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Title: Exemplarity in Tacitus: Literary, Cultural, and Political Contexts
Authors: Wood, Clement
Advisors: Feldherr, Andrew M
Contributors: Classics Department
Keywords: Agricola
Subjects: Classical literature
Classical studies
Ancient history
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation is the first full study of how Tacitus reflects, uses, and critiques the discourse of exemplarity–the characteristically Roman practice of performing, evaluating, commemorating, and imitating models (exempla)–in his historical works. While Roman historians traditionally presented figures, events, or deeds from the past as exempla for readers to imitate or avoid, Tacitus emphasizes the challenges to this conventional purpose in his histories of Imperial Rome, which he depicts as a world where imitation can be dangerous and the scope for action limited because of corrupt senators or hostile emperors. In response, I argue, Tacitus shifts the focus of exemplarity from reproducing actions to learning from models of judgment and evaluation. I suggest that many modern scholars have dismissed the importance of exemplarity in Tacitus because he departs from the paradigm associated with his predecessor Livy and with the sociopolitical dynamics of the Roman Republic, which underpin much of the recent work on exemplarity in Roman culture. But with the development of the idea of the emperor as a model throughout the first century CE, exemplarity was a live issue in the times which Tacitus describes and in which he wrote. By extending the insights of scholarship on exemplarity to Tacitus, I argue that his ambiguous exempla can serve the constructive purpose of honing his readers’ skills of moral reasoning. In five chapters, I advance these claims through close readings of Tacitus’ texts and their engagement with the historiographical tradition and the discourses of senatorial and imperial conduct. The first three examine how Tacitus builds his conception of exemplarity through an intertextual dialogue with Sallust and Livy in the Agricola, Histories, and Annals. In the next two chapters, I read all three works in light of contemporary debates about the roles of senators and principes in Imperial Rome, with frequent comparison to Pliny the Younger’s Letters and Panegyricus. My project therefore contributes to three areas of ongoing critical inquiry: the literary and sociopolitical aims of Tacitus’ historiography, exemplarity in Latin literature and Roman culture, and literary and cultural interactions in the reigns of Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Classics

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