All Italy an orchard: landscape and the state in Varro's de Re Rustica
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This project examines the way in which Varro, in his de Re Rustica, interacts with the political and social issues of his day. Written at the end of the Republic, the dRR belongs contextually to a period wherein farms and shepherds, the countryside and the villa were all inherently and inevitably part of current political discourse and were the focal point of contemporary ideologies. This context, coupled with the work's striking content--including dynamic settings and characters, wordplay, moralizing, murder, and election fraud--and its dialogue form suggest that the dRR, ostensibly about husbandry, is in fact about the Republic. In a dialogue that masquerades as a guide to farming and herding, the land is naturally important, but the ways in which Varro approaches the landscape suggests that it has a deeper resonance within the text. I argue that in the dRR, Varro uses the landscape as a filter for examining the state of the state, the shifting values of the Roman elite, Roman identity, and different ideologies regarding the countryside, farming and herding. Chapter One addresses the conflation of and conflict between spaces, places, and people in the dialogue, looking particularly at the settings, character names, and the relationship between the city and the country. I argue that by conflating spaces and displacing people, Varro challenges the ideology of the time that celebrates the country as refuge from and answer to the failings of the city. Chapter Two examines the shift in landscape that occurs over the course of the dRR, from a landscape that is predominantly natural and privileges utilitas in Books One and Two to the morally problematic landscape of the villa and villa herding, which is almost wholly manmade and aims at voluptas, in Book Three. In the dRR, these shifting landscapes represent a process of moral decline, whereby Romans have lost sight of simplicity, utility and traditional Republican values, and the same luxury and excess that now define the villa have also destroyed the state. Finally, Chapter Three explores the dRR's presentation of mankind's power over nature and the disparity that emerges between the interlocutors' idealization of human control as natural, particularly Roman, and guaranteed with the right knowledge, and the less rosy reality (revealed by the texts inconsistencies and deficiencies), wherein control is illusory, neither natural nor easily attainable. Ultimately, Varro reveals that his interlocutors, the work's farmer-statesmen, who claim to have control over the landscape and the knowledge necessary for success, in fact have neither the control nor knowledge required to run their farms and villas--or the Republic--fruitfully.