Silent and eloquent: absence and presence of speaking in Cicero’s Brutus and Tacitus’ Dialogus de Oratoribus

Kathrin Winter (University of Heidelberg)

Don’t say that you are silent – be silent!

It is one of the paradoxes of literature that the lack of something occasionally produces great abundance, especially when the absence is compensated for by means of speech, i.e. when words are used to fill a void and substitute for something absent. A familiar example of this phenomenon is provided by Latin love elegy. But the silence of eloquence which results from the change of the political system in the first century BC brings about a very similar effect: it produces very eloquent speech (which prevents the loss from going unnoticed). Two prime examples are Cicero’s Brutus and Tacitus’ Dialogus de Oratoribus.

These dialogues deal with the lacuna that is left behind by the silence of eloquence. However, in both texts, speaking and silence are not only a topic but also part of the argumentation and structure:

In the Brutus, the silence of speech is compensated for by the history of Roman eloquence. The climax of this history, which consists in Cicero himself, is continually omitted and postponed until it is finally released at the end of the dialogue. Nevertheless, it is always present throughout the text, creating a telos or a centre around which the narrative of the history of eloquence is organised. This continuously present absence within the narrative constitutes the order and meaning of the narrative.

The Dialogus de Oratoribus deals again, but in hindsight, with the paradigm shift and the absence of great eloquence. Here, too, the tension between silence and speech appears to be topic and literary technique but in a manner that differs greatly from the one applied in the Brutus. While speech and voices are represented in abundance, small but numerous lacunae and gaps occur within them. They continually elude the reader’s attention and so, very unobtrusively, keep the meaning of the text unstable: for example, the narrator – without ever leaving the text – vanishes at the very beginning of the dialogue behind a cluster of voices and opinions and takes with him all definitive judgement (like the initially promised decision about the superiority of poetry or oratory or a final answer to the topic of the whole dialogue). That way, speech and presence seem to be a way of keeping something meaningful continuously absent.

uel alio transeundi gratia: the (generic) sound of silence in Statius’ Thebaid

Stefano Briguglio (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa)

Ιn Latin literature, Aposiopesis, «the omission of an idea, made known by breaking off a sentence already begun» (Lausberg 1988, s. v.), has a bizarre pedigree. As stylistic feature of animated and colloquial language, it occurs mainly in Old Comedy and Ciceros’ epistles. Therefore, there should be little room for aposiopesis in epic poetry, and indeed it has little occurences, for instance, in Vergil’s Aeneid (see e.g. 1, 135; 2, 200): nevertheless, this feature becomes more frequent since Ovid, but it is only with Statius’ poetry that we appreciate a momentous increase of aposiopesis in Latin epic, both in the Thebaid and the Achilleid. In his seminal paper about silence in Latin poetry, H. Bardon (Le silence, moyen d’expression, «REL» 21, 1943) tried to identify the main kinds of aposiopesis among the numerous examples he had isolated: aposiopesis can obliterate shameful details of a speech (unconsciously too, as Freudian Verneigung reveals), express the poet’s hurry or stage an interruption of the speech due to external events. Although many studies have been devoted to this topic (e. g. L. Ricottilli, La scelta del silenzio. Menandro e l’aposiopesi, Bologna 1984; G. Longo, Contributi allo studio della ‘reticentia’, «Euphrosyne» 21, 1993; R. F. Thomas-J.M. Ziolkowski [eds.], The Virgil Encyclopedia, Malden 2014 s.vv. Aposiopesis; Quos ego), there is room for a deeper survey about aposiopesis in Statius’ works. My paper argues that, for the first time in Latin epic, Statius uses aposiopesis in his texts also to mark programmatic loci, where he stages a tension between epic and other literary genres, or between the Thebaid and its ancestors, e.g. in Theb. 4, 516; 8, 60; 7, 210; 12, 301; 380-5; Ach. 1, 157-8. By discussing some of these loci, I will highlight Statius’ programmatic use of aposiopesis in order to show his refusal of the influence of other poetic genres (such as tragedy or elegy) upon his epic, in contexts where these contaminations would not be suitable. Moreover, I will argue that aposiopesis is a relevant intertextual link between the Thebaid and Statius’ poetic background. These are silent challenges which deepen Statius’ metapoetic discourse on generic interactions and literary memory.

Allegorical Absences

Philip Hardie (Trinity College Cambridge)

Allegory ‘speaks the other’, that which was previously unspoken, and sometimes that which is unspeakable. Allegory also makes present what was absent; allegories are often absent presences. Allegory offers a fullness of meaning, but often succeeds only in delivering linguistic emptiness.

This paper will explore various aspects of the presences and absences characteristic of allegory, and then offer readings of a selection of Latin texts. At its simplest, and most simplistic, allegory can be thought of as a relationship between two levels, let us call them the literal and non-literal levels. A harmonious co-presence of the two levels is a possibility, but one rarely realised. The relationship, that which lies between and which both joins and separates the two levels, is one more often marked by tension and inequality. It is a relationship that may be thought of as arbitrary or as motivated, as mere linguistic convention or as founded on extra-linguistic realities. ‘Allegory’ itself as a term has been negatively (or positively) evaluated in contrast to ‘symbolism’, in a history that reaches from the German Romantics through Walter Benjamin to Paul De Man: allegory is abstract and artificial, devoid of a truly deeper meaning, while the symbol offers the revelation of a higher reality, of which the symbol is a part, synecdoche as opposed to allegory’s metonymy.

Allegory taken in a larger sense (to include symbolism) may be a stepping-stone from the unreal or less real to the more real, in the anagogical exegeses of Neoplatonism, which raise the reader from the embodied to the spiritual world, or of biblical interpretation (the earthly Jerusalem as figure for the celestial Jerusalem). Biblical typology (for which there are interesting analogies in pre-Christian Latin texts) connects two historical events, one in the Old and one in the New Testaments, the latter being understood as the ‘fulfilment’ of the former. Just how empty that leaves the former is disputed: should we talk of supersession, or of transformation? An extreme view might leave the Old Testament event as an empty husk, as devoid of enduring value as the Homeric myths allegorised away into philosophical truth in a long pre-Christian tradition. Other forms of allegory reverse the trajectory from less to more real, notably personification allegory, which converts words and concepts into embodied persons, but persons of self-evident fictionality.

My selection of texts will include the personifications of Ovid and Prudentius. Ovid energises the long history of personifications conscious of their ‘selves’, while Prudentius brings words given bodies up against the Word made flesh. Other kinds of allegory will be explored through contrasting readings of Paulinus of Nola’s spiritualizing allegorization of the landscape and buildings of the shrine of St Felix at Nola, and Claudian’s dissolution of the subjects of his panegyrical epics into a cloud of images and myths.

No One Looks at Elissa: Hermeneutic Responses to Dido’s First Appearance in the Aeneid 

Viola Starnone (SNS Pisa)

This paper deals with a perturbing absence in the first book of the Aeneid. When Dido makes her way to the temple of Juno (Verg. Aen. 1, 496-508), no passage in the narrative informs the reader that Aeneas has fixed his eyes on her. This is all the more evident, since until then Aeneas has been visually and emotionally absorbed into the temple frieze depicting the Trojan war (e.g. Verg. Aen. 1, 494-495) and, after the entrance of the queen, he will passionately witness the sudden reappearance of his lost companions (Verg. Aen. 1, 509-519). I argue that, more or less consciously, readers of all times have constantly tried to find a trace of Aeneas’ absent gaze and emotions, either into the ekphrasis of the temple frieze, or into the Dido-Diana simile that introduces the arrival of the queen. In other words, through the centuries, the lack of any explicit responses to the appearance of Dido has been perceived as a disappointing lacuna urging to be filled. I will take into examination readings of the scene by poets (e.g. Ovid; Statius; Valerius Flaccus) and commentators (e.g. Tiberius Donatus, Iulius Caesar Scaliger; Viktor Pöschl), in order to show that in some cases the delusion of expectations may lead to a hermeneutic obsession.

Catullus’ Sapphic lacuna: a palimpsest of absences and presences

Ábel Tamás (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest)

Though a lacuna is necessarily associated with absence – in the field of lyric poetry, with the absence of the voice –, Catullus’ famous lacuna of 51.8 represents a more complicated aesthetic phenomenon. This lacuna, generated by “an attractive irony of textual history” (Stevens 2013: 310), radicalizes Sappho’s falling silent in fr. 31, which has been attributed to the silencing effect of the intrusion of literacy into the sphere of lyric poetry (cf. Svenbro 1993: 145ff). Simultaneously, the lacuna of Cat. 51.8, enforcing the reader to stop, fall silent or hit the mere Adonic verse, functions as an acoustic channel through which the bodily and sonorous presence of Sappho and her lyric poetry is evoked. I would like to show that this sudden “epiphanic” textual lack enables the reader to experience the past in its sublimity, or to feel himself bodily connected to a chain of voices and silences.

In my presentation, I shall make use of Mladen Dolar’s book, A Voice and Nothing More, in which the voice is interpreted as being “at the intersection of presence and absence”, having “a truncated presence built around a lack” (Dolar 2006: 55). In my view, the Catullan lacuna of 51.8 can be read as a cenotaph of the Sapphic voice: an empty monument of the “absent presence” of the Sapphic voice which is being simultaneously silenced and reanimated by the endlessly iterable events of reading, the latter generated by the lacuna itself. In that regard, Catullus’ translation – which, paradoxically, would be incomplete without the lacuna – is a literal realization of Walter Benjamin’s imperative included in The Task of the Translator, awakening the “echo” of the Sapphic original.

I would envision the lacuna as an inherent part of the poetic play between Calvus and Catullus in poems 50 and 51, where the translation (carm. 51) is, on the one hand, an “in-absentia-continuation” of the poetic collaboration between the two poets (cf. Gaisser 2009: 142), and, on the other hand, a device through which Catullus can eliminate Calvus’ absence: Would you correct my translation, dear Calvus? Something is missing – would you please complete? With your textual or even more bodily presence, if I may? In this sense, the cca. 30 interpolations of the lacuna in the textual history – among others, the famous uocis in ore – do nothing more than take on the role of Calvus, and write a palimpsest of absent and present voices.

Grief Philology: Catullus 101 and Anne Carson’s Nox

Erik Fredericksen (Princeton University)

This paper reads Catullus’ carmen 101 with and against Anne Carson’s multimedia book Nox (2009) to consider mourning and philology as two related responses to loss. Drawing on the importance of substitution to the mourning process in Peter Sacks’ work on the English elegy (The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats [1985]), I suggest that Catullus’ poem—with its famous Odyssey allusion— substitutes a learned poem for a dear brother, capitalizing on the slippage of deictic references that simultaneously point to “these” funeral rites and “this” poem. Catullus’ creative answer to the absence of his brother, however, ends up reinscribing loss at several levels in his poem: between a Catullan present and a Homeric past, and between future readers and Catullus himself. To read Catullus’ poem, after all, is to enter into dialogue with an author as mute as his brother’s ash (Fitzgerald, Catullan Provocations [1995], 188).

Turning from Catullus to Carson, I examine a similar confluence of intimacy, absence, and poetic learning in Nox, an accordion-like book object that unfurls pages of scrapbook remembrances of her deceased brother alongside lexicographical entries for every single word of Catullus 101. Carson’s book becomes a twin exercise in mourning and in an obsessive philology. Her dictionary entries anatomize Catullus’ poem in something like a parody of a classical commentary, attempting to leave no site of significance unexhausted. I claim that Carson here exploits constitutive tensions in classical philology as a discipline organized in response to a loss—to the perceived absence of a classical culture it attempts to reconstitute or revivify. Much like Catullus’ act of poetic substitution, however, Carson’s creation only multiplies the loss it seeks to remedy. The unique and yet replicated form of her book as an intimate object, for example, emphasizes the gap between Nox and the epitaphic scrapbook of which it is a copy, leading us back to questions of Catullan deixis and the libellus to which he refers.

Catullus’ tension between poetic learning and brotherly mourning collapses in Carson’s work, as philology becomes an endless enterprise of grief—an activity that, in Freudian terms, bends mourning toward melancholy. Read together, Carson’s Nox and Catullus’ poem present the work of the mourner, the poet, and the scholar as all originating in absence—and ending there, too.

Pontem interrumpere: missing characters and other absences in Roman comedy

Giuseppe Pezzini (University of St Andrews)

In the opening of Plautus’ Casina the interpolated prologue (which was, incidentally, absent from Plautus’ original performance) warns the audience: ‘in case you’re waiting for [Euthynicus], he isn’t returning to the city in this comedy today. Plautus didn’t want him to, he demolished a bridge on his way (64–6)’Euthynicus is the young lover of the play, competing with his father for the love of an alluring slave-girl, the eponymous Casina. Casina too, despite (or because of?) her telic role in the plot, was never allowed by Plautus (and his Greek model?) to cross into the world of the play. Casina and Euthynicus are not alone: Roman comedy is populated by a crowd of missing characters, which the playwrights keep or move on the other side of the bridge, for parts or indeed the whole of the play. There are characters who return to be present at the beginning of the play, setting in motion the wheel of comic difficulties, ultimately originating in their previous absence. Others come (back) on stage in the middle or at the end of the action, or are sent away from the comic stage for different purposes. There are also present characters who impersonate missing ones, thereby filling in (and obscuring) their absence with guileful imagination; examples of these are the slave Chalinus cross-dressing as Casina, as well as the proxy fraud devised by Pseudolus, who is notoriously acting like a poet, ‘looking for something that doesn’t exist anywhere, but finding it nonetheless and making likely what is a lie’ (Pseud. 402–3). All these missing characters ‘benefit us in their absence as if they were present’, as the same prologue of Casina proclaims (20), with reference to the most important absence of all, Plautus himself. The aim of the talk is to introduce the audience to this crowd of comic absentees, focusing on a number of prototypical roles and functions, and discussing their contribution to their theatrical framework. This will also be an opportunity to introduce some notions of literary absence, related for instance to the idea that literature bridges, thematises or pivots on absence.

The Slave, Between Absence and Presence

William Fitzgerald (King’s College London)

Slaves are notoriously absent from Vergil’s Georgics, but in other texts (Ovid, Amores 2.8, for instance), we are reminded, often fleetingly, that a slave has been present all along. This paper will discuss both speaking absences and unspeaking presences in a range of contexts, from translations that disguise the slaves as ‘servants’ to fleeting apparitions of slaves and erasures that leave traces of what has been erased.

Staging Virgil’s silence in Sylvia Plath’s bee poems

Holly Ranger (Institute of Classical Studies)

I propose to use Sylvia Plath’s rewriting of Virgil’s Georgics IV across her celebrated cycle of bee poems as a jumping-off point to explore a series of interrelated and proliferating silences and absences. My paper will counteract—and address—both the absence of women’s voices in contemporary classical reception scholarship (often itself due to absences in the archival or historical record), and the near-total silence in Plath scholarship on her sustained engagement with classical texts. Furthermore, Plath’s allusive and indirect use of the classics poses further questions both about Plath’s ambivalent relationship with classical texts and her own silences on her literary models.

Read through a classical lens, however, each one of the five poems that form Plath’s bee sequence clearly corresponds directly to a section of Georgics IV; Plath also makes repeated (but typically ignored) references to the Latin language, Rome, Romans, and Caesar, borrowing Virgil’s extended metaphors and frequently following the Latin closely. Yet at the same time as Plath draws upon details of the ancient text, she also harnesses one poet’s conspicuous silences to point out another’s.

For as Wilkinson reminds us, the idealized nature of the male poet’s pastoral idyll in Georgics is ‘signalized by the astonishing absence of any reference to slavery’. In contrast, across the bee poems Plath pointedly foregrounds the black bodies and ‘African hands’ of the bees, and her speaker must decide how to relate to those enslaved for her benefit: ‘I am not a Caesar’. Drawing also on Virgil’s bees in the Aeneid, Plath uses both Virgil’s words and his silences to comment on contemporary American politics in the pre-Civil Rights Movement era, and silences on the history of slavery and current racial segregation in her home nation.

Yet Plath also uses Virgil’s text to comment on the particularly gendered aspects of domestic slavery, and to foreground the woman who, Plath implies, is the necessary yet unspoken condition which supports the pastoral idyll of the nature poet. ‘Stings’ in particular implies that the nature poet’s idyll has come at the expense of the woman’s cultural starvation and hard work: ‘for years I have eaten dust | And dried plates with my dense hair’. This leads me finally to interrogate my own silences in this paper (T–d H—s), and to pose the question whether silences can be intertextual.

Looking for the emperor in Seneca’s Letters

Catharine Edwards (Birkbeck, University of London)

The glaring absence of the emperor Nero from Seneca’s Epistulae morales – not mentioned once in a hundred and twenty-four, often lengthy, letters, written by a man who had been for many years one of his closest associates – is often touched on but only rarely subject to closer interrogation. Some mid C20th scholars sought hidden allusions to specific events particularly in Seneca’s drama (Bishop 1985) though also in the letters. Others have highlighted the challenge of pinning down traces of the autobiographical in a text whose author, despite the apparently confessional tone he often adopts, frequently proves slippery and evasive (Griffin 1992). Yet, this paper contends, for all their aspirations to a transcendant, cosmopolitan perspective, the letters are closely rooted in the political, cultural – and aesthetic – specificity of Neronian Rome.

The suggestion that Seneca’s sometime pupil Nero should be considered the real addressee of the letters (Lee Too 1994) has persuaded few. Only the most deluded of teachers could figure Nero as a student with the commitment to self- improvement (if occasionally faltering) Seneca attributes to his addressee. Yet there are many passages in the letters which offer reflection on the dynamics of vice in its more florid forms, reflection whose terms frequently resonate with ancient accounts of Neronian Rome (notably those of Tacitus and Suetonius) and other works of Neronian literature (Petronius, Persius). Champlin (2003: 207-9) sees in the denunciation of things golden at Ep. 115.6-7 a pointed attack on Nero’s solar ideology. In his attacks on luxurious building (an obsessive concern of Ep. 90), Seneca highlights the deliberate defiance of nature which Tacitus identifies as a striking feature of Nero’s Golden House (Degl’Innocentini Pierini 2008).It is surely no coincidence that when Seneca reflects generally on the corruption of power (e.g. 47.19-21, 90.5-6) his terms are those of the De clementia, a text concerned with the ruler’s role, explicitly addressed to the young Nero at the beginning of his reign. Letter 114 (the main focus of my paper), an exploration of the moral implications of faults in literary style (and featuring a vitriolic attack on Maecenas), in its concluding paragraphs offers a variant on the soul/body, ruler/people analogy (Clem. 1.4.1) to underline the importance of mental balance. Building on the insights of Degl’Innocentini Pierini 2013, this paper will explore the implications of this suggestively Neronian conclusion for the moralising aesthetics – and character assassination – set out in the earlier parts of the letter.

Anonymous Verses in Notorious Lives: Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars and the Historia Augusta

Barbara Del Giovane (Università degli Studi di Firenze)

Ancient biographies of powerful men obviously trigger reflections on power. Less obvious is that these reflections are sometimes offered by anonymous voices, and what happens if moreover these anonymous voices speak in verses? This paper investigates how the ancient biographies of the Roman emperors engage with anonymous and fragmentary poetry, as in the cases of the Historia Augusta and Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars. Both works quote several anonymous verses, which mostly convey satirical and mocking attacks against the emperors. From the milieu of the street we have evidence of genuine pasquinades, representing part of that «graffiti culture» on which Slater has recently offered fresh perspectives. After providing a brief contextual background on the verses quoted by Suetonius, I investigate the possible socio-cultural background of the anonymous lines. Accepting the division between versus populares and triumphales, I insist on considering more carefully the features of the versus populares and stress the interpretation of the relation between popular and elite poetry as that of a «continuous osmosis».

The second section of this paper engages with the Historia Augusta and with some problematic aspects raised by the verses quoted therein. While, in the case of Suetonius, we deal with an anonymous poetic tradition conveyed by a work boasting an authorial solidity, in the Historia Augusta we face a collection of biographies whose paternity is still a fluid topic of discussion. Thus the poems quoted by the Historia Augusta constitute a special case that I would define ‘anonymity squared’. The last tendency has been to consider the poems fake products by the biographer(s). In many cases, after the poetic insertions, the biographer(s) affirms to have translated into Latin an original Greek poem and these declarations would be regarded as fictitious. A question is rising: is it truly impossible for the Historia Augusta to suppose an anonymous poetic tradition from which the biographer(s) has picked out some samples? Or are we ‘just’ dealing with an exceptional example of ‘invented’ anonymity? This is a topic worth of further investigation, and especially worth of more sustained comparisons with the Suetonian precedent. I shall investigate on the one hand whether it is possible to talk about another case of versus populares (despite being aware of the limits of such definition), which would give us the chance to explore similar forms shown by anonymous voices from different periods. On the other, I shall examine if we are instead dealing with a more creative personality, deeply inspired by Suetonius’ own approach to poetry and deeply imbued in Vergilian Poetic memory.

Marcus Aurelius: Medi()ations not Medi(c)ations

John Henderson (King’s College Cambridge)

This paper takes the Meditations to act out the jam in autodiegetic biography, 1. through synkrisis with the SHA M. A., 2. through the programmatic/prelusory relations of M1 with 2-12. In representation reticulated through the diplomatics of first person self-promotion, concentrated absenting delivers strongly motivated presencing.

Good for nothing: exemplary non-acts in Valerius Maximus

Alexei Zadorojnyi (University of Liverpool)

The default idea of exemplarity in Valerius Maximus entails, as per the book’s title, action and/or utterance (1 praef; 4.1.12; 6.2 praef.; 6.4 praef.; 7.2 praef., etc). Throughout the work, however, there are stories wherein exemplary value is established through refusal to act and especially to speak. Furthermore, such noncompliance, disengagement or silence may be overtly tagged as a factum (7.2.4; 9.3.4; cf. 6.2.12). While it is not surprising that absence (more accurately, eschewal) of speech and agency is used to showcase endurance, self-control, and clemency, there are also scenarios exploring calculated, and at times transgressive, self-assertion, or pointed abstention from definitive judgement.

On the stylistic level Valerius is very fond of bringing out the essence of an exemplum by way of negation and litotic phrases (e.g., 3.2. ext. 6 non dubitanter hausit; 5.1.3 nec duxit nefas; 5.1.11 nec caruit). A salient Valerian strategy for framing a story is to deny that this story could ever be matched or exceeded as instantiation of a particular ethico-political quality (e.g., 5.6.2 nullum… clarius obuersatur exemplum; 3.8 ext. 1 nihil pertinacius; 7.2 ext. 15 nihil… sapientius; 8.15.3 nihil … speciosius; 2.1.14 nihil … praeferes; 3.7.1; 6.9.4, etc); these claims about the non-existence of “competition” and comparanda give some interesting insight into the dynamics of the Roman discourse of exemplarity.

Res non gestae in Tacitus’s Annals

Lydia Spielberg (Radboud University, Nijmegen)

Absence – one might even say conspicuous absence – is integral to Tacitus’ method as a historian. We are given programmatic lists of exciting episodes that do not occur in the Annals (4.32.1), imperial buildings that the historian refuses to describe (13.31.1), names left off official decrees (3.3.2), and, of course, the promise to write without anger and partisanship (1.1.3). Not just the historian’s method but the society he chronicles are attuned to what is not there: the most prominent imagines at Iunia’s funeral are the ones that aren’t displayed (3.76.2), and the provinces can’t wait, an informer claims, to read in the gazette “what Thrasea hasn’t done now” (16.22.3). This emphasis on the negated and the unacted reveals the empty virtues and limits of public life under the principate, to be sure (Henderson 1989, Clarke 2008, et alii), but in this paper, I want to take a deeper look into the void.

I show that Annals’ string of non-events, inaction, the unspoken, and the non-appearing constitute a kind of “unhistory” by counterfactual of Imperial Rome. By looking at what Tacitus insists we know did not happen, we can see a negative image of a “proper” annalistic narrative of res gestae, but also, and perhaps more interestingly, a series of historical inflection points, snapshots of history unrealized. The Annals constantly prompt reflection on what might have happened (but didn’t) alongside what did in fact happen (cf. O’Gorman 2006). Such a stress on non-events, I argue, destabilizes both the exemplary lessons that a reader might expect to learn from history and the the chains of causae and rationes that underpin the analytic historiographical tradition of Thucydides and Sallust. Absence thus serves as a reminder of contingency and the limits of reason, and this, ultimately, makes Tacitus’ res non gestae history a challenge not only the triumphalist telologies of panegyric and the official line, but also the skeptical historian’s rationalizations.

Solitudinem faciunt: the rhetoric of empire and no-man’s land

James McNamara (Victoria University of Wellington)

This paper explores the absences that are found in the literary handling of empire’s bloodied borders, both Roman responses to imperialistic destruction and the broader absence of understanding faced by those who wrote about the world beyond the empire’s bounds in the extended aftermath of conflict. Ethnographic passages and battlefield descriptions in Julius Caesar’s De Bello Gallico are compared with similar passages in Tacitus and Curtius Rufus, and the increasing influence of declamatory tradition on this material is traced.

Curtius and Tacitus are read as heirs to patterns of geographic and ethnographic representation evident in Caesar (cf. Riggsby 2006). The role of historiographical, ethnographic and geographical writing in attempting to fill the absence of knowledge about lands and peoples outside the empire – a predominant feature of Caesar’s work – collides, in the high empire, with the elaboration of the exotic and the unknowable, shaped by declamatory tradition. Some lines of intertextuality that have been somewhat neglected in Anglophone scholarship offer ways to explore these developments, notably Thielscher’s (1962) suggestive comparisons between De Bello Gallico and Germania and the relationship between Curtius’ History of Alexander and Tacitus’ Agricola in Lund (1987 etc.) and Bosworth (2004). The often neglected Curtius has an important place in filling out an understanding of the traditions investigated here. Alexander’s simultaneous exploration and conquest of the unknown and the characterisation of his eastward progress as a march towards the ends of the earth offer an extended historiographical engagement with topoi known to us also from the elder Seneca’s declamatory collection. In this paper I will compare Curtius’ work with declamation and other historiography to examine the implicit historical narratives that became part of both rhetorical and historiographical tradition in the first 150 years of the principate.

The more eloquent absences in the sometimes frustratingly elliptic ethnographic writing of Caesar and Tacitus will be discussed here, especially in light of what has often been sought by readers of these texts: an implicit narrative about Rome’s relations with the peoples outside the empire. While the epideictic mode prevails over narrative in ethnography and geography, implicit narratives suggest ways in which the centre reads the unknown and devastated periphery in these texts, and provide suggestive interpretive impulses for handling the awkwardly coexisting triumphalism and pessimism of high imperial historiography.

Conspicuous absence: Tacitus’ Invisible Republic

Ellen O’Gorman (University of Bristol)

Much of Tacitus’ writing is concerned with the effects of a suspension from political engagement. In the absence of regular senatorial activity, knowledge and practices are lost, whether in individual experience or across the generations. In Agricola, he presents this in terms of silence, as senators spend fifteen years in the political void of the Domitianic regim, and emerge as ‘survivors of themselves’ superstites nostri. At the start of Annals, however, he represents the very different suspension caused by civil war and the triumviral period in terms not of speaking but of seeing. iuniores post Actiacam victoriam, etiam senes plerique inter bella civium nati: quotus quisque reliquus qui rem publicam vidisset? ‘Younger men had been born after Actium, even many older men were born in civil war: how many were left who had seen the republic?’

This paper explores the absences of the senatorial self in these periods of suspension, and what kinds of sensory or mediated engagements with the state are imagined to be lost. Tacitus is concerned with the restoration of the senatorial self, and his writing is proposed as the medium par excellence which can bridge the gap. Hence his focus on seeing what cannot be shown, hearing what cannot be spoken, is crucial for the political project of his works.

The Neuter Plural in Ovid’s Remedia Amoris

Victoria Rimell (University of Warwick)

This paper takes as its starting point the unmentionable, unviewable plura (360), ista (433), or talia (439), those obscena (437) and non expedienda (440) at the core of Ovid’s Remedia Amoris, a fetish-like text that makes its mark by a series of negations and traces of touching and genital pleasure. The Ovidian vibration in the Remedia between absence and presence, renunciation and return, forgetting and remembering, mapped so expertly by critics as verbal Alexandrian play, is also felt as the visceral push-pull of the abject, and as the unmanageable excess of the desiring adult woman which disrupts temporal symmetries. As a result, the Remedia will always exceed critical reproduction of it as a rather predictable exercise in Ovidian duplicity and compulsive self-reference, a reading that, even at its most sophisticated, continues to situate this work at the margins of Ovid’s oeuvre and of the classical canon. The paper will draw out the stimulating opacity of Ovid’s neuter plurals in the context of a wider investigation of the Remedia as an impenetrable Penelopean project of unweaving/reweaving (cf.Rem.11-12) that harnesses adult female sexuality – specifically, the libido of the grieving-desiring mother, to which the patient-lover is frequently and uncannily compared – as that which will always remain productively concealed. I will argue that the poem cannot adequately be mapped in terms of a series of contaminated oppositions, whereby every cure is potentially revealed to be a poison/aphrodisiac: the discourse of erotic elegy may yet have no outside, yet it is the strange unrepresentability of the inside, figured as the adult female body and libido, that the Remedia probes as it explores the limits of how and what poetry (like auto-destructive modern art) might disclose by not-saying or erasure.

Ovid’s missing corpus

Nora Goldschmidt (Durham University)

Making an equation between the poet’s body (corpus) and the poet’s body of work, Ovid’s texts are obsessed with the presence and afterlife of the poet’s physical remains. Those remains — which in reality were never discovered — constitute a pervasive ‘absent presence’ in the poet’s reception history. This paper examines some of the attempts made in reception to fill the gap left by the absence of Ovid’s bones, by which writers, artists and archaeologists used Ovid’s textual corpus to supply the absence of the poet’s material body.

In Search of the Lost City: the Enduring Absence of Pompeii

Joanna Paul (The Open University)

Little more than a decade after the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, Pompeii had vanished. The city shrouded by volcanic material could only maintain a presence in the region’s collective memory as an overwhelming absence, repressed even in the near-contemporary poetry that ruminated on its demise. In both Martial’s epitaphic epigram (4.44), and Statius’ recurrent reflections on Campania’s devastation, the name of Pompeii is conspicuous by its absence, and the shock over the swallowing up of this solid ancestral ground is keenly felt (proavita…rura abiisse, Silv. 4.4.83-4).

This paper argues that these poetic texts initiate the trope of Pompeii as an absent presence that continues to characterise our responses to the site up to the present day. Even in the face of the apparently abundant materiality of the site, whose riches have overwhelmed archaeologists and visitors since the 18th century, Pompeii remains in a powerful sense never there. Consequently, it is of profound importance as a locus (or anti-locus?) for understanding the absences that permeate Latin culture, and our modern receptions of it. By taking a cue from Martial and Statius, and following Pompeii’s disappearing act through a variety of more recent engagements with the city – from the subterranean journey to the site in Jacopo Sannazaro’s Arcadia (1504), to the sci-fi dislocation of the city in Amelie Nothomb’s novella, Péplum

(1996), and the recent video installation Soleil Noir (2014), in which Pompeii becomes a posthuman landscape – we can observe how nearly all the wormholes that hollow out classical antiquity can be tracked through this Campanian site. From the fragments of the urban fabric, to the photonegative presence of its inhabitants in the famed body casts, to the psychological repression that led Freud to the city, Pompeii is a site of profound ‘epistemic rupture’. If, as Joshua Billings argues, the desire for what is lost is a marker of classical reception, then it is no wonder that we look – in vain – for the lost city as ardently today as in the 1st century.

Absence, metaphysically speaking

Duncan Kennedy (University of Bristol)

‘Many writers, including most of those discussed in this book, and a great many readers, have had a friend – in Quintus Horatius Flaccus. More, perhaps, than any other ancient poet his writings have encouraged, and continue to encourage, reading in terms of what is now sometimes called “the poetics of presence”, the belief that literature makes present to us the consciousness and mind of the author behind or beyond the text.’ So Charles Martindale.[1] For Joseph Brodsky, the relationship feels rather different. In his ‘Letter to Horace’ (the form marks absence), what is lacking in his relationship with Horace is a sense of reciprocity: he can read Horace’s poems, but Horace can never read his.[2] As he remarks elsewhere, ‘While antiquity exists for us, we, for antiquity, do not. We never did, and we never will. This rather peculiar state of affairs makes our take on antiquity somewhat invalid.’[3] Brodsky gestures towards what we might call a ‘poetics of absence’, a phenomenon much discussed in modern communications theory.

John Durham Peters contrasts telecommunications with communication with the dead. ‘The key difference,’ he writes, ‘is that a dialogue [via telecommunications] can be conducted over a distance, but a dialogue with the dead is quite another matter. As communicators the dead are a particularly enigmatic bunch.’ The immediate concern of Peters is nineteenth-century psychical research and the challenges to interpretation it prompted, but he makes a more general point: ‘The dead are tutors in the art of reading traces where dialogue is impossible. Communication with the dead is the paradigm case of hermeneutics: the art of interpretation where no return message can be achieved.’[4] Brodsky’s ‘Letter’ is just such an exploration of the limits of hermeneutics. However, what I want to explore is the poetics of absence where the orientation is towards the future rather than towards the past. How does this situation look from the perspective of Horace? To paraphrase Brodsky, while Horace exists for us, we, for Horace, do not; we never did, and we never will. This opens up numerous ontological, metaphysical, and hermeneutical questions that play to the theme of the conference. In this paper, I shall look at ways in which Horace may be a tutor ‘in the art of reading traces where dialogue is impossible.’

[1] Charles Martindale (ed.), Horace Made New (Cambridge, 1993), 1.

[2] Joseph Brodsky, On Grief and Reason: Essays (London, 1995), 428-58.

[3] Brodsky, op. cit., 267.

[4] John Durham Peters, Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago, 1999), 149.

[1] Charles Martindale (ed.), Horace Made New (Cambridge, 1993), 1.

[2] Joseph Brodsky, On Grief and Reason: Essays (London, 1995), 428-58.

[3] Brodsky, op. cit., 267.

[4] John Durham Peters, Speaking Into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago, 1999), 149.


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