Penelope's Weavings and Unpickings

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Iris Project publication: How to win an election in the Roman Republic

Posted by weavingsandunpickings on April 24, 2015

It’s General Election season, and the Iris Project, which promotes Classics to schools and young people, are seizing the opportunity to run some topical articles on how ancient election campaigns compare and contrast with what we do today. I was asked to cover the case of Republican Rome, and my article has gone up online today. I will put the first couple of paragraphs up here as a teaser:

The UK is deep in the grip of election fever. Party leaders are touring the country in battle-buses, shaking hands, announcing policies, and chasing photo opportunities – all in the hope of winning over voters. But what did aspiring politicians need to do to get elected in ancient Rome? To answer this question we first need to understand some of the differences between the Roman political system and our own. While some aspects of campaigning persist across the ages, different systems reward different behaviours. In other words, it took different tactics to win a Roman election than it does a British one.

For one thing, there were no party leaders – or indeed political parties – in ancient Rome. Politicians stood for election as individuals, running largely on the basis of personal reputation rather than any policy platform. This is extremely clear from the Commentariolum Petitionis (‘Little Guide to Electioneering’), an ancient text giving advice to Cicero in his campaign for the consulship of 63 BC. Cicero (figure 1) is told that while a candidate he “must not pursue political measures, either in the senate-house or in public meetings” (Comm. Pet. 13). Instead, he should hold back, and allow himself to be judged on his established reputation and character. To win, then, it was more important to be seen as a good sort, generally capable of running the state, than it was to put forward particular ideas about how this should be done.

And you can read the rest here. I’m really pleased with how it has come out.

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Posted in cicero, julius caesar, politics, publications, roman history, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Publication: ‘I am Master of Nothing’: Imperium: Augustus and the Story of Augustus on Screen

Posted by weavingsandunpickings on November 2, 2012

I got an email late last night to say that an article about screen portrayals of the emperor Augustus which I wrote last Christmas has now been published. It’s always great to see another publication finally emerging into the daylight, but this one is particularly satisfying because it has been published in an online journal, so that anyone with internet access can read it for free!

The paper is entitled ”I am Master of Nothing’: Imperium: Augustus and the Story of Augustus on Screen’, and its official abstract runs as follows

The story of Octavian / Augustus’ life follows a rather problematic narrative trajectory. Reduced to its basic elements, it is the tale of a man who overthrew the Roman Republic and installed himself as an absolute monarch, yet enjoyed widespread contemporary acclaim and died peacefully in his bed. Lacking the moral complexity of Julius Caesar’s story, or the prurient thrills offered by proper ‘bad’ emperors, this narrative has rarely been tackled in full by western story-tellers. Instead, in the 20th century, Octavian / Augustus appeared most frequently on screen as a secondary character in the stories of others – particularly as a villainous foil to Antony and Cleopatra – while only a handful of novelists attempted a fuller biographical approach. Nonetheless, a popular appetite for screen portrayals of Roman history in the early 21st century has kept producers and screenwriters returning to his story, and one TV mini-series, Imperium: Augustus (2003), has now offered the first ever screen biopic of this contradictory character. This paper examines the narrative strategies used in this production and their degree of success in making the story of Octavian / Augustus palatable to contemporary western audiences. Making strong claims to historical accuracy, Imperium: Augustus builds on approaches already established in biographical novels, but also deploys characteristically filmic devices such as the flashback to help create a compelling drama. Audience responses suggest that it was only a partial success, but Augustus’ story still offers ample opportunities for exploring modern concerns such as the crafting of political personas or the relationship between security and civil liberties. These could perhaps be better satisfied in the medium of the documentary, and we can fully expect such treatments to appear in connection with the bimillennium of his death on 19th August 2014.

If you’d like to read more, you can find the full paper at New Voices in Classical Reception Studies 7: see the second item in the table of contents.

Posted in augustus, classical receptions, films, publications, roman emperors, television | 2 Comments »

 
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