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Author Unknown

Author Unknown

The Power of Anonymity in Ancient Rome

Tom Geue

ISBN 9780674988200

Publication date: 09/17/2019

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An exploration of the darker corners of ancient Rome to spotlight the strange sorcery of anonymous literature.

From Banksy to Elena Ferrante to the unattributed parchments of ancient Rome, art without clear authorship fascinates and even offends us. Classical scholarship tends to treat this anonymity as a problem or game—a defect to be repaired or mystery to be solved. Author Unknown is the first book to consider anonymity as a site of literary interest rather than a gap that needs filling. We can tether each work to an identity, or we can stand back and ask how the absence of a name affects the meaning and experience of literature.

Tom Geue turns to antiquity to show what the suppression or loss of a name can do for literature. Anonymity supported the illusion of Augustus’s sprawling puppet mastery (Res Gestae), controlled and destroyed the victims of a curse (Ovid’s Ibis), and created out of whole cloth a poetic persona and career (Phaedrus’s Fables). To assume these texts are missing something is to dismiss a source of their power and presume that ancient authors were as hungry for fame as today’s.

In this original look at Latin literature, Geue asks us to work with anonymity rather than against it and to appreciate the continuing power of anonymity in our own time.


  • Geue homes in on the many post-Augustan texts that rail against traditional modes of self-memorialization, and turn towards anonymity not just as a survival strategy and tool for political satire under autocracy, but also as a creative experiment in deliberate decontextualization, and a means of exploring class power, authority and the status of knowledge…[A] provocative book.

    —Victoria Rimell, Times Literary Supplement


  • Tom Geue is a Classicist who writes about Latin literature from Virgil to Juvenal. He is Lecturer in Latin at the University of St Andrews and the author of Juvenal and the Poetics of Anonymity.

Book Details

  • 376 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press