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Cassiodorus was a prominent participant in the political, intellectual, and religious life of 6th-century ce Italy, and a learned scholar of the classical and Christian traditions. As a member of the administration of the Gothic government under Theoderic and his successors, he advanced through what may be considered the late-Roman cursus honorum. He was also witness to the dramatic political and religious debates of the day, including volatile interactions between the royal court at Ravenna, the Senate at Rome, and the emperor in Constantinople. Justinian’s Gothic War in Italy effectively ended his political career, after which he first became an exile in Constantinople, and then the founder of a school for Christian learning (Vivarium) on his ancestral estates in southern Italy. The literary works that he produced span the spectrum of his personal experiences and attest to the intellectual and cultural range of people living during the 6th century: panegyrics, a chronicle, ethnography, letters, treatises on reading, grammars, Christian exegesis, and ecclesiastical history.

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What makes Alexander Great? His story has captured the imagination of authors, artists, philosophers, and politicians across more than two millennia. He has provided a point of convergence for religious and spiritual thinkers, he has been co-opted as a champion for gender and sexual openness, he represents a paradigm for would-be charismatic dictators (and their opponents), he gives us scientific imperialism and justification for conquistadorial dreaming, and he exemplifies the risks of cultural appropriation. To understand why Alexander resonates so widely across so many different fields of study, interest groups, and media, is an exercise in reception. This Alexander who has captured the imagination is triumphantly equivocal and it is in the plurality of traditions through which this complexity is expressed that his enduring “greatness” lies. The imaginary quality of Alexander is unsurprising because more profoundly than for any comparable individual from classical antiquity, his history is a product of reception from the start: every encounter with Alexander the Great is part of a conversation that depends substantially on accounts and narrative evidence from long after his death, and at the least at one remove from the historians who first and contemporaneously chronicled his life and achievements.