We Believe in Happy Endings

Working Papers on Nervan, Trajanic and Hadrianic Literature 1.31 (21/3/15)

‘We Believe in Happy Endings: The Romance of Republican History in Florus and Appian’                                                                                        Adam Kemezis

Abstract for a paper given at the project’s 3rd Literary Interactions conference, in Boston, 18-19 June 2015:

Appian and Florus, both writing in the mid-second century AD and describing Roman history down roughly to the start of the Principate, employ the same curious narrative structure to describe the second and first centuries BCE. Both accounts first tell the story of Rome’s foreign conquests down to Caesar’s time (App. Celt. through Mith.; Florus Epit. 1.17-47) before jumping back to a point in the mid-second century BCE and describing Rome’s internal conflicts down to the mid-30s (App. Civ.; Florus 2.1-18); after this the narrative is reunified, and during Augustus’ career foreign and internal wars are described concurrently (App. Aeg.; Florus 2.19-33). This paper will examine this structure and argue that it is similar to the “separated lovers” plot structures common to Greek novels of the same period, and will explore how that similarity affects issues of teleology and narrative perspective. Just as the novelists use mutual erotic attraction to create tension that is resolved in the lovers’ eventual happy reunion, so the historians use Roman virtus or aretē to move the action forward to a point where Augustus can reunite the disparate strands of the narrative. In both cases the resolution becomes a climax beyond which the narrative cannot properly be continued. Thus novelists and historians alike create a narrative perspective in which they and their readers exist in a static space outside of the realm of tension and contigency that their characters inhabit. The emergence of such narrative forms at this time is an important clue to the discursive background behind the political and military stance of Hadrian and Antoninus in reaction to Trajan’s renewed drive to imperial expansion.