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Call for Abstracts: Political Thought in Latin Literature

Political Thought in Latin Literature
Julia Mebane, University of California at San Diego (, and
David T. West, Boston University (, Organizers

For many years, the study of Roman political thought was hampered by the assumption that the pragmatic Romans lacked the sophistication of their Greek predecessors when it came to the interrogation of political matters. As Wolin put it in his landmark Politics and Vision, “Although there is no dearth of material for the student of Roman political practices, the student of political ideas must deal with a period notoriously lacking in great political thinkers” (1960: 65). Yet while Roman thinkers may have largely resisted the theoretical abstraction exemplified by Plato and Aristotle, a rich vein of recent scholarship has demonstrated the extent to which they negotiated political problems through alternative modes of discourse, including historiography, poetry, oratory, and moral philosophy. In the realm of poetry, Connolly (2015) and McCarter (2015) explore the concept of freedom in Horace, Hammer (2014) illuminates Lucretius’s “poetics of power,” and Adler (2003) reads the Aeneid as a response to the political implications of Epicureanism. Vasaly (2015) and Kapust (2011) interpret Latin historiography as engaged in political theory, while Wiseman (2009) and Nelsestuen (2015) approach Varro as a profoundly political thinker. Meanwhile, Ciceronian scholars including Zarecki (2014), Atkins (2013), Baraz (2012), and Narducci (1997) treat Cicero’s works as finely constructed literary texts that adapt the questions of Greek political philosophy to the Roman political tradition. Despite differences in focus and content, each of these scholars argues for literature as a meaningful avenue of political thought.

In light of these recent developments, this panel seeks to bring together scholars working across the fields of philology, political theory, ancient history, and ancient philosophy for an interdisciplinary discussion on Roman political thought. We are particularly interested in papers that explore the intersection of Latin literature and Roman politics, examine political thinking in literary genres not usually interrogated in this way, and/or consider the role of figurative language and other rhetorical devices in structuring political thought. Potential areas of investigation might include, but are not limited to:

  • Roman republicanism
  • liberty from Republic to Empire
  • ideals of statesmanship
  • the dichotomy of mass and elite
  • discord and contestation
  • loci of sovereignty
  • political theology/religion and politics
  • public and private
  • international relations and geopolitics

Please send an anonymous abstract for a 20-minute paper as an email attachment to by February 8, 2018, listing the title of this panel as the subject line of the email. The text of the abstract should not mention the name of the author. Submissions should follow the SCS guidelines for individual abstracts (e.g. a maximum of 650 words, not including bibliography) and will be reviewed by the organizers, who will make final selections by the end of March.

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