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Recognition and its Dilemmas in Roman Epic


The present dissertation examines the widespread presence of tropes of tragic recognition in Roman epic poetry from an interdisciplinary perspective. I argue that Roman epic poets draw at once on tragedy and ancient philosophy to address the cognitive instability generated by civil war, an event which recurrently marks the history of Rome since its foundation. When civil conflicts arise, the shifting categories of friend and enemy, kin and stranger, victor and vanquished, generate a constant renegotiation of individual identities and interpersonal relationships. It is in light of these destabilizing changes that I interpret the Roman epic trend of pairing civil war narratives with instances of tragic recognition. Far from working exclusively as a plot device or as a marker of the interaction between the genres of epic and tragedy, tropes of tragic recognition in Roman epic are conducive to exploring the epistemological and ethical dilemmas posed by civil war. While civil strife permeates the fabric of all the epic poems considered in my study, each author magnifies the interplay between recognition and civil war in relation to specific categories: friends and foes in Lucan’s Pharsalia, hosts and guests in Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica, kinsmen and strangers in Statius’ Thebaid, and the human and the non-human in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

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