One of the most violent and influential inaugural mappings of migrational theater in the Western world occurred in the second century BCE, a period of aggressive Roman expansion (into Greece, the Near East, North Africa, and Spain). In one traumatic century Rome circled the Mediterranean in a campaign we would call today genocide. Rough estimates of the death toll place the number at 2–3 million. Under conditions that stagger the imagination, the survivors were taken to Rome as slaves, and some carried scarred bodies and scarred memories into the ludic sphere of the Roman theater that celebrated Roman conquests. For four hundred years the acting profession was constituted almost exclusively with victims of foreign wars. The same holds for the writers of the “golden age” of Roman comedy. This essay considers the genocidal memory of one survivor, the playwright Terence, brought to Rome from Carthage as a slave shortly before that city's destruction. Using as a lens a small body of artifacts called curse tablets, I consider how victims of Rome buried their rage, swallowed their history, to erase their former lives. But the erasure was never complete, and the burying of curses invites the agile reader to return to the comic texts and unsilence them, to begin to listen to the rage and memory of the preconquered. Jacques Derrida asked if there was “a history of silence,” and exhuming curses and buried rage might begin to unsettle a history of laughter and violent displacement.
Skip Nav Destination
Odai Johnson; Unspeakable Histories: Terror, Spectacle, and Genocidal Memory. Modern Language Quarterly 1 March 2009; 70 (1): 97–116. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-2008-031
Download citation file: