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Category Archives: Education and Literacy

Let’s Philosophize: Time to Get Platonic

Since reading Clement it’s become clear that in order to figure out him and the other third century authors I’m going to have to get much more up to speed on philosophy, in particular Middle Platonism. I knew this was going to happen and until reading Clement I figured it would be after reading Origen. I’m moving this up a bit.

Another development I want to read on is the transition from Middle Platonism to Neoplatonism and figuring out an answer to a question I have for myself; Did the transition from Middle Platonism to the mystical Neoplatonism of Iamblichus have something to do with the increasing popularity of/conversion to Christianity in the 3rd century? I’m not sure if I’ll do this all at the same time or take a break from it, read some Christian sources, then return.

As I’ve been aware I’d need to do this for some time, really ever since I started this Early Christianity Reading effort, I’ve been picking up books on it for some time. I already have the following (I’m not typing full references here, I’m sure I’ll get to that when I actually refer to them):

  • Plotinus, The Enneads, ISBN: 978-0-140-44520-6 – This is the Penguin Edition.
  • Mark Edwards, Culture and Philosophy in the Age of Plotinus, ISBN: 978-0-7156-3563-6.
  • Iamblichus, Iamblichus on the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians, ISBN: 978-1-108-07304-2.
  • Mark Edwards, trans., Neoplatonic Saints: The Lives of Plotinus and Proclus by their Students, ISBN: 978-0-85323-615-3.
  • Paulina Remes, Neoplatonism, ISBN: 978-0-520-25860-0.

Anyone who’s read this blog for ANY period of time will be unsurprised to learn that I spent a few hours this morning looking for resources and – I know this will come as a shock – bought some books:

  • John Dillon, The Middle Platonists: 80 B.C. to A.D. 220, ISBN: 978-0-801-48316-5.
  • Plutarch, Essays, ISBN: 978-0-140-44564-0. Another Penguin, I really don’t want to buy all the Loeb volumes of either this or the Enneads at $24 per book. (More correctly, I want to buy them, I just don’t want to pay for them.)
  • Alcinous, The Handbook of Platonism, ISBN: 978-0-198-23607-8.

dillonJohn Dillon, Professor Emeritus of Trinity College, Dublin. I have a feeling I’ll be reading a lot of his books.

I’m not sure what this will do to my posting frequency. I’ll have one or two more on Irenaeus and I have a couple of other aspects of 1st and 2nd century Christianity that I think will make interesting posts. I have a volume of The Journal of Late Antiquity sitting on my coffee table and it seems like forever since I’ve looked at Early Medieval Europe so I may make occasional forays back (chronologically forward) to my main area of interest. But for the short term I’m back to diving into something I’m not terribly familiar with and I’ve always been hesitant to write about things I don’t know about; even my Early Christianity posts over the past 9 months since I went “back to the beginning” have been a stretch.

Those of you who are professional independent scholars
or work at a SLAC may want to stop reading NOW!!

Yeah, I know that always works.(ducks)

OK, so I’m in the middle of looking for sources and come across one by Eugene Afonasin, John Dillon and John Finamore, Iamblichus and the Foundations of Late Platonism. It’s published by Brill and the price is out of my range so I decide to see if Purdue has a copy which I can check out sometime. Gotta love those libraries, right?

So I log on and about three clicks later I find myself in the middle of something titled Brill Online Which apparently I have access to through Purdue. Which apparently allows me to download Brill volumes, including the Iamblichus volume. For free.

To the previously referred to SLAC professors/independent scholars, I give you permission. It’s OK to hate me though I ask that you not do so permanently.

I have things to do today so I won’t get to this but tomorrow happens to be a holiday, Labor Day in the US. I have a feeling my internet connection will literally be smoking. Is there a diagnosed Compulsive Internet Book Addiction Disorder (C-I-BAD)? If there is, I expect that by Tuesday I’ll be receiving e-mails offering me assistance for my problem.

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Quintus Aurelius Symmachus – Christian Enemy?

In 384 the Roman Senator and Prefect of the City of Rome, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus represented the Senate of Rome when it requested that the Altar of Victory be returned to the Senate House and state support for Pagan temples and ritual be restored. The Altar had originally been removed by Constantius in 357, restored by Julian, then removed again by Gratian in 382, along with funding for the temples and state cults. In 382 Symmachus represented the Senate in requesting that the Altar be restored and was not even granted an audience. Following Gratian’s death, the Senate tried again and again they chose Symmachus to represent them. Symmachus wrote an eloquent letter or relatione to Valentinian II, generally considered an outstanding example of Latin literature, asking for religious tolerance and requesting that the Altar and subsidies be restored. 1

Winged Victory statue found at Ephesus
Winged Victory statue found at Ephesus (from Wikipedia Commons)

Based largely on this event, Symmachus has come to be portrayed as a fervent defender of the traditional Roman cults and even, as his bio on answers.com says, “A leading opponent of Christianity.” 2

To a large extent (not entirely, see below), this characterization of Symmachus originated with Ambrose and was picked up by Prudentius. Ambrose seems to have been eager to paint himself as the person who went toe-to-toe with Symmachus to defend Christianity from attack. This conflict did not happen in this way and Ambrose’s counter to Symmachus’ letter in favor of restoring the Altar of Victory in the Senate and public support of state cults happened after the Senate request had been denied. 3

Prudentius, apparently writing shortly after Symmachus’ death around 403, wrote his Contra Orationem Symmachi or Reply to the Address of Symmachus in two books. In it Symmachus is described as an enemy attacking Christianity. 4 He is called a “silly pagan” and a “cunning workman” who possesses “the power of deception.” He “dares, alas! to attack our faith.” His voice is polluted with sin and speaks of “unclean monstrosities.” I could go on. 5

On closer examination, the characterization of Symmachus as an enemy or even an opponent of Christianity seems unjustified. While he does criticize some actions taken in the name of Christianity, in particular the plundering of pagan temples, he never, in what I have read, criticizes Christianity itself. While most of this characterization appears to have developed posthumously (even Ambrose’s letter was published later as part of a collection) he did have to defend himself from one accusation. Praetextatus(Prefect of Italy, Africa and Illyricum) obtained an Imperial order from Emperor Valentinian II permitting Symmachus, as Prefect of Rome, to investigate the spoliation of pagan temples and bring those responsible to justice. Symmachus was accused by an unnamed individual (Symmachus doesn’t name him but implies he is someone close to the Emperor) of imprisoning and torturing Christians during this investigation. Valentinian II wrote a public letter telling Symmachus to stop and free everyone. In response Symmachus wrote a passionate relatione explaining that he hadn’t even started his inquiry and that even Pope Damasus had written that no Christians had received any insulting treatment. If such malicious rumours against him persist then he asks (I’m sure this is rhetorical) that he be tried for his crimes. However serious this accusation may have been at the time, it can’t have stuck with him for too long as he was named Consul for 391. 6

Based on his writings and what is known of his actions, Symmachus does not appear to consider himself opposed to Christianity, however the more aggressive Christians chose to portray him this way. In fact, as Prefect of Rome Symmachus was partially responsible for the construction of a Christian church, what is today known as the S. Paolo fuori le mure. 7 He was also a friend of Christians such as Ausonius, writes letters of recommendation for Christians and asks his brother to help a Caesarian bishop whose city was unable to pay its taxes after the fisc was seized by a rebel. 8 Even Ambrose never attacks Symmachus personally, just his request, and the two exchange several letters following the Altar of Victory incident, not as friends but as a powerful bishop and powerful senator who respectfully conduct business with one another.

A closer examination of Relatione 3 (the one which Ambrose and Prudentius wrote against) shows that his argument is not so much against Christianity as in favor of tradition. The Gods of Rome have always protected her, how can they be ignored now? Disaster will result if the protectors are spurned. Already a famine has occurred, the likes of which Rome has never seen, where people are reduced to eating twigs and acorns.

In contrast to attacking Christianity, Symmachus frequently asserts that Christians (and the Emperor) should be allowed to worship as they see fit. “Of course, we can list Emperors of either faith and either conviction: the earlier Emperors venerated our ancestral religious rites, the later did not abolish them.” 9 “Everyone has his own customs, his own religious practices; the divine mind has assigned to different cities different religions to be their guardians.” 10 “Allow them [the Gods] to defend you, us to worship them.” 11

Within this, a very important passage deserves mention, as this has become one of the defining phrases of Symmachus: 12

It is reasonable that whatever each of us worships is really to be considered one and the same. We gaze up at the same stars, the sky covers us all, the same universe encompasses us. What does it matter what practical system we adopt in our search for truth? Not by one avenue only can we arrive at so tremendous a secret.

Symmachus does not come across, in this and his other writings, as particularly closed-minded about religion. He seems to believe (or at least he has adjusted to the reality of the new, growing religion) that people should be free to worship as Christians. However he does want the traditional support for state cults to continue. In his writings, this is to safeguard the Empire, and I have no reason to think he didn’t believe this. I’m sure various other factors play into this such as his role as a Priest, the importance of the cults being linked to his importance as an individual, and his sense of self. However he does not seem to be an opponent or enemy of Christianity, or even a rabid supporter of paganism, as he has sometimes been portrayed. From his writings, Symmachus seems more than anything to be a traditionalist. At times, this love for tradition is displayed in unexpected ways.

Shortly following the death of Vettius Agorus Praetextatus in 384 the Vestal Virgins proposed to erect a statue in his honor. Praetextatus was one of Symmachus’ closest friends and a staunch political ally. Symmachus offers his death as one of the main reasons why he asks Valentinian permission to resign as Prefect of Rome. Even so, he opposes the proposed statue. Symmachus writes to Nichomachus Flavianus stating that while Praetextatus is worthy of this honor, this has never been done before and may establish a dangerous precedent. 13 When the Emperor sent an ornate carriage for the Urban Prefect to ride in, Symmachus declines, both as he feels such opulence is inappropriate and in favor of tradition. 14

Ultimately, Symmachus’ passion for Roman tradition translates itself in Relatione 3 as passion for the state cults. I think it’s useless to try to separate the Roman religion from tradition. To Symmachus, the two will likely have been so intertwined as to be one. To him, supporting the state cults was part of what it meant to be Roman. Other religions had always existed and so he shows no opposition to Christianity, however the state must continue to revere the Gods. It was necessary for the continued health of the Empire and it was what had always been done. As an ardent traditionalist, he became an ardent supporter of the cults. 15

NOTE: I’ve used Barrow(1973) for my references to Symmachus’ relationes however an English translation of Relatione 3, about the Altar of Victory, is also available and for much less money in Liebeschuetz and Hill(2010).

Abbreviations used in Notes:

CS – Contra Symmachus
Rel – Symmachus’ Relationes

1 Relationes were official dispatches sent by Roman adminstrators to the Emperor. Some of these were simply to keep the Emperor up on what was going on but others were to ask for judicial review or to send greetings from the Senate (The praefectus urbi had a substantial judicial role and was also the titular head of the Senate). In judicial cases, Relationes accompanied the evidence and served to explain the situation more fully.

2 You can find the same language on several online sources (likely some have borrowed from each other) such as Brittannica.com. It is also present at an exhibit at the British Museum.

3 For additional details see McLynn(1994) p 264 and Sogno(2006) pp 50-1.

4 CS I, 651-5.

5 Respectively, CS II, 57, 201, 48, 673 and CS I, 636-8.

6 See Kahlos(2002) pp 95-6 and Sogno(2006) p 52 for an overview of this and Rel 21 in Barrow(1973) for Symmachus’ defense.

7 Kahlos(2002) p 93.

8 For Ausonius, see Symmachus’ Letter 1.13. In Letter 1.99 he recommends Ponticianus and in Letter 1.64 he asks for help for Bishop Clemens of Caesaria.

9 Symmachus, Rel 3.3

10 Symmachus, Rel 3.8

11 Symmachus, Rel 3.19

12 Symmachus, Rel 3.10. Kahlos(2002) pp 109-110 proposes that Symmachus was influenced by Themistius as you can find a similar message in Themistius Or. 5.68d-69a., addressed to Jovian in 364, “… while there exists only one judge, mighty and true, there is no one road leading to him …” and, “If you allow only one path, closing off the rest, you will fence off the broad field of competition.”

13 Based on references, this seems to be from Symmachus’ Letter 2.36. Kahlos(2002) pp 155-6 and Sogno(2006) pp 56-7.

14 Symmachus, Rel 4.3, “Get rid of this conveyance; its array may be more spectacular, but we have always preferred the kind whose use is the more ancient.”

15 Salzman and Roberts(2011) summarize this very well in their Introduction, pp xxxiv-xxxv.

Barrow, Reginald Haynes, ed., Prefect and Emperor: The Relationes of Symmachus, A.D. 384. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1973). ISBN: 978-0-19814-443-4.

Heather, Peter and Moncur, David, trans. & ed., Politics, Philosophy, and Empire in the Fourth Century: Select Orations of Themistius. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press (2001). ISBN: 978-0-85323-106-0.

Kahlos, Maijastina, Vettius Agorius Praetextatus: A Senatorial Life in Between. Acta Instituti Finlandiae Vol. 26. Rome: Institutum Romanum Finlandiae (2002). ISBN: 952-5323-05-6.

Liebeschuetz, J.H.W.G. and Hill, Carole, trans. & ed., Ambrose of Milan: Political Letters and Speeches. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press (2010). ISBN: 978-1-84631-243-4.

McLynn, Neil B., Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press (1994). ISBN: 978-0-52008-461-6.

Salzman, Michele Renee and Roberts, Michael, The Letters of Symmachus: Book 1. Atlanta, Georgia: Society of Biblical Literature (2011). ISBN: 9-781589-835979.

Sogno, Cristiana, Q. Aurelius Symmachus: A Political Biography. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press (2006). ISBN: 978-0-472-11529-7.

Thomson, H.J., trans. & ed., Prudentius: Volume I. Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library (2006). ISBN: 978-0-674-99426-3.

Thomson, H.J., trans. & ed., Prudentius: Volume II. Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library (2006). ISBN: 978-0-674-99438-4.

 

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Book Review: Literacy in Lombard Italy, c. 568-774

Everett, Nicholas, Literacy in Lombard Italy, c. 568-774. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2003). ISBN:978-0-521-17410.

This is a book which discusses the uses of writing and written forms of communication during the period of Lombard rule in Italy. Whether this truly represents literacy will be discussed below. 1

Everett opens by providing a brief historical narrative discussing Italy prior to the Lombards and detailing the first years following their arrival. He then examines examples of Lombard writing, dividing these by chapters in well-ordered, logical categories. The titles of chapters three through seven are simple and descriptive of their contents; “Language and Literacy,” “Law and Government,” “Charters,” “Inscriptions” and, “Manuscripts.”

Everett spends most of the book closely examining surviving texts. Charters, law codes and monumental inscriptions are described in some depth regarding their form, functions, evolution and authorship. Manuscript production in Bobbio and Monte Casigno receive considerable attention. A section on the use of scripts is particularly detailed and informative. (306-16) If you want to know what Lombard writing has survived, this book will prove to be a very good resource.

However this is the high point. In examining the quality of this book the first question which comes to mind is; Does Everett in fact address literacy? I believe he does not. He extensively discusses the forms of writings, their uses and dissemination. He provides detailed information on various forms of texts and inscriptions. He provides excellent information regarding the evolution of Lombard law codes. Yet nowhere is there a discussion of the level of literacy among the population. Instead he resorts to a sort of “literacy by implication.” As many texts are in existence and many more must have been present during the period, literacy must have been at a fairly high level. There will have been significant numbers of literate, certainly among the higher levels of society. Unfortunately, Everett never attempts to quantify this or even provide detailed evidence regarding it and the existence or nonexistence of lay literacy is never addressed. Indeed, the most substantial argument for literacy is contained in the introduction where Everett argues that while literacy levels may not have been high, the use of formulaic subscriptions and the number of witnesses signing charters indicates that a substantial portion of the population recognized the importance of writing, though they may not have been literate. (10) This is less a book about literacy than one which examines the uses of writing. To truly explore literacy, a focus must be on the authors and readers. While the former receives some attention, the latter does not. 2

This examination of the writings is the most valuable part of the book. The discussion of surviving texts and inscriptions is detailed and well done. Everett’s structure in examining writings in various contexts is useful in helping to describe various aspects of Lombard administration and governance.

More difficult to assess is what it means. Everett provides several bold statements. He believes that, “… a unified, widely diffused native Lombardic language may never have existed.” (100) As a result, the Lombards quickly adopted Latin for their texts. This raises the question of the survival of Germanic terms in many texts, including law-codes. He believes these may have originated from a variety of dialects, not a single one, and represents allies and other barbarian groups the Lombards may have been in communication with, not from a Lombard language. (110) This is an interesting thesis and may be true, however Everett provides little evidence in support of it. Subsequently, he argues against a period of bilingualism such as others have proposed. This is an important point, however again the argument is insubstantial. 3

Another interesting thesis is that of Roman continuity. Everett argues that Lombard administrative structures and documentary practices illustrate a high degree of continuity from the Roman period; “The form and content of Lombard charters suggest that, far from being products of a less organized and less literate post-Roman political order, the charters of Lombard Italy have deep Roman roots in a legal culture of property law and practice that changed little, if at all, with the arrival of the new barbarian overlords.” (198) With this statement, Everett displays a belief that not only did administrative practices continue from the Roman period, but the literacy level among the population involved in political activities was equivalent during the Roman and Lombard periods. Both of these assertions lack supportive evidence and with regards to literacy levels remaining unchanged, considerable evidence to the contrary exists. Such a bold statement requires substantial, detailed evidence however this is not forthcoming. 4

It is worth taking some space to explore one of his arguments in detail. For this I am going to select a discussion of the Lombard use of seal-rings on pages 170 and 171. Everett discusses the finding of a seal-ring from a mid-seventh century grave at Trezzo d’Adda. He then considers whether a seal-ring was commonly used including, “Although Rothari’s law did not specifically mention a seal or seal-ring, the wording of ‘aut recognitum seu requisitum’ is sufficiently indeterminate to render it plausible.” (my emphasis) Later he adds, “Admittedly, seal-rings are not much evidence of literacy per se – the use of seals may even be termed ‘sub-literacy’ – but they are a visual counterpart to written communication, icons which help to validate the message and thus are part of the message itself. Their existence presupposes a literate stratum of communication and testifies to the tenacity of Roman traditions of government.”

In examining this, several aspects of the argument are missing. For one, in equating Lombard uses of seal-rings with Roman, a discussion of how they were used in Roman administration followed by comparing and contrasting these uses with Lombard uses, would be entirely appropriate and, in my opinion, necessary if such a connection is to be made. The use of the term “plausible” in the argument is insufficient. To make this connection, “plausible” must become “likely” or “probable”. This should include a discussion of alternatives such as the likelihood that Lombard use was either due to independently coming up with a similar solution to a similar problem or even to Lombard uses being “inspired by” Roman uses, but not through a continuous use handed down from the fifth century. The structure of the argument and the evidence presented is not sufficient either to support Lombard use as stated by Everett or the connection he proposes with Roman uses. His footnotes in this section provide little help, noting one secondary source arguing that the passages actually preclude the use of seal-rings and another in which the author is undecided.

This type of argument is not an isolated case. The seal-ring discussion is interesting however to truly examine it requires more than a few hundred words and much more detail. This reads more as a thesis statement than as a statement of proof. Overall, his arguments for Roman continuity are among the weakest in the book and are peppered with statements such as “plausible” and “possible”. This is unfortunate as the concepts he proposes are interesting and important, if sufficient evidence is given. I am unable to flatly state that he is wrong with these arguments as I do not have the knowledge of the sources or other secondary books to make such a judgement however I am comfortable in stating that I believe the structure of his arguments and the evidence given are often insufficient.

Overall, this often reads as some sort of Lombard apologetic. While it is unlikely that the Lombards were the cause of the bulk of the damage done to the Italian peninsula in the sixth century, they did inherit a scarred region, one in which it was difficult to pick up the pieces of Roman society for inclusion in the kingdom. Everett’s assertions of Roman continuity and high levels of literacy on a par with Roman society are questionable, at best, at least without substantially more evidence than is provided here.

In the end this book shows promise but disappoints. While Everett provides detailed examinations of Lombard writings, he fails to provide the type of evidence to support many of his conclusions. The book contains a great deal of information regarding charters, texts, inscriptions and scripts. There are some interesting, possibly even exciting concepts proposed. Unfortunately, the arguments in support of these concepts are frequently flawed and lack sufficient evidence. Lombard society provides evidence of literacy, and writing was important in administrative and social structures, at the elite level at least, and within this context, this book is valuable. However when Everett steps beyond these discussions, the flaws in this book become apparent.

1 I rarely review a book where I am not fairly familiar with the topic under discussion. This book is an exception. I have read some on the Lombards but do not consider myself to be any type of authority on them and have only a passing familiarity with the texts discussed. However the major issues here are with the author’s arguments and I am comfortable discussing these.

2 You’ll note that one of my problems with this book is in its title. It should not have been titled as a book on literacy rather than one on the uses of writing. While the existence of texts is an aspect of literacy, to truly be considered a book on literacy, I believe more attention must be given to those who wrote and those who may have read. The former receives some attention, though not enough, the latter receives almost none, beyond the vagueness of the general theme that if written materials existed there must have been someone to read them. Such is true, but this is not enough for a book on literacy. This would be less of a problem if the promotional materials did not repeat and emphasize the error. For example, the back cover on my paperback edition opens with, “Italy had long experienced literacy under Roman rule but what happened to literacy in Italy under the rule of a barbarian people?”

3 For an argument in favor of a bilingual period see, Wolfgang Haubrichs, “Langobardic Personal Names: Given Names and Name-Giving Among the Langobards,” in, Ausenda, G., Delogu, P., and Wickham, C., eds., (2009). See p. 217 and the subsequent discussion on pp. 242-50.

4 For arguments conflicting with this see Wickham, (2006), pp. 115-22 and Paolo Delogu, “Kingship and the Shaping of the Lombard Body Politic” in Ausenda, G., Delogu, P., and Wickham, C., eds., (2009). Wickham provides substantial evidence against Everett’s argument for extensive Lombard taxation structures through Everett’s period while Delogu substantially discusses the differences in Lombard Italy from Roman with emphasis on Roman society having been so fractured due to the Gothic Wars that developing a successor kingdom utilizing substantial Roman structures was impossible.

Ausenda, G., Delogu, P., and Wickham, C., eds., The Langobards before the Frankish Conquest: An Ethnographic Perspective. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press (2009). ISBN: 978-1-84383-490-8.

Wickham, Chris, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2006). ISBN: 978-0-19-921296-5.

 

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Readings on the Roman Empire I: Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire

I’m just back from a week in KC and completely exhausted (when I restore myself I’ll respond to some of the comments that have been posted over the past few days). It’s not because I over-partied or anything (did party a little but not much) but because of ice. Yup – ice in August. My hotel room was situated near the elevators, which was great, I thought. Between myself and the elevators were only a utility room for housekeeping and the vending alcove. And then there was the bane of my existence, the ice machine.

I’m a light sleeper. I’ve mentioned before how, when I drive, I bring a small fan with me for white noise (I flew this time). When someone filled their ice bucket, the resulting sound reaching my room (at least when my head was on the pillow) resembled the primordial roar of a beast intent on destroying whatever had dared to approach its lair. There had to be an echo factor. And when it recharged, it produced more of a warning growl as if it was within its burrow. Tuesday and Thursday nights must have been the party evenings (Thurs. was the last night). I think I woke up six times Tues. and four or five times on Thurs. Fortunately, I managed to restrain myself before I ran into the hallway to confront whoever was agitating the ice machine beast (the thought entered my mind more than once as I woke in a soporific haze). At least, based on the evals & questions, my presentation was well-received and my booth received a lot of traffic. But next time I’m housed next to an angry vending machine, I’m asking to change rooms.

As is my usual custom, I took something to read which I wouldn’t feel compelled to take copious notes on. This was William A. Johnson’s Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire: A Study of Elite Communities, Oxford: Oxford University Press (2010). ISBN: 978-0-19-517640-7.

This is a good book. What Johnson set out to do was explore and discuss elite literary culture during the Roman Empire from the late 1st century BC into the early 3rd century AD. He used detailed examinations of sources in a case-study format to illustrate the characteristics of literary elites and their peers which formed a restricted, (relatively) closed social circle in the Empire.

Issues discussed include; what were the characteristics of this culture; who were considered members; how might one gain admittance; what type of hierarchy existed within this circle; what were acceptable and unacceptable behaviors of members and; how did members of this circle view themselves and the circle?

I found this to be an interesting and informative book. I knew this literary group existed and that membership in it was fairly restricted, however I was less familiar with specifics such as how a student who was not considered “experienced” might be viewed if he chose to comment on a reading (rather than raising a question), or how a literary elite might respond to a perceived threat or challenge to the group.

I have always known that I must become fairly familiar with and knowledgeable about the Roman Empire to learn about the 4th century and beyond, including the transition to the Medieval Period in Western Europe. This book is very beneficial to me for this purpose. As I finished it, I find myself with a few issues I would like to explore. The continuation of classical literary culture beyond the ending of the Empire is one of the characteristics of Late Antiquity. Ralph Mathisen has argued that the end of this culture can be viewed as an endpoint for Antiquity. I’m familiar with most of the Late Antique “players” and have many of their writings, in translation. I’d like to look into how they continued to view themselves. My sense is that, as their numbers dwindled, they became more open to new admissions to their group, but were unable to find individuals capable of joining.

Another interesting comparison is the contrast between this and Carolingian Literary Culture. I don’t think there’s much of an argument that this existed in the late 8th and 9th centuries. How does this compare with the Roman culture? Was it as restrictive? Were the hierarchies and patterns of acceptable behavior as strict? Most importantly, I think, is; How did members of the Carolingian literary culture view themselves and it? I don’t believe there’s much (any?) evidence for direct continuity between them and the Romans. Did the Carolingians believe there was? Did they view themselves as recreating the Roman culture or did they recognize that this was something new? Did they recognize it as something at all or was this simply an aspect of their environment? Right now I have 22 books on the Carolingians on my “to-read” shelf. I have a sheet of paper with issues I want to be sure to explore tucked in there. The above questions have been added to it.

I don’t have the knowledge to provide a detailed review of this book however I found it useful and an enjoyable read. It’s fairly pricey but if you can find a copy in a library, it’s definitely worth a look.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2011 in Books, Education and Literacy

 

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