Scholia Reviews ns 18 (2009) 21.

Jennifer A. Rea, Legendary Rome: Myths, Monuments, and Memory on the Palatine and Capitoline. London: Duckworth, 2007. Pp. xi + 180, incl. 3 black-and-white illustrations. ISBN 978-0-7156-3646-6. UK£45.00.

Roman Roth
Classics, School of Languages, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Caveat Emptor: despite the broad title of this book, Rea focuses on how the Palatine and Capitoline hills are represented in a few poems (or sections thereof) written by three poets of the Augustan age: Tibullus (2.5), Virgil (Aeneid 8) and Propertius (4.1, 4.4 and 4.9). Her particular concern is with the extent to which the poets’ topographical descriptions of these two areas in the distant past reflect their view of Augustus’ urban reconstruction of Rome, and with exposing what are potentially conflicting attitudes to the cultural meanings of which Rome’s topography was so redolent. Rea’s approach is germane to influential works on contemporary historiography, such as M. K. Jaeger’s Livy’s Written Rome (Ann Arbor 1997) and G. Miles’ Livy: reconstructing Early Rome (Ithaca 1995).[[1]] By necessity, Rea also draws on the archaeological debate over the nature of Augustan culture that was sparked by the publication of Zanker’s Augustus und die Macht der Bilder (Munich 1987).[[2]] Unfortunately, her treatment of the relevant archaeological and historical literature is, at times, not entirely up-to-date and largely limited to works in English. For example, her section on the culture of memory at Rome (pp. 7-15) does not at all engage with the recent debate on this subject among German scholars.[[3]] Nor does she refer to some of A. Carandini’s more recent work on early Rome, which would have added an important facet to what she has to say about the creation and interpretation of urban landscapes through material culture and literature.[[4]] Admittedly, there is a vast and ever expanding literature on the subject -- but Rea could have made more use of easily accessible surveys and reviews, such as J. Patterson’s account of the archaeology of the city of Rome during the period in question,[[5]] which may have alleviated some of those short-comings.

On the positive side, Rea’s account of ‘Roman Landscapes’ (Part I, pp. 3-64) is a remarkably readable -- if somewhat lengthy -- discussion of the significance of Augustus’ (re-)building activities on the Palatine and Capitoline within the context of his cultural and political messages. Despite my previous criticisms regarding her attention to scholarship outside the field of Latin poetry, Rea succeeds at setting the stage for her analysis of the poems in Part II (pp. 65-124). In the latter section, I particularly enjoyed reading her chapter contrasting the approaches to Roman topography shown in Aeneid 8 and Tibullus 2.5 respectively: the ‘rivalry’ between the Capitoline and Palatine ties in well with recent work on the neighbourhoods of Rome during this period,[[6]] and deserves attention from archaeologists and historians alike.

On the whole, I found Legendary Rome an interesting read, which, coming to it as an archaeologist, has given me some new insights into alternative approaches to a complex of material with which most Romanists would consider themselves to be at least broadly familiar. It will certainly be a useful addition to undergraduate bibliographies for lectures dealing with Augustan Rome and Roman mythology. Yet, on the whole, I cannot help thinking that the detailed analyses of the poems in Part II would have fared better if presented in the form of one or two condensed journal articles, with the readable yet often too general background discussion of Part I reduced to focused, economical introductions.


[[1]] Most recently, see also D. Pausch, ‘Der Aitiologische Romulus: Historisches Interesse und literarische Form in Livius’ Darstellung der Königszeit’, Hermes 136 (2008) 38-60.

[[2]] Translated by Alan Shapiro as The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (Ann Arbor 1988).

[[3]] Cf., for example, U. Walter, Memoria und Res Publica: Zur Geschichtskultur im republikanischen Rom (Frankfurt am Main 2004).

[[4]] For example, Roma: Romolo, Remo e la fondazione della città (Milan 2000).

[[5]] John Patterson, ‘The city of Rome: from Republic to Empire’, JRS 82 (1992) 186-215.

[[6]] Most importantly, J. B. Lott, The Neighborhoods of Augustan Rome, Cambridge 2004).