Archaizing and Classicism in the Literary Historical Thinking of Dionysius of Halicarnassus

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Contribution to Book

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The veneration of the past is one of the most characteristic features of Imperial Greek culture. While respect for prior generations is common enough throughout Greek history, under the Roman Empire the intensity with which Greeks express such reverence increases substantially and is reflected in the more prominent role the past comes to play in the definition of Greek elite identity. Imperial Greeks not only admire the great figures of their past, but also look to them as models for eloquence, language, ethics and behavior. The dominance of Atticism, that is, the imitation of the vocabulary, dialect and style of fifth- and fourth-century BCE Athenian writers, is probably the best known manifestation of this nostalgia, but its effects also reached far beyond language; the subject matter of Imperial texts, their historical reference points, the figures they invoke as exempla, and the poets they quote as authorities belong primarily to a period extending from the Trojan War to the death of Alexander the Great—some 300 to 1000 years before the beginning of the Roman Empire. This focus on a so-called 'classical' era, that is, one located in the distant past and embodying 'a paradigmatic set of features of aesthetic, moral or intellectual excellence, whether of style, content or attitude', is why modem scholars refer to the 'classicizing' nature of Imperial culture, or its 'classicism'.

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James Ker & Christoph Pieper







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Valuing the Past in the Greco-Roman World