Death in Ancient Rome Catharine Edwards

Publication date:
04 May 2007
304 pages: 234 x 156 x 32mm
16 b&w illustrations

For the Romans, the manner of a person's death was the most telling indication of their true character. Death revealed the true patriot, the genuine philosopher, even, perhaps, the great artist--and certainly the faithful Christian. Catharine Edwards draws on the many and richly varied accounts of death in the writings of Roman historians, poets, and philosophers, including Cicero, Lucretius, Virgil, Seneca, Petronius, Tacitus, Tertullian, and Augustine, to investigate the complex significance of dying in the Roman world. Death in the Roman world was largely understood and often literally viewed as a spectacle. Those deaths that figured in recorded history were almost invariably violent--murders, executions, suicides--and yet the most admired figures met their ends with exemplary calm, their last words set down for posterity. From noble deaths in civil war, mortal combat between gladiators, political execution and suicide, to the deathly dinner of Domitian, the harrowing deaths of women such as the mythical Lucretia and Nero's mother Agrippina, as well as instances of Christian martyrdom, Edwards engagingly explores the culture of death in Roman literature and history.

Catharine Edwards is professor of classics and ancient history at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is the author of The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome and Writing Rome: Textual Approaches to the City.

'In her detailed study of the phenomenon in the Roman World, Catharine Edwards, professor of classics and ancient history at Birkbeck, puts at the heart of her thesis the idea that Romans regarded dying as an active, not a passive process, and one which revealed as much about a man's character as his life had done...a most stimulating, interesting and important piece of work.' -Peter Jones, BBC History Magazine

'[an] engrossing study of Roman attitudes to death...What this elegant book teaches us above all else is that the struggle to exert some modicum of control over our own deaths is certainly not a new obsession.' - Richard Miles, The Sunday Telegraph

'Catharine Edwards has sifted the works of Cicero, Virgil, Tacitus and more to show, fascinatingly, just how significant quitting the world was both for those leaving and as an example of those left behind.' - The First Post

'Death in Ancient Rome is readable, accessible, and scholarly, and a welcome contribution to the literature on an issue which the Romans found as fascinating as we do.' -Christopher Grocock, History Today

'This arc from early to imperial Rome provides the organising principle for Catherine Edwards's excellent book, which takes death and the representation of death as lenses through which to highlight some of the most striking characteristics of Roman culture. In analysing the ancient treatment of death, she shows that it is not only inextricable from other aspects of that culture -- military, aesthetic, philosophical, political -- but also informed by the persistent idea of dying with (or for) an audience.' - Shadi Bartsch, London Review of Books

'Beyond its chronological scope, Catharine Edwards's work offers a provocative window into Roman culture as a whole, its texts, beliefs and practices, from the arena to the dining room... She also writes beautifully, combining richly detailed description with compelling arguments to make the complexity of her interpretations accessible even to a non-specialist reader. The eloquent final pages of Death in Ancient Rome make clear that she has a personal as well as an academic stake in demonstrating the surprisingly life-affirming potential of Roman death.' - Andrew Feldherr, Times Literary Supplement

'This is a surprisingly engaging and immensely enthralling book, and C. has herein produced what will be the standard overview of the topic for many years to come. She has drawn together a wealth of recent scholarship and fashioned it into a lucidly written text ... this book covers a great deal of relevance to our teaching of Latin literature ... There should be at least one copy available in the department and another in the library.' Robert Tatam, Journal of Classics Teaching