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44.4.George

The five Declamationes Sullanae of Juan Luis Vives (1520, revised 1538) deserve an early place in the modern tradition of historical fiction set in the late Roman Republic. My current study pinpoints several places in the Declamationes, dramatically staged around the moment of Sulla’s abdication, where Vives shows exceptional narrative and rhetorical imagination in creating or embroidering scenes from the years leading up to the dictator Sulla’s death in 82 BCE. I will provide an analysis of three examples:

1. Sulla defends the execution of his supporter Ofella.

When he seized the dictatorship, Sulla outraged and terified citizens by executing one of his faithful backers, Lucretius Ofella, because Ofella in preparing a consular campaign presumed to defy the cursus honorum established by Sulla. Plutarch, Livy, and Appian leave brief notices of the event; Appian’s seven-sentence comments are the most extensive. Vives, in Sulla’s abdication speech (Declamation 3), has the dictator provide more than apologetic embellishment, although the argumentation is effective. Especially, he turns the slaughter of a friend from a liability to a matter for commendation: it shows how much he is willing to sacrifice for his vision of Rome. In addition Vives’ Sulla spells out the events that won his high regard for Ofella as well as those that doomed him despite pleas and warnings.

2. Characterization of Sulla’s son Faustus.

Plutarch and Valerius Maximus briefly record versions of an episode in which Sulla’s young son Faustus brags to his mates about his father’s power and gets beaten up by Cassius (the future conspirator) in return. Vives conjures up two engaging scenes out of the anecdote. First, at a victory banquet embellished with the heads of victims – itself an intensified merge of original scenes – Sulla’s mates ask if he intends to leave no one alive for little Faustus to rule over. Sulla calls Faustus forward, learns that the other boys ridicule his boasts, and promises that he will inherit his father’s powers to execute. Vives then creates a scene in which the speaker of Declamation 4, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, encounters Faustus on the street with his slave, throwing a tantrum and promising to kill Cassius, burn down his house, and proscribe his property and family. Lepidus declares sarcastically that Rome after Sulla is in good hands with Faustus, then acknowledges how he fears for Rome.

3. Vettius, Fufidius, Tarulla and Scirtus: Proscription Profiteers

These Sullan henchmen, two citizens and two slaves, barely mentioned in the ancient sources, win extended attention in the diatribes of Vives’ Lepidus. Vettius Picens the surveyor surveys property over to himself; Quintus Fufidius, a praetor, insists that he will never relinquish his ill-gotten lands; Tarulla presides over Sulla’s disgusting banquets; and Scyrrus turns from gladiator to real estate profiteer. Vives ranges far beyond the bounds of what is known about these men.

The paper concludes briefly with allusions to later examples of historical fiction set in the Republic displaying similar qualities, particularly works by Thornton Wilder and Colleen McCullough.

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