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Valerius Maximus, Stoicism, and Roman Practices of Exemplarity

Ermanno Malaspina

After the trailblazing works of Fleck 1974 and Maslakov 1984, in the last two decades an increasing number of articles and monographs have explored the concept of “exemplarity,” understood as key-concept for a deeper understanding of Valerius Maximus (V.M. henceforth). Even if the practical function of Facta ac Dicta Memorabilia as a repository for school and declamatory culture cannot be denied, the principles of selection, the elaboration of the sources, and, above all, the moral implications of these exempla have been systematically targeted. The works of Bloomer 1992, Skidmore 1996, David 1998, Lehmann 1998, Weileder 1998 and Lucarelli 2007, just to mention some of the most important contributions, have reshaped our perception of V. M.’s hierarchy of values, behaviors and ethics. They have deepened our appreciation of both the relation of his Facta ac Dicta to imperial politics and their broader, morally charged reasoning on the effects of the civil wars. This tragic event reverberates on the idea of exemplum that Valerius Maximus reshapes by reinterpreting political virtues in the strict context of personal values, and by shifting the reality of war from the space of history to the investigation of human inner conflicts (Lucarelli 2007, 210-296).

The purpose of this paper is to examine the links between V. M.’s system of values and that of Stoic ethics. While some considerable scholarship has been produced  which tackles the presence and function of single virtues like concordiaconstantiafidesmoderatiopietas, and severitas in V.M. (Simon 2002, Lobur 2004, Perruccio 2005, Langlands 2008), an attempt to more generally assess the influence of Stoic doctrine in his work is still missing. To evaluate the Stoic roots of V.M.’s system, I will look backward to Cicero and forward to Seneca. On the one hand, I will show how V.M. utilizes Cicero’s principle of natural rights (Girardet 1995) to implicitly establish his ethnocentric vision of Roman virtues; on the other, I will argue that the reduction of political and social categories, such as amicitia and fides, to the moral sphere of the single individual’s good or bad behavior will appropriated by Seneca to guide the good Prince away from any dangerous form of constitution and from “politics” in general, in order to acquaint the good Prince with the positive principle of clementia (Malaspina 2004 and 2009).

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Politics by Other Means? Ethics and Aesthetics in Roman Stoicism

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