BMCR 2007.04.10

Emotion, Restraint,and Community in Ancient Rome

, Emotion, restraint, and community in ancient Rome. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 1 online resource (ix, 245 pages).. ISBN 9780198032274. $45.00.

K(aster)’s recent monograph is a rich, stimulating investigation of a particular set of Roman emotions and of these emotions’ interaction with ethics and behavior. The five emotions he investigates — specifically, verecundia, pudor, paenitentia, invidia, and fastidium — are linked by sharing a somewhat fearful, self-conscious regard for others and for others’ opinions about oneself. K. describes these emotions as “bad vibes of a particular sort — not those that move me to lash out [e.g., “anger,” “hatred”], but those of a generally quieter, socially useful strain that, by exerting a normative pressure, aim to prevent or correct the offense” (p. 4). Here, then, are the “restraint” and the “community” that share top billing with “emotion” in K.’s title. The chapters in several cases represent revisions of articles that have appeared in other venues over the past decade; K. has been a leading voice in the “history of emotions” movement to which such scholars as Susanna Braund, Christopher Gill, Douglas Cairns, William Harris, and David Konstan (to name just a few) have also contributed significantly.1 In this review, I will sketch the main lines of argument and conclusions of each chapter in sequence, and will end with reflections on the overall project and method.

K. places front and center the methodological question of how we can access and understand the emotions of other cultures. Lexical equivalences, such as dictionaries provide, offer only the crudest aid: to know (say) that pudor can be glossed in English either as “shame” or as “modesty,” depending on context, only highlights the disjunction between how modern English speakers divide up their emotional universe and how ancient Latin speakers did. K.’s solution is to focus on the dynamics, the “processes,” of each emotion he examines. Specifically, he elaborates each emotion’s “script,” by which he means (p. 8) a specific sequence of perception, evaluation, and response through which the data of life are processed; or, in other words, a set of moves and motives that a person who experiences the emotion in question enacts. The approach is cognitive rather than lexical, asking what each emotion does, and how it works socially and psychologically, rather than simply asking what it is (a question that would tend to yield lexical “equivalents”). In embracing this model he also rejects other models of emotion found in evolutionary biology and behavioral psychology (pp. 8-9). He argues Latin texts from the second century B.C.E. to the second century C.E. bear witness to a (relatively) durable, unchanging set of scripts for these emotions, and in this sense his analysis is synchronic rather than developmental.

In chapter 1, “Between Respect and Shame: Verecundia and the Art of Social Worry” (pp. 13-27), K. contends that the emotion verecundia prompts one to claim the minimal possible “social space” consistent with carrying out a given line of action, and to bestow a corresponding “civil inattention” on others as they do the same. The verecundus person is not excessively self-effacing (he does want to achieve his ends), but nor does he press his claims to their fullest extent, as he seeks to give his counterpart the space to preserve his own face. (K. finds the concept of “face,” in something like Goffman’s sense, useful in describing the social dynamics of this and other emotions). It is the emotion par excellence of the person who worries about and attends to smooth social relations. It tends especially (though not exclusively) to underpin properly functioning vertical social hierarchies. This emotion is never attributed to slaves, since by definition they have no social face to be concerned for; and only rarely to soldiers, since the sorts of lines it draws for the self not to cross are drawn, in their case, by the command structure. A further analytical distinction is introduced in this chapter: between the “dispositional” form of an emotion (the habitual, general sensitivity or wariness regarding the kinds of situations in which it could be aroused) and its “occurrent” form (the particular, embodied experience of the emotion in a particular situation).

Chapter 2, “Fifty Ways to Feel your Pudor” (pp. 28-65), deals with the most theatrical of the five emotions: one that concerns itself with the drama of seeing myself being seen by others.2 K. writes (p. 29), “I experience pudor when I see my self being seen as discredited, when the value that I or others grant that self is not what I would have it be.” Hence experiences of pudor depend upon having both a sense of self-worth and the perception that that worth is being discounted. K. presents a taxonomy of pudor-scripts (p. 31), involving six specific scripts. Situations where the reason for my worth being discounted (or so I think) is not under my control arise because of the way the world is, or because I am tarred by someone else who either acts upon me or is linked to me. Situations where the reason is under my control come about because I discreditably extend, retract, or lower myself. Certain pudor -scripts are analyzed, like verecundia, in terms of “face,” as I may experience (or am supposed to experience) pudor if I am thought to be making too many claims for my own “face” while denying others the space their own face-claims should be granted. This emotion, too, can be found in both “dispositional” and “occurrent” varieties: a sensitivity to feeling pudor (the dispositional form) may well keep one from falling into a situation where one actually might have to feel it (the occurrent form). Thus, says K. (p. 48), “[T]he basic structures of the emotion were not static — mere categories into which different kinds of behavior could be sorted — but dynamic, organizing energy to accomplish different forms of psychological and ethical work in the culture.” The latter part of the chapter is devoted to investigating a number of specific issues involving the self-regard and other-regard essential to this emotion. My favorite of these (p. 60) is the “conscience”-like dynamic of situations in which I feel pudor before myself, i.e., I see myself in discreditable terms, even if other witnesses “out there” in the world think well of me.

Chapter 3 is entitled “The Structure of paenitentia and the Egoism of Regret” (pp. 66-83). At its heart, this emotion (etymologized by Gellius from words like paene and penuria) is concerned with falling short: with a feeling of “almost but not quite,” with my sense that a painful gap exists between what is and what should be, a gap I would close if possible. This emotion ramifies, on K.’s analysis (p. 70), into four scripts: situations where the existence of the painful gap is not up to me, and those where it is; in each case, considerations of either utilitas or honestas may be at issue. Those where it is up to me — situations involving “agent-regret” — constitute the large majority of occurrences of this word, e.g., regret for missed pleasures, for practical inconveniences, or for defects in honor. Pudor and paenitentia are supplementary in certain respects: K. cites a Livian example of a general’s harangue (p. 79; Livy 27.13.1-6) according to which the soldiers should feel pudor that their general sees them as performing poorly, and should also feel paenitentia, the painful desire to undo the poor performance in favor of a better one. K. concludes the chapter by discussing the adequacy of the English terms “remorse” and “regret” as potential glosses for paenitentia; he also steps briefly outside his declared chronological range to look at the somewhat different, and much more restricted, form paenitentia takes in Christian texts.

Chapter 4, ” Invidia Is One Thing, Invidia Quite Another” (pp. 84-103), opens by presenting a letter of Cicero to Atticus in which Cicero remarks that feeling nemesis is different from feeling phthonos. These two Greek emotions distinguish pain felt at another’s undeserved success ( nemesis) from pain felt at a peer’s success, regardless of desert ( phthonos), yet in Latin both are encompassed by the single emotion of invidia (hence K.’s title for the chapter, which drolly glosses Cicero’s Greek terms into Latin). On this basis K. distinguishes the two main branches of his script-taxonomy of this emotion (p. 87): invidia is the pain I feel from contemplating someone else’s good, whether I feel it with reference to a principle of “right” (this is nemesis-invidia: your good is either rightfully someone else’s, or affronts some general societal principle) or without reference to any principle of “right” (this is phthonos-invidia: I feel pain just because you have some good, or because it is specifically your good). Naturally, there is a focalization effect in the attribution of these scripts: phthonos-invidia is the kind to which my goods are unjustifiably subjected by mean-spirited others, while I myself would only feel pain about others’ goods for principled, justifiable reasons, i.e., nemesis-invidia. Here too, as in previous chapters, K. considers the adequacy of standard English glosses: “envy” works passably for some scripts of invidia, but does not work for one of the most important, namely the pain I feel when you enjoy a good in defiance of accepted societal principles. Here “righteous indignation” is perhaps closer, since my feeling is that “you ought to be ashamed to enjoy what you do (and others would agree with my judgment).” This particular invidia -script, K. notes, can work to unify a group against a renegade. It also relates closely to certain pudor -scripts. For if you have a proper dispositional pudor, you know the obligations relative to others that are thereby imposed upon you, and how you stand in respect to those obligations. If you fail in those obligations, you ought to feel (occurrent) pudor. But whether you do or not, others will assuredly feel nemesis-invidia against you for any goods you enjoy, unjustifiably, thanks to this failure.

Chapter 5, “The Dynamics of Fastidium and the Ideology of Disgust” (pp. 104-133), examines the emotion associated with aversion: “This person/object/state of affairs is repellent — he/she/it makes me want to turn away — I will turn away” (p. 104). The taxonomy of fastidium- scripts is very simple: there is either an autonomic/per se response, or a deliberative/ranking one. The former kind is felt at the thought of eating a lizard, or of eating most anything if I am sick; it may also entail a sense of satiety, that “I’ve had it up to here” (in such cases it is aligned with taedium, with which it may be etymologically related). It is often associated with the senses of taste, smell, and sight, and registers corporeally on the stomach (“yuck!”). This is the emotional territory of taboos against cannibalism, incest, and (interestingly) boasting: contemplating such acts arouses per se fastidium in a Roman. The deliberative/ranking form of the emotion is more overtly implicated with ethics and social hierarchies. It is a view (as K. puts it, p. 116) de haut en bas, where the high stigmatizes the low to make sure that distinctions and hierarchies stay in place. The objects of this fastidium are items of daily or intimate use (like clothing or food), products of literary culture (how awful to have to listen to a bad poet!), or persons themselves, as the socially lofty regard those they deem less lofty with this emotion. This form of the emotion also registers corporeally, though on the lips and nose (as also in English: “snooty”). This emotion is prone to generate reciprocal forms of itself: if I observe that you regard someone or something with fastidium, I may therefore feel fastidium for you, just as in English I may hold you in (justifiable) contempt just because I perceive that you yourself hold someone or something else (unjustifiably) in contempt.

The book concludes with a substantial “Epilogue,” really an additional chapter, entitled “Being ‘Wholly’ Roman” (134-48). It examines the terms integer, integritas, and other cognate forms, to see what ethical “wholeness” is for a Roman. Typically, K. contends that English glosses like “whole,” “fresh,” “unspoiled,” and “integrity” (the falsest friend of all) do not bring us close to understanding what this virtue is really about. K. offers no script, but instead a “model” (p. 141) showing how certain personal and social dispositions and behaviors constitute the virtue of integritas and in turn are reinforced by it. He shows this virtue to be a quiet, defensive one, more about keeping one from performing ethically damaging acts than inspiring one to attempt ethically enhancing ones. It is associated with fixity, restraint, innocence, good faith, and purity (to name a few qualities), but does not encompass more aggressive ethical qualities like reasonableness, shrewdness, magnanimity, or liberality. Its domain is domi, not militiae: it is not associated with soldiers and their virtues. He concludes by considering briefly how this virtue of self-restraint relates to the emotions of self-restraint discussed earlier.

This book is among the more systematic and successful efforts I have seen to bring cognitive theory to bear on a problem in ancient psychology or mentalités.3 K.’s redirecting of attention from lexical equivalences to social and psychological processes (the “scripts” of the emotions) produces tremendously stimulating and eye-opening results. It is worth reading through a TLL entry on one of the emotion-terms K. investigates, just to see how different the results produced by the two approaches are (indeed, I suggested to K. in the late 1990s, not entirely facetiously, that he volunteer to write the TLL article on pudor, which would have been on the horizon, if not yet in preparation, at that time. He declined, citing irreconcilable taxonomic differences.) As with any good book, this one stimulates further questions that it itself does not seek to address. One such question, raised sharply for me by K.’s Epilogue, is how to distinguish a virtue from an emotion in a Roman (or indeed any) context. Both allow for “occurrent” and “dispositional” states. For instance pietas, which most people would probably agree is a Roman virtue, can be attributed to someone dispositionally (“That woman is pia“) even if that person is not at that moment actively honoring her ancestors or sacrificing to the gods or… Yet if she is observed actively doing such things, the application of the adjective pia as an “occurrent” usage would be warranted. So virtues can exist both in enacted and in purely mental states, just as emotions can.4 Nor could one argue that virtues are purely cognitive and lack affect. Virtus, in the sense of a soldier’s courage in battle, is generally taken to be a virtue. Yet one can “feel” this virtus, and it can rise up in one, just as one might “feel” pudor or paenitentia or other more obviously “emotional” states. So what differences, if any, do these different categories of phenomena (“virtues/vices” vs. “emotions”) actually label? Is it significant that K. relates the constituents and products of integritas by a “model,” rather than by a “script” such as the emotions receive? Some reflection on this problem (if any satisfactory accounting exists) would have been welcome — not only to bind the Epilogue more closely with the preceding chapters, but to help put the avalanche of recent scholarship on both ancient emotions and ancient virtues and vices into a more comprehensible relationship with one another.5

K. writes in a lively, conversational style, giving his chapters an “essayistic” quality that (presumably) is intended to appeal to non-specialists as well as specialists. This is splendid, but the inevitable corollary to this style of writing — that the notes are at the end, not at the bottom of the page, since publishers assume that non-specialist readers are scared off by footnotes — makes for tedious, frustrating reading if one actually wants to see the evidence. Especially in a book where virtually every observation or contention is, necessarily and rightly, supported by textual quotation or citation (indeed, the notes constitute more than a quarter of the book’s total bulk), it is deeply annoying constantly to have to flip to the endnotes. The evidence needs to be at the bottom of the page, notwithstanding the quest for a wider readership.

The reader should also be aware that a production error rendered certain page references in the indices incorrect. Corrected indices can be downloaded in pdf format online, which print out as a rather substantial sheaf that must then be kept with the volume. However, a spot check suggested that errors are confined to references to the notes (references to the main text seem not to change between the original and corrected indices), and in no case was the reference more than one page off. So if one simply notes this fact on the first page of the indices, one can perhaps dispense with the awkwardness of printing and handling the corrected files. The volume is otherwise handsome, but I can’t help feeling that OUP’s production was rather less careful and scrupulous than the scholarship.


1. Some highlights: Susanna Braund and Christopher Gill, eds., The passions in Roman thought and literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. William V. Harris, Restraining rage: the ideology of anger control in classical antiquity. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. (Note that the “restraint” of Harris’ title refers to the effort to rein in an emotion that, if it achieves full expression, can be damaging; the “restraint” of Kaster’s title has to do with emotions that, precisely when they achieve their fullest and most effective expression, work to restrain and regulate the self in its relation to others.) On Greek emotions see the seminal work of Douglas Cairns, AIDOS: The Psychology and Ethics of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greek Literature. Oxford University Press, 1993. Some of Cairns’ subsequent work, as well as some of David Konstan’s recent work, deals with other Greek emotions.

2. K. surveys occurrences of the noun pudor and all its adjectival, verbal, and adverbial cognates, but omits pudicus and pudicitia, as being distinct because concerned exclusively with sexual morality. For this cluster of terms, see now Rebecca Langlands’ conveniently complementary study, Sexual Morality in Ancient Rome, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

3. For another study inflected by cognitive approaches, see Brian Krostenko’s Cicero, Catullus, and the language of social performance, University of Chicago Press, 2001; also a smaller-scale effort in my own Constructing Autocracy: aristocrats and emperors in Julio-Claudian Rome Princeton University Press, 2001, ch. 4 (esp. pp. 214-33).

4. For the virtue integritas having both behaviors and dispositions associated with it, see p. 140; for such forms of the virtues virtus and pietas, see M. Roller, Constructing Autocracy (as in the previous note), pp. 20-29.

5. Nor do I know any discussion of this matter in the growing body of work on ancient virtues and vices (especially important among these is R. Rosen and I. Sluiter, eds., Andreia: studies in manliness and courage in classical antiquity Leiden: Brill, 2003; see now also M. McDonnell, Roman Manliness: Virtus and the Roman Republic, Cambridge University Press, 2006).