Published: May 26, 2020
Jackie Elliott

Jackie Elliott has won a College Scholar Award, which she will use to support the completion of the following two projects:

  1. A short, introductory volume on Early Roman Poetry, for Brill’s Research Perspectives in Classical Poetry series. This volume will offer an overview of current scholarship and interpretive trends in the area of early Roman poetry, laying out key questions about the Roman literary record at its origin, and registering the oddity of the fact that a literature developed at Rome at all, when this is by no means a necessary feature of ancient societies. It will detail the pre-literary written record at Rome, as best we can access it, and seek to explain how this record underwrites the features of language that emerge in the fragments of Roman poetry as we encounter them, from the date our record begins (239 BCE). It will engage issues of definition and periodicity; lay out the record itself of early Roman poetry, in its unavoidable relationship to prose, and explain the conceptual framework according to which the ancient world categorized and understood that record; it will explain the sources of our knowledge of that record and the ways that these complicate our access to it; and it will define the consequences of those complications for the task of the editor who sets out to present the record of early Roman poetry to the more general reader. 

  2. A monograph: The History of CatoOrigines. Cato’s Origines (“Origins”) was by any account a remarkable work. Written by one of the leading Roman statesmen of the mid-second century BCE, it was the first prose history of Rome in Latin and was subsequently construed as the foundation of the tradition of Roman historical writing. The work exists today only as a series of fragments quoted in the works of later authors of antiquity. Not least for that reason, the Origines presents us with a series of interpretive puzzles, the answers to which define the parameters of our reconstructions of the history of Roman historical writing and its place in the intellectual life of the Roman Republic and the Empire that followed. Underlying these puzzles, and relevant to our response to each of them, is the question of the ancient transmission, circulation and reception of the Origines: that is, who read the work, in what contexts, how they interpreted it, and why and how they chose to quote it and thus to pass it on to other readers. This history of ancient readers and of ancient reading is in fact traceable: though the surviving evidence only puts us in a position to tell a small part of the full story of a work’s ancient circulation and reception, such a history is, in fact, the aspect of the work that our challenging evidence best allows us to address. If carried out in detail, it can provide an invaluable guide through the intricate maze of our ancient evidence, able to illuminate perspectives yet to be explored while also showing why established interpretive avenues or indeed broad assumptions about a given work mislead. This project on Cato’s Origines first undertakes such a detailed history of the work’s ancient transmission and reception; this then informs an exploration of larger questions about Cato’s self-positioning as author and relationship to his contemporary and subsequent audiences, with glances across to counterpoised genres, such as epic, that also sought to address the relationship of the Roman past to the Roman present as contemporary audiences experienced it.

One of the larger questions at issue in the conversations this project engages is that of the role literature played in spreading the sense of a cohesive Roman identity across an at-this-time increasingly far-flung Roman sphere of influence. It is sometimes argued or assumed that pride of place in this function would have gone to works of Roman prose history. The findings of this project to date regarding how and by whom works of history were read do not support that notion; the public genre of epic is, in the view these findings afford, a far stronger candidate for celebrating Roman collective achievement and for promoting an understanding, able to permeate the strata of Roman society at large, of what it meant to be Roman.

Jackie will first work on these two projects in Berlin as a Humboldt Foundation fellowship recipient (2020-21); she will complete them during her fall 2021 sabbatical and her spring 2022 tenure of the College Scholar Award.