Apr 21
Banquet Room, University Club
12:00 PM

Alex Dressler

Assistant Professor, Department of Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, UW-Madison
Roman standpoint in low genres: Views from below in Latin Literature

Applying modern theoretical frameworks to two scenes of unrequited love in ancient literature, this paper suggests that the marginalized characters of low genres have fuller knowledge of real life in the ancient world than their elite counterparts.  In the first scene from Plautus’s comedy, The one about the asses, an insolvent elite adolescent tries to procure the services of his prostitute-lover from her procuress, only to get a lecture about economic life and symbolic capital reminiscent of Brecht and Bourdieu.  In the second scene, from Petronius’ Satyricon, an avowed scalawag laments the loss of his boy-lover and uncovers the basis of elite sentimentality in the experiences of outlaw populations.  Applying frameworks derived from Marxist and feminist analyses, the paper suggests that ostensibly modern categories like class and standpoint carried epistemological – and political – weight for ancient authors in spite of their elite affiliations or those of their audience.

Alex Dressler uses literary criticism, especially the interpretation of figurative language, to do the history of mentalities in classical and post-classical Latin literature.  Paying special attention to the concepts of subjectivity and individuality, Dressler has studied the personification of abstract nouns as women in republican and early imperial authors in his monograph Personification and the Feminine in Roman Philosophy (CUP 2016) and is currently considering the role of monetary metaphors in concepts of ethical and aesthetic value in the transition from the classical to the Christian periods.

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