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.
Geue mounts a powerful and meticulous case for a poetics of the unknown, setting up not just a new agenda for ancient texts, but an updated ethics for literary history itself.
What is a text without context? Can we separate the art from the artist? How does the signature of an artist shape the ways in which we hate, love, or even forget an object? This innovative and sophisticated book engages with an array of imperial Roman works—from graffiti art to epic poetry—and asks us to embrace literary anonymity, in antiquity and in our own time. With disarming directness, Geue has challenged us to rethink our urge to uncover the ‘real’ author of ancient texts.
In this engaging book, Geue inventively repositions uncertain authorship as a feature that adds, rather than detracts, from the richness of ancient texts. You may not immediately notice how thoroughly he subverts some of the most basic assumptions about the centrality of historical context in Classical Studies.
- 376 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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