18-19 June 2015: Conference

Literary Interactions under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian 3: ‘Literary Interactions across Linguistic, Cultural and Religious Boundaries’

Boston, 18-19 June 2015

The third conference in the international research project ‘Literary Interactions under Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian’ was held at Boston University, organized by James Uden and funded through the generous assistance of the Peter Paul Career Development Professorship. There were fifteen speakers in all, who came from the UK, Europe, Canada, and throughout the US, and a number of graduate students, who participated in lively discussions and chaired the panels. The emphasis of this year’s conference was interaction across lines of language, culture, and religion. Again, the papers shed light on a wide variety of interactions of different kinds, many of which cannot be seen merely by attention to verbal parallels between texts.

During the first two conferences in St Andrews and Rostock, speakers increasingly sought to move ‘beyond intertextuality’ in order to analyze moments of interaction between early second-century authors. This trend continued in Boston, when speakers employed a healthy variety of methodological approaches to extra-textual interaction. Rebecca Langlands extended her previous work on cultural memory as a repository of historical knowledge and ethical learning in our period. She demonstrated that Plutarch’s description of the ethical impact of examples reflects an awareness of Roman exemplary discourse. Martin Dinter also made use of the concept of cultural memory to explain the survival of various traditions about Cato the Elder in Frontinus, Martial, and Juvenal. Paul Robertson, on the other hand, introduced and explained the concept of ‘socio-linguistic spheres’. He lucidly demonstrated the usefulness of quantitative approaches for analyzing similarities in texts that straddle categories of genre or religious tradition. In another important contribution, H. Gregory Snyder showed how topography could enable interaction. Using evidence from Martial’s epigrams, he demonstrated that the city itself created opportunities, as well as obstructions, for different groups’ cultural contact.

The expansion of our vision into early Christian and Jewish texts from the period was a notable feature of the Boston conference. Jason König spoke about the (apparently) Trajanic-era epistles of Ignatius of Antioch. He observed parallels to classical texts in the redeployment of festival and civic imagery, yet also urged that we preserve a sense of the alienness of Christian texts within Greco-Roman culture at large. J. Albert Harrill spoke on the pseudo-Pauline epistle to Titus, drawing a persuasive link between the epistle’s language and contemporary debates about the truth value of Greek oracles. Harrill rejected the idea that the author of the pseudo-Pauline epistle had read Plutarch, instead explaining these contemporaneous texts as separate responses to shared cultural phenomena. Azzan Yadin-Israel expanded our vision into Jewish texts from our period, arguing that recent Roman history leaves its mark – if obliquely – on the Rabbinic texts of the early second century. The real differences in cultural values between different religious groups under the Empire should not be underestimated in the process of synchronic analysis of texts. Indeed, Myles Lavan’s important methodological paper focused precisely on the ‘multiple, overlapping axes of difference’ between individuals in our period, which also include legal and class differences of great consequence. Yet Myles also stressed the need to move beyond the simple binary of Roman versus non-Roman, and our papers on the interaction between Roman literary culture and early religious texts contributed to this broader goal.

A number of the presentations at the conference sought to show commonalities and stressed connections between Latin and Greek texts, often in surprising ways. Adam Kemezis analyzed the histories of Florus and Appian, pointing out their deep structural similarities, and suggesting the shared indebtedness of both texts to the Imperial Greek novel. Kelly Shannon spoke about the paradoxographical work of Phlegon of Tralles, and showed both the wide dissemination of Latin and Greek works of this type in the second century, and Phlegon’s specific borrowings from Pliny the Elder. Pliny the Elder also made an appearance in the presentation of Timothy Joseph, whose paper centered on the descriptions of the reigns of Galba and Otho in Plutarch and Tacitus. He demonstrated that images of sight and autopsy were dominant in both texts, and suggested a shared source for both in the lost history of Pliny the Elder. Christopher van den Berg spoke about Pliny, Epistle 1.10, which describes Pliny’s discipleship to the Stoic philosopher Euphrates in Syria. He argued that the ‘Rome of this letter is open to the world beyond’, and that a Roman’s identity in this period ‘is made through interaction with the Greek’.

Other presentations, however, addressed incompatibilities, probing the ways in which Romans and Greeks confronted unfamiliar values and conceptualized cultural difference. Dana Fields spoke about the ‘limits of cultural sharing’. She analyzed the differences between Pliny and Plutarch’s description of patronage, showing that Plutarch’s reticence in discussing patronage stems from his ideal of equality among a closed, aristocratic group. Katarzyna Jazdzewska presented on the differences between Plutarch and Quintilian’s comments on laughter and joking, demonstrating Plutarch’s far greater emphasis on the dangers of ill-considered joking to disturb social harmony. Zsuzsanna Varhelyi introduced useful ideas from modern psychological research about ‘bicultural fluency’. She discussed references to bilingualism in Quintilian, on second-century inscriptions, and in Epictetus, arguing that movements between Latin and Greek should not be seen simply in linguistic terms but rather as varying ‘coded ways of seeing the self’.

The research project ‘Literary Interactions under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian’ has progressively expanded in scope and range over the course of three conferences. It has pushed beyond accepted ideas about textual connectivity (largely developed for the specific literary culture of the Augustan era), in order to encompass broader notions of interaction more appropriate to the world of the early second century. There is more to come – stay tuned for updates! In the meantime, Alice König and Christopher Whitton are currently editing the first volume of papers on Literary Interaction under Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian, and the working papers on this website will remain available as a resource for all who study the cultural and literary life of this fascinating and dynamic period of Greek and Roman life.

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