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Creating polytopic and de-centered identities: A Greek answer to exile imposed by the Roman Policy?

Maria Vamvouri Ruffy

University of Lausanne

In Favorinus’, Plutarch’s and Dio’s treatises On Exile, a philosophical position is given to fervent contemporary issues such as the exile imposed by Roman authorities to the speaker himself or to a close friend of him. These texts belong to the Consolatiotradition in that they offer a solace to exile and invite one to think about the deeper meaning of homeland and exile. My paper explores the specific philosophical proposals and discursive devices through which these treatises expose the artificiality of exile and borders. It further asks to what extent this presumed artificiality questions and undermines the autocratic power of the emperor who banishes his enemies. 

In all the three treatises, those in exile have to adopt a de-centralized position in order to balance and put into perspective their condition and their identities.The exiled individual may thus stand between two realities and endorse different provisional identities that are constantly reinvented. This in-betweenness and the peripheral positioning it creates are themselves an answer to unilateral confinement and exclusion; it's a continuous back and forth movement that due to its constantly shifting nature subverts the rigidity of frontiers and makes them porous. In Plutarch, a person in exile is invited to take a vertical look towards the sky, our true homeland, and thus experience a cosmopolitanism through a celestial contemplation and a virtual displacement. For Favorinus, being an exile is nothing but playing an actor's role. In this perspective, a person in exile has to remain detached and separate from this role. The metaphor of theater means that the experience of exile requires the wearing of a mask that enables one to take some distance from his own condition: the polytropiaof actors is an example to follow in the realm of real-life painful experiences. 

In Dio, the speaker who wears a Socratic mask,speaks of Rome and criticizes the Romans when he is in Athens, whereas he talks about Athens and criticize the Athenians when he is in Rome.According to Whitmarsh (2001a), Dio’s self-dramatization serves to defuse “the potential dangers involved in integrating two cultural ideas, that of the Greek ethical idealist and that of the Roman political agent, in one man.” I would like to take this interpretation a step further and argue that the speaker’s hybrid position somewhere between Athens and Rome results in the construction of a polytopic and de-centered identity. 

On the basis of these discursive devices, I will argue that the construction of polytopic and de-centered identities, on the one hand describes the status of exile and, on the other hand, may transcend confinement and stand as an alternative stance to the rigidity of autocratic power.

Session/Panel Title

Truth to Power: Literary Rhetorical and Philosophical Responses to Autocratic Rule in the Roman Empire

Session/Paper Number


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