The detrimental effect of the public recital on the quality of epic production in the first century is a stock theme both in ancient and in modern literary criticism. While previous studies on the epic recital emphasize its negative effects, or aim at its reconstruction as social reality, I focus on its conflicting representations by the ancients themselves and the lessons that we can learn from them. The voices of critics and defenders reveal anxieties about who controls the prestigious high genre of epic and about the construction of gender and social status through epic's public performance. Critics of the recitatio such as Horace, Persius, Petronius and Juvenal represent it as an informal and popular event that panders to public taste and incurs infamy. These critics charge that the epic recital has an effeminizing effect both on the recitator and on his audience, a charge traditionally advanced against orators and actors. Because the epic recital in Rome lacks a performative context similar to the rhapsodic performances in Greece, its public image mirrors that of other public performances (the theater, the public speech and the public lecture). The main point of divergence is the presence of the book, the symbol of permanent fame, which casts upon the recital the shadow of an evanescent entertainment. Defenders (Statius and Suetonius) see the recital as instrumental to the maintenance of literature's value in society. This means that well into the first century there were those who felt nostalgia for the epic recital as a bulwark of male aristocratic values and who wanted to reclaim its prestige. Both Statius as a poet, who performed regularly at Domitian's court, and Suetonius, who acted as Hadrian's ab epistulis some twenty years after Statius' death, defend the waning reputation of the contemporary epic recital in an effort to reclaim it as a prestigious component of imperial literary culture. While critics unanimously negate the recital's role in the achievement of poetic fame in favor of the book, Suetonius chooses anecdotal evidence about the early performances by grammarians grammarians that show the important role of the recital in forging poetic fame. The emperor and the members of the new aristocracy whom Statius explicitly names as the target audience of his epic recitals have a stake in reclaiming for imperial culture an institution that went back to the second century B.C.E. and carried the prestige of an aristocratic event.
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