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Title: Siblings and the Fraternal Imaginary in Roman Republican Literature
Authors: Wilson, Thomas Alexander
Advisors: Feeney, Denis C
Contributors: Classics Department
Keywords: Brothers
Latin literature
Subjects: Classical literature
Classical studies
Ancient history
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Siblings, it seems, should have been important in Roman culture. After all, the Romans traced their city’s origin to its foundation by twins, one of whom killed the other in that act of foundation. Pairs of brothers appear at significant moments in Roman political history, and siblings take central roles in Roman literature of various periods. I contend that the earliest surviving works of Latin literature show a remarkable preoccupation with siblings alongside considerable flexibility in how they understand these relationships. The key paradox of brotherhood – its potential to evoke both harmony and rivalry – and the strong normative expectations around fraternal devotion were available to be exploited and subverted by Roman authors. These factors, coupled with the familiarity of the relationships, made them “good to think with” about a wide range of topics.Plautus’ plays thematize siblings as a lens on a number of other topics under the rubric of separation. The plays relate questions of identity, migration, kinship, war and enslavement to the real and metaphorical sibling relationships which appear onstage; the stability, familiarity and normative expectations associated with these relationships are consistently invoked as the plays grapple with Rome’s changing place in the Mediterranean world. Ennius’ treatment of the Romulus and Remus story emphasizes the closeness of the fraternal connections and the violence of the conflict. Ennian tragedy explores the entanglement of brotherhood in the larger world of kinship, while also reflecting on war and separation. Siblings structure and focus the exploration of kinship in Terence’s comedies, and contribute to the plays’ polemical literary program. Adelphoe is an engagement with treatments of brothers in Plautine comedy, as well as framing topical concerns about education, fatherhood and cultural contact in terms of brotherhood. The ongoing application of these frameworks to new topics reveals that siblings had enough flexibility to remain relevant, and were relevant enough to be worth reinventing. The developments I trace are instances of developments in Roman culture more generally; I argue that these texts must be read in dialogue with other cultural phenomena in which brothers are clearly doing important conceptual work.
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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