Departmental Papers (Classical Studies)

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Book Chapter

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The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies

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Most of the literary theorists and critics of classical antiquity who are still studied today – Plato, Aristotle, ‘Longinus’, and a few others – are Greeks. The Romans, who by reputation came late to literature and lacked a theoretical cast of mind, are not generally accorded a prominent place in the development of this discourse. Indeed, few surviving Roman texts address as their main topic the business of literary criticism, at least as that phrase is understood today. Nevertheless, the critical discussion of literature was a popular social activity among the Roman elite and an obligation of the intelligentsia. Horace's Ars Poetica is the closest thing we have to a Roman treatise on literary theory. The only actual treatises on poetics after Aristotle that might be relevant to Roman literature have been found among the essays of the Greek philosopher and poet Philodemus of Gadara.

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Originally published as “Literary Criticism.” In The Oxford Handbook of Roman Studies, ed. A. Barchiesi and W. Scheidel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010: 176–187. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. Available online at

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Date Posted: 12 December 2016