The Body Politic and Roman Political Languages /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Mebane, Julia, author.
Ann Arbor : ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, 2017
Description:1 electronic resource (256 pages)
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330
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Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago. degree granting institution.
Notes:Advisors: Michele Lowrie Committee members: Clifford Ando; Shadi Bartsch.
This item is not available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 78-12(E), Section: A.
Summary:One of the great puzzles of classical antiquity is that while the Roman republic came to an end in 31 B.C.E., its paradigm of politics did not. Augustus, the first emperor, took the title of princeps---first citizen---and insisted that he was nothing more than a republican magistrate. Institutions maintained their traditional functions and writers roundly proclaimed the restoration of the ancestral res publica after a generation of civil war. Indeed, if we take the Romans at their word, the republic was alive and well for nearly a century after its fall. I take the apparent disjuncture between political discourse and constitutional form as my point of departure. Drawing on a diverse range of poetic, historical, and antiquarian texts, my dissertation argues that thinkers did acknowledge the implementation of autocracy, but that they did so in the realm of figurative language rather than explicitly political speech. In particular, they radically revised one of the foundational metaphors of Roman political life: the metaphor of the body politic.
Under the republic, Rome was often analogized to an autonomous organism composed of interdependent parts. The classic formulation of this tradition was the Fable of the Belly, which described the senate as the stomach and the people as the limbs of the body politic. No attention was paid to the head, which signified Roman antipathy to kingship. Yet soon after Augustus' victory at Actium, thinkers reimagined the res publica as an organism that could not survive without a head-of-state to command it. Careful to avoid any implications of contemporary kingship, they methodically retrojected the new form of the body politic back onto republican history. Writing as if Rome had always been topped by a head-of-state, they resolutely denied any rupture between past and present. In this way, they adapted a traditional metaphor of societal organization to the context of autocracy long before it was acceptable to admit the existence of an emperor. Thinkers were thereby able to give expression to their lived reality of politics without transgressing the parameters of a deeply conservative discourse community.