This is a survey of some of the problems surrounding imperial panegyric. It includes discussions of both the theory and practice of imperial praise. The evidence is derived from readings of Cicero, Quintilian, Pliny, the Panegyrici Latini , Menander Rhetor, and Julian the Apostate. Of particular interest is insincere speech that would be appreciated as insincere. What sort of hermeneutic process is best suited to texts that are politically consequential and yet relatively disconnected from any obligation to offer a faithful representation of concrete reality? We first look at epideictic as a genre. The next topic is imperial praise and its situation “beyond belief” as well as the self-positioning of a political subject who delivers such praise. This leads to a meditation on the exculpatory fictions that these speakers might tell themselves about their act. A cynical philosophy of Caesarism, its arbitrariness, and its constructedness abets these fictions. Julian the Apostate receives the most attention: he wrote about Caesars, he delivered extant panegyrics, and he is also the man addressed by still another panegyric. And in the end we find ourselves to be in a position to appreciate the way that power feeds off of insincerity and grows stronger in its presence.
The Roman arena is often described as an exotic or peripheral institution. Alternatively, it has been seen as a culturally central institution. In this case one traditionally assumes either that the arena is used to pacify the lower classes or that it expresses themes of violence at the heart of Roman society. In the first view the arena's politics are cynical; in the second they are often described as decadent or full of despair. While none of these readings should be neglected, this essay argues that the arena can be examined as a productive institution which helps in the maintenance of Roman social relations from the top to the bottom and from the violent to the banal. When viewed in the light of Louis Althusser's idea of the ideological state apparatus, the arena can be read as political and psychological without recourse to notions of cunning calculation or psychic crisis. The arena is not only normal, but it participates in the production of normativity. This study pays particular attention to the ways in which the arena enables a specific kind of vision of the Roman world. In this vision the Roman nobiles in general and, later, the emperor in particular are reaffirmed as legitimate authorities: the rulers perhaps need the arena more than does the mob. The arena is also a locus at which the relations of domination which subsist between Rome and its subjects and between the sexes are reproduced in both the social and theatrical senses: the arena stages culturally vital spectacles. Indeed the export of the arena into the Roman provinces also entails the exportation of the Roman social structures which the arena serves. The Romanness of the arena is in fact so pervasive that even many of the hostile appraisals of the arena which come to us from antiquity reproduce the hierarchical social vision which the arena enables even as the institution itself is repudiated. Accordingly all representations of the arena need to be read within the logic of the arena itself. The ideology of the arena has no outside.