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To Cry or Not to Cry: Public Emotions in Antiquity

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Abstract:

In the Greco-Roman world, members of the elite were very concerned about the public expression of emotions. This, for instance, becomes manifest in the current philosophical discourse to what extent it was proper or even necessary to control them. Especially persons of the highest rank such as kings and emperors were supposed to be governed by rigid etiquette in this respect. This article starts with the description of Tacitus of the refusal of the Roman emperor Tiberius to shed tears in public at a moment of intense general mourning in order to maintain his dignity. According to the customary social conventions he should have been praised for his controlled behaviour, but, on the contrary, he was censured for it. Apparently, in some circumstances and periods, public emotions, if at least appearing sincere, were beneficial to one's reputation. This was apparently the case during the Principate. The biographies of Roman emperors give some evidence for that. This article tries to find answers to the ambiguity in the judgements on the (non-) expression of emotions in public.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1191/478003805cs031oa

Affiliations: Erasmus University, Rotterdam

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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