Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.02.44

Mario Citroni (ed.), Memoria e Identità. La cultura romana costruisce la sua immagine.   Firenze:  Università degli Studi di Firenze, Dipartamento di Scienze dell'Antichità "Giorgio Pasquali", 2003.  Pp. 323.  EUR 22.00.  

Contributors: A. Carandini, T. P. Wiseman, W. D. Lebek, A. Schiavone, C. Moatti, E. Romano, E. Narducci, M. Citroni, G. W. Most, M. Labate, S. Citroni Marchetti and G. Rosati


Reviewed by Silvana A. Gaeta, Universidad de Buenos Aires (silvanagaeta@yahoo.com.ar)
Word count: 1602 words

The identity of a community is not a given reality but a constructed imaginary sustained by different elements such as the knowledge of a shared past, the belief in the same values and the sense of unity in the present. The role of memory in different societies depends on the socioeconomic variables of each historical moment but also contributes to the maintenance of a collective past, which creates the feeling of a common experience and an identical point of reference to the same group of people.

In this context, the aim of this volume -- the result of a conference that took place at the University of Florence between the 23th-25th October 2000 -- is, as explained by Citroni, to draw attention to Romans' awareness of their cultural identity and the processes through which this identity was built through time. The intersection between memory and identity proves extremely fruitful for giving an account of their own representation.

After a very short introduction (Prefazione) by Citroni, in which he stresses that, in the absence of an ethnic identity, Romans were compelled to find other means of identification, and thus a communal memory became essential for their integration (p. VI-VII), twelve articles are presented, focused on different manifestations of Rome's culture that played a role in the varied and complex construction of its own image: myth, literature, architecture, law.

In the first essay "Il mito Romuleo e le origini di Roma" (3-19), Andrea Carandini juxtaposes the Romulean myth with the most recent archeological evidence, the historiographical tradition, the information from the antiquarians and the history of religion. With all these elements, the author is able to show that the saga is built around different narrative sections and stratified knowledge and that real elements are mixed in with the pure fantasy of the story. In this way, the proofs for the mythical plot presented provide actual facts.

Likewise interested in foundational myths and their importance for the formation of the communal identity but with a different orientation, Timothy Peter Wiseman focuses on the various versions of the Brutus fable in his article "The legend of Lucius Brutus" (21-38). The paper proposes a stratigraphy shaped from these different versions, born in particular historical moments and due to specific motivations. As in the previous essay, the mythical material is analyzed to extract from it some real data. The author examines quotations from Cicero, Dionysius and Livy, among others, to conclude that, as identity changes through time to fit a people's image of itself, so versions of the legend vary to accommodate themselves to changes in history and the sociopolitical framework.

Wolfgang Dieter Lebek leads us to the Augustan period in his paper "Come costruire una memoria: da Lucio Cesare a Druso Cesare" (39-60). The article deals with the death of four of the to-be successors to the throne during the first years of the Principate and the strategies that employed their names to orientate collective memory in order to secure the continuity of the gens of Augustus and Tiberius in the common imaginary. The author provides a detailed description of the public policies made to keep alive the memory of those who are gone and shows how the intention of this practice was to install the name Caesar -- symbol of the new regime and of the families that hold it -- in the society's consciousness.

The multiple ways in which legal knowledge collaborates in the construction of civil and intellectual identity are introduced by Aldo Schiavone in his paper "Sapere giuridico e identità romana. Un' interpretazione" (61-79). The article addresses two different subjects: the place of juridical knowledge in the image that the upper classes built of themselves and the world where they belonged and, on the other hand, the role attributed to this knowledge of law in modern interpretations. The crucial position of this learning in forming the Roman citizen and the aristocratic elite does not prevent it from becoming specialized and more isolated.

The fifth article, "La construction du patrimoine culturel à Rome aux Ier siècle avant et Ier siècle après J.-C." (81-98), written by Claudia Moatti, deals with the analysis of the cultural heritage as the result of a conscious elaboration of a common past. This standpoint shows three vital aspects: it is a construction based on oblivion; it is the consequence of an appropriation that is barely associated with a historical moment; therefore, it is evident that the cultural legacy is not a natural inheritance but the product of a construction forged by conquest, translation, collectivization and the social and political imaginary.

Elisa Romano, in "Il concetto di antico in Varrone" (99-117), focuses on the work of Varro, who wrote in the abyss between memory and oblivion. He was aware that the cultural heritage was in danger, some of it already lost and more about to perish. Consequently, the idea of ancient is not a landmark for a precise chronological moment but an instrument of the genealogical method through which Varro interrogated the past.

One of the most striking complexities about Roman identity is the twofold reaction towards Greek culture: a constant appropriation and a recurrent antagonism. In order to approach the matter, Emanuele Narducci's article "La memoria de la Grecità nell'immaginario delle ville ciceroniane" (119-148) chooses to narrow his perspective to the late Republic, particularly Cicero, and the aristocratic use of non-urban space in their country villas. There, in the place for otium, Romans allowed themselves to go far away from their predecessors' traditions and chose alternative models to imitate, such as Hellenistic.

In the eighth chapter, "I proemi delle Tusculanae e la costruzione di un' immagine della tradizione letteraria romana" (149-184), Mario Citroni continues the lines drawn by the preceding essay but focuses on the literary field. The aim of his article is to show how, in the proems of Tusculanae, Cicero acknowledged the influence of Greek literature but established the autonomy of the Latin tradition. Even so, once again conflicts arise in the heart of the Roman's identity. Despite this proposal of independence, Roman critics did not create their own system of reference but clung to Greek categories.

Glenn W. Most focuses on the Aeneid, although he often appeals to other Virgilian compositions. His paper, "Memoria e oblio nell'Eneide" (185-212), includes an analysis of the manifestations of memory and oblivion from two points of view: the relationships inside the text itself and those between the text and other poets. The author underlines the tension caused by the responsibility of the recently arrived Trojans to leave the past behind and face their new lives in Latium and the necessity to remember their native land. At the same time, as Citroni points out (p. X), this gives a picture of the historical dilemmas that Augustan society was facing: the recollection of a Republican past and the need to forget it in view of a new way of government.

In "Immagine del passato e cultura dell' urbanitas: modelli femminili nei Fasti di Ovidio", Mario Labate emphasizes the way in which Augustan discourse interprets the ancient role models, particularly the image of women proposed by tradition. Through the examination of several passages in Fasti, Ovid portrays the figure of a woman who is not a precise reflection of the mos maiorum. The depiction of this female -- invested with modern elements, closer to the elegiac model -- allows us to perceive the Ovidian perspective of a new Roman ethical identity.

Sandra Citroni Marchetti in "La veglia e il dipinto: i modelli culturali del programma di laboriosità di Plinio il Vecchio" (235-266) draws attention to the concept of laboriousness in Pliny's work. The author manages to explain how, by means of the sleeplessness motif -- an ethical and ideological choice -- Pliny made his program manifest and introduces himself as a servant of the Empire and the community.

Last but not least, the essay of Gianpiero Rosatio, "Quis ille? Identità e metamorfosi nel romanzo di Apuleio" (267-296). It deals with the complex figure of Apuleius and his multiethnic origin. The association (or not) between the author and the narrator of the novel and the intricate shape of an identity which becomes always elusive are some of the main themes in the article. The voice that relates Lucius' adventures appears as the confluence of numerous origins: Greek, Roman and Punic elements form the core of a synthetic identity, a convoluted and artificial construction.

Concerning the formal aspects, the volume does not provide a bibliographical list common to all essays. Some articles present only footnotes containing their sources while others also include a more complete bibliography. As a result some articles are extremely profitable for the reader not only for their contents but for the bibliographical information they offer.

The last pages have several useful indexes: an index of quoted passages (299- 310), an index of ancient names (311-318) and one with modern authors (319-323).

To recapitulate, we could say that this collection of essays presents a very interesting range of subjects that interlaces a chronological perspective as well as a methodological and thematical one. The reader can choose to begin his reading from a historical point of view -- i.e. from the mythic origins up to the second century A.D. -- or from a field of research -- literature, archeology, law, etc.

Both options will be rewarded with twelve articles that are, as a whole, a worthy and valuable sample of the current studies on the construction of identity and its deep significance in the interpretation of the way a society represents itself throughout its own means of production -- poetry, epic, inscriptions, monuments, houses, etc.

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