Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.09.33

Claudia Klodt, Bescheidene Grösse: Die Herrschergestalt, der Kaiserpalast und die Stadt Rom: Literarische Reflexionen monarchischer Selbstdarstellung. Hypomnemata, 137.   Göttingen:  Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2001.  Pp. 138.  ISBN 3-525-25236-6.  EUR 32.00.  

Reviewed by Sven Lorenz, Munich (
Word count: 3112 words

In his Panegyricus Pliny uses the image of physical size in order to describe Trajan as an emperor who stands on the one hand high above his subjects, but is also, on the other, one of them: cui nihil ad augendum fastigium superest, hic uno modo crescere potest, si se ipse submittat (71.4). Trajan is thus described as a ruler who combines his vast power with the impression of being close to his people, i. e. he is a civilis princeps, to quote the title of an important article by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill.1 This scholar's observation that literary depictions of Roman emperors contain references both to the ruler's superiority and his modesty forms the point of departure for Claudia Klodt's Bescheidene Grösse. Klodt examines three passages (Verg. A. 8.337-69, Stat. Silv. 4.2 and Amm. 16.10) where analogies are drawn between the outward appearance of emperors and the size of imperial buildings in Rome. In each passage, Klodt argues, the relationship between the size of a building and the height of the ruler indicates to what extent the emperor is being presented as possessing the imperial virtue of modestia. Klodt provides detailed and competent examinations of the texts, their language, and offers archaeological background information on the buildings to which the three ancient authors refer. It is doubtful, however, whether the comparison of these three texts really will, as Klodt claims, reveal new insights into the development of Roman imperial ideology in general (p. 10).

Klodt's short book, the fleshed-out version of a paper given on various occasions, is clear-cut in structure, with a very short introduction (pp. 9-10), one chapter on Virgil (pp. 11-36), one on Statius (pp. 37-62), one on Ammianus (pp. 62-96), and a concluding chapter which attempts to blend and interpret the results of the three preceding chapters (pp. 97-110). There are also a bibliography, two indices, and illustrations. The full bibliographical references to some of the titles mentioned in the bibliography are also given in the footnotes, and much of the literature cited in the book is named only in footnotes, but not in the bibliography. As the footnotes are in any case overlong, readers would probably have been better served if all bibliographical references had been consigned to the bibliography.

In her introductory chapter (pp. 9-10), Klodt states that the three texts tell us a lot about the ruler's behaviour, the author's expectations of the emperor, the imperial ideology at the time the text was produced, and the changing perception of the empire as such over the course of four centuries (p. 10). Klodt does not address the question of how an emperor's expectations could influence the way in which panegyric texts where written. Her assumption that the three passages are "Reflexionen monarchischer Selbstdarstellung" should have been underpinned with some methodological considerations.2

Chapter one ("Bescheidene Verhältnisse"; pp. 11-36) deals with Aeneas' visit to Euander (Verg. A. 8.337-69). It has often been noted -- Klodt cites the relevant literature -- that Euander takes Aeneas on a walk through the area where Virgil's and Augustus' Rome will one day be built and that they pass by the places where, in Virgil's time, the results of Augustus' building programme manifested themselves. Klodt leads her readers through Virgil's text, offers linguistic discussions of individual passages and provides a detailed topographical analysis and description of the buildings to which Virgil alludes (pp. 11-14). Her careful examination of the text is supported by references to archeological findings and to studies on Augustan imperial ideology (pp. 14-15).

By this point, however, Klodt is already displaying an irritating habit which will bother her readers right through to the last page: constant digression. She continues the chapter with general remarks on Augustus' imperial building programme (pp. 15-17). This is followed by a discussion of ancient mnemonics (pp. 17-18): Virgil may have been availing himself, in his implicit references to the Augustan buildings, of rhetorical techniques used to memorise the structure of a speech. This is an intriguing idea which would have merited a more detailed discussion. What we get, however, is yet another excursus, this time on ancient biographies of Augustus and what they tell us about the emperor's special association with the Palatine (pp. 18-21). Then come the archaeological excavations on the Palatine and the information they provide on the rather modest Domus Augusti (pp. 21-23), followed by three pages of praise of Augustus' exemplary modesty (pp. 23-26). Klodt then finally returns to Virgil's text and offers us a comparison between Aeneas' and Hercules' trips to see Euander plus another excursus on the Nachleben of the myth of Hercules and Euander (pp. 26-28).

Predictably, this series of digressions makes uncomfortable reading. The genesis of the book as a paper becomes obvious: Klodt's original argumentation has apparently been packed with all the extra information she could find. As I mentioned above, the footnotes are already generous and many, but, reading her first chapter, I cannot help feeling that much of what Klodt has to say in her main text could easily have been consigned to the footnotes as well. In fact, reading Klodt is at times like reading a book which consists entirely of footnotes. And there is another problem: after two thirds of the first chapter, the reader begins to wonder why this episode from the Aeneis was included in Klodt's book on "Modest Grandeur" at all. Not until page 28 do we finally get to a discussion of a passage which links the physical appearance of a ruler to the size of a building.

The section in question is the verses 366-8, where Euander leads the ingens Aeneas under the roof of his little hut (angusti subter fastigia tecti). Klodt points out the connection between Aeneas and the "great" Augustus, as well as the correlation between the Casa Euandri and the modest Domus Augusti. This is the starting-point for yet another excursus: on the physical stature of mythological heroes and rulers and further on the motif "great inhabitant of a modest dwelling", this latter being put in the context of ancient Roman virtues in general (pp. 30-33). Clearly, the material adduced in this excursus is of special relevance to the theme of Klodt's book as a whole. It might have been wiser, then, to include the discussion of "stature/greatness" in the introductory chapter and, whenever necessary, refer back to it in the following interpretations, instead of now interrupting the discussion of Virgil's text with yet another digression. Embedding the "greatness" theme in the introduction would have been doubly expedient, given that its omission there means that Klodt must, in her second chapter (on Statius), depart anew on a "stature/greatness" excursus, this time with special focus on the physical size of emperors rather than of mythological heroes (pp. 51-54). An introduction thus equipped could also have made the connection to ancient Roman texts which discuss the aesthetic value of the size of art objects -- an aspect touched upon by Klodt in her concluding chapter but not examined in any depth (p. 109 n. 34; cf. Plin. Ep. 1.20.5).

Chapter 1 finishes with a comparison between Aeneas' visits to Euander and Dido (pp. 35-36). In these, concludes Klodt, Virgil implicitly conveys his negative view of luxuria and his admiration for Aeneas' -- and thus Augustus' -- long, hard road to the top. All in all, this chapter forms a sort of line-by-line commentary on A. 8.337-69, one that is full of information gathered from the relevant literature and contains circumspect interpretations of difficult passages. However, not much that Klodt has to offer is really new. And even though Virgil's text is certainly about a "big" man who enters a small building, one wonders what use there is in the inclusion of this chapter, given the overall concept of Klodt's book. We have to wait until the final chapter for some sort of conclusion to be drawn from this. There we learn that Augustus, the first princeps, was still under pressure to legitimise his power and therefore had to be presented as a ruler possessing the virtue of modesty (p. 98-99). This idea is not new, and the reader is left with the uncomfortable feeling that, in spite of its shortness, the book still has much to offer that is not entirely relevant.

I shall refrain from detailing the structure of the other chapters at such length, but I must say that the digressive nature of chapter one sets the pattern for what follows. Chapter two, on the second poem from Statius' fourth book of Silvae ("In der Höhle des Löwen"; pp. 37-62), is similarly rich in material. Statius tells us about a banquet in Domitian's palace -- a substantially and metaphorically great building for an even greater emperor -- and we are presented with all the data that classicists and archaeologists have gathered as to the size and arrangement of the building (pp. 37-45). It is unfortunate that Klodt has apparently not used Robin Darwall-Smith's interesting book on Flavian architecture and relevant descriptions in contemporary literature. Rather than spending so much time with the reconstruction of Domitian's palace, Klodt ought to have discussed the theory that Statius is not necessarily describing the palace as it actually looked, but is attempting "to equal Virgil's and Homer's accounts of the banquets of Dido and Alcinous".3 Klodt is naturally aware of the often established connection between the Silva and the banquets in the Aeneis. But she sees it as no more than a reflection of Statius' intention to praise Domitian's banquet more highly than the feasts of the "Vorzeit" (pp. 60-61). She has little to say about Statius' relationship to his great Augustan predecessor, or about his literary programme, which entails an implicit comparison not only between mythological and contemporary banquets, but also between his own and Virgil's poetry.4

For Klodt, Silv. 4.2 is merely an eye-witness report on one of Domitian's beneficia, rather than a complex literary description which may have been influenced by the traditions of panegyric literature. This latter aspect is, by and large, given surprisingly little room in Klodt's book. How is it possible to examine the panegyric content of a poem on an imperial banquet without paying greater attention to the aspect of imperial liberalitas? Furthermore, Klodt should have consulted Susanna Braund's article "The Solitary Feast" on the ambiguity of imperial banquets -- occasions which could be interpreted as signs of a ruler's generosity but also of his aloofness and greed.5

Most of all, one would have wished for a discussion of Michael Mause's contention that Statius' panegyric was influenced by theoretical writings on panegyric literature in the vein of Menander Rhetor.6 But instead of analysing Statius' poem as part of a literary tradition, Klodt is eager to deduce from the text what the real Domitian was like and to what extent his behaviour corresponded with the imperial ideology of his times. She concludes that modestia principis was still regarded as an imperial virtue in Domitian's day but played a much smaller role than in the Augustan age. It is certainly true -- and, again, we knew this without reading Klodt's book -- that imperial ideology had changed between Augustus and Domitian, but what irritates here is that she seems to rate this development as a move to the worse. She reads Statius' poem as evidence that there was a sense of oppression among the guests at Domitian's banquet (p. 59). She supports her interpretation by referring to the depictions of Domitian in the writings from senatorial cycles, although she has just characterised them as unreliable (p. 57).

All this sounds strikingly similar to the theory that Statius was criticising Domitian between the lines of his poems, an idea put forward, for example, by John Garthwaite7 and since then widely debated. Readers who ask themselves whether Klodt supports the imperial criticism theory have to wait for an answer until they get to the concluding chapter. There Klodt tells us that Statius was basically not interested in politics and was pro-Domitianic in his intentions (pp. 101-2). I find it hard to accept the notion that Statius wanted to present a positive picture of Domitian but that the image of an unpleasant tyrant nevertheless still peeped through in his poetry. The methodological inconsistency is obvious.

The most irritating aspect of this book, however, is the choice of text for discussion in chapter three ("Hochmut kommt vor dem Fall"; pp. 63-96). Amm. 16.10 tells us about Emperor Constantius II's adventus in Rome in the year 357 A. D. By the time Ammianus wrote this text, Constantius was no longer on the throne and, unlike his successor Julian Apostata, Constantius is usually portrayed by Ammianus as an arrogant and weak ruler. Having discussed two panegyric texts, Klodt ought then in the third chapter to have justified her choice there of a negative description of an emperor with some general methodological reasoning. And even though Klodt fully acknowledges that Ammianus presents Constantius and his successors in completely different ways (pp. 63-68), she apparently does not feel that her inclusion of Ammianus' "anti-panegyric" causes a methodological problem. Susanna Braund has shown how imperial panegyric can, after the death of an emperor, be turned into satiric depictions of the same person. Ammianus' historical writings are certainly not satire, but Klodt might still have found in Braund's study the methodological foundation for a comparison of such divergent texts.8

But, again, Klodt is mainly interested in what this text tells us about the emperor in question rather than in problems of genres and text types. Her detailed discussions of the adventus principis tradition, of Roman topography, and of the "Romidee" in the writings and art of late antiquity (pp. 68-89) show that the later Roman emperor is being presented as remote and distanced from his subjects. Then Klodt finally arrives at the passage which justifies the inclusion of a chapter on Ammianus: Ammianus tells us how Constantius bowed down when he was driven through the city gates. She is right -- but, again, not the first -- to say that this is not interpreted by Ammianus as a gesture of modesty but as a sign that the emperor thought himself "greater" than the gates (pp. 89-90). She is also right to conclude that Ammianus criticises Constantius for his arrogance. It is strange, however, that she does not question the truth of Ammianus' report although it is obvious that Ammianus attempts to portray Constantius in a negative light. Klodt completely agrees with Ammianus that Constantius' bow was reprehensible and applauds the historian for the reprehending (pp. 90-94).

Coming to the concluding chapter ("modestia principis"; pp. 97-110), one might expect a clarifying synopsis of the readings in the first three chapters. But again, disappointment awaits. There is still no methodological discussion of how panegyric can be compared with the negative description of an emperor. Klodt still does not consider whether the different literary genres of her texts -- epic poetry, the minor genre of the Silvae, and historiography -- should be taken into account, a question that would have been especially interesting since Stat. Silv. 4.2 betrays the influences of epic. Furthermore, we find here no in-depth discussion of the fact that Virgil presents Aeneas as a "substitute" for Augustus whereas Statius and Ammianus refer explicitly to their emperors. And Klodt nowhere mentions that Virgil is only alluding to Augustus' buildings while Statius is describing Domitian's palace and that Ammianus is talking about Roman topography in general without specific reference to Constantius' building programme. The differences which Klodt does recognise are of minor importance. She notes that Aeneas and Constantius are guests and Domitian a host. The most important difference between the three passages lies, according to Klodt, in the behaviour of Aeneas, Domitian, and Constantius (p. 97). Here, then she continues her historicist reconstruction of what kind of people Augustus, Domitian and Constantius were, how they behaved in public, and how they interpreted their role as Roman emperor.

Finally, Klodt offers a comparison between the qualities of her three rulers (98-102). Her winner is, not surprisingly, Augustus. He is praised for employing subtle means to present himself in a positive light. In addition, Klodt contends, he was lucky enough to be supported by the loyal and sensitive poet Virgil. Domitian, however, loses points for having demanded to be celebrated as a divine ruler. An emperor of this sort would naturally have caused a feeling of unease among his subjects. And Constantius is certainly number three in that he disappointed Ammianus, who was, after all, devoted to the Augustan ideal of the modestia principis. It is irritating that Klodt gathered her "historical" facts from ancient Roman texts without worrying about the authors' potential tendentiousness or obvious bias.

Klodt's book provides us with meticulous line-by-line commentaries on the language and content of her three passages plus a wealth of extra information from relevant parallel passages and archaeological scholarship. All this is collected and set forth with admirable expertise. However, only seldom does Klodt arrive at new insights. Bescheidene Grösse is mainly a compilation of work that has been done before.

What is really new in Bescheidene Grösse is the comparison of the three texts in terms of the "physical size" theme. But one constantly finds himself asking whether these three texts can really be compared without a thought to their different genres and different literary approaches. Some methodological thoughts as to their comparability would have been welcome -- especially now that scholarship on the imperial theme in ancient Roman literature in general and on panegyric in particular has taken a huge step forward and a methodological discussion on the topic is in full flow.9 Having neglected to consider this, Klodt's book actually puts across little more than the truistic point that imperial ideology underwent some changes between Augustus and Constantius, which meant in turn that different historical periods brought forth different literary depictions of emperors.

Closing her book, Klodt criticises Wallace-Hadrill's article (mentioned at the beginning of this review) for failing to trace the historical development of imperial ideology (p. 107 n. 26). However, Klodt can hardly claim to have done any better, especially as she -- unlike Wallace-Hadrill -- has limited the focus of her study to the "size" theme. Other panegyrical motifs which also belong to the civilitas principis, such as liberalitas, hilaritas or clementia, and further traits of an emperor, such as fortitudo, family background or education, are only mentioned in passing, and yet they could be no less relevant to her three passages than outward appearance. The whole concept of Bescheidene Grösse is questionable and one wonders whether Klodt was wise to allow her original, humble format to aspire to greater size.


1.   Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, "Civilis Princeps: Between Citizen and King", JRS 72, 1982, 32-48.
2.   The question whether there was such a thing as imperial propaganda and to what extent the court could influence the way an author wrote about the princeps has been widely discussed, and it seems very difficult to arrive at a clear answer. One wonders why Klodt has not paid more attention to this problem. Cf., e. g., Karl Galinsky, Augustan Culture: An Interpretative Introduction, Princeton, NJ 1996 (one of the texts Klodt mentions only in the footnotes); for a summary on the topic see now Sven Lorenz, Erotik und Panegyrik: Martials epigrammatische Kaiser. Classica Monacensia, 23. Tübingen 2002, 245-6.
3.   Robin Haydon Darwall-Smith, Emperors and Architecture: A study of Flavian Rome. Collection Latomus, 231. Brussels 1996, p. 194. Ibid., p. 196 he states (on Statius' description of the palace's ceiling): "This therefore tells us nothing about the setting, only about how Statius chooses to outdo Virgil".
4.   See now Carole Newlands, Statius' Silvae and the Poetics of Empire, Cambridge 2002, 260-83, who cites the relevant literature for this line of interpretation.
5.   Susanna Morton Braund, "The Solitary Feast: A Contradiction in Terms?", BICS 41, 1996, 37-52.
6.   Michael Mause, Die Darstellung des Kaisers in der lateinischen Panegyrik. Palingenesia, 50. Stuttgart 1994. Even though Mause's main concern is the later Panegyrici Latini, he still takes the time to compare Statius' Silvae with panegyric theory and practice from late antiquity (pp. 205-18).
7.   Cf., e. g., John Garthwaite, Domitian and the Court Poets Martial and Statius, Diss. Cornell University 1978.
8.   Susanna Braund, "Paradigms of Power: Roman Emperors in Roman Satire", in: Keith Cameron (ed.), Humour and History. Intellect: European Studies Series, 1. Oxford 1993, pp. 56-69.
9.   Cf. the titles mentioned above; a summary of different approaches to the literary depiction of emperors is provided by Lorenz 2002 (s. a. note 2), 42-54. It is especially unfortunate that Klodt has not used Shadi Bartsch, Actors in the Audience: Theatricality and Doublespeak from Nero to Hadrian. Revealing Antiquity, 6. Cambridge, MA/London 1994.

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