Lingua Sed Torpet: Manifestations of Emotion
in the Ancient World

Twelfth Annual Graduate Student Colloquium, Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday, February 16, 2008.

Reconstructing Rome: Vespasian in the Capitolium | The Peripatetic View of the Passions | Blood, Guts, and Laughter: Dark Humour in Statius' Thebaid V | Lucretius and the Conquest of Emotion | Transforming Relationships through Emotional Expression in Sophocles' Electra | Brutalized Bodies and Broken Categories in Catullus 8 and 40

Reconstructing Rome: Vespasian in the Capitolium

Karen Acton
University of Michigan

    In the Fall of 70 CE Vespasian entered Rome for the first time as its new emperor; as soon as he had arrived, he began the project of rebuilding the Capitolium, which had been destroyed in the fighting between his faction and the followers of Vitellius in December of the previous year. Remarkably, both Suetonius (Vesp. 8.5) and Cassius Dio (in epitome, 65.10.1) describe Vespasian literally beginning this building project himself, clearing the rubble from the site with his own hands. Such behavior by an emperor in Rome was entirely without precedent, and Dio explains it simply as an attempt to encourage others to participate in the project of rebuilding the city.
    I intend to analyze Vespasian's appearance on the Capitolium as a politically and socially meaningful performance, whose message depended upon a range of ideological, religious, political, and military symbols: the connection between the Capitolium and the Republic, the inverted references to a triumph, and the importance of sharing in the soldiers' labors for certain successful military commanders, among others. This performance was crafted to express a particular set of emotional responses to recent events (both highly localized events, namely the destruction of the temple, and more generally the events of Vespasian's war against Vitellius). By personally beginning the process of rebuilding the Capitolium, Vespasian was communicating a version of the past that stressed continuity with Republican values and imperial successes, thus refocusing public attention away from the anxiety and uncertainty of the civil war and towards the optimism and pride of its Republican and Julio-Claudian past. Moreover, Vespasian's programmatic action was intended to shape the way the public would see and respond to the new emperor and the new empire, through the creation of a new metaphor of imperial rule; instead of a pater patriae, the Roman people now had a dux who required discipline, order, and obedience, but whose willingness to share in their hardships, dangers, and labor should earn him their affection and loyalty.