Staging Memory, Staging Strife
Publication Date 9 Feb 2017
OverviewThe turbulent decade of the 60s CE brought Rome to the brink of collapse. It began with Nero's ruthless elimination of Julio-Claudian rivals and ended in his suicide and the civil wars that followed. Suddenly Rome was forced to confront an imperial future as bloody as its Republican past and a ruler from outside the house of Caesar. The anonymous historical drama Octavia is the earliest literary witness to this era of uncertainty and upheaval. In Staging Memory, Staging Strife, Lauren Donovan Ginsberg offers a new reading of how the play intervenes in the contests over memory after Nero's fall. Though Augustus and his heirs had claimed that the Principate solved Rome's curse of civil war, the play reimagines early imperial Rome as a landscape of civil strife with a ruling family waging war both on itself and on its people. In doing so, the Octavia shows how easily empire becomes a breeding ground for the passions of discord. In order to rewrite the history of Rome's first imperial dynasty, the Octavia engages with the literature of Julio-Claudian Rome, using the words of Rome's most celebrated authors to stage a new reading of that era and its ruling family. In doing so, the play opens a dialogue about literary versions of history and about the legitimacy of those historical accounts. Through an innovative combination of intertextual analysis and cultural memory theory, Ginsberg contextualizes the roles that literature and the literary manipulation of memory play in negotiating the transition between the Julio-Claudian and Flavian regimes. Her book claims for the Octavia a central role in current debates over both the ways in which Nero and his family were remembered as well as the politics of literary and cultural memory in the early Roman empire.