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Epitome in the Age of Empire: Florus and the (Re)Written Republic

Rachel L Love

Yale University

When Livy began his monumental history of Rome at the close of the 1st century BCE, he became the latest in a long line of historians who composed sprawling histories of Rome beginning with the founding of the city—ab urbe condita—and continuing to the author's own time. Yet while Livy is generally considered (in his own time and now) to be the greatest practitioner of this style of historiography, it is rarely acknowledged that he is also the last. The Imperial Latin historians who followed Livy in narrating the history of Rome ab urbe condita abandoned the large-scale narratives that dominated Republican historiography and turned exclusively to short-format works such as epitomes, breviaries, and other types of summary (i.e. Velleius Paterculus, Florus, Granius Licinianus, Eutropius, and the Livian Periochae).

            This paper explores some of the reasons why short-format texts—and historical epitome in particular—became such a favored tool for Imperial historians writing about Rome's Republican past. Epitome has traditionally been excluded from literary studies due to the (now antiquated) view that epitomical texts are not worthy of serious inquiry. Emerging scholarship, however, has begun to dismantle this assumption, and to reestablish epitomes (and similar genres) as a diverse and vital feature of the ancient literary world, especially of the historiographical tradition. (cf. Horster and Reitz 2010, Dubischar 2015, Levene 2015). The expansion and evolution of the role played by Latin historical epitome under the Principate demands scholarly reevaluation.

            Florus' Epitome of Roman History will serve as a case study. I begin by situating the work within the context of contemporary Latin literature of the second century. It has become increasingly common in scholarship to characterize the writers of the early second century as a generation of authors haunted by "the existence of the lingering cultural trauma" brought about by the intellectual suppression and subsequent breakdown of public writing in the first century, particularly under Domitian (Uden 2015: 24). In attempting to mediate this trauma, authors such as Tacitus, Pliny, and Juvenal distance themselves from the inadequate and stifled forms of public writing practiced in the first century, and reclaim for themselves—through varying strategies—a form of discourse more closely associated with the idealized legacy of Republican free expression (cf. Gowing 2005, Sailor 2010, Strunk 2012).

            I argue that Florus leverages the unique formal aspects of epitome to mediate the same perceived breakdown in public writing that permeates his contemporaries' writings. Florus' text relies on the process of re-writing that is inherent to epitomization to reframe, and so revitalize the distinctly Republican type of ab urbe condita historiography. This is a strategy that has been observed within contemporary literary communities to address traumatic ruptures or discontinuities in history (Najman 2014). The abridged format of epitome allows Florus to practice greater selectivity in his narrative and so justify the exclusion of material that would emphasize discontinuity between Republican practices and those of his own time. Epitome's necessary simplification and elimination of variants also enables Florus to adapt the practice of writing ab urbe condita history to the increasingly centralized and standardized dissemination of knowledge under the Principate (Wallace-Hadrill 2005, Lobur 2008).

Session/Panel Title

Didactic Prose

Session/Paper Number

27.3

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