Philip Hardie

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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In ancient Rome, the epic is much occupied with beginnings and endings, foundation and destruction. The history of Roman epic begins with the translation into Latin of Homer's Odyssey by Livius Andronicus in the later third century BCE. Roman epic developed as part of a Hellenistic culture adopted with a high degree of self-consciousness by a nation anxious to define itself within an international community of Greek and Italian states. It was by no means the sole, and perhaps not at first even the most important, Greek literary form to be adopted in Rome. Disputed is the relationship between epic poet and patron. A genre that tells stories about national origins and military power is also self-conscious about its own history and authority. This article examines the social and political background against which to read the six surviving epics of the first 120 or 130 years of the Principate: Virgil's Aeneid, Lucan's Civil War, Valerius Flaccus's Argonautica, Statius's Thebaid and Achilleid, and Silius Italicus's Punica. It also discusses the link between narrative epic and didactic poetry.

Keywords: Rome; epic; Homer; Odyssey; patron; history; authority; Civil War; Aeneid; didactic poetry

Article.  7110 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Poetry ; Religion in the Ancient World

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