The Use of Exempla from Cicero to Pliny the Younger

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Classical Literature and Philology
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This dissertation expands our picture of Roman exemplarity by focusing on exempla as they are used to construct arguments. In contrast to recent studies of the practice, instead of focusing on repeatedly cited instances in a series of different texts, my argument centers on repeated patterns in which authors deploy exempla. I suggest that Roman exemplarity constructs a mode of moral and practical reasoning that conditions its users to repeat a pattern of imbuing and responding to meaning in the exempla they select for themselves. I focus on texts that present themselves as dealing directly with contemporary society: in particular forensic oratory, epistolography and satire. Cicero and Pliny the Younger provide the central anchors for my discussion. The chapters of this dissertation frame and supplement the current discussion by exploring several of the most prominent uses of exempla. The first chapter builds on Quintilian's discussion of exemplary comparison to demonstrate the malleable nature of moral arguments based in comparisons between narratives. The second chapter focuses on exempla featuring nameless figures which consequently emphasize patterns of action rather than the authority of the actor. Such exempla display close connections with declamations and fables, creating a triangle of relationships through which factual and fictional narratives influence one another. In my third chapter, I demonstrate that exempla which claim to illustrate how things are provide a powerful means to forestall judgment or obscure status distinctions. The final chapter explores the frequently superficial deployment of exempla as emblems: where anonymous exempla emphasize actions as opposed to actors, exempla deployed as emblems foreground the status and authority of the actor while downplaying the narrative details of the action. Exemplarity provides a useful window onto the patterns of Roman moralism.

Joseph Farrell
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