Session One Abstracts

Panel A – Literary Portrayals of Figures in the Roman World

  • Melanie Fitton-Hayward, University of Nottingham: Translating the Narrator: seeing, feeling, hearing Virgil’s voice in modern translations

Abstract: Virgil’s Aeneid is told through a variety of voices: multiple character focalisations and a third person, external narrator. But even the external narrator is not a straightforward, single voice – it is often subjective in style and ambiguous in meaning. Casting its opinions on the text, and involving itself emotionally in the plot and its characters, Virgil’s narrator encourages the audience to interpret the text in a certain way.

The influence of such a present narrator is complicated when the text is translated, and the narrator inevitably takes on a new identity. The narrative differences may be accidental (because of the translator’s context, or motivation for translating) or intentional (in order to present the translator’s own understanding of the text, to best suit its contemporary audience, or to accommodate a personal, social, or cultural agenda). Whatever the reason, the translator constructs a narrator through which to tell the story, and must decide whether to adopt an orthodox or dissenting representation of Virgil’s original storyteller.

In this paper I will use examples of narrative apostrophe to examine how the narrator (both in the original Latin and in a range of modern English translations) interacts with the larger narrative, the plot, and its characters. Theories of narratology, Virgil’s own voice, and translation will be used to underpin my textual analyses, and to ascertain how an orthodox or dissenting representation of Virgil’s narrator manifests itself. Due in part to the decline in Latin literacy (and the subsequent growing reliance upon translations), such dissenting translators may have a huge impact on our (and future) generations’ understanding of the way in which the text is voiced, and therefore how we as readers should interpret it.


  • Phyllis Brighouse, University of Liverpool: Classics versus Politics: A New Interpretation of John Buchan’s ‘Biography of Augustus’

Abstract: This paper examines John Buchan’s life of Augustus, the text of which contains a coded challenge to Mussolini’s authority in Rome. As well as being the novelist who wrote The Thirty Nine Steps and Greenmantle, Buchan gained a degree in Classics at Brasenose College, Oxford. Buchan was subsequently a historian, a lawyer, a civil servant, an MP, and ended his career as Governor General of Canada. His life of Augustus was written in 1937 while Buchan was Governor General, in the context of the bi-millennium of Augustus’ birth on 23 September 1938. It was well received in contemporary Classical journals. During these celebrations, Mussolini drew parallels between the Roman Augustan past and the Rome of which he was leader.

 Buchan, in an address to the Workers’ Educational Association in 1914, had urged historians to be open and honest about their prejudices, their selection of material and their historical judgements. This, he stated, made it acceptable for historians to make moral judgements about events.

Buchan’s selection of material for Augustus is revealing. Buchan’s religious beliefs are closely tied to his Classical reception, and he was a fervent anti-fascist. Buchan implicitly contrasts Augustus’ Rome with the British Empire, as representative of the ideal model of Empire in line with Augustus’ reforms. He draws attention to Augustus’ constitutional reforms, his attempts to increase Roman democracy, and emphasises the way Augustus’ dictatorship always remained within constitutional limits. Buchan’s final chapter ends with an explicit statement contrasting the individual freedom and autonomous self-government enjoyed by those over whom Augustus ruled, and the inhabitants of all modern nations who had willingly rejected such rule in favour of autocratic government. Augustus is structured as a critique of all Fascist government, including that of Mussolini.


  • Luisa Fizzarotti, Aarhus University: Camus and Suetonius: Orthodoxy and History

Abstract: Albert Camus read the Lives of the Twelve Caesars for the first time in 1932 when he was eighteen years old and he was studying Literature in Algiers. This reading was fundamental to him and, after a few years, he began working on a masterpiece that would have accompanied him throughout World War II and on.  The title of this work is Caligula. Camus composed three editions of the text, the first one in 1938-9, the second one in 1941 and the last one in 1958. This play changed with him, reflecting the events of the history of those years. It was quite easy, in fact, to recognize Hitler behind the mask of the insane Emperor. After Hitler’s fall, there was no place for love, compassion, or justification: the author, therefore, modified his play, eliminating passionate anecdotes and increasing the moralistic pattern. As he reported in his Préface à l’édition américaine du théâtre and in Programme pour le Nouveau Théâtre, the main source for his work has been the fourth book of Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars, the one dedicated to Caligula. It is possible to recognize other unmentioned sources in this play, as, for example, the historical works by Dio Cassius, Philo Judaeus and Flavius Josephus. Camus quotes Suetonius faithfully, crafting a masterly, orthodox remake. The presence of Suetonius’ work, though, is greater in the first edition than it is in the others. The aim of this paper is to analyze the mechanisms of selection and fidelity to the model in Camus’ Caligula across his three editions, in order to understand the reasons why the author moved from his main source as the History proceeded.


Panel B – Founding Fathers of Orthodoxy or Dissent

  • Christoph Pretzer, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University: Simon Magus in the 12th-century Middle High German ‘Kaiserchronik’

Abstract: The figure of Simon Magus has experienced an astonishing afterlife in academic, literary and popular reception. Presented as the first dissenter against Christian orthodoxy by early Christian writers like Irenaeus and Justin but also in apocryphal texts like the Acts of Peter, he became the eponym of the sin of simony in the 11th century. Later he morphed into an enigmatic presence between heretic, sorcerer, scientist, philosopher, villain, scoundrel, trickster, and consort of demons. Oscillating between those roles he made his way from Marlowe’s to Goethe’s Faust, via Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, even into the popular universes of the Cthulhu Mythos and DC Comics.

However, one of the earliest and very successful receptions of this charismatic figure features in the 12th-century Middle High German Kaiserchronik, which presents the history of the Roman Empire from its mythological foundation until the present day. While its anonymous author and his presumptive audience clearly perceived themselves in a political continuum with the Roman Empire of Antiquity they are strikingly separated from its pagan past by their orthodox Catholic religion. Thus it is one of the main concerns of the chronicle to present the gradual process of Christianisation of the Roman Empire, mainly conveyed in the text by a string of miracles, martyrdoms and sundry missionary efforts. In this process Simon Magus features quite prominently. Heavily influenced by the tradition of the Pseudo-Clementine Writings the Kaiserchronik presents Simon Magus as a formidable sorcerer and charismatic opponent to Peter, Paul and other early Christians and a close ally of Nero and his antagonistic machinations.

In my paper I will not only show how the heretic Simon Magus is presented in the Kaiserchronik and how this image relates to its early Christian sources but also try to establish what purpose this specific rendition served in the Kaiserchronik and in the context of 12th-century notions of antiquity, orthodoxy and religion.


  • Gabriela Ingle and Gary Vos, University of Edinburgh: The reassessment of some “Christian” funerary inscriptions

Abstract: In the 19th century Giovanni Battista De Rossi, the head of the Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra, published a catalogue of early Christian objects from Porto. The list contained a fragment of a marble sarcophagus lid decorated with a banquet scene and a Greek inscription, which is now displayed in Villa G. Tittoni in Manziano. De Rossi’s interpretation and translation of the epitaph was not questioned by contemporary scholars and left no doubt about the Christian affiliation of the object, which has been since classified as such without any further investigation.

It took over a century to question certain assumptions regarding funerary inscriptions – for example, formulas such as depositio or in pace should not be taken as a definite indicator of Christian usage of an object. This has only been possible thanks to a modern revaluation of the orthodox understanding of the development of Roman catacombs. The paper will present an alternative, not-Christian interpretation of the epitaph from Manziano based on the most recent scholarly research.


  • Spencer J Weinreich, Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford: This, too, shall pass: Pedro Ribadeneyra, S.J. and the Emotional Weight of History

Abstract: Scholars have long recognized the centrality of the early church to the intellectual history of both the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. Writers of every confessional allegiance looked to the first Christian centuries to establish the historicity—and thus orthodoxy—(or lack thereof) of particular practices or institutions. Less acknowledged is the viscerally emotional significance such history could have for those same authors. This paper examines the historical writings of Pedro de Ribadeneyra, S.J. in two very different emotional contexts to explore these distinct modes of engagement. The first part of Ribadeneyra’s Historia eclesiástica del scisma del reyno de Inglaterra was published in 1588, just before the Spanish Armada set sail; the second appeared six years later, in the wake of the fleet’s disastrous failure and the subsequent renewed persecution of English Catholics. Comparison of the two texts reveals that even as the set of sources—foremost among them Augustine, Ambrose, Eusebius, and Cyprian—remains consistent, the rhetorical framing shifts dramatically. The historical dimension of the first part is fairly standard: a marshaling of ancient forerunners for both Protestant persecution and Catholic martyrdom. Against the background of Ribadeneyra’s characterization of Spain’s post-Armada disengaño (disillusionment) and his writings on tribulation and consolation, the paper argues that the second part of the Historia draws on history to work through the trauma of Catholic disasters. Just as previous persecutions ended with the Catholic Church’s triumph, so too must this one. In this shift, Ribadeneyra has altered the temporal orientation of his writing: rather than connecting the present to its antecedents, he attempts to map the past onto the future. The Historia—often seen as yet another piece of polemic masquerading as history—represents an early modern exploration of a very different emotional register for writing about the past


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