Letterature e propaganda …

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Letterature e propaganda nell’occidente latino da Augusto ai regni romanobarbarici, a cura di Franca Ela Consolino, Atti del Convegno Internazionale, Arcavacata di Rende, 25-26 maggio 1998. „L’Erma“ di Bretschneider, Roma 2000. Saggi di storia antica 15. ISBN 88-8265-094-4

ARCTOS 36 /2002 

This volume introduces the papers presented in the international conference on literature and propaganda in the Western Roman Empire, held in Arcavata di Rende in May 1998. Although the title covers the time span from Augustus to the fifth and sixth centuries, most of the articles deal with the Late Roman literature of the fourth century. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the propaganda and its nuances, auto censure and hidden critique in Roman Antiquity as well as the problems that the application of the term propaganda into the ancient world causes. Since Alan Cameron’s monogragh on Claudian in 1970 (see also below), who introduced the term in Late Antique studies, the word propaganda has sometimes been used as an interpretative passe-partout in scholarly discussion. Nevertheless, everything, e.g. all panegyrics, cannot be taken as propaganda.

The articles of Mario Labate and Augusto Fraschetti treat of the much-discussed Augustan propaganda. Labate surveys the recent scholarship on the poets of the Augustan period and reminds us that no one today would argue in such a simplistic way as Ronald Syme in his Roman Revolution (1939), who saw Vergil and Horace as propagandists of the Augustan regime. Nowadays scholars pay attention, not only to the ideological engagements, but also to personal deviations and differences, sidetones and variations and in general the polyphony of the culture of the Augustan period.

Catherine Schneider analyses the Pseudo-Quintilian Declamations (Declamationes maiores), dated to the last quarter of the fourth century. The declamations depict Marius, the victor of the Cimbri and Teutoni as an ideal imperator, and this makes Schneider to connect the declamations with the discussion and debate after the defeat of Hadrianople in 378. The figure of Marius appears in several fourth- and fifth-century texts, e.g. in the Historia Augusta, in Symmachus’ letters and later Augustine’s City of God. As a hero of the golden Republican period Marius must have appealed to certain traditionalist circles in but I think Schneider’s speculations on connections go a little bit too far as she surmises whether the edition of declamations was inspired by the circle of Symmachus and whether the pagan senators intentionally wanted to revive the memory of the Republican Marius to symbolize their ambitions. I would be sceptical on this Symmachus-hypothesis since, in addition to the mutual Marius theme, there is no further evidence to support it; not everything that exists or happens at the end of fourth century is necessarily connected with Symmachus or Nicomachus Flavianus. Schneider is right in saying that the appearance of Marius in fourth- and fifth-century texts is hardly a coincidence but reveals a correspondence idéologique between texts. Instead of speculating with details, names and connections, it would be more fruitful to discuss what made Marius so important and interesting for writers – Christians and pagans alike. Furthermore, I think it is rather problematic to speak of the réaction païenne, the pagan senatorial class or the circle of Symmachus as if they were clearly confined phenomena, uniform homogenous groups or institutions; I would rather regard the ‘pagan reaction’ as a modern construction.

In her article on Ammian Rita Lizzi analyses scrupulously the historian’s account on the famous series of trials under Valentinian I. She pays special attention to Ammian’s prefaces in Book 28 and Book 26; in both passages Ammian notes that he refrains from telling everything on the trials because he wants to avoid more thorough public censure. With the analogy to fifth-century Athenian Phrynicus, Ammian skilfully implies to the dangers an author might get into without adequate auto censure. Ammian also knew how to please the ruling powers. Lizzi illustrates the internal competition and conflicts within the Roman aristocracy and shows how Ammian, in praising Theodosius magister militum, the rehabilitated father, tried to delight Emperor Theodosius I, the son, and in demonising Maximimus as the main instigator of the trials, avoided mentioning the activities of the dominating families under Valentinian I.

In his article Giovanni Polara returns to the funerary poem of Vettius Agorius Praetextatus (CIL VI 1779) that he already analysed in an article in 1967 (Vichiana 4, 1967). What emerges in Polara’s article and the interesting interpretation of the poem is Praetextatus’ wife Fabia Aconia Paulina, a strong pagan matron who probably also composed the poem. Polara demonstrates the reactions Praetextatus as a leading Roman pagan aristocrat rose after his death: the erection of a statue by Vestal Virgins, a project that was opposed by Symmachus but supported by Paulina; the intense grief of the Roman people; and Jerome’s rebukes on the senator and his mourning wife. Polara also makes a sensible suggestion on the interdependency between the funerary poem and Jerome’s attack in epist. 23: Paulina’s selfassurance in the poem (felix … felix) might have been an answer to Jerome’s malevolent words (ut uxor conmentitur infelix). I did not come to think of this alternative in my article (Arctos XXVIII, 1994) and in my recently published Vettius Agorius Praetextatus – A Senatorial Life in Between (Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae 26, 2002).

Another retractation is Alan Cameron’s article in which he revises some aspects of his Claudian: Poetry and Propaganda at the Court of Honorius published in 1970. With a certain irony he looks back on the 60’s when he “with the self-confidence of which only 22-year-olds are capable” and as “utterly innocent of theory” took up the research on Claudian. Despite of this sarcasm at his own expense, he still defends most of his views of Claudian as a political propagandist of Stilicho and answers to the criticism of Christian Gnilka and Siegmar Döpp, emphasizing that propaganda does not have to be crude, or even untrue, nor is it inconsistent with either art or deeply held convictions. He also stresses that people who read Claudian, did not do it for his politics, but while they were enjoying his poetry, they could not help absorbing the politics. He admits that he now would use a different word from propaganda and furthermore, would not call Claudian an „official“ propagandist because this may imply that Claudian was following direct instructions from his patron; conception as well as execution was Claudian’s own.

Isabella Gualandri and Raffaele Perrelli also discuss aspects in Claudian’s poetry. In her fascinating article, Gualandri examines the relationship between Claudian and Prudentius, which she calls “una sorta di dialogo, o meglio di polemica a distanza.” She surveys the different interpretations of the famous battles of Frigidus (in 394) and Pollentia (in 402). Ambrose, Paulinus of Nola and Prudentius represent the view that regarded the battle of Frigidus as an antagonism between pagans and Christians – a construction that also prevailed in modern scholarship for a long time – and as a divinely determined solution while Claudian interprets the battle from a secular point of view – a conflict between the legitimate emperor and an usurpator. Likewise, in the differing interpretations, the battle of Pollentia was either won under divine guidance or by Stilicho’s excellence. In her scrupulous reading of Claudian and Prudentius Gualandri digs up hidden allusions and polemic between the two poets, e.g. in his Contra Symmachum Prudentius reacts to Claudianus’ description of Pollentia in De bello Getico, and in his Panegyricus de sexto consulatu Honorii Augusti Claudian replies with insinuations about Prudentius’ version. Sometimes Gualandri’s detailed analysis of sources seems rather speculative; nevertheless, her final conclusions sound quite convincing.

Franca Ela Consolino, the editor of the Atti del convegno, surveys the panegyrical poetry and propaganda at the end Western Empire and in the new kingdoms of Goths, Vandals and Franks. She analyses the encomiastic poetry of Flavius Merobaudes and Sidonius Apollinaris as well as epigrams used as propanda by Roman bishops. Rulers of the new Western kingdoms were in need of panegyrists such as Ennodius, who sang in praise for Theoderic, Dracontius and Florentinus, who extolled vandal kings in Africa, and Venantius Fortunatus, a wandering poet par excellence, who set his talent in service for nearly everyone, Frank and Gallo-Roman aristocrats, bishops and kings.

Maijastina Kahlos

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