This potentially important book, by a scholar with over two decades of articles and monographs on youth in antiquity to his credit, is disappointing. According to the author, it is a “half way house” between his two earlier Dutch monographs: De jonge Romein volgens de literair bronnen der periode ca. 200 v. Chr. tot ca. 500 n. Chr. (Brussels, 1977) and De onstuimigen. Jeugd en (on)deugd in de Romeinse Oudheid (Kapellen, 1987). In fact, it is a condensed and rearranged version of the former, which was published with a lengthy English summary. Readers will do well to hunt down De jonge Romein insofar as most of the ‘real’ references are to be found there; in the present work, slightly more than half of the endnotes consist of “Cf. jR such and such” (the majority of the remainder are instructions to cf. various authors, but we are never told why). This likely was done at the instigation of the publisher to keep the book to some prescribed length (a recent phenomenon which detracts from serious scholarship), but there must have been other ways to accomplish this. Restless Youth also adopts the narrow approach of its monographical predecessors by concentrating almost entirely on literary sources, although as E. claims “epigraphical and papyrological material also proved itself occasionally useful” (3—those ‘occasions’ are on 51-2, 86-7, and 214-15). It was E.’s narrow approach in jR which inspired M. Kleijwegt to pen Ancient Youth (Amsterdam, 1991), which approaches this subject from an entirely epigraphical point of view. Kleijwegt’s work has been utilized, to a very small extent, by E. who often declines comment when that epigraphical evidence does not support his thesis. As such, E.’s work is best read in conjunction with Kleijwegt’s (and vice versa—the solely epigraphical approach also has limitations). On its own, however, E.’s ‘cut and paste’, literary approach to the subject has resulted in a work which is generally unbalanced, sometimes bizarre, and often incoherent.
Given its literary basis, it is not surprising that E.’s study is confined almost entirely to the young males of Rome’s wealthier classes. He begins by rejecting Ariès’ (et al.) suggestion that the concept of adolescence (presumably = youth) was ‘invented’ in the eighteenth century. While ‘adulthood’ began at age 17 (when a Roman male was eligible for the levy) we can perhaps see an early conception of ‘youth’ at Rome in the Tullian military category of iuventus (i.e. those between 17 and 46). Even so, E. is probably correct in seeing two pieces of post-Second Punic War legislation as creating a new subcategory of ‘youth’ in our modern sense: the Lex Villia Annalis (which established a minimum age—27 according to E.
“Youth and the Established Order” (42-80) considers youth’s involvement in the army, politics, and law. After a somewhat incoherent overview of the role of the iuventus in early Rome and many questionable examples of youth challenging the supremacy of the older generation in the army (none of the examples given, including those of Crassus and Clodius, seems to be the claimed ‘conflict of generations’) we come to a section on “Young Officers”. Here we are told that from the time of Marius, the military prowess of the “leisure class” went into a steady decline: “The social status of the officer class of the day plummeted visibly, as J. Suolahti has convincingly shown …” (50). “Plummet” is hardly the right word: what Suolahti has convincingly shown is that in the late Republic, the proportion of the ‘nobility’ as junior officers dropped markedly, but there was a concomitant rise in the proportion of members of the equestrian class as officers.
“The Leisure Activities of Youth” (81-127) relates how the upper class Roman youth spent their free time, which according to E., was considerable. In addition to sports (81-87) and music and dance (87-88), a major part of a young Roman’s free time was taken up by games (88-98). Here it is hard to ignore that Alan Cameron is repeatedly referred to as “she” (twice on 91 and once on 98) despite his full name appearing in the bibliography. We are, in any event, told of youthful participation in spectacles in the circus, both as fans and drivers (88-93), and of the devotion of the youth to the theatre (93-95). Indeed, youth seem to have had fanatical devotion to the ‘stars’, to the point of taking part in riots and other disturbances in the theatre at their instigation. Even so, E. has missed Vanzetti’s point that Callistratus’ legislation relating to these disturbances by iuvenes—qui volgo se iuvenes appellant (Dig. 188.8.131.52) does not necessarily refer to the iuvenes who are the focus of E.’s study.
“Youthful Thinking” (128-202) briefly considers Roman education before dealing with youthful eloquence and the attraction of youth to philosophy. According to E., interest in philosophy was primarily due to the opportunities it provided for practising eloquence, although some youths did seem interested in philosophy for its own sake. There follows a rather long section on poetry and youthful poets like Catullus, Cornelius Gallus, etc. and here, more than anywhere else, E. betrays himself as someone who came of age at the dawn of the Age of Aquarius (176-202). We are told that Catullus “quite deliberately used a specialized vocabulary to provoke the establishment” (191). Persius too “castigated the Roman establishment for its folly and ignorance” (191). E. suggests that poetry was an expression of youthful ambition, originality and idealism and that the poetae novi“constitute what present-day historians would call a ‘counter-culture’, a movement which seeks to “discover new types of community, new family patterns, new sexual mores, new kinds of livelihood, new aesthetic forms, new personal identities on the far side of power politics” (196). “The poetae novi were, without doubt … scandalized … by the degenerate character of society at the time, yet they refused to work for the good of the community. For them the most important thing was otium, leisure, free time. They raised to a virtue what for ‘respectable citizens’ was considered a vice; they were proud of their vices, of their listlessness, their languor, their sheer laziness” (197). “Propertius, Tibullus and Ovid could have had ‘Make love, not war’ as their motto” (200). The only cliché E. missed was “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.”; one wonders whether he was really writing about the poetae novi or the Beatles.
“The Emotional Life of the Young Roman” (203-254) informs us about the irreverentia of youth, pietas, how patria potestas was largely theoretical, and how parents in the late Republic and early Empire were generally indulgent. The evidence for this latter point comes primarily from the plays of Plautus and Terence, whose general applicability to Roman society at large has not been established (E. seems to realize this: see below). After a section on youthful friendship (215-221), E. tells us that during the Republic, the “idols” of Roman youth were generally politicians and orators; during the Empire they were teachers, philosophers, and rhetoricians. That such “idols”, who were of the older generation, might be respected by an otherwise disrespectful youth is glossed over by E. as just one of the many “contradictions” of youth (222-230). A section on “Sex and Love” gives a good overview of what was considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in general (231-233). Unfortunately it is marred by a rather bizarre section on the rejection of love and sex which closes with the tales of Narcissus and Hippolytus as being “representative of youth” (233-238). This is followed by a section on marriage (239-241) which is remarkable for its misunderstanding of the nature of marriage in Rome (surely we cannot generalize from quotations from Seneca via Jerome about loving one’s wife too much) and for the statement: “Small wonder that many young (as well as not so young) people were far from enthusiastic about marriage and used every means open to them to escape from this ‘nuisance’ and ‘tedious’ drag” (239). Readers will do well to balance this section with Treggiari’s Roman Marriage, 183-319 (a work apparently unknown to E., although it did appear at the same time as Kleijwegt’s work). Finally we get a discourse on homosexuality, which, among other things claims that “In spite of the harsh punishments imposed in the army in the interests of discipline, homosexuality was without doubt commonly encountered in this milieu.” (242). The intrepid reader who tracks down the references via jR will, without doubt, question E.’s definition of ‘commonly’. The chapter ends with a discourse on romantic love (247-255) and the revelation that “It is uncertain how far the comedies of Plautus and Terence or the poems of these love-poets express the social reality of their day” (247). The work ends with a brief conclusion (256-259).
Around the time E. would have been working on jR, John Crook suggested, in regards to research on Roman women, “The pieces of evidence that can be adduced point in different directions, or not unequivocally in any direction, and one must beware of generalizing from the notorious political women and the antics of Roman ‘night-club’ society.”