Departmental Papers (Classical Studies)

For over two centuries Penn has offered a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs representing all aspects of the broad field of Classical Studies, from languages and literature to history, archaeology and cultural studies. The Department encourages interdisciplinary and comparative approaches to teaching and research and maintains productive ties with a variety of programs, including Religious Studies, English, Comparative Literature, Medieval Studies, Philosophy, Linguistics, Italian Studies, History of Art, and the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.



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Now showing 1 - 10 of 54
  • Publication
    Potior utroque Vespasianus: Vespasian and His Predecessors in Tacitus's Histories
    (2006-01-01) Damon, Cynthia; Damon, Cynthia
    The Histories are threaded through with incidents that allow a comparison between two or more principes. Readers need to be alert to such passages, for Vespasian was preceded by three emperors who got as far as he did but failed to keep their footing there. In essence, Tacitus tells the stories of fall (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) and rise (Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian) three times each, and uses the failures of Vespasian's predecessors to help explain Vespasian's success. Given what remains of the Histories (the last two weeks of Galba, the three months of Otho's principate, Vitellius's uprising against Galba, his defeat of Otho, and his eight-month principate, the Flavian uprising against and defeat of Vitellius, and Vespasian's first eight or so months as princeps in absentia), we can see only how Vespasian succeeded in establishing himself. As to how far, according to Tacitus, success carried into the rest of his decade in power, we are in the dark. In saying that Tacitus creates a portrait of success for Vespasian, I do not mean to imply that his account of that emperor's principate is wholly positive. Indeed, some of the parallel episodes considered below suggest that the civil war context in which Vespasian came to power is characterized by a certain number of constant negatives, such as the excessive influence of imperial freedmen and the fickleness of the Roman populace, and even by deterioration over time, as is illustrated by the decline in military discipline and the increase in senatorial servility. My point is that the presence of parallel incidents in two or more principates enables, and indeed encourages, the reader to measure one princeps against the others and that Vespasian emerges from such an assessment with more to his credit than any of his predecessors. The first such comparative assessment is present in the text: public opinion in Rome in 69, says Tacitus, considered Vespasian better than either Otho or Vitellius (1.50.4: potior utroque Vespasianus). Better, but not necessarily good.
  • Publication
    The Death of Thersites and the Sympotic Performance of Iambic Mockery
    (2003-01-01) Rosen, Ralph M; Rosen, Ralph M
    One of the greatest frustrations confronting the student of archaic Greek poetry is the relative paucity of evidence about performance context. It is often lamented that if we only knew more about the conditions under which a work was performed, we would be in a much better position to understand its poetics - not only its meaning and function for a putatively "original" audience, but also the vicissitudes of its afterlife. Our frustrations in this regard are particularly acute in the archaic iambus - that infamous genre of satire and personal mockery - particularly because of its many transgressive conceits (e.g., aischrologia, abusive mockery, unelevated subject matter, etc.) have always made it difficult for critics to imagine why a poet would be moved to compose this sort of poetry in the first place, and who would want to hear it. If we knew a little more than we do about the circumstances in which iambographers composed and performed, and the particular relationships they expected to develop with an audience, we would presumably be in a much better position to assess cultural attitudes toward poetic satire and mockery, as well as the general dynamics that informed the composition of such poetry.
  • Publication
    Eduard Fraenkel on Horace and Servius, or, Texts, Contexts, and the Field of "Latin Studies"
    (2005-01-01) Farrell, Joseph; Farrell, Joseph
    This essay traces the recent trajectory of the field of "Latin Studies" using the example of interpretations of Horace's Carmen saeculare and showing, in particular, the increasingly comprehensive relevance attributed to historical context. It sketches a shift away from formalist interpretation and, to an even greater degree, away from practices, such as textual criticism, that once virtually defined the field
  • Publication
    Roman Homer
    (2004-01-01) Farrell, Joseph; Farrell, Joseph
    Latinists are accustomed to measuring Homer’s presence in Rome by his impact on Roman poetry. Epic looms largest in this regard, but most poetic genres can be regarded to some extent as derivatives of Homer. And even outside of poetry, Homer’s impact on Latin letters is not small. But the reception of Homer by Roman culture is a very widespread phenomenon that is hardly confined to literature. Homerising literature in Latin needs to be understood as part of a much broader and more pervasive Homeric presence in material culture and social practice. Abundant evidence from the material and social spheres shows that elite Romans lived in a world pervaded by Homer, and would have done whether Roman poets had interested themselves in Homer or not. That the poets did so should be regarded as an outgrowth of material and social considerations rather than as their source. This is not to challenge traditional ideas about the importance of literary–historical engagements with Homer by Livius Andronicus, Ennius, Virgil and others. Such ideas have been voiced many times, and each of these important authors is in his own way justified to claim the title of ‘the Roman Homer’. But habitual celebration of poetic achievement without due attention to the broader cultural milieu in which the poets worked has produced a very partial picture of Homer’s presence throughout Roman culture. Accordingly, in part one of this essay I will survey the nonliterary presence of Homer in Rome and elsewhere in Italy as a context for understanding Homeric elements in the realm of Roman literature. In the second half of the essay, I will proceed to literary evidence, but will focus on those aspects that look to the circulation of Homer in Roman social life, again as a context for more belletristic performances of Homer. In following this procedure, I do not mean to give short shrift to such monuments of Homeric culture as Ennius’ Annales and Virgil’s Aeneid. Rather, I hope to redress an imbalance between the use of literary and nonliterary evidence in assessing Homer’s impact at Rome.
  • Publication
    Tacitus (Ancients in Action)
    (2007-02-13) Damon, Cynthia; Damon, Cynthia
  • Publication
    Legal Action: The Trial As Theater in Aeschylus' Oresteia
    (2002-01-01) Murnaghan, Sheila; Murnaghan, Sheila
    Aeschylus' Oresteia is a key text for analyzing the relationship between law and drama both because it includes the earliest surviving instance of a trial scene in western drama and because it is explicitly concerned with the nature of trials, telling a story of repeated conflict that can only be resolved by the invention of the trial as a new form of action. First produced in Athens in 458 B.C, the Oresteia is a set of three connected tragedies, of which the final one, the Eumenides, concludes with the mythical first trial of a man for homicide, the trial of Orestes, the character who gives the trilogy its name. Orestes is tried for the murder of his mother Clytemnestra, a murder undertaken at the instigation of the god Apollo in retaliation for Clytemnestra's earlier murder of her husband Agamemnon, Orestes' father and the leader of the Greek expedition against Troy; in turn, retaliation for Agamemnon's sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia is one of Clytemnestra's several motives for his murder. These murders take place in Argos, the city ruled by Agamemnon's family, the House of Atreus, but the trial of Orestes takes place in Athens at a court, the court of the Areopagus, which is brought into being by the goddess Athena to adjudicate cases of homicide on this occasion and in the future. The trial in the Eumenides is at once a conclusion-the conclusion to the story of Orestes and his family-and a beginning-the inaugural use of this new court and the inauguration of legal action rather than revenge as the appropriate consequence of an act such as Orestes' matricide.
  • Publication
    Servius and the Homeric Scholia
    (2008-01-01) Farrell, Joseph; Farrell, Joseph
    When we speak of Servius' commentary on the works of Vergil, we understand that the name of Servius, which we use mainly for convenience, cloaks in apparent unity a work that is notable for its diversity and heterogeneity. This remark pertains not only to the existence of two Servian commentaries, the one written by Servius himself in the fifth century and the one compiled several centuries afterwards and eventually published by Pierre Daniel, but also to the diverse prior sources on which both these commentaries are based. It is well known that much of the material in these commentaries is tralatician. Except in a few specific cases, however, we cannot name either the proximate or the ultimate source of any given contribution, nor can we claim to understand fully the general principles that Servius followed in compiling his work. In this paper I will review some of those cases in which we can say with certainty or with reasonable probability how some specific passages in Servius took their current form, and will attempt to clarify what these instances can tell us about Servius' working methods in general. In order to keep this essay within manageable limits, I will confine my examination to passages in which the Servian commentaries show a strong affinity with the exegetical tradition of Homer.
  • Publication
    Precincts of Venus: Towards a Prehistory of Ovidian Genre
    (2005-01-01) Farrell, Joseph; Farrell, Joseph
  • Publication
    Penelope's Agnoia: Knowledge, Power, and Gender in the Odyssey
    (2009-01-01) Murnaghan, Sheila; Murnaghan, Sheila