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Abstract

What does it mean to be the Roman Homer? The parallel between Homer and Vergil is a commonplace among ancient and modern authors. But the precise terms in which the two are the same kind of author frequently shift. This dissertation outlines the genealogy of the Roman Homer and the conditions that sustain that concept. Although Vergil is the famous poet to be so designated, the concept’s origins lie still earlier in Latin literary history. In my first chapter, I show how Livius Andronicus and Ennius developed ways of occupying a position symmetrical to Homer’s in Greek culture—first in poetry, and then through the role that poetry attained in educational and scholarly contexts. A second chapter argues that understanding Vergil as a Roman Homer at times worked against Vergil’s own self-presentation. Two Vergils can be found in the traditional lives of the poets: a poet whose biography is reconstructed from his verses, but also a figure whose powers and reputation are best described in Homeric terms. In my third chapter I address the strategies that a reader of Vergil like Macrobius used to reconcile two diverging traditions: on the one hand, that which treats Vergil as an accomplished but inferior imitator of Homer, and on the other that which treats him as an equal. And finally in my fourth chapter I treat the means by which Macrobius and other late antique readers drew Vergil into the role of all-knowing poet, in parallel with Homer’s role in Neoplatonist writings. I argue that the educational system pervasive among elites and sustained over time is the foundation of Vergil’s reputation as a ‘Homeric’ poet. Like Homer, Vergil comes to serve as a kind of symbol of learning more generally. In sum, the alter Homerus is an artifact of the intentional replication of the practices of Greek literature. It recreates not only a literary figure but also proposes a literature in which such a figure could exist. However, the exact form of that recreation depends on which practices are brought into view, and when. This allows the concept remarkable flexibility and durability.

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