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Did Somebody Say Augustan Totalitarianism? Duncan Kennedy’s ‘Reflections,’ Hannah Arendt’s Origins, and the Continental Divide over Virgil’s Aeneid

Elena Giusti


The allegedly old-fashioned debate over the pro- or anti- Augustanism of Augustan texts was superseded in 1992 by Duncan Kennedy’s ‘reflections’ over these terms of reference. Since then, the old dichotomy has appeared to be useless in a dialectic which is always bound to hold Augustus as the unavoidable point of reference. And yet scholarship continues to be divided over the interpretation of Augustus’ rule and its visible or invisible effects on the poetry produced under his patronage. The present article revisits Kennedy’s influential essay and its reception, arguing that it offers further reflections on the workings of Augustan ideology than it has so far been assumed. Moreover, while the nature of Augustus’ rule is still a point of heated debate, the present article argues that a combined reading of Kennedy 1992 and Hannah Arendt’s writings over the ideological language of totalitarian systems may open new possibilities for our interpretation the Augustan regime and the anti-Augustanism of the Augustan texts.

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  • 1 Barchiesi 1997: 6 n.1: ‘I am convinced that the field has more of a future than Kennedy himself all (...)
  • 2 Impatience and dissatisfaction at the debate were already in the air on the European side as Kenned (...)

1In 1992, the long and static continental divide between the so-called ‘Harvard’ and ‘European’ schools, which debated the Augustanism and anti-Augustanism of Augustan texts, and in particular of Virgil’s Aeneid, was sealed by Duncan Kennedy’s influential essay ‘“Augustan” and “anti-Augustan”: Reflections on terms of reference’. In this essay, Kennedy provided a mind-blowing dialectical deconstruction of the old polarity, which ended up being more successful than contemporary Augustan literary critics could foretell: notwithstanding the predictions of scholars such as Alessandro Barchiesi,1 the debate demonstrated that it had less of a future than even Kennedy allowed. In the field of Virgilian studies, ‘Reflections on Terms of Reference’ soon became – and indeed it still is – the article that all Virgilians would reference, rather than engage with, in order to demonstrate the fruitlessness of the old diatribe and to unleash Virgilian studies free to investigate new shores. ‘Anti-Augustan,’ as a term, was implicitly and subconsciously banned; with a few exceptions, the whole debate became unfashionable, the questions it had raised were deemed unproductive and sterile.2

2The present article aims to offer further reflections on Kennedy 1992’s ‘Reflections’ and their reception, in order to demonstrate that while most scholarship interpreted the essay in relation to reader reception criticism, Kennedy 1992 is in fact in direct dialogue with ideology critique and with academic and non-academic writings on the ideological language of 20th century totalitarianism, a recognition which opens the door for different applications of the piece to the field of Augustan literature and ideology, and thus for different interpretations of Virgil’s text. In what follows, we shall first recapitulate the arguments proposed by Kennedy 1992 and analyse some instances of its scholarly reception, before comparing its findings to what is arguably the most influential work on totalitarianism in the 20th century, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). A joint reading of the two, I shall argue, opens up new possibilities for the interpretation of Augustan literature, challenging our understanding of Augustan ideology in Virgil’s Aeneid, a text which is arguably creator, no less than creation, of the ideology itself.

1. Kennedy’s dialectic twist: could this really be the end?

  • 3 From Parry’s ‘two voices’ of the Aeneid (Parry 1963), the formulation ‘further voices’ was introduc (...)
  • 4 Kennedy 1992: 40.
  • 5 Kennedy 1992: 42.
  • 6 Kennedy 1992: 46.

3While scholars still debated whether Virgil’s ‘further voices’3 implied the poet’s anti-Augustan subversion of, and resistance to, the same Augustan ideology that the Aeneid nonetheless participated in shaping, Duncan Kennedy’s major insight took root at the level of language and dialectic. The use of the terms ‘Augustan’ and ‘anti-Augustan,’ Kennedy posited, betrays a distinction that only makes sense for those who believe in a static view of language, which ‘attempts to set up categories as distinct and autonomous’4 and ‘seek[s] an ultimate validity for [its] answers in intentionalism,’5 producing a ‘type of explanation which is author-centred, individualist, and which suppresses the social dimension of the discourse’.6 To such a view, Kennedy opposed:

the dynamic, discursive view… [which] sees words as the momentary intersection of a host of discourses (open-ended, conflicting, and even contradictory), stressing the difference within words, their discontinuities, and their capacity to change their meanings.
(Kennedy 1992: 40)

4As a consequence,

…what as abstracts are logically opposite by the process of definition which sets them off against each other can co-exist within discourse without contradiction, as “war” (its meaning ideologically determined) and “peace” (its meaning also ideologically determined) do in the ideology which generated the power and position of Augustus.
(Kennedy 1992: 40)

  • 7 Kennedy 1992: 40: ‘The dominated voice may not be heard, but is not absent; the potentiality for su (...)
  • 8 A point made by Ziogas 2015: 130.

5According to the dialectic inscribed in this view, every word of the ‘establishment discourse’ has inscribed within it ‘the potentiality for subversion,’7 and therefore becomes liable to coexist with its opposite, so much so that the term ‘Augustan’ always already implies and even necessitates its own subversion, or inversion: just as the Greek anti means both ‘opposite’ and ‘instead, in the place of’ (often denoting equivalence, such as ‘as much as,’ ‘as good as’), the term ‘anti-Augustan’ changes its meaning from ‘against Augustan’ to ‘in the place of Augustan,’ or even ‘equal to Augustan.’8 It turns from antagonist into accomplice, with anti- being left out as a mis-representative prefix, which only reinforces the all-encompassing nature of the ideological abstract: (anti-)Augustan-ism.

  • 9 Martindale 1993: 31; Thomas 2001: 25-6.
  • 10 Already since Gale 1997, a very influential reading of the Augustanism and anti-Augustanism of Prop (...)
  • 11 Sharrock 1994: 98.
  • 12 Sharrock 1994: 98.
  • 13 Sharrock 1994: 122: ‘while I read Ovid in such a way as to undermine Augustan authority staked on t (...)

6Kennedy’s contribution still makes it difficult for Virgilians to approach the old debate in a profitable way. On the one hand, it has become generally agreed that the ‘further voices’ of Virgil or Ovid must be unhooked from a binary opposition and re-inscribed within an ideological discourse in which many voices can coexist in their open-endedness and apparent contradictions; on the other hand, the essay, much against its own aims, seems to have inadvertently contributed to a more or less tacit suppression of the term ‘anti-Augustan’ altogether rather than stimulating further reflections on its shifting meaning. In Virgilian studies, Kennedy 1992 is most often referenced, when referenced, as an excuse for disregarding the debate, with little or no attempt at actual engagement. A few exceptions, such as Martindale’s 1993 essay ‘Descent into Hell. Reading Ambiguity, or Virgil and the Critics’ and Thomas’s 2001 monograph Virgil and the Augustan Reception, use Kennedy 1992 in order to shift the focus from Virgil to Augustus and Augustanism, or rather to the idea of ‘Augustus’ and ‘Augustanism,’ and to the infinite ways that the shifting discourse of Augustan ideology can be (re-)appropriated in readers’ reception.9 This reception of Kennedy 1992 in terms of reader-response criticism has been so influential that the piece is sometimes referenced together with Alison Sharrock’s 1994 article ‘Ovid and the politics of reading,’10 even though Sharrock 1994 can actually be recognised as the first attempt to respond to Kennedy precisely by using reader-response criticism as a means to validate the anti-Augustanism of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. ‘A text of itself,’ writes Sharrock in a quotation often referenced together with Kennedy, ‘cannot be either “pro-” or “anti-” “Augustan,” only readings can be’.11 But this should not lead us necessarily into an aporetic strategy, since, she writes, ‘if everyone who responded to it [i.e. the Ars] read it as subversive… then it seems to me to stretch the credible bounds of the authority of intention to claim that the text is not anti-Augustan’.12 Her conclusion, however, concedes to Kennedy that even if we allow this anti-Augustan reading, the act of undermining Augustan authority necessarily accords that authority and so legitimises it.13

  • 14 Sharrock 1994: 106-9.
  • 15 Barchiesi 1997: 175-6, in explicit opposition to Kennedy 1992.

7Sharrock 1994 is one of the very few contributions that recognise these two partially distinct strands of Kennedy 1992: reader-response criticism and ideology critique. But Sharrock also opens the door for the Ovidians’ reactions to Kennedy, which strikingly counterpoise the silence of the Virgilians. This is due in part to the fact that Kennedy 1992, although it clearly means to respond to the Virgilian debate, chose instead Horace’s Satires and Ovid’s Ars and Fasti as examples for the old polarity’s dissolution. But it is also true that some of the anti-Augustan readings of Ovid only succeed if they are simultaneously accompanied by Augustan readings of Virgil – notably by Ovid himself. This is the case with Sharrock’s interpretation of Ovid’s mockery of the Georgics in the Ars,14 or of Barchiesi’s reading of Numa in the Fasti as set in opposition to Aeneid 6, and thus, incidentally, to the Prince himself.15 Perhaps paradoxically, the Ovidian anti-Augustan reactions to Kennedy can be seen to do a disservice rather than a service to the so-called Harvard School of Virgilian studies.

  • 16 Casali 2006; Boyle 2003: 9 n.22; Davis 1999 and 2006.
  • 17 O’Gorman 1997: 104-5.
  • 18 Hardie 1997: 182.
  • 19 Barchiesi 1997: 84, 272.
  • 20 Habinek 2002: 61, with reference to Galinsky 1996. Cf. also Habinek 1998: 6, 167.

8If we home in on these Ovidian reactions, we see, on the anti-Augustan side, Sergio Casali, Anthony Boyle and especially Peter Davis;16 on the Augustan – or rather Kennedian – side, Alessandro Barchiesi, Ellen O’Gorman, Thomas Habinek and Philip Hardie. This ‘Kennedian’ side is pretty varied: on the one hand, in 1997, Ellen O’Gorman, much like Alison Sharrock, ‘take[s] the point that the term “oppositional” itself sustains the domination which it purports to examine,’17 and Philip Hardie’s formulation of an ‘ineluctable collusion between artist and ruler’18 would become quite influential among Augustan scholars; on the other hand, Barchiesi’s The Poet and The Prince shows concern over aporetic outcomes, and scepticism throughout toward the possibility of expressing arguments without preconceived judgments,19 a risk that Thomas Habinek avoids by confessing from the start his anti-Galinskian preference for the ‘bleaker aspects’ of the Augustan age when using Kennedy 1992 to show that ‘an important task of the critic is to bring out the contradictory aspects of power that a given text seeks to suppress’.20

  • 21 pace Huskey 2008; I agree better with Nau 2007.
  • 22 Davis 2006: 10.
  • 23 Davis 2006: 14.
  • 24 Davis 2006: 15.

9Among the anti-Augustan Ovidians, one must single out the work of Peter Davis, whose anti-Kennedian obsession with Kennedy 1992 could eventually be seen to help legitimise, rather than undermine, the authority of Kennedy’s essay. Davis devotes the whole first chapter of Ovid and Augustus, a reworking of his 1999 article, to a refutation of Kennedy. It seems to me, however, that Davis and Kennedy speak two different languages,21 attributing different ‘meanings’ to ‘meaning,’ when Davis presents Kennedy’s argument with the lapidary statement that ‘for Kennedy, it seems, the terms “pro-Augustan” and “anti-Augustan” are essentially meaningless’.22 Davis argues that, even if we allow an anti-Augustan reading of the most Augustan text of all, the Res Gestae, this does not mean that the Augustan and anti-Augustan interests are not ‘identifiable and distinct’: ‘does anyone really believe,’ he asks, ‘that the Res Gestae can usefully be labelled “anti-Augustan”?’.23 As much as he refrains from it, Davis’s focus on ‘interests’ here clearly calls for authorial agency and intentionality, and does not discuss the ideological establishment discourse, and the fact that it is shaped in such a way as to incorporate and therefore prevent the opposite interests. It seems to me that the cause of this misunderstanding must be sought in the reception of Kennedy 1992 as a piece of reader-reception criticism rather than ideology critique. This is clear from Davis’ labelling of Kennedy’s view ‘not as up-to-date “reception criticism” but as old-fashioned subjectivism’24 when reacting to Kennedy’s dissolution of the polarity within a dynamic framework, which is perhaps the most famous passage of the essay:

no statement (not even made by Augustus himself) can be categorically “Augustan” or “anti-Augustan”; the traces of its constituent discourses were – and still are – open to appropriation in the opposite interest. The degree to which a voice is heard as conflicting or supportive is a function of the audience’s – or critic’s – ideology, a function, therefore, of reception. Power is successful in so far as it manages not so much to silence or suppress as to determine the consumption of the oppositional voice within its discourse.
(Kennedy 1992: 40)

  • 25 Davis 2006: 15-16.

10Davis reads this passage as inherently contradictory: how can Kennedy claim that it is the reader’s ideology that determines the reaction to the text and at the same time say that it is for the text to determine that very same reaction?25

2. Kennedy’s ‘Reflections’ and Augustan Totalitarianism

11The question that Davis justly poses may be answered, I submit, by recognising that Kennedy 1992 displays, consciously or subconsciously, a clear influence from works of fiction and perhaps academic writings on the ideological language of totalitarianism. If we analyse the essay under this lens, it is possible to flip it over and make it sustain a totalising, if not totalitarian, view of Augustanism – which would turn the essay itself into an arguably ‘anti-Augustan’ piece. Since the power of totalitarian ideologies lies in their ability to incorporate the voice of dissent within the voice of consent, the practice of unmasking their inner workings to lay bare their artificial structure is the only weapon left with which to oppose them: if we read Kennedy 1992 in this way, it can actually be used to sustain anti-Augustan readings in a way which is peculiarly different from the Harvard School, but can still count as oppositional.

  • 26 Kennedy 1992: 40, cited above.
  • 27 Gruen 1985: 54.
  • 28 Gruen 1985: 62.

12Let us turn to Kennedy’s reflection on the co-existence of the opposites ‘war’ and ‘peace’ in Augustan ideology.26 In this passage, Kennedy is explicitly indebted to a 1985 essay by Erich Gruen, ‘Augustus and the Ideology of War and Peace,’ in which Gruen argues how Augustus ‘did not so much celebrate peace as the means of its accomplishment,’ as in the Res Gestae’s parta uictoriis pax (RG 14), in which Augustus ‘pronounced no pacifist creed but declared a warrior’s achievement.’27 In the same piece, Gruen also interprets the outside panels of the Ara Pacis in a double set of oppositions: Aeneas performing a sacrifice to the Penates is balanced by a partially preserved Mars, while the unidentified female deity ‘calling attention to the blessings of a tranquil time’ has her opposite in the very fragmentary panel of Roma seating on a pile of arms. ‘The imagery,’ Gruen argues, ‘takes on meaning in combination. The accomplishment of peace is inseparable from success in war.’28

13This reading of Augustan ideology as a combination of revolution and evolution, with the Republican, anti-Augustan side, already inscribed within both the Res Gestae and the Ara Pacis, was in the air when Kennedy wrote. Only one year before Kennedy, and with no reference to Gruen, Jás Elsner provided a similar interpretation of the internal frieze of the Ara Pacis:

The fruitful bliss of the Italia scene, cow and all, is insured by the procession of cows to their death at this very altar, by the cows becoming the skulls from which the garlands hang. The visual pun works in both Latin and English: the garlands depend on the skulls. The cow, a recurring image in its different forms in the precinct, is a visual metaphor for the reciprocity of sacrifice, for what depends on what and for the cost of Augustan plenty. The scene of Italia could not be there but for this altar, could have no meaning but for the skulls.
(Elsner 1991: 58)

14After comparing this imagery to the blood imagery and slaughter present in Horace’s Carmen Saeculare (lines 49-52), Elsner comes to the conclusion that:

the image of blood – which echoes in the references to war and sacrificial slaughter – is transferred to the Princeps upon whom the success of these acts depends. To be Augustus is an act of blood (in both the kin and carnage senses of the word) and upon the Augustan blood of divine progeniture, war, and sacrifice rests the golden age of Augustan plenty…
(Elsner 1991: 59)

  • 29 Cf. the use of Nineteen Eighty-Four in Kennedy 2013, especially pp. 76-83.

15Therefore, reading the anti-Augustus chez Augustus is not peculiar to Kennedy, but it is only Kennedy who glosses Gruen’s chapter with the memory of the lapidary statement ‘War is Peace’. Which happens to be the first slogan of the party that Winston Smith sees inscribed on the white pyramidal building of the Ministry of Truth at the beginning of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a work that would later prove especially influential in Kennedy’s own work:29

The Ministry of Truth – Minitrue, in Newspeak… was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air. From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:


(George Orwell 1949, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Chapter 1)

  • 30 At least since Henderson 1987.
  • 31 Kennedy 1992: 35 (my emphasis).
  • 32 Kennedy 1992: 31 (on which see also DuQuesnay 1984); a passage instead interpreted by Galinsky 1996 (...)
  • 33 Kennedy 1992: 45.

16While Gruen’s chapter focussed on pacification over peace, and on the importance of foreign war for that pacification, Kennedy 1992 takes it to mean that in the Augustan ideology even civil war, the main concern of Virgil’s anti-Augustanism, can equal peace, that discordia can spell concordia. This perversion of language resonates with the totalitarian perversion of language as described by Orwell in the party’s intention to make dissent simply unpronounceable in Newspeak. When we read Kennedy 1992 in the light not just of Orwell, but also of John Henderson’s use of Romespeak to describe the language of the establishment discourse at Rome,30 we can see the loaded anti-Augustan connotations of the terms chosen by Kennedy in a sentence such as ‘the power of Augustus was a collective invention… a complex network of dependency, repression, and fear’.31 When Kennedy claims that, in Horace’s Satires, ‘the word libertas a term previously mobilised to support a non-monarchical system… changed direction to support an autocratic one,’32 or that ‘Ovid’s ironic and flippant appropriation [i.e. of the Augustan programme]… helps to render [it] legitimate,’33 he is also drawing attention to the poets’ inability to express an oppositional statement except within a discourse that has rendered that opposition impossible to voice.

  • 34 Galinsky 1996: 57 and 228.
  • 35 Davis 2006: 130 n.4 attributes to Galinsky a ‘(superficially) similar view’ to Kennedy.
  • 36 See n.20.
  • 37 Henderson 1998: 111.

17In short, Kennedy 1992 itself seems to attempt to mirror the ideology that it describes, inasmuch as it is used to sustain both (pro-) Augustan and anti-Augustan scholarship. The essay is in fact praised by Karl Galinsky as a piece to which his 1996 (pro-)Augustan monograph (Augustan Culture: An Interpretative Introduction) is much indebted,34 and Peter Davis does not hesitate to tar Galinsky and Kennedy with almost exactly the same brush.35 However, Kennedy 1992 is at the same time used by Thomas Habinek in an explicitly anti-Galinskian vein,36 and one may well suspect that its indebtedness to Orwell is laid bare in John Henderson’s review article of Galinsky’s monograph, which emphasises the scholars’ discovery of ‘double-think involved in post-Actian discourse’37 as a means to overcome the stale bipolar options of the old continental debate.

3. Arendt’s Origins and Augustan Totalitarianism

  • 38 The question is intertwined to the degree of anachronistic analysis in Syme 1939; see Le Doze 2014: (...)
  • 39 See White 1993 for a reassessment of the issues of patronage and clientelism in Augustan Rome, with (...)
  • 40 Žižek 2011: 3.
  • 41 See for example Recalcati 2007.

18It is with this anti-ideological, and therefore anti-Augustan, reading of Kennedy 1992 in mind that I shall now turn to Hannah Arendt’s writings on totalitarianism, not with the aim of establishing a direct relationship between Arendt’s work and Kennedy’s essay, but in order to assess how a joint analysis of the two can illuminate our understanding of Augustan ideology in general, as well as providing further reflections on the stale debate over Virgil’s Aeneid in particular. There is, however, a double danger inherent in this practice. Firstly, since even the use of the term propaganda has often been argued to be anachronistic for the Augustan context,38 any association between the concept of totalitarianism and the Augustan regime may sound like a deliberate and unjustified anachronism, which it certainly is. Clearly the Augustan regime had nothing like the means of control and propaganda that we associate with the totalitarianisms of the 20th century, and nor does it sound reasonable, let alone appealing, to coerce the complexities of Augustan poetry into the picture of a mere laboratory for the spreading of political messages.39 Moreover, it must be noted that even in contemporary practice the concept of totalitarianism is not conceived of as applicable outside its very limited field of action. Indeed, the scholarship on totalitarianism moves no less carefully than classical scholarship when using the term outside Hannah Arendt’s limitation of the concept as inextricably tied to the unique experiences of 20th century Nazi Germany and the Soviet regime. In Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? (2011), Slavoj Žižek notes how the notion, as conceived by Arendt, ‘far from being an effective theoretical concept, is a kind of stopgap: instead of enabling us to think, forcing us to acquire a new insight into the historical reality it describes, it relieves us of the duty to think, or even actively prevents us from thinking’.40 Here, Žižek’s use of the concept as key for interpreting aspects of neo-liberal society is intentionally provocative, but it sheds light on the fact that some modalities of totalitarian language and propaganda actually survived the 20th century, and that studies on their workings can still enlighten very different political systems from the ones that they originally purported to explain.41

  • 42 The term totalitarismo first appears in connection to Italian fascism in a 1923 article by Giovanni (...)
  • 43 Arendt 2004: 14-15.
  • 44 Arendt 2004: 170.
  • 45 Arendt 2004: 525.

19To apply the notion of totalitarianism forwards, as Žižek does, undermines the concept of totalitarianism as set out by Arendt; but to apply it backwards, as I shall do below, goes even more explicitly against Arendt, who emphasises more than once in The Origins the difference between dictatorships, tyrannies, authoritarian rules and the totalitarianism of Hitler and Stalin, in which not even Mussolini’s government completely partakes, as much as Italian fascism provided the origin of the term in the first place.42 Indeed, in The Origins, Arendt argues from the start for the unprecedented and unparalleled experience of totalitarianism. In the section on antisemitism as the first root of totalitarian rule, she points out how ‘the rise of terror as a major weapon of government’ works differently from other dictatorships and tyrannies, in so far as it is now used ‘as an instrument to rule masses of people who are perfectly obedient,’ striking victims who are ‘innocent even from the point of view of the persecutor’.43 In the section on imperialism as the second root of totalitarian rule, she singles out ‘expansion for expansion’s sake’ as an ‘entirely new concept in the long history of political thought and action’.44 Finally, the section on totalitarianism emphasises the differences between the new principle of totalitarian domination and the old principle of authority: while ‘authority is meant to restrict or limit freedom… totalitarian domination… aims at abolishing freedom, even at eliminating human spontaneity in general’.45

  • 46 In Arendt 1961: 91-142.
  • 47 Arendt 1961: 98.
  • 48 Arendt 1961: 104, 25.
  • 49 Arendt 1961: 124.
  • 50 Arendt 1961: 99.

20The differences between authoritarian, tyrannical and totalitarian governments are addressed not only in the section of The Origins devoted to totalitarianism, but t completethoroughhe Princepu'C3 essay Wthat s Aauthorit?’.46 Her> Arendt distigulisses the three systems by using three different-representative moells.>While Orwell’s Ministry of Truth hadas pyramidal structurt, the pyramin for Arendtisy limited to authoritarian and tyrannical rulee. This isbe cause the ourcle of authorits lies outside the authoritarian governmene, and the seas of itspPower islvocaend at thetop.47 The Romnes, assthe leter exboundsirn the essa,e invenved both authority andntradotion.48bout thire ourcle of authorit,n in conreastnto theChrdistman syste,o layexnclusively in the psne, and tues the Romne moel) can be-represenbed wit, a dwnoward pyramiy, which stretcres into thedcephn of anpeathely prst rather than into the elighus of theskgy.49 The pyramin is also hve moelt for tyrannical ruly, but in this case one must imavineae pyramin in whichhall the intenvehing aywers between op, and botomd have beendrestoyeed, so that the botomdhis lvbellee, and the rulee-rmrains susponded at thetop,d abovs anyoneellce.50 In contradistinction to thset regimps, totalitarianism for Arendtisy better-represenbed by on otion,be cause the totalitarian reades does notfact from the op, of thesstructurt, but From within thesstructurt, andhinerrchty is abolisved infav our of a direct relationship betweenhall straa, of thesstructur, and the reades, whosewtill can beem"boibed by onyont, ever where>and athall gimpt’>

he does – wgetherthe intgraotes theebody politi as inaen authoritariadhinerrchtk, oroupprestes is sobjecsd like a tyrats – he doesiut From withiy, and nut From wit out rd abovn… Thegrseasadv antase of this systee is t at the movument providis foreoach of its aywerm, even undereconiptions of totalitarian rule, the fection of a nrmcalworldt alogd wit, abconsciouncess of being different from adomplettradiial thon i>…estong/>

between thesupprmhe power( theFue hrr), and the rulnd thers are nt releable intenvehing lvberm, oach of which shouldprective tis duesharle of authorits and obediecep. Thewtill of theFue hrrl can beem"boibed ever where>and athall gimpt, andhce himselm is not tied tomanyhinerrchtk, not even the ondhcemlight have establiseid himself>
Arendt 200 [or.epu'1]4: 521)

  • Goawing 205:g 2-1y speasy of a new ideology,onse that hasco-optded themplnal aluse of tradotionalRi (...)
  • Kennedy 1992: 40,kquoted above.

41th century experience should not prevent us from applting ger islighus into the workings of totalitarian systemstwo different contexs, as wel.> As much assthesstrestes the pyramidal structure of Romne authoritarianism, Arendthperselm does not providomanycluse as to how o preconhile tvis dwnoward pyramiy, in whichhauthority isbasted and placdsirn the xtemltary psne, wit, a regime such as that of Augustut, who at the same time helped in hapling,Schoising, and thereforere-crseating and r writin that psut by insrating himselm into ever bias of ir as is ulitimat teloes, and alsoepresenbedtvis governmencal systes – both d contiunation and a upcture from the Republis – througn a other of thoseocontradictory coexisiences of oppositesienapsmulacdsirn the concept of pimuis intey pares, this concept seems to echg gersymabolcs rendeding of totalitariao rule es the paradoxicas systee nm which thelreader’scal-iencompessing power depends on the fact that he islvocaend anyoneellct’s lvbes.>What s mfore, Arendt’s islighusprmkinduis coiselyoof Kennedy’s interpretation of thecal-iencompessingnacture of-Augustanism, since Arendt argues that it is the perforted andnadveraised equacity of the reader that allous hid to tran cedf those whonyon th less-rmrai This sobjecs,’ and to transforg himselm intoal concept,tan ideology, which can beem"boibed and aplibed by onyonm wit out the nedy for intemnedirdies.>While tyratts are lofht and abovs thire sobjecs,t with wrom thry cmmunnicate througn , repressvee systes of intemnedites aywerm, the totalitarian reades instead-represenus himselt as nre – butthd ore – fs is sobjecse. This is howthemmanagesntoptemnrate all straa, of thepopmulation inaenulitimatnly repressveewsay, but by temporarilymrairtaising the ‘fection of a nrmcalworld,’ in which oppositional voicts are eve> explicitly silencdy, but only rncomoscdsirn order to make thom dwhere to the new systef. This is the totalisingnacture of-Augustanis> as epdressed by Kennedh: theulitimat reason wyt it is impossible to traks dwne dissent in terms of anti-Augustanisn. Indeed, we have already seen how Kennedy’s notion t at the regime is successful ‘in so far as it manages not so much to silence or suppress as to determine the consumptiod of the oppositional voice within its discourse’ resonates with the totalitarian perversion of language as described by Orwell in the party’s intention to make dissent simply unpronounceable in Newspeak.Tthis does not mean that ore should>stolwoendeding about theepresecle of such dissent in the Augustanntexsy, but rather that we mustalwsasn be consciou> of the fact that the Augustan revolution oftenmtakes the languaged of dissent and consent appeas indistiguliseable.

  • Ono thedcebate see especially Hardie 209n, Thomas 2061: -14 (bastedion Thomas 200),d Mastidtale 1993>
  • Orwell 194, Chapter-9.
  • See as siminlt studiesParrdy 163,n Johrson 176, Lynen 1987.
  • SeeM rgian 199t and 1999fror the ida, of civil wah as construcsveedrestuaction’.

32 wedo, not oende wgetherambigultlies in Virgil may be a deliberateseign fs isndirallgianice to the regim,d nor dt we argut that thire meaning snulitimatnly>dependeht on our u avoicablyrprjtudacds reception of tho. Rrathed, wertak both thie> existence and the epe-pondencess of thiar interpretation as aseignnont of the ‘doublwspeak’ of thehauthol, but of the ‘doubl think’ of the syste,o[i.e. of the ‘power[ of the Augustanalieorary languag]n fs oilding twomuctuallyocontradictory belifsn… simultaneousl,t and aecepting ophn of tho?’. T sn kind ofdoubl thins im liesnoe danger of sbvsrating the urerent political orden,be cause thore eiestsnos conceieable realistic optioe to that orden, and thereforenos crer spodrent languag9fror coveyhing a esuiref or suchunnimaviiable lnternctivm. In the Aeneideovocation of civil wah can be thought to coveyr Virgil’s ‘further voick’ of dissent and unmaso the oerrods on which the Augustan regime is f unded,bout it can also be-r inscribed within the languagg of Augustan ideology and eigifby theever neocessits andrprr eqiositefror the f unding of thePprincimaten which deeied to ‘restoyw’ thedc generthe lete Republisirn order to start costrucsings aew.Sscholar interescdsirn rncvdeding Virgil’s intentioncean thereforeeietheraargut that Virgil’sprmkinher of theepfice topary for the pxf Augusts attempmstwo ds matple the optmlisticvistion t at theiIdeology of the pxfspaxWhile theepeeference for ore interpretation over the other snulitimatnly>rgiven y cout preconceived belifsy and int rests, it is difticut,n oncewhe loko at the context,tos conceies how a poeg oron in70 BCE, ns a political systeo which ade beenion crysis sinceaAt least133 BCE,chould>still conceiesoof republicanis> asae realistic rather than idealistic political pction.Aall thempletsos since the Augustan regime hadaniticpatded thempossible d option, at thehlands of its oppnments, of thepoolitical and rligciou> contex that redatded the crysir, byepessenning tmselt asao resitlution of the(middle)e Republis and levning tms oppnmente as supporwersoof the mruallyocr upce lete Republis of the civil wals. ThePprincimatn therefore was not theeeust option, buttht onld pction, the Republica> pctio:n whatchouldain anti-Augustan Republica> support if not Augustus himsel?>

.t Augustugs Ministry of Truthm

Ssuch a covfection s mmade t completcrogetp when we readitf in direct opposition to wait sh nidentifisr as isselt e practice of totalitarian propaganda ind of ideologies in genera. Ffor Arend,f totalitarian propaganda isbastedonw ‘themassrstio that all happekings arescidentifcially pr dictablee’ and in ohinglso it dvtlopis the totalitariannacture of all ideologie,o which ‘petened to bescidentifc pWhiosopWhmpt’ whose claim to totae explinationnprmsises to explait all historical happeking:s the totae explination of theppsne, the totaeknowledage of theepessene, and the releable redfectio> of the ucturr.’ Theroble fn wait sh ecalsn the r wricersoof histor,’ in totalitarian systems –temloyeged of Orwell’s Ministry of Trut,’ – involvasao r writin of theppsn, as well asae redfectio> of the ucturr> Their iee is ‘o prvecal fificial historywas oke,> to dmconstrate spThere of encre influencsh of which theeissibl,e tracnable, andknowne historical reality is only>tht utowardfaçmade rjecied explicitly to ooll the peopl?’. T snletsiudre was onlympossible moing an intollecqualealieo which ade bcRome, througn the raumratic experience of hhe first war, alreadyarverce to fificial histoinograpts andbrelievnd that history ‘wi, a eorgery ay wae’. T sncynnicalgloss of belifymenciulnd prmhndiou> coseqluencst:

of T snarversion of the intollecqualealieo for fificial histoinograpt,> to its covfection that histor,o whichwi, a eorgery ay wa,emlight as wellbef thesplagrsound of trakpoxsy, must beadided the tersibl,e dmceraizhing fascnlation in thempossibility thatgiganitis lies adomponstiou>f alehoodst can eventually be establiseid asun questioedy aecs,t thatomne may be fren to changs isowneppsn, it ialy, and that theddifference betweentTruth andf alehoode mayacnsme tobef objeciovs and bcRomf a mere letter of pwler andc lvbrncess, ofpdrestur, and inMinibe-reetsitiof>
Arendt 200 [or.epu'1]4:441):

methody for interpreting and litimatnly expoiating histork. Whenscidentifc histoinograptsdimps, hnegapes incout historicalknowledageeand uf beingfielled not ly duocaend and clutiou> cobjecutressplaved ofy againstlone a othey, but bylon-svided and unjustified chions of equatly unjustifiedxpocse.Aas wI shall seempletcClearly below, thskexpocss are cobjecutrde both by ‘thedrestoyeersoof histor,,’ and by the sobjecsd thorslever, alreadyhndiwcds with thehauthority to mebody their reades, theiIdeologl, and therefore also alloded ogfieln in thegapesoof histors by using the samehoalistic systeg of connectios, indrfectlysugguessed by the ideology issel. T sngtivee risentoalmaeze of conpitraby thordie ( such as that of the-existence of Jewlislworld- conpitrab)> whosetTruth is impossible todisequacfyt From within thessyste,o[f, not wit out lreksing the whale systeg of coslistenys on which the thordie thorsleved have been buitd ue.

historyhn Bloko4y of the Aeneid and lete Republica> histor.>Ono the ondh ans, it isain for the ou lrekg of thePunnil wal,e explicitly redfecred byDido hingher ourse( Aes while thedrestuactioe ofCeathagct isevokded andmhappedon toDidol’s very death by means ofcan loqluet) simise( Aes and furthereovocatiosg of thePunnil conlrictarheepessent t veakmous pointshn Bloks 1> and4.Ono the rtherh ans, however,cwritces have long recognierd lclusioes to the civi/ foreign war that nided the Romne Republisirn theddoubding of the chpraceersoofAn tany andCleo patasirn themythnicalglave ctory between Aenaes adoDidok:bbothAn tany and Aenaes rhe Romnenoesproto- Romnenglavras dplavedirn the lclrting andluxurtiou> cfurs ofcanordientalqluen;>bbothqluensy cmm it ulicdvs and letegted to oach rther by onunmlisakeableltiguliatic echestong/ 0Aespllidalmoethe uctuas andCleo patashat Aespllsenbmlmoethe uctuas

AeneidSsimilally, themonmencrlyjuextmossition wit,An tany can be seen to underminf the mruac rtanc, ofpdoto- Augustan Aenaek, or even to sgguesn inte changnability between n tany andOctavrian, since ietherwionnrmwcould eventually bcRomf(a)dCeeslar.Buto at the same time thedrvtlopsment of thexpocs also sgguesis the opposit: nsamlty that Aenae/ Augustusio, nn n tann,be causeiof Aenaes ade b havnd like n tann, Romwcould have eve> been f undee.

93Aeneid s simultaneousl crseation andcrseaoar.Buto the txcs alsoienctuagkes usrreadedt ogfieln in thedocss and ent pf connectios, between the historical evenstevokded therhi6>Onhempossible way o preconhile theepresecle ofPunnil andccivil waly in theCeathagct pismoenigsnto tak both evenst asun avoicabve cepesoof Republica> histor:s thyd letethe ante mlres of T sn interpretatio,hweh mayadnd that the two evenst mere alreadyaassociated inalieorarytann histoinograpdiial texs, rther than the AeneidstiisdAasS lclud putsditf in all hi textat workd, it as pecisenly>tht destuactioe ofCeathagce, and the ubseqlueut>di appeaaence of hhat flean of the-aemrt’ which isanneocesaoryelvement ofnlatioialunnty,t thatbrhought about the crysis of the Romne Republis whichulitimatnly rsulited in theiseinding ofbrhrthenly rather than foreignbloodm. In Augustanalieorcturt, this caus- an- effecn associationias oftenevokded byHoracmf(aand udouitetly attributed toA siitu Pollio hingis dhd2.1)d, andics also srfacely in themouath of Hanibial inLivlt’sBloko30., Tues thePunnil wald not onlylied to the abolation of Roml’s e c--aemr, but also riggurded the civil conlrict which rsulited from t t vgery abolatio.> Theosimultaneou eovocation ofPunnil andccivil waly in Aeneid4e may rhing lught to the caus- an- effecn connection between the two evens,s also possibbyepessenred byDido hingher ourse when sheordhions notnjusf thePunnil wal,e butmpletsspecifcially the waly inLcatuom ad,d accrdting to somerreaded,d the civil conlrict( Ae.fsugnsent psinnepnoteqlud

TheS lcludrian caus- an- effecn connection betweenPunnil andccivil waly has imprxtat-reersusetios, for uar interpretation of Virgil’s allgded dissent in the Aeneid Mors imprxtatlly, the ugguestio inscribed in lcludt’s heorte,onsamlty that civil wah maypreturn of the ctizensydo, not ligon wit,AAugustugs foreignmialitady polctyoin themooeltoof the iddlee Republi,s tursn the lclgded ‘further voick’ of dissent i to pecisenly>tht opposit: ae ubtule andveiulnd hrsea,t that kind of ideological terror which isneocesaoiely inscribed in allsforss of totalitariao propagand.> The tchunique emloyeed by Virgilwcould also sito the use of totalitarian propaganda described by Arend, in The Origins

the-effectivncess of t sn kind of propaganda dmconstratas nre of the clify chpraceeisitces of moerne meste.> Thyydo, notbrelievf inaeyothingeissibl,e in the realityoof thiarowne experienc;s thyddo, notstusat thireeytes andpears but only thirenimaviictios,m which may be caught by onothingtWhat s hat oche unavracal and conxistenthin itsel.Wwhatchnviencsh masses are nty aecs,t and nut even invenved aecs,t but only thf coslistenys of the systeg of which thytarheepesumcablyrtart h thytarheepe dimoscdstof all ideologie,be cause thyn explait aecs as hore examplrsoofoawes andpeliminahf crincdrences yn inveneing ancal-imbrarcingomnipnotoncewwhich is suppsued to be at the root of ever acniden.y Totalitariad propaganda trtiveeoin thisdesapre from reality n ogfiectioy, from crincdrency n og coslistenys hBrefore thynseizce pwler and establis aeworldt accrdting to thirs oc rinmps, totalitariae movumenu> cobtureup aepltingworldt of coslistenyswwhich ismpleteadqumatn to the nedis of the humanmkind than reality itsel>…
Arendt 200 [or.epu'1]4:452-41)


  • Arendt 2004:4410,kquoted above.

Aeneid s e practice tatn fockes us tocrseav, and imavineltikse, and this practicsias inextricabre fromaeosimultaneou understandin,noesrdecoestuactios, of the ‘orldt of coslistenyw’ that the Augustan ideology attempued to cobtureup. Rreading the caus- an- effecn connection betweenPunnil andccivil waly in thepobmlmmeans bcRodingocmxplicis with the practicsoof interpretingppsn, evenst accrdting toae totalising interpretation of history which aims at historicalscidentifclitm. In t is pnis,n the readedt thorslever, and not Virgil onl,n turn i to toset r wricers –f alehoodsn… so that theddifference betweentTruth andf alehoode mayacnsme tobef objeciovs and bcRomf a mere letter of pwler andc lvbrncess, ofpdrestur, and inMinibe-reetsitio?’.

Aeneidf alehoods,,’ it doeslso yodrawding tntention to the r writin of bothmyuth and historyhn thesseacddrdiocaend to tuilymponstiou> ( Aes( Aes Themextmohstic tntentiongieven totThemext historicalpartificiacity of bothistoreso underminas therumcueress read against n tann,aand alsohligllighus the fact that themereting between Aenaes adoDidoa isbastedonw

.op, ofpagc)>
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1 Barchiesi 1997: 6 n.1: ‘I am convinced that the field has more of a future than Kennedy himself allows us to foresee, precisely thanks to generous contributions like the one he offers’ (cited from the translated edition; originally 1994).

2 Impatience and dissatisfaction at the debate were already in the air on the European side as Kennedy wrote; Hardie 1993: 2 speaks of it as ‘monotonous’ and ‘reductive’.

3 From Parry’s ‘two voices’ of the Aeneid (Parry 1963), the formulation ‘further voices’ was introduced by Lyne 1987, and soon challenged by Conte’s ‘too many voices’ (Conte 1990).

4 Kennedy 1992: 40.

5 Kennedy 1992: 42.

6 Kennedy 1992: 46.

7 Kennedy 1992: 40: ‘The dominated voice may not be heard, but is not absent; the potentiality for subversion is inscribed in every use of every word. Thus it is that discourse, as well as being an instrument and effect of power, is at the same time a focus for resistance and subversion. Establishment discourse is shaped by and contains traces of its opposition (and vice versa), even if the conflicting voice is not heard in its own right.’

8 A point made by Ziogas 2015: 130.

9 Martindale 1993: 31; Thomas 2001: 25-6.

10 Already since Gale 1997, a very influential reading of the Augustanism and anti-Augustanism of Propertius in the light of Kennedy 1992.

11 Sharrock 1994: 98.

12 Sharrock 1994: 98.

13 Sharrock 1994: 122: ‘while I read Ovid in such a way as to undermine Augustan authority staked on the moral legislation, I necessarily accord that authority and so in a sense legitimize it.’

14 Sharrock 1994: 106-9.

15 Barchiesi 1997: 175-6, in explicit opposition to Kennedy 1992.

16 Casali 2006; Boyle 2003: 9 n.22; Davis 1999 and 2006.

17 O’Gorman 1997: 104-5.

18 Hardie 1997: 182.

19 Barchiesi 1997: 84, 272.

20 Habinek 2002: 61, with reference to Galinsky 1996. Cf. also Habinek 1998: 6, 167.

21 pace Huskey 2008; I agree better with Nau 2007.

22 Davis 2006: 10.

23 Davis 2006: 14.

24 Davis 2006: 15.

25 Davis 2006: 15-16.

26 Kennedy 1992: 40, cited above.

27 Gruen 1985: 54.

28 Gruen 1985: 62.

29 Cf. the use of Nineteen Eighty-Four in Kennedy 2013, especially pp. 76-83.

30 At least since Henderson 1987.

31 Kennedy 1992: 35 (my emphasis).

32 Kennedy 1992: 31 (on which see also DuQuesnay 1984); a passage instead interpreted by Galinsky 1996: 57 as signposting symbiosis of intents between Horace and Augustus.

33 Kennedy 1992: 45.

34 Galinsky 1996: 57 and 228.

35 Davis 2006: 130 n.4 attributes to Galinsky a ‘(superficially) similar view’ to Kennedy.

36 See n.20.

37 Henderson 1998: 111.

38 The question is intertwined to the degree of anachronistic analysis in Syme 1939; see Le Doze 2014: 19-38 with bibliography. Note that Zanker 1988 remains still today an unavoidable point of departure for our understanding of Augustan ‘propaganda’.

39 See White 1993 for a reassessment of the issues of patronage and clientelism in Augustan Rome, with the critique of Kennedy himself regarding White’s insistence on apolitical amicitia and downplay of its power relations: ‘ideologically nothing washes whiter than White. I think I’ll have my old powder back, please’ (Kennedy 1994: 229).

40 Žižek 2011: 3.

41 See for example Recalcati 2007.

42 The term totalitarismo first appears in connection to Italian fascism in a 1923 article by Giovanni Amendola; on the history of totalitarianism, see Forti 2001.

43 Arendt 2004: 14-15.

44 Arendt 2004: 170.

45 Arendt 2004: 525.

46 In Arendt 1961: 91-142.

47 Arendt 1961: 98.

48 Arendt 1961: 104, 25.

49 Arendt 1961: 124.

50 Arendt 1961: 99.

51 Gowing 2005: 20-1 speaks of ‘a new ideology, one that has co-opted the moral value of traditional Republican exempla in order to affirm the supremacy of a single authority… historical allusion apart from the emperor has become increasingly difficult to achieve.’

52 Kennedy 1992: 40, quoted above.

53 On the debate see especially Hardie 2009, Thomas 2001: 1-14 (based on Thomas 2000), Martindale 1993.

54 Orwell 1949 Chapter 9.

55 See as seminal studies Parry 1963, Johnson 1976, Lyne 1987.

56 See Morgan 1998 and 1999 for the idea of civil war as ‘constructive destruction’.

57 The situation can be seen to change, for instance, with Ovid’s alleged anti-Tiberianism which is only made possible by his favouring of Germanicus: see Knox 2004.

58 Arendt 2004: 165: ‘…no matter how much we may be capable of learning from the past, it will not enable us to know the future.’

59 Arendt 2004: 500.

60 Arendt 2004: 604.

61 Arendt 2004: 606.

62 Arendt 2004: 441.

63 Arendt 2004: 18-19.

64 The reference to Hannibal in Dido’s curse (Aen. 4.625 exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor) is oblique but appeared certain to commentators at least since Servius (ad 4.625 “et ostendit Hannibalem”).

65 There is also a clear connection between the death of Dido, the first woman of Carthage, and the death of Hasdrubal’s wife, the last woman of the city, who similarly kills herself on a pyre, in the temple of Eshmoun (App. Pun. 131; Liv. Per. 51), see Edgeworth 1976-7.

66 I discuss these in Giusti 2014, but see already Goldschmidt 2013: 109-15 and Forthcoming; Shi and Morgan 2015.

67 See especially Bertman 2000; Syed 2005: 184-93; Hardie 2006 and 2014: 55-57.

68 Reference is of course to Aen. 1.33 tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem.

69 On metus hostilis in Virgil’s Carthage episode see Giusti 2016.

70 Sall. BJ 41.2; BC 10.1-2; Hist. fr. 1.11 McGushin.

71 On the dead of the civil wars becoming offerings to the Carthaginian and African manes see Hor. C. 2.1.25-8, but also Lucan 1.39 Poeni saturentur sanguine manes and 4.789-90: ferat ista cruentus / Hannibal et Poeni tam dira piacula manes, with discussion in Ahl 1976: 82-115. On metus hostilis in Horace see especially Epode 7 and Epode 16; cf. Seager 1980 for Horace’s use the Parthian menace in order to avoid civil discord.

72 See Liv. 30.44.7-8 with Reeve 1987. This is the only passage where Livy suscribes to Sallust’s theory, which must have received full treatment in the account of the debate between Scipio Nasica and Cato on the destruction of Carthage, according to the Periocha of Book 49. See Mineo 2011: 123.

73 The passage is taken as alluding to civil war already since Servius, ad Aen. 4.629; see Reeve 1987 for a persuasive defense of Servius’ interpretation.

74 Arendt 2004: 441, quoted above.

75 Virgil’s Fama has often been singled out as standing for the poem as a whole, highlighting its inconsistencies, and parading its fictionality. See especially Hardie 1986: 273-80 and 2012: 79-112, Clément-Tarantino 2006 and 2009, Syson 2013: 44-62.

76 Arendt 1961: 87.

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Electronic reference

Elena Giusti, « Did Somebody Say Augustan Totalitarianism? Duncan Kennedy’s ‘Reflections,’ Hannah Arendt’s Origins, and the Continental Divide over Virgil’s Aeneid », Dictynna [Online], 13 | 2016, Online since 20 December 2016, connection on 16 December 2017. URL :

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About the author

Elena Giusti

St John’s College Cambridge

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Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus des la revue Dictynna sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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