patronage, literary

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Literary patronage in Greece is associated chiefly with autocratic rulers (though in Classical Athens the choregia was a kind of democratization of the patronage principle). The tyrants of Corinth, Pisistratid Athens, Samos, and the Greek cities of Sicily were notable examples, patronizing such writers as Arion, Alcman, Anacreon, Pindar, Simonides, and Bacchylides. See tyranny and the tyrants there listed. Later Archelaus of Macedon collected at his court a coterie which included Agathon, Timotheus, and Euripides. Later still the Hellenistic monarchs were often literary patrons, esp. the Ptolemies (see Ptolemy 1 ), who established and maintained at Alexandria the Museum and Library.


In Rome, it was not until the 1st cent. bc that literary texts began to circulate through the book trade, and this was never the only means of publication. Normally, an author received no money from booksellers. Much of the circulation of contemporary texts took place through the private dispatch of copies or the organization of recitations, through the network of social relations which connected the élite of Rome, of Italy, and eventually of the provinces: an élite which was almost the sole public for literary production. So, writers needed the support of leading members of this élite, both materially if they were not themselves rich and more generally to enable them to become well known and appreciated. Writers might include the name of their patron in a work as a dedicatee (see dedications, literary), or they could celebrate the achievements of the patron or his family in epic poems or tragedies (praetextae; see fabula) or compose occasional poems on various aspects of the patron's public or private life. To an extent patronage did lead to courtly literature, esp. in the imperial period, but as a system which brought writers into relation with the social and political élite, it may also be seen as forcing writers to confront important political and civic themes, without necessarily cramping their inspiration. Before the 1st cent. bc., writing, excepting historiography and oratory, was considered the activity of artisans. Theatrical pieces were commissioned by the city, and their authors received payment for them from the aediles in charge of the performances: writers for the theatre continued in later periods also to be the only authors to get paid for their work. But writers also often entered into private relationships with one or more leading families interested in their work, sometimes as teachers. Through the support of these families they might obtain their freedom (Livius Andronicus, Terence; see freedmen) or Roman citizenship (Ennius) and also probably help with getting their plays performed. Naevius, Ennius, Pacuvius, and Accius wrote praetextae celebrating the families of their patrons, and Ennius did the same with his patrons in his Annals. Ennius also presents for the first time, as Cicero noted with distaste, the figure of the poet who accompanies his patron on a military expedition in order to create a cultured environment and to be better able to celebrate his exploits. Literary patronage was already becoming an ostentatious tool that leading Roman politicians could use for their own ends, rather than a means of support for public benefactors. The great Roman families from the 2nd cent. on welcomed Greek intellectuals more and more warmly as clients to help them with their studies (now a sign of prestige), look after their rich libraries, and commemorate them in learned works or celebrate them in verse. But as time went on, Latin literary production became separated from its craftsman associations: most of what we have from the 2nd cent. on is the work of senators, or more often of equestrians and members of well‐off provincial families who through talent or family connections came to participate in the life of the Roman élite but were not involved in the normal military and political careers of that élite. Patronage by the great Roman families, which by the 1st cent. bc had made Rome a centre of attraction for Greek as well as Roman intellectuals, reached a peak in the triumviral period and the first years of Augustus' principate, when figures like Asinius Pollio (patron of Horace and Virgil, founder of the first public library in Rome, Valerius Messalla Corvinus (patron of Tibullus, Ovid, and others), and Maecenas gathered round them the greatest intellectual figures of the period and gave them both economic support and cultural stimulus. Maecenas esp., in his role as both close ally of Augustus and amateur of new poetry, gave to Virgil, Horace, Propertius, and others personal friendship and generous financial support. The concentration of power in a single person made the patronage of the princeps himself a sort of state patronage: this was a novelty in Rome, but Augustus used it more and more directly as time went on, esp. after Maecenas faded from power c.20 bc and the regime became more rigid. In the imperial period, the ostentatious patronage of those figures who had competed for power at the end of the republic no longer had any point. The ultimate source of all patronage was the emperor, and this was true also of literary patronage. Some emperors were not interested in letters, but others employed patronage widely to make poetry an instrument of propaganda and courtly celebration, as in the case of Nero and Domitian, both of whom gave a powerful impetus to literature in their reigns. Nero introduced into Rome the Greek custom of literary contests (see agones), taken up again later by Domitian, and this gave Rome for the first time an official occasion for the publication of literary works and a means of public support for writers. Pliny the Younger offers in his letters an optimistic portrait of imperial literary patronage, but Juvenal presents a Rome inhabited by a host of starving writers in search of support from greedy and cruel patrons. Martial also in part offers a more pessimistic picture, but while he laments that Rome no longer contains a Maecenas willing to give a poor poet the leisure to pursue his art, he also shows throughout his verse how the emperor and private patrons alike provided gifts and favours, sometimes considerable, even to a poet like himself writing within the minor genre of epigram. In fact, it would have been impossible to obtain regular financial support solely from the free exercise of literature—in this sense Juvenal's picture is correct. But literary talent could provide access to the social élite, and thus to the benefits that the friendship of the great could provide, from minor gifts to lucrative positions in private or public service. This sort of direct or indirect support could still enable a man like Martial to devote himself full time to literature.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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