'Reading for the moral' in Valerius Maximus: the case of severitas
The Cambridge Classical Journal
Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Cambridge Philological Society
This paper sets out to contribute to our understanding of the way exempla functioned in Roman culture through a close study of ethics in our only major extant collection of exempla from ancient Rome, Valerius Maximus' Facta et dicta memorabilia. I develop what Matthew Roller in a recent article calls the ‘discourse of exemplarity’ by demonstrating what Valerius Maximus can tell us about the dynamic process of reading and learning from exempla in ancient Rome, and also by suggesting that one role of exempla in Roman culture was to promote ethical deliberation within a tradition of ‘controversial thinking’. The main part of the paper analyses Valerius' treatment of the theme of seueritas and his presentation of pertinent exempla (especially in chapters 2.7 and 6.3) in order to illustrate the claims about Valerius' work and about Roman exempla more generally that I shall outline in this introductory section. In summary my contention is that Valerius' arrangement of exempla in sequence under ethical categories is designed to tell Roman readers not simply what to think but how to think ethically, enabling Roman readers both to explore the scope of those moral categories and to develop their skills of moral reasoning.
Copyright © Cambridge Philological Society 2008. Published version reproduced with the permission of the publisher.
Vol. 54, pp. 160 - 187