writers and their Greek models
The chapter then considers the social dynamics of Roman literature and the roles and
functions of literary practices among the Roman elite
The final section examines narratives of literary decline in the early imperial period
Defining Literature:
In the traditional Roman view, literature was an occasional diversion of otium (“leisure”),
subordinate to negotium (“business”) and official (“duties”)
Literature is more an elite Roman’s deeper, truer occupation, the site of his most important
Literature was for a long time seen as the province of Greek professionals and not an activity
appropriate for Romans of any standing
Over time, however, aristocratic Romans began to take an interest in producing works of
literature, albeit within the circumscribed frame of leisure
The broader impact of literature extended beyond the sphere of elite leisure practices
Literature was also at the core of the Roman educational system both in Italy and throughout
the empire, and other practices that might be defined as literary enjoyed a large audience
Even if literature was initially defined as belonging to the space of leisure, literary
competence and literary works played important roles in spheres of activity categorized and
Politicians and orators employed rhetorical techniques deriving from their literary education
and circulated texts of their speeches, letters, and other works that contributed to their public
image; works of literature embodied exemplary moral values that influenced political and
moral behaviour; and Roman literary texts copied and circulated throughout the empire
played a crucial role in the diffusion of Roman culture and the Latin language
Roman literature might equally encompass work of technical instruction
Other terms that might approximate our word literature are likewise broad in meaning:
litterae, which is the plural of the Latin word for “letter,” signifies literature in a very general
sense but also means “written records,” “history,” “learning,” “scholarship,” and “liberal
A monumentum is anything that provides a memorial buildings, tombs, historical chronicles,
or works of literature
While internal divisions between different genres are carefully marked in Roman literature,
there is no blanket criterion distinguishing between essentially literary traits and more
utilitarian scholarly and scientific work
Sententiae Pithy sayings that expounded sentiments accepted to be general truths and
considered suitable reading and copying material for beginning students. Also called gnomai
For Romans, there was not always a clear divide between mythology and history history
was often mythologized and mythology rationalized and treated history
Epic a long poem written in hexametric verse that deals with lofty and / or large-scale
subjects, such as warfare, heroic adventure, or history
Epigrammatist an author of brief and usually satirical poems of varied context and some
witty punch lines
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The fact that Roman literary production is so diverse and lacks a clear set of criteria has led
some modern scholars to deny that the Romans had a concept of literature
“Literature” can have a broad and slippery significance and can include varied works
At the core of Roman literary practices, and Roman culture more generally, is an emphasis
on commemoration, tradition, preservation over time, and memory
The literary “monuments” of Rome are the works of authors deemed important enough to
preserve and remember
These works exemplify key aspects of Roman society, preserve the memory of exceptional
individuals, and constitute a contribution to Rome’s cultural fabric
The Roman consciousness of the passage of time, and the capacity of the literary work to
withstand time’s destructive force, is striking and unusual
The fierce determination to conquer time through the power of literary eloquence may be the
single most important idea contributed by Rome to the traditions of Western literature
It constitutes a key point of contact between our own concept of literature and the Roman
conceptions of literary activity that continue to inform literary practices today
The earliest major Roman authors (Livius Andronicus, Ennius, Plautus, Terence) were active
from the late third century BCE to the earlier half of the second century BCE
During this time, Rome was at the height of its glory in military terms, but Roman literature
was in its infancy
It was not until the late Republic, which corresponds roughly to the first century BCE, that we
begin to see the authors more commonly taught in high school and university houses and
more commonly admitted in scholarly articles
While political culture in these years was violent, disordered, and increasingly dysfunctional,
literary culture was rising to new heights of sophistication
Late republican literature has all the uneven brilliance of a period of discovery and
An especially important development of this period is the increasingly influence of Hellenistic
poetry, that is, poetry written in Greek during the post-classical period, mostly in Alexandria in
the third century BCE
The Alexandrian Greek poet Cllimachus had announced certain orienting principles of poetics
in the prologue to his Aetia
He declared his preference for erudite, intricate, and densely worked poetry, often on exotic
topics, and his disdain for less refined more conventional, and more popular works
Hellenistic literature had exerted influence on Roman writers from the earliest period of Latin
literature, bur in the mid-first century BCE Roman writers articulated (or invented) their own
version of Callimechanism with more explicit enthusiasm
Neoteroi “the modern ones”; a term perhaps coined by Cicero and used by modern
scholars to refer to first-century BCE poets whose works reflect the influence of Hellenistic
The following period saw a new form of government emerge out of the wreckage of
republican civil conflict
Literature produced during the Augustian period manifests a similar tendency: some of the
boldest, most innovative, and even baroque works in the Roman tradition were nonetheless
devoted to promoting the image of a “new age” imbued with the serene elegance of classical
Poets wrote on grand contemporary themes, such as Augustus’s military victories and his
pacification of the known world
Panegyric a formal public speech delivered in praise of a person
Lyric poetry that explores personal feelings and emotions. Originally (in Greek) sung to the
accompaniment of a lyre, such as poems were probably recited in the Roman period
Tragedy a poetic genre that took the form of a dramatic script dealing with human suffering
or with individuals who face choices between painful options. Roman tragedies tended to
take their subject matter from mythology or history
Didactic poetry that has (or pretends to have) and instrumental quality
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Pastoral poetry that is set in the countryside and emphasizes the idyllic life of herdsmen,
especially in contrast with hectic urban lifestyle
Aetiological elegy poetry that is written in elegiac metre and explores the origin of thins
Most scholars have come to refer to the Augustian cohort of poets, along with some select
predecessors, as constituting the Golden Age of Latin literature
The following age of literature is inevitably inferior and hence is called the Silver Age
Literature of the early imperial period can hardly be classified as inferior in blanket terms
The Augustans heralded themselves as the denizens of a new Golden Age, but their
successors often denigrated their own abilities and lamented the decline of literary culture
The Augustans also succeeded in demoting middle republican authors from the pedestal of
revered antiquity by referring to their rough, “unkempt” style and lack of metrical
The social and political instability of the third century CE, followed by the distinct governing
style of the tetarchy and the subsequent Christianization of the Roman empire in the 4th
century CE, have been traditionally identified as developments that initiated a radical break
with the social structures, political culture, and geographic disposition of the classic Roman
o Tetarchy the “rule of four”; a system of imperial leadership instituted by
Diocletian in 293 CE, in which rule was undertaken by two emperors and two
deputies who were sanctioned in different, strategic areas of the empire. The
system was effectively removed by 324 CE, when Constantine declared himself
sole emperor
On the other hand, the works of the so-called Church Fathers in the third and fourth centuries
CE betray a deep immersion in classical literary culture
Greece and Rome:
The traditional date given to the beginning of Latin Literature in 240 BCE, when Livius
Andronicus is said to have presented a tragedy at the Ludi Romani, the “Roman Games”
Literature in Rome may have emerged quite suddenly through a series of calculated actions
rather than gradual, “natural” development
Repeated acts of deliberate but controlled adoption of foreign cultural practices are a
discernible pattern in the development of Roman culture
The authors who created Roman literature were, in almost every instance, not born in Rome
but often hailed from other regions of Italy and who were fluent in two or more languages
Italy in the middle republican period was military dominated by Rome but remained highly
diverse both culturally and linguistically, with non-Latin languages (including Greek)
flourishing throughout the various regions of the peninsula
Rome’s earliest writers who were captives of war and slave tutors to the conquering general’s
children before eventually being freed they came from outside Rome, had low and even
servile social status in Rome and were involved in the education of aristocratic youth
It is not enough to suggest that Rome was influenced by the precedent of Greek literature
The appropriation of literature and literary practiced by the Romans was at once more
deliberate, more decisive, and, in some instances, more violent
The Roman importation and institution of literature and literary practiced need to be
understood within the context of war and imperialism during the middle Republic
Romans imported books, entire libraries, art objects, architectural forms, and even Greek
intellectuals who had been captured in war
In many cases, the aristocratic captors developed an admiration for the learning and
cultivation of their educated Greek slaves, rewarded them with freedom, and. as time went
on, began to develop literary interests themselves
For the first Roman writers and audiences, literature simply was a Greek thing because
Greece was the one civilization that Rome had close and sustained cultural contact with and
the only one that had literature
Therefore, when the Roman elite began to appropriate and import certain literary practices,
they hewed very closely to Greek categories, in part because the professional literary
artisans they hired came from a Greek background
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