Emotion, gesture and actio: laughter in Ab Vrbe Condita (I)

Abstract: Ab Vrbe Condita can be read as a set of rules for political and public responsibilities of the Roman citizen of the 1 st Century B.C. Livy stresses the fixed parameters of dignitas, gravitas and urbanitas, and all the traditional virtues of the aristocratic and conservative world that rule the lives of men and women. Those people’s emotions and gestures should abide by the conduct norms which are “convenient” to the world masters. This article deals with the emotions in the AVC, and in particular with laughter, one of the most primary forms of human expression, and, ironically, one which seems to have received little attention in Livy’s account. It is mentioned in but a few passages (ridere/-sus// inridere/-risus // arridere). There is almost no “hilarity” there; we only find it in a scene that describes some Greeks in a party which ends up dramatically shortly afterwards (40.7.1-3). And, unlike in Suetonius’ biography, no one ever bursts out laughing in the AVC. Livy’s heroes do not laugh much, and they do so only in certain circumstances. This scarcity allows us to analyze in detail the general characteristics and the dramatic construction of these passages, highlighting the historian’s ability to modify well-known rhetorical topics, to alter solutions and to adapt forms, in order to get new effects. The analysis also underlines Livy’s didactic and ideological approach and his master use of the traditional techniques of rhetoric.

Key Words: Latin Historiography, emotions, gestuality, rhetoric, literary analysis, argumentation, characterization, contrast, Roman didactic education.


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