My main interests lie in Roman social and cultural history of the Late Republic and Early Empire, a somewhat disparate mélange of literary, legal, material, topographical, onomastic, and most recently mythological and folkloric elements. While concentrating as an undergraduate on what were then the Dark Ages of mediaeval history, I was attracted by the clarity of modern historiography on archaic Greece, only to discover that it was based on very little evidence. But at about the same time I was reading and bowled over by Ronad Syme’s Roman Revolution, a masterpiece of both vision and minute erudition. Hence the switch to Roman history, under the tutelage of T.D. Barnes and C.P. Jones, and later of Fergus Millar.
Since then, no trajectory has been apparent until the last decade. My first book, Fronto and Antonine Rome (Harvard UP, 1980) used the letters of the second century orator as a prism to view and evaluate the cultured society in which he shone. My second, Final Judgments. Duty and Emotion in Roman Wills, 200 B.C. to A.D. 250 was a study of the central place held by wills and inheritance in the Romans' image of themselves. Thereafter books on the suburbium of Rome and on Pliny the Younger were begun and set aside, while I also labored as an editor for volume 10, The Augustan Empire, of the new edition of The Cambridge Ancient History. A chance invitation some time before to give a seminar on the image of the perfect prince in Late Antiquity led to investigation of the enormous, enduring, and complex posthumous life of Alexander the Great and to my first foray into the alternate universe of folklore. Also, to the question “Who in Rome has a similar afterlife?” and the surprising (to me) answer of “Nero”, that is, as a figure whom people want to reinvent, even revivify, generation after generation. Hence my book modestly entitled Nero, which was concerned less with fact than with Nero’s elaborate fabrication of his own image.
Central to the book is Nero’s self-conception in terms of Greek and Roman mythology. That brought me full circle to a childhood fascination in myth and also led to my current project, a study of the great mythomane of Rome, the emperor Tiberius, to be called Tiberius on Capri. In preliminary papers I have suggested that he was both a towering figure in the folklore of the Roman people and a master manipulator of myth for political purposes, and I hope to show how he too channeled some of the great figures of myth, both for his own satisfaction and to create a potent imperial image.