Publication in: Fall 2023 Issue

“A Piece of Land, Not So Very Large”: Considerations of Sustainability in the Rustic Fantasy and Rural Realities of Ancient Rome
Katy Fulcher
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Lora Holland Goldthwaite
Abstract / Summary:
The romanticization of rustic life by Roman urban elites is rooted in a nostalgia for a mythical human age, and not in any tangible reality. The literary representation of an idyllic country life is at odds with the reality of rural life for the peasant and slave populations as well as with the environmental impacts of the agriculture that supported both urban and rural lifestyles in ancient Rome. This paper assesses the moralization and polarization of country and city life in Augustan and later Latin literature. Recent archaeological research on the rural poor of the Italian countryside supplements the literary analysis and explains how the rustic fantasy is a response to an awareness of unsustainable agricultural practices. The idyllic simplicity exemplified by the rustic fantasy is driven by a perceived corruption and dissatisfaction with contemporary urban life but fails to account for the environmental degradation that enabled the perpetuation of both urban and rural elite lifestyles.
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