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Poetry, Prosecution, and the Author Function

Goldschmidt, N.

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E. Bexley

I. Ziogas


This chapter draws on Foucault’s ‘author function’ to expose the ways in which the beginnings of Latin literature were predicated on interactions with Roman law. Foucault stipulates two principal conditions for the cultural emergence of the author, both broadly juridical in nature: penal appropriation and ownership of texts. For Foucault and others, these conditions only pertained more or less when modern copyright laws began to come into play in Europe. But penal appropriation and textual ownership were a central factor in the emergence of Latin literature in third-century BCE Rome. Poetic authorship in Latin emerged late, when juridical discourse was already well established. As I argue here, the resulting dynamic between law and literature crystallizes the Foucauldian author function in fundamental ways. The stipulation against mala carmina in the XII Tables and the concept of literary ‘theft’ — naturalized from Alexandria into Roman legal language — suggest that Foucault’s conditions were a legible part of the cultural landscape of Republican Rome. As later readers saw it in particular, from the legendary curbing of Fescennina licentia to Gnaeus Naevius’ infamous clash with the Metelli, Roman poetic authorship fundamentally emerged in the shadow of the law.


Goldschmidt, N. (2022). Poetry, Prosecution, and the Author Function. In E. Bexley, & I. Ziogas (Eds.), Roman Law and Latin Literature (147-168). Bloomsbury.

Online Publication Date May 5, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date May 26, 2021
Publicly Available Date Nov 11, 2022
Publisher Bloomsbury
Pages 147-168
Book Title Roman Law and Latin Literature
Chapter Number 8


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