Barton, Carlin A.

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BARTON, Carlin A.

PERSONAL: Female. Education: University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D., 1984.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Department of History, University of Massachusetts, 637 Herter Hall, 161 Presidents Dr., Amherst, MA 01003-9312; fax: 413-545-6137. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Author, historian, and educator. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, professor of history.


The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: The Gladiator and the Monster, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1993.

Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2001.

Contributor to volumes such as Constructions of the Classical Body and The Roman Gaze.

SIDELIGHTS: Historian Carlin A. Barton writes on social and psychological issues, including topics of honor, shame, and self-control in ancient Roman society. In The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: The Gladiator and the Monster, Barton explores in depth two aspects of ancient Roman culture that later observers have often found most distasteful: the devotion to the ideal of the gladiator and Romans' apparent obsession with the grotesque and monstrous. "Barton knows the ancient sources well, and is fascinated by the strangeness of the Roman world," observed T. P. Wiseman in the Times Literary Supplement. Barton's goal, Wiseman noted, is not to draw a particular set of conclusions, but to analyze the emotional and psychological basis behind the Romans' interest in, and perhaps need for, the gladiator and the grotesque.

Barton suggests that the "monster" appears in a variety of guises in the Roman world. "We are offered the Emperor as monster, the philosopher as monster, envy as monster, god as monster; but mainly it resolves itself into the grotesque, as personified by the deformed mime actor," Wiseman stated. To account for this intense interest in the strange and the violent, "Barton argues that, in the transition from Republic to Empire, Roman society was in moral and political flux, consumed with angst and anomie, and it sought out compensatory systems and dynamic equilibria," remarked Donald G. Kyle in the Ancient History Bulletin. "Extremes of despair, desire, and envy made Romans more and more enthralled with gladiators and monsters." To survive the social and psychological upheavals of the time, "Rome needed negative extremes to balance its formal emphasis on control and propriety; it needed to strike and to embrace the monster and the monstrous," Kyle stated.

"Barton amasses an impressive collection of ancient evidence, and treats it to an even more impressive interpretation, reinforced by references to modern psychological and anthropological studies," noted Richard E. Mitchell in the American Historical Review. Choice reviewer B. W. Frier commented that "few readers will fail to learn from Barton's relentless parade of texts, and her interpretations are frequently striking." Katherine Welch, writing in the Journal of Social History, remarked that "One cannot help being impressed by the breadth of her knowledge and by her daring rejection of the staid academic tone that is usual in the field of Roman history."

Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones is a study of the emotion and manifestation of honor in the ancient Roman world. The available written record from the time of the Romans lacks "the reflective intimate writing enjoyed by historians of other periods, above all diaries and private correspondence," explained Greg Woolf in the Times Literary Supplement. Without such resources, interpreting the emotional state of Roman society is difficult. The "truth is that the Romans are dead. Rome is a ruined city, read in fragments, inhabited only by skeletons," Woolf remarked. "Unless, that is, we can put the fire back into those bones. That is precisely what Carlin A. Barton attempts here, in a bold book." Barton suggests that "an intense sense of honor and shame" lay at the core of the emotional life of ancient Romans, according to Timothy J. Moore in his review for Electronic Antiquity: Communicating the Classics. To demonstrate her conclusions, she assembles an extensive collection of quotes from ancient sources, and even some modern ones, that speak to the notions of honor, shame, and associated emotional and psychological constructs.

"This book is written with passion," Woolf commented, and it is also "likely to arouse passionate responses, positive and negative, among her professional colleagues. The pace is rapid, the argument built up under short vivid sub-sections, the whole a mass of quotation. That density is deliberate," Woolf observed, allowing Barton to effectively listen to Romans "speak" as she interprets their statements as a psychoanalyst might do. This structure results in "a disorganized—but highly original—commonplace book, with all the virtues and vices of that genre," wrote reviewer C. M. C. Green in Choice. "Barton's greatest strength is her wide range," Moore stated. "Juxtapositions with other cultures from Japan to Africa to our own . . . provide provocative food for thought. Unfortunately, that same range is one of the book's principal weaknesses," Moore added, maintaining that Barton does not provide sufficient analysis and accommodation for "just how the societies she draws from are and are not like Roman society." Reviewer Daniel J. Harrington, writing in America, stated that in her mission to explore ancient Roman emotions and inner life, Barton "has succeeded in a dazzling fashion."



America, March 11, 2002, Daniel J. Harrington, review of Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones, p. 19.

American Historical Review, April, 1994, Richard E. Mitchell, review of The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: The Gladiator and the Monster, pp. 531-532.

Ancient History Bulletin, 1997, Donald G. Kyle, review of The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans, pp. 94-97.

Choice, May, 1993, B. W. Frier, review of The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans, p. 1527; January, 2002, C. M. C. Green, review of Roman Honor, p. 939.

Electronic Antiquity: Communicating the Classics, Volume 6, number 1, Timothy J. Moore, review of Roman Honor.

Journal of Social History, winter, 1993, Katherine Welch, review of The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans, p. 430.

Times Literary Supplement, April 23, 1993, T. P. Wiseman, review of The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans, p. 9; April 19, 2002, Greg Woolf, review of Roman Honor, pp. 10-11.

Yale Review, April, 2002, Ramsay MacMullen, review of Roman Honor, pp. 154-160.


University of Massachusetts, Amherst Web site, (October 12, 2004), "Carlin Barton."*

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