The Commerce of War: Exchange and Social Order in Latin Epic

The Commerce of War: Exchange and Social Order in Latin Epic


By (author) Neil Coffee

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  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Format: Hardback | 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 160mm x 230mm x 28mm | 621g
  • Publication date: 2 June 2009
  • Publication City/Country: Chicago, IL
  • ISBN 10: 0226111873
  • ISBN 13: 9780226111872

Product description

Latin epics such as Virgil's "Aeneid", Lucan's "Civil War", and Statius' "Thebaid" addressed Roman aristocrats whose dealings in gifts, favors, and payments defined their conceptions of social order. In "The Commerce of War", Neil Coffee argues that these exchanges play a central yet overlooked role in epic depictions of Roman society. Tracing the collapse of an aristocratic worldview across all three poems, Coffee highlights the distinction they draw between reciprocal gift giving among elites and the more problematic behaviors of buying and selling. In the "Aeneid", customary gift and favor exchanges are undermined by characters who view human interaction as short-term and commodity-driven. "Civil War" takes the next logical step, illuminating how Romans cope once commercial greed has supplanted traditional values. Concluding with the "Thebaid", which focuses on the problems of excessive consumption rather than exchange, Coffee closes his powerful case that these poems constitute far-reaching critiques of Roman society during its transition from republic to empire.

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Author information

Neil Coffee is assistant professor of classics at the University at Buffalo.

Review quote

"The Commerce of War is a fresh and innovative addition to Latin literary studies. It makes an important contribution to our appreciation of Lucan's civil war epic and participates in contemporary debates about heroism in Virgil's Aeneid and the dystopic worldview of Statius's Thebaid. I found it extremely stimulating." - Alison Keith, University of Toronto"