Exemplarity In Roman Literature

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The concept of exemplarity was used extensively throughout Roman literature as a tool to give guidance and enforce authority. By providing an ethical framework of societal precedents, exempla served to govern all facets of Roman public life. The system of exemplarity had an inherent power in Roman society, allowing it to be exploited for personal gain by rulers such as Augustus. Through his monumental literary biography, Res Gestae Divi Augusti, Augustus manipulated exemplarity in order to translate his coercive power into benevolent authority over the people of Rome. Exemplarity, in the broadest sense, is system of precedents in Roman history that are passed down through generations to serve as guidance in the decisions of everyday life.…show more content…
In her chapter on the historiography of Roman exemplarity, Christina Shuttleworth Kraus examines this loss of power through the transition of exempla as the res gestae populi Romani to the res gestae divi Augusti (Kraus, 2). In early Roman history, exemplarity rested in the hands of popular consciousness; the citizens of Rome had the sole power of deciding which events or people to raise up to the status of exempla. This system of exemplarity that is explained in detail by Matthew Roller’s four stage model of the creation of exempla by public discourse (Roller, 216-217). However, Roller’s framework begins to collapse when Augustus intentionally influences exemplary power through his coercive Res Gestae. Rather than looking to the past for the great deeds of common people like the Sabine women or Lucretia, Roman citizens of the Augustan period had their attention directed towards the persona of one man, an exemplar in the form of an emperor. Augutus’ Res Gestae served as a means to focus the eye of exemplarity solely on himself. This self-centered approach to exemplarity can be seen explicitly in the language used by the Res Gestae. Throughout the description of his achievements, the only Roman names Augustus mentions specifically are those of consuls to mark the times of events and those of his possible…show more content…
The system of exemplarity analyzed by Roller in the Roman Republican period was focused on public opinion and discourse. This emphasis on the importance of the views of the common Roman mirrors the quasi-representative Senate that ruled Rome from 509 BC to 31BC during the Republic. When Octavian seized power in 31 BC and named himself Augustus the emperor, the balance of political power in Rome shifted away from its citizens. This loss of representation in both society and the political sphere by the citizens of Rome was mirrored by their loss of the identification of exempla. With this as evidence, the system of exemplarity can then be extrapolated into a measure of the Roman population’s influence in comparison with the authoritative government that rules over it. Using this model, it is evident that the citizens of the Roman Republic enjoyed a certain importance in society because they retained the right to decide what historical events should become exempla. Contrastingly, the common people of Rome during the Augustan imperial period were subjected to a coercive loss of influence in both exemplarity and in political representation. Although Augustus’ execution of power through the Res Gestae was authoritarian in nature, it is important to note that the Romans were not entirely opposed to it.
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