The Roman festival of Saturnalia, celebrated at the end of each calendar year, was a time of great cultural importance. A celebration of the ancient Italian god Saturn, the festival was marked by license and social reversal: the statue of the god was unbound, labour and laws were suspended and drunkenness, gambling and feasting were the order of the day. An essential element of this beloved festival, which Catullus called the optimus dierum (14.15) was Rome's return to of the Golden Age of Saturn, a period of leisure and of freedom of speech (e.g., Horace, Sat. II.7). This paper examines the literature specific to the Saturnalia, particularly in the late Flavian period under the Emperor Domitian: in a time of artistic censorship and cultural restrictions, how does art depict the freedom of the Saturnalian Golden Age? How does the rhetoric of reversal, autonomy and equality, the hallmarks of the Saturnalia, conform to or subvert the tyranny of the day? If the Golden Age is apolitical, how do politics fit in?
This paper offers a reading of two contemporaneous texts with a similar subject matter, but with different responses to the paradoxes generated by Domitian's Saturnalia: Statius' Silvae 1.6, with its description of the Emperor's Saturnalian celebration; and a selection of short poems from Martial's Xenia and Apophoreta, collections of couplets on a wide variety of foodstuffs and gifts typically exchanged during Saturnalia. Both works configure the Emperor Domitian as the god Saturn, reflecting the ruler's own approach to the festival. Both works, moreover, are concerned almost exclusively with the material components of Domitian's Saturnalia: the food served, the gifts given, the wine consumed.
How does the Golden Age survive in a time of tyranny? Or rather, how does a tyrant survive the return of a Golden Age, however brief it may be? This paper argues that the emphasis on the material trappings of the festival and their display, to the exclusion of the larger and possibly subversive elements of the Saturnalia, is part of the dominant hegemony's strategy for the containment of the freedoms granted by the holiday, a strategy we see celebrated (not entirely unambiguously) in Statius' Silvae 1.6. Martial's two books of Saturnalian poetry, however, respond differently to the state's orchestration of the holiday: in the Xenia and the Apophoreta Martial's exclusive focus on the material world of the Saturnalia effects the removal of Domitian-qua-Saturn from the centre of events, returning the reader to the domestic sphere and the private elements of the festival. Further, Martial's epigrams, through their play with subjectivity and objectivity, bring questions of autonomy and value to the forefront of the Saturnalian celebration. While far from subversive, these poems are excellent texts in which to trace the tensions generated by the incompatibility of tyranny and autonomy, two forces which must somehow co-exist for the period of the Saturnalia.
Tacitus, like many of his contemporaries, echoes Golden Age poets and iconographers by employing allusions to Rome's mythic foundation in his characterization of the principate. Such allusions are often encomiastic (for example, Pliny's Panegyricus and Silius Italicus' Punica). However, in Tacitus the effect of looking back to an 'idealized past' -- be it the age of Romulus or Augustus -- tends to subvert rather than glorify or legitimize the emperor. This is especially the case when the emperor being characterized is a 'bad emperor'.
This paper will discuss one such 'subversive allusion'. I will argue that Tacitus has in mind the model of the Romulus-Remus myth for his portrayal of Nero's rise to supremacy and the murder of his step-brother, Britannicus. My paper will explicate the numerous parallels and inter-textual references between Tacitus' narrative (particularly the first half of Annals XIII) and the narratives of Remus' death in Livy, Ovid, and Plutarch. A comparison with Tacitus' sources, Dio and Suetonius, moreover, will reveal that such a close association with the elements of the myth is a Tacitean innovation.
The crux of the argument will lie in the fact that Tacitus carefully and persistently has established Britannicus as a rival heir to the principate -- and has made him of more or less equal legitimacy. Like Romulus, Nero cannot be supreme while his brother exists. The act itself forms the climax of Book XIII, which sees Nero transform his role from one of passive to active participant in his usurpation of power. Britannicus comes to his death as a result of an act of defiance which challenges the authority of Nero (fittingly in a game involving the choosing of a king), and parallels Remus' transgression of Romulus' pomerium in Livy and Ovid (Ovid, Fasti, 841; Livy Ab urbe condita, 1.7). For both Romulus and Nero the violence enacted on brother by brother is markedly foundational. This plays into the larger motif of re-foundation present in the Neronian Books as a whole and toys with Nero's own self-identification as a re-founder of Rome (attested in other sources, particularly Suetonius and Dio). I will also discuss the differences, of which I suspect Tacitus is aware, between the two stories (for example, Romulus' militaristic nature vs. Nero's effeminacy; what it is that is being transgressed by Remus and Britannicus respectively -- the sacred vs. the immoral and lewd; etc.). I will include short discussions of the ritual purification (Annals XIII. 24) which Nero performs at the end of the year of Britannicus' death, and the phenomenon involving the ficus ruminalis which closes Book XIII itself.
My paper will ultimately argue that Tacitus' emphasis on the least savory aspects of a myth so prominently employed in Augustan propaganda (and to which even Golden Age poets (even Augustus, himself) were highly sensitive) suggests that Tacitus is commenting on an intrinsic link between civil and familial strife (death and destruction) and the consolidation of power. This link characterizes not just the supremacy of Nero (which certainly will come to demonstrate these qualities), but the nature of one man rule, itself. An acknowledgement of the inherently negative aspects of the principate as an institution, while avoiding an outright condemnation, may comprise the extent of Tacitus' republican leanings.
Cultural anthropologists have long noted that cultures often define themselves by their food systems, and the ancient Greeks and Romans were certainly no exception. The basic yet quintessential elements of the Mediterranean diet have been the same for as long as we have historical testimonials - olives, wheat and barley, the vine, and fish. But, as Wilkins tells us, the ancient Greeks defined themselves
above all by the ritual of animal sacrifice in which a domesticated beast was led to the altar, had its throat cut and its blood poured over the altar in the presence of the worshippers. It was flayed; the vital organs were removed and a portion offered by burning to the gods, the rest roasted and tasted by the leading participants. The entrails and offcuts were made into black and other puddings. In this system the gods were honoured, the community expressed its solidarity, and a rare chance to eat meat was enjoyed. Anyone who was a vegetarian was not taking part and was in a sense opting out of society. (Wilkins, John. "Public and Private Eating in Greece 450-300 BC." Paper for Oxford Symposium of food, 1991. In Colin Spencer. The Heretic's Feast. Hanover: UP of New England, 1995. 37.)
In ancient Greece and Rome then, the eating of meat was not only acceptable, but actually required by cult and ancestral custom, closely intertwined as it was with religion.
As such, Sorabji notes, "to oppose animal sacrifice or meat-eating was especially tricky, because it was necessary to make clear that one did not oppose religion." (Sorabji, Richard. Animal Minds and Human Morals. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993. 172-3.) Although there were several quite striking rationalizations developed by vegetarians in antiquity to legitimate their radicality, this paper will, after briefly surveying the others, focus on the most common, namely a hearkening back to a mythological Golden Age in which all men were peaceful vegetarians. All the pertinent thinkers will be covered in chronological order, starting with the Greek epic poet Hesiod, working through Pythagoras' protege Empedocles, Plato, the Peripatetics Theophrastus and Dicaerchus, the Stoics Zeno, Musonius Rufus and Seneca, the historians Ephorus and Diodorus Siculus, the Roman epic poet Ovid, and finishing with the Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyry.
At Confessions I.6, St. Augustine describes a model of the earthly paradise in the account of his infancy. Under the constant protection of God, the infant Augustine was filled with a natural desire for nourishment in exact proportion to the ability of his nurse to satisfy his needs. Moreover, Augustine's nurse is described as carrying out her duties with a kind of pleasure, so that what was good for Augustine was also experienced as something good by his nurse. This situation, in which every will is directed towards its good in proper measure and without conscious effort, is intended to remind the reader of the earthly paradise described in Genesis. The primordial human community and the very beginning of Augustine's life (and, by implication, the beginning of all human lives) share in the peace that is to be enjoyed when the will is not misdirected in the confusion of divided and illusory goods. Since Augustine's stated goal, both at the beginning and at the end of the Confessions, is rest in God, and since Augustine encounters no further stage of life attaining to the perfection and quietude of first infancy, this age must be recognized as both an idealized past and as a lost homeland that must be regained at any cost.
The path to the simplicity of infancy, however, is fraught with difficulties and paradox. How can Augustine expect to revert to the infantile, pre-rational perfection of will now that he has attained to his own sophisticated maturity? Further, how is Augustine even able to recollect the precise conditions of his infancy, such that he can reliably present them in the radical idealization that appears in the Confessions? The answers to these questions do not appear until Book X, where Augustine presents his account of the faculty of memory that is made possible by God. Indeed, it is only through knowing himself as he is known by God that Augustine is able to locate himself in relation to the divine, and thereby find his goal of rest in God. It is this inspired faculty of memory that allows Augustine both to recall his past, precisely as it occurred in the eyes of God, and to find direction towards the enjoyment of his goal of peace.
The final antistrophe and epode of Ibycus' ode to Polycrates (fr. S151, P.Oxy. 1790) contain a comparison between two minor heroes of the Epic Cycle in respect to their beauty: the Trojan Troilus and thrice refined gold to the son of Hyllis and orichalcum. These verses have been troubling to readers of the poem. J. P. Barron (CR 1961, 11:185) at one point sought to emend the text so that Troilus was likened to orichalc and the beautiful son of Hyllis to gold, as the latter character serves the poetic climax. David Campbell (Greek Lyric Poetry, 309) advanced the interpretation that the two metals were indistinguishable to the eye and so the two young men in their beauty. More recently Martin Robertson (BICS 1970, 17:11-15) has argued that it is Troilus and not the son of Hyllis who within the confines of the poem's analogy represents the laudandus Polycrates, thus gold is superior to orichalc. Robertson ultimately bases this interpretation on the poet's declaration that his composition for Polycrates is like gold as his previous poems written for the rulers of Sicyon were like orichalcum.
The purpose of this paper is to read these verses of Ibycus explaining the comparison of the two youthful heroes with gold and orichalcum not as a reflection of the poet's relationship with his patrons, but as a criticism against the notion of the decadence of the ages. If the simile is read through the lens of the myth of the ages, the judgement of the two metals to be equal in splendor implies a rejection of an idealized golden past. In fact the beautiful son of Hyllis is the foil for Polycrates and his kleos, and this declaration is strengthened by a rejection of gold, even thrice refined, as of incomparable value. Ibycus plays on this mythology to emphasize the splendor of his day, especially as exemplified in the Samian court, as equivalent to the Trojan War. This comparison functions on two other levels as well. First, the poet's own era is judged to be equal to the glory of the golden age, and secondly, Ibycus' poetry equal to that of his epic predecessors.
Plutarch suffers from a peculiar sort of nostalgia. His Lives are dedicated to commemorating the Greek and Roman past, holding up its outsized characters as examples to the present of virtue (and vice). Still, on several occasions in his writings (most famously, Precepts of Statecraft 824) Plutarch seems to recognize that the political virtues he prizes are much more at home in the internecine struggles of Greek cities or in Rome ascending than under the peace and universal stability of the Empire. This leaves Plutarch longing for the virtues of an irretrievably bygone era, writing to restore what he admits is in some sense unrestorable. It seems difficult to distinguish his nostalgia from despair.
In this paper I argue that the nostalgia that motivates Plutarch's Lives is, from the perspective of those in the peaceful Empire, not nearly as inconsequential as the account above suggests. To elucidate Plutarch's attitude towards the practical consequences of the past, I will focus on his own involvement with the Oracle at Delphi and his understanding of the role of the Oracle in Greek life now that Greek politics are not as prominent as they once were. Plutarch served as a priest at Delphi for some 30 years, and was intimately involved in restoring it to something like its ancient luster. In three Delphic dialogues -- The E at Delphi, The Oracles at Delphi No Longer Given in Verse, and The Obsolescence of Oracles -- he admits, however, that the Oracle has increasingly come into question from doubting rationalists (Epicureans in particular) and has become a mere curiosity for visiting tourists. In examining and refuting these attitudes towards the Oracle Plutarch both does justice to the epochal changes in Greek life under Roman rule, and suggests how an ancient Greek institution can nevertheless subsist and thrive, albeit with a less grandiose role than it once had.
In the paper's conclusion, I suggest that Plutarch's understanding of the Delphic Oracle can be used as a paradigm of his approach to history generally. I briefly discuss the Precepts of Statecraft, the locus classicus of Plutarch's discussion of the Empire's universal peace and its influence on the ambitions of politically minded Greeks, in order to support this claim. In the end, I suggest, Plutarch advocates neither a simple return to the past nor, of course, an abandonment of the history of Greece and Rome. The old virtues and rituals, writ large throughout history, can inform and influence the present, even if they must be writ small, applied in a world bereft of great politics, to do so. Plutarch's is a nostalgia for a past not altogether lost, nor altogether possible to regain.
During his defense of poetry and of the poet's life at 11.1 to 13.6 of the Dialogus de Oratoribus, Curiatius Maternus speaks at 12.3-4 of the preeminence of poets such as Orpheus and Linus during felix illud aureum saeculum. He goes on to suggest that Virgil and even the more recent poet Pomponius Secundus achieved a standing comparable to that of Golden Age poets. Maternus concludes this speech by voicing the wish that he might attain a poetic retreat resembling that of the Golden Age that he just described.
With this paper I would like to address Tacitus' curious use in this passage of the Golden Age and of Golden Age diction, much of it drawn from Virgil's fourth Eclogue and Georgics (especially Georgic 2). My contention is that here Tacitus, through the character Maternus, makes two statements -- seemingly contradictory but ultimately complementary -- about his literary ambitions. 1) He demonstrates his interest in engaging with the poetic tradition: like Virgil and Ovid (Met. 1.89-112) before him, Tacitus takes up the familiar poetic topos of the Golden Age and then adds to it, adapting it to his literary needs. The chief innovation in Tacitus' Golden Age is the emphasis put on the abundance of poets and the prominence of poetry, because the contrast between that time of poetic flourishing and his own time is what is most significant to Tacitus' ends. For, while showing his skill in allusion to and adaptation of poetic models, Tacitus 2) simultaneously asserts that he is unable to attain the status and gloria of poets such as the Golden Age poets (into whose number he here seems to insert Virgil), because the poetry to which he would aspire belongs to the far-off, necessarily concluded Golden Age. Maternus' wish at 13.5-6 (all of which is expressed in the subjunctive mood) is no more than a wish: a retreat from the insanum et lubricum forum to a poetic haven is not realistic in the time after the Golden Age, especially for politically involved urbanites such as Maternus and Tacitus. This contrast between the poetic gloria of Virgil and his own inglorius labor Tacitus repeats (again with a meaningful Virgilian intertext) at Annals 4.32.
So the alternative for the poetically-leaning Tacitus is epic poetry's close relative, history. The Dialogus was written immediately before Tacitus embarked on his annalistic works the Histories and Annals. As I will touch on briefly but will not have the time to discuss at great length, these works, while written in the prose that better fits his station and his existence after the conclusion of the Golden Age, are rife with allusions to and adaptations of his poetic predecessors. This literary strategy of persistent engagement with the poetic tradition was announced -- and first employed -- in Maternus' first speech in the Dialogus.