Emotion, Restraint, and Community in Ancient Rome

Emotion, Restraint, and Community in Ancient Rome

Emotion, Restraint, and Community in Ancient Rome

Emotion, Restraint, and Community in Ancient Rome


Classical Culture and Society (Series Editors: Joseph A. Farrell, University of Pennsylvania, and Ian Morris, Stanford University) is a new series from Oxford that emphasizes innovative, imaginative scholarship by leading scholars in the field of ancient culture. Among the topics covered will be the historical and cultural background of Greek and Roman literary texts; the production and reception of cultural artifacts; the economic basis of culture; the history of ideas, values, and concepts; and the relationship between politics and/or social practice and ancient forms of symbolic expression (religion, art, language, and ritual, among others). Interdisciplinary approaches and original, broad-ranging research form the backbone of this series, which will serve classicists as well as appealing to scholars and educated readers in related fields.

Emotion, Restraint, and Community examines the ways in which emotions, and talk about emotions, interacted with the ethics of the Roman upper classes in the late Republic and early Empire. By considering how various Roman forms of fear, dismay, indignation, and revulsion created an economy of displeasure that shaped society in constructive ways, the book casts new light both on the Romans and on cross-cultural understanding of emotions.


“So what are you working on these days?”

“Oh, shame, disgust, envy, and regret.”

“Ah, the story of my life.”

In the course of writing this book, I heard that last comment so often that I appropriated it and made it part of my own reply (“Oh, shame, disgust, envy, and regret—you know, the story of my life”). None of this was meant very seriously, of course; yet I was clearly onto a topic that—unlike, say, the Roman grammarians of late antiquity—had some resonance with other people’s experience. And, in fact, I had stumbled onto it as an offshoot of my own experience.

It was an experience that, all things considered, I would gladly have forgone, or so I felt at the time. In 1996, when I was president of the American Philological Association, it happened that some members of the Association, a faction, really, behaved in ways I thought shameful, and I wanted to acknowledge the fact in the presidential address that I was required to deliver at the year’s end. Because I could not refer to the behavior directly, for a range of reasons, I hit upon the idea of talking about the Roman version of shame: I could thereby meet the obligations of the occasion—by custom, part scholarly lecture, part protreptic address—and at the same time allude to the events that had inspired me. I thought that I succeeded, in so far as several people who had reason to know what I was talking about indicated that they knew what I was talking about; and in any case I came to see that the Roman versions of shame and some other familiar emotions opened a fascinating prospect for further investigation.

A fair amount of time has passed since then, not all of it spent in the pleasures of research. But that, as I’ve come to see, has been all to the good; for this has proved to be the sort of project that needed time, for my own thoughts to come into focus and for me to gain at least a working knowledge of contemporary approaches to the study of the emotions in other fields, where there has been an explosion of interest in the past twenty to thirty years. Within the field of Classics, too, there has been a serendipitous convergence of interests such that only a crystal ball could have foreseen in 1996: the major works on . . .

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