Roman Drama and Roman History

BookRoman Drama and Roman History

Roman Drama and Roman History

Exeter Studies in History


April 1st, 1998





In this sequel to Historiography And Imagination (UEP 1994), Professor Wiseman explores the question of how the Romans understood their own past and the role of early drama in generating and transmitting legends. The first six of the book's twelve essays are concerned with stories and scenarios in the surviving literature which are best explained as having been first created for the stage. The other essays discuss the family traditions of Roman aristocrats, the rites of spring enjoyed by the Roman plebs, the use of Roman history in the radical politics of the nineteenth century, and how a great modern Roman historian exploited the novelist's art. The book is designed to be accessible to anyone with an interest in the ancient world, and all Latin and Greek is translated.

Peter Wiseman is Emeritus Professor of Roman History at Exeter University and a Fellow of the British Academy. He came to Exeter in 1977, and was Head of Department from 1977 to 1990. Although he retired in 2001, he is still involved in graduate teaching at both MA and PhD levels. ‘I've been obsessed with the history and literature of Rome for nearly half a century’, he says. Among the results of that obsession have been books on Catullus (Catullan Questions 1969, Catullus and his World 1985), on Roman political history (New Men in the Roman Senate 1971, Flavius Josephus: Death of an Emperor 1991), on Roman historiography (Clio's Cosmetics: Three Studies in Greco-Roman Literature 1979, Historiography and Imagination: Eight Essays on Roman Culture 1994), and on Roman myth and legend (Remus: a Roman Myth 1995, Roman Drama and Roman History 1998). Reviews of T.P. Wiseman books include the following comments: 'quite simply brilliant' (Times Literary Supplement), 'enthralling' (London Review of Books), 'stylistic elegance and wit, dazzling erudition and imaginative flair' (Classical Review), 'exceptional analytical skill and creative imagination' (Bryn Mawr Classical Review).

This collection of essays demonstrates great depth and breadth of knowledge in the areas of Roman history, literature, culture, and archaeology, as well as exceptional analytical skill and creative imagination, which contemporary historians of republican Rome have come to associate with the name of T.P. Wiseman.

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

... This volume is no disappointment, dealing as it does with two controversial and interlocking themes: the origin of the historical tradition on early Rome, and the nature of drama and dramatic festivals in the Roman Republic ... Wiseman is a fine writer for many reasons. He produces interesting and compelling theories for the specialist and yet never loses the common touch. Indeed, this book, in which all Latin and Greek is translated, has a style which should appeal, as the publisher intends on the back cover, to"anyone with an interest in the ancient world.

Scholia Reviews, ns 8

Wiseman is one of the most imaginative and challenging historians of Rome in the world. This book will be a major contribution to Roman studies.

Wiseman is a master of constructive fiction, and everything he writes is exhilarating. In fact, it would be hard to think of an ancient historian whose work is beter designed both to inspire advanced students with a sense of what impressive edifices can be constructed with bricks so short on straw—and also to hone their skills at testing, if necessary to destruction, the weak links in chains of overextended argumentation.

Times Literary Supplement

Everything Wiseman writes is stimulating, rich in both historiography and imagination ... However we may jibe at specific suggestions, we should endorse his general hypothesis of oral transmission, and relish the way he has brought early and mid-republican Roman culture back to its full life and colour. His mixture of daring and scholarship, his wit, and sense of the vitality of Roman communal life make a convincing case for Roman scenarios, serious or mimic, as sources of popular historical traditions.

Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 90

Author Information

T. P. Wiseman is Emeritus Professor of Roman History at the University of Exeter and a Fellow of the British Academy. He came to Exeter in 1977, and was Head of Department from 1977 to 1990. His published books include Catullan Questions (1969), New Men in the Roman Senate (1971), Cinna the Poet (1974), Catullus and his World (1985), Roman Political Life (1985), and Remembering the Roman People (2009). And on the study of Roman historiography, and from there to the myth-history of early Rome: see Clio’s Cosmetics (1979), Historiography and Imagination (1994), Remus: A Roman Myth (1995), Roman Drama and Roman History (1998), The Myths of Rome (2004), which won the American Philological Association’s Goodwin Award of Merit, and Unwritten Rome (2008)

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
The history of a hypothesis
Tales unworthy of the Gods
Ovid on Servius Tullius
Two plays for the Liberalia
The tragedy of Gaius Gracchus
Crossing the Rubicon
The poet, the "plebs", and the chorus girls
Valerius Antias and the Palimpsest of history
The Minucii and their monument
Rome and the resplendent Aemilii
E.S. Beesly and the Roman revolution
Late Syme - a study in historiography
Appendices: Hermann Reich, "on the sources of early Roman history and Roman national tragedy"
The ludi saeculares