La fonction du merveilleux dans l'historiographie romaine de l'Empire

Abstract : The ubiquity of the merveilleux in the historiography of the roman Empire cannot be explained away as the ravings of a so-called "primitive mentality". Historiographers submitted marvellous events to rational critique. They distinguished processes conforming to causal relations from those phenomena whose supernatural origins were manifested by a sudden interruption of the normal course of events. Historiographers acknowledged the possibility of illusion, of hallucination, and worked out a psycho-sociology of public rumour. Reactions to all that was marvellous evinced a tension between scepticism and belief. The merveilleux nevertheless retained a fundamental place in the works of historiographers, because it was felt to have a sense and filled a positive function. It was an instrument in the transformation of events, whose substance was raised to the status of myth. The merveilleux illustrated a hero's prestige, made the aberrations of men appreciable. Through prodigies, a political leader's authority was grounded. The merveilleux enabled readers to decipher events. It magnified reality, presenting the values it incarnates in striking fashion. Along with the merveilleux, the sacred entered Roman history : the city and its destiny escaped the contingency of things human, bore the seal of transcendence. Through the merveilleux, historiographers exorcised the spectre of banality.
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Laurent Mattiussi. La fonction du merveilleux dans l'historiographie romaine de l'Empire. Storia della storiografia, Editoriale Jaca Book, 1988, 13, pp.3-28. ⟨hal-00874905⟩

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