Latin Poetry: Imperial

Charles McNelis

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online December 2009 | | DOI:
Latin Poetry: Imperial

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“Imperial” Rome is an arbitrary—but useful—designation that may take as its starting point the years 30–27 bce, the years following the important (if symbolic) battle of Actium and during which Octavian was conferred the title “Augustus”; however, the transition from “Republic” to “Empire” had started in preceding years when Octavian had gained special rights, and the political transformation would continue for some time. Moreover, artists such as Horace and Virgil had produced literary masterpieces in the politically tumultuous 30s bce, but, because they added to their output once Augustus's position was solidified, they are commonly regarded as “Augustan” poets. Precise dating for “imperial” poetry would thus ignore both a complex political process and the actualities of artistic careers. This gradual but sweeping political change from a republican form of government to one that was dominated by a single man was matched by the production of culturally (re)defining literature. The Augustan age (c. 27 bce–14 ce) was a foundational, new beginning for Latin literature, and the intensely intertextual nature of Latin poetry reveals that the Augustan poets maintained a central place in virtually all subsequent literary production. Indeed, for generations critics have derided this intense artistic engagement with Augustan predecessors because imperial authors often reworked established conventions, diction, or both. Whereas this later work was often evaluated from the perspective of whether a poem lived up to the standards of its predecessors (and the later poems were typically thought not to), recent criticism on Lucan, Statius, and others has focused on ways in which meaning, both artistic and cultural, is created from variations on the Augustans. Whole works survive of every genre except comedy (of which we know something from its closely related but still fragmentary form of mime; also of note are the fables of Phaedrus, which employ the traditional meters and diction of Roman comedy), and some poets, such as Juvenal, strikingly innovate within the tradition.

Article.  7157 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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