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Ethics, Identity, and Community in Later Roman Declamation$
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Neil W. Bernstein

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199964116

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199964116.001.0001

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(p.78) 3 Reciprocity
Ethics, Identity, and Community in Later Roman Declamation

Neil W. Bernstein

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the intersection between the Major Declamations and Roman thinking on reciprocal obligations presented in Cicero’s De Officiis and Seneca’s De Beneficiis. The impoverished father of “The Ransomed Invalid” (DM 5) and the aggrieved husband of “The Blind Woman’s Hands” (DM 6) both argue that pietas has a more significant role in creating obligation among family members than mere biological relatedness. The scenarios of “The Gladiator” (DM 9) and “The Pledged Friends” (DM 16) force individuals to prioritize their obligations to friendship over kinship. The figure of the uicarius (substitute), who willingly offers his life in order to save his friend, demonstrates that the friendship cannot have been pursued simply for instrumental benefit. “The Corpse Eaters” (DM 12) and “The Poor Man’s Bees” (DM 13) examine the obligations of the individual to the community. Each of these narratives offers an alternative perspective on the characteristic anxieties of Roman friendship discourse, in which self-interested, greedy excess always threatens to compromise the felicitous exchange of benefactions.

Keywords:   benefaction, kinship, friendship, exemplarity, patronage, De Officiis, De Beneficiis

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