Book Project: Memorabilia. Anecdotal Storytelling and Moral Instruction in Roman Imperial Literature

The anecdote is a short, episodic narrative. It features a protagonist confronted with an extraordinary situation, which is resolved in a pointed conclusion. This confrontational and resolution-focused structure aligns with current literary studies’ interest in the referentiality of texts.
My project aims to redefine the character of the anecdote as a form of non-linear storytelling in Greek-Roman literature. It will examine the narrative strategies of ancient anecdote writers, the specific content and structural features of their anecdotes, intertextual references within the texts, and ancient writers’ reflections on the impact of their anecdotes on guiding readers. The focus of the work is on the Memorabilia literature of the Roman Imperial period, preserved in both Latin (Valerius Maximus and Frontinus) and Greek (Polyaenus and Plutarch). These works highlight particularities in snippets to explain a broader meaning.

Of central interest are the introductory proems of the Memorabilia, where the anecdote writers articulate the didactic claims of their collections. Special attention will be given to the previously neglected interdependencies between the moral instructions of Memorabilia literature and Stoic or Middle-Platonic theories and guidelines for emotional control.

Overall, the project anticipates new insights into forms and functions of non-linear storytelling in antiquity. Potential connections emerge with the literary techniques of other strongly anecdotal genres such as natural history and technical writing. Moreover, the intertextual study of the didactic claims of Memorabilia literature promises to illuminate an interface of rhetoric and philosophy, previously neglected by research, from a new perspective.