The turbulent decade of the 60s CE brought Rome to the brink of collapse. It began with Nero's ruthless elimination of Julio-Claudian rivals and ended in his suicide and the civil wars that followed. Suddenly Rome was forced to confront an imperial future as bloody as its Republican past and a ruler from outside the house of Caesar. The anonymous historical drama Octavia is the earliest literary witness to this era of uncertainty and upheaval. In this book, Ginsberg offers a new reading of how the play intervenes in the wars over memory surrounding Nero's fall. Though Augustus and his heirs had claimed that the Principate solved Rome's curse of civil war, the play reimagines early imperial Rome as a landscape of civil strife in which the ruling family waged war both on itself and on its people. In doing so, the Octavia shows how easily empire becomes a breeding ground for the passions of discord. In order to rewrite the history of Rome's first imperial dynasty, the Octavia engages with the literature of Julio-Claudian Rome, using the words of Rome's most celebrated authors to stage a new reading of that era and its ruling family.
In doing so, the play opens a dialogue about literary versions of history and about the legitimacy of those historical accounts. Through an innovative combination of intertextual analysis and cultural memory theory, Ginsberg elucidates the roles that literature and the literary manipulation of memory play in negotiating the transition between the Julio-Claudian and Flavian regimes. Her book claims for the Octavia a central role in current debates over both the ways in which Nero and his family were remembered as well as the politics of literary and cultural memory in the early Roman empire.
Lauren Donovan Ginsberg is an Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Cincinnati. Her research focuses on the literature of early imperial Rome, especially drama, epic, and historiography. She is particularly interested in narratives of civil war and the ways in which Roman authors commemorate events that many thought best forgotten.