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La représentation du merveilleux dans l'historiographie romaine de l'époque impériale

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 consistently exhibited their scepticism by submitting marvellous events to rational critique. They clearly distinguished processes conforming to the regularity and continuity of 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, indeed of hallucination, and worked out a psycho-sociology of public rumour which insisted on examining sources, sometimes scrutinizing them with suspicion. Individuals themselves and society as a whole appeared divided : far from being unanimous, reactions to all that was marvellous evinced a permanent 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 a privileged 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 at a given time appreciable. Through prodigies, a political leader's authority was grounded. The role of the merveilleux was one of revelation. It enabled readers to decipher events. It transfigured reality, magnifying it, 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. It is through the merveilleux, finally, and the power of the meaning it carried, that historiographers exorcised the spectre of banality.
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Laurent Mattiussi. La représentation du merveilleux dans l'historiographie romaine de l'époque impériale. Philosophie. Université de Nanterre - Paris X, 1987. Français. ⟨NNT : 1987PA100162⟩. ⟨tel-00903210⟩

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