THE PROBLEM WITH THE LATE REPUBLIC
The textual story of the late Roman Republic is a difficult one to tell. Where we would seek a breadth of representative sources, we have a handful of possibly anomalous ones; where we would hope for symmetry of aesthetics, activity, interests, and production, we have disparity in every category that would appear to matter; where we would value evidence for extensive communication between our most fully represented authors – or at least some indication that they recognized each other as authors – we have a handful of letters, one or two cryptic references, and frustratingly little else. We know there were textual “heavy hitters” in this period; we know there were men who wrote vast quantities of literature and men who seem to have captured the very essence of a genre in a few short lines. By the early Empire, the authors of the first half of the first century BCE (and with a few years added to the low end, this is the working definition of “late Republic” in this study) had come to be viewed with a sense of awe and nostalgia, as embodiments of a textual, social, and, in some ways, political world that had become impossibly out of reach. The story of this world seems an undeniably important and exciting one, but it does not give itself up easily.