Macquarie University
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Humans, beastly men and the Roman State: the politics of humanity from Cicero to Persius

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posted on 2022-03-28, 20:18 authored by Lazar Maric
The politics of humanity is the practice of projecting and shifting the political boundaries that separate "humans" from those who are "inhuman", inept at being human, or in need of being humanised. This thesis concerns itself with the study of the politics of humanity in ancient Rome, and primary emphasis is given to the philosophical and literary works of Cicero, Seneca, Horace and Persius. In Chapter One, I commence with an analysis of Greek political theory, which outlined the moral and political conditions necessary for biological humans to achieve a truly human level of existence as neither slaves to tyrants, nor as stateless, animal-like savages. This body of theory was influential with Roman writers, and Cicero used it to conceptualise the Roman Republic and its constitution as absolute prerequisites for Romans to exist as true human beings. Because Cicero considered the Roman state as largely dysfunctional at the time of his writing, he portrayed the Roman citizen body as dehumanised, and the political struggles of his day as a war between the human and subhuman elements within the state. In Chapter Two, I observe a body of ideas produced during the early imperial period which were intended to provide a conceptual basis for the preservation of the humanity of imperial subjects under conditions previously considered incompatible with it, namely, under the monarchy. Here, I focus mainly on the author Seneca. In Seneca's works, the politics of humanity involved neutralising the dehumanising potential inherent in the rise of the emperor and actively constructing the principate as a humanising institution. Furthermore, Seneca was concerned with reserving the status of human being for loyal imperial subjects while denying it to dissidents. In Chapter Three, I turn to Horace and the politics of humanity in his Sermones. In this collection of poems, Horace set out to portray himself and his powerful patrons Maecenas and Octavian Caesar as true humans while denying this status to all who did not share their values. Nevertheless, in the Epistles, a collection of poems published a decade or so later, Horace reversed the project of the Sermones by portraying his poetic persona as a deceptive "human" mask. I observe this same twist to the politics of humanity in Chapter Four, where I turn to Satire 1 of the Neronian poet Persius. Here I argue that Persius "exposed" contemporary Roman society as dehumanised and, in the process, also revealed his own failure to achieve the standards necessary for him to exist as a true human being.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Subjugating the 'beast within': the humanising mission of the State in Plato, Aristotle and Cicero -- Chapter 2. Defending humanity: the princeps, nobiles, and the ideology of humanisation -- Chapter 3. Horace and the poetry of Dissimulatio: the humanising and dehumanising of the poet in Sermones 1 and Epistles 1 -- Chapter 4. The politics of humanity and self-knowledge in Persius's Satire 1 -- Conclusion.


This thesis is presented for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy" "6th July, 2010 Bibliography: pages 277-314

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Dept. of Ancient History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Ancient History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Andrew Gillett

Additional Supervisor 1

Laurence Welborn

Additional Supervisor 2

Trevor Evans


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Lazar Maric 2010.




1 online resource (vii, 314 pages)

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