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The Commerce of War

Exchange and Social Order in Latin Epic

Latin epics such as Virgil’s Aeneid, Lucan’s Civil War, and Statius’s 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. The 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.

344 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Literature and Literary Criticism: Classical Languages


"This successful study of the thematics of economic exchange offers valuable insight on an important and hitherto understudied aspect of Roman epic. . . . Coffee’s readings offer persuasive new interpretations, resolve interpretive deadlocks, and illuminate aspects of epic narrative that other analytical models have not successfully addressed."

Neil W. Bernstein | Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"Coffee’s compelling book contributes much to contemporary debate on Roamn epic, particularly the Aeneid."


Table of Contents


List of Abbreviations


Part One: Reciprocity in Crisis: Vergil’s Aeneid  

1. Roman Heroic Reciprocity

2. Juno’s Agents and the Negotiations of Aeneas

Part Two: The Triumph of Venality: Lucan’s Civil War

3. Reciprocity Exposed

4. Caesar, Pompey, and Cato  

Part Three: Conspicuous Consumption: Statius’s Thebaid

5. Exchange Eclipsed

6. Eteocles, Polynices, and Creon



Subject Index  

Index of Cited Passages

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