PATRONAGE OF LETTERS IN THE EARLY ROMAN EMPIRE

Grant Parker

Abstract


In the sociology of literature over the ages, patronage is undoubtedly one of the most
pervasive themes.! The late 1st century AD presents no exception. Though the early
Empire lacked a patron having the renown of Maecenas (d. 8 BC), it is nonetheless
eminently worthy of study in this regard in view of two contemporary writers - Martial
(AD 40- c.103) and Statius (c.45- c.96). Despite manifest differences in style and
temperament between these poets, both can be described as occasional poets (i.e. poets
composing for specific social occasions) and this fact alone renders patronage highly
apposite.
Concentrating therefore on that period, I wish here to examine the phenomenon of literary
patronage within the context of Roman mores. Broadly speaking, patronage of letters must
be situated in the characteristically Roman system of patron-client relations. Topics to be
discussed include its terminology and mechanics, origins, its purpose and value - material
or otherwise - and the poet's economic position in society, and finally its continuity over
Roman history. This study is undertaken in the form of a survey of some of the more
important critical literature on the subject to have appeared in recent times, but i hope it
can serve at the same time as a general introduction to the subject.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/36-4-917

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