Vox Populi Abstracts

William Bruckel (Boston University) Panel 1

“Heed My Decree, People of Athens:” Solon’s Elegy and Aeschylus’ Democratic

Aeschylus’ Oresteia, and more particularly his Eumenides, is arguably the tragic work
that addresses contemporary politics most straightforwardly. Considerable scholarly attention
has been expended in order to map the trilogy onto contemporary events and to reconstruct and
refine the poet’s latent political and social attitudes. Though it continues in this vein, this paper
departs from previous scholarship by focusing on the role of Aeschylus’ poetics, especially the
allusive relationship Aeschylus establishes between his trilogy and the poetry of Solon.
Aeschylus’ connection to Solon analogizes contemporary political dialectic to that of an earlier
age, configures popular and elite members of Athenian society within that parallel, and invests
his play with Solon’s mediating voice. He therefore simultaneously reassures the eupatrids that
their political influence will not diminish by guaranteeing them sebas if they capitulate, and lays
down an ideological platform for the demos.

The Ephialtic reforms of 462/1 signaled a shift in Athens away from the exclusive legal
authority of the eupatrids and toward the robust demokratia of the later fifth century, rendering
an atmosphere of aristocratic apprehension of the newly-enfranchised demos. Aeschylus adapts
Solon’s elegy assuaging eupatrid concerns over his reforms, grafting them onto the Erinues and
thereby analogizing them to the disgruntled Areopagites; he admits dussebeia into Solon’s
genealogy of vices, establishing sebas as the Furies’ major concern as a metric of their influence
over human society and a reflection of formal aristocratic authority. Aeschylus gives sebas a
fundamental place in the new Areopagus of the play, assuring the Erinues that their formal
divestment does not diminish their practical influence and, therefore, extends the same
consolation to the Athenian aristocrats. Aeschylus’ guarantee of sebas for the eupatrids and
recourse to Solon’s poetry gives the emergent demos an ideological, philosophical, and historical
inoculation against aristocratic trepidatious jealousy for formal legal power.


Anthony Sciubba (Emory University) Panel 1

Arbitration in Hellenistic Athens: Reading Menander’s Epitrepontes as Legal

This study uses Menander’s Epitrepontes (Men at Arbitration) as a source for the
popular shifts in Athenian arbitration practices that took place at the turn of the third
century B.C.E., at the beginning of what is known as the Hellenistic era. Written
sometime in 296/5 B.C.E., Menander’s play provides a rare vignette into the history of
Hellenistic Athens in the turbulent years following the conquest of Philip II in 338 B.C.E.
Hellenistic has many meanings as a historical term; for late-fourth and early-third century
Athenians, it meant the loss of almost two centuries of democratic self-rule to a more
oligarchic form of government, resulting in Athenian disengagement from the public
institutions that they saw slipping from their control. For this reason, the dawn of the
Hellenistic period coincided with the decline of the forensic speeches of the orators,
thereby rendering these important sources for the Classical period unavailable to legal
historians of the Hellenistic era. This dearth of Hellenistic legal sources makes it all the
more problematic that scholars of Greek law continue to read Menander’s Epitrepontes as
if it were a source for the Classical period, when it is in fact our most substantial literary
source for Hellenistic law. Rather than corroborating the formalized approach to public
law found in classical orations, Menander satirizes the orators by making a mockery of
their speeches within the counterculture of a slave cast for the entertainment of a
disillusioned Hellenistic audience. When read in light of contemporary Hellenistic papyri
instead of the speeches of a previous generation, Menander’s Epitrepontes provides
dramatic evidence for the privatization of Hellenistic Greek law – a popular approach to
dispute resolution independent of the courts and the formalized system of “public
arbitration” during the Classical period.


Jordan Rogers (University of Pennsylvania) Panel 2

The “People’s Voice” in Republican Rome: Between Volksjustiz and Normativity

Recent considerations of the vox populi in the Roman Republic have centered around the
political efficacy of the Roman plebs in asserting their demands through both conventional and
unconventional channels (Millar 1998; Courrier 2014). Where scholarship does address the
“people’s voice” from a cultural perspective, there remains a tendency to gravitate towards
political contexts (Rosillo-López 2017; Morstein-Marx 2012; Hillard 2013).

In this paper, however, I seek to offer an alternative to such political narratives and to
restore the social dimension of the popular voice by considering the practice of public shaming
on the neighborhood-scale. I argue that the vox populi should be understood from a sociological
perspective as an everyday tool of neighborhood preservation and maintenance (Bakhtin 1968;
Forsdyke 2008; Hartnett 2017). Although scholars have long acknowledged the existence of
public shaming as a type of “Volksjustiz” in Rome given its weak legal institutions (Usener
1901; Fraenkel 1961), I advocate for a more robust understanding of the practice as a normative
one embedded in urban Roman communities (Lundgreen 2017).

The paper comprises three case studies: the popular carmen regarding Sulla’s marriage to
Metella (Plutarch, Sulla 6.10); an interaction described by Lucilius between Scipio Aemilianus
and an insulting scurra (Lucilius, fr. 254-65); and a scene from Plautus’ Mercator, in which the
senex amator Demipho explains the communal repercussions of housing a young slave girl
(Plautus, Mercator 405-11). In each case, the act or fear of public shaming affects the behavior
of individuals of varying social status, suggesting its importance in everyday communal
interactions. Therefore, I emphasize the act of public shaming as a strategic means of
maintaining neighborly relations and community balance, one that privileges the popular voice
as a fundamental part of everyday urban life rather than simply a devious act of political
transgression as suggested in the legal sources.


Matt Pincus (University of Virginia) Panel 2

Ego et populus mecum? Horace and the Crowd in Satires 1

Of all the targets of Horace’s poetic opprobrium, perhaps none is so regularly singled out
as the faceless, collective “crowd” of the Roman populace. In order to demonstrate a moral or
social failing, one need only “choose whomsoever from the middle of a crowd” (S. 1.4.25).
Elsewhere, Horace contrasts himself (and his wealthy patron Maecenas) quite favorably with “a
good part of men,” who are “deceived by false desire” (S. 1.1.61). And an exclusive
Callimachean aesthetics complements this moral positioning: Horace takes his model Lucilius to
task for his unrefined style and pandering (S. 1.4.11–8; 1.10.73–4), and he not uncommonly
depicts a mutual antipathy between poet and general public (S. 1.4.33; cf. O. 3.1.1).

Nevertheless, one finds the opposite sentiments scattered throughout Horace’s poetry. In
the Ars Poetica, he explicitly aligns his poetic judgment with the populus (AP 153), while in both
the Satires and the Epodes his moral judgments draw strength from common morality and public
opinion (S. 1.1.64–7; Epod. 4.9–10). Especially in the Satires, there is considerable tension and
fluctuation between playing up his influential circle of friends and emphasizing his humble
origins, between looking down upon the crowd and speaking from within it.

In this paper, focusing especially on Satires 1.1, 1.4, and 1.6, I demonstrate how the
crowd serves as a focal point through which Horace orients and constructs his own moral, social,
and poetic persona. I draw particular attention to the ways in which the predominant “stance” of
distance from and opposition to the crowd is altered or subverted. Finally, I suggest that the
ambiguity and fluidity that characterize Horace’s stances function as a deliberate poetic strategy
that allows him to bridge and address a wide variety of audiences, articulating and defending a
unifying literary, moral, and sociopolitical program.


Joe Sheppard (Columbia University) Panel 3

An Augustan Model for Populism in Pompeii

Sensational new evidence for populist politics in municipal Italy has been brought to light in a
funerary inscription excavated recently in Pompeii’s Porta Stabia necropolis. Still only
provisionally published (Osanna, 2018), the document details a series of public distributions
made by the deceased over the course of his life, on a scale unparalleled outside Rome, including
a banquet for over six thousand people, distributions of bread and money to every individual in
town, two grand dramatic festivals at no public cost, and gladiatorial games on at least two
further occasions. Indeed his claim to have run a training camp with 420 gladiators implies a
long-term commitment to this particularly popular form of free public entertainment. The
deceased also received special dispensation from Nero when all other private troupes were
outlawed in central Italy.

In this paper I argue that much of the behaviour and language in this narrative can be
traced back to the rhetorical strategy of the deified Augustus in his Res Gestae. Rather than
merely enumerating a variety of public benefactions, the deceased only offered amenities that
directly improved the lives of his fellow townspeople, surpassing conventional formulas with
unusually redundant emphasis on the citizen body (populo Pompeiano), who are addressed both
as individuals and a unanimous, unified group. At the same time he vetoes the title of patron, in
the interests of egalitarianism. In championing the common people, this quasi-imperial posture
implicitly bypasses the local aristocracy, not unlike the popularis tactics and goals of late-
Republican Roman politicians, if not also our modern understanding of populists. My account
moreover corrects Osanna’s reading in three places, even as I argue that precisely these details
corroborate and strengthen his identification of the deceased with the local ‘prince of gladiatorsponsors’,
Cn. Nigidius Alleius Maius (princeps munerariorum).


Jeannie Sellick (University of Virginia) Panel 3

Drunk in Love: Who’s Afraid of a Spiritual Marriage

In one of the opening scenes of the Acts of Thomas, a newlywed couple receives an
unexpected guest in their bridal suite. The interloper lectures the couple about the woes of sex,
benefits of chastity, and the danger of children. The night reaches its climax as the lovebirds
decide to “abandon [the] filthy intercourse” and instead adopt the “incorruptible and true
marriage.” Here the role of wedding crasher is, of course, played by Jesus and through his
impassioned speech he convinced the lovers to transform their corporeal union into a spiritual

Though tantalizing, literary scenes like the one from the Acts of Thomas have often been
overlooked in wider conversations of spiritual marriage in late antiquity. Judith Perkin’s essay
“Fictional Narratives and Social Critiques” offers scholars a useful framework with which to
bring scenes from the Apocryphal Acts into conversation with broader discussions of Christian
social history. Perkin’s claims that works like Thomas can help shed light on the ways in which
some early Christians understood Scripture and attempted to shape their lives according to that

While spiritual marriage appears in both the Acts of Thomas and in a variety of early
Christian literary sources, as a social reality the practice was taboo. Spiritual marriage, in all of
its variant forms, was universally condemned by late ancient Church Fathers. The most famous
condemnation comes from John Chrysostom’s two treatises against men and women engaged in
spiritual marriage. Like in Thomas, Chrysostom’s work allows readers to catch a glimpse of a
unique practice undertaken by everyday men and women. For this paper, I use both the titillating
scene from Thomas and Chrysostom’s invective as lens through which to explore the issue of
spiritual marriage among early Christians.


Cosimo Paravano (Scoula Normale Superiore) Panel 3

Who Speaks for the City? A Speech by Libanios of Antioch against Theater Acclamations

In the summer of 384 Icarios, the new comes Orientis, arrived in Antioch and was very
quickly confronted with protests. Acclamations were sung against him in the theater and at the
public baths. Immediately, the world-famous city rhetor Libanios stepped in and delivered an
oration in which he advised Icarios not to consider these protesters as more than a small lawless

This oration (26 Foerster) survives, but has never been translated or studied. I intend to
show how Libanios’ narrative is built to suit his own purposes and is not to be taken at face
value: through a careful mix of emphasis and omissions, he downplays the importance of these
acclamations. However, contemporary rescripts in the Theodosian Code clearly give them
primary importance as a direct way for the people of Antioch to convey requests to Roman
officials, something Libanios seems to ignore. This is hardly surprising: acclamations stripped
Libanios of the role of spokesperson he constantly claimed for himself. While declaring to speak
for the city, he promoted interests of his own, of his students and of the social group he
represented, the city councilors.

In the public discourse Libanios endorses and contributes to shape, there is no room for
the theater crowd as a political agent. In his Antiochikos, he made clear that a well-behaved
demos would follow their city council, whose natural spokesperson was Libanios himself.
However, the dynamics between people, city and imperial government were starting to change.
City councilors had lost ground to the honorati, the powerful ex-public officials, and the theater
(and later on the hippodrome) was becoming the main place for popular requests, however
prompted they may sometimes have been. Different political agents would then struggle for
legitimacy through the (often dubious) claim to speak for the city and its people.