Scholia Reviews ns 20 (2011) 15.

William J. Dominik, J. Garthwaite and P. A. Roche (edd.), Writing Politics in Imperial Rome. Brill's Companions in Classical Studies. Leiden and Boston: E. J. Brill, 2009. Pp. xii, 539. ISBN 9789004156715. €180.00, US$247.00.

P. J. Davis
The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia

This is a remarkable book, containing as it does essays on the political engagement of almost every major Latin author of the early imperial period, as well as Cicero and Lucretius from the late republic and Flavius Josephus. Silius Italicus is a notable absentee. Given the centrality of epic poetry to the scholarly work of Dominik and Roche, his absence is clearly due to forces beyond their control. They suggest as much in their first chapter. The high quality of each of the individual essays is also remarkable and results in an excellent collection.

For scholars familiar with the debates over the political stances of Augustan writers this book has another remarkable feature. Discussion of Ovid and his contemporaries has been bedevilled since 1992 by Duncan Kennedy's argument that the opposition between the terms 'pro- Augustan' and 'anti-Augustan' is essentially meaningless.[[1]] That is a position that I refuted in 1999 and 2006.[[2]] What is remarkable is that it is clear from this volume (as well as from the scholarship on Neronian and Flavian literature more generally) that Kennedy's argument has had no impact on the study of post-Augustan literature.

The first chapter, 'Writing Imperial Politics: the Context' (pp. 1-22), performs the tasks that we expect of such chapters. First, it lays out the book's thesis: 'that political debate is a continuous, multi-dimensional, and fundamentally important aspect of the literature produced in virtually every genre and period at Rome and within the boundaries of the Roman empire' (p. 1). Second, it introduces the following chapters and explains how they support the collection's argument.

Steven H. Rutledge, an ancient historian and author of Chapter 2, 'Writing Imperial Politics: the Social and Political Background' (pp. 23-62), is best known for his book Imperial Inquisitions: Prosecutors and Informants from Tiberius to Domitian (London 2001). Here he focuses on the all-important topic of the limits of free speech under the early empire. His argument is subtle and complex, attending as it does to the importance of the various social contexts in which libertas was exercised. This chapter offers far more than its title 'Social and Political Background' seems to promise.

In Chapter 3, 'Lucretius and the First Triumvirate' (pp. 63-88), John Penwill offers a challenging political analysis of Lucretius, arguing that the poem offers critique not just of the practice of politics in the usual Epicurean way, but of the moral behaviour of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus.

Jon Hall examines Cicero's response to Caesar's dictatorship in Chapter 4, 'Serving the Times: Cicero and Caesar the Dictator' (pp. 89-110). The interest here lies in the fact that we see a politician accustomed to the rough and tumble of late republican politics having to adapt to a new quasi-monarchical situation. Hall argues that, although he practises self- censorship, 'Cicero was not in the habit of thinking in terms of doublespeak or of composing subtly subversive literature' (pp. 108f.) because these were skills that republican politicians had not needed.

In Chapter 5, 'Vergil’s Geopolitics' (pp. 111-32), William Dominik takes on Virgil, examining Eclogues, Georgics and Aeneid as constituting a single text. As Dominik observes, such treatments are rare. Dominik focuses upon human violence against the land and the urban invasion of the rural world.

Robin Bond considers Horace chronologically in Chapter 6, 'Horace’s Political Journey' (pp. 133-52), exploring the poet's shifting allegiances from republican sympathiser to author of 'the poetical expression of the Augustan propaganda of the Res Gestae' (p. 136). He explores in just a few pages the complexities of the Epodes. Accepting Kennedy's argument that the Satires are 'an integrational text' (i.e. quietly pro-Augustan), Bond argues that the Satires are 'far more subtle and politically loaded than it has been the conventional wisdom to believe' (p. 144). The account of Odes 1-3 avoids some of the more obvious choices (1.2, 3.1-6) to explore poems in which the survival strategies adopted by Horace and some of his republican friends are uppermost. In the final section ('Augustan Eulogist') Bond examines the Carmen Saeculare, noting Putnam's positive revaluation, Epodes 16, Odes 3.6 and 1.37. He concludes by contrasting the relative anonymity of Virgil's chosen form with the more personal forms selected by Horace.

In Chapter 7, 'The Politics of Aristocratic Competition: Innovation in Livy and Augustan Rome' (pp. 153-72), Matthew B. Roller, avoids making 'for or against' judgements on the question of Livy's view of Augustus and considers textual politics in a broader sense through an examination of Livy's representation of Appius Claudius Caecus. Roller focuses on Appius as one who transgresses 'the boundaries of established competitive arenas' (p. 156) and argues persuasively that 'reconstructing the rules and venues of aristocratic competition' was an important Augustan project.

Marcus Wilson considers Propertius and Tibullus in Chapter 8, 'The Politics of Elegy: Propertius and Tibullus' (pp. 173- 202). Wilson notes a discrepancy in the dominant modes of interpretation of love elegy: scholars tend to treat the lover's relationship with his mistress as fictionalised and his relationship with his patron or the emperor as reflecting social or political reality. Further, elegy, as a genre whose 'first function [is] the passionate articulation ofdiscontent' is hardly suitable as a 'suitable vehicle for Augustan or any other "propaganda"' (p. 176). Particularly important is Wilson's discussion of programmatic poems and the failure of poets to meet their program's requirements and the implications of those (deliberate) failures. For Wilson the poems addressed to political figures are functionally no different from those addresses to mistresses: all are 'epitaphs for lost opportunities, in love, in poetry, in career, and ideological assimilation' (p. 201).

In Chapter 9, 'Politics in Ovid' (pp. 203- 24), Gareth Williams takes on the Ovid controversy. Williams argues that 'Ovid writes not for or against but about [emphasis original] Augustus and Augustan Romanness' (p. 204). The distinction is a subtle one. If we accept that this is a genuine distinction, it is still reasonable to ask whether what Ovid writes about Augustus is on balance favourable or unfavourable, supportive or not. Williams's chapter is ambitious in scope and complex in argument. It merits close scrutiny.

Victoria Jennings takes on Phaedrus in Chapter 10, 'Borrowed Plumes: Phaedrus’ Fables, Phaedrus’ Failures' (pp. 225-48). Although Phaedrus is perhaps the least read author in this volume, Jennings's essay is one of the most lively and most interesting. Jennings's principal concern is the ways in which Phaedrus contrives to speak freely at a time when free speech was dangerous.

James Ker examines Seneca in Chapter 11, 'Outside and Inside: Senecan Strategies' (pp. 249-72). Given the volume of Seneca's writing and his direct involvement in politics, this is a difficult task. It is the prose works that get most attention here. Little is said about the tragedies. It seems odd, however, to claim that parallels between Senecan tragic tyrants and Nero did not become apparent until the Flavian period (p. 255). From Naevius onwards Roman tragedy had been a profoundly political genre. It is hard to believe that Neronian spectators and readers were any less alert to political allusions than their republican forebears.

Martha Malamud takes on the tricky task of discussing two very different authors in Chapter 12, 'Primitive Politics: Lucan and Petronius' (pp. 273-306). She does this by focusing on their treatment of the motifs of primitive hospitality and primitive architecture in both texts and setting them in the context of Nero's extravagant building program.

John Garthwaite and Beatrice Martin discuss Calpurnius Siculus in Chapter 13, 'Visions of Gold: Hopes for the New Age in Calpurnius Siculus’ Eclogues' (pp. 307-22). Garthwaite and Martin dispose of the problem of dating quickly and argue for a poetically sophisticated Calpurnius, whose work is carefully structured so as to offer a pessimistic critique of contemporary (Neronian) politics.

In Chapter 14, 'Of Despots, Diadems and Diadochoi: Josephus and Flavian Politics' (pp. 323-50), Steve Mason offers the only chapter that deals with a Greek author, Flavius Josephus. Mason focuses on Herod's succession crisis of 4 BCE, arguing that Josephus advocates senatorial aristocracy and that his critique of hereditary monarchy is as applicable to Vespasian's Rome as it is to Judaea. Mason gives us not a Flavian flatterer but 'a dab hand at barbed or figured speech' (p. 348).

Chapter 15 gives us Andrew Zissos on Valerius Flaccus, 'Navigating Power: Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica' (pp. 351-66). Zissos offers a sophisticated analysis of the poem's 'sociology', arguing for parallels between the socio- political organisation of the poem's major cities, Iolcus and Colchis, and Rome and examining the poem's exploration of the difficulties that the existence of the principate posed for competitive aristocrats. Zissos has contributed much to our understanding of this important poet and this chapter does not disappoint.

Paul Roche examines the nature of Quintilian's praise of Domitian in Chapter 16, 'The Ivy and the Conquering Bay: Quintilian on Domitian and Domitianic Policy' (pp. 367-86), arguing that Quintilian offers 'an ironic or satirical response to Domitian's public imagery' (p. 368). Given that Quintilian is a literary theorist, Roche is able to measure his author's prescriptions against his practice. Roche concludes that Quintilian ignores his own instructions for writing encomia and employs tropes that he himself associates with subversion.

Carole Newlands's account of Statius (Chapter 17, 'Statius’ Self-conscious Poetics: Hexameter on Hexameter' [pp. 387- 404]), focuses upon three of the Silvae (1.5, 3.2, 3.5) as interpretive guides to Thebaid and closes with remarks on Achilleid. Newlands argues that 'the Silvae, through dialogue with the Thebaid, confront the vexed question of whether imperial poetry can have a meaningful social and political role in Domitian's Rome' (p. 389).

John Garthwaite returns to Martial in Chapter 18, 'Ludimus Innocui: Interpreting Martial’s Imperial Epigrams' (pp. 405-28). This chapter is, in part, a response to conservative reactions to his own work. Garthwaite rejects attempts to limit 'the interpretive possibilities of the text' (p. 426) on the basis of 'common sense' (i.e. uninformed prejudice). Rather than rehearse old arguments, however, Garthwaite focuses on Martial's self- representation and his treatment of Domitian's building program.

In Chapter 19, 'Reading the Prince: Textual Politics in Tacitus and Pliny' (pp. 429-46), Steven H. Rutledge takes on both Tacitus and the younger Pliny. Rutledge examines the ways in which Tacitus' writings about the past reflect upon his own times. Thus he draws a contrast between Tacitus' representation of the behaviour of his father-in-law Agricola and that of the emperor Nerva. Rutledge next scrutinises Pliny's letters for dissent, noting that Pliny ignores Trajan's conquests and seems to question the sincerity of Trajan's ciuilitas.

David Konstan's chapter on Suetonius (Chapter 20, 'Reading Politics in Suetonius' [pp. 447-62]) confines itself to the Life of Titus. Konstan offers us a close reading of chapter 9, exploring the connections between conspiracy against the emperor and the popularity of astrology.

The centrepiece of Martin Winkler's essay on Juvenal (Chapter 21, 'Juvenal: Zealous Vindicator of Roman Liberty' [pp. 463-82]) is a discussion of Satire 4 and its representation of Domitian and his circle. For Winkler, as for Dryden, Juvenal is a 'zealous vindicator of Roman liberty'.

As can be seen from the above summaries, the different authors have taken varied approaches to their brief. Some discuss one or two voluminous authors in a single chapter. Others concentrate on a single poem or passage or aspect of an author's work. Taken together, these chapters do indeed prove the book's thesis: political engagement is an aspect of all imperial Roman literature that cannot safely be ignored.


[[1]] Duncan F.Kennedy, '"Augustan" and "Anti-Augustan":Reflections on Terms of Reference' in Anton Powell (ed.), Roman Poetry and Propaganda in the Age of Augustus (Bristol 1992) 26-58.

[[2]] P. J. Davis, '"Since My Part Has Been Well-Played": Conflicting Evaluations of Augustus.' Ramus 28 (1999) 1-15; idem, Ovid and Augustus: A Political Reading of Ovid's Erotic Poetry (London 2006) 9-22.