Presenter: Dr Estelle Strazdins (University of Melbourne)

In this presentation, I will focus on the literary and physical appropriation of the cultural memory attached to tombs and its use to engage a hypothetical future by elite Greeks in the Roman Empire. Tombs are monuments designed to construct and preserve personal identity and memory. As such, their function in literature is often as a medium through which to muse on an individual’s fame and its potential longevity. For Imperial Greek writers, tombs and their inscriptions become vehicles through which to commune with illustrious men from the past and symbols of both the desire to create immortal fame and the impossibility of ever truly achieving this aim. In this, the past is revealed as a tool to be exploited in one’s personal assault on the future, and the site of identity and ideological conflict that is represented by any monument becomes a means of asserting one’s own authoritative view. At the same time, the awareness that one’s ability to control future reputation is poor at best adds both a sense of pathos and a self-reflexive playfulness to these men’s commentary on the quest for lasting fame, which in itself is a feature of ‘second-sophistic’ culture. I will concentrate on two examples: Arrian’s use of the tomb of Achilles in his Anabasis of Alexander and Herodes Atticus’ apparent physical appropriation of the grave stelae for the fallen at Marathon for his personal use. Through my presentation of these tombs and their physical or literary manipulation, I hope to elucidate the anxiety over personal commemoration that is a feature of the cultural production of elite Greeks in the Roman Empire.