Victoria Pagán, Panel Organizer

The five papers in this panel question deeply held assumptions that have for too long constrained our understanding of Roman historiography.

 “The Triumviral period is tangled, chaotic, and hideous.” Syme’s fifth footnote of The Roman Revolution succinctly explains why the triumviral period has been left in a ghetto, treated as either epilogue or prologue, rather than an era in its own right.  In his examination of the literature produced in the years 43-28 B.C.E., Osgood culls from the texts of Sallust, Vergil, Horace, Propertius, Nepos, and Varro the commonly held emotional responses to the events of these years and demonstrates just how widely felt these emotions were.  Osgood’s cultural history of the triumviral period is a useful model for approaching other similarly troublesome moments in Roman history.

Like his influential Roman Revolution, Syme’s monumental two volume Tacitus has profoundly shaped the perception of Tacitus as a historian with an axe to grind.  DeRousse argues that in the case of the trial of Piso for the murder of Germanicus, Tacitean innuendo can be attributed to the sources; it allowed the historian to acknowledge and pass on to his readers suggestive ambiguities that were latent in his own sources.  Tacitus sides with the official story of the Senate in his surface text, while breaking from this tradition in a subtext that he develops through innuendo.

Likewise, Manolaraki demonstrates Tacitus’ ability to depart from tradition.  Rather than compare Tacitus’ account of the Long Year with the accounts by Plutarch, Suetonius, Cassius Dio, and Josephus, Manolaraki argues that Tacitus breaks with literary conventions regarding military disintegration.  Yet Tacitus’ emotionally charged account of the damaging effects of civil war on a soldier’s psyche is more than just a literary device.  Manolaraki keeps the reality of civil war at the forefront of her paper and avoids the trap of reducing the traumas and terrors of life under civil war to an antiseptic discourse about literature alone.

The final two papers of the panel put Plutarch and Appian in the center of the study of Roman historiography.  Both Beneker and Pagán are concerned with the compositional techniques that Plutarch and Appian use to create and maintain suspense in their works.  Beneker explores the development of Plutarch’s ethical education through the use of exempla in the Life of Pompey.  Pompey’s defeat at the hands of Caesar was as much a personal as a political or military failure.  Pagán explores some of the techniques by which Appian sustains suspense in his narrative of the conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar.  The outcome of the conspiracy, stated at the beginning, is a foregone conclusion toward which the narrative strives.  But artfully placed detours assert causality and maintain suspense.

The papers in the panel resonate with each other in innovative ways.  Manolaraki and Osgood use cultural approaches; Beneker and Pagán narratological; DeRousse and  Manolaraki treat the same historian (Tacitus) in different, yet equally fruitful ways; Osgood’s attention to contemporary sources is neatly contrasted by the papers of Beneker and Pagán who look at the fall of the Republic from the distant vantage point of the Second Sophistic.  The panel promises to generate excited discussion.

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