The Building of Verse: Descriptions of Architectural Structures in Roman Poetry
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The Building of Verse: Descriptions of Architectural Structures in Roman Poetry examines depictions of architecture in the literature of the Roman poets Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Propertius, Statius, and Martial. These poets, whose careers span the most significant building programs of ancient Rome, from the Age of Augustus through the Flavian period (ca. 31 BC - AD 96), often build ekphrases, or extended literary descriptions, around residences, temples, and other structures within their poetry. Besides the poetic evidence, I look at Vitruvius' well-known architectural treatise, also written during the building-rich Augustan period, to explore how the poets share in the description of architectural elements and building practices found in his contemporaneous work. I argue that the depictions of architectural structures in these poets are never meant to function solely as settings but rather are intentionally included to more fully develop the poem's vocabulary, imagery, and overall narrative and/or purpose. The first chapter highlights the poetic treatment of caverns and grottoes. It establishes that the poets use a fully developed architectural vocabulary to describe the natural dwellings of monsters and divine beings, as well as the related ideas that these poetically created natural habitats reflect their owners and can even refer to real structures in the Roman world. The second chapter treats both encomiastic and critical depictions of fully developed residences, which serve to identify their owners/inhabitants not only in terms of their aesthetic preferences but also with respect to their social status and their lifestyle. The third chapter turns to temples, hybrid between private (divine) residence and public structure. The poets depict temples in ways that are reflective not of the god or religious ceremony, but rather of how they themselves (i.e., their speakers/narrators) or their characters relate personally and uniquely to the structure, whether they construct or simply view the temple. The fourth chapter focuses on public structures that were used by the people for reasons other than religious worship, such as the curia and baths. It reveals a shift in the nature of poetic architectural descriptions over time, from the late first century B.C.E. writing of Virgil, who uses contemporary architectural terminology to enliven traditional epic structures, to the mid-late first century C.E. poets Statius and Martial, who break generic boundaries in establishing new kinds of poetry to celebrate new, fully Roman architectural structures such as the imperial thermae. Chapter Five serves as a conclusion to the project, considering the formation of cities and their development.