This project seeks to challenge the traditional view on silence in Latin literature written during and just after the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (ca. 81-105). Scholarship on this topic was mainly limited to non-speaking characters whose speechlessness was considered as a commentary on the censuring regime of the ‘bad tyrant Domitian’ – an image which was constructed by authors after his death (Pliny the Younger and Tacitus) and received in history. However, since recent historical research has refuted this cruel reputation, also the political interpretations of silence should be questioned.
My main corpus consists of literary and theoretical texts, written during or just after Domitian’s reign: Statius’ epic and occasional poetry, Martial’s epigrams, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria, Pliny the Younger’s letters and panegyric, and Tacitus’ Agricola and rhetorical dialogue.
This project aims to analyse how these texts represent and activate (several forms of) silence. I will examine (1) how silence is conceived as a concept in the texts and integrated in the processes of creating, telling and reading; (2) how silence is used by authors in the representation of their own works and the chosen genres; (3) how authors apply silence as a tool for their political or sociocultural self-fashioning in front of imperial Rome’s reading public, including Domitian or his successors, Nerva and Trajan, who were involved with Domitian’s assassination.
Methodologically, this project seeks to interpret the appearances of silence in Domitianic texts by reading these texts through modern literature and art. Departing from the concept of reading as a dialogical process that blurs the borders of historical periods and scholarly categories, it explicitly explores the meaningful interaction between ancient and modern texts. The interpretation of Statius’ epics or Quintilian’s Institutio by a 21-centurieth reader, for example, will be as much determined by (scholarly conventional) ancient models (e.g. Vergil, Cicero) as by the novels of Samuel Beckett, the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, etc. In this way, the project aims to offer an answer to the question how we can read and re-create ancient literature today, in our (post)modern culture.