Ridicule, emotion, and community in ancient Rome




Rich, Laura Brooke

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This dissertation examines the effects of ridicule on emotions and communities in Latin literature. Ridicule has a social function of marking objectionable behavior and reinforcing acceptable behavior, since individuals seek to avoid ridicule by acting in a manner that has been deemed appropriate by their community. Errors in judgment of the power relationship between two parties can also provide opportunities for ridicule, since an individual who esteems himself too highly is brought down by the ridicule of his peers because of that prideful over-estimation (superbia). Ridicule evokes an emotional response known as the “shame state,” or a cluster of emotions, including shame, humiliation, and embarrassment. By emphasizing the values and emotions privileged by groups of people, or “emotional communities,” I focus on these social functions of ridicule, and I explore the ways that an emotional community responds to ridicule.

In the introduction, I contextualize my study in the scholarship on ridicule, emotion, and emotional communities. I discuss the function of pride and ridicule in ancient Rome, and I provide an analysis of the Latin words for laughter and ridicule. The body of this dissertation is divided in two, with concentrations on ridicule domi militiaeque, or at home and abroad. The first chapter focuses on the Roman army as an emotional community. I offer an overview of evidence for this militiae emotional community, and I review in detail some examples of the army experiencing ridicule from Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, Vergil’s Aeneid, and Tacitus’ Annales. I demonstrate that the Roman preference for victory narratives encourages an exaggeration of the Roman army’s shame state in response to ridicule, in order to allow for a more impressive recovery and eventual triumph. The second body chapter explores the domi emotional community of elite civic leaders in the Republican period. I use Cicero’s In Verrem to show that members of this community perform their membership by participating in legal and political matters. I argue that Cicero presents himself as the embodiment of the emotional ideals of the community, and that he attacks his opponents for their failure to live up to those standards.