You are here

14.5.Roller

From the middle Republic to the Augustan era, erecting public monuments in Rome was an arena of aristocratic competition. Victorious generals who commemorated battlefield successes by erecting temples, porticoes, honorific statues, arches, and so on, often selected the location and form of their monuments to spur comparison with preexisting monuments. New monuments thus functioned rhetorically to modify, supplement, or supersede targeted predecessors (Zanker, Power of Images, chs. 2-3). There may be cognitive gain in rethinking this familiar dynamic as “intertextuality.” Here, “textuality” must carry its (post)structuralist sense of “any interworked system of construable signs” (so Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures, 14; also Kristeva in Semeiotike), without privileging writing over other symbolic systems. Alternatively we could abandon the term “intertextuality” as irremediably linked to writing, and coin a neologism—say, “intersematic”—to label similar phenomena in non-literary sign systems. This talk examines three examples of Augustan-era reconfigurations of preexisting monuments, discusses the ideological effects thereby produced, and considers how their “intersematics” relate to literary “intertextuality.”

The first example involves Augustus’ columna rostrata, commemorating his naval victory over Sextus Pompeius (36 BCE). In form, it echoes Gaius Duilius’ columna rostrata, commemorating his naval victory over the Carthaginians (254 BCE). Augustus restored Duilius’ monument, affixed an archaizing inscription, and placed his own column nearby. He also included Duilius in the gallery of principes viri in the Forum Augustum; the accompanying elogium refers to Duilius’ column. The effect of this monumental texture is to secure Duilius’ memory as a great naval commander, while enfolding him in a teleological narrative with Augustus as “end” (Roller, Cambridge Companion to the Roman Historians). This effect is achieved by including the older monument—a “direct quotation,” a typical authorizing strategy (Conte, Genres and Readers, 57-60); by referring to it textually; and by erecting a new monument modeled on the old—conscious emulation, marking the successor’s greater achievement.

The second example involves the porticus Octaviae. Its predecessor on the site, the porticus Metelli, was dedicated in the 140s-130s BCE to display sculpture looted by Metellus from Macedonia. Augustus renovated and reprogrammed it, changing its name (20s BCE). Why? Key to understanding this is the statue of Cornelia mater Gracchorum, which stood in the porticus Metelli and persisted in its successor. Identified by an Augustan inscription, this monument presented Cornelia’s matronal performance as exemplary model for Octavia. But this statue was probably not identified as Cornelia before the first century BCE, and perhaps not before the Augustan reinscription (Ruck, MDAI(R) 2004). The statue thus represents an inclusion from an earlier sign-system but probably not an interseme: being recently re-identified, it does not convey meaning from its original context. Scholars of intertextuality call an apparent intertext that lacks significance a “reminiscence;” here the dynamic may be similar (e.g., Thomas, HSCP 1986: 174; Farrell, Vergil’s Georgics, 21-23).

The third and most complex example involves the porticus Liviae, erected under Augustus on the site where Vedius Pollio’s luxurious house had been demolished. Ovid (Fasti 6.637-48) and Dio (54.23) say the porticus stood in a polemical relation to its predecessor: it represented the opening up of previously “private” luxury into the public sphere (Zanker in L’Urbs: Espace Urbain). Yet no reference to or inclusion of Vedius’ house, to our knowledge, survived in its successor to convey this message: the final constellation of signs contains no “interseme” whatsoever. The “interseme” is the site itself, the succession of superposed structures, whose existence and significance is revealed only via another sign system altogether, namely writing. I know no literary analogy to this situation, where no trace of the target text is visible in the referring text and the crucial relationship is revealed only paratextually.

Sign systems besides writing thus display modes of inclusion, allusion, reference, reminiscence, and correction that resemble “intertextual” ones and function similarly. But they also display intersematic phenomena unparalleled in text, the awareness of which enriches our understanding of intersematic phenomena more generally.

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy