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Uncertainty in Livy and Velleius

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Annika Domainko

2. Uncertainty in Context

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2.1 Uncertainty and the Human Condition

2.1.1 The Ubiquity of Uncertainty

1The term ‘uncertainty’ has the almost paradoxical merit of being accessible on a variety of levels. As part of our everyday language and experience, uncertainty is intuitively comprehensible and easy to relate to. We are, for instance, uncertain about the weather, which clothes to wear or whether or not to bring an umbrella when we leave the house in the morning. We can also be uncertain about the meaning of a friend’s surprising facial expression when we tell them about our plans. On a more existential level, we are uncertain what the next days, years and decades will bring and what challenges we are all likely to face in the course of our lives. Similarly, we might face the experience that our previously held beliefs are not compatible with the world as we perceive it, or that an allegedly universal truth can look entirely different when approached from a new angle.

  • 1 See also Esposito (2007) for the ubiquity of probabilities that lie behind our decisions in our eve (...)

2In order to cope with this experience of uncertainty, we take out health and life insurances, arrange building-loan contracts for our new-born children and install automatic fire alarms in our homes.1 Just in case. We draw up guidelines by which we structure our realities and through which we reduce the risk of running into inconclusive or ambiguous situations. A great deal of our everyday efforts we owe to an often unvoiced sense of unforeseeable things to come and to our desire to minimize potential risks. In this context, uncertainty is perhaps best described as a human cognitive response to the fact of an unknowable future More precisely, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as the ‘quality of being uncertain in respect of duration, continuance, occurrence’, as ‘liability to chance or accident’ and as ‘a state of doubt’.

  • 2 See http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/210212?redirectedFrom=uncertainty#eid (accessed in June 2016).
  • 3 For a similar problem, see also Golden (2013) 1-10 on the term ‘crisis’.

3Apart from these definitions which are more or less equivalent to our most basic everyday understanding of the term, the OED also gives the ‘quality of being indeterminate as to magnitude or value’ and as ‘the amount of variation in a numerical result that is consistent with observation.’2 Especially in these last entries, we get a glimpse of how many different concepts are hidden behind the same term, and consequently how important it is to give a precise definition of this widely experienced concept in order to form a coherent argument.3 What becomes visible in all these examples, though, is again the twofold nature of uncertainty relating to a temporal dimension on the one hand, and a hermeneutic level on the other hand, just as was visible from the literary exegesis in the introduction to this book.

  • 4 See Luhmann (1992) 7: ‘Die Proklamation der Postmoderne hatte mindestens einen Verdienst. Sie hat b (...)
  • 5 See Beck (1986). Beck’s seminal book on the risk society (‘Risikogesellschaft’) can be counted amon (...)
  • 6 See Bude (2014). Bude conceptualizes ‘angst’ as the structural characteristic of modern society. Bu (...)
  • 7 See Bauman (2000) who distinguishes ‘solid modernity’ and ‘liquid modernity’. The solid form, an er (...)
  • 8 See Rosa (2013). Drawing especially on the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, Rosa argues tha (...)
  • 9 See recently also Münkler and Münkler (2016), tellingly captioned Ein Land vor seiner Zukunft, whic (...)

4Academic disciplines as divergent as economics and physics, statistics and philosophy, psychology and law, to name just a few, have all developed their conceptual and operative frameworks to deal with the general notion of uncertainty. Publications relating to uncertainty, instability, contingency or ambiguity have seen an almost explosive increase in the last few decades and have found themselves every so often reviewed or referred to in the media for a wider audience. Starting from the proclamation of postmodernism,4 uncertainty has boomed. In catchphrases such as ‘risk society’ (Ulrich Beck),5 ‘society of angst’ (Heinz Bude),6 ‘liquid modernity’ (Szygmunt Bauman),7 ‘acceleration’ (Hartmut Rosa),8 and ‘dissolution’ – of families, societies, identities, boundaries –, various ideas of uncertainty are ubiquitous in newspapers and their supplements, in political talk shows as well as in academic contexts.9

5When seen from this angle, uncertainty as a theorized subject seems to be a particularly modern (or postmodern) phenomenon that is crucially linked to contemporary developments such as globalization or digitalization. While these developments certainly increase the likelihood of a collective feeling of uncertainty, uncertainty is of course not limited to our times and not bound to modern technologies and changes. If we strip our concepts of uncertainty from their actual targets and boil them down to their mere structures, it becomes obvious that uncertainty is inextricably linked to human experience itself. Our feeling of uncertainty then surfaces as something that is often particularly intense in times of external change, transformation or crisis. But as part of the human condition it is not limited to these external circumstances.

6The prisoner scene in Livy 21 has confronted us with a fundamental assumption about the nature of human life and the alleged function of narrative and storytelling. What was prominent in the passage was the basic idea of men being thrown into a fundamentally uncertain world and looking for ways and means to come to terms with it. On a second level, it was the vision of narrative being part of that existential struggle and of having the potential to help us to cope with it in some way or another. Individual disciplines have come up with specific definitions of uncertainty which serve their respective methodological and epistemological needs and paradigms. However, the ubiquity of the term and the experience of uncertainty in our everyday lives alerts us to the fact that uncertainty is more than a heuristic concept used in the discrepant realms of economy, quantum physics or psychology. There is an existential dimension to uncertainty that is not touched upon or grasped through the functionalist and specialized approaches in these fields. Across the following pages, I hope to fill this gap, as it were, by embedding my approach, derived from literary critical close readings, within the context of the philosophy of time in the phenomenological tradition and within the context of a philosophy of ambiguity in the tradition of deconstruction.

7The writing of a book is of course a hermeneutic process itself that oscillates between partial exegeses and conceptual reflection on a larger overarching topic. Needless to say, the argument put forward in this book did not come to be about in the linear way in which it is presented here, but is the result of a constant pendular motion between literary close readings and the engagement with the theoretical and philosophical foundations of its core concepts. One has influenced the other, and neither would stand as it does without this dialogue. When the next pages of this chapter thus deal with the phenomenology of time behind my concept of temporal uncertainty and with the philosophy of ambiguity behind the hermeneutic dimension, I intend that these theoretical foundations function as neither secondary to the conceptual approach derived from Livy’s spectacle scene nor a sine qua non. Theory has shaped the questions directed at Livy and Velleius, and Livy and Velleius have conceptually sharpened the lens through which to read the individual theoretical building blocks. I hope this constant reciprocity is kept in mind as the reader navigates her way through this book.

2.1.2 Temporal Uncertainty

  • 10 See Gadamer (19652) 250-90 on the ‘Erhebung der Geschichtlichkeit des Verstehens zum hermeneutische (...)

8In the history of thought, what I have labelled temporal uncertainty can be traced back to the idea of temporality. The notion of temporality was conceptualized in a hitherto undeveloped way by Edmund Husserl to characterize human experience from a phenomenological and epistemological perspective. It has been advanced by Martin Heidegger to characterize ‘Dasein’ on an ontological level, and Hans-Georg Gadamer built on this tradition to develop his philosophical hermeneutics and to describe the process of understanding as an inherently temporal (and by extension, historically situated10) process. It was then the historian Reinhart Koselleck who made use of the concept of temporality, conceptualizing it as a tension of experience and expectation, and transferred it onto a historical anthropology in order to grasp the anthropological dimension of our lives as historical beings.

  • 11 See esp. Grethlein (2010a), (2010b), (2013), (2014a), (2014b). For a detailed theoretical derivatio (...)
  • 12 It goes without saying that the following overview is, in accordance with the conceptual focus of t (...)

9Hence, temporality has proved to be a core concept when it comes to fathoming some of the most fundamental structures of the human condition. The classicist Jonas Grethlein has built on this tradition and offered many in-depth studies of the significance of temporality and its narrative configurations in Greek historiography and epic.11 This subchapter follows in these footsteps and complements them by developing a theoretical concept of uncertainty that combines time and hermeneutics. But before teasing out their interrelation, let me briefly focus on time.12

  • 13 See Husserl (1966) [= Hua X]. See also the new edition by Bernet, in the following quoted as Husser (...)
  • 14 See Husserl/Bernet (2013) 40: ‘Die Retention […] hält nur das Erzeugte im Bewußtsein und prägt ihm (...)
  • 15 See Husserl/Bernet (2013) 39: ‘Wir durchlaufen die Melodie in der Phantasie, wir hören “gleichsam” (...)

10Husserl developed his phenomenology of temporality in his work Zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewußtseins (1893-1917).13 By arguing that it would be impossible for us to have an experience of the world if we did not have a sense of temporality, he inextricably linked temporality to human existence and perception. Our experience of the world, as he claims, is not a series of unconnected moments, but depends on the interplay of what he calls protention and retention. Retention describes the fact that previous perceptions are retained and linger in our consciousness.14 When we listen to a melody, for instance, we do not listen to a series of unconnected notes, but the previous tones resonate in our minds. At the same time, we already anticipate what we have not heard yet. This expectation directed towards the notes to come is conversely called protention. Hence, when we listen to music, our experience is not limited to the discrete portions of the melody we are currently hearing, but due to protentions and retentions always extended to a ‘not any more’ and a ‘not yet’.15

  • 16 See Grethlein (2010b) 315-6.
  • 17 Heidegger’s (1986) fundamental ontology approaches the phenomenon of death as a ‘Seinsmöglichkeit d (...)

11The momentum of what I have called temporal uncertainty is particularly obvious in Heidegger’s adaptation of Husserl’s concept. While Husserl’s focus is on retention, Heidegger in Sein und Zeit emphasizes protention.16 The unsettling quality of temporality that comes to the fore in the notion of uncertainty is most trenchantly embodied in his, as usual slightly dramatic, formula of ‘Sein zum Tode’. This ‘Being-to-an-end’ encapsulates the idea of temporality being emphatically experienced through and due to the limits to our lives – the, one could say, most fundamental form of protention that essentially steeps our lives in existential uncertainty.17

  • 18 See Koselleck (1979) 349-75, and for the English translation (1985). Carr (1987) 198 has pointed ou (...)
  • 19 See Koselleck (1979) 353: ‘Erfahrung und Erwartung sind zwei Kategorien, die geeignet sind, indem s (...)
  • 20 See Koselleck (1979) 354-5, and see also 359: ‘Erfahrungsraum und Erwartungshorizont sind demnach n (...)
  • 21 See Koselleck (1979) 359-75.
  • 22 Koselleck (1979) 352.

12Koselleck has taken up Husserl’s concept of protention and retention and transferred it to the field of historical anthropology.18 Time or temporality in Koselleck’s work is conceptualized as arising from the tension between the expectations we direct towards the future (an advancement of Husserl’s ‘protentions’) and the experiences we have made in the past (an advancement of Husserl’s ‘retentions’).19 Experience is, in other words, a ‘past present’ while expectation can be understood as ‘future present’.20 Both experience and expectation are social categories which Koselleck understands as anthropological constants. While their relation may be perceived differently in different times or cultures,21 their general interlocking remains the same: based on our experiences, we develop expectations towards the future which are in turn confirmed or disappointed by coming experiences, and so forth. Or as Koselleck says, there is ‘no expectation without experience, no experience without expectation’.22

  • 23 On the relation between Koselleck and Gadamer, see also Grethlein (2006a) 23-8.
    See Gadamer (19652) (...)

13Hans-Georg Gadamer has expressed the same thought even more radically. In his work Wahrheit und Methode, Gadamer defines experience as an expectation that has been disappointed: an actual experience, as he argues, necessarily and by definition refutes a previous expectation.23 This analysis draws our attention to the fact that temporality, i.e. the tension between experience and expectation, is a universal and fundamental characteristic of how we perceive and understand the world.

  • 24 See Gadamer (19652) 339: ‘Erfahrung ist also Erfahrung der menschlichen Endlichkeit. Erfahren im ei (...)

14Since Gadamer’s analysis is embedded within his examination of the ‘wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstsein’, he connects the interaction of experience and expectation to the historicity (‘Geschichtlichkeit’) and finite nature of human existence. He argues that an actual experience deserving of the name is the experience we make when we become aware of our own mortality.24 Experience as the refutation of an expectation is according to Gadamer always also the experience of the temporality and limitedness of our existence.

15Thus, Gadamer’s crucial insight allows us to qualify Koselleck’s take on temporality. If we transfer Gadamer’s hermeneutics to Koselleck’s anthropological approach to the human perception of time, it becomes clear that temporal uncertainty, arising from the tension between resonating pasts and anticipated futures, can indeed be understood as a universal characteristic of our perception of and interaction with the world.

  • 25 See Koselleck (1979) esp. 359-60 and 374-5.
  • 26 See also Koselleck (1979) 366: ‘Der Fortschritt ist der erste genuin geschichtliche Begriff, der di (...)

16Koselleck originally developed his concept in relation to what he calls ‘Sattelzeit’, the period around 1800 CE. As a result of the period’s industrial and technical innovation as well as profound political revolution, Koselleck argued, experience and expectation increasingly drifted apart. Future developments could no longer be deduced from the past without qualifications or seemed entirely open altogether.25 For the first time in history, historical time itself could be emphatically experienced. Koselleck’s assessment of this profound sea change is inherently positive: the openness of the future, he argues, opens up the possibility of change, development and progress.26 At the same time, however, the tension between experience and expectation opens up a space of indefinite uncertainty where orientation is not at hand, but has to be found and constantly reaffirmed.

17Bringing together Koselleck’s historical analysis and Gadamer’s hermeneutics as proposed in this chapter thus makes it possible to go beyond the ‘Sattelzeit’ and to understand this open space of uncertainty, arising from the tension of experience and expectation, as a universally valid part of human life. The ways and means to grasp this uncertainty and to deal with it may change – may be historically contingent, in Koselleck’s terms –, but temporal uncertainty itself must be understood as part of the human condition.

2.1.3 Hermeneutic Uncertainty

18As these reflections show, when it comes to uncertainty much attention has been paid to the temporal quality of human existence. However, the human experience of an existential uncertainty is not limited to time. From the close reading of Livy’s spectacle scene, I have developed a concept of hermeneutic uncertainty that takes as its source the tension between interpretive possibilities, or to put this differently, the dynamics arising from the juxtaposition of several possible exegeses of an event, character or phenomenon. The Arabist Thomas Bauer has summarized a similar observation in the phrase of ‘cultural ambiguity’:

  • 27 See Bauer (2011) 17: ‘Kulturelle Ambiguität […] durchtränkt unseren gesamten Alltag […]. Sprache, G (...)

‘Cultural ambiguity […] permeates our entire lives […]. Language, gestures and signs show a lack of clarity, actions are in need of interpretation, norms have to be explained, rivalling values have to be negotiated or to be tolerated next to each other. In short, it is hard to imagine any cultural act that does not prompt us to engage in a form of disambiguation. Cultural acts are necessarily soaked in ambiguity. […] Hence, cultural ambiguity is part of the conditio humana.’27

  • 28 For a similar thought, see also Bauer (2011) 34.

19Bauer draws attention to the ubiquity of ambiguity in our lives. Ambiguity is understood as a surplus of meaning (s), as a multitude of (too) many potential interpretations pushing and pulling us in different directions at once.28 Not unlike Koselleck’s treatment of phenomenological time, Bauer embeds his notion of ambiguity in a historical, cultural anthropology. While he understands the general tension between interpretive possibilities as a universally valid structure bound to our existence as human beings, he argues that the particular ways in which these potentials are conceptualized and dealt with must be conceived of as historically, socially and culturally contingent.

20While Bauer’s approach helps indeed to sharpen my own amalgamated concept of uncertainty, it is important to clarify that Bauer’s book pursues a goal slightly different from that of this study. Bauer builds his book on the observation that different cultures have developed different attitudes towards cultural ambiguity. While ‘Ambiguitätstoleranz’ has been examined on the level of the individual for quite a while now by modern psychology, Bauer sees a certain reluctance in cultural and social studies to address the same issue on a collective level by taking into account social groups, societies, and cultures. It is one aim of his book to close that gap by means of an exemplary diachronic study that tracks the development of a tolerance of ambiguity in Islam. I, on the other hand, wish to build on Bauer’s insights in order to lay open the fact that hermeneutic uncertainty is deeply ingrained in the way in which we as human beings, as social beings, perceive the world and interact with it, and the way it does so. Pointing out this anthropological dimension – complementary to the role of time as elucidated above – allows me to show that examining narrative and uncertainty using the example of Roman historiography means paying attention to an existential aspect that eventually transcends time and affects us all.

  • 29 See Bauer (2011) 26-35.
  • 30 On a non-theoretical level, we could also say that ambiguity was a notion regularly approached and (...)
  • 31 See also Ullrich (1989) 123. What is more, Derrida (1981) 61-172 has also used a close reading of t (...)

21In order to situate his approach within the history of thought, Bauer acknowledges that notions of ambiguity have their origin particularly in the fields of linguistics and rhetoric, as well as from literary studies and art history.29 Indeed, ambiguity and related concepts such as ambivalence or amphiboly were originally understood as characteristics of art and literature, as opposed to ‘ernste Rede’ and philosophy. Accordingly, ambiguous or ambivalent speech was usually criticized for its lack of clarity and persuasive power. The earliest treatments of hermeneutic uncertainty and related concepts go back to Plato and Aristotle.30 In the dialogue Phaedrus, Plato describes how ambiguous words are at general risk of creating quarrels, both with others and with oneself. He calls these words ἀμφισβητήσιμος (Ph. 263c) – in literal translation, ‘subject [to go] in both directions’, i.e. ‘disputed’, ‘contestable’.31

  • 32 See also Ullrich (1989) 123. Aristotle demands clarity, perspicuity instead, cf. e.g. Poet. 1458a18 (...)
  • 33 Cf. Quint. Inst. 7.9, esp. 1-6. See also Wagner-Egelhaaf (2009) 33-5 who argues, on the basis of th (...)
  • 34 Cf. Quint. Inst. 7.9.9.

22Since Aristotle at the latest, avoiding or even eliminating ambiguity from any speech seems to have been a crucial goal of ancient rhetoric.32 Similarly and in the Aristotelian tradition of the ‘Sophistische Widerlegungen’, Quintilian presents amphibolies as mistakes, a potential cause for litigation and a source of controversy.33 Quintilian’s general argument aims at pointing out rhetoric strategies that are able to avoid ambiguities, as do for example the switch of grammatical cases, the reorganization of words and phrases or the addition of clarificatory phraseology.34 Ambiguity is thus seen as a deficiency inherent to language that must be eliminated as far as possible by means of properly applied rhetorical strategies.

  • 35 See Krieger (2007) on whose overview I build here, and the edited volume by Krieger and Mader (2010 (...)
  • 36 Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Wilhelm Tischbeins Idyllen, in Sämtliche Werke, I. Abt., Vol. 21, 267: ’Die (...)
  • 37 Gespräch mit Eckermann am 6. Mai 1827, in: Sämtliche Werke, II. Abt., Vol. 39, 616: ‘Je inkommensur (...)
  • 38 Krieger (2007) 79.
  • 39 Novalis, fragments 94 and 247, in Schriften, Vol. 1 and 3: ‘Der Leser setzt den Accent willkürlich  (...)
  • 40 See Schleiermacher (1977) 335-6: ‘Sonach folgt auch für jedes ganze Werk als einzelnes was für die (...)

23On the other hand, ambiguity and related descriptive terms such as ‘polyvalent’, ‘ambivalent’, ‘equivocal’ or simply ‘open’ have evolved into criteria of aesthetic quality of art and literature. Ambiguity as a feature that is admired goes back to literary theory of the late eighteenth century, as the art historian Verena Krieger has demonstrated in several studies.35 Goethe for example stated: ‘these are the most beautiful symbols which allow for polyvalent reading’36 and added in another instance: ‘the more incommensurable and the more impossible to grasp a poetic production is for the mind, the better’.37 As Krieger pointed out, it was the Romantics who then took up this thought and radicalized it into an aesthetic theory,38 as is visible from Novalis’ claim that a poem needs to be inexhaustible, and as when he states: ‘the reader inserts arbitrary emphases – he actually makes of a book what he wants it to be’.39 Unsurprisingly, it was also the time in which Friedrich Schleiermacher formulated his systematic hermeneutics in which he conceptualized the process of understanding and the act of aesthetic reception as necessarily open-ended and unfinished.40

  • 41 For the following, see also Krieger’s (2007) brief overview and Krieger (2010) 34-5.
  • 42 On the ‘Geschichtlichkeit des Verstehens’, see Gadamer (19652) 250-90. On the notion of the ‘fusion (...)
  • 43 See Adorno (1973) 188: ‘Der Zweck des Kunstwerks ist die Bestimmtheit des Unbestimmten.’ See also K (...)
  • 44 See Blumenberg (2001), esp. 114, claiming that modern artworks ‘geradezu nach dem Kommentar schreie (...)
  • 45 See Eco (1989). Eco describes this openness or ambiguity of the work of art for instance as ‘superi (...)

24After the epoch of the Romantics, ambiguity as a category of aesthetics and epistemology reached a second major climax in the middle of the twentieth century.41 While Hans-Georg Gadamer’s ‘wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstsein’ configures the ambiguity of the art work as a mostly diachronic phenomenon – in which understanding is considered a historical process resulting in every period that reads an art work against its own horizon42 – scholars such as Hans Blumenberg, Theodor Adorno and Umberto Eco draw attention to the ‘synchronic’ ambiguity of literature and art. For Adorno, ambiguity and ambivalence are constitutive of the autonomous art work; he describes the art work as ‘question marks’ and ‘conundrums’ which keep their opacity in and after the act of interpretation.43 And while Blumenberg understands the need of interpretation and commentary as a characteristic of modern art,44 Eco goes so far as to postulate ‘openness’ as the general characteristic of art that is historically contingent and has been realized in different ways and for different ends over the course of history.45

25While Bauer acknowledges both ancient rhetoric and modern aesthetic theory as intellectual sources of his understanding of cultural ambiguity, we can also observe a different notion of uncertainty looming in the background of his idea of ambiguity as an inherent part of the human condition. In Bauer’s study, we get a glimpse of the idea of ambiguity being bound to the very act of perception, and to the general way in which we as human beings perceive, know, order and interact with the world. With cultural acts necessarily being ‘soaked’ in ambiguity, in his language, hermeneutic uncertainty here is first and foremost not conceived of as an aesthetic feature, but as embedded into an epistemological worldview in which universally valid centres of interpretation are replaced by a multitude of perspectives that coexist and compete with one another.

  • 46 See also Ullrich (1989) 154, who reads Nietzsche as occupying the key position in the development o (...)
  • 47 With Krieger (2007) 81.

26This idea, one could say, of a universalization of ambiguity is in the history of thought probably first and foremost associated with poststructuralist thought in general, and French deconstruction in particular. However, it already reached a first culmination more than a century earlier, namely in the philosophy and literature of Friedrich Nietzsche.46 While ambiguity used to be a highly regarded quality of art and literature, or a much-criticized flaw in serious speech, Nietzsche transfers the idea of hermeneutic uncertainty to the very roots of the way in which we perceive and ‘know’ the world.47 This becomes apparent when he writes, for instance:

  • 48 See D’Iorio, Nietzsche: Digitale Kritische Gesamtausgabe (eKGWB/NF-1885) XII, 2 [108]: Nachgelassen (...)

‘The claim that the significance of the world is founded in our interpretation (- that somewhere other interpretations might be possible than those of men -), that the interpretations put forward until now are perspectival, foreshortened estimations through which we anchor ourselves in our lives, i.e. in the will to power, for an increase of power, that any elevation of man is accompanied by the overcoming of narrower interpretations […] – all these thoughts permeate my work. The world which involves us is false, i.e. is no given, but an arch covering up a scanty number of observations; it is “in flux” as something in the act of growth, as a falsity in constant motion that will never approach the truth – for there is no “truth”.’48

27Nietzsche deconstructs allegedly universal truths as individual acts of positing from different perspectives. He discards the idea of a given and conceivable truth and postulates the ambiguousness and ‘the infinite interpretability of the world’ as a universal phenomenon. The world is conceived of not as a given, but as in a constant state of movement (‘im Flusse’), an ever changing and ever developing illusion without any form of presupposed ‘core’ or ‘centre’. Again in Nietzsche’s words:

  • 49 D’Iorio, Nietzsche: Digitale Kritische Gesamtausgabe (eKGWB/NF-1885) XII, 1 [115]: ‘Der interpretat (...)

‘The interpretive character of everything that happens. There is no event in itself. What happens is nothing but a conglomeration of impressions, selected and brought together by an interpreting agent’.49

  • 50 For an interpretation of the passage with regard to Nietzsche’s concept of ‘will to power’, which c (...)

28What Bauer grasps on a cultural-anthropological level is by Nietzsche thus situated on an epistemological and ontological level: hermeneutic uncertainty is in Nietzsche’s thought not only a heuristic system to describe the physical world and our position in and interaction with it, but also a mode of being in the world.50

  • 51 In the context of this book it is neither possible nor necessary to give a comprehensive account of (...)
  • 52 See Spivak’s translation in Derrida (1976) xxii; Nietzsche, Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralisc (...)
  • 53 This essay is here quoted after the English translation in the edited volume by Macksey and Donato, (...)
  • 54 With Krieger (2007) 81 and (2010) 39-40.

29This idea that, at times, remains rather intuitive in Nietzsche’s work has been pushed further and positioned on more systematic ground by poststructuralism, most famously by Jacques Derrida.51 Drawing on Nietzsche, who says that ‘truths are illusions of which one has forgotten that they are illusions… coins which have their obverse effaced and now are no longer of account as coins but merely as metal’,52 Derrida paves the way for his critique of the ‘centre’ and for his concept of ‘dissemination’. His talk La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des science humaines53 from 1966 is in this regard often seen as the eventual breaking point after which the paradigm of ambiguity gradually seeped into philosophical thinking and finally reached beyond the idea of the artwork’s status as something open to divergent assessments.54

  • 55 In Terry Eagleton’s words (19962) 113: ‘Western philosophy has also been ‘in a broader sense, ‘logo (...)
  • 56 The structural proximity of the ‘centre’ understood in this way to world views that are typical of (...)
  • 57 Gorman (2015) 10; see also Gorman (2015) 10-11 on the following passages.

30Derrida characterizes traditional Western thinking by its shared basic assumption of what he calls a ‘centre’. This ‘centre’ – as he argues to be one of the fundamental illusions of Western philosophy – is the pervasive and often unvoiced idea of an immutable, fixed essence, a static presence that lies at the core of every structure.55 The ‘centre’ is the hidden truth, the alleged anchor point at the heart of every structure that governs this structure’s meaning and has at its core the clue for the dominant reading, the dominant or even ‘actual’ meaning of the structure.56 It is this notion of the centre as a given, as ‘outside of the play of meaning in language’ and as based on a ‘Cartesian view of the transcendental subject being positioned anterior to language’ with which Derrida takes issue:57

  • 58 See Derrida (1978) 279.

‘Thus, it has always been thought that the centre, which is by definition unique, constituted that very thing within a structure which while governing the structure, escapes structurality [...]. The centre is at the centre of the totality, and yet, since the centre does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its centre elsewhere [...]. The concept of centered structure is in fact the concept of a play based on a fundamental ground, a play constituted on the basis of a fundamental immobility and a reassuring certitude, which itself is beyond the reach of play.’58

  • 59 See Eagleton (19962) 114.
  • 60 See the full quote from Derrida (1978) 280 below.

31Any such thought-system that resides in a ‘centre’ on an unimpeachable foundation is called ‘metaphysical’ by Derrida.59 And while we may not be able to fully escape the underlying structure of these thought-systems and the existential urge to construct them in order to pull in hermeneutic grids to structure the ‘infinite number of sign-substitutions’,60 Derrida sets out to demonstrate the metaphysical quality of these ‘centres’ and their ‘constructed-ness’:

  • 61 Derrida (1978) 280.

‘Henceforth, it was necessary to begin thinking that there was no centre, that the centre could not be thought in the form of a present-being, that the centre had no natural site, that it was not a fixed locus but a function, a sort of non-locus in which an infinite number of sign-substitutions came into play. This was the moment when language invaded the universal problematic, the moment when, in the absence of a center or origin, everything became discourse – provided we can agree on this word – that is to say, a system in which the central signified, the original or transcendental signified, is never absolutely present outside a system of differences.’61

  • 62 See De Saussure (1996) in his Premier cours de linguistique générale (1907).
  • 63 See Eagleton (19962) 116.

32For Derrida, any transcendental meaning is in the final analysis a fiction. As is visible in this last paragraph, the ground on which his argument is built is the poststructuralist critique of the structuralist theory of the linguistic sign. In his deconstruction of De Saussure’s concept of difference,62 Derrida argues that every linguistic sign is based on an infinite texture of differences, and concludes that there is no inherent meaning to a sign, which has instead to be conceived of as floating between absence and presence and as producing a ‘continual flickering, spilling and defusing of meaning’63 – or what Derrida calls ‘dissemination’.

  • 64 See Eagleton (19962) 113.

33In subscribing to the idea of the ‘linguistic turn’ that language is the very air we breathe,64 as opposed to a tool ready-at-hand, poststructuralism eventually reasons that it is not only the meaning of the linguistic sign that is inherently un stable, uncertain, or ambiguous, but that the same goes for us ourselves and eve ry alleged reference ‘behind’ or ‘underneath’ the language in the real world. The poststructuralist idea of an existential ‘un-decidability’ has hence adapted the old notion of ambiguity, of ‘vagueness, ‘indeterminacy’ and related concepts, and transferred it to a broader existential level whereby it describes both our being in the world and our perception of and interaction with it.

34While Derrida’s obsession with ‘un-decidability’ and universal ambiguity ends in something of an epistemological aporia, precipitating us into a state of simultaneous absence and presence in which we are never identical with ourselves, Thomas Bauer’s anthropological take on cultural ambiguity subscribes to the belief that understanding cultural acts, including language, as something we do, allows us to act, decide and communicate by linking the ‘meaningless meaning’ back to references in the real world that are created by this cultural activity. Bauer, we could say, brings in a pragmatic level. Nevertheless, no matter whether we approach ambiguity from the poststructuralist or the anthropological angle, hermeneutic uncertainty must be described no longer as a mere characteristic of an aesthetic product or process, but a universal principle that is rooted in the very structure of our language and cultural acts themselves.

2.1.4 Temporal and Hermeneutic Uncertainty Entwined

35Now is the time to draw together the ends of temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty. By locating temporal uncertainty in the phenomenological tradition of time and temporality and by freeing hermeneutic uncertainty from its merely aesthetic nature and locating it in poststructuralist thought, it has become possible to show how the twofold uncertainty developed in this book can be understood as a fundamental characteristic of the human condition.

  • 65 See also Zahavi (2009) 83 on Husserl’s Phänomenologie des Inneren Zeitbewußtseins: ‘Zudem behauptet (...)

36However, the conceptual pair of time and hermeneutics might still seem to operate on two different levels. From a Kantian perspective one would certainly expect ‘space’ as the conceptual counterpart to ‘time’ – especially, since also Husserl himself understands temporality as the condition of possibility (‘Bedingung der Möglichkeit’) for any constitution of objects.65 Two things have to be stressed in this context. First, temporality nd ambiguity are linked by a shared conceptual grid, or in other words, by the same ‘Beschreibungsprinzip’. This ordering principle holds that the idea of uncertainty functions in a pendular mo tion between different poles, as a simultaneous ‘neither-nor’ and ‘both-and’, as a fundamental structural instability. Temporality as the tension between a past present and a future present – two poles which flicker between absence and presence – is juxtaposed with ambiguity as the tension between interpretive possibilities which take their source from the flickering of (linguistic) meaning between presence and absence. The conceptual term of uncertainty thus tackles two sides of the same coin, both grappling with what we could call a fundamental openness, even though this openness operates on different levels.

  • 66 See again Gadamer (19652) and Koselleck (1979).

37Second, the significance of the idea of uncertainty as a unifying conceptual approach to the human condition becomes apparent when we take seriously the mutual entwinement of its two dimensions. (i) On the one hand, poststructuralism sees the meaning of the linguistic sign as instable or uncertain because language is a process in time: when we read or hear a sentence, its meaning is always open because one signifier refers to the next which refers to the next, and so forth. And while the sentence will be finished at some point, language as a whole and ‘as the air we breathe’ is not coming to an end. As a result, the fundamental hermeneutic uncertainty of our interaction with and being in the world is necessarily founded on temporality. (ii) On the other hand, the relation between temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty may be best described as ‘being founded within one another’, as being a mutual condition and effect. With Gadamer and Koselleck I have concluded that the temporality of human life manifests itself in the tension between experience and expectation, between ‘past present’ and ‘future present’.66 In this tension of experience and expectation, temporality evolves into the sine qua non of human existence. This conclusion can be put into perspective if we pay close attention to Gadamer’s definition of ‘experience’.

  • 67 See Gadamer (19652) 338. For further discussion, see above in this chapter.
  • 68 This choice of words – to pre-judge – certainly refers us back to one of the core elements of Gadam (...)

38According to Gadamer, any experience deserving of the name is necessarily the negation of an expectation.67 This raises the question of what it means to thwart an expectation. How, in other words, do we know, or realize, that our expectations have been disappointed? A possible answer to this question is the following: the scenario or picture we have sketched for our future is not congruent with what we ‘see’ when the future becomes reality. The grid we used in order to condense an indefinite future into the most probable scenario turns out to be unreliable since the future realized offers an outlook on a snippet of the ‘Lebenswelt’ that was originally blocked by the blind spots of our grid. Or in still other words: in order to make an experience and in order to thwart an expectation, there needs to be a grid through which to ‘see’ and ‘pre-judge’ the world.68 There is hence no temporality without hermeneutics, and no hermeneutics without temporality.

39By extending the concept of uncertainty to both time and hermeneutics it becomes possible to grasp on a systematic level the structural openness that characterizes the human condition – and hence, to deconstruct the conditio humana itself into a flickering between absence and presence which is historically contingent in its individual manifestations, but universal in its structural bases.

2.1.5 Narrative and Uncertainty

40With this in mind we can move on to the next stage of the argument. From the close reading of Livy’s spectacle scene I have not only developed the hypothesis of twofold uncertainty as a characteristic of the human condition, but also the hypothesis of narrative’s involvement in this uncertainty, and by extension its potential as a means to grapple with it. This second reflection can be substantiated when we take into account the structural similarities between narrative and the uncertain nature of human experience as described in these last paragraphs.

Narrative and Temporal Uncertainty

  • 69 Ricoeur (1984-88).
  • 70 Ricoeur (1984-88) [Vol. 3] 11-126, see 52 for the quotation.

41Among the most sophisticated studies illuminating the structural analogies of narrative and the temporal character of experience is Paul Ricoeur’s Temps et Récit.69 Criticizing Husserl’s and Heidegger’s concept of a pure phenomenology of time, Ricoeur establishes a distinction between phenomenological and cosmological time, i.e. between time as actually experienced by us and a so-called ‘objective’ time. Narrative according to Ricoeur can be understood as a means to reconcile these two dimensions of time by mutually intertwining them and, hence, creating what he calls ‘human time’. In Ricoeur’s words, ‘ [b] etween the activity of narrating and the temporal character of human experience there exists a relation that is not merely accidental but that presents a transcultural form of necessity. To put it another way, time becomes human to the extent that it is articulated through a narrative mode, and narrative attains its full meaning when it becomes a condition of temporal existence.’70 Narrative and time are thus mutually dependent on one another, a nexus that is conceived of as a universal anthropological phenomenon by Ricoeur.

  • 71 See Grethlein (2010b) 313-29.
  • 72 See Grethlein (2010b) 314-15 for his reading and criticism of Ricoeur, and 315-19 for his own modif (...)
  • 73 See Ricoeur (1984-88) [Vol. 3] 180-92.
  • 74 See Grethlein (2010b) 315.
  • 75 Note that this methodology also advances classical narratology from being a merely descriptive sub- (...)

42This approach has been taken up and developed further by Jonas Grethlein.71 Grethlein acknowledges the crucial link between narrative and the temporal nature of human experience whilst criticizing Ricoeur’s rather vague account of how exactly the process of re-configuring time into human time through narrative is to be understood.72 In order to bridge this gap left behind by Ricoeur’s philosophy-heavy approach, Grethlein draws on the arsenal of literary criticism and narratology. While Ricoeur described the reconciliation of phenomenological and cosmological into human time as a process of interweaving history and fiction in the act of narration,73 Grethlein addresses the question of narrative qua narrative and argues accordingly that the link between narrative and time is to be found and described in the structures of narrative itself.74 The tools for description can, according to his approach, be found in the tool-box of classical narratology, especially in Gérard Genette’s fundamental categories of tense, mood, and voice.75

43As a result, narrative can be understood as a configuration of time or temporal uncertainty, and a close analysis of narrative form enables us to describe how a specific text configures temporal uncertainty compared to another – a task undertaken in the comparative chapters on Velleius and Livy later in this book. The configuration of temporal uncertainty in narrative can be located on two different levels, namely the intradiegetic level of the characters, and the level of reception through the reader. (i) Temporal uncertainty as the tension between experience and expectation figures within the story-world; the characters are temporal beings themselves, and they are shown to direct expectations towards the future and to live through these expectations being either confirmed or disappointed. (ii) On the other hand, uncertainty also operates within the act of reception. Every reader approaches narrative with certain expectations, which too will be reaffirmed or thwarted in the act of reading and in following the story as it develops. These expectations are directed to the outcome of the story and the events within the story-world, but may also extend to the aesthetic dimension of narrative and thus be guided by, for instance, the reader’s pre-knowledge about genre conventions or stylistic features. Thus, narrative confronts us with the type of temporal uncertainty that I have just shown to be existential for our lives on two levels and offers us a space to grapple with it – a space exempt from the constraints of everyday life.

  • 76 See Grethlein (2010b) 316-7.
  • 77 See Jauß (1982) 226-7.

44This last thought is in need of further qualification. While Husserl’s phenomenology holds that experiences through narrative or an artwork have full experiential quality because they double the pendular motion between retention and protention, Grethlein follows Hans-Robert Jauß in arguing that the aesthetic distance involved in experience qua narrative is of crucial importance if we want to grasp its specific quality.76 In examining the nature of reception experience, Jauß compares what he calls the ‘aesthetic attitude’ (‘ästhetische Einstellung’) with role-playing.77 The aesthetic experience, according to Jauß, enables the recipient to identify playfully with a given or desired role, and allows the recipient to distance himself from the role. It thus creates a space of ‘as-if’ in which a role can be realized without the constraints of everyday life.

  • 78 Jauß (1982) 85: ‘primäre Einheit von verstehendem Genießen und genießendem Verstehen’.
  • 79 See Jauß (1982) 85: ‘Ästhetischer Genuß, der sich derart in der Schwebe zwischen uninteressierter K (...)

45Jauß describes this dialectic quality of aesthetic experience as a ‘Selbstgenuß im Fremdgenuß’, speaks of the ‘unity of reflecting enjoyment and enjoying reflection’78 and states: ‘ [A] esthetic enjoyment that operates in the space between disinterested contemplation and testing participation is a way of experiencing oneself in the experience of the other’.79 Building on Jauß’s concept of aesthetic experience in the realm of ‘as-if’, Grethlein eventually concludes that narrative allows us to engage with the temporality of our lives, this existential tension between experience and expectation, in a ‘safe space’, as it were, and thus, enables us playfully to come to grips with it.

Narrative and Hermeneutic Uncertainty

46However, in the light of the argument developed in this book, this exclusive focus on time misses the fact that it is not only temporal uncertainty we have to grapple with, but also the challenges of hermeneutic ambiguity – ‘challenges’, we might add, which have been examined with regard to aesthetic questions long before being described as existential qualities of the human condition. As I have said earlier, hermeneutic uncertainty has regularly been used to characterize the art work and by scholars from Blumenberg to Adorno been understood as a necessary condition for a text or object to qualify as ‘literature’ or ‘art’. By extension, the reception of a (literary) art work is by definition an act of hermeneutic exegesis, or in other words, an engagement with ambiguity and the tension between (two, multiple, or an infinite number of) interpretive possibilities. Thus, it is not only temporal, but also hermeneutic uncertainty that figures on the level of reception. What is more, hermeneutic uncertainty can also be located on the intradiegetic level of narrative: the characters that inhabit the story-world will necessarily be shown negotiating rivalling interpretations and assessments of the world, just as we have also observed in Livy’s spectacle scene as interpreted in the introduction.

47As a result, we can conclude that in narrative, both the temporal and hermeneutic dimensions of uncertainty are doubled. On the level of the story, characters have experiences and expectations and they are confronted with ambiguous meanings and layers of potential exegeses. On the level of potential receptions, narratives trigger expectations as to the further development and the outcome of the story which can be either fulfilled or disappointed. By analogy, narratives also display layers of meaning and offer divergent interpretive possibilities that can be negotiated by the reader. The narrative configuration of uncertainty makes it possible for the reader to re-experience the contingency and ambiguity of the characters and to make their own experience of temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty based on the dramaturgy and plot of the story.

48Taking into account Jauß’s description of aesthetic experience as a form of play and as capitalizing on the secure space of ‘as-if’ elaborated by Grethlein, it has thus become possible to argue that narrative can be understood as a potential means of coming to grips with uncertainty, with regard to both time and meaning, by letting us re-enact the tension between experience and expectation and between interpretive possibilities.

49This theoretical concept ties in with what I have derived from the close reading in the introduction: in the prisoner scene, the spectacle was displayed as a coping device in a situation of profound temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty, by letting the Carthaginians live through both in the mode of ‘as-if’. They watch the staged single combats floating between ‘disinterested contemplation’ and ‘testing participation’ by acknowledging the structural analogy between their own experience of uncertainty and the narrative configuration of uncertainty in the ‘story-world’ of Hannibal’s spectacle.

2.2 Uncertainty and Rome

50So far I have focussed on the anthropological dimension of uncertainty and narrative. But building on Reinhart Koselleck and Thomas Bauer, I have already argued in passing that uncertainty, while being an anthropological constant, may well come to the fore in different shades at different times and in different socio-political and cultural-historical contexts. Let me thus complement the theoretical first part of this chapter with a brief historical contextualization that throws into relief some crucial dynamics related to the matter of uncertainty from the variously uncertain transition period between the Roman Republic and the Empire.

  • 80 Cf. Suet. Aug. 100.3, see also Eder (1990) 72. The temporal caesura of the alleged saeculum Augustu (...)
  • 81 The issue of periodization as a means of historical thinking and discourse has been discussed in a (...)

51After Augustus’ death, the Roman senate consulted together about the public honours and distinctions that should be conferred on him. Suetonius records that in this situation one senator brought forward a motion that intended to caption the whole of Augustus’ lifetime as the saeculum Augustum and to register it as such in the Roman calendar.80 When we leave aside any suspicion of opportunism that may have prompted the senator to make this suggestion, the scene clearly reveals certain awareness of the people – or at least of the Roman elite – of having witnessed a historical turning point which needed to be integrated into the official periodization of Roman history.81

  • 82 As is well known, the Romans did not distinguish terminologically between the Republic and the Prin (...)
  • 83 Cf. Verg. G. 1.500.
  • 84 Cf. praef. 9.
  • 85 See Gowers (2002) 145-61.
  • 86 Cf. Hor. Carm. 2.1, esp. 36.

52Turning point or not,82 the transition period of the state that would eventually result in the end of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire in Rome was accompanied by profound uncertainty that meandered through the ‘Erfahrungswelt’ of its time. Many episodes in contemporary poetry and narrative draw grim pictures of the aftershocks of civil war and the preliminary tremors of a future that could no longer be mapped onto the experiences from the past. Vergil for instance calls his time a saeculum eversum, a time thrown out of joint, in the Georgics,83 and Livy famously describes his aetas as one where the Romans can endure neither their vices nor their cure.84 Horace poetically manipulates his own memory and chooses narrative uncertainty to gloss over his unfortunate role in the civil wars in Satire 1.7,85 and delivers a gory depiction of the Italian coastlines drenched in Roman blood in Ode 2.1.86 Sallust and Cicero sketch Catiline as turning the morals of the Republic upside down and thus create a paradigmatic figure that embodies the deeply felt notion of a decline of virtue precipitating the state in a situation where the traditional interlocking of the past and future crumbles and where anything that once was quintessentially Roman is now up for negotiation.

  • 87 Gruen (1974) 499. One modern historian who took up the ancient idea of moral decline in his researc (...)
  • 88 For a survey of the approaches to the end of the Republic, see most recently Morstein-Marx and Rose (...)

53Of course moral decline, which looms large in most of these contemporary narratives of uncertainty, is a dangerous concept and a useful tool for those who want to sell their actions as reforms, and should thus be handled with care. Erich Gruen has stressed especially that Cicero’s speeches and Sallust’s historiographical motives of decline – full of ‘denunciations of vice, criminality, and corruption’ – must be seen as what they were, a ‘rhetorical invective, patent exaggeration, a part of the standard forensic vocabulary that Romans took for granted’.87 Indeed, I agree with Gruen that ‘moral decline’ is unlikely to have brought about the fall of the Republic and is certainly inadequate as an explanation to account for everything that was, in Vergil’s words, overturned at the time.88 But we should certainly not underestimate the influence that speeches, discourses, and narratives by well-known figures exert on public mood.

54Listening to your society going to the rack over and over again in a variety of narrative shades and nuances will necessarily influence the way you see and experience this society, your place and your future within it. Narratives that permeate public discourse necessarily shape public consciousness. The late Republican narratives of decline and of moral and social corrosion should therefore not be discarded as a mere rhetorical exercise distant from reality as Gruen argued, but should be taken seriously as mutually interlocked with it. For us in hindsight, they may not be adequate analyses of what caused the fall of the Republic, but they are valuable seismographs that open up the chance for us to grasp some aspects of the public atmosphere of the time.

  • 89 See e.g. Gruen (1974), esp. 506 for a summary.
  • 90 See Golden (2013).
  • 91 A circumstance that, according to Eder (1990) 72, may have contributed to the ongoing fascination t (...)
  • 92 See e.g. the famous passage in Livy (27.19.4-5) where Scipio Maior is said to have turned down the (...)

55On this basis, it is hard to deny that temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty was deeply ingrained in the world of experience of the years of transformation. It was triggered by the actuality or threat of civil war, by social division,89 by the lack of internal crisis management,90 and not least, by the presence of narratives that cast all these experiences into coherent plots of crisis, decline and destabilization. Seen from this angle, Augustus’ place in history thus seems to signify both a climax and a symptom of decline.91 Augustus has from his own time on been embedded within rivalling master narratives which positioned him in the greater plotlines of Roman history in different ways. He has been made the cure for all these uncertainties and the founder of a new golden age, and understood as a continuation of Republican values, the embodiment of a form of government the Roman people were deeply sceptical about,92 and the mortal blow for the Republic bringing about the final escalation of the crisis described above.

  • 93 With Miles (1995) 223.
  • 94 With Gruen (1974) 5.
  • 95 For the last aspect, see Eder (1990) 71.

56When Tacitus and Cassius Dio write one and two centuries later that Actium was the turning point in history, and when they describe the Augustan transformation as an act of reinterpretation and reframing in disguise, it seems beyond question that the new era was accompanied by new forms of uncertainty. Augustan Rome was positioned between the memory of the sinister decades of civil war on the one hand and the propitious pax Augusta on the other. The wide space in-between was characterized by the dynamics of a ‘not yet’ as well as of a ‘not any more’, and was built upon a pendular motion between tradition and innovation,93 continuity and discontinuity,94 memory and oblivion, and between ‘power overtly exercised’ and ‘power disguised’.95

  • 96 Of course, narratives such as the ‘return of the golden age’ attempted to install a sense of closur (...)

57No matter whether we approach the ‘time between’ from its Republican or Augustan end, uncertainty thus looms large. Looking back on a century of disturbance and armed civil war, proscriptions and economic crises, and looking ahead to a future under changing conditions this period necessarily brought to the surface the tension between experiences from the past and expectations towards the future.96

58Uncertainty is, hence, not only an abstract, anthropological concept, but also a distinct experience far from alien to the time in which Livy’s history – and, given the long time it took the Romans to consolidate the new system, also Velleius’ history – was composed and read. In this subchapter I am by no means attempting to undertake an exhaustive analysis of the ‘Lebenswelt’ and the spread of uncertainty in the transition period ‘between’ the late Republic and the early Empire. However, although the focus of this book lies clearly on the anthropological dimension of narrative and uncertainty, I do wish to draw attention to the fact that the questions addressed are of historical significance as well. If nothing else, I hope that the observations presented here will point out the historical perspective of my approach and demonstrate its fruitfulness for further historical-anthropological and sociological studies on narrative and uncertainty in this particular period.

2.2.1 The End of the Republic between Contingency and Teleology

  • 97 See Gruen (1974) 4.
  • 98 See Jehne (2009) 141-60: ‘Zwischen autonomem Prozess und Betriebsunfall’.
  • 99 See Walter (2009) 27-51: ‘Zwischen Struktur, Zufall und Kontingenz’.

59The nature of uncertainty ‘between’ Republic and Empire can be grasped by building on modern literature on the transition period. Modern approaches in classical scholarship have seen in Augustan Rome either an inevitable consequence of the weaknesses of the old Republic and of ‘underlying causes’, or the result of ‘accident and irrationality, stubbornness and miscalculation’, and thus the outcome of a contingent process that could well have taken alternative directions if x, y or z had been different or differently decided.97 The end of the Republic as it has been envisaged over the course of history floated between ‘autonomous process and accident’, as Martin Jehne put it,98 or in Uwe Walter’s words between ‘structure, accident, and contingency’.99

  • 100 Especially Brunt (1971), and see also Brunt (1988).
  • 101 Similarly, also Golden (2013) has argued that the Roman Republic never developed institutional resp (...)

60Both Jehne’s and Walter’s approaches must be understood as reactions to the long dominant models in ancient history which explained the end of the Republic as inevitable and subtitled the historical development of the first century BCE with an – often unvoiced – teleology towards its fall. Peter Brunt for instance, in his seminal study, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic,100 traced back the beginning of the Republic’s end to the second half of the second century BCE and explained the collapse as a result of a slow shattering of political consensus. Combined with the senate’s failure in maintaining its authority and in mediating the rivalling interests of their own, of the magistrates, the equites, the plebs, the soldiery and the popular forces, the Roman state slowly but continuously approached the limits of its functional capacities.101

  • 102 For the characterization of the Republic as a gentlemen’s agreement, see Golden (2013) 223-4.
  • 103 Meier (1966). See also Meier (1990) 54-70 with a summary of his argument on 55: ‘My thesis is that (...)

61According to Brunt, Sulla’s, Pompey’s, Caesar’s and finally Octavian’s respective bids for power were logical and necessary consequences of these impasses, riding, so to speak, on underlying causalities. Being stripped of defenders of the old ‘gentlemen’s agreement’,102 the Roman Republic then fell prey to powerful individuals who could more effectively manage these conflicts. Similarly, albeit from a different angle, Christian Meier coined the term of the ‘crisis without alternative’ to tackle the end of the Republic.103 Contrary to Brunt, Meier conceived of the collapse not so much as the result of a neglect of duty on the part of those in power, but as a consequence of their inability to see, or at least to accept, the imminent failure of the political system. From a certain point onwards, Meier argued, there was indeed no alternative left since the crisis was inevitably worsened by the system’s failure to allow for actual changes of the status quo.

  • 104 See Gruen (1974) and more recently (2005) 33-51, his contribution to Galinsky’s Companion to August (...)
  • 105 Gruen (1974) 504.

62When Walter and Jehne draw attention to concepts such as contingency and accident to explain the end of the Republic, this has to be understood as an attempt to free the conventional narratives of the collapse from these teleological undertones. Walter in particular highlights the fact that the seemingly inescapable end of the Republic was in fact at a certain point in history still the open future of the historical agents whose courses of action were embedded in a contingent manoeuvring room and had actual influence on the course of events. He thereby follows, at least partially, in the steps of Erich Gruen who had challenged the conventional focus on ‘underlying causes’ and ‘abstract explanations’ capitalizing on the retrospective knowledge of the historian, as Gruen espoused in his book The Last Generation of the Roman Republic.104 In his view, the institutions of the Republic and its political conventions had remained in fact fully operational until the new wave of civil war initiated by Caesar and Pompey. Gruen’s now famous claim – ‘civil war caused the fall of the republic, not vice versa’105 – turned upside down the traditional interpretation of the period and described what appeared as a development without alternative as a historical process which could have turned out entirely different if, broadly speaking, individuals had made different decisions.

  • 106 Brunt (1971) 1.
  • 107 Grethlein (2013) 353-4; quote on 354. Note also Grethlein’s emphasis on the fact that historiograph (...)

63While the idea of a crisis without alternative glosses over any notion of uncertainty in the ‘time between’ by refashioning the past into a coherent pattern, ‘pointing inescapably to the final collapse’ just because ‘one knows what came after’,106 Gruen’s reading as well as the conceptual grids developed by Walter and Jehne draw attention to it. Jonas Grethlein has recently described these approaches as belonging to two ends of the spectrum along which any historian assesses the past – a spectrum between the two poles of experience and teleology. In Grethlein’s view, history can either be envisaged as the past in the way it could have been experienced by contemporaries or as the greater lines that become only visible in hindsight. ‘Both poles’, Grethlein continues, ‘correspond to deep-seated desires, the first to our wish to connect with the past, the second to attempt at mastering the vagaries of time in retrospect’.107 Apart from shedding light on a fundamental mechanism underlying our narrative grappling with the past, Grethlein’s analysis of ‘experientialists versus teleologists’ also draws attention to the merits of Gruen’s reading in pointing out potential aspects of the ‘Erfahrungswelt’ of contemporaries of the transition period and the uncertainty that characterized the status quo.

2.2.2 The Transition from Republic to Empire as a Shift of Knowledge

  • 108 See Wallace-Hadrill (1997), (2005) and in the monograph (2008).
  • 109 See Foucault (1971) and (1977).
  • 110 Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 56, building on Foucault, who essentially envisages European history as a se (...)
  • 111 The idea of nobility dominating Roman politics and public life by means of an elaborate system of p (...)
  • 112 For the analogy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Augustan redefinition of Roman cultural knowledge, (...)

64Uncertainty also lies at the core of another, recent approach to the making of the Empire. Thinking about the transition to the Principate in cultural rather than merely political or social terms, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill understands the Augustan processes of transformation essentially as epistemic shifts, as a transformation of Roman knowledge, and thus draws attention to what I call hermeneutic uncertainty.108 By drawing on Michel Foucault’s redefinition of power as a result of knowledge,109 Wallace-Hadrill aims at showing ‘how political revolution may be read as one component of more fundamental and comprehensive shifts in the formation and reproduction of social and cultural forms’.110 He argues that the authority and dominance of the Republican elite, the nobiles,111 was in fact the outcome of their control of a system of knowledge. In his understanding, it was the collapse of this epistemological framework that caused them to lose their prominent position, while the Augustan transformation managed to install a new system of knowledge out of a subtle metamorphosis of already existing elements.112

  • 113 Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 81 also speaks of a ‘continuous process of change: the outcome was perhaps n (...)

65It is this way of drawing on tradition that, according to Wallace-Hadrill, also helped the imperial ideology to disguise the breaking point as continuity. For knowledge to be a stable source of authority and power for the elite, it must be passed on from generation to generation. It is precisely this link between generations that grows more and more fragile and that is threatened by oblivion and ignorance when the very location and structure of knowledge undergo a profound shift away from hereditary elites and pass into the hands of professional experts. In other words, the temporal dimension of the elite’s maintenance of power is a weak link once, or if, the transmission of knowledge from the past to the future grows brittle.113 One way of knowing the world gives way to another way of knowing the world, necessarily producing hermeneutic uncertainty in the process.

  • 114 See Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 58-62 with a brief summary of his analysis.
  • 115 See Feeney (2007) for a comprehensive treatment of Caesar’s and Augustus’ reconfiguration of the ca (...)
  • 116 See also Feeney (1999) on patterning of time in Ovid’s Metamorphoses; Wallace-Hadrill (1987) 221-30 (...)
  • 117 A similar observation holds true for Augustus’ take on the fasti and the subtle switch from Republi (...)

66Building his argument on a broad platform of both material and literary evidence, Wallace-Hadrill analyzed the complex dynamics of those epistemic shifts in detail and has revealed how they in fact impregnate almost all areas of Roman culture from public architecture to personal taste and lifestyle, and from social time to public space. One of the most intriguing fields that underwent a process of profound reinterpretation and rearrangement was time.114 In the wake of two calendar reforms, one in 46 BCE under Caesar, the second under Augustus in 9 BCE, the set-up of the calendar and the authority over calendrical issues was reformed.115 While many features of the Republican calendar – such as the system of the eponymous consuls, most names of the months and the general cycle of festivals – survived the reforms without major alterations, the new calendar was essentially dominated by the presence of the imperial family.116 Augustus inscribed his authority into Rome’s social temporal system – on a most basic level by renaming the month of Sextilis as August and by renaming Quintilis as July to accommodate Julius Caesar, and on a performative level by complementing the cycle of festivities by a number of celebrations of days related to the imperial family.117

  • 118 For this whole argument, see Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 59.
  • 119 What is more, the Augustan imagery as a conceptual reshaping of visual communication described by Z (...)

67What is more, profound change also affected authority over the calendar. In the Republic, the calendar was an expression of the power of the pontifices. By removing from the pontifices the power to intercalate additional days at the end of February and instead introducing a quadrennial leap year system, Caesar removed epistemic power from the traditional elite and bestowed it upon a class of specialists consisting of philosophers and mathematicians. The consequences of this seemingly technical and minor rupture become obvious if we take seriously the fact that the authority over the calendar was not merely an archaic, hereditary privilege, but an expression of the traditional power of the priesthood. By being in charge of public time, the pontifices in fact defined ‘when certain words could be spoken in public (fasti), and when not (nefasti), when assemblies could be held (comitiales), and when by contrast the gods should be worshipped’.118 Removing from them this authority meant breaking with tradition and transferring the power of knowledge from the old elites to a new group of professional experts who took orders from and answered to members of the imperial family. In other words, the reframing of Roman time as a crucial element in the ‘cultural revolution’ ‘between’ Republic and Empire was part of a complex shift in power, or more precisely, a power residing in interpretational and hermeneutic sovereignty.119

  • 120 On the famous beginning of the Annals – urbem Romam a principio reges habuere – see most recently L (...)

68An assessment remarkably similar to Wallace-Hadrill’s analysis can already be found in antiquity, specifically in a passage from Tacitus’ Annales. Tacitus famously begins his Annales with a clear indication of a breaking point between the libera res publica and the authoritarian system of government in the wake of Octavian’s rise to power (Ann. 1.3.7-1.4.1):120

  • 121 The text is quoted from Goodyear (1972).

Domi res tranquillae, eadem magistratuum uocabula; iuniores post Actiacam uictoriam, etiam senes plerique inter bella ciuium nati: quotus quisque reliquus qui rem publicam uidisset ? Igitur uerso ciuitatis statu nihil usquam prisci et integri moris: omnes exuta aequalitate iussa principis aspectare, nulla in praesens formidine, dum Augustus aetate ualidus seque et domum et pacem sustentauit.121
All was calm at home, the magistrates carried their old names; the younger men had been born after the victory of Actium, and even most of the older ones during the civil wars: how many were left who still had seen the Republic? The state was thus reversed to its opposite and of the old, unspoilt Roman character not a trace lingered: after equality was abolished, everyone expected the orders of the princeps, for now without fear, as long as Augustus, strong at his age, upheld himself and his house and peace.

  • 122 The phrase ‘Roman revolution’ goes back to Ronald Syme’s seminal publication in 1939. The difficult (...)
  • 123 In the Severan age, Cassius Dio (51.1.1-2) marks the date of Actium as the beginning of a new polit (...)
  • 124 Similarly, Suetonius and Cassius Dio acknowledge the breaking point in Roman history. The latter re (...)
  • 125 See Haynes (2004) on Tacitus’ use of the term vocabulum. Köstermann (1963) ad loc. argued that the (...)

69Tacitus starts his narrative by offering a subtle diagnosis of the nature of the ‘Roman revolution’,122 identifying the battle of Actium as the major turning point.123 Right at the beginning of his work, he de-masks the subtlety of the transition from the old Republic to the alleged res publica restituta by drawing our attention to the tension between the splendid surface and reality. The new state of affairs is revealed to be nothing more than the conservation of the traditional labels while their content has undergone profound change.124 In Tacitus’ words, while the vocabula remained the same, the mos Romanus of the old times vanished without a trace.125

70This diagnosis seems even more pressing to him since hardly anyone in Rome has actually seen the old Republic with their own eyes, but only a res publica perverted by the struggles of the civil wars. It has become increasingly difficult, if not altogether impossible, to have an informed opinion about the current status quo because no one seems to remember its origins or the ways and means by which it has come into place. There is a tragedy of being born too late; it skews the picture of the present and by extension fatally taints the contemporary historical judgement. In this situation threatened by collective oblivion it is the skilled historian who remains able to recall the forgotten past and dig up the fracture lines that the transition to the Principate has left behind. It is the historian who steps in and fills the blanks where collective memory fails or is thwarted by influences beyond the people’s knowledge or control.

  • 126 With Haynes (2004) 34: ‘With each instance of vocabulum, he [i.e. Tacitus] remarks the absence of a (...)
  • 127 This concern with labelling and political change might go back to Thucydides (3.82.4) where he anal (...)
  • 128 Ovid drives home a similar point in Tr. 4.4.15 when he reshapes Cicero’s famous est igitur res publ (...)

71Regarding uncertainty, two observations are of particular importance. First, what Tacitus draws attention to in this passage is essentially the very act of social construction and signification.126 When he claims that old names have prevailed while their content has changed, he zeroes in on the intersection of signifiant and signifié.127 As a result of the transition from the old Republic to the new state dominated by Augustus, so Tacitus’ diagnosis goes, there has been a profound, but hidden, shift in the meaning of the central Roman institutions. By extension, those institutions and their names are revealed as having no inherent meaning and as being unstable and subjected to authoritative voices that render them meaningful in a particular way, in such a way that lends them their pragmatic socio-political function. Rome’s senate, the magistrates, the councils are shown to be social constructions whose authority resides in convention and tradition. Tacitus renders visible the fact that even the most basic components of the Republic are only what those in power want them to be. The hermeneutic uncertainty that is bound to the institutional pillars of the state – an uncertainty which has been buried under the veil of collective agreement – surfaces in the act of resignification.128

72Tacitus’ assessment – just like Wallace-Hadrill’s diagnosis of the ‘fall of the Republic’ as a cultural revolution and an accumulation of epistemic shifts – thus sheds light on the profound uncertainty that was linked to the civil wars and the following processes of transformation, whilst at the same time drawing attention to the mechanisms that attempted to disguise this uncertainty as closure. Similarly when for instance social time was being reshaped by inscribing the deeds and influences of the imperial family into the calendar and the fasti, we observe a subtle shift from one hermeneutic grid through which to ‘read’ the world to another.

73In other words, the ‘time between’ can be described as a gap in the public signifying system that sparked what I have called hermeneutic uncertainty. But this gap also opened up the chance to install new forms of knowledge, i.e. a new epistemic system. The ‘Roman revolution’ not only resulted in profound uncertainty; it was also temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty that made it possible in the first place and that also served as justifications for thorough reforms. Uncertainty as conceptualized in this book – a tension between experience and expectation, and a tension between different grids through which to read the world – was an integral part of the very fibres that held together the texture of the Augustan transformation.

74Let me close with one last example. Tacitus’ retrospective analysis of the transition has already illustrated, and to a certain extent backed up, modern approaches to the period such as the ‘shift of knowledge’ and the tension between teleology and contingency – two aspects that can be mapped onto the concept of hermeneutic and temporal uncertainty as developed in this book. But there are also contemporary assessments of the slow end of the Republic that make visible the fact that twofold uncertainty was indeed part of the ‘Lebenswelt’ and a crucial element of how the socio-political changes were understood and interpreted.

  • 129 Gowing (2005) 3.
  • 130 See e.g. Walter (2004) 176, with additional bibliography in n. 96.
  • 131 Gowing (2005) 2, see n. 7 with additional bibliography. Scholarship on the social and anthropologic (...)

75In book 5 of his treatise De re publica, Cicero describes the crisis of the Republic as essentially a slow process cracking open a gap in the continuity of time and Roman identity. Alain Gowing has emphasized that Cicero was indeed ‘acutely aware that the political system to which he had devoted his life was living on borrowed time’129 and that for him, the crisis of the Republic had become a crisis of memory and oblivion.130 Since for the Romans the past defined the present to a large extent, ‘to forget – to disconnect with – the past, at either the level of the individual or of the state, risked the loss of identity and even extinction’.131

76The crisis as Cicero understands it thus affects both the very texture of time and what it means to be Roman. The current state of the Republic is characterized by ringing temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty: with the Republic about to vanish, Roman identity, what being Roman actually means is up for negotiation and interpretation, and leaves behind an uncertain future and an open space that needs to be filled with new forms of knowledge. In De re publica, Cicero approaches the issue in a splendid metaphor (Rep. 5.2):

Nostra vero aetas, cum rem publicam sicut picturam accepisset egregiam sed iam evanescentem vetustate, non modo eam coloribus eisdem quibus fuerat renovare neglexit, sed ne id quidem curavit, ut formam saltem eius et extrema tamquam lineamenta servaret. Quid enim manet ex antiquis moribus, quibus ille dixit rem stare Romanam ? quos ita oblivione obsoletos videmus, ut non modo non colantur, sed iam ignorentur.
Our age, on the contrary, – receiving the Republic as a finished, a great picture from another time, already fading through the lapse of years – has not only neglected to renew the colours of the original painting, but did not even care to preserve its general form and lineaments. So – what remains of those ancient manners, on which the Roman cause is built as a well-known poet [sc. Ennius] once said? They are now so deeply buried in oblivion that they not only aren’t taken care of, but are now not known about.

  • 132 Cicero alludes to the famous Ennius fragment, Skutsch 156: moribus antiquis res stat Romana virisqu (...)
  • 133 See also Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 57 on the implications of the hereditary character of the authority (...)
  • 134 Here, the idea of the res publica restituta, the metaphor of the restoration process that will form (...)
  • 135 This almost biological idea of decline alludes to the famous ‘Verfassungskreislauf’ as depicted in (...)

77Cicero conceptualizes the old Republic that was once built upon the shoulders of great ancestors and their ways and morals,132 as an antique painting which has been handed down to his times from earlier generations. The Republic is envisioned as an item of cultural heritage133 that is threatened not only by the inevitable passage of time, but especially by increasing indifference and ignorance towards its value and preservation.134 Cicero’s metaphor thus touches upon two dimensions. The Republic is seen as a piece of art, as a man-made artefact, and at the same time is shown to be affected by the lapse of time; it is a living thing, biologically impermanent and subject to decay and decline.135

78This intersection of art and biology yields intriguing results. Picturing the Republic as a painting inevitably means tapping into the notion of enargeia and a field of cultural practices bound to visualization and to persuasion by means of vivid presentation. Building on a rather simple metaphor, Cicero actually turns the Republic into an image. By this means, the Republic as a whole is imagined to be present, visible and perceivable at one glance; it can be gazed upon, touched and exhibited. In Cicero’s metaphor, the Republic virtually becomes in the flesh everything that enargetic language and narrative aims to achieve by means of linguistic or compositional mimesis. But even embodying this supreme form of persuasion, the Republic seems not to catch the attention it needs in order to prevail, as Cicero concludes. Although the Republic stood there, right before the eyes of those who had the power to ‘read’ its condition and change it for the better, oblivion trumped memory; the picture is fading, and along with it fades the cultural practice of enargeia as a powerful tool for rhetorical persuasion and authority. The art work with the power to transcend time is thus turned into a living organism that remains subject to decay and oblivion.

79The contours within Cicero’s painted Republic can be read as a metaphor for the hermeneutic grids that structure Roman reality and mould it in coherent, meaningful shapes. With no one there to renew the colours and preserve these lineaments, Cicero envisages Rome as slowly turning into a blank canvas, a blank slate standing open to be recoloured and restructured, and thus to be filled with new knowledge, new cultural practices, and new shades of cultural identity. The contours of the Republic, and everything they represent, are shown to be subject to the passage of time and, as a result, threatened by an existential hermeneutic uncertainty calling into question integral parts of Roman identity. Cicero sketches the picture of a state which seems to be simply waiting to undergo profound shifts of knowledge and power. His painted Rome thus reveals how closely entwined temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty are, in such a way that demonstrates strikingly that twofold uncertainty was closely linked to the beginning of a development that would turn the Roman Republic into a monarchic Empire.

80Again, this broad-brush picture is not meant to deliver an exhaustive analysis of uncertainty in this period. Accordingly, I do not argue that any form of configuration of uncertainty in Livy and Velleius answers directly to one of these developments – a claim that would be particularly hard to justify considering that Velleius writes during the reign of Tiberius, where many things have already been settled (while others indeed remain still open for negotiation). This is not an attempt to tease out subtle sociological or socio-psychological nuances of individual or collective crisis management in a clear-cut historical period. It is an attempt to put the theoretical and literary critical deliberations at the core of this book vis-à-vis the historical matrix from which the texts originated by portraying a generalist picture regarding the role of uncertainty. I hope, however, to have drawn attention to the fact that the anthropological model developed in this book may serve as a fruitful starting point for a sociology of narrative during the long transition period ‘between’ the Roman Republic and the Empire.

2.3 Summary

81This book tackles the nexus of narrative and uncertainty by means of exemplary close readings of Latin literature and theoretical reflections. In this chapter, it was possible to show that uncertainty can be understood as an essential and existential aspect of the human condition. The balancing of pasts and futures present and the negotiation of divergent lookouts on the world are operations that shape our lives and that accompany us every day, both on the surface of our consciousness and below.

82It was also the aim of this chapter to explain how narrative can be thought of as a means to cope with these experiences of uncertainty. Building on Jauß’s theory of reception and of aesthetic experience as belonging to a space of ‘as-if’ floating between distance and participation, it was possible to demonstrate that narrative allows us to have experiences and reflect upon them in a secure space exempt from the dangers, risks and constraints of our everyday lives. By showing that both temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty are not only characteristics of the human condition, but constitute core features of narrative – both on the level of the story and the level of the discourse – I have demonstrated that narrative may allow us to engage playfully with and reflect upon exactly this twofold uncertainty in the space of ‘as-if’. Narrative thus allows for dealing with uncertainty by meandering between a ‘testing participation’ and a ‘disinterested contemplation’, between identification and distance, immersion into the uncertainty of the story-world and reflection about this uncertainty as being ‘constructed’ in the fictional boundaries of a literary art work.

  • 136 Cf. Liv. praef. 9.
  • 137 Cf. Vell. 2.131.1-2.

83Both Livy and Velleius live and write in a time where the Augustan revolution was respectively in full swing or producing significant aftershocks, and both their works contain references to the uncertainties that were part of this realm of experience. Livy considers it one of the merits of his task as a historian that he is allowed and able to avert his eyes from the troubles of his time and to turn to Rome’s more glorious days of a remote past, and he describes it as a time in which neither the vices nor their cures were sufferable.136 Velleius, all court flattery aside, ends his history with a prayer – a prayer for a safe future, a safe transition of power after Tiberius’ death, and for an imminent end of the uncertainties that came to the fore during the last decade of Tiberius’ reign.137

84Much attention has been paid to grasping Livy’s attitude towards the ideology of the Principate, and Velleius has almost exclusively been read against the backdrop of his alleged one-dimensional court propaganda. The conceptual framework developed here allows us to go beyond the political dimension of their narratives and to address a more existential question. By examining how two historians configure uncertainty, while arguably being subject to existential uncertainty in their own life-world, it is possible to read narrative as mutually entwined with social reality and as a means to engage playfully with the existential questions with which this reality confronts them. Uncertainty is thus not only an abstract, anthropological concept, but, I would argue, also a distinct experience that is part of the ‘Lebenswelt’ in which Livy’s and Velleius’ histories are written and read.

85The historical narratives by Livy and Velleius are two examples particularly apt for this analysis since they represent what I would like to call the two extremes of the spectrum along which narrative can configure uncertainty – openness and closure, or the enactment and elimination of uncertainty. These poles stand for the two fundamental ways in which we as human beings can and do deal with the experience of uncertainty. We can gloss over interpretive tensions and disguise temporal discontinuities by installing a strong sense of seclusion, or we can tolerate these tensions and make them the source of creativity and progress. Velleius’ and Livy’s narratives allow us to engage with both these worldviews, and both in their own way can be read as narrative ways to make uncertainty manageable by embedding it in coherent narratives which attribute a certain place to uncertainty within the causalities of history and, by extension human life.

86In the twenty-first century most people of the Western hemisphere will most likely rather identify with the ‘open’ end of the spectrum. This may not least be due to the fact that openness and closure, and analogous dichotomies, also lend themselves to characterizing an autocratic political system versus a democratic one. Reading Livy and Velleius as representatives of these poles thus may at first sound like mapping Livy onto the sinking values of the Republic while casting Velleius, once more, in the role of the court poet. Against this simplistic reading we need to bear in mind one further qualification that I have omitted so far, namely the fact that there is closure in Livy just as there is openness in Velleius.

  • 138 Miller (1978) 7.

87Miller was right in pointing out that attempts to characterize a text ‘by its commitment to closure or to open-endedness’ are eventually made impossible since these analyses, ‘if carried far enough’, lead always to a paralysis since both ends of the spectrum come to the fore in any given text.138 By reading Livy and Velleius as coming down on either side of the spectrum, I do not suggest that they dogmatically follow, create and perpetuate ‘ideologies’ of closure or openness. Agreeing with Miller’s caveat, I rather wish to demonstrate that and how both of them display the dynamics involved in negotiating closure and openness when dealing with uncertainty. How uncertainty is configured qua closure and qua openness in historical narrative, and how this dichotomy is eventually negotiated and balanced by narrative means, is the subject of the following text-centred chapters.

Notes

1 See also Esposito (2007) for the ubiquity of probabilities that lie behind our decisions in our everyday lives.

2 See http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/210212?redirectedFrom=uncertainty#eid (accessed in June 2016).

3 For a similar problem, see also Golden (2013) 1-10 on the term ‘crisis’.

4 See Luhmann (1992) 7: ‘Die Proklamation der Postmoderne hatte mindestens einen Verdienst. Sie hat bekannt gemacht, daß die moderne Gesellschaft das Vertrauen in die Richtigkeit ihrer eigenen Selbstbeschreibungen verloren hat. Auch sie sind je-weils anders möglich. Auch sie sind kontingent geworden.’

5 See Beck (1986). Beck’s seminal book on the risk society (‘Risikogesellschaft’) can be counted among the most influential sociological publications of the 1980s. Beck claimed that the late nineteenth century witnessed a paradigmatic rupture in the modern age. As he argues, prior to this period, industrial society was undergoing a fundamental transition and step by step turned into what he calls a society of risk. This new societal state is characterized by the emergence of new social fracture lines: while the industrial age was characterized by distribution battles, the new era of a risk society has to face the challenge of how to distribute the manifold risks emerging from the saturation of the affluent society. These risks are no longer bound to certain social milieux or classes, but concern everyone beyond the old boundaries of social hierarchy. In one of Beck’s catch phrases: ‘Not ist hierarchisch, Smog ist demokratisch’. For a valid critique of Beck’s theory, see e.g. Brock (1991) 12-24. Since Beck’s book was first published in 1986, the year of Chernobyl, his diagnosis of risk becoming the new social challenge of the modern era gained particular significance and hit a cultural nerve, as Nassehi (1997) 252-79 emphasized.

6 See Bude (2014). Bude conceptualizes ‘angst’ as the structural characteristic of modern society. Building on Luhmann, who considered angst the only potential a priori commonality of modern societies, Bude understands the manifold concretizations of fear as the last shared point of reference for the members of a modern society: ‘Sie ist das Prinzip, das absolut gilt, wenn alle anderen Prinzipien relativ geworden sind’, see Bude (2014) 11. Angst, for Bude, is neither dependent on a certain event nor a merely spontaneous affect, but a socio-psychological phenomenon that appositely describes the dynamics of our modern society beyond the boundaries of social milieux and far beyond individual psychology.

7 See Bauman (2000) who distinguishes ‘solid modernity’ and ‘liquid modernity’. The solid form, an era that according to Bauman ends around the middle of the twentieth century, is characterized by the belief in the possibility of a rational world. Chance, coincidence, contingency, uncertainty and sudden twists were seen as a form of collateral damage and as passing and negligible in the long run. The solid state of modern societies, according to Bauman (not unlike Beck’s concept of the industrial society, as contrasted with the risk society), was linked to the idea of a historical telos, ‘an end of history’ being at our fingertips. In the middle of the twentieth century, Bauman argues further, this belief started to give way to the awareness of continuous change and transformation as the forming forces in social history. Bauman builds his argument on the basis of a highly metaphorical language, continuously emphasizing the ephemeral, elusive and liquid quality of our age and of all the worldviews, value systems and convictions bound to it.

8 See Rosa (2013). Drawing especially on the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, Rosa argues that the constant acceleration of our lives, bound to technological and social transformation, undermines our autonomy. What at first appeared to be a form of social liberation turns out to be, according to Rosa, a new form of totalitarianism resulting in what Lübbe (2000) called ‘Gegenwartsschrumpfung’: since the new norm of time and space is experienced as a given rather than as socially constructed, the processes of acceleration constrain time and space and thus, limit individual autonomy and freedom.

9 See recently also Münkler and Münkler (2016), tellingly captioned Ein Land vor seiner Zukunft, which can also be counted on this list.

10 See Gadamer (19652) 250-90 on the ‘Erhebung der Geschichtlichkeit des Verstehens zum hermeneutischen Prinzip’.

11 See esp. Grethlein (2010a), (2010b), (2013), (2014a), (2014b). For a detailed theoretical derivation from the phenomenological tradition, see Grethlein (2006a), esp. 20- 41, and (2010b), on whose work I build here. See now also Carr (2014) 22-6 for a new synthesis of phenomenological approaches to the theory of history. For the growing body of research on time and temporality in classical scholarship, see now also the essays in Lianeri (2016a) focussing on Greek historiography, especially Lianeri’s (2016b) 1-55 substantial introduction.

12 It goes without saying that the following overview is, in accordance with the conceptual focus of this book, neither definitive nor exhaustive – and it is necessarily written while standing on the shoulders of giants. Other examples and texts could have been chosen, and the chapter at hand should be understood as an eclectic approach to a vast body of information that focusses on its underlying hypotheses about narrative and uncertainty. The section on time builds on Grethlein (2006a) 20-41 in particular, the section on hermeneutics especially on Krieger’s (2007) and (2010) overviews.

13 See Husserl (1966) [= Hua X]. See also the new edition by Bernet, in the following quoted as Husserl/Bernet (2013).

14 See Husserl/Bernet (2013) 40: ‘Die Retention […] hält nur das Erzeugte im Bewußtsein und prägt ihm den Charakter des “soeben vergangen” auf.’

15 See Husserl/Bernet (2013) 39: ‘Wir durchlaufen die Melodie in der Phantasie, wir hören “gleichsam” zuerst den ersten, dann den zweiten Ton usw. Jeweils ist immer ein Ton (bzw. eine Tonphase) im Jetztpunkt. Die vorangegangenen sind aber nicht aus dem Bewußtsein ausgelöscht. Mit der Auffassung des jetzt erscheinenden, gleichsam jetzt gehörten Tones verschmilzt die primäre Erinnerung an die soeben gleichsam gehörten Töne und die Erwartung der ausstehenden.’ Koselleck (1979) 354-5 speaks of ‘gegenwärtige Vergangenheit’ and ‘vergegenwärtigte Zukunft’.

16 See Grethlein (2010b) 315-6.

17 Heidegger’s (1986) fundamental ontology approaches the phenomenon of death as a ‘Seinsmöglichkeit des jeweiligen Daseins’, which ‘in dieses hineinsteht’ (248): see also Luckner (1997) 107. Since our own deaths are not events of our lives, the end is for the ‘Dasein’ only as Being-to-an-end (‘Sein-zum-Ende’), i.e. ‘es ‘hat den Charakter von etwas, wozu das Dasein sich verhält’ (250). Accordingly, the end is conceived of by Heidegger as an always forthcoming possibility, or in his gloomy diction: ‘Mit dem Tod steht sich das Dasein selbst in seinem eigensten Seinkönnen bevor’ (250) or death as ‘die Möglichkeit der schlechthinnigen Daseinsunmöglichkeit’ (ibid.). Heidegger’s Being-to-an-end thus advances Husserl’s concept of protention, which characterized experience (‘Erfahrung’) on a phenomenological level, to a full-fledged category that characterizes the ‘Dasein’ on an ontological level.

18 See Koselleck (1979) 349-75, and for the English translation (1985). Carr (1987) 198 has pointed out the relation between Koselleck and Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit: ‘In thus moving from individual to social temporality Koselleck actually goes beyond Heidegger, since the latter remained concerned with the individual.’ This analysis seems to be the result of an error of categorization, since Koselleck’s theory of temporality aims at offering an anthropology of time, while Heidegger operates on the level of fundamental ontology. With Grethlein (2006a) 27 n. 31.

19 See Koselleck (1979) 353: ‘Erfahrung und Erwartung sind zwei Kategorien, die geeignet sind, indem sie Vergangenheit und Zukunft verschränken, geschichtliche Zeit zu thematisieren.’

20 See Koselleck (1979) 354-5, and see also 359: ‘Erfahrungsraum und Erwartungshorizont sind demnach nicht statisch aufeinander zu beziehen. Sie konstituieren eine zeitliche Differenz im Heute, indem sie Vergangenheit und Zukunft auf ungleiche Weise miteinander verschränken.’

21 See Koselleck (1979) 359-75.

22 Koselleck (1979) 352.

23 On the relation between Koselleck and Gadamer, see also Grethlein (2006a) 23-8.
See Gadamer (19652) 338: ‘Erfahrung in diesem Sinne setzt vielmehr notwendig mannigfache Enttäuschung von Erwartungen voraus und nur dadurch wird Erfahrung erworben. […] Jede Erfahrung, die diesen Namen verdient, durchkreuzt eine Erwartung. So enthält das geschichtliche Sein des Menschen als ein Wesensmoment eine grundsätzliche Negativität, die in dem wesenhaften Bezug von Erfahrung und Erwartung zutage tritt.’ And again Gadamer (19652) 335-6: ‘ [Der Prozess der Erfahrung] nämlich ist ein wesentlich negativer. Er ist nicht einfach als die bruchlose Herausbildung typischer Allgemeinheiten zu beschreiben. Diese Herausbildung geschieht vielmehr dadurch, daß ständig falsche Verallgemeinerungen durch die Erfahrung widerlegt, für typisch Gehaltenes gleichsam enttypisiert wird. Das prägt sich schon sprachlich darin aus, daß wir in einem doppelten Sinne von Erfahrung sprechen, einmal von den Erfahrungen, die sich unserer Erwartung einordnen und sie bestätigen, sodann aber von der Erfahrung, die man ‘macht’. Diese, die eigentliche Erfahrung, ist immer eine negative. Wenn wir an einem Gegenstand eine Erfahrung machen, so heißt das, daß wir die Dinge bisher nicht richtig gesehen haben und nun besser wissen, wie es damit steht.’

24 See Gadamer (19652) 339: ‘Erfahrung ist also Erfahrung der menschlichen Endlichkeit. Erfahren im eigentlichen Sinne ist, wer ihrer inne ist, wer weiß, daß er der Zeit und der Zukunft nicht Herr ist.’ And further (340): ‘Die eigentliche Erfahrung ist diejenige, in der sich der Mensch seiner Endlichkeit bewußt wird […]. Der in der Geschichte Stehende und Handelnde macht vielmehr ständig die Erfahrung, daß nichts wiederkehrt. Anerkennen dessen, was ist, meint hier nicht: Erkennen dessen, was einmal da ist, sondern Einsicht in die Grenzen, innerhalb deren Zukunft für Erwartung und Planung noch offen ist – oder noch grundsätzlicher, daß alle Erwartung und Planung endlicher Wesen eine endliche und begrenzte ist. Eigentliche Erfahrung ist somit Erfahrung der eigenen Geschichtlichkeit.’

25 See Koselleck (1979) esp. 359-60 and 374-5.

26 See also Koselleck (1979) 366: ‘Der Fortschritt ist der erste genuin geschichtliche Begriff, der die zeitliche Differenz zwischen Erfahrung und Erwartung auf einen einzelnen Begriff gebracht hat’.

27 See Bauer (2011) 17: ‘Kulturelle Ambiguität […] durchtränkt unseren gesamten Alltag […]. Sprache, Gesten und Zeichen lassen Eindeutigkeit vermissen, Handlungen müssen interpretiert, Normen ausgelegt werden, einander widersprechende Werte müssen miteinander versöhnt oder unversöhnt nebeneinander toleriert werden. Kurz, es ist kaum ein Moment kulturellen Handelns denkbar, bei dem nicht irgendeine Art von Disambiguierung zu leisten ist. Kulturelles Handeln ist zwangsläufig ambiguitätshaltig. […] Kulturelle Ambiguität ist also Teil der conditio humana.’

28 For a similar thought, see also Bauer (2011) 34.

29 See Bauer (2011) 26-35.

30 On a non-theoretical level, we could also say that ambiguity was a notion regularly approached and played with in Homer, namely by means of etymologies as ‘a multipurpose literary device’. For (ambiguous) etymologies as ‘a source of mnemonic aids’ and as ‘a narrative factor’ in poetry, especially in oral poetry, see Kanavou (2015) 9.

31 See also Ullrich (1989) 123. What is more, Derrida (1981) 61-172 has also used a close reading of the Phaedrus, among others, to elucidate what he calls the ‘undecidable’ on the basis of Plato’s φάρμακον as being ‘poison’ and ‘cure’ – both at once and neither at the same time. On Derrida’s ‘undecidable’, see Gorman (2015).

32 See also Ullrich (1989) 123. Aristotle demands clarity, perspicuity instead, cf. e.g. Poet. 1458a18-19; Rh. 1404b2.

33 Cf. Quint. Inst. 7.9, esp. 1-6. See also Wagner-Egelhaaf (2009) 33-5 who argues, on the basis of the Institutio Oratoria, that ambiguity and amphiboly are a fundamental figure of speech which in legal contexts invoke the rhetorical power of decision. Ambiguity, so goes her argument, requires rhetoric, and ‘rhetoric is constitutively founded on ambiguity’ (quote on page 33).

34 Cf. Quint. Inst. 7.9.9.

35 See Krieger (2007) on whose overview I build here, and the edited volume by Krieger and Mader (2010) on ambiguity in art, esp. the introduction by Krieger (2010) 13-49.

36 Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Wilhelm Tischbeins Idyllen, in Sämtliche Werke, I. Abt., Vol. 21, 267: ’Dies sind gerade die schönsten Symbole, die eine vielfache Deutung zulassen’. See also Krieger (2007) 79 and (2010) 27.

37 Gespräch mit Eckermann am 6. Mai 1827, in: Sämtliche Werke, II. Abt., Vol. 39, 616: ‘Je inkommensurabler und für den Verstand unfasslicher eine poetische Produktion, desto besser’. See also Krieger (2007) 79 and (2010) 27.

38 Krieger (2007) 79.

39 Novalis, fragments 94 and 247, in Schriften, Vol. 1 and 3: ‘Der Leser setzt den Accent willkürlich – er macht eigentlich aus einem Buche, was er will’.

40 See Schleiermacher (1977) 335-6: ‘Sonach folgt auch für jedes ganze Werk als einzelnes was für die kleineren Teile folgt. Auch nach jenem wiederholten Auffassen bleibt alles Verstehen in dieser höheren Beziehung nur ein vorläufiges, und jedes wird uns in einem ganz anderen Licht erscheinen, wenn wir, nachdem wir das ganze ihm verwandte Gebiet der Komposition durchlaufen haben, und ebenso nach gemachter Bekanntschaft mit andern auch verschiedenartigen Werken desselben Verfassers und, soviel möglich, mit seinem ganzen Leben zu dem einzelnen Werk zurückkommen.’ August Boeckh transferred a similar thought onto the study of classical antiquity in his formula of ‘infinite approximation’. On the intellectual relation of Schleiermacher and Boeckh, see e.g. Gebauer (1981) 34-5.

41 For the following, see also Krieger’s (2007) brief overview and Krieger (2010) 34-5.

42 On the ‘Geschichtlichkeit des Verstehens’, see Gadamer (19652) 250-90. On the notion of the ‘fusion of horizons’, see esp. 289-90.

43 See Adorno (1973) 188: ‘Der Zweck des Kunstwerks ist die Bestimmtheit des Unbestimmten.’ See also Krieger (2010) 37.

44 See Blumenberg (2001), esp. 114, claiming that modern artworks ‘geradezu nach dem Kommentar schreien, daß aber jeder Kommentar zerstörerisch auf ihren Realitätsmodus wirkt. Diese Paradoxie ist symptomatisch für die Essentialität der Vieldeutigkeit des ästhetischen Gegenstands’. With Krieger (2007) 80.

45 See Eco (1989). Eco describes this openness or ambiguity of the work of art for instance as ‘superimposed layers of meaning’, as ‘continuous potentiality’, as ‘indefinite reservoir of meanings’ (4) and as ‘open to constantly shifting responses and interpretive stances’ (9). For a concept of ambiguity that lies between the original, rhetoric-based understanding and the idea of the open literary work as being in need of exegesis, see also the seminal publication by Empson (1949), Seven Types of Ambiguity. With Krieger (2010) 35-6.

46 See also Ullrich (1989) 154, who reads Nietzsche as occupying the key position in the development of the concept of ambiguity. It might also not be a coincidence that in Nietzsche we have a thinker whose work as a man of letters can hardly be separated from his work as a man of philosophy, as best exemplified in Thus Spoke Zara-thustra, a work notoriously meandering between poetry and philosophy, poetics and aesthetic theory. On the differences between the realms of aesthetics and those of philosophy, see also Blumenberg (2001) 118-9, reading Paul Valéry’s Eupalinos. Fully committed to the Platonic and Aristotelian tradition, Blumenberg sees ambiguity at the heart of aesthetics while philosophy has to strive for disambiguation and a maximum of clarity: ‘Die ästhetische Einstellung läßt die Unbestimmtheit stehen, sie erreicht den ihr spezifischen Genuß durch [...] den Verzicht auf die theoretische Neugier, die letztlich immer Eindeutigkeit der Bestimmtheit ihrer Gegenstände fordert und fordern muß’. See also Krieger (2010) 40.

47 With Krieger (2007) 81.

48 See D’Iorio, Nietzsche: Digitale Kritische Gesamtausgabe (eKGWB/NF-1885) XII, 2 [108]: Nachgelassene Fragmente Herbst 1885 - Herbst 1886: ‘Daß der Werth der Welt in unserer Interpretation liegt (— daß vielleicht irgendwo noch andere Interpretationen möglich sind als bloß menschliche —), daß die bisherigen Interpretationen perspektivische Schätzungen sind, vermöge deren wir uns im Leben, das heißt im Willen zur Macht, zum Wachsthum der Macht erhalten, daß jede Erhöhung der Menschen die Überwindung engerer Interpretationen mit sich bringt, daß jede erreichte Verstärkung und Machterweiterung neue Perspektiven aufthut und an neue Horizonte glauben heißt — dies geht durch meine Schriften. Die Welt, die uns etwas angeht, ist falsch d.h. ist kein Thatbestand, sondern eine Ausdichtung und Rundung über einer mageren Summe von Beobachtungen; sie ist„ im Flusse “, als etwas Werdendes, als eine sich immer neu verschiebende Falschheit, die sich niemals der Wahrheit nähert: denn — es giebt keine„ Wahrheit “.’ On this passage, see also Haberkamp (2000) 167.

49 D’Iorio, Nietzsche: Digitale Kritische Gesamtausgabe (eKGWB/NF-1885) XII, 1 [115]: ‘Der interpretative Charakter alles Geschehens. Es giebt kein Ereigniß an sich. Was geschieht, ist eine Gruppe von Erscheinungen ausgelesen und zusammengefaßt von einem interpretirenden Wesen.’ On this passage, see Haberkamp (2000) 168.

50 For an interpretation of the passage with regard to Nietzsche’s concept of ‘will to power’, which casts the philosopher in the role of the interpreter who is able to grasp this world in flux, see Haberkamp (2000) 167-8.

51 In the context of this book it is neither possible nor necessary to give a comprehensive account of Derrida’s philosophy. In the following section, I focus on his notion of the ‘centre’ in order to elucidate the paradigmatic shift that the Western notion of ambiguity, of hermeneutic uncertainty, has undergone through the epistemological shift in the wake of postmodern philosophy. This account is inevitably fragmented, but should nevertheless be able to paint a picture of the theoretical basis of my concept of hermeneutic uncertainty.

52 See Spivak’s translation in Derrida (1976) xxii; Nietzsche, Über Wahrheit und Lüge im außermoralischen Sinne, §1 (eKGWB/WL-1). See also Gorman (2015) 11.

53 This essay is here quoted after the English translation in the edited volume by Macksey and Donato, The Structuralist Controversy, as Derrida (1970) 247-65.

54 With Krieger (2007) 81 and (2010) 39-40.

55 In Terry Eagleton’s words (19962) 113: ‘Western philosophy has also been ‘in a broader sense, ‘logocentric’, committed to a belief in some ultimate ‘word’, presence, essence, truth or reality which will act as the foundation for all our thought, language and experience’.

56 The structural proximity of the ‘centre’ understood in this way to world views that are typical of ideologies is one of the core aspects in deconstructivist critiques of ‘binary oppositions’ and ‘centres’ as sources of power. This is also the point where Foucault’s (1971) discourse theory, reading knowledge as power and history as a sequence of epistemological (hence power-) shifts, starts from.

57 Gorman (2015) 10; see also Gorman (2015) 10-11 on the following passages.

58 See Derrida (1978) 279.

59 See Eagleton (19962) 114.

60 See the full quote from Derrida (1978) 280 below.

61 Derrida (1978) 280.

62 See De Saussure (1996) in his Premier cours de linguistique générale (1907).

63 See Eagleton (19962) 116.

64 See Eagleton (19962) 113.

65 See also Zahavi (2009) 83 on Husserl’s Phänomenologie des Inneren Zeitbewußtseins: ‘Zudem behauptet Husserl, dass der intentionale Gegenstand erst in dem Augenblick als ein Gegenstand – als akttranszendent – konstituiert ist, wenn wir seine Identität durch verschiedene Akte und Erscheinungen hindurch erfassen. Aber diese Erfahrung der Identität in einem Wechsel der Akte (und Erscheinungen) ist eine Erfahrung, die wiederum die Mitwirkung unseres Zeitbewusstseins voraussetzt. Letztlich muss Zeitlichkeit daher als die formale Bedingung der Möglichkeit aller Gegenstandskonstitutionen angesehen werden.’

66 See again Gadamer (19652) and Koselleck (1979).

67 See Gadamer (19652) 338. For further discussion, see above in this chapter.

68 This choice of words – to pre-judge – certainly refers us back to one of the core elements of Gadamer’s hermeneutics, the ‘Vorurteile’ (‘prejudgments’). It might be worth noting here that these prejudgments in Gadamer are also conceived of as temporal and historical: ‘Darum sind die Vorurteile des einzelnen weit mehr als seine Urteile die geschichtliche Wirklichkeit seines Seins’ (261). However, the idea of a mutual interlocking of temporal and hermeneutic uncertainty for which I argue here comes to the fore in Gadamer’s phrase ‘weit mehr’ – the prejudgments are ‘far more’ founded in the historicity of our lives, but this historicity does not describe the structural quality of the prejudgment – our adaption of hermeneutic grids – exhaustively.

69 Ricoeur (1984-88).

70 Ricoeur (1984-88) [Vol. 3] 11-126, see 52 for the quotation.

71 See Grethlein (2010b) 313-29.

72 See Grethlein (2010b) 314-15 for his reading and criticism of Ricoeur, and 315-19 for his own modifications.

73 See Ricoeur (1984-88) [Vol. 3] 180-92.

74 See Grethlein (2010b) 315.

75 Note that this methodology also advances classical narratology from being a merely descriptive sub-discipline of structuralist criticism to becoming a heuristic tool that serves as a systematic foundation for an anthropological interpretation of narrative.

76 See Grethlein (2010b) 316-7.

77 See Jauß (1982) 226-7.

78 Jauß (1982) 85: ‘primäre Einheit von verstehendem Genießen und genießendem Verstehen’.

79 See Jauß (1982) 85: ‘Ästhetischer Genuß, der sich derart in der Schwebe zwischen uninteressierter Kontemplation und erprobender Teilhabe vollzieht, ist eine Weise der Erfahrung seiner selbst in der Erfahrung des anderen.’ This description of aesthetic experience as a pendular motion between immersion and reflection, between identification and distance, also constitutes a major distinction between Jauß’s literary hermeneutics and Gadamer’s hermeneutics, which focuses on the efficacy of tradition.

80 Cf. Suet. Aug. 100.3, see also Eder (1990) 72. The temporal caesura of the alleged saeculum Augustum has its mirror in public space, as visible in the famous words, attributed to Augustus, that he had found a city built of brick and was now leaving it in marble – a statement that has been read literally as referring to Rome’s facades by Suetonius (Aug. 28.3) and metaphorically as referring to the city’s strength by Dio (56.30.3-4). On the marble-metaphor against the backdrop of the quasi-rhetorical quality of cultural campaigns in Augustan Rome, see recently Lamp (2013).

81 The issue of periodization as a means of historical thinking and discourse has been discussed in a variety of academic fields, and the fall of the Republic and our modern concept and periods of Roman history have sparked particularly controversial discussions. For a recent contribution and survey, see esp. Flower’s Roman Republics in 2010. See also Strauss (1997) 165, with reference to the historiography of the Peloponnesian War: ‘Periodization is both the requisite framework and the false friend of all history-writing’. On periodization with regards to Velleius, see also below in this book, esp. 68.

82 As is well known, the Romans did not distinguish terminologically between the Republic and the Principate; see e.g. Morstein-Marx and Rosenstein (2006) 625.

83 Cf. Verg. G. 1.500.

84 Cf. praef. 9.

85 See Gowers (2002) 145-61.

86 Cf. Hor. Carm. 2.1, esp. 36.

87 Gruen (1974) 499. One modern historian who took up the ancient idea of moral decline in his research is Brunt (1971), esp. 76 where he asserts that ‘Sallust’s moralizing is not much to modern taste, and his idealization of old Rome is grossly exaggerated, but his ascription of the fall of the Republic to avarice and ambition is no more than a succinct formulation of what can hardly be gainsaid’.

88 For a survey of the approaches to the end of the Republic, see most recently Morstein-Marx and Rosenstein (2006) 625-37. The ‘fall of the Republic’, ‘Roman revolution’, ‘collapse’, ‘decline’, ‘moral decline’, the ‘beginning of the Principate’ and ‘the end of the Republic’, are all useful shorthand phrases, but as Morstein-Marx and Rosenstein (2006) 629 point out, ‘they tend to set us thinking about the phenomenon as if it were susceptible to the same kind of analysis we apply to a discrete historical event’.

89 See e.g. Gruen (1974), esp. 506 for a summary.

90 See Golden (2013).

91 A circumstance that, according to Eder (1990) 72, may have contributed to the ongoing fascination the period exerts upon generations of historians.

92 See e.g. the famous passage in Livy (27.19.4-5) where Scipio Maior is said to have turned down the honorific title of a king. For a comprehensive analysis of the assessment of kingship in the political culture of the late Republic, see now Sigmund (2014).

93 With Miles (1995) 223.

94 With Gruen (1974) 5.

95 For the last aspect, see Eder (1990) 71.

96 Of course, narratives such as the ‘return of the golden age’ attempted to install a sense of closure and to erase uncertainty by presenting Augustus as the cure of civil war and the telos of history. However, a close analysis of the processes of transformation under Caesar and Augustus – which can be grasped as ‘epistemic shifts’ with Wallace-Hadrill (2005) and (2008), on which we will see plenty further below – reveals that even when we envisage the fall of the Republic from the Augustan end, uncertainty looms large, albeit an uncertainty of a different quality. This qualification shows, however, how closely entwined closure and openness are when it comes to framing uncertainty and making it manageable. In this regard, the slow transition to the Empire could also be described as an existential oscillation between the actual experience of uncertainty and various attempts to close it down.

97 See Gruen (1974) 4.

98 See Jehne (2009) 141-60: ‘Zwischen autonomem Prozess und Betriebsunfall’.

99 See Walter (2009) 27-51: ‘Zwischen Struktur, Zufall und Kontingenz’.

100 Especially Brunt (1971), and see also Brunt (1988).

101 Similarly, also Golden (2013) has argued that the Roman Republic never developed institutional responses to deal with internal political crises. Golden used mechanisms of crisis response to examine ‘how the Roman Republic functioned in practice, not theory’ and argues that ‘when a system is placed under stress, it is possible to see, as the cracks begin to develop, how the structure was built and where power ultimately resided’ (215).

102 For the characterization of the Republic as a gentlemen’s agreement, see Golden (2013) 223-4.

103 Meier (1966). See also Meier (1990) 54-70 with a summary of his argument on 55: ‘My thesis is that this was a crisis without an alternative. That means power and interests were distributed and arranged in such a way that no force could be built up that was sufficiently strong and consistently directed toward overcoming the crisis.’

104 See Gruen (1974) and more recently (2005) 33-51, his contribution to Galinsky’s Companion to Augustus, which gives a succinct survey of his previous research, including updated bibliography.

105 Gruen (1974) 504.

106 Brunt (1971) 1.

107 Grethlein (2013) 353-4; quote on 354. Note also Grethlein’s emphasis on the fact that historiography always ‘encapsulates both experience and teleology, albeit in very different balances’.

108 See Wallace-Hadrill (1997), (2005) and in the monograph (2008).

109 See Foucault (1971) and (1977).

110 Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 56, building on Foucault, who essentially envisages European history as a sequence of epistemological systems ‘whereby different ways of knowing the world underpin the power systems they both engender and reflect’.

111 The idea of nobility dominating Roman politics and public life by means of an elaborate system of patronage goes back to Gelzer (1912/trans. 1969). His ideas have been criticized and it has been shown that the allegedly tight circle was indeed much more fluid and less rigidly defined than he thought. See e.g. Brunt (1982), Hölkeskamp (1987), and especially Burckhardt (1990) 77-99 for a discussion of the debate.

112 For the analogy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Augustan redefinition of Roman cultural knowledge, see Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 56. It is the fundamental Ovidian idea of ‘Dauer im Wandel’, the use of elements of the old bodies to fashion new ones that Wallace-Hadrill also recognizes as an underlying structure of the Augustan transformation. See of course Ov. Met. 1.1-2: In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas / corpora.

113 Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 81 also speaks of a ‘continuous process of change: the outcome was perhaps not one great knowledge, but a multiplicity of knowledges that are linked and interconnected, in tension and mutual influence’. Similarly, see also Haynes (2004) 34-5.

114 See Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 58-62 with a brief summary of his analysis.

115 See Feeney (2007) for a comprehensive treatment of Caesar’s and Augustus’ reconfiguration of the calendar and Roman time.

116 See also Feeney (1999) on patterning of time in Ovid’s Metamorphoses; Wallace-Hadrill (1987) 221-30 on the inscription of the imperial family into Ovid’s Fasti.

117 A similar observation holds true for Augustus’ take on the fasti and the subtle switch from Republican to Imperial consular lists. Feeney (2007) 172-83 analyzes the Fasti Capitolini and argues that they feature a number of subtle, but profound ‘realignments of how the viewer is meant to apprehend the lists’ (174). The newly introduced margin in which the years are counted ab urbe condita complements the Republican year, measured by the consuls’ term of office and counted from the beginning of the Republic, with a second temporal grid that features the aetiological and teleological aspects of Augustan ideology – time having its origin in Rome’s foundation and aspiring to his reign as its telos. Rüpke (1997) 65-85 furthermore points out that in the Fasti Praenestini, the names of the eponymous consuls are placed behind the name of a ‘colleague’ holding the tribunicia potestas, and he concludes: ‘In der Datierungstechnik verdrängt die “Herrscherära” damit die eponyme Jahresbezeichnung auf den zweiten Platz’ (68).

118 For this whole argument, see Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 59.

119 What is more, the Augustan imagery as a conceptual reshaping of visual communication described by Zanker (1987) is another example of the profound epistemic shift that lay at the heart of the ‘Roman revolution’. Zanker describes, for instance, how the imperial imagery increasingly shaped the way in which Rome’s elites and private persons presented and fashioned themselves in order to claim public authority (264- 93) – a process that can be described as a shift in hermeneutic power towards those who shape the new imagery.

120 On the famous beginning of the Annals – urbem Romam a principio reges habuere – see most recently Leigh (2013) 452-4. On the allusion to Sallust and Claudius, see Köstermann (1963) ad loc.; and for a comparison with the first sentence of Pompeius Trogus, as transmitted by Justinian’s epitome, see Levene (2010b) 294-311. See also Morstein-Marx and Rosenstein (2006) 625-6.

121 The text is quoted from Goodyear (1972).

122 The phrase ‘Roman revolution’ goes back to Ronald Syme’s seminal publication in 1939. The difficulties connected to the term ‘revolution’ have since then been pointed out from a variety of different perspectives. See e.g. Morstein-Marx and Rosenstein (2006) 625-37 for a synopsis.

123 In the Severan age, Cassius Dio (51.1.1-2) marks the date of Actium as the beginning of a new political era in Rome. Tacitus’ similar assessment of Roman history and of the breaking point between Republic and Empire being the battle of Actium has proven very influential right up until the modern day, especially in the work of scholars such as Ronald Syme; see also Jehne (2006) 6. On the ‘role of the Actian victory in the political ideology of the Augustan Principate’, see Gurval (1995). On Actium as the turning point of Roman history in modern scholarship, see e.g. Zanker (1987), esp. in his third chapter (85-106) entitled ‘Die große Wende’ where he identifies the battle of Actium in 31 BCE as a seminal step in a process of profound political transformation. For Actium as marking the beginning of a new age, see also Lange (2009). Nelis (2013) 244-62 furthermore reads Vergil’s Georgics as a poetic act of periodization, simultaneously offering a glimpse of the despair before and of the hope after Actium.

124 Similarly, Suetonius and Cassius Dio acknowledge the breaking point in Roman history. The latter refers explicitly to the establishment of a monarchy under Augustus; see Suet. Aug. 28.1 and Cass. Dio 53.17.1.

125 See Haynes (2004) on Tacitus’ use of the term vocabulum. Köstermann (1963) ad loc. argued that the disappearance of priscus et integer mos as described by Tacitus implied that Augustus’ reign was not better than the anarchy of the civil wars. See also Goodyear (1972) ad loc.

126 With Haynes (2004) 34: ‘With each instance of vocabulum, he [i.e. Tacitus] remarks the absence of a particular referent in the imperial signifying system.’ And later on the same page: ‘Many words in official discourse remain the same, and this disguises the fact that their former referents have disappeared. This situation masks a gap in the signifying system which Augustus could fill without appearing to do so.’

127 This concern with labelling and political change might go back to Thucydides (3.82.4) where he analyzes the revolution at Corcyra and states that they ‘considered it right to alter the ordinary relation of words to things’.

128 Ovid drives home a similar point in Tr. 4.4.15 when he reshapes Cicero’s famous est igitur res publica res populi into res est publica Caesar. The verse itself is ambiguous since, in the context of the poem, it is designed to declare Augustus ‘public property’ and as such a legitimate subject of his poetry. But at the same time, with Cicero as an intertext, it draws a picture of the Republic as no longer being the people’s business, but becoming coextensive with the first man in the state. See also Galinsky (1996) 381; Henderson (1998) 199, esp. n. 119; Gowing (2005) 151-2, none of whom however acknowledge this twofold dimension. Ovid’s res est publica Caesar is part of a eulogy of the emperor in which Ovid defends his right to make Augustus the topic of his poetry.

129 Gowing (2005) 3.

130 See e.g. Walter (2004) 176, with additional bibliography in n. 96.

131 Gowing (2005) 2, see n. 7 with additional bibliography. Scholarship on the social and anthropological importance of memory is vast, both in general terms and especially regarding the Roman Republic. For material in the last twenty years, see e.g. Galinsky’s edited volume Memoria Romana (2004), Walter (2004), Farrell (1997) 373-83. The interest in memory on a collective (instead of an individual, psychological) level goes essentially back to Halbwachs’ concept of the mémoire collective and, building on his work, Assmann’s Kulturelles Gedächtnis (1992).

132 Cicero alludes to the famous Ennius fragment, Skutsch 156: moribus antiquis res stat Romana virisque.

133 See also Wallace-Hadrill (2005) 57 on the implications of the hereditary character of the authority of the Roman nobility: ‘In the Republican system, constitutional power lies with the citizen body, but social power lies with those who are in possession of the knowledge through which the system functions. That knowledge can be transmitted from generation to generation, and enables the survival of a quasi-hereditary elite’.

134 Here, the idea of the res publica restituta, the metaphor of the restoration process that will form a central part of Augustan ideology is anticipated.

135 This almost biological idea of decline alludes to the famous ‘Verfassungskreislauf’ as depicted in the second book of De Re Publica. Seminal publications on the topic include but are not limited to, still, Pöschl (1936) and Müller (1989) 460-8 on Cicero’s reception of Greek ‘Gesellschaftstheorie’; see also Eisenberger (1982) 44-58 and Podes (1991) 382-91 on the anakyklosis in Polybius.

136 Cf. Liv. praef. 9.

137 Cf. Vell. 2.131.1-2.

138 Miller (1978) 7.

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