Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.01.48 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.01.48

Karl Galinsky (ed.), Memoria Romana: Memory in Rome and Rome in Memory. Supplements to the Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 10.   Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, for the American Academy in Rome, 2014.  Pp. xiii, 193.  ISBN 9780472119431.  $85.00.  

Reviewed by Caroline Vout, University of Cambridge (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Memoria Romana is a book born of a conference held at the American Academy in Rome in 2011 as part of its editor Karl Galinsky’s research project of the same name, initiated in 2009 by the award of a Max-Planck Prize for International Cooperation. It brings young and established scholars in Roman history, literature and art together with the architect and designer Daniel Libeskind to demonstrate how scholarship’s ongoing obsession with Gedächtnisgeschichte or “memory studies” might bear fruit for ancient Rome, the recollection of which has, since the Renaissance at least, sustained western culture. Montaigne is an eloquent spokesperson for this kind of fashioning when he claims: “I knew the Capitol and its plan before I knew the Louvre, and the Tiber before the Seine. I had more in my head about the conditions and fortunes of Lucullus, Metellus and Scipio than I did about the men of our day”.1 But it is not only those who work on Reception who would benefit from a more self-conscious understanding of what it is that is, and, crucially, is not, being revived in each and every engagement with the Antique.2 Ancient historians have much to learn from better understanding how the memories of the artists and authors who now constitute their primary sources were shaped and shared, how and why Romans remembered, and how these processes of remembering differed from what they then chose to inscribe, and forget. At least from the time of Ennius, Rome’s present was always also its past. By the Principate, the reality of autocracy and the extent of the “Augustan building programme” had so amended the Urbs as to make instinctive insight into its past life increasingly difficult and the need for continuity more urgent. Small wonder that the Res Gestae takes refuge in a language of “re- building” and that the first building it lists is the curia. By the time its words were displayed publicly, Augustus himself was a memory, and his “memoirs” the script for ongoing imperium.

Memory points forwards as well as backwards. Yet in the first of the book’s eleven chapters, “The Memory of Rome in Rome”, Richard Jenkyns argues that the concept of the eternal city is “a concept of indefinite duration in the future, not of a past unfathomably deep” (19). He deploys an impressive range of authors to draw an important distinction between posterity’s packaging of Rome as the ultimate palimpsest, and ancient Rome’s perception of its own urban fabric – namely that for all of the energy expended on age and ancestors, there was little sense that “the scars and wrinkles of age were a proper part of a building’s maturation” (17), nor that rebuilding of the kind practised by Augustus diminished any kind of aesthetic appreciation that might accompany a structure’s antiquity. This is not to say that there are no lieux de mémoire in Jenkyns’ Rome, the maintenance of which was paramount, Romulus’ hut on the Palatine being a case in point, but that “visual pleasure” was not what made them worthy of investment or admiration. Not even Virgil, in the dialogue he creates between pre-Rome and present Rome, quite sees “accumulation in the visible fabric of the city” (26).

Jenkyns is surely right to stress that Rome’s relationship to its built environment is different from our relationship to it, and to our own material culture. Rare indeed are the examples of buildings, paintings or sculptures in Pliny’s Natural History that are notable simply for being old, a realization with interesting implications for recent work on “ruins” in Roman painting.3 But Jenkyns perhaps overstates the insignificance of authenticity: the ancient ignorance about the attribution of the Niobid group in the Temple of Apollo Sosianus that he highlights is in a passage of Pliny that complains that there was just too much statuary and too much to do in Rome to give sculpture the study it deserved (NH 36.27), while for Dionysius of Halicarnassus (1.79.11), repairing Romulus’ hut meant respecting its holiness, and respecting its holiness, “healing” it “completely” (ἐξακούμενοι) and restoring it as accurately as possible. Emphasise this, and we reconvene with modern connoisseurship, conservation and heritage.

If Jenkyns delicately queries the role that Rome’s urban fabric played in recalling its past, Peter Wiseman rallies to smash the notion that collective memory resides in the stones of the city. But before he is given the opportunity, Harriet Flower, whose prior work on memory-sanctions has done much to insist on the cultural specificity of Roman memory, changes tack to raise the crucial question of when and why autobiographical writing first emerged in Rome. Her answer is in around 100 BCE, when Q. Lutatius Catulus saw the genre as way of securing a stronger position for himself in the past, present and future, in the wake of Marius’ prominence. Although the loss of Catulus’ text prevents a detailed analysis of exactly how “memory studies” put his person(ality) back into history, the fact that he experimented with two forms of autobiographical expression—a letter to the Senate and a more personal memoir, written in the style of Xenophon—creates space for some suggestive comments about culture’s impact (both Roman and Greek) on experience, and experience on culture.

As we slide from section one, “Rome: Memory and Memoirs”, to section two, “Memoria in Ancient Rome”, we come to the book’s central showdown. Wiseman’s objections are necessary if Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp is to reassert the wisdom of an approach outlined in his 2006 essay, “History and Collective Memory in the Middle Republic”,4 and the usefulness of Jan Assmann, Pierre Nora and Reinhard Koselleck’s theoretical templates. Wiseman, who favours the term “popular memory” to the overly homogenous “collective memory”, is devoted to exposing competing, especially non- elite, forms of remembering, and the significance of oral and performative culture (in particular ludi) over and above the literary or the monumental. But in the process of stressing process, he sometimes risks being too reductive and “doing material culture in”. Of course, many of the lieux de memoires that attract the scholars’ gaze are reminders of the individual aristocrats whose lives they commemorate in their inscriptions, but to overstate this is to underestimate the polyvalence of any artefact’s visual properties and the loquaciousness of its relationship to other artefacts and to a range of viewers. One does not have to think that a monument “embodies” or “carries” memory (44) to follow Hölkeskamp’s lead—not only because “the key concept is interdependence—it is the complex interplay of written texts and oral tradition… of symbolically charged places and spaces, monuments...” (70), but because monuments emote rather than transmit information.

Gianpiero Rosati is the Lepidus of section two’s Triumvirate, offering no contest, but dipping his toes into the pools of memory and power, memory and intertextuality, and memory and ekphrasis. His chapter, “Memory, Myth, and Power in Statius’ Silvae” shows how the Silvae perform a mediatory role in the construction of cultural memory —an imperative that was perhaps particularly pressing in a new, post-Neronian Rome under the freshly formed Flavian dynasty.

Section three admits to being about art and topography proper, and again embraces three papers. Chapter six is by Diane Favro, who applies her distinctive mix of vivid narrative and architectural vision to the institution of the Roman triumph and to the ways in which the movement of triumphal processions, and the movement encouraged by depictions of processions, functioned as a powerful mnemonic to bind people, past and present, together.5 In chapter eight, Anna Anguissola warns us not to let scholarship’s recent revision of Roman “copies” as imaginative, playful “versions”, productive of new meaning,6 blind us to Rome’s concurrent love of “true copies”, which with freer imitations of opera nobilia, “were among the most efficient aides-mémoire in the visual practice of the Romans” (120). Her case-studies, the funerary altar of Ti. Octavius Diadumenus and the Palazzo Pitti’s Resting Hercules, remember different things of their originals, but both raise issues beyond her analysis: issues about what kind of knowledge or experience is encoded in replication specifically, especially if the prestige of the form in question resides ultimately in fifth-century Greece or in the Hellenistic court, and how this fits with the sorts of memory debated by Hölkeskamp, Wiseman and Jenkyns. Between Favro and Anguissola, Jessica Hughes takes us forward to late antiquity when Rome began obviously to cannibalize its own material culture, incorporating sculptural elements from the capital’s older imperial structures into its new ones. Whether ideology or exigency, re-positioning these elements in immediately alien environments made their style more vocal, no more so than next to the Tetrarchic frieze on the Arch of Constantine. This monument’s use of spolia has been well discussed of late,7 and Hughes offers several ways in which memory studies can elucidate the dynamic of viewing such a monument. She ends by highlighting how the episodic nature of the arch’s spolia contrasts to the recent past as captured in the continuous narrative of the frieze, mirroring the difference between adult memories and eidetic, fragmentary childhood memories. It is regrettable that the book does not move into Christian culture to examine what happens to memory with ideological schism.8

The book’s final section, “Ancient and Modern Memories”, attempts to make memory central to the Classicist’s ‘backwards glance’ towards ancient Rome, but the contributions are too ‘niche’ to speak to ongoing interrogations of what ‘reception studies’ is. As an exploration of how the Aventine and Monte Sacro become, and are even now, imbued with ideological meaning, Lisa Marie Mignone’s chapter is technically excellent, but its focus is inevitably narrow. Bernard Frischer eloquently defends Archaeology’s love-affair with interactive 3-D digital technology: in his sophisticated hands, the versions of the past that it allows us to experience amount to “an updated form of mnemotechnics” (162). I remain a skeptic: if it is ways of seeing and of remembering one wants, I prefer the rich elusiveness of Statius’ poetry.

There is no overarching conclusion, and no index, just an epilogue. Here Libeskind speaks meaningfully and movingly about the role of memory in his architectural projects. There is no denying the ways in which structures such as his Felix Nussbaum house in Osnabrück unsettle the visitor with their spatial collisions and claustrophobia, or, in the case of his Military History Museum in Dresden, by pointedly plotting the impact of the Allied bombing so as to have it illuminate and splinter the very fabric. For evidence of the power of memory, this is the best essay in the volume. It is certainly the only one that is elegiac. But one cannot help feeling that it also constitutes a missed opportunity. Libeskind has a prestigious portfolio of public talks to his name, many of them about the projects he discusses here, and some of them published.9 Yet any link between these projects, memory in Rome and Rome in memory, remains embedded, and this despite the fact that 2013 saw the first exhibition of his architectural drawings in a gallery close to the multi-layered remains of the Porticus Octaviae.10 The palimpsestic nature of the centro storico means that opportunities for new architectural interventions are rare, and exceptions controversial – none more so than Richard Meier’s Museum of the Ara Pacis and its curatorship of Fascist and imperial pasts. Beyond the centro, concert-halls and art- galleries continue to be built, but are better at preserving the artistic genius of Piano and Hadid than they are Rome’s residual Roman-ness.

This failure to capitalize on the potential of Libeskind’s piece holds for the volume as a whole. The lack of coherence leaves us, like the spolia of Hughes’s article, with a set of fragments, too few of them momentous enough to top subject-specific bibliographies (on the Triumph, the Silvae, the Roman-ness of Roman art), and none theoretically innovative enough on its own to mould Roman memory studies. Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies this book isn’t.11 Memory may well have “defined Roman civilization”, as Galinsky’s opening sentence states, but the singularity of “memoria Romana” merits deeper meditation.

Table of Contents

List of Figures vii
List of Contributors ix
Preface and Acknowledgments xiii
Introduction, Karl Galinsky 1
Part i Rome: Memory and Memoirs
1 The Memory of Rome in Rome, Richard Jenkyns 15
2 Memory and Memoirs in Republican Rome, Harriet I. Flower 27
Part ii Memoria in Ancient Rome
3 Popular Memory, T. P. Wiseman 43
4 In Defense of Concepts, Categories, and other Abstractions:
Remarks on a Theory of Memory (in the Making), Karl-J. Hölkeskamp..63
5 Memory, Myth, and Power in Statius’s Silvae, Gianpiero Rosati 71
Part iii Memoria in Roman Art and Topography
6 Moving Events: Curating the Memory of the Roman Triumph, Diane Favro 85
7 Memory and the Roman Viewer: Looking at the Arch of Constantine, Jessica Hughes 103
8 Remembering with Greek Masterpieces: observations on Memory and Roman Copies, Anna Anguissola 117
Part iv Ancient and Modern Memories
9 Remembering a Geography of Resistance: Plebeian Secessions, Then and Now, Lisa Marie Mignone 137
10 Cultural and Digital Memory: Case Studies from The Virtual World Heritage Laboratory, Bernard Frischer 151
11 Memorials and Their Voices, Daniel Libeskind 165
Bibliography 177


1.   Essais 209, De la Vanité.
2.   See e.g. James I. Porter, “Reception Studies: Future Prospects”, in Lorna Hardwick and Christopher Stray (edd.), A Companion to Classical Receptions. Malden, MA and Oxford, 2008, pp. 469-81, Charles Martindale, “Reception”, in Craig W. Kallendorf (ed.), A Companion to the Classical Tradition. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 297-311 and Basil Dufallo (ed.) Roman Error: the Reception of Rome as a Flawed Model (forthcoming), the contribitions to which are summarized in Bollettino di studi latini 44.1, 2014, pp. 195-200.
3.   I thank my PhD student Alina Kozlovski for this point. For the concept of “ruins” in Roman painting, Isabella Colpo, Ruinae... et putres robore trunci. Paesaggi di rovine e rovine nel paesaggio nella pittura romana (I secolo a.C.-I secolo d.C.). Rome: Quasar, 2010.
4.   In Nathan Rosenstein and Robert Morstein-Marx (edd.) A Companion to the Roman Republic. Malden, MA and Oxford: Blackwell, 2006, pp. 478-95.
5.   Extant literary evidence goes against Favro’s claim (89) that “observers did not sit still but were themselves in motion” by emphasizing how processions moved past them.
6.   E.g. Ellen Perry, The Aesthetics of Emulation in the Visual Arts of Ancient Rome Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005, and Miranda Marvin, The Language of the Muses: The Dialogue Between Greek and Roman Sculpture. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008.
7.   See e.g. Paolo Liverani and Hugo Brandenburg’s contributions to Richard Brilliant and Dale Kinney (edd.) Reuse Value: Spolia and Appropriation in Art and Architecture from Constantine to Sherrie Levine. Farnham: Ashgate, 2011.
8.   Although I note that the Memoria Romana project has also produced Memory in Ancient Rome and Early Christianity, forthcoming.
9.   See e.g. Daniel Libeskind, “Architectural Space”, in François Penz, Gregory Radick and Robert Howell (edd.), Space in Science, Art and Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 46-68.
10.   Never Say the Eye is Rigid: Architectural Drawings of Daniel Libeskind, Ermanno Tedeschi Gallery, Rome, from 11 March 2013.
11.   David Cannadine and Simon Price (edd.), Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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