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Chapter six examines Cornelia “the mother of the Gracchi,” a prominent matron of the second century BCE. Cornelia’s chief monument is her epithet mater Gracchorum, a phrase that pervasively shapes how she is deployed as an exemplum. The “mothering” so spotlighted is manifest in her exemplary pedagogy and rhetorical prowess, as she reared her sons Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus to be great men and orators, as well as in her fortitude when they died and in her conspicuous chastity. Another key monument, a bronze statue with inscribed base, stood in the Portico of Octavia from the early Augustan age. For Augustus deployed Cornelia (represented by her statue and inscription) as an exemplary precedent for his sister Octavia; and made them jointly into exemplary vehicles for the gendered values and behaviors he otherwise promoted. Cornelia also found resonance in Augustan and later consolatory contexts as an exemplary maternal mourner of dead children.
Chapter four examines Gaius Duilius, a consul and naval commander in 260 credited with winning Rome’s first naval victory, among other “firsts.” A discussion of the events and deeds associated with Duilius, and the associated rhetoric of “firstness,” raises the question of change over time: how, and whether, innovation can occur in an exemplary framework. Duilius also participates in a narrative of moral improvement, constructed by Octavian / Augustus as he sought to ratify his naval victory over Sextus Pompeius in 36 by reference to Duilius’ feat. A broader consideration of moral improvement and decline as models of change over time leads to the question of whether such change can be accommodated within exemplarity, or triggers the emergence of an historicizing perspective. Analysis of a morally contested monument associated with Duilius – his torch-and-flute escort – suggests that Roman observers do not embrace historicizing perspectives given the opportunity, but strive the harder to devise exemplary frameworks that can accommodate anomalous monuments.
Chapter two examines Cloelia, a girl sent as a hostage to the Etruscans to secure a truce. According to legend she courageously escaped, swam the Tiber, and returned to Rome. She is commonly said to display virtus—military valor, or “behavior appropriate to an adult male (vir).” But what does it mean to be a “manly maiden,” a virgo who displays virtus? What norms might she provide for persons of various sexes and ages? Addressing these questions requires nuanced moral reflection. Adding complexity, her courageous escape abrogates the truce and tars the Romans as perfidious. Thus she can serve as a positive or negative exemplum, as the rhetoric of the current argument requires. Finally, an equestrian monument connected with Cloelia seems to make her vividly and immediately “present” to observers—as if they were eyewitnesses to her original performance. Such “timelessness” is a common feature of exemplarity, one which this exemplum particularly thematizes.
Chapter eight, the conclusion, examines Seneca the Younger’s Stoic critique of Roman exemplarity—particularly (but not only) its moral dimension. From a Stoic perspective, Seneca contends that observing individual actions provides insufficient grounds for judging an actor’s moral status. First, judges evaluating single actions may mistake a virtue for a vice, and so misjudge the actor’s moral state. Second, since Stoic ethics values consistency, a person’s true moral state becomes evident only over time, in the performance of many actions in many contexts; no single action provides sufficient information to ground a valid moral judgment. These Stoic critiques impinge heavily upon three of the four operations of Roman exemplarity as described in the introduction. A Stoic exemplary morality is possible, however, if the four operations are revised and given “appropriate” content. Seneca’s critique reveals that “conventional” exemplarity was by no means uncontested, and shows that formal, theorized philosophy can supply an alternative.
Chapter three examines Appius Claudius Caecus, a prominent political figure of the late fourth to early third centuries. The tradition ascribes to him important public works, high-stakes military activity, oratorical prowess, and reforms of the state’s constitutional, legal, and ritual infrastructure. Yet every area of his activity is represented as profoundly controversial, spurring both positive and negative evaluations from contemporary and later judging audiences and permitting him to be invoked as a model for imitation or avoidance in different contexts. For instance, Livy makes him an incompetent general who is forced to pursue alternative arenas of activity and achievement, while Cicero presents him as a “good old Roman” who instantiates upstanding, conservative moral values and who imposes a familial rebuke upon his descendants. This chapter also analyzes key monuments associated with Appius, which themselves display striking and contradictory moral bifurcations.
Chapter five examines Fabius Cunctator, the proponent of military non-engagement or “delaying” during the Hannibalic war. According to legend, Fabius was criticized for cowardice until his strategy was vindicated by events; then he was glorified for his foresight and concern for the commonwealth’s safety. This striking revaluation of his performance from “bad” to “good” within a single moral category (gloria) comes about because Fabius is presented as recognizing, alone, a moral nuance in the Hannibalic war: that displaying valor in battle does not, for the moment, support the commonwealth’s long-term survival. The Fabian exemplum schools audiences in distinguishing among related but distinct moral concepts (especially gloria and virtus), and in understanding what kinds of actions truly serve the community. This moral refinement has rhetorical and political consequences, as later generals and statesmen invoke Fabius to justify disregarding traditional values when they believe circumstances require it.
Chapter one examines the figure of Horatius Cocles, who according to legend defended the “bridge on piles” (pons sublicius) single-handedly and kept an Etruscan attack at bay, saving the city in the earliest years of the Republic. Horatius is richly endowed with monuments—topographical, bodily, textual, and iconographic—and is sometimes adduced as a norm or model for imitation among later Romans. An exemplary exemplum, Horatius provides a particularly suitable vehicle for analyzing the dynamics of commemoration, monumentality, and norm setting. In particular, this chapter studies cases in which the Horatius exemplum is tendentiously shaped to “fit” a certain context, or in which its meaning and value are disputed, or in which debate arises about whether a particular attempt at imitation is successful or unsuccessful, virtuous or vicious. Such polemics and contestation attest to this exemplum’s liveliness and rhetorical effectiveness from the late Republic onward.
Chapter seven examines an episode in the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero: the demolition of his house after he fled into exile in 58 BCE, and the consequences that followed. In the speech “On his house,” Cicero reveals that his enemy Publius Clodius has assimilated him to three legendary “aspirants to kingship” of the early Republic: Spurius Cassius, Spurius Maelius, and Marcus Manlius Capitolinus. These figures, evaluated negatively for their crimes, were supposedly executed and their houses demolished. Two additional negative exempla, Marcus Vaccus and Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, were punished similarly for different transgressions. Cicero strenuously denies that he is a “kingship aspirant,” and he turns these exempla against Clodius instead. His argument depends partly on describing a sequence of monumental structures on and neighboring his housesite, whose vicissitudes track their owners’ fortunes. That Cicero and Clodius wage a bitter political dispute in terms of exemplary models and monuments testifies to the persuasive force exempla were thought to possess.
The Introduction opens with an example of a Roman exemplum – Polybius’ narrative of Horatius Cocles defending the bridge – and proceeds to offer a general model of Roman exemplarity as a notional sequence of four operations: action, evaluation, commemoration, and norm-setting. Exempla play critical roles in three dimensions of Roman culture: they are central to Roman argumentation and persuasion, hence can affect how Romans actually behave; they are central to Roman moral discourse, hence to the establishment, reproduction, and modification of social values; and they presuppose a particular relationship between present and past, and so constitute a kind of historical consciousness. These cultural dimensions are central to the work that examples do in Roman culture, and all are pertinent, in varying degrees, to each of the case studies presented in the chapters to follow. The introduction also includes discussion of the various fields of scholarly inquiry upon which this study impinges.
Historical examples played a key role in ancient Roman culture, and Matthew B. Roller's book presents a coherent model for understanding the rhetorical, moral, and historiographical operations of Roman exemplarity. It examines the process of observing, evaluating, and commemorating noteworthy actors, or deeds, and then holding those performances up as norms by which to judge subsequent actors or as patterns for them to imitate. The model is fleshed out via detailed case studies of individual exemplary performers, the monuments that commemorate them, and the later contexts - the political arguments and social debates - in which these figures are invoked to support particular positions or agendas. Roller also considers the boundaries of, and ancient alternatives to, exemplary modes of argumentation, morality, and historical thinking. The book will engage anyone interested in how societies, from ancient Rome to today, invoke past performers and their deeds to address contemporary concerns and interests.