Department Colloquium: Virginia Closs (University of Massachusetts Amherst) "Before and After: Cycles of Destruction and Renewal in Martial’s Rome"

Thursday, January 27, 2022 - 4:45pm to 6:15pm

On Zoom, registration link below. This talk will only be on Zoom, not in person.

Speaker: Virginia Closs, Associate Professor of Classics, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Title: "Before and After: Cycles of Destruction and Renewal in Martial’s Rome"

Abstract: This study examines a series of poems in which Martial contrasts the present state of the city with its recent past in order to praise a current leader (and, implicitly or explicitly, to criticize a past one). As this poetic strategy develops over some two decades, it offers “snapshots” not only of a succession of emperors, destructions, and renewals, but also of the precarious nature of the relationship between authors and emperors. Although each of these texts individually paints a picture of restoration and progress, taken together they suggest that this vision is erased as quickly as it appears. Thus, the totality of Martial’s poetic project constructs a “timescape” of the city that is distinct from the poet’s concrete descriptions of spaces and objects. This time-traveling dialogue between past and present develops not only as these themes are addressed explicitly in the poems, but also as each poem implicitly recalls and informs our reading of the previous ones. Ultimately, this dialogue informs the constant tension between notions of ephemerality and permanence— as well as between the author’s literary “stamp” on the city and the monumental legacy of the princeps—that are central preoccupations of Martial’s work overall.


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