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Recusatio as Political Theatre: Horace's Letter to Augustus*

  • Kirk Freudenburg (a1)


Among the most potent devices that Roman emperors had at their disposal to disavow autocratic aims and to put on display the consensus of ruler and ruled was the artful refusal of exceptional powers, or recusatio imperii. The practice had a long history in Rome prior to the reign of Augustus, but it was Augustus especially who, over the course of several decades, perfected the recusatio as a means of performing his hesitancy towards power. The poets of the Augustan period were similarly well practised in the art of refusal, writing dozens of poetic recusationes that purported to refuse offers urged upon them by their patrons, or by the greater expectations of the Augustan age, to take on projects. It is the purpose of this paper to put the one type of refusal alongside the other, in order to show to what extent the refusals of the Augustan poets are informed not just by aesthetic principles that derive, most obviously, from Callimachus, but by the many, high-profile acts of denial that were performed as political art by the emperor himself.


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For their many helpful comments and criticisms I wish to thank the journal's anonymous readers, as well as the two editors of JRS who helped guide me through the process of publication: Greg Woolf gave the paper a fair chance and provided crystal clear and sensible suggestions for its improvement, and Catherine Steel helped me re-think some of the paper's basic assertions on my way to cleaning up and solidifying the final version. The basic ideas of this paper were tested out in lecture form at Yale University, at the International Conference on Poetics in the Greco-Roman World, held at the University of Belgrade in October 2011 (co-sponsored by the Institute of Classical Studies, University College, London), and at the University of São Paulo in March of 2013. Helpful criticisms were provided at each of these venues. Special thanks are owed to Alessandro Barchiesi and Maurizio Bettini for commenting on early versions of the paper, and to Joe Farrell for providing several criticisms of, and expressing an encouraging degree of enthusiasm for, a near-final version. Given the paper's large size, I was not able to incorporate all of the ideas and further considerations that my readers urged me to take on. But I plan on giving this article a second, expanded life as a book chapter, and it is there that I hope to give my readers’ suggestions all the room they need to breathe.



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Recusatio as Political Theatre: Horace's Letter to Augustus*

  • Kirk Freudenburg (a1)


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