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Chapter 9 - Keeping/Losing Records, Keeping/Losing Faith

Suetonius and Justin Do the Document

from Part II - Imperial Infrastructure: Documents and Monuments

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 April 2020

Alice König
Affiliation:
University of St Andrews, Scotland
Rebecca Langlands
Affiliation:
University of Exeter
James Uden
Affiliation:
Boston University
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Summary

The mushrooming bureaucracy of the Roman empire made much of documents. These written records – rescripts, inscriptions, edicts, among other things – became a gold standard of authority within a certain ideological schema. But the system was also open to ruffling. This chapter looks at how two seemingly unrelated authors – Justin Martyr and Suetonius – lodged their respective challenges to the authority of the imperial document. First, it examines how Justin manages to be parasitic on the fidelity of the document to find an authorised imperial home for Christianity, at the same time as he devalues the cold culture of official writing against the hot Christian culture of orality and immediacy. Second, it explores how Suetonius stages a movement in his Caesars from faith in the imperial written bureaucracy to disenchantment with documents, and to a concomitant investment in oral forms of knowledge. Most importantly, this epistemological drift actually explains the infamous ‘decline’ of the Caesars from dutifully documented, bureaucratically robust biography to glorified gossip column. The discourse of the document provides a new language of interaction to conduct this meeting of disparate texts.

Type
Chapter
Information
Literature and Culture in the Roman Empire, 96–235
Cross-Cultural Interactions
, pp. 203 - 222
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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