The reigns of Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian represent a fascinating and important period in Roman imperial history. The dynamics of imperial politics were transformed by Nerva’s unorthodox succession and the transition of power to his successor, Trajan; Hadrian’s attitude to the provinces had a lasting impact both on social dynamics and on cultural and political relations between Rome and the rest of the empire; and the period also witnessed the beginnings of the so-called Greek Second Sophistic and the reinvention of a number of Latin literary genres (notably, satire, epistolography and historiography). These various developments influenced each other; and yet the period has long lacked the kind of study which brings political, social, cultural and literary strands together (compare Augustan, Neronian and Flavian Rome, all of which are well served by such cross-disciplinary studies). The first phase of this project aimed to address that gap; but it also had more specific agenda, focused around intertextuality and the sociology of literary production. It has capitalized not just on a recent upsurge of interest in the Roman authors of the period (witness the raft of recent publications on Pliny the Younger and Martial in particular) but also on an increased awareness amongst scholars of the cross-fertilisation between them and their Greek contemporaries.
Participants with a range of expertise (Latin and Greek, literary, archaeological, philosophical and historical) have explored the overlaps and interactions between a broad spectrum of works – by historians and biographers (Tacitus, Suetonius, Plutarch), satirists and epigrammatists (Juvenal, Martial), orators and philosophers (Pliny the Younger, Dio Chrysostom, Polemon of Smyrna, Favorinus), and military and administrative writers (Frontinus, Arrian, Aelianus Tacticus), among others. These authors not only engaged with each other; they were influenced by – and helped to shape – many of the social, cultural and political developments of the age, both individually and through the creative dialogues they entered into. A collaborative reappraisal of their works has resulted in new readings of individual texts (analysis of Frontinus’ interactions with Martial, Pliny, Plutarch, Tacitus and Aelian, for example, has offered fresh insights into each of these authors), as well as a fuller understanding of their shared concerns and of the intertextual dynamics of literary production at the time. A significant aspect of the project has been the exploration of different models of ‘intertextuality’ (from allusion and citation to interdiscursivity, synchronic parallelism and ‘extratextuality’); and interactions between ‘literary’ and less ‘literary’ phenomena have also been examined. This has developed our understanding of literary culture in the Roman imperial period more generally (by exposing, inter alia, the variety of relationships between texts written in different traditions, and the collective power of their exchanges to shape Roman thought). We have also engaged with broader issues – e.g., trends in the ways in which Romans and Greeks imagined the city of Rome, or explored the realities and rhetoric of Roman rule; and patterns and shifts in the ways in which men of different social and political status negotiated the past, presented political change and continuity, and addressed the changing role of the elite. In so doing, we have explored the interface between literary, social, cultural and political spheres of activity, and considered the ways in which the study of literary interactions can expand – and be informed by – the wider study of the period’s social, cultural and political history. The project has proposed new methodological models (moving beyond some of the paradigms of intertextuality that the study of Augustan literature in particular has established as standard) at the same time as advancing our understanding of Nervan, Trajanic and Hadrianic literature and society specifically.
In its second phase, the project we pushed outwards beyond our primarily Latin focus to explore cross-pollinations between texts that were written in different languages and literary communities. We have explored models – ancient and modern – for conceptualising connections between different literary cultures, and we have considered too the complex interrelationship between literary activity and wider cultural practices (such as client-patron relationships, exemplary discourse, religious observance, architectural criticism, and military training). Our goal has been a richer and more panoramic vision of the dynamics of literary production and consumption across the Empire in this period, and we have engaged in extensive methodological reflections on the disciplinary and theoretical challenges of reading resonances, dialogue and gaps in connectivity between texts from different cultural traditions.
A third phase of the project, now underway, aims to build on those methodological reflections by undertaking an extensive review of the evolution of theories of intertextuality in different scholarly fields. The goal here is both to bridge disciplinary divides and to set some new co-ordinates for the onward study of literary interactivity and interplay in the digital age.
In this podcast, recorded at the start of the project, Alice König introduces the Literary Interactions project and gives a flavour of what we originally set out to achieve by sketching some literary interactions between the Roman author Frontinus and some of his contemporary writers. The first results of our work can be accessed through our two edited volumes.