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Historical and Religious Memory in the Ancient World$
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Beate Dignas and R. R. R. Smith

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199572069

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199572069.001.0001

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‘You shall blot out the memory of Amalek’: Roman Historians on Remembering to Forget

‘You shall blot out the memory of Amalek’: Roman Historians on Remembering to Forget

(p.217) 10 ‘You shall blot out the memory of Amalek’: Roman Historians on Remembering to Forget
Historical and Religious Memory in the Ancient World

D. S. Levene

Oxford University Press

The creation of cultural identity through historical memory often involves as much forgetting as remembering. The process of forgetting through selection is usually hidden. This chapter focuses on occasions when ancient writers were surprisingly open about it, directly recording attempts to ‘lose’ inconvenient portions of the past through enforced forgetfulness. The ancient writer's record may operate as a simple challenge, bringing the forgotten back into prominence by reminding readers that it had — or could have — disappeared (Cremutius Cordus in Tacitus, Annals 4.34-35 is an obvious example). But sometimes ancient historians acted in another way, in a process parallel to that of damnatio memoriae: reinforcing the significance of forgetting by recording and commenting on the fact that the forgetting has taken place. Both versions are key to understanding the Romans' own account of their creation of a present identity from a careful combination of memory, selection, and oblivion.

Keywords:   cultural identity, damnatio memoriae, forgetting, oblivion, Roman historians, Tacitus

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