Poisoning and Suspicious Deaths in the Classical World

Poisoning and
Suspicious Deaths
in the Classical World

Venoms in Roman Legal and Rhetorical Treatises

Nephele Papakonstantinou

21 February 2023 – 5 PM (CET)

The way in which the Romans dealt with cases of poisoning in legal and judicial practice has recently gained increasing attention in the context of Latin imperial declamations. These school exercises convey educated medico-legal understandings and wider cultural perceptions of the activity of using venena.

Emphasis has been laid, so far, on cultural issues and stereotypes raised by the problem, through a legal, historical-literary, and narratological reading of rhetorical and legal sources.

Building on the latest research findings, this paper proposes to further explore the dialectic between, and parallel development of, forensic rhetoric and Roman law in the 1st century CE with regard to the criminalisation of poisoning, by shifting the focus to the actual conceptual workings of the law within rhetorical education and court practice.

How was poisoning defined and structured? Which elements of the crime had to be proven, and through which type of reasoning and argumentation? How was poisoning understood and negotiated to promote specific conceptions of ‘health’ and ‘legality’? What does this whole process reveal about Roman technical medico-legal knowledge and expertise? What were its ideological implications?

These and other questions will be analysed and clarified in my talk.

About the Speaker ...

Nephele Papakonstantinou is currently an Alexander von Humboldt Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Institut für Klassische Philologie at JMU with a project on normative constructions of iniuria under the Late Roman Republic and Early Empire.

Her research focuses on Roman Literature and Culture of the Early Empire, and more specifically, on Roman rhetoric, Roman legal practice, and Graeco-Roman Medicine. Her work explores the relationship between the self and the norm. She is the author of a number of peer-reviewed articles and chapters in edited volumes, and of a monograph (under publication) on the construction of crimen raptus according to Pseudo-Quintilian, as derived from her dissertation. She has taught as an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Athens for a variety of years.

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