(B2-1) Exemplary action with res divinae and res humanae – discourse formation in the portrayal of individuals in Roman literature (letter, biography and rhetorics)

The question as to whether and, if so, how Roman intellectuals developed a notion of the distinction between the religious and the political can only be investigated fragmentarily, on the basis of the text type that has become most important for modern treatment of the topic – that is, the subject-related written discourse, or treatise. The most interesting contributions can rather be found in poetry and in literary rhythmic prose, in which they are, in addition, often integrated in the narration and discussion of specific events taken from history and the present. That which is expressed and discussed as an abstract relation in treatises of the Aristotelian type appears in rhythmic prose as a figuration that may well have an even increased intellectual complexity compared to the treatise’s way of expression, which is not bound by any form. Moreover, after the end of the naïve philological reduction of literary epistemology to depictive documentation, the ancient practice’s matter-of-course assumption that literary texts never adopt other discourses’ manners of justification and of speaking, which are external to them, but instead cite and reorganise them and convert them for their own use, should be taken into consideration again. Thus, they take part in the formation of the discourses by which at first – in a heuristical sense – a loose and historically variable combination of notions, objects, actions and manners of speaking, which is often claimed with ideological intent, will be understood.

Starting from Cicero’s recommendation for orators to look for the relevant general question (quaestio infinita) in every specific one (quaestio finita), thus, the selected texts can be analysed as to the question, in which manner was the selected form used in order to effect or to put on the agenda the assignment of ideas, manners of speaking and actions to a (defined?) sector of the religious or the political, or to both? The fact that ‘religion’, ‘politics’ and ‘literature’ have no individual equivalents in Latin may indicate that categorially different concept formations rendered their usage redundant. Varro’s both open and accurate differentiation of the res divinae as affecting divine matters and of the res humanae as affecting human matters will serve as a replacement for the modern concepts of substance in the analysis of the historiographical, biographical, rhetorical and epistolographical texts (the latter will be included until Late Antiquity in the second part of the project). Their frequency and paradigmatic character justify the focus on the portrayals of individuals, the more so as ideas of a religious and political ‘separation of powers’ could be particularly well included in these pragmatically formulated, but theoretically substantiated forms of statement.

The Project is part of the Interconnecting platform H Cultural Ambiguity and coordinated project group Figurations of the religious and the political.