Corbier and Guilhembet: L’écriture dans la maison romaine

Mireille Corbier writes to alert us to the publication of the following:

“L’écriture dans la maison romaine”, edited by Mireille CORBIER and Jean-Pierre GUILHEMBET, published by DE BOCCARD (11 rue de Médicis 75 006 PARIS). 426 pages. 193 illustrations. Price : 60 euros.

Through the global analysis of writing in the domestic space, this edited volume looks at all forms of a writing culture, from archeological or epigraphical traces to forms mentioned only in literary sources. It demonstrates the great variety of media, but also of types of writing that can be found in the domestic context. “Books,” archives, writing materials, everyday objects with inscriptions: all have been integrated into the field of research covered in the essays in this volume. The practices found in the Roman household that are catalogued here point to usages very different from our own in a world where the practice of writing, a privilege shared by a fraction of the population, had multiple functions. The twenty chapters in this volume highlight certain writing forms and usages and cannot claim to be exhaustive. Social pretension and a desire for social distinction, the construction of the family memory, the pleasure of “reading together,” a constant dialog with guests, the conservation and archiving of personal and professional documents, apprenticeship in relations of authority, the written expression of vota and respects paid to the genius of the pater familias and to the domestic Lares, affirmation of the self by the writing of personal messages: all are part of the domestic writing culture analyzed here. The household is a space placed under the authority of masters, where domestic cults are practiced, where the family’s children and young slaves benefit from a variety of acculturating experiences: the hierarchy of behaviors expected of all the domestic actors, but also the practice of reading and writing. The households of magistrates and men exercising a profession were first and foremost places and instruments of their professional activities, and only afterwards spaces of representation and conviviality.

This volume is the product of an international colloquium organized by “L’Année épigraphique” group of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and brings together articles written by twenty-one historians, archaeologists, and philologists from seven different countries (France, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the United States, and Tunisia). The authors are specialists of the ancient Mediterranean world and offer their contributions as possible avenues for comparative research with other historical periods and societies. They are asking questions about writing practices and levels of literacy in Roman society, about the relations between text and image and the culture that lies behind them, about the relations between the written and the oral and the dialog between the inner self and the public self, about the diversity of graphical forms and what they reveal about the ability to read and to write.

About Tom Elliott

Associate Director for Digital Programs and Senior Research Scholar, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University
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