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Exemplary Audiences

Andrea Pittard

The University of Texas at Austin

Recent studies of Roman exemplarity have established the significance and utility that exempla and exemplary discourse had for moral and ethical ideologies (Roller 2018; Langlands 2018). Exemplarity was frequently used as an educational tool, instructing Romans on qualities to acquire or avoid, while also providing models they could replicate in order to display admirable characteristics. For this reason, exemplarity helped to perpetuate ideologies and facilitate social reproduction, as it promoted an “imitative loop” of actions, ideals, and beliefs (Roller 2004, 8). However, accounts of exemplary deeds and figures do not focus solely on the individual performing outstanding deeds. Audiences play an instrumental role in the process, both enacting and perpetuating ideologies. As Matthew Roller has pointed out with his components of exemplary discourse, eyewitnesses are not passive viewers, but active judges who must deem whether an act reflects a moral and ethical abstract as intended (Roller 2004, 6). In many cases, a performance’s success is not cemented until the audience has provided its judgment. Given this importance, it was equally as vital to provide models for potential audiences as it was for potential actors. This function was realized by making the audiences within exemplary narratives exempla as well. To promote these exemplary audiences, Latin authors frequently draw attention to the importance of audiences by inserting an appraisal of the audience’s reaction and its effects on the performer and the maintenance of exemplary morals in Rome. For example, Livy provides two of his most famous exemplary accounts in book 2 of his Ab Urbe Condita-Horatius Cocles and Mucius Scaevola. Throughout both of these accounts, Livy emphasizes the effects that the immediate audience has on the individual performer (Roller 2004, 3-4). The climax of Horatius’ success on the bridge is the audience’s cheers (clamor Romanorum, alacritate perfecti operis sublatus, 2.10.11), followed shortly by the rewards he gained for their approval (Grata erga tantam virtutem civitas fuit; statua in comitio posita; agri quantum uno die circumaravit, datum, 2.10.12). Similarly, Mucius’ acts are rewarded by his Roman audience after his return from Porsenna’s camp (Patres C. Mucio virtutis causa trans Tiberim agrum dono dedere, quae postea sunt Mucia prata appellata, 2.13.5). Livy then connects those positive reactions to the overarching maintenance and replication of an important Roman moral concept, virtus: “Therefore, because virtus was so honored, even women were prompted towards public honors…” (Ergo ita honorata virtute, feminae quoque ad publica decora excitatae, 2.13.6). Thus, Livy contends it was not just the individual actors who helped to promote virtus, but it was the exemplary audiences and their reactions, as well. Exemplarity, therefore, has far wider practical implications than the imitation of actors’ enactments of ideals. It also encourages the reproduction of social and underlying ideological systems by all participants.  

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Roman Historiography

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