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Cultural memory theory is a framework which elucidates the relationship between the past and the present. At its most basic level, it explains why, how, and with what results certain pieces of information are remembered. Despite its origins in historiographical scholarship, however, in recent years cultural memory has been applied with increasing frequency to the study of the Classics, most notably in Gowing’s (2005) and Gallia’s (2012) exploration of memory under the Principate as well as the edited volumes by Galinsky (2014), (2016a), and (2016b). As the organisers of the ‘Roman Cultural Memory’ project, we are glad to count ourselves part of this emerging wave. We held three conferences to promote intersections between memory theory and Classics research, the first in November 2016 at King’s College London, the second in June 2017 at the Université Paris-Est Créteil, and the third in March 2018 at the University of São Paulo.
Roman comedies transcend the isolated pockets of time in which they are set. Their characters have histories, and their plots are influenced by past events. The audience peers into these with voyeuristic curiosity, as does Periphanes, the senex (‘old man’) of Plautus’ Epidicus: ‘It would be good if people had mirrors … they could then think about how they lived their lives long ago in their youth’ (Plaut. Ep. 382–7). The suspense of comedy lies, however, in the vagueness of these very histories; if the figures of the Epidicus had truly possessed ‘mirrors’, Periphanes would have instantly recognised the slave-musician Telestis as his daughter and there would be no narrative to speak of. The complex relationship which comedy holds with its pasts is therefore advantageous to the audience, who derive no little laughter from watching comic characters grapple with their histories.
Cultural memory is a framework which elucidates the relationship between the past and the present: essentially, why, how, and with what results certain pieces of information are remembered. This volume brings together distinguished classicists from a variety of sub-disciplines to explore cultural memory in the Roman Republic and the Age of Augustus. It provides an excellent and accessible starting point for readers who are new to the intersection between cultural memory theory and ancient Rome, whilst also appealing to the seasoned scholar. The chapters delve deep into memory theory, going beyond the canonical texts of Jan Assmann and Pierre Nora and pushing their terminology towards Basu's dispositifs, Roller's intersignifications, Langlands' sites of exemplarity, and Erll's horizons. This innovative framework enables a fresh analysis of both fragmentary texts and archaeological phenomena not discussed elsewhere.