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The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome

The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome - Catharine Edwards In this book, Catherine Edwards surveys Roman elite discourse around various manifestations of "immorality" including the theatre, "effeminacy", luxurious housing, gluttony and expenditure. Her aim is to explore what the moralists' focus on particular vices reveals about the anxieties of the Roman elite in justifying and maintaining their status. The point is made, for example, that constantly accusing other politicians of "effeminacy" as well as serving as useful invective against that individual, also serves to reinforce the inevitability of male dominance in public life by fixing the association between women and laziness, weakness, and depravity.

Stigmatising the actor as depraved, effeminate and outcast (actors were subject to reduced civic and political rights along with prostitutes and gladiators) had the function of undermining the subversive potential of a voice that like that of the elite statesman, had the ear of thousands.

In the case of conspicuous consumption and luxurious dining, it is pointed out that Roman moralists trod a thin line between condemning what they perceived as excessive self-indulgence (the mark of a slave or a woman) and acknowledging that the social status of the elite actually depended to some extent on a display of magnificence and hospitality.

A readable and interesting book; my only criticism is that it seemed to be made up of a series of valid observations without their being too much sense of an over-arching argument or conclusion being established.