New Perspectives on Urban Entertainment in the Middle Ages

29th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: Saturday, April 4, 2009

Richard Lim, Roman Urban Entertainments and the Cultures of Knowingness in Late Antiquity

Studies of the major forms of Roman public entertainments comprising shows in the theatre, amphitheatre, and hippodrome have mainly dwelled on their role as tools in the maintenance of the socio-political order - as epitomized by the phrase panem et circenses - or as performances that defined or reified core Roman values such as its militaristic ethos in the case of gladiatorial munera.  This paper will suggest another way in which routinized public spectacles played a significant and even constitutive role in the Roman/Late Antique city. By helping to create topics of common conversation, dynamic sites of sociable interactions and even shared “emotional communities,” the spectacula played a significant role in defining urban relationships and identities. This particular aspect indeed greatly informed Late Antique Christian anti-shows rhetoric both in popular sermons and in Augustine of Hippo’s narration of youth and conversion in the Confessions.

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