Michèle Lowrie

in The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780199211524
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Classics and Ancient History


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  • Classical Studies
  • Classical Drama
  • Historical Archaeology



Despite the lack of a corresponding Latin word, Roman literature is preoccupied by performativity. References to production and reception media abound from the earliest times, and these are linked to poetic power. Roman poetry represents itself both as incapable of effecting political change, and as having the power to create reality through representation. No word in the vocabulary of poetic composition exists to perform the poetic speech act literally. Little evidence remains for the fully fledged performance of elite literature outside drama, though a rich culture of popular song existed at Rome. Intervention in the social sphere through poetry allows for an alternative, more lasting domain of social power than the transient sphere of the forum – at least, in the poets' representations. Poets impute to the law a greater degree of power than poetry can aspire to. Latin poetry is preoccupied with immortality, and the persistence of the text after the poet's death is figured sometimes as oral performance, sometimes as writing.

Keywords: Rome; Latin poetry; performance; immortality; media; drama; vocabulary; poetic speech act; social power; poets

Article.  6170 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Drama ; Historical Archaeology

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