Abstract After reviewing current opinions about the social function of literature in second-century BCE Rome, I focus on two controversial fragments assigned to Cato the Censor's Origines. In the first, Cato portrays the ancestors in a convivial setting as they sing the praises and the manly deeds of famous men; in the second, he gestures towards the pontifex maximus' specialized use of writing and the functioning of the tabula as a locus of memory. By drawing on the field of performance studies, I identify the performative features inherent in both of these fragments and map out how these features inform the positioning of Cato in relation to the identity politics of his time, professionalism, and writing. The aim of this study is to return the Origines to its immediate socio-cultural purview, but working towards this aim will also entail a shift in perspective and a reassessment of our notions of ““poetry”” and ““prose.”” In fact, by stressing the performance dimension that underlies the genesis of the Origines as a text, this article will also expose the shortcomings inherent in the hyper-literary approaches that have been so far adopted.

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