19-20 June 2013: Conference

‘Literary Interactions under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian’

St Andrews, 19-20 June 2013

Organised by Alice König and hosted by the School of Classics at the University of St Andrews, with funding from the BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants Scheme and the School of Classics, with the support of the Classical Association, who funded five bursaries for postgraduate participants.

The aim of this conference was to bring different authors of the period (from all over the empire) into dialogue with each other, with a view to enhancing our understanding both of individual texts and of the literary culture(s) in which they were produced. Participants were asked to examine shared interests, creative tensions, and the wide-ranging dynamics of literary interaction which evolved between writers like Martial, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Juvenal, Suetonius, Plutarch, Dio Chrysostom, Favorinus, Arrian, and Appian. In the process, they were also encouraged to consider broader issues (for example, the different ways in which contemporary writers talked about intellectual life, engaged with artistic trends, positioned themselves vis-à-vis other authority figures, addressed the changing role of the elite, negotiated political change and continuity, and interrogated the realities and rhetoric of Roman imperial rule), as a way of exploring the interface between literary activity and cultural, social and political life.

Speakers rose to the challenge and presented a stimulating series of papers that experimented with methodologies, examined gaps in dialogue, as well as direct and indirect authorial/textual interactions, looked backwards and forwards over time (to the Flavian period, and earlier, and to the later ‘Second Sophistic’, Late Antiquity, and beyond), considered less (or even un-)literary texts, as well as more conventionally ‘literary’ works, and took us from the centre of Rome to the edges of its territories. With a predominantly Latin focus, papers interrogated a diverse range of relationships between panegyrical/self-promoting texts and invective (Fitzgerald, on Pliny the Younger and Martial), epigram and political/administrative writing (König, on Martial and Frontinus), epistolography and historiography (Lavan, on Pliny Y and Tacitus), epic and historiography (Buckley, on Valerius Flaccus and Tacitus; Rimell, on Virgil and Tacitus), rhetorical writing (van den Berg and Whitton, on Quintilian, Pliny Y, Tacitus and Fronto), variations in paradoxography (Ash and Shannon, on Pliny the Elder, Statius, Pliny Y, Juvenal, Suetonius and Phlegon of Tralles), and uses and abuses of the exempla tradition (Morello and Langlands, on Martial and Pliny Y). The nature and extent of cross-pollination between authors whose literary interactions are relatively well-documented was re-examined (e.g., Kelly, on Martial and Juvenal); and lost communications between literary figures about whose interactions we can now only speculate were imaginatively reconstructed (Gibson, on Gaius Minicius Fundanus, Suetonius, Pliny Y, Plutarch and Sosius Senecio). Contemporary ideas about literary production and consumption were explored in papers on book culture (Howley, on Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio of Prusa, inter alia) and intellectual communities (Madsen, on Plutarch, Dio and Lucian); and interactions between writing and social, cultural and political developments were widely examined (e.g. Uden, on Hadrian, Juvenal and Aelius Aristides).

Speakers and discussants raised (and revisited) important methodological questions (e.g., what counts as ‘dialogue’/‘interaction’/‘allusion’/‘imitatio’/‘cross-ferilisation’, etc? how should we approach suggestive parallels, indirect echoes, or even apparent gaps in dialogue/interaction? (to what extent) does authorial intention matter? what assumptions about ancient readers and reading strategies can we make and apply?). In exposing overlaps and interaction between ‘literary’ and administrative, legal, imperial and other less/non-‘literary’ texts, the conference prompted reflection not just about generic categorisations but about the very definition of ‘literature’ itself, as it was practiced and understood in the period (where was ‘literature’ thought to start and stop? who was it for? what was it designed/understood to achieve?). Overlaps between literary, social and political interactions raised questions about the relationship and boundaries between literary, social and political life more generally, and underlined (inter alia) some of the methodological challenges involved in distinguishing between texts and their authors. The relationship between oral and textual practices and traditions was considered, as was the correspondence between literary activity and other forms of intellectual endeavour in the period. And – in that context and others – participants considered the merits and disadvantages of persisting with the modern scholarly habit of approaching Greek and Latin literature as separate entities (one of the things that is distinctive about literary production and consumption under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian is the increasing interaction and cross-fertilisation that we see between Greek, Latin and other traditions). Interactions between contemporaries were compared with interactions between living and (sometimes long-)dead authors, shedding further light on the dynamics of literary production and consumption; and in the course of exploring some of the roots of Nervan, Trajanic and Hadrianic literary trends, it became clear that more research is needed particularly into overlaps and interactions between Flavian and post-Flavian literature and culture (in response, in part, to a tendency to over-emphasize disjunctions between the two eras). Evidence began to emerge, too, of the significant role played by literary interactions (as opposed to individual texts) in shaping a whole raft of contemporary discourses and debates (about truth, identity, cultural (dis)continuity, and political (dis)order, inter alia).

The range of contrasts and correspondences that were exposed between different authors and texts highlighted the need for further collaborative study of this rich and interconnected body of material, for the insights that Nervan, Trajanic and Hadrianic literary interactions have to offer into the period as a whole, as well as into its literary culture specifically. To this end, two further conferences are being planned, for June 2014 and June 2015. At least one collection of papers will be published, with further contributions planned for the online Working Papers in Nervan, Trajanic and Hadrianic Literature series. A team based at St Andrews and directed by Alice König is also developing a wider-ranging research project on interactions between literary and less-literary/non-literary spheres of activity (military, administrative, technical, legal, political, economic, religious, and artistic) under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian. As well as exploring the interface between literature and society across the empire in that period, from a range of angles, the project aims to interrogate some of the methodologies that underpin such a study, and to produce (among other things) a new cultural history of Nervan, Trajanic and Hadrianic times.