For 2010 Jerome Lectures at AAR, Harvard Classicist Kathleen Coleman Recreates World of Roman Child Poet

2010 Jerome Lecturer Kathleen Coleman, Professor of Latin, Harvard University

Thomas Spencer Jerome (1864-1914) was a socially prominent American lawyer and afficionado of Roman history who lived on Capri from 1899 until his death. In his will he endowed a series of lectures to be jointly administered by the University of Michigan and the American Academy in Rome, and delivered at both institutions. The Jerome Lectures soon emerged as one of the most prestigious international venues for presenting important work in Roman history and culture, as well as on topics in historiography and the philosophy of history. The University of Michigan Press has long published the revised proceedings.

This year’s Jeromes are the 39th in the series. They feature Kathleen Coleman, Professor of Latin in the Department of the Classics at Harvard University. Her topic is “Q. Sulpicius Maximus, Poet, Eleven Years Old”, with four lectures and a seminar at the American Academy 16-25 February, followed by a similar program at Ann Arbor 8-18 March 2010. Here Coleman examines the evidence of an unusually interesting inscribed funerary altar from the end of the first century AD to shed light on any number of broad themes in ancient poetry, rhetoric, education, agonistic competition, and sculptural art, as well as the modern reception of the Roman imperial past. See the end of this post for a full synopsis of all five installments in the series.

Don’t feel puzzled if you’ve never heard of Q. Sulpicius Maximus. The Roman child poet is known to us only through a series of ancient flukes, followed by a modern chance discovery. His funerary altar was found in 1871, intact only because it had been immured since later antiquity in the east tower of Rome’s Porta Salaria (near the present-day Piazza Fiume). It remains our only source on his extremely short literary career.

Reproduction of Q. Sulpicius Maximus monument at Piazza Fiume

The monument reveals that Sulpicius died when he was eleven, having delivered an extempore Greek poem at the emperor Domitian’s Capitoline Games in AD 94. Indeed, the text of this very poem—a speech by Zeus to Helios after Phaethon crashed his chariot—is inscribed on the façade of the monument, along with Sulpicius’ epitaph (in Latin), two funerary epigrams (in Greek), and a statue of him in the central niche.

Funerary altar of Q. Sulpicius Maximus, Musei Capitolini—Centrale Montemartini

Today the altar is housed in Rome’s spectacular Musei Capitolini—Centrale Montemartini. There are also two unexpectedly useful reproductions, one near the monument’s find spot at the Piazza Fiume (on top of the original base), and the other with “rubricated” (i.e., red-highlighted) letters in Rome’s Museo della Civiltà Romana. For her Rome Jeromes, Kathleen Coleman managed to lead 16 members of her audience on a whirlwind Saturday afternoon expedition through the city that took in all three of these Sulpicius altars.

From Kathleen Coleman’s Jerome Lectures field visit to Piazza Fiume/Porta Salaria (top), Museo della Civiltà Romana (middle), and Centrale Montemartini (bottom)

At Harvard, Kathleen Coleman edits the journal Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, and is co-editor (with Richard Rutherford of Christ Church, Oxford) of the monograph series Oxford Approaches to Classical Literature. And in 2011 Coleman will be President of the American Philological Association—the highest honor that the Classics profession in North America can confer.

Coleman’s career in fact has ranged over three continents: undergraduate degrees from the University of Cape Town, and the University of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), followed by an Oxford D.Phil. Then back to the University of Cape Town, where she held a university lectureship for more than a dozen years, followed by five years in Ireland, as chair of Latin at Trinity College, Dublin. And then, starting in 1998, an appointment at Harvard.

In 2003 Kathleen Coleman was appointed Harvard College Professor, a five-year appointment in recognition of contributions to teaching. And two years later she was the recipient of the Joseph R. Levenson Teaching Prize for Senior Faculty, awarded by the Undergraduate Council of Harvard College. In 2007 she was awarded a Walter Channing Cabot Fellowship, an annual award given to Harvard faculty members in recognition of achievements in literature, history or art.

At Museo della Civiltà Romana (EUR, Rome)

“Kathleen Coleman’s scholarship”, remarked AAR Mellon Professor T. Corey Brennan is his introduction to the second of the Jerome Lectures in Rome, “is known for its exemplary integrated use and analysis of literary, epigraphic and artistic sources on the most compelling ancient topics imaginable. I am thinking here of her essential texts and commentaries on Statius and Martial, and dozens of crucial articles, including what I count as the most important contribution of the 1990s to Roman social history. That is her classic ‘Fatal charades: Roman executions staged as mythological enactments’, that appeared in the Journal of Roman Studies for 1990. Scholars either ignored the existence of this evidence, or didn’t take it seriously. That all changed after Professor Coleman’s contribution, which not just collected and explicated the abundant evidence, but convincingly connected it with ‘absolutist trends in Roman government’ in the first two centuries AD. So we all are eagerly awaiting her current book-length projects, a monograph on Roman public executions for Oxford University Press, and a study of arena spectacles for Yale University Press.”

Kathleen Coleman at her inaugural Jerome Lecture, “Spontaneity”

The Rome Jerome series continues at 6.00 PM on both Tuesday 23 and Thursday 25 February, at the Villa Aurelia. These 2010 Jerome Lectures and its seminar have been facilitated by Anne Coulson, Lexi Eberspacher, and Giulia Barra in the AAR Programs Department. Special thanks to Stefano Silvia (AAR); dott.ssa Gabriella Cimino of the Sovrinttendenza Beni Culturali Comune di Roma; dott.ssa Gabriella Lilli of the Museo della Civiltà Romana; and the staff of the Centrale Montemartini. The committee on the Thomas Spencer Jerome Lectures is headed by Bruce W. Frier, the John and Teresa D’Arms Distinguished University Professor of Classics and Roman Law in the University of Michigan.

Kathleen Coleman at her Jerome Seminar “Symmetry”

Synopses of the 2010 Jerome Lectures (Rome series): Kathleen Coleman, “Q. Sulpicius Maximus, Poet, Eleven Years Old”

1: Spontaneity. Tuesday 16 February 2010, at 6:00 p.m.: Villa Aurelia

In her first lecture on the funerary monument of the eleven year-old poet Q. Sulpicius Maximus, Coleman examines the status and practice of improvisation in the culture of the Roman Empire. Special consideration is given to the circumstances under which an improvised text could be captured and preserved, and to the apparent contradiction between extempore delivery and the depiction of Maximus holding a papyrus scroll—on which the end of his poem is actually inscribed.

2: Precocity. Thursday 18 February 2010, at 6:00 p.m.: Villa Aurelia

This lecture explores the type of education that Maximus may have received, focusing on the progymnasmata (rhetorical exercises) preserved in papyri and in rhetorical handbooks; the creative adaptation of these exercises in the literature of the Second Sophistic, with special attention to different ways of treating the myth of Phaethon; the circumstances in which children composed and recited poetry; the status of competition in Greek education; whether Maximus performed among paides (boys), or in an open division; the status of literacy for members of his social class; and the appeal of the Certamen Capitolinum.

Model of Domitian’s Odeum, just south of today’s Piazza Navona, where Sulpicius will have competed in the Capitoline Games of AD 94 (Museo della Civiltà Romana)

3: Symmetry. Saturday 20 February 2010, at 9:30 a.m.: Lecture Room, American Academy

This seminar concentrates on the physical appearance of the monument, including its layout and lettering, with special attention to issues of balance and responsion. A detailed bibliography will be circulated. The seminar is followed by site visits to Piazza Fiume and also the Museo della Civiltà Romana, where the monument is instructively displayed in reproduced forms, followed by a view of the original at Centrale Montemartini.

4: Authority. Tuesday 23 February 2010, at 6:00 p.m.: Villa Aurelia

This lecture explores the introduction of Greek games at Rome, and the role of the emperor in sponsoring them; the physical location of Maximus’ performance; moralizing treatments of the myth of Phaethon; how to think about the king of the gods in an age of autocracy; Maximus’ family background and social status; commissioning a funerary monument as a statement of standing in society; the relative status of Greek and Latin in bilingual inscriptions; and the cachet of literary allusion.

5: Immortality. Thursday 25 February 2010, at 6:00 p.m.: Villa Aurelia

This lecture will examine the location and legibility of Maximus’ monument in Antiquity; the advertisement of accomplishments on funerary monuments; the circumstances of the monument’s survival; its rediscovery and decipherment; modern judgments on the quality of Maximus’ poem; the lexicographical status of his diction; and the inscribing of his name on the topography of the modern city.

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